Range Writer Blog

Nov 13, 2013

Cayuse Ranks in 36 Hours in Jackson Hole

36 hoursCayuse was recently named as one of the must-do’s in the New York Times’ favorite travel series “36 Hours” – this one in Jackson Hole. While several other worthy retail establishments were mentioned (congrats to Made and Bet the Ranch), Cayuse was the only one with its own entry and time slot.

Here’s what they liked:

A font of local knowledge, Mary Schmitt started collecting cowgirl memorabilia before most people even knew there was such a subgenre. Now she supplies vintage Western and national park paraphernalia to the likes of Ralph Lauren stores, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Western museums around the country. Go to the source at her fascinating store, Cayuse Western Americana, where cowpoke, National Park Service and Native American vintage artifacts and contemporary crafts compete for space. Especially exquisite are the elaborate horsehair belts woven by inmates from Wyoming and Montana penitentiaries ($850).”

It just goes to show you that if you hang around this old musty stuff long enough, you’ll be there when it’s new again, and people discover what you’ve always known about it. History is cool. Culture should be preserved and celebrated. We’re glad for all of you who support us on our quest to promote and preserve our great heritage. Thanks! PS – the author used a term coined by Mary which attempts to describe the unique character of a mountain/cowboy community. Let’s see if CowPine enters the lexicon….

Here’s a link to the whole article:


Things You Need to Know When Ordering Your Belt

  • Understated or Let ‘Er Buck?: As discussed, there are many types of belts from subtle calf, to highly tooled and carved, to complex horsehair patterns. Decide where you’ll wear this belt the most. Golf course? Office? Weekends with jeans? Cocktail parties and art openings? While a good buckle and belt should go anywhere, YOU are the one who is wearing it so your comfort level is paramount. Your buckle selection will also reflect the same criteria.
  • Select the Right Size: Belts are measured to the MIDDLE hole, giving us all an inch, to an inch and a half of leeway to go smaller or larger. Belt length is usually 2″ longer than pants size. Ladies, you have more decisions. We wear our belts low, high and in between. Decide which area of your anatomy this belt should fit. Don’t try to make a belt fit your waist and your hips. It never works unless you’re Olive Oyle. Note: buckles can affect belt length – if your buckle is unusually long from side to side, you may want to reduce belt size by an inch.
  • Wait – More on Size: You also want to decide how wide you want your belt, from top edge to bottom edge. Consider the pants you’ll wear this with most – Dockers have smaller loops than Wranglers. Women’s designer jeans are even less consistent. 1 3/8″ seems to be a size that fits most loops. 1 1/2 may not fit some designer wear – check first. If you’re ordering a belt that has a nice pattern (horsehair, tooled, filigreed) you don’t want the belt so narrow that the pattern is hardly apparent.
  • Still Not Done With Size: You want to make sure your buckle fits on your belt. Each end of the belt is called a billet. Your buckle attaches to one side (the fold) and the other end goes through the buckle. Sometimes your buckle is 3/4″ wide, or 1″ wide, while your belt is 1 3/8″ wide. In this case, we create a taper, making the belt narrower at each end to accommodate your buckle. In some cases your belt will require NO taper, as when you have a one-piece, or trophy buckle. We may ask you to measure your buckle to ensure proper fit; in many cases it will be best if our craftsmen and women have your buckle in their possession to ensure perfect fit.
Top: Filigree belt with no taper. 2: Alligator belt with custom taper. 3: Horsehair belt with 1" taper. Bottom: Filigree belt with 3/4" taper.

Top: Filigree belt with no taper. 2: Alligator belt with custom taper. 3: Horsehair belt with 1″ taper. Bottom: Filigree belt with 3/4″ taper.

  • Loops are Last: You may have a buckle set – a buckle consisting of a main buckle, one or two belt loops (aka keepers), and a tip. To set the belt up properly, the belt maker needs to know if there are one, or two, loops so that the proper setup is on your belt. This keeps the loops in place. Again, it is best if our craftsmen have the buckle in their possession to ensure proper fit.
The same four belts with their buckles. Top: a trophy buckle. 2: a narrower trophy buckle. 3: a 1" buckle with TWO loops - note the snaps. Bottom: a 3/4" buckle with ONE loop.

The same four belts with their buckles. Top: a trophy buckle. 2: a narrower trophy buckle. 3: a 1″ buckle with TWO loops – note the snaps. Bottom: a 3/4″ buckle with ONE loop.


Jan 14, 2014

Basic Belts - Very Complicated!

So you want a belt. They’ve been around for centuries and they’re low-tech. All you have to do is decide if you want black or brown, right? Then you look for one. You find that there are wide ones, narrow ones, cheap and expensive. Leather, pleather, woven of climbing rope, belts with silver and gold buckles, belts that have big cowboy buckles, belts that are all business. And they come in every color. Maybe you’ll just adopt the Jethro and Ellie Mae method of twine around your pants.


Ellie Mae Sports an Upscale Rope....

Ellie Mae Sports an Upscale Rope….

But let’s face it. A well-crafted belt is as important to your wardrobe as fine footwear or a great shirt – and it’s no different out here in the west than in the offices of New York or Los Angeles. We westerners notice the quality of boots, shirts, belts, buckles and hats. And it’s not limited to men – women in the west can spend as much on a good belt and buckle as they would on the latest bag from Chanel.

This Clint Orms Buckle on Alligator Was Made For Bruce Springsteen. If You Have to Ask, You Can't Afford It!

This Clint Orms Buckle on Alligator Was Made For Bruce Springsteen. If You Have to Ask….

So how do you choose? Western belts are no different than others – there are costume-like inexpensive belts from your local western wear store that probably include a cheap nickel buckle, all the way to the best alligator or French calf that are as comfortable on Wall Street as they are at the cattle barn. There are a host of choice in between. In our business of selling vintage and antique western items, we notice that the belts that hold up over time are those that were hand crafted by artisans known for their skills; these are sought by knowledgeable western collectors.  And for westerners today, it’s no different – they look for skilled craftsmen and women that can custom craft a handmade piece, usually for a high quality or custom buckle (more on buckles later). Belts like these can be found at small saddle shops, or at higher-end western gear shows. Some boot makers will craft a belt to go with your boots. But many independent craftsmen choose to work with buckle makers and buckle retailers, because we know how to properly fit and order a belt – it will fit not only you, but your buckle and your lifestyle. So go ahead, untie the twine and get started on ordering a belt of your own.

Dec 13, 2013

The Right Thing to Do

The recent fracas over the sale of sacred Hopi masks in Paris has caused me to do some thinking. For those who don’t know the backstory, here’s a brief synopsis: Approximately 24 antique masks, formerly used for ceremonial purposes, were set to be auctioned in Paris this week. Many attempts by tribal members and celebrities were made to stop the sale and return the masks to the Hopi. The tribes claim the masks were acquired illegally (long ago); the French courts said the current owner had established a good record of ownership. They went on to say that selling the masks was no different than selling a rare Bible or Koran. Suffice it to say that none of this would be in the news if the pieces were not highly valuable to collectors, as well as to their original creators – who cannot possibly afford them.


Now, the allegation that the masks were “taken illegally” has not been fully explained. Certainly, items of this type were acquired in many different ways: they could have been the objects theft and subjugation, they could have been given as gifts of honor, they could have been traded or sold for items of equal value (value being relative depending on when they were initially collected, which also has not been revealed). If you throw out the first two extremes, theft and gifts given, what you are left with is most likely close to the truth. The masks were probably sold or traded. Who knows if the person doing the selling had the right to do it…there are all sorts of questions one could ask. Also not revealed is, once the initial transaction occurred, how many times did the masks change hands? Was the present owner the first owner, or did he or she pay someone else in good faith for the collection? Could the collection have been put together piecemeal over a period of years or decades? These are all valid questions, and each should affect anyone’s opinion of The Right Thing to Do.  But the French assertion that the masks are the same as a Bible or Koran is incorrect. They would be better compared to a priest’s vestments or a chalice used during a religious service – which would probably make the Vatican squirm if ever offered at auction.  Conversely, Bibles and Korans were specifically designed to spread the word of the religion, and were purchased by the original owners unless given for free by a missionary.

So, if you were the owner of the masks, and you were faced with the prospect of legal action that would essentially remove them from your possession, how would you feel? If you were the Hopi, who have an opportunity to restore fragments of culture for future generations, would you expect the owner to give them up? Thorny issues indeed. The notion of fairness is being pulled asunder. Is it fair to take away objects from someone who has legal title and investment? Is it fair not to return them to the people who revere them?

Thankfully, the good fairy in this story is the Annenberg Foundation, who stepped up and bought the masks in order to return them to the Hopi. This makes me feel good. I don’t believe the seller of the masks was evil, and as a good American I believe in a free market system and personal property. In fact, whoever it was seems to have cared for them well, if not properly in accordance with religious standards. Perhaps, if the original collecting had not been done, the masks would be lost to time or decay or accidental destruction. Now the Hopi have a portion of their religious artifacts returned to them. The previous owner was compensated for his or her investment and care of the masks; and the masks are going back to their origins, to a people who would have been hard pressed to find the money to purchase them.

But where does that leave the rest of the collecting and dealer community, and their Native American counterparts? These are the same thorny issues – a significant investment and clear title to objects that COULD be of extreme importance to another group? What is The Right Thing to Do when there is no advocate for one side or the other? Would it be fair to offer a donation upon the sale of each item to the tribe of origin? Would it be fair to hold up each and every item for public scrutiny in order to make a permanent decision on its cultural significance, or its ability to be acquired by collectors in perpetuity? I don’t have the answers to these questions – yet. Let me keep noodling this and I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, feel free to give us your two cents’ worth.

Lucky to Be Here

Olive Fell and her work seem to be a theme this spring.  A wonderful customer came in to buy herself a retirement gift. She ended up picking out four Olive Fell etchings. One is a rare mule deer limited to 10 copies (according to the pencil notation on the piece). Three are Fell’s playful bear cubs.

Bambi, #3 of 10, Etching by Olive Fell








Mama & Me, Etching by Olive Fell


Bear Cubs + Trees = Fun, Etching by Olive Fell

Of course, the two of us were chatting about Olive’s work. My client let me know that the work reminded her of her visits to Wyoming when she was young, when she saw scenes just like the ones Olive set to paper. It reminded her of “how it used to be”. I assured her that life around Jackson Hole really is still how it used to be in the grand scheme of things. Sure, there are more people, more modern looking structures, fewer cowboy hats. But the pulse of the season beats consistently, and spring brings the bison, elk and moose calves, the fawns, the pups, and the cubs. The circle continues as it has from the beginning of life.

Olive Fell wasn’t alone in her love of bear cubs, as seen in this grizzly cub woodcarving by Glacier Park artist John Clarke.

As if the world needed to hammer the point home, I ran into a friend on the Old Pass Road who said he’d heard that famous Teton Park grizzly mama 399 has once again overachieved, having been spotted with three brand new cubs. “399″ has publicly raised three rounds of cubs since she first came to our attention. It’s as if she has a contract with Grand Teton National Park as the Grizzly Ambassador – she’s calm, unflappable, unperturbed by hordes of gaping onlookers and photographers, and her cubs grow up to be the same. Her daughter, 610, is equally visible and has had her own set of twins. Additionally, she adopted one of her mom’s brood last year in a quirky turn of events.

Grizzly 399 with Cubs, May 2013

While Olive’s bears are generally of the black bear variety (the grizzly population was in serious danger at that time), there’s no doubt she would have delighted in the three cubs and their superstar mother. And if anyone doubts that these little bears are as precocious as Olive’s depictions, well, let’s just say a certain construction zone wants their markers back….

Grizzly 399 Takes Ownership of a Construction Zone: “Yes, Dear, of course you can rearrange the road markers. You’re a grizzly. Who’s gonna stop you?”

God Bless Wyoming and Keep It Wild -Ms. Hellen “Becky” Mettler, Bar BC Ranch, Jackson Hole Wyoming 1926.


The Natural World of Olive Fell

One of my favorite pieces is heading to its new home today, thankfully in Jackson (where maybe I can visit it).  It’s not one of the knock-your-socks off rarities that Cayuse has a reputation for finding, but it encapsulates the essence of western Wyoming. The piece is called “Wading Moose”, an etching by Olive Fell.

This particular etching is rather hard to find, but Olive Fell, who died in 1980, is under-appreciated, making common works less painful to collect.

Fell’s early years were rumored to have been hard ones, with an abusive father. Not much is known, but her mother remarried after moving to Cody, Wyoming.  Fell studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late ‘teens, where we have heard that she was roommates with Georgia O’Keefe and apparently got to know John Steauart Curry.  She had a brief and unsuccessful marriage, after which she took up living on her own on an 1800 acre ranch called the Four Bear. It was this immersion in the natural world that really seemed to feed her art. She won many awards for printmaking, including one for this etching called Fenced Sagebrush.

Olive Fell seems to have developed a deep sense of time and space in her isolation. Her work ranged from tourist souvenirs sold in many of the National Parks (including Yellowstone, of course) to downright metaphysical, with a little mysticism thrown in for good measure. We have heard that she made many of her own prints. In the later years, Fell painted romanticized Native American children and created her “Fuzzy Bears” sold overwhelmingly to tourists.

But it is the work inspired by the natural world that really grabs you and takes hold. This is someone who knew her subjects. You get the sense that she just watched silently for hours while creatures got on with their lives around her. Elk, bears, moose, ducks, antelope, horses, deer, even flowers…I’m still discovering wonderful images preserved by Olive Fell. And the backstory, the knowledge that she really GOT it, lends depth to the work and makes it that much more enjoyable.

“Spring – Yellowstone Park” One of a series of four, covering four seasons in bears’ lives. This one is the most common – the other three are very hard to find.

More of Olive Fell’s work can be seen here.

Dec 11, 2012

Limited Jack Walker Inventory

We have only four items from Jack Walker in our display case, but as you know his work is wildly popular and makes wonderful gifts.  While contractual obligations don’t allow us post the items on our website, we thought we’d let you know through the blog that we have these available for purchase.  They include:

  • Two braided leather bracelets with ingot silver clasps. One fits a size 7 1/4″ wrist, the other fits a 7 1/2″ wrist. $250/ea
  • One linked ID bracelet with ingot silver panel, links, and clasp.  It fits a 7 1/4″ wrist. $300.
  • One ingot silver flower charm, on an adjustable leather lanyard with ingot clasp.  $210.

Jack Walker Ingot Silver and Leather


Call us at 307-739-1940 to secure any of these pieces.

Dec 5, 2012

New Gift Galleries!

We’ve created a way for you to find items in your price range.  Simply select from Great Gifts 1 to 5 on the left side of any page.  Just for grins we included our version of the Neiman Marcus catalog….one-of-a-kind gifts that will surely thrill the recipient. We’re adding to these daily, so keep checking back, or call us if you need some help with ideas…


A Rare Stone Lithograph Circa 1917

Always glad to hear from you!


Jul 18, 2012

Southern Plains Silver

The Southern Plains group of Native Americans includes Southern Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, Caddo, Comanche and some other smaller groups.  An argument can also be made that the Osage are in this group, although they are often combined into the Prairie people.  The Southern Plains groups were generally adept horsemen, and strong enough to survive through most of the government’s push to subjugate them.  This is perhaps because they encountered Spaniards long before, who also tried to contain them – they learned a thing or two. But they also picked up some new materials and techniques from the Spaniards.  One of these was the ability to work metal.  Quickly, the metal ornamentation became a signature of Southern Plains culture:  earrings and arm bands, hair ornaments, belts, bridles, and pectoral necklaces can be seen on the Southern Plains people more than on any other except the Navajo (also exposed to metalsmithing due to close proximity to Spanish conquerors).  The metal was plentiful – pioneers were casting off extra weight on their wagons, so cooking pots, containers, and other items could be found laying along the trails.  The metal was also obtained through raids on the wagons.  And, it could be acquired in trade for items these travelers really needed.  Largely it was nickel silver, dubbed “German Silver” because of its production in Germany.  Sometimes it had a pattern on it; other times, a chisel was used to create a pattern using a zig-zag process called rocker engraving. Eventually, enterprising anglo manufacturers and traders supplied pre-decorated pieces to be incorporated into the work.

Our show includes examples of Southern Plains work, including two hair drops (worn by men), and a bridle.  These are hard to find and are highly collectible.  We’ve also included examples of earlier coin silver items made by anglo silversmiths.  The trade cross and the gorget were made specifically to trade to Native Americans in exchange for food or furs.  The Hudson Bay Company trappers and the Astorians would routinely carry these items with them as currency, along with glass beads and other exotic goods. These earlier pieces certainly influenced the desire among Native Americans to adorn themselves in metal since it was not easily obtained.

[Little Robe, Cheyenne Indian, half-length portrait, seated, facing right]

Cheyenne Chief Little Robe, showing a large cross with crescents.  Crescents were a legacy of the North African Moors, who conquered the Spaniards and influenced Spanish design.  The Southern Plains and Navajo adopted some of the same symbology.

Expedited Shipping through December 22nd

As the gift giving season gets closer, we wanted to let you know a few things about getting your items fast.  You can select expedited shipping during checkout to make sure you get your products.  Please be aware that our UPS cutoff is 3pm, and in order to give us enough time to pack your items, you should make a purchase by 2pm MST, Thursday, December 22nd.  If UPS guarantees arrival on Friday (sometimes they don’t, right before Christmas), you will receive your purchases in time for Christmas.  We can also send items through other carriers.  Just contact us before making your purchase to discuss shipping options.  We’re happy to help!

New Ways to Browse Our Collection

We’ve just added the ability to look at your search results or category selection in several different ways.  You can pick the view that suits your preference.  On the right hand side of the page near the top is a box to select a view.  You can choose Grid, which shows results in thumbnails.  You can also select two different list formats, Simple, and Expanded.  These give you a no-nonsense top to bottom list of items.  You can still click on the item or photograph for the full view of all photos and description, and then go back to your group list. Try it now on our vintage Native American jewelry group.

Some Thoughts on Giving During the Holidays

I heard an editorial the other day by Adam Frank on NPR.  He called it “Pepper Spraying the Holidays”, and in it he wondered if the emphasis on producing more, and buying more, was so ingrained in our psyches now, that we are unable to change.  Lest you think he’s just another bleeding heart, however, he offers this insight: “I like my stuff as much as the next guy. I embrace the technologies I use and the capacities for their production. From a solidly made rake to a brilliantly designed app, making things is what we do. That being said, we desperately need to figure out if a balance can exist between how much we take (from the planet) and what we make.” This struck a chord.

This buffalo inkwell and pen tray only says it was made in Austria. Who made it? What informed his or her impression of American Bison? How did it get to this country?

I left a solid job marketing high tech electronic equipment due to similar misgivings.  It was not lost on me, that the company I worked for was in the business of producing “better” things so that the last thing you bought from them was thrown in the trash. What I do now is so much more rewarding, and it’s the original Green industry. I know there are some folks out there who just don’t “get” antiques.  Most of us, though, find the examination of a vintage item thought provoking, wondering about the path that brought it to the here and now. I pretty much always learn something new from something old. Sometimes an object reminds us of someone we love, who may be gone, but it evokes a fresh memory that otherwise may have gone unremembered. Sometimes a piece looks like it was tailor made for someone we know, even though it’s gone through other hands before now. My favorite days at Cayuse Western Americana are when a client comes in, looks around, and then something triggers about one piece in particular.  It’s usually very spontaneous and visceral, and that’s when I know I’ve done my job well.  The piece will sell itself without any intervention from me, simply because it speaks to the client.  I can’t remember the last time a flat screen tv made me react that way (although GM* Tom seems to have had heart palpitations when he saw “the one”). Among Mr. Frank’s suggestions for this season’s gifts was “see if you can find things that will last, things that are made really well”.  We suggest that you take this search to thrift stores, consignment shops, high end antique galleries (shameless plug), Craig’s list, Ebay, garage sales – whatever floats your boat.  I can guarantee that as you sift through the millions of items consumers have valued in the past, you will find something worthy of being loved yet again. It will be made really well.  It will last. And you’ll be a good citizen of the planet. Happy Hunting!   *Gallery Manager Tom You can read Adam Frank’s full essay here.

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from everyone here at Cayuse Western Americana!

We appreciate you taking the time to check out our new website, feel free to look around, and make sure to contact us if you have any questions!

New Items

Shipley Spurs Circa 1930

O. Crockett Spurs Circa 1920

(Sold) Navajo Number 8 Bracelet

Navajo Square Stone Bracelet