Wyoming: Cowboys, Indians still dominate landscape

By Tom Hoepf – For Antique Trader

Western Americana commands a strong following in Wyoming, but many antique shops can be found in the Cowboy State’s small cities and towns. A good place to start is Cheyenne, the capital and largest city, just a 90-minute drive north of Denver.

Manitou Galleries, at 1715 Carey Ave., has specialized in a wide variety of high-end Western art since 1975. Owner Bob Nelson was born in Cheyenne; his grandparents were homesteaders near Newcastle, and his mother was raised on a Wyoming ranch. Little wonder Nelson became interested in collecting all things Western at an early age.

When the Retro Road Trip visited Wyoming, Nelson was on the fly to New Mexico for the annual Auction in Santa Fe presented by Manitou Galleries, Aug. 9-11. Nelson said that while his hometown is not the mecca for Western Americana and art, the market is strong nationally. 

Sisters Nancy and Pam Loomis own Antiques Central, a multidealer store in the 1920s Sunrise Creamery building, located at 2311 Reed Ave., five blocks west of the Capitol Building. “We have nine dealers on three floors. We run the gamut from primitives to Victorian to Mid-century Modern,” said Nancy Loomis, who has been active in the antique trade for 18 years.

“For a long time we were a single-owner shop. This is the first year we’ve had dealers back with us. It’s been good. We’re lucky because we own our own building. I know other dealers whose rent has been going up along with the cost of heating,” said Loomis.

Dan and Darla Wellman, owners of Avenues Antiques & Collectibles, say their business is a true antique store. They emphasize the distinction because it took more than a year to transform the former flea market they bought 11 years ago. Moving the store to 912 E. Lincolnway a year and half ago completed the makeover.

“Business has been good. We just had a big Frontier Days. That’s a good draw in Cheyenne the last full week in July,” said Darla Wellman.
She noted their store is handicapped accessible and has wide aisles. While most of the 20 dealers there carry a general line, one of them specializes in authentic Civil War and cavalry items. Wellman also recommended Eclectic Elephant as a shop to visit in Cheyenne.

Traveling north on Interstate 25 is Casper, the state’s second-largest city. Here, longtime dealers John and Juanita Japp started John Japp & Associates, a full-service auction business, in 1978. Their auction house is located at 3414 Salt Creek Highway.

“My husband carried mail for 23 years and decided he wanted to do something different,” said Juanita Japp, who includes clerking and cashiering among her many responsibilities. Her auctioneer son, John Jr., is a partner in the business at their location in Gillette.

“We do auctions every weekend in Casper … Monday night in Gillette, and whatever comes in between. I told John the other day we’re getting too old to keep this up,” said Juanita.

Japp & Associates conducted their biggest auction in 10 years with the sale of the estate of Joseph Lynde, known as “Timber Jack Joe, last of the Mountain Men.” A collector of Native and Western Americana, Lynde’s prize piece was a Heiser trophy saddle awarded to the champion broncobuster at the 1909 Frontier Days in Cheyenne. It sold for $82,000. “We’ve never charged a buyer’s premium, but we may have to start,” said Juanita.

State Route 220 becomes CY Avenue on the southwest side of Casper. Vern and Heidi Rautio opened CY Avenue Antique Mall four years ago at 1905 CY Avenue, and it is home to more than 30 dealers.
“There’s just about everything under the sun here,” said employee Jana Oler. “We get a lot of praise from our customers about what a nice, clean store it is to shop in.”

Continuing north on I-25, travelers come to Buffalo, a historic town in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. “It’s a fantastic place with neat shops downtown and very good restaurants for a small town,” said Jean Dean, owner of Diamond D Antique Emporium at 350 E. Hart (U.S. Route 16). She and 14 other dealers are located in half of the 1918 engine house of the short-lived BCBM Railroad, which ran from Buffalo to Clearmont.

“We have a great collection of old and new collectibles, unique items … a little bit of everything, but there’s something here for everyone,” said Dean, who opened the store two and a half years ago.

“It’s been terribly hot here,” said Dean. “I believe the heat has bothered people more the last couple weeks than the gas prices.” Dean recommends American Outback Antiques and Main Street Rendezvous, also located in Buffalo.

Thirty-seven miles north of Buffalo is Sheridan, where Bill King and his daughter Hanna King operate Bozeman Trail Gallery at 190 N. Main Street. “The Bozeman Trail, established in the 1860s, ran from Fort Laramie to the gold fields in Bozeman. It went through Sheridan about a block from my house, so I figured I had license to use the name,” said King, who worked at his father’s saddle shop in Sheridan as a young man.

While pursuing a career in real estate, King became interested in Native-American art, Western artists, and cowboy collectibles. About six years ago he expanded the gallery beside the family saddle shop. King said sales in 2006 “started with a bang,” followed by the normal lull around tax time in the spring. “Business has been good, and the market is certainly strong,” said King.
On the far west side of the state is Jackson Hole, an area famous for its Teton Range mountain scenery and ski resorts. Mary Schmitt, a native of southern California, came with her parents to ski there when she was 14.

“I cried when I left and swore I’d come back some day,” said Schmitt. “I did 10 years in the corporate rat race and decided one day I’d just had it.” She moved to Jackson Hole and, in 1997, opened Cayuse Western Americana. Her inventory includes Plains beadwork, Navajo rugs, cowboy gear, fine art and photography.

Located at 255 N. Glenwood, a couple of blocks off Jackson’s busy town square, the gallery is a welcoming, informal place. “There’s more room to park here and it’s quieter. People come and sit on our deck and enjoy the surroundings,” said Schmitt. 

“At the same time we have some incredible material,” she said, noting a 1870s late classic serape-style weaving. “It’s a lovely piece in great condition – just a showstopper.” Schmitt also handles many early national park items, from photographic prints by F. Jay Haynes, Yellowstone’s first official photographer, to “dipped” souvenirs.

“Before everyone became environmentally sensitive, they used to take iron pieces and leave them in the geyser pots, where they would become encrusted with minerals,” said Schmitt, explaining the meaning of “dipped.” An unusual dipped piece she once had was a horseshoe-shaped wall plaque with the name Yellowstone across the top.

Schmitt recently sold an 8-foot-long wooden sign reading Old Faithful Station from a park post office that was demolished in the 1960s. “I don’t know how old it actually was; at least from the 1930s. It was made of two long planks of thick hardwood,” said Schmitt.

Her mother, Barbara, takes part in purchasing inventory, while two employees help in staffing the gallery, which is busier in the winter and summer months. “It seems like I have less and less time to relax. I manage to get out on my horse on the evenings and on the weekends. That’s worth it,” said Schmitt.
Terry Winchell, owner of Fighting Bear Antiques in downtown Jackson, is the author of Molesworth: The Pioneer of Western Design, published last November by Gibbs Smith. Thomas Canada Molesworth founded the Shoshone Furniture Co. in Cody in 1931, which produced rustic furniture with a Western flair.

Fighting Bear Antiques is located in a large log and stone building at 375 S. Cache St., two blocks south of Town Square. The gallery store specializes in Gustav Stickley and rustic furniture, American Indian beadwork, Navajo textiles, and paintings by deceased Western artists. Although Winchell was born in Nebraska, he considers himself a native of Wyoming. “I was born right on the line. My grandfather owned a farm in both states,” he said.

Winchell opened Fighting Bear Antiques in 1981 and has been a mainstay in Jackson Hole ever since. “There’s a great client base here, and pretty sophisticated. At the high end I’ve done very well,” said Winchell, adding, “I’m one of those single-owner shops that will be here till I die.”