Hiking Traditions With a Capital T:
a Brief History of the Sedona Westerners
Robert L. Feuge
March 17, 2001
“How do we know where we are going unless we know where we have been?”
This is not the first attempt at writing a history of the Sedona Westerners (SW). In the SW historical files is a five-page historical review, written in 1986. The author is unknown. That history contains a few sketchy details of Westerner activities in the 1963-65 era (see Appendix A). But, mostly, it is about the early days of Sedona and the Old-Timers. The files also contain a number of handwritten or typed, unsigned, and undated notes that outline what those unknown authors knew about the Westerners up to their time in the club. In addition, there is a short two-page summary of club history and officer titles that was written by Jim Tanis (Trail Boss 1996-97) to acquaint new members with the basic rudiments of the club. Pieced together, these earlier “historian’s” notes have provided a track, if you will, that I have followed in writing this document.
This Brief History has been compiled almost entirely from data contained in the historical files of the club. That data consists of annual albums assembled by club historians over the years, envelopes stuffed with information about specific events, and other loose documents which include snippets of early club correspondence as well as handwritten notes, clippings, incomplete membership tables, and statistical summaries of hikes. The albums (which are the most coherent source) contain Verde Independent articles, Red Rock News articles, and photographs organized to provide a summary of each year’s activities dating back to 1963. The files also contain some personal accounts of club activities plus minutes of 1964-67 meetings and two copies of the club’s Constitution and By-laws document, dating back to 1966-67 and 1969. These bits of history, for the most part, are disconnected and, at times, internally inconsistent. Despite their incompleteness, inconsistency, and occasional lapses in accuracy, these collective sources were used to “piece together” this history, much as one would put together a picture puzzle.
Where objective sources were lacking or in obvious conflict with other data, subjective information from long-standing members of the club was obtained to complete the account. Accounts of such have been added to the club’s files. To the extent possible, subjective sources have been cross-checked with other data so as to eliminate misinformation caused by speculation or opinion or faded memory. To this end, a number of long-standing club members and others have been most forthcoming. Geri Bass, Bernice Brown, Jack Coombs, Wilma Dallas, Dixon Fagerberg, Lorraine (Jacquith) Fagerberg, Sally Freeman, Tom Hager, Norm Herkenham, Norm Hause, Don Hooven, Charles Jorgensen, Gene Munson, Mick Siemion, Len Silvern, and John Schaeffer have been most helpful. It is to these members as well as those “Old-Timers” who came before, that this Brief History is dedicated. Thank you for your legacy!! -- Robert L. Feuge
A Brief History of the Sedona Westerners
According to Gene Munson, whose late wife (Carolyn) was one of the initial members of the Sedona Westerners (SW), the club grew out of a small group of Sedona residents who were horse owners and aficionados of things Western. For their own entertainment as much as anything, the group dressed in Western clothing, rode horses, and provided Western-style entertainment on week-ends for tourists stopping at what is now Uptown Sedona. They served as “official greeters” for the inaugural run of the Trailways Golden Eagle bus from Phoenix to Flagstaff and also served as host for a number of tourism events in town. The intent of dressing “Western” was to convey “what the West looked like” to visitors and perhaps entice them to extend their Sedona stay or return for another visit. Since there were very few social activities in Sedona at that time, it also fell on this group to provide Western-style entertainment. They put on square dances, hay rides, and barbecues at the Posse Grounds. According to Gene Munson, this informal group loosely organized itself via telephone prior to week-end events or whenever a group of special tourists were known to be coming to Sedona. Between 1957 and 1961, this group became more and more organized and eventually developed into the Sedona Westerners.
The SW club was formally established on February 2,1961 with 12 charter members. Don Smyth (local gunsmith) was elected as the first President or Trail Boss. According to Wilma Dallas (club officer from1964 to 1970 and wife of former Trail Boss, Tex Dallas), the initial Constitution and By-laws of the club was about a half-page long and very informal. Even though the club had a Constitution and By-laws document, it was not incorporated until March 6, 1984 (when Harry Brown was Trail Boss).
Since 1961, the President has always been referred to as Trail Boss because the titles of officers are required by the Constitution and By-laws “to be in keeping with western vernacular.” In the same way, members were required to wear at least three articles of Western wear to Westerner functions or be cited by the club’s Marshal, who wore a star symbolizing Western law. The titles of Westerner officers were extracted by Wilma Dallas from a book entitled Western Words by Ramon Adams, published in 1944. This tradition has carried over to present times. In 1965-66, when Tex Dallas (a local tour guide) was Trail Boss, the Constitution was expanded to two pages and formalized. According to that version of the club’s Constitution and By-laws, the aims of the club were to:
- promote interesting activities in the community,
- encourage closer personal acquaintance and friendlier spirit of mutual cooperation (among members),
- enter into and promote various activities for the entertainment of the people of Sedona as well as the visiting public,
- encourage the wearing of western apparel (where possible),
- contribute a reasonable share toward civic projects,
- authenticate, record, and perpetuate the original historical names of places in the Sedona area.
- cooperate with the Forest Service in erecting monuments, signs, etc. of historic nature and in marking trails designated by the forest ranger.
Interestingly, the Constitution and By-laws did not prohibit involvement in political issues during this era. Though a social club, the SW spoke out formally about several issues such as the naming of the Village of Oak Creek (SW felt that the use of Oak Creek was unwarranted because the village did not lie on or even near Oak Creek) and establishment of a shooting range (the Westerners supported establishment of a shooting range because it provided entertainment).
Over the years, the Constitution and By-laws have been modified a number of times. Today, the Constitution and By-laws of the SW club (which is about 8 pages in length) prohibit the club or its members from taking a stand on any political issue in the name of the club unless it directly affects the club. In 2000-01, a Constitution Revision Committee (composed of Keran O’Brien, Bernice Brown, and Don Hooven) revised the Constitution and By-laws once again.
By the end of 1961, SW had 39 members (called Cowpokes then) and was actively recruiting more. Membership was signified by gold or silver pins with the Lazy SW brand. Meetings in the early 60s generally were very small, with perhaps a dozen or so members in attendance, according to Wilma Dallas. The program often was a slide show or guitar music and singing by one of the Old-Timers, such as Albert Thompson. Today, there are about 300 members of SW and meetings are generally attended by 100 or more members. From 1961 until 1969, and perhaps beyond, annual dues were $1 which covered all club expenses. Expenditures in those days would be considered minor today (e.g., reimbursement for gas or stamps). Expenditure for liability insurance did not exist until 1998-99 when, under Trail Boss Len Ostrom, it was added to protect the club in today’s litigious times. Today, the dues are $20 per year.
At one time, the club owned a Western wagon and two burros, but the burros were “unsteerable” and they were sold (with some difficulty). Official stationery (with the SW logo) and an official SW brand were adopted for official club business sometime early in the 60s. The brand was constructed by Carl Richards, the local blacksmith. Richards also constructed a small bell in 1965 that was used to call SW meetings to order. In 2000-01, the bell is again being used to bring meetings to order. The stationery is still used sparingly today, but the whereabouts of the brand is unknown.
In 1969, the SW purchased a large wooden bench (16 feet in length) and placed it in front of the Oak Creek Market “for folks to sit on.”. It was dedicated with a “Branding Ceremony,” using the SW brand. In 1972, the bench was moved to the Chamber of Commerce location on Forest Road. Sadly, it too has disappeared.
In the earliest days (1961-71), the Westerners met in the County Building, commonly known as the Sedona Jail House, which was located on Forest Road. The jail itself was three cells at the back of the building and occasionally prisoners were being held in the cells during Westerner meetings. An unsubstantiated account tells of drunken prisoners being let out of jail to participate in a Westerner meeting because there were only four members present. The Westerners met in the chambers of the Justice of the Peace, because that room was already configured for small meetings. By 1971, Westerner membership had grown to 72 paying members and 42 honorary members, so meetings were moved to the school on Brewer Road. From 1981-96, the Westerners met at the Wayside Chapel in Uptown Sedona. They met at the Church of the Red Rocks, off of SR 179, till 2004. Today, the Westerners meet at the Jewish Community Center, at the corner of Meadowlark and SR 179.
In 1964, Tex Dallas, Wilma Dallas, Ollie Simon ( the local Fire Chief), and Rose Simon hiked around what was then called Sugarloaf Hill (near Airport Road). The hike was so enjoyable that they decided to encourage the Westerners to add hiking to the list of activities. The possibility of hiking rejuvenated elderly Charley Thompson and he, along with Tex Dallas, began to define new trails with FS approval. Members began to hike on the new trails in small, informal groups. Sometime in 1964-65 (when Tex Dallas was Trail Boss), the Constitution and By-laws document of the club was amended to add the following aim: to make the best of Sedona’s outdoors. This aim led to the addition of regular weekend hikes to the social calendar. Unknowingly, this was a major change in the club’s orientation in that it subtly began to move away from its civic-minded, Western roots towards the outdoor, hiking orientation that it has today.
Sometime late in 1964, Charley Thompson was unofficially anointed as the first Hiking Guide (later called the Cactus Dodger) and hiking began as a regularly scheduled but unpublicized SW social event. According to a Red Rock News article entitled “Historical Trivia” published on December 2, 1990, the first Westerner hike was held on June 20, 1964 (Father’s Day). That report, however, is likely in error. According to Olga Ostrom (Trail Boss 2000-01), neither the early Trail Boss notes or the minutes of Westerner meetings, mention hiking until March 1965 when a Father’s Day hike was proposed. This suggests that the date of the hike in the above article was off by one year. Further, the historical files contain an article from the Verde Independent published on February 18, 1965 that describes the “first of a series of hikes for residents and visitors” that took place on the previous Sunday (which would have been February 14, 1965). This hike was probably the first official, publicized Westerner hike that was open to members and visitors. That first SW hike, as reported in the Verde Independent under “Sedona News,” was led by Tex Dallas (Trail Boss 1965-66) and reported by Tex, who was also the Sedona correspondent for that paper. As reported, the hike traced the newly created trail in Fay Canyon. Eighteen enthusiastic hikers, including two visitors from Montana, made the hike that day. The historical summary in Appendix A also helps confirm that the first hike was held in February 1965.
From 1965 until 1973, there was only one official hike per week and it was always scheduled for Sunday afternoons. In 1973-74, several hikes were conducted on Saturdays in lieu of the weekly Sunday hikes because their destinations required longer drives and longer hikes than Sunday afternoons would allow. Eventually, Saturday and Sunday hikes began to be held on alternate weekends.
In the early years, all hikes began at the Chamber of Commerce (Forest Road and 89A) and went to sites near Uptown Sedona, including The Mitten, Mormon Canyon, Bear Wallow, Camel’s Head, Marg’s Draw, Steamboat Rock, and Sugarloaf (off Airport Road). Later (and for many years), the hikes originated from the former Bayless Shopping Center on 89A, first from the Revco parking area (east side) and later from the Flicker Shack parking area (west side) of that center. Today, the Bayless Shopping Center is called “The Old Market Place.” Eventually, the jumping off place for Westerner hikes was moved to the Posse Grounds on Posse Grounds Road and that is where all Westerner hikes begin today.
From 1965 on, one has had to sign in before hiking with the Westerners. The sign-in sheet contained about three lines absolving the Westerners of any blame for any mishap. Today, one has not only to sign in before each hike but also sign a formal Waiver of Responsibility form each year to be eligible to hike with the Westerners. The original Waiver document was written by Len Silvern in 1986. In 1994-95, the Waiver was revised by Attorney Karen Gray, daughter of then Trail Boss Norm Taylor, into its present form.
From the outset, hikes were popular and well attended. By late 1965, SW hikes almost always had 30 or more hikers. The Sundays hikes were often split into two or three groups to make travel easier but generally went to the same destinations. Minutes of 1965 SW meetings indicate that some members (e.g., Charley Thompson) were urging hikes to new destinations, often destinations with historical significance (e.g., Thompson’s Ladder, Grandma’s Cave). To ensure that new destinations as well as the trails to such sites were safe and passable, the practice of scouting hikes in advance began. The Hiking Guide (later titled the Cactus Dodger) and/or a chosen leader performed the scouting for upcoming hikes. In the earliest days, Charley Thompson, Tex Dallas, and Ollie Simon did most of the early scouting. Lew Goddard is recognized as the first “rugged hiker” in the club’s history, according to Jack Coombs. Bob Watts was another! Eventually, other leaders emerged and joined the scouting group. Through this practice, a cadre of experienced leaders was created that was thoroughly familiar with local hiking trails. These leaders, following trail markers for Westerner trails, have led groups on Westerner hikes all over the Sedona area as well as other parts of the Verde Valley and the Flagstaff area, year after year since 1965.
The Westerners of today follow the same hiking traditions that were created decades ago. Hikes still follow many of the same routes, stop at many of the same resting sites for coffee breaks, and still observe the same geologic, biologic, and archeologic features as they did back then. Why? “Because we have always done it this way!” Tradition with a capital T!
According to minutes of SW meetings in 1965, the need for trail signs became apparent as increasing numbers of hikers, locals and visitors alike discovered the majesty of Sedona. The Sedona Westerners, with approval from the Forest Service (FS), marked 10 trails in 1965 with wooden signs and created a crude map of which 1000 were printed and distributed to the Chamber of Commerce, motels, and the Red Rock News office for visitor use. Of the10 trails, only two were system trails created and maintained by the FS. They were the Harding Springs Trail and the Wilson Mountain Trail. The other eight trails were SW trails that went to Sugarloaf, Devil’s Kitchen, Devil’s Dining Room, Devil’s Bridge, Vultee Arch, Fay Canyon Arch, the Merry-go-Round, and the Beaver Head Stage Station. The first trail marked was “through Broken Arrow to the Devil’s Dining Room”. followed by the Merry-go-Round Trail and the Sugarloaf Trail. According to both Norm Herkenham (Trail Boss 1981-82) and Wilma Dallas (early club officer), trail marking was done by tacking redwood signs with white arrows onto trees. According to Tom Hager (Trail Boss 1985-86), “the wooden signs became collector items and disappeared as fast as they were replaced.” In lieu of the missing signs, some SW leaders marked the trail with chartreuse paint (one such marking is still visible on the trail to the Twin Buttes Saddle). During 1985-86, when Harry Brown was Trail Boss, the wooden signs at trailheads were replaced by the present vandal-proof metal signs, using residual funds from the sale of the Westerner book, “Those Early Days.” The metal signs were fabricated by Bob Davenport at a cost of about $30 per sign. The Westerners donated $1200 to the FS to establish these signs. The FS erected them with concrete footings to ensure that they would remain in place. In 2001, the 45 metal signs are still present and serve as a visual testament to earlier contributions by the Westerners to Sedona.
As mentioned above, the Westerners promoted hiking in the wilderness around Sedona and published maps to help visitors as well as locals find their way to prominent features. Ruth Martin and Harold Strohm made the first SW trail map in 1965 with artistic flourishes provided by Ollie Simon (also a local artist). The earliest maps in SW records (circa 1965, 1969, and 1971) show a number of local landmarks with alternative names. For example, what is called Cathedral Rock today was labeled “Court House Rock,” what is called Courthouse today was labeled “Church Rock,” and what is called Capitol Butte today was labeled “Gray Mountain” or “Thunder Mountain.” Resolving such discrepancies in landmark names became a big issue with the Westerners of the early 60s and the club was determined to establish consistent, authentic names for features around Sedona.
The need to use authentic names for local landmarks was driven by the desire not to confuse visitors with ambiguous names for landmarks that were increasingly appearing in photography books and calendars nationwide. Maps produced by the FS often had erroneous names for prominent features. Charley Thompson, in particular, was very fussy about place names. A lifelong friendship was started when Charley Thompson called Tex Dallas to “chew him out” about using the wrong name for a local landmark. To establish authentic names, the SW created a Historical Committee and contacted local “Old-Timers” in the area who were early settlers, descendants of settler families, or long-time residents. Some of these “Old-Timers” included people who had lived in the area for over 70 years (e.g., Ellsworth Schnebly, Charley Thompson, Joe Lay, Inez Lay, Clara Purtyman, Roy Owenby). Public meetings were arranged to provide the Old-Timers with an open forum to talk about the old days. These sessions were taped by Rollie Houck (of Rollie’s Camera) and resulted in about 8,000 feet of audio tape. At times, even the “Old-Timers” argued over what the authentic names should be. With input and debate from the “Old-Timers,” eventually authentic names were established once and for all time. With zeal, the Westerners then began to insist on use of the authentic names in print and in everyday use (e.g., SW corrected Arizona Highways on the use of Hart Well Canyon instead of Hartwell Canyon, as the magazine had printed). As a result of this Westerner drive, FS maps were corrected. According to club minutes, later SW maps strived to use the authenticated names of Sedona landmarks as well (although the records do not contain a SW map printed beyond 1971). For their assistance, the “Old-Timers” were made honorary members of SW.
Publication of “Those Early Days”
This historical bent of the SW lead to a compilation of historical data about Sedona and the early settlers as well as the authentic names of landmarks. These data led to the eventual writing and publication of “Those Early Days,” a book about the early pioneers of the Sedona area and their experiences. The book, published originally in 1968 and revised in 1975, was researched and written by SW members, notably Allen Bristow and Myrtle Smith. The front cover of the book was illustrated by Joe Beeler, famed cowboy artist (and honorary SW member), and the back cover was done by Charles Dye. Funds for publication of the book came from SW social events and a small bank loan which was paid off with proceeds from the first printing. The first printing was sold out in two months and “Those Early Days” is now out of print. In 1986, SW donated the remaining copies of the book to the Sedona Public Library, along with the rights to reprint the book and sell copies. However, SW still holds the copyright to the book. The book is available for reading in the Sedona Public Library.
As a footnote to “Those Early Days”, “Cactus” Jack Stratton (Trail Boss 1984-85) may have the most prized copy of the book in that he has managed to get his copy autographed by every Trail Boss since he became a member in 1977.
In the late 1970s, SW corresponded with NBC about doing a one-hour special based on “Those Early Days” but it never came to fruition. In 1999, Sedona Magazine (with SW permission) did an article on the “Words of the Pioneers,” using excerpts from “Those Early Days.” Within the SW, there is still considerable interest in the history and lore of Sedona.
Sedona Westerner Trails Book
On August 8, 1979, the book entitled “A Sampler of 108 Sedona Westerner Trail Walks” was published. The paperback book is a delightful collection of accounts about Westerner hikes in the late 70s, written by a number of SW hikers. The accounts contained in the book were originally published in local newspapers as descriptions of weekly Westerner hikes and contains a lot of the geologizing and biologizing that Westerners do on hikes. Through all, that unique brand of Westerner humor shines through! Included in this book is the oft-quoted statement “you don’t have to be crazy to hike with the Sedona Westerners but it helps.” The book was dedicated to Ellsworth Schnebly (son of Sedona Schnebly) who wrote some of the accounts of hikes early on. The book was arranged and edited by Lorraine Jaquith, club historian (Old-Timer) for many years, and Dixon Fagerberg (Trail Boss 1973-74). A local publishing company, The Pronto Press, printed the book. “A Sampler of 108 Sedona Westerner Trail Walks” was reviewed in Arizona Highways and, according to a Red Rock News article in 1979, was in “high demand.” It is presently out of print but available in the stacks of the Sedona Public Library.
Civic and Social Activities
In parallel with the historical thrusts of SW were prominent social activities. As mentioned at the outset, the earliest data in the historical files portray SW as a social club and a Sedona booster club. Its intent was on putting Sedona on the map, filling the void in social activities that existed in the late 50s and 60s, and raising money for civic projects.
In this manner, the SW worked hand-in-hand with the newly formed Sedona Chamber of Commerce. From 1965 into the mid 70s, SW sponsored a number of big social events for the community; events also designed to build community spirit and raise money. Among these social events were the following:
- Easter Breakfast. From 1967 until 1978, the SW provided breakfast at the Elks Lodge following Easter sunrise services on what is now Airport Mesa. This breakfast often fed over 400 people and featured a dish called “Splatterdabs” (pancakes made with bits of Sedona apples). This effort required a large staff of SW volunteers, equipment, and a lot of advance planning. The Westerners formally invited Elvis Presley to the breakfast but he, via Col. Tom Parker’s office, turned down the invitation because of work pressures. Col. Parker’s letter is in the SW historical files.
- Western Days. From 1967 until the early 70s, the SW sponsored Western Days in Sedona which encouraged everyone to dress Western or be thrown in mock jail. This requirement was enforced by the club Marshal who proudly toted a star and enforced club rules. Western Days included events such as Donkey Baseball, barbecues, and square dancing.
- Parades. Annually, SW entered floats in various Verde Valley parades. The Sedona Westerners often won prizes for their float entries.
- Caroling on Christmas Eve. From what is now Airport Mesa, SW organized caroling on Christmas Eve. The earliest report about caroling at Christmas is dated in December 1963. Approximately 20 Westerners and guests did the singing that Christmas. The practice of Caroling on Christmas Eve continued until 1970, when it ceased for an unknown reason.
- Steak Fry Dinners. In the 60s, SW put on “Steak Fry” dinners or “Cowboy Breakfasts” almost every summer weekend at the Posse Grounds for tourists and residents of Sedona. The cost of a Steak Fry dinner was $2.25. Cowboy Breakfasts were $1.00. To support these Western-style meals, SW acquired a chuck wagon and many large cooking implements. The SW chuck wagon was prominently displayed in Uptown Sedona for many years. On some weekends, W hosted Hay Rides and trips to the backcountry. Western music and square dancing often were incorporated into some evening events. As many as 2,000 people were fed annually at these Cowboy Breakfasts and Steak Fry dinners. Westerners staffed the meals and were assigned colorful Western titles, such as Calico Queen (hostess) and Gate Horse (treasurer) (see Appendix A for other names). Among the honored guests at Westerner Steak Fry dinners were actors Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda. As with the Easter Breakfast, the SW labor was entirely voluntary and proceeds went to support special projects in the community.
- Softball. The SW apparently had a softball team at one time. In the only published report of their play, SW played the FS and lost 21-12.
- Square Dances. The SW sponsored Square Dances on Thursday nights.
- Sedona Clean-up Campaigns. From the very early days of SW, the club was concerned about beautification of Sedona and stewardship of the land surrounding Sedona. Beginning in 1964, the SW participated in the Chamber of Commerce Anti-Litter Campaign and gave out litter bags purchased with club money to prevent the city from becoming inundated with trash. This function is now performed by the Keep Sedona Beautiful organization.
These social functions of the 60s and 70s were in keeping with the spirit of the times in Sedona. Sedona was a largely undiscovered jewel in the 60s and SW was intent on helping put it on the national map by creating a welcoming atmosphere with many social events. Gradually, other social organizations (Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) took over some of SW’s events and, sadly, some events just ceased to exist (probably because of the enormous effort it took to stage them). The social void that drove the establishment of SW began to disappear in the 70s and, eventually, hiking became the main activity on the SW calendar.
From the earliest times, the Westerners have produced social functions exclusively for its own membership. Several of those membership social functions have been carried on to the present day. They are the Spring and Fall Cook-outs as well as the Holiday Party in December. The cook-outs are held at area parks, most recently at the Red Rock State Park. At the cook-outs, some Westerners still wear Western garb and former Trail Bosses barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs for everyone, using club equipment. A staple of the cook-outs is the baked beans which are still made from a recipe provided by Virginia Watts, passed down via Marshall Cook (Trail Boss 1982-83), to Sally Freeman whose coleslaw is also a Westerner tradition. Since 1992-93 (when Keran O’Brien was Trail Boss), a Chuckwagon Crew has handled all the food arrangements. As a footnote, Gerda and Guenther Kunstmann hold the record for longest service on Chuckwagon Crews (eight years and counting). The Holiday Party is generally a potluck dinner (overseen by the Chuckwagon Crew) at the Elks Club and includes live music and dancing. Today, these social gatherings are generally well attended and still a vital part of club life.
From its inception in 1961, the Westerners organization has been carried on year to year by volunteers who have stepped forward and shouldered the responsibility of conducting club business. In so doing, these volunteers have sustained the club for nearly 40 years and have contributed to its growth and development. A list of Westerners who held club offices each year between 1961 and 1993 was compiled by Jack Coombs. That list is now kept current by each new Trail Boss.
Much of the responsibility for running the club rests with the Trail Boss. Appendix B contains a corrected list of all of the Trail Bosses who have served over the years. The files contain three lists of Trail Bosses which conflict about who served in 1962-63, 1963-64, and 1964-65. According to Wilma Dallas, Dean Gregory was Trail Boss in 1963 when she and her husband joined the SW (this agrees with two of the lists). She also remembers that Tex Dallas served in 1964-65 (which agrees with one of the lists) as well as 1965-66 (which agrees with two lists). Club minutes from 1964 indicate that Dean Gregory was Trail Boss up until October 9, 1964 after which Tex Dallas became Acting Trail Boss. Chic Allen’s term as Trail Boss (1963-64) was completed by Stan Gabler (all of the lists have Allen/Gabler but in different orders). So, the probable order of Trail Bosses is Smyth, Gregory, Allen/Gabler, Gregory/Dallas, and Dallas for the first five years of the club’s history. Thus, of the 38 Trail Bosses that have served the club, only Dean Gregory and Tex Dallas have repeated. Until 2000, all Trail Bosses have been males except for Marge Herkenham who served in 1986-87. In 2000-01, Marge was joined by Olga Ostrom as one of the only two women to hold the post of Trail Boss.
Up to 2000-01, with several exceptions, the traditional path to Trail Boss included service as Assistant Cactus Dodger, Cactus Dodger and Wagon Boss in preceding years before ascending to the Trail Boss job. This path dictated that the Trail Boss would always be from the Scouts. As the Dogie and Ambler groups have emerged, this traditional path has been questioned and a new procedure for selecting the Trail Boss has been developed. The new procedure will open the selection process, allowing the Trail Boss to be picked from any group within the club.
For their service to the club, each retiring Trail Boss has received a special brass bola tie with the SW logo from his predecessor at the Spring cook-out. According to Jack Coombs (Trail Boss in 1989-90), the tradition of awarding a bola tie to outgoing Trail Bosses began in 1974 when Lew Goddard was Trail Boss. Dixon Fagerberg is the earliest known Trail Boss with a brass bola tie. In 1987, the only exception to this practice occurred when outgoing Trail Boss Marge Herkenham was given a pendent with the SW logo in lieu of a bola tie. In some cases, bola ties of deceased Trail Bosses have been returned to the club by the family. These bola ties have been identified and made available to subsequently retiring Trail Bosses, in lieu of a new bola tie.
Hiking as the Main Westerner Activity
As the civic-minded social events of the 60s and 70s began to disappear from the SW calendar, hiking became the mainstay event in SW activities and the hiking population swelled. During the late 70s and early 80s, Westerner hikes had more than 100 hikers at least four times and also had 90 or more hikers on six outings. During this era, the practice of splitting hikes to keep groups at a reasonable size became routine In 1976, it was formally decided that SW would put on two Sunday hikes and two Saturday hikes per month, instead of just one Sunday afternoon hike. The Saturday hike was to be a lengthier, all-day outing held on alternate weekends with the Sunday afternoon hikes. In 1974, Lothar Kolbig (Cactus Dodger) inadvertently made history by scheduling a Saturday hike back-to-back with a Sunday afternoon hike. This error was duly noted by tired hikers who had opted to do both hikes. The Red Rock News write-up stated that it was “so difficult for those that participated in both that it would probably never happen again.” Today, some SW hikers routinely hike several times per week, often on consecutive days.
From 1965 on, SW hikes were reported in the local newspapers, such as The Verde Independent and the Red Rock News. Tex Dallas wrote the newspaper accounts of the first club hikes. After him, Ellsworth Schnebly wrote some of the articles. According to both Bernice Brown and Norm Herkenham, Lorraine Jacquith wrote the newspaper articles after those earliest days. Tansy Meadows succeeded Jacquith and wrote the articles for the newspapers until 1981. Bob Nichols wrote the articles in 1981-82. Along the way, poems by Charles Jorgensen found their way into the articles. After 1982, it became difficult to find a volunteer to do the weekly writing. In 1982-83, the practice of having members take turns writing the newspaper articles started and has continued to the present. Since 1982, the club’s Round-up Boss has secured a volunteer (“Scribe”) to write an article each week. Norm Herkenham, Round-up Boss in 1999-2000, described his job as the worst job in the club because members don’t want to write the articles. These articles have been a major avenue for promoting the Westerners and their hikes since the onset of hiking.
In 1977, the SW hikes were featured in an article in Modern Maturity. The article, entitled “The Joy of Hiking,” was a two-page spread with five color photos of club members hiking to “Arizona’s Rock Canyon” (which appears to be Marg’s Draw from the photographs). Two-thirds of the100 or so hikers were described as “of retirement age but still active.” The hike was led by Jim Bryant, for whom the Bryant Trail is named.
As the hikes increased in popularity, new destinations were scouted and added to the list of SW hikes. According to Norm Herkenham, Bob Watts (Trail Boss 1978-79) was instrumental in planning, scouting, and creating many new hiking routes. An undated document from this era lists over 150 hike destinations, up significantly from the 10 trails listed in 1964. As part of the effort to create new trails, old trails established by the early settlers were rediscovered and reestablished. Norm Herkenham, Tom Hager, and Harry Brown, among others, are credited with reestablishing old trails. Herkenham’s talented dog, Phoebe, is given credit for finding the route connecting Secret Canyon with Bear Sign Canyon. The trail, once informally called “the Phoebe Trail”, is now named the David Miller Trail. SW explorers have also discovered features such as “The Mushroom” in Boynton Canyon and created routes by which one can hike to them.
In 2000-01, the Sedona Loop Trail became a reality. It was the brain child of past Trail Boss Norm Herkenham who lobbied both the City and the FS extensively for its creation. For his efforts, Herkenham was cited by the City and the FS jointly in 1997 as the “Father” of the Sedona Trails System. On May 18 , 2000, Westerners Bob Dannert, Dave Singer, and Jim Tanis became the first hikers to hike the entire Sedona Loop (approximately 27 miles) in one day. They did it in 11 hours and 22 minutes, according to Dave Singer.
Along the way, hiking Westerners have been surrounded by awesome scenery, met by varied weather, and faced with some rough terrain. They have also been thrilled by encounters with various types of critters and forced to endure rough roads and injuries. And, yes, they even suffered through one death on a hike! Veterans of these hikes are referred to as WOGs (Westerner Old Goats). These conditions and that distinctive brand of Westerner humor have always found their way into the newspaper accounts of the hikes and into the club albums. A complete club album exists for every year of Westerner history except 1961, 1962, and 1963, and there is even a remnant of an album for 1963. The albums have a history, too! In 1976, Geri Bass was named club “Old-Timer” (historian) and given boxes of unsorted newspaper articles and some photographs dating back to 1964. Meticulously, she sorted the articles by year and then put them in albums in chronological order, often adding her own photos as well as photos from other members. Her albums, and subsequent albums produced by other Old-Timers, comprise most of the historical record of Westerner activities, in both word and image. The seasonal effects (e.g., floods, snow, aspen color, etc.) mixed with the red rocks and the obvious joy of hikers experiencing those effects are recorded in the albums with remarkable clarity! Tradition captured to a T!
Westerner Hiking Groups
Scouts. From the onset of hiking in 1965, hikes were open to all members and visitors. Sunday afternoon hikes, and later, alternating Saturday hikes were it! These hikes have always been led by the Hiking Guide (or Cactus Dodger) or a Scout. According to Wilma Dallas, the term “Cactus Dodger” was adopted after her husband (Tex) had to pick cactus spines out of Rose Simon’s leg and apply mercurochrome through her panty hose (which she was reluctant to remove). It was observed that it would be best to dodge cactus. Tex Dallas told Charley Thompson (the Hiking Guide) that he should be called the “Cactus Dodger” and the name stuck (no pun intended)! Ironically, Tex Dallas was appointed the first official Cactus Dodger in 1966-67. The Cactus Dodger was always a male until Virginia Watts (wife of Bob Watts) became the first female Cactus Dodger in 1977 (two women have subsequently held the post). By all accounts, Virginia was a strong hiker in her own right. Along the way, there have been co-Cactus Dodgers for various reasons.
According to an early hiker, Geri Bass, the majority of Westerner hikes were scouted on Wednesdays back in the 70s. Today, the Scouts pre-hike the trails of upcoming Saturday and Sunday hikes on Tuesdays and conduct exploratory hiking on Thursdays, under the guidance of Dave Singer (present Cactus Dodger). The Scouts are a group of more experienced hikers who are dedicated to not only learning and maintaining trails but committed to leading hikes as well. Nothing exists in the records to indicate when the group became officially known as “The Scouts.”
For the first 27 years of club hiking, all participants on a Westerner outing attempted to hike at the rate set by the leader, but hiking skills varied considerably among the hikers. Slower hikers lagged behind and, in effect, often created wide separations in the group. Keeping the group together on a hike became a major problem. In 1985, Don Hooven (Cactus Dodger) developed the idea of a “dual hike” which addressed the problem created by differential hiking skills. A “dual hike” basically split the group at the trailhead into two groups with different leaders and different destinations along the same trail. Although the group started out together, the two groups eventually diverged and became separate hikes, moving at different rates. Hooven’s dual-hike concept is still used occasionally on some hikes today but it does not completely eliminate the differential rate problem. However, Hooven’s idea may have been the stimulus for completely separate hiking groups.
Origin of the Dogies. In 1988, a group of the Westerners approached the Trail Boss (Norm Hause) about creating a separate hiking group that would conduct slower and less strenuous hikes than the Saturday and Sunday hikes. On December 1, 1988, a new slower-paced group called the “Old Dogies” was formed. Bill Eggert volunteered to be the leader (Dogie Boss) of the “Old Dogies” and Sue Egelston served as his assistant. So as not to conflict with Saturday and Sunday hikes, the Old Dogie hikes were scheduled for Thursdays. In the spring of 1989, Dogies hikes shifted to Tuesday. Eventually, Sam Waldrip and then Clyde Morgan (Trail Boss 1979-80) took over and sustained the Dogies to present times. In 2000-01, Dick Eibeck is the Dogie Boss. Over the years, “Old” was gradually dropped from the title and today this group is simply known as the “Dogies.” When compared to the more difficult Scout hikes or Saturday hikes, Dogie hikes have been characterized as moderate in both speed and distance covered. While the Dogies added another hiking day to the SW calendar and traveled at a moderate pace, the new group still did not satisfy everyone’s hiking needs.
Origin of the Amblers. In 1995, approximately 10-15 veteran hikers approached John Schaeffer (Trail Boss 1995-96) about creating yet another hiking group that traveled at a slower pace than the Dogies. A nucleus of slower hikers came together over the summer of 1995 and in September, the “Amblers” group (as a separate entity) was born with Sam Waldrip serving as the initial leader or Ambler Boss. Ambler hikes were scheduled for Thursdays. Eventually, Bill Sexton and John Schaeffer assumed lead of the Amblers and the group grew in popularity. In 2000, after the untimely death of John Schaeffer, John Mezera ascended to position of Ambler Boss. The Amblers became the SW group that attracts many new members as well as those wishing to travel at a slower pace. Today, it is the largest hiking group within the Westerners.
Origin of Special Hikes. In 1999-2000, under Trail Boss Sandy Unger, additional hikes were created to provide even more hiking opportunities for the club membership and, simultaneously, meet tighter FS restrictions on group size. These hikes, started on an experimental basis, have proven to be popular and well attended because they provide more hikes and also more diverse types of hikes that reach more of the membership. These hikes included Trail Boss Favorites (hikes led by former Trail Bosses), Geology-oriented hikes (led by Paul Lindberg), Botany hikes (led by Norm Herkenham), and Archaeology hikes (led by Bill Sexton and John Sturgis). Generally, the Trail Boss Favorite hikes have been conducted on Saturdays and the science-oriented hikes on selected Mondays. Thus, in 2001, a Westerner can hike almost every day of the week. This schedule is in stark contrast to the early years in which there were only Sunday hikes.
Origin of the Rustlers. In May of 2015 Trail Boss Mary McCaffrey proposed the addition of a 7th hiking group to the Executive Committee and on October 8, 2015 the membership unanimously approved the Rustlers as the second Saturday hiking group. The new group accommodates hikers still employed during the week as well as hikers wishing for a shorter, less strenuous hike on Saturdays than the Rough Rider option. Velma Keller-Henry became the first Rustler Boss with Donna Bell as her Assistant. The inaugural Rustler Hike was to Harding Springs on October 10, 2015.
Westerner Assistance to the NFS
At times, the Westerners have been called upon to assist the FS in various ways. The Scouts, for example, have been asked by the FS to assist in Search and Rescue operations in the local mountains and canyons to find lost hikers, notably David Miller. Another faction of the Westerners, the Emergency Assistance Team (EAT), has assisted the FS during crises such as forest fires, forest closings, trail closings, and similar events. The EAT was started in 1993-94 by Nancy Bihler, the then club Ranger (whose duty is liaison with the FS). The EAT is now headed by Fred Johnson.
Along the way, the Sedona Westerners have received several official citations and plaques from various government agencies, including the Sedona-Beaver Creek FS Ranger District, for their work in the community. Included are the following:
- a plaque from the Coconino Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Group for contributions to purchase a new emergency vehicle.
- a Certificate of Appreciation from the FS for establishing trail head signs.
- a Certificate of Appreciation from the FS for finding archeological artifacts on Sacred Mountain.
Over its 40 year history, the Westerners have worked with state and local historical groups to resurrect and commemorate various places and events in the history of the Sedona area. Among these are the following:
Vultee Crash Site Commemoration. In 1965, the SW Historical Committee, in conjunction with Old-Timers and the Chamber of Commerce, named “the arch in the Dry Creek area at the head of Sterling Canyon” as Vultee Arch because Jerry and Sylvia Vultee crashed and died near there on a stormy day in January 1938. Vultee was the head of Vultee Aircraft Company of California. In 1969, SW dedicated a plaque in honor of the Vultees in Sterling Canyon, near the arch. In 1979, 30 members of the SW hiked with 20 members of the Vultee Club of California and the Vultee’s son, Peter, to Sterling Canyon to view the plaque. The remains of the plane (not a Vultee plane) are still visible up on the Mogollon Rim in the East Pocket, south of the FS fire tower. In 1996, the plaque was reattached to the rock by several Westerners and the site rededicated.
Beaverhead Stage Station Commemoration. After 10 years of research and lobbying by Sedona Westerners and others, the Beaverhead Stage Station was officially designated as a historical site by the State of Arizona in 1973. The site is located 11.5 miles south of Sedona along SR179. The historical significance of the station site is that it is the only marked spot on the stage route between Prescott and Santa Fe. Bob Watts (Trail Boss 1978-79) designed the monument and supervised its construction on the site. Commemoration festivities were held on October 6, 1973 with about 40 “Old-timers”, Westerners, and others in attendance. Ellsworth Schnebly, son of Sedona Schnebly, presided over the event.
Soldier Pass Grave Site Commemoration. Early in the history of the SW (1965), the grave site in Soldier Pass was cleaned up, fenced, and marked with a wooden sign. Over the ensuing 30 years, the sign deteriorated. In 1979-80, when Clyde Morgan was Trail Boss, it was decided that the site should be improved and a more permanent plaque put in place. A bronze plaque was created in the 1990s but was thought to be out of place with the rugged grave site. Finally, it was installed in 1999 by Tom Hager, Mike Mulbarger and Mick Siemion. In June 1999, under Trail Boss Sandy Unger, the site was rededicated.
Wilson Mountain Trail Dedication. The SW donated a plaque to the community which explains how Wilson Mountain was named. The plaque was installed near the trailhead for what is now called the South Wilson Mountain Trail and was dedicated on November 21, 1983. Harry Brown composed the statement on the plaque.
Miscellaneous Westerner Activities
Over the years, Westerner members have produced a number of miscellaneous items and staged events that undoubtedly boosted the club’s identity as well as it’s morale. The club has also raised money for civic projects. Among these accomplishments are:
Theme Song. In 1982, the official theme song of the Westerners was produced. The lyrics were written by Len Silvern and the music by Harry Allaire. According to Len Silvern, the song was intended to be a “marching song” sung on the trail but it never caught on. Its title is “A Hiking Song.” The theme song was sung occasionally at club functions in the 1980s but has not been used in recent years.
Art. In the early days of the Westerners, Tansy Meadows produced satirical cartoons about hiking around Sedona. They capture the spirit of what it was like to hike in the red rocks in the 60s. Five of her original cartoons are in the historical files of the club. Also, many early Westerner hikes were captured on film by Geri Bass whose photos grace the annual albums of SW.
Westerner Patch. In 1982, under Trail Boss Marshall Cook, a committee was appointed to design and produce a patch that would identify Westerner hikers as members of the club. Len Silvern created the theme of “hiker helping hiker.” Charles Jorgensen, using Silvern’s theme, produced the patch design which was adopted and is still used today.
Mike Nardello Tribute. The SW paid special tribute to Mike Nardello on February 13, 1992. Nardello, who hiked with the Westerners from 1969 until the early 90s, was affectionately known as “The Pepperoni Kid.” He was a one man welcoming committee, a man who always looked out for new members on hikes. He led at least 90 hikes up Steamboat Rock and was awarded 10 additional honorary trips, allowing him to attain his life’s goal of 100. At his tribute, Mike was made an honorary Trail Boss and given the only silver Trail Boss bola tie, hand-crafted by Marshall Cook (Trail Boss 1982-83).
Name Badges. The practice of wearing name badges probably dates back to 1972, give or take a year. Mike Nardello, long time Prospector, and his neighbor Georgia Petit (club officer and whose husband, Russ Petit, owned Sedona Engraving then) were probably instrumental in promoting the adoption and use of name badges.
Contributions. From its inception, the Westerners club has supported many civic projects and causes with money raised from its projects. Among the beneficiaries were the Children’s Christmas Party, the Sedona Fire Department, the Ambulance Fund, the Swimming Pool Fund, and both Boy and Girl Scout troops. In the past, Westerners have donated money to the Technical Search and Rescue Team of the Sedona Fire Department. These annual donations have been made in the name of SW members who have passed away during that year.
Web Site. In 1999, under Trail Boss Sandy Unger, the SW entered the realm of cyberspace when club member Mark Casper developed a web site for the club’s use. Among its many functions, the web site contains a current calendar of upcoming club events, including hikes. The retention of detailed hike information had been a controversial issue for many years until in 2014 Trail Boss Curt Kommer authorized the creation of a hike database, storing enough information for each hike to ensure their permanence. Club members Jim O'brien and Clint Gelotte gathered all hike information available and created the new database and website that is in use today.
The Sedona Westerners have changed significantly over the course of their 40 year history. Originally established to be a Sedona social club, it has become largely a hiking club with a conservation bent. Early in club history, the SW established many trails in the Sedona area with FS approval, marked them, and published maps to assist other hikers in finding various features around Sedona. Driven initially to establish authentic names for various features around Sedona, the club rallied “Old-Timers” to the cause and eventually documented much of the history of Sedona in a published book entitled “Those Early Days.” Hikes, which began in February,1965 with a single Sunday afternoon hike, now are the staple of the social calendar. Five or more hikes per week are offered regularly at three levels of strenuousness. A book about Westerner hikes and Westerner humor has also been published. Social activities, once civic-oriented and fund-raising in nature, are now focused on three membership events each year (two Cook-outs and a Holiday Party). Where the Westerners used to communicate exclusively by telephone for upcoming events, today many members peruse hiking schedules and club events via the Internet, using the club’s web site. Many members communicate via personal e-mail. Membership, initially just 12 in 1961, has swelled to about 300 members! This growth bodes well for the next 40 years of SW history. Tradition, with a capital T, lives on!
Appendix A - Westerner Beginnings
The Westerners began about 1962 and here are some highlights through the years.
1963-In November, the Sedona Westerners held a meeting at the County Building which was across from where Bayless is now and next to the small jail. Judge Longfellow called the meeting to order at 8 pm and there were just 4 members present (including Mike Nardello). There were four drunks held in the jail so the judge called them out to supplement the attendees at the meeting.
1964-Bill Seaman was the boss for the anti-litter clean-up that was held before an Easter Breakfast from the Y to Airport Road.
1964-An annual Cowboy Breakfast was held at Easter at the Posse Grounds. Tex Dallas appointed “Ranch Hands” for the occasion. They had a Prospector (Host), Calico Queen (Hostess), Gate Horse (Treasurer), Fire Puncher (Fire Fueler), Chicken Shooter (Egg Breaker), Brown Gargle Foremen (Coffee Maker), Brown Gargle Sallies (Coffee Servers), Saddle Blanket Chef (Pancake Cook), Hen Wrangler (Egg Cook), Hog Scorcher (Ham Cook), Spud Rustler (Potato Cook), Head Taster (Boss of all Cooks), Sour Dough Bullet Boss (Biscuit Cook), Axle Greaser (Biscuit Server), Grub Tool Rider (Table Service Girl), Yodel Herder (Music Player).
1964-A Pie Social was held in December at the Owl Restaurant. Myrtle Smith was Chairman.
Still in 1984-Richard (Pop) Allen was named Westerner of the Year and was presented with a pair of men’s shorts by Wilma Dallas.
In Feb. 1965, the Sedona Westerners first hike was made. One of the first hikes was to Robber’s Roost. On that hike were Rufus Snyder, Wilma Dallas, Ray Heym, Mabel Thompson, and Myrtle Smith.
At the Easter Breakfast that year, Rose Simon served as the Easter Bunny.
At the meeting of April 1, 1965, a vote of thanks was given to Rollie Hauck for his valuable contribution in recording the proceedings and in copying old photographs brought to him by some members.