A more detailed account of the Sedona Westerners history (by Robert Feuge) can be found here. This was written in 2001 on the occasion of the Westerners 40th anniversary. For the Westerners 60th anniversary in 2021, an updated history slide-show presentation (by David Minott) can be found here.
Brief History of the Sedona Westerners
The Sedona Westerners (SW) club grew out of a small group of Sedona residents who were horse owners. This 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. 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, this group also provided Western-style entertainment. They put on square dances, hay rides, and barbecues at the Posse Grounds. This informal group organized itself via telephone prior to week-end events or whenever a group of special tourists was known to be coming to Sedona.
The Sedona Westerners 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 from 1964 to 1970), the initial Constitution and Bylaws of the club was about a half-page long. The club was not incorporated until March 6, 1984.
Since 1961, the President has been referred to as Trail Boss. The titles of all officers are required by the Bylaws “to be in keeping with western vernacular.” The original titles were extracted from a book entitled Western Words by Ramon Adams, published in 1944. In 1961, 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.
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. The program often was a slide show or guitar music and singing by one of the Old-Timers. From 1961 until 1969, and perhaps beyond, annual dues were $1 which covered all club expenses, such as reimbursement for gas or stamps.
In 1965-66, the Constitution was expanded to two pages. According to that version 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, this Constitution did not prohibit involvement in political issues. Although 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 the establishment of a shooting range (the SW supported this because it provided entertainment). The current Bylaws have been modified to prohibit the club from taking a stand on any political issue unless it directly affects the club.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 the local blacksmith. He also constructed a small bell in 1965 that was used to call SW meetings to order. This bell is still used to bring meetings to order. The whereabouts of the original SW 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. As Westerner membership grew meetings were moved to larger facilities in the Sedona area.
Westerner HikingIn 1964, four Westerners hiked around what was then called Sugarloaf Hill (near Airport Road). The hike was so enjoyable that they decided to encourage the club 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, "to make the best of Sedona's outdoors" was added to the club's Constitution. This 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. In late 1964, hiking began as a regularly scheduled SW social event. On February 18, 1965, the Verde Independent published the “first of a series of hikes for residents and visitors” taking place on Sunday February 14, 1965. This first SW hike was led by Tex Dallas, who was also the Sedona correspondent for the 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. 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. The original hike sign-in sheet contained three lines absolving the club of any blame for any mishap. Today members sign an annual Release of Liability, in addition to signing in before each hike. From the outset, hikes were popular and well attended. By late 1965, SW hikes almost always had 30 or more hikers. The Sunday hikes were often split into two or three groups to make travel easier but generally went to the same destination. Some members were urging hikes to new destinations. To ensure that new destinations were safe and passable, the practice of scouting hikes in advance began. A cadre of experienced leaders, thoroughly familiar with local hiking trails, was created to scout upcoming hikes. Today the Westerners 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 archeological features as they have always done. Why? “Because we have always done it this way!”
Trail MarkingIn 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, marked 10 trails in 1965 with wooden signs. Of the 10 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. Trail marking was done by tacking redwood signs with white arrows onto trees. These 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, 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.”
Also in 1965, the SW created a crude trail map of which 1000 were printed and distributed to the Chamber of Commerce, motels, and the Red Rock News office for visitor use. A local artist provided artistic flourishes. The earliest maps 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.
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 . Public meetings were arranged to provide the Old-Timers with an open forum to talk about the old days. 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).
Sedona Westerner Publications
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. The front cover of the book was illustrated by Joe Beeler, famed cowboy artist (and honorary SW member). 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.
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.
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. From 1965 into the mid 70s, SW sponsored a number of community events which were also designed to build community spirit and raise money. Among these social events were the following: Easter Breakfast, Western Days, Parades, Caroling on Christmas Eve, Steak Fry Dinners, Softball, Square Dances, Sedona Clean-up Campaigns. Gradually, other social organizations (Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) took over some of SW’s events and, sadly, some events just ceased to exist. 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.
Westerner Hiking Groups
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. Sundays were always half day hikes and Saturdays were full day hikes.
Origin of the Drovers In 2000-01, the name Drover was used for the weekly Sunday afternoon hikes. Initially there were two hikes offered on Sunday, each lasting from three to four hours. Currently, there is one hike offered each Sunday. Generally, they are rated as moderate or easy, although in some instances they include steep climbs, rock-scrambling, and small ledges.
Origin of Rough Riders Initially, the Saturday hikes were called Scout hikes and were the most difficult hikes offered. The Scouts date back to the inception of the club, when a small group of experienced hikers organized themselves in an effort to provide leadership and guidance to fellow members. In 2002-03, Saturday hikes led by the Scouts were called Cowpoke hikes. In 2003-04, the name was changed to Rough Rider hikes. These hikes tend to be of greater length, move along at a steady pace and often get into areas of rock scramble and ledges.
Origin of the Dogies. In 1988, a group of Westerners suggested that a new hiking group be formed 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. The Old Dogie hikes were scheduled for Thursdays. In the spring of 1989, Dogie hikes shifted to Tuesday. Over the years, “Old” was gradually dropped from the title and today this group is simply known as the “Dogies.” The 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, a group of Westerners suggested that another hiking group be formed 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 was born. Ambler hikes were scheduled for Thursdays. The Amblers became the SW group that attracts many new members, as well as those wishing to travel at a slower pace.
Origin of the Mustangs In 2000-01, an additional hiking group was created to provide even more opportunities for the club membership. These hikes included Trail Boss Favorites and Special Interest hikes, such as geology, botany and archaeology. Generally, the Trail Boss Favorite hikes were conducted on Saturdays and the Special Interest hikes on selected Mondays. In 2004-05, these hikes were split, the Special Interest hikes into the Trackers and the Trail Boss Favorites into the Mustangs, who developed a complete schedule of hikes meeting every Thursday. These hikes were more physically challenging than the Dogie hikes. Varying in their degree of difficulty, the majority of Mustang hikes are in the 7-9 mile range and often have an elevation change of 1000-2000 feet, sometimes more. Most hikes move along at a moderate to slightly above moderate pace.>
Origin of the Trackers In 2005, special interest hikes received their own name and schedule. Tracker hikes are held on select Wednesdays and include archeology, botany, ethnobotany, geology, history and photography, etc. Some of the Tracker hikes can be described as field trips, while others are hikes.
Origin of the Rustlers. In 2015-16, yet another hiking group was formed. The new group, the Rustlers, would accommodate hikers still employed during the week, in addition to hikers wishing for a shorter, less strenuous hike on Saturdays than the Rough Rider option. These are normally half day hikes similar to the Drovers. The inaugural Rustler Hike was on October 10, 2015.
Sedona Westerner Trail Bosses
- 1961-62 Don Smyth
- 1962-63 Dean Gregory
- 1963-64 Chic Allen/Stan Gabler
- 1964-65 Dean Gregory/Tex Dallas
- 1965-66 Tex Dallas
- 1966-67 Allen Bristow
- 1967-68 Ollie Simon
- 1968-69 Ellsworth Schnebly
- 1969-70 Don Willard/Mike Wright
- 1970-71 Charles Knaus
- 1971-72 Ed Long
- 1972-73 Lew Goddard
- 1973-74 Dixon Fagerberg
- 1974-75 Vic Sterzing
- 1975-76 Lothar Kolbig
- 1976-77 Dick Stout
- 1977-78 Jack Sherman
- 1978-79 Bob Watts
- 1979-80 Clyde Morgan
- 1980-81 Bill Eggert
- 1981-82 Norm Herkenham
- 1982-83 Marshall Cook
- 1983-84 Harry Brown
- 1984-85 Jack Stratton
- 1985-86 Tom Hager
- 1986-87 Marge Herkenham
- 1987-88 Don Hooven
- 1988-89 Norm Hause
- 1989-90 Jack Coombs
- 1990-91 Bob Freeman
- 1991-92 Al Smeeth
- 1992-93 Keran O’Brien
- 1993-94 George Jones
- 1994-95 Norm Taylor
- 1995-96 John Schaeffer
- 1996-97 Harold Kirkley
- 1997-98 Jim Tanis
- 1998-99 Len Ostrom
- 1999-00 Sandy Unger
- 2000-01 Olga Ostrom
- 2001-02 Charles West
- 2002-03 Dave Jackson
- 2003-04 Dave Singer
- 2004-05 Dick Eibeck
- 2005-06 Reno Pamintuan
- 2006-07 Louise Gelotte
- 2007-08 Tom Arni
- 2008-09 Al Vander Peut
- 2009-10 Liz Sweeney
- 2010-11 George Witteman
- 2011-12 Walter Krywucki
- 2012-13 Mike Holmes
- 2013-14 Marion Hadji-Agha
- 2014-15 Curt Kommer
- 2015-16 Mary McCaffrey
- 2016-17 James Warren
- 2017-18 Barbara O'Connor
- 2018-19 Tom Yager
- 2019-20 Scott McFeely
- 2020-21 Terri Petrescu
- 2021-22 Dave Minott
- 2022-23 Donna Forsythe
- 2023-24 Ray LaPorte