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National Cowboy Museum announces Western Heritage Awards

by Brandy McDonnell Published: February 27, 2009

Ed Harris in “Appaloosa” 

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum announced today the winners of its 48th annual Western Heritage Awards. The awards honor and encourage the legacy of those whose works in literature, music, film and television reflect the significant stories of the American West.

The Western Heritage Awards will be presented at a black-tie banquet April 18 at the museum. Each winner in attendance receives the Wrangler, an impressive bronze sculpture of a cowboy on horseback. Awards presented in 2009 are for works completed in 2008. Qualified professionals outside the museum staff judge all categories.

Film & Television Categories

Four categories comprise the film and television awards. They include theatrical motion picture, television feature film, documentary and factual narrative. This year, awards will be presented in only two categories – motion picture and documentary.

The 2008 best theatrical motion picture winner is “Appaloosa,” starring Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen, Jeremy Irons and Renée Zellweger. The movie is based on the 2005 Western novel by Robert B. Parker and centers around lawman Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen). The two friends are hired to defend a lawless 1880s town from a renegade rancher, Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons), who has already taken horses and supplies and killed the deputy and the marshal. Their efforts are disrupted and friendship tested by the arrival of a woman (Renee Zellweger). Director Ed Harris co-wrote the script with Robert Knott, and the two produced the movie.

Lighthouse Productions produced “The Challenge of Champions: The Story of Lane Frost and Red Rock,” the winner of the documentary category. Award-winning filmmaker David Wittkower captured the story of two champions and a segment of their celebrated careers. The 90-minute film follows the duel between World Champion Bull Rider Lane Frost and Red Rock, a bull that had been unridden in more than 300 tries.

Clyde and Elsie Frost, Lane’s parents, and John Growney, stock contractor and owner of Red Rock, narrate the story. The film features interviews with people closest to the seven-match series including friends and rodeo cohorts Tuff Hedeman and Cody Lambert; sportscaster George Michael; journalist Kendra Santos; and photographer Sue Rosoff. Sadly, Frost, already an iconic rodeo champion in 1988, died following a bull ride at Cheyenne Frontier Days just a year after the Red Rock duel at the age of 25.

Music Categories

The Western Heritage Awards competition includes three music categories: new artist, original composition and traditional Western album.

Gary S. Pratt is the winner in the new artist category with his album “The Other Side.” This award is given to someone in the first five years of their career, who has never received a Wrangler in an individual category and is striving to continue to produce music of the Western genre. In an interview for summer 2008 Persimmon Hill magazine, Pratt said he cares most about keeping alive the cowboy tradition and Western heritage that for so long has defined his life and the lives of other Oklahomans. His time on the ranch gives him and his songs an authenticity that has become rare.

“A Cowboy’s Special Christmas” by Red Steagall and produced by Dan Roberts, Roy Robinson and Bobby Wood is the Western Heritage Award winner for original composition. Off the album “A Cow Camp Christmas,” Steagall’s first commercial Christmas album features seven songs and three poems. In 1991, he was named the Official Cowboy Poet of Texas by the Texas state legislature. He is known for his poetry as well as his Texas Swing dance music and songs; Steagall has earned many distinctions in his career.

This is Steagall’s sixth win in the Outstanding Original Western Composition category. Last year he won for “The Ballad of Dawson Le Gate.” In addition, Steagall won Western Heritage Awards for two albums: his first in 2000 for “Love of the West” as the composer/recording artist and in 2003 for “Wagon Track.” Steagall was inducted in the museum’s Hall of Great Westerners in 2003.

In the category for traditional Western album, the top honors go to “Gone to Colorado,” recorded and composed by Juni Fisher and produced by Fisher and Rich O’Brien. Fisher continues to make her mark in the world of Western music as a writer of rich story songs and this collection is no different. Fisher set out to uncover a family secret about her great-grandfather and then used his story to create a wonderful storytelling album. O’Brien adds his guitar and mandolin playing skills as well as his talents as a producer. With this award, O’Brien has won 13 Wranglers for producing Western music.

Literary Categories

There are seven categories in the literary competition. They include Western novel, nonfiction book, art book, photography book, juvenile book, magazine article and poetry book.

The Western novel winner is “Jackalope Dreams” written by Mary Clearman Blew and published by the University of Nebraska Press. According to the publisher “the story of a newly orphaned, spinsterish Corey is a sometimes comical, sometimes poignant tale of coming-of-age a little late.” She is trying to resurrect her dream of becoming an artist after her father, a legendary rodeo cowboy, puts a bullet in his head.

Blew, a professor of creative writing at the University of Idaho, is an award-winning author of an essay collection and three books of short stories. This is her first novel.

Author Marsha V. Gallagher takes the Wrangler for her nonfiction book “The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Wied, Vol. 1,” which chronicles his North American expedition in the Upper Missouri during 1832-34. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, this book represents the first time Maximilian’s journals have been presented in English. This oversized volume, the first of a three-volume series, reproduces his 110 drawings and watercolors as well as his notes, asides and appendices. Volume 1 of this essential resource for the 19th century American West covers Maximilian’s voyage to North America and his first encounters with Indians when he reached the West.

“In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein” lands the Western Heritage Award in the art book category. Written by Peter H. Hassrick and Elizabeth J. Cunningham and published by the OU, this book showcases Blumenschein’s life and art. It reproduces masterworks from a new exhibit as well as historical photographs, drawing information from archival sources and the artist’s papers. The authors examine Blumenschein’s 64-year career as an illustrator then painter and show how his musical training influenced his painting.

“American Farmer, The Heart of Our Country,” published by Welcome Books, is the winner in the photography book category. Photographer Paul Mobley and author Katrina Fried have produced a heartfelt book about the foundation of America farmers. The book encompasses more than 200 full-color and black-and-white photographs and 45 interviews with stewards of the land, from strawberry farmers to ranchers. What the authors found while they traveled from sea to sea were folks immersed in hard work, family traditions and integrity. Their thoughts, history, memories and hardships are told through poignant portraits and stirring words.

Melodie A. Cuate’s “Journey to Gonzales” is the winner in the juvenile book category. The book, published by Texas Tech University Press, is Cuate’s third book in her “Mr. Barrington’s Mysterious Trunk” series, which explores Texas history. The author’s enthusiasm for this period shines through and has earned her this consecutive Wrangler.

The series focuses on Hannah, her friend Jackie and older brother Nick, who are transported by a magical trunk from their strange, new history teacher and deposited somewhere deep in Texas history. A Texas teacher herself, Cuate said she developed the novels believing there was a better way for children to learn. It inspired her to create the continuing tales of the three children.

Author Dan Flores takes top honors in the magazine article category with “Bringing Home All the Pretty Horses,” published in Montana, The Magazine of Western History. The article focuses on the horse trade and its effect on early the American West from 1775 to 1825. The A.B. Hammond Chair at the University of Montana, Missoula, where he specializes in the environmental and cultural history of the American West, Flores provides details of the seemingly underground trade of wild horses. The fascination with wild horses in what would be the emergence of America’s West captured the attention of then Vice President Thomas Jefferson, artists George Catlin and John James Audubon among others. From the beginning of wild horse trading through its height, Flores chronicles this concealed economy.

The poetry book winner is “Poems from Dry Creek” by John Dofflemyer. This book, published by Starhaven, focuses on the Western experience. Dofflemyer’s poetry uses precise and vivid imagery, both stark and candid. The book is a diverse collection with a mix of political, personal, historical and modern day poems. He writes of the life, work and land that cowboys love. He began writing poetry in high school and was influenced by Gary Snyder and Robert Creeley and the late 1960s folk music. This is Dofflemyer’s 10th collection of poetry and contains 54 new and selected works which spring from his ranching roots.

The Western Heritage Awards are open to the public and reservations can be secured by calling (405) 478-2250, Ext. 219. Ticket prices for the Jingle-Jangle Mingle are $25. The Western Heritage Awards banquet ticket are $130 for members and $150 for nonmembers. 

Major sponsors of the event are Bank of Oklahoma, Wrangler, and Dogwood Foundation along with supporting sponsors Republic National Distributing Company and the Ad Astra Foundation. Additional support provided from Museum Partners Devon Energy Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation and the E.L. and Thelma Gaylord Foundation.

The National Cowboy Museum, America’s Premier Western Heritage MuseumTM, is supported through memberships and private and corporate donations. The Museum offers annual memberships that include year-round admission for six people, subscription to the award-winning, quarterly publication Persimmon Hill and discounts for events and at The Museum Store. Nationally accredited, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is located in Oklahoma City’s Adventure District at the junction of I-44 and I-35. For more information about the Museum or for a calendar of events, visit or call (405) 478-2250.

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by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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