Within the lore of the American West exists a veritable tradition of brashness and ingenuity, from the pageantry of Buffalo Bill to the moxie of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a heritage that makes visiting Sheridan, Wyoming fascinating itself. And behind all these larger-than-life figures, the implements which helped make them famous were trusty tools designed, forged, and tanned by untold men and women who toiled away at their craft through centuries, often in the face of industrialization. In the historic town of Sheridan, some things haven’t changed.
Despite modest origins formed around a small, hand-built log cabin, Sheridan quickly became the seat of its own County. As the local coal—and later cattle—industry grew, the city ballooned in population, with immigrants coming from all over the world. As the railway (and, in Sheridan, Wyoming’s first long-distance trolley) revolutionized travel, visitors came in droves to get an authentic glimpse of the West, whether at Eaton’s Ranch in nearby Wolf, or for Sheridan’s WYO Rodeo, first established nearly a century ago.
A living legacy of craft
As more cowboys flocked to Sheridan, demand grew for portable items which reflected the dream of the frontier. Craftsmen like Don King managed to check both boxes, producing finely detailed, handmade leatherwork that would be equally at home on a cattle drive or in a museum. Appropriately, at King’s Saddlery on Main Street, if you’re in search of souvenirs en route to the adjoining Don King Museum, you’ll find yourself in line with locals buying their tack, as they have from Kings for more than 70 years. Following in the footsteps of Don King, California native Tom Balding has been forging and soldering his own custom bits and spurs for four decades, and with a shop that continues to attract national acclaim, his team shows no sign of stopping now.
The city remains a hub for riders and their rigs in addition to a legacy of craftwork that extends across multiple mediums beyond ranching, making it a true city of artisans. Available for purchase at King’s Saddlery or online, the handmade knives of Judson Rateliff are crafted from all-natural materials, including turquoise and buffalo horn, and are built to last generations. Similarly, Kevin Willey of KAW Rawhide and Steel hand-forges his stainless and Damascus steel blades to order, alongside a line of bits and spurs milled for durability.
Nurturing artists of all kinds
Along with such metalwork that’s as attractive as it is practical, the community of Sheridan includes many artists whose work is geared toward pure expression. Rod Dugal, a ceramicist hailing from Louisiana who moonlights as the Chair of Sheridan College’s Department of Art, draws his inspiration from the natural forms and materials of the surrounding Bighorn Mountains to produce simple, utilitarian earthenware. Stephen Mullins, a Wyoming native, leads a double-glazed life, throwing clay for his personal practice when he isn’t running Red Bison Studio, a community center offering ceramics classes for locals and visitors alike.
For those interested in further exploring Sheridan’s creative frontiers, a visit to the UCross Foundation is a must. Found in the countryside, just thirty minutes from downtown, the site’s residency program has been supporting artists of all stripes since 1983, much to the benefit of the on-site gallery which displays the work of the contemporary artists inspired by the surrounding preserve and its thriving ecology.
Between visits to these boutiques and galleries, travelers can whet their whistle with a visit to Luminous Brewhouse for small-batch ales and handmade pretzels made with residual wort from the brewing process. Nicknamed “Sheridan’s living room,” the brewery is owned and operated by two longtime homebrewers and is a great spot to make friends with locals. For those looking to drink like a proper cowboy, the family-owned Koltiska Distillery offers a distinctive line of spirits, from straight vodka to smooth Winter-Mint liqueur.
With tours of the distillery available each afternoon from Wednesday to Sunday, you’ll also want to make sure you’re well-fed, putting Sheridan’s proud ranching tradition into play yet again. As the latest in a long line of Sheridan butchers, Jimmy Legerski of Legerski Sausage Company mixes three generations of know-how into his wide range of sausages, prime cut steaks, and freshly ground hamburger, each available for home grilling from their retail location downtown and at restaurants throughout the city.
For travelers on a tight schedule, a visit to the Brinton Museum offers an overview of this long, proud tradition of craftsmanship all in one place. Located on the historic Quarter Circle A Ranch, the museum features exhibitions on Native American and Western Art (including an extensive collection of Native American art and artifacts), a light-filled bistro, and expansive patio views of the surrounding Bighorn Mountains. Contained in a streamlined, eco-conscious building sporting the tallest rammed-earth wall in North America, it’s the very best of Sheridan all in one place.
Though the Brinton closes between late December and early February, when the surrounding slopes are blanketed in snow, Sheridan’s boutiques and galleries can be enjoyed throughout the year. Direct flights are available to Sheridan County Airport daily, while international airports in Casper, Wyoming, or Billings, Montana—each a mere two-hour drive away—ensure that travelers from all over the world can experience the true legacy of the American West and its incredible cultural heritage, all within easy reach.