Cowboy Keepers of 2021

The National Day of the Cowboy’s Cowboy Keeper Award  was created to recognize those who demonstrate a substantial contribution to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture. The three outstanding recipients selected to receive the 2021 Cowboy Keeper Award are Jim Liles (Arizona), Wild West City (New Jersey), and The STAND Foundation (Washington, D.C.). Their selection by the National Day of the Cowboy Board of Directors represents its continuing efforts to encourage the honoring of history, while striving to cultivate participation in today’s cowboy life.

Jim Liles (Arizona)

Cowboy Jim Liles began his 20-year career as a bareback rider around the age of 13. More than fifty years later, he can still recount stories of the many times those broncs broke his bones, including some bones more than once. Still, bareback riding has remained his life’s passion, and the broncs have remained the horses he loves most.  Today he believes “teaching fans and younger contestants about the history of bareback riding and honoring those who have played a part in this great event, will help keep it alive.” So, out of his love for the sport, he has opened a National Bareback Riding Hall of Fame and Museum in Congress, Arizona, which boasts perhaps the greatest collection in the world of riggings representing the history of bareback bronc riding. He believes it’s the only exhibit of its kind in existence. Liles describes his gear collection as a ‘living history museum,’ because he encourages visitors to touch all the various saddles, ropes, and riggings he has rescued and preserved over the years, including one rigging that dates back to 1911.

Liles’ NBRHOF began as an exhibit he created, which he dubbed, “Riggins-N-Rhymes;” A history of rodeo equipment. He set it all up in such a way that he could take it on the road and thus, share it with more folks around the country.  His other talents include sculpting and writing cowboy poetry. Through his museum, his poetry, and his sculpture, he is working to preserve rodeo history. One of the early Inductees into Liles’ Hall of Fame, was artist and inventor, Earl Bascom, a previous Cowboy Keeper Award recipient as well.

Rodeo athletes can be thankful that Liles is also a thoughtful cowboy with an engineering background. When he realized just how dangerous all-steel chutes could be to the contestants, he combined his rodeo skills with his engineering expertise and invented the chute crash pad. The mass production of that successful crash pad was eventually assumed by Priefert Manufacturing, and to this day it is used in the chutes of PRCA rodeos and Professional Bull Riding, saving many a cowboy from concussions or worse.

Wild West City, New Jersey

Wild West City is a family-fun, frontier oriented, theme park. It’s based on a true-to-life model of 1880s Dodge City, Kansas, but located in Stanhope, New Jersey. The Park opened its doors in the spring of 1957, creating a western experience for thousands of visitors over the past six decades. The “short-term investment” was a project built in 1956 by the American Foundation for the Preservation of the Old West. And still today, grownups who visited Wild West City as a child, are delighted to bring their own children to experience the same shows and history they remember enjoying in their youth.

Among the main attractions are its live action shows. Reenactments continue throughout each day, and between the action, the cowboys, and the horses, every guest finds something to enjoy. They strive to engage kids’ interest by involving them in some of the skits. They offer pony rides for small children, a barnyard zoo, and panning for gold.  Folks still love riding the train that’s held up by outlaws and kids love visiting the frontier style school.  There is a mountain man’s camp to teach guests about different frontier items. Wild West City is that rare place where you can still ride in a horse drawn stagecoach. For those with a special love for history, the park showcases a vast collection of authentic period memorabilia. Many of its Main Street buildings are accurate reproductions and are filled with antiques, including an extensive collection of Native American art and artifacts. You will learn about late 19th-century farming tools, period dressmaking, blacksmithing, and more. If you break the law, you may end up in one of their circa-1890 jail cells. Once you step inside the gates and onto the dusty streets, you’ll feel you’re walking around a town very much like the set of Gunsmoke; complete with a saloon, barber shop, candy shoppe, a blacksmith, and a working printing press.

Wild West City presents an interactive adventure bringing tales of the wild west to life through historical characters, dramatizations, wild west performing arts, and demonstrations by period craftsmen. Their goal is to be entertaining, educational and creative. Many guests observe that the actors put a lot of heart into their reenactments, making you feel like you’re truly stepping back into the Wild Wild West.  There are actors in many of the buildings too, ready to give you a history lesson on the aspect of western history they’re representing. There are short shows throughout the day, portraying bank robberies, pony express riders, trick roping, stagecoach holdups, and cowboy competitions. They sometimes host Wild West City After Dark and invite guests to “explore a haunted ghost town at your own risk.” The other staff members also receive numerous accolades from guests who note that their interactions with children are amazing.  The kids have so much fun because the staff and the actors appear to relish creating a frontier experience. The love employees have for the park and the work they are doing is frequently noted by visitors.

They celebrate the National Day of the Cowboy annually at Wild West City “where the West is fun.”  Managers of the park are also working with Assemblyman Parker Space to achieve passage of the National Day of the Cowboy bill in the New Jersey legislature. Wild West City has remained a well loved attraction in New Jersey, where the Stabile family has been at the helm since 1963. Here, adults and children of all ages, continue to learn about the Wild West and its cast of legendary characters.

The STAND Foundation, Washington, DC

The mission of the STAND Foundation is to provide an opportunity for inner city youth to gain knowledge, skills, and confidence, through equestrian and rodeo readiness training. The STAND (Strengthening Thoughts and Nurturing Dreams) Foundation is in the business of changing and shaping lives by teaching equestrian skills to inner city kids who might not otherwise ever get to experience the transformational magic of a horse. The organization is the result of the vision of cowgirl Selina “Pennie” Brown, who believes emphatically that learning to ride a horse changes who you are.

Ms. Brown helps young people bond with animals because she believes one can acquire confidence through experiencing nature. The work she does is aimed at providing a holistic approach to solving some of society’s challenges. Her organization serves inner-city youth and young adults in Washington DC and its surrounding areas. STAND focuses on inspiring change that leads to self-sufficiency and positive decision making. They strive to teach participants skills to help them make the best life choices for better futures. They believe that exposure, engagement, and opportunities to experience a relationship with a horse has a life-changing and therapeutic value. As such, the folks at STAND work to provide participants with a comprehensive knowledge of horse management, horse careers, and equestrian sports. The various elements of their excellent program include teaching horse care, safety, behavior, nutrition, anatomy, health, equipment, equestrian discipline, and riding activities

Their School Program serves D.C. youth in grades K -12 with an emphasis on building knowledge of the equestrian industry and exposing them to equine sports, as well as to equine assisted learning and therapy. STAND has also cultivated key partnerships which enable them to offer programs such as: Thera- Art, Mindfulness, Nutrition Literacy, Horsemanship, Equine Sports, Animal Science, Equine assisted learning and Equine therapy. Their 6 Week Program offers students a weekly experience at a local horse farm. Their Summer Camp program, serving kids ages 6-16, also offers the opportunity for experiential learning with hands on experiences at a working farm and providing a setting for kids to meet the horses. They work to give students an equestrian summer experience that includes learning more horse skills, deepening their horsemanship knowledge, having fun, and making new friends. STAND’s programs are specifically designed to serve the mental, emotional, and physical development needs of youth in highly populated areas with under-served and under-funded communities, such as Washington, D.C. and its surrounding areas.

The Cowboy Keeper Award

Art for the 2021 Cowboy Keeper Awards was donated by self-taught artist and current California resident, Linda Carter Holman (formerly of Oklahoma and Arizona). Ms. Carter Holman provided, “Question,” her bright, whimsical image of a cowgirl and her horse, as the eye-catching backdrop for this year’s awards.

The National Day of the Cowboy organization tips its hat to Jim Liles, Wild West City, and The STAND Foundation, as three notable recipients who continue to make an extraordinary contribution to the preservation of pioneer heritage and cowboy culture. We are truly humbled by their accomplishments and will be forever grateful for their efforts.