Juneau a 'true Western town'?

Magazine ranks town with places such as Deadwood, S.D.

Posted: Friday, January 12, 2007

Maps of Alaska put Juneau in Southeast, but it's really the true West.

So says True West, at any rate.

The state capital made the Arizona-based magazine's list of "Top Ten True Western Towns," a choice that needed some explaining.

"We were as surprised as anybody at this winner," True West said in its latest issue. "Sure, Juneau isn't your typical horse-and-cattle-drive Western town. But its mining heritage is deep."

The article cited Juneau's well-preserved historical districts and its efforts to maintain them, its festivals that showcase Southeast Alaska's native traditions and customs, its arts and crafts and its annual "Juneau Gold Rush Days" celebration.

And while most people may think of Juneau as a northern town, it's actually the westernmost spot on the list.

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"If you think of the West being settled because of the gold, we are certainly part of that movement," said Jane Lindsey, executive director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. "And if you think of them coming west for gold, they did. Then they came north,"

Juneau was number nine on the list, behind storied cowboy hangouts such as Deadwood, S.D.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Silver City, N.M. Helper, Utah, was listed as No.1.

The list appeared in the magazine's January-February edition, which singled out towns on the basis of contributions they have made to preserving their past.

"We hope this award will encourage federal, state and local governments to continue funding such efforts," it said.

"When I think of the Western town, I think of the characters that have come through here and the stories; Soapy Smith and pretty rugged times," said Cathie Roemmich, chief executive officer of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

"It may be Alaska never quite fits in with everything else, but we were part of the movement. I think we do fit absolutely," Lindsey said.

True Wests Top 10

1. Helper, Utah

2. Silver City, N.M.

3. Guthrie, Okla.

4. Wickenburg, Ariz.

5. Cheyenne, Wyo.

6. Sheridan, Wyo.

7. Deadwood, S.D.

8. Pendleton, Ore.

9. Juneau, Alaska

10. St. Joseph, Mo.

Several famous Western characters apparently thought so too.

Wyatt Earp's revolvers eventually wound up at the Red Dog Saloon. John Wayne came to Juneau to film "North to Alaska." Old-timers recall how he frequented Mike's Place in Douglas, now the Island Pub.

Juneau is keeping its rugged spirit alive by making the best of its resources, the magazine noted. And its new gold mine is tourism.

"We've had to turn to tourism for a big part of our income. People are persevering," Roemmich said. "They are doing their best, just like the original people that came. You work with what you have."

Roemmich commended the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau for applying for the distinction.

True West is in its 54th year of publication. This is the second year for its Top 10 list.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.

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