True West

The Empire State Building is my true north -- as it is for anyone who lives in downtown Manhattan. We get the occasional cowboy -- but he tends to be more Village People than Buffalo Bill. That's not counting the Naked Cowboy, who corrals Times Square fans in his underwear.

Also, our sense of space is radically different from the rest of the country. Some 3 million people inhabit this island; if "bedrooms," plural, is part of your vocabulary, count your blessings. To find, as Cole Porter once wrote, "land, give me land, and the sunny skies above," we head west. For those seeking an authentic experience without actual contact, try True West.

Separating fact from fiction is one of the magazine's goals, which is why the cover line "A Nazi Western Filmed in Arizona?" caught me off-guard. Like Woody Allen, my Nazi radar is highly attuned, so "Der Kaiser von Kalifornien," a 1936 piece of anti-capitalist propaganda, was a surprise.

Such pieces add to the eclectic nature of True West, which got its spurs in 1953, capitalizing on the popularity of TV Westerns in the late 1950s and early '60s. The mag was launched by Joe "Hosstail" Small in Austin, Texas, who sold out in 1974; it then bounced around various owners until 1999, when True West Publishing moved ops to Cave Creek, Arizona.

Today, the popular history pub hopes to "capture the spirit of the West with authenticity, personality and humor," linking its past to its present. In the immortal words of Seinfeld's Kramer: "Giddy-up."

This issue has an array of offerings -- starting with an overview of extreme historic getaways -- from the Wyatt Earp Vendetta Ride to rafting the Rio Grande to zipping down an aerial runway. The latter, per the photo, means soaring upside down through the "aspen forest canopy of Durango, Colo., nestled in the San Juan Mountains." (Personally, I like my tourism right side up.)

After terrorizing the wildlife, you can enjoy a four-course gourmet lunch, before riding the 1882 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's billed as an "eco-tour," but judging from the black steam belching coal dust into the pristine sky, I'm doubtful. Still, the adventures sound cool; there's even an Arizona Cowboy College in Scottsdale, schooling hopefuls in roping, shoeing and horsemanship. No word if Zane Grey or Bret Harte is on the curriculum.

A second feature, the fight for Geronimo's remains, is fascinating. Held prisoner in Fort Sill, the great chief died in 1909 and is buried in Oklahoma. But a great-grandson, citing the Native American Graves Act of 1990, argues he should be returned to Silver City, per Geronimo's wishes. Further complications: Preston Bush, grandfather to W, is accused of stealing his skull, two femurs and the Apache's prized bit and saddle horn in 1918 for Yale's secretive Skull and Bones fraternity. Additional stories, all well illustrated, explore the Old Snake Trade Route between Santa Fe and the Dakota Territory and the search for gold in Alaska in 1898.

The magazine, which claims to be the oldest, continuously published Western Americana publication in the world, says it reaches more than 193,000 readers in a dozen countries. Plus, executive editor Bob Boze Bell appears on the Starz!/Encore Westerns Channel in "True West Moments," which sets the record straight on historical accuracy in Western movies and television.

I'm guessing the washboard abs and over-pumped biceps Brad Pitt sports whenever he swaggers onto a horse in Ralph Lauren chaps or Clint Eastwood's precision beard, which has clearly made friends with Hammacher Schlemmer's $400 electric razor, are two quibbles; there may be others.

This issue examines Eastwood in the "Two Mules for Sister Sara" scene where he's shot through the shoulder, and Shirley MacLaine tends to his wound, using gunpowder, moss, knife and gun. Think MacGyver as politically motivated prostitute masquerading as a nun. Eastwood isn't the only one needing whiskey to get through the ordeal.

Back on terra firma, there's a fun "Western Roundup" calendar of activities through July and a review of current Western fiction. True West doesn't stint on coverage, nor is it devoted strictly to nostalgia. For aficionados, it's the real McCoy.


Published by: True West Publishing, Inc.
Frequency: 11x a year
Web site:

3 comments about "True West ".
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  1. Bob boze Bell from True West magazine, June 10, 2010 at 2:07 p.m.

    It's interesting to me that the island of Manhattan is basically its own country and that north would be determined by a tall building. That's amazing to a Westerner. Other than that I loved the piece, especially the Kramer reference from Seinfeld. This review really hit a nerve as the link has been forwarded to me from all over the country.


  2. Joan Voight from Business media, June 10, 2010 at 5:39 p.m.

    Excellent review Fern. We Westerners know the cowboy is one of the great American fantasies. It's esp. fun to get a view of the dusty West from a diehard city slicker. Glossy mags are made for fantasy, don't you think?

  3. Henry cabot Beck from True West Magazine, June 10, 2010 at 7:08 p.m.

    As a thirty-year New York-based journalist who gave up his one bedroom East Village apartment and moved westward, you should know that a NYC sensibility is well-represented in the pages of True West. My monthly "Westerns" section, which covers films and television, is informed as much or more by Andrew Sarris and the NY film crit landscape of the 1970's and 80's as it is the sage and saguaro landscape of the southwest.
    Thanks for the charming piece.


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