Our mutual love of of a fun "back road" adventure took us to Fredericksburg for our first anniversary in 2006. We had recently heard about a little town that boasts a big title, “Bandera: Cowboy Capital of the World” and realized we could be there in less than an hour. By taking the scenic route, Hwy 16, which winds alongside the clear Medina River bordered by majestic Cypress trees, we found our new "second home"!
When we pulled into Bandera...horses—both real and steel—and cool old trucks...were lined up in front of the saloons. Jim & I casually held hands and walked along Main Street enjoying what we thought was going to be a sleepy, quiet town...but we were suddenly startled by gunshots!! It turned out to be a colorful bunch of "gunslingers" in front of the OST Restaurant who we found out later are called "The Cowboys on Main."
We heard a musician decked out in vintage western gear strumming his guitar and singing to whoever would listen over on one street corner, and an authentic chuck wagon was set up in front of the courthouse serving Hill Country concoctions. A longhorn was on one end of the street and a miniature horse on the other, both proudly posing with tourists. There were strolling cowboys with their gals who moseyed along and talked with visitors with smooth southern drawls. The cast of characters who inhabit this area added such an inviting flavor to this extraordinary community. We fell in love with that wildly unique cowboy charm of Bandera in that very moment. Where else could you belly up to a bar for a cold one, look over your shoulder and see a cowboy nicknamed "Buffalo" walk in with his pet buffalo on a leash...or watch Cecil, who brings his dog, "MD", short for "My Dog"...to Eleventh Street Cowboy bar politely trained to put money in the tip jar? Bandera is home to Art & Lisa, Cowboy Craig and "Oreo", Walking John, Kevin the Roper, Arkey Blue, Johnny Miller, Dusty Britches and "Arrowhead", and the list goes on and on. We soon found out there are several rodeos and over two dozen dude ranches and many cozy B&B’s located in this gem of the magical Hill Country. No wonder it’s the "Cowboy Capital of the World"! Visitors have been heading to this Hill Country town from around the world for decades to experience the spirit of the Old West. Our next trip, only a few weeks, later included shopping and dining on a picnic table under the stars at Mac and Ernie’s. One bite of Naylene’s delicious quail accompanied with mingling among the friendliest of folks convinced us it was time to head for the hills. We have since heard many similar stories...all with that common thread, and have now become besties with people we randlomly sat elbow to elbow with at Mac & Ernie's!
It wasn’t long before we owned property and purchased the building at 1107 Cypress, just a half a block from Main and around the corner from The 11th Street Cowboy Bar. I began dreaming and Jim began building. We scoured antique stores for reclaimed architectural and vintage elements to create a warm, weathered, and somewhat quirky shopping environment with a lot of visual interest. My cap gun collection hangs from the ceiling and even the doors to the dressing rooms open by grasping a six shooter.
Musical instruments have become mobiles and the front end of a Ford truck hung on it until it became a headboard for a customer. The gypsy in me recycles trash into treasure for a delightful feeling of familiarity. After eight weeks of working together with a handful of talented helpers, we opened the doors to "Gunslinger," naming it after our memorable first experience in Bandera.
I spend a lot of time buying and hand-picking unique items to fill the almost 5000 square foot store. It’s an interesting mix of cool cowboy boots, hats, clothing, lots of jewelry, aromatherapy, ranch furnishings and accessories, and, of course, great Texas music.
Gunslinger carries lines recognizable to the discriminating Cowboys and Indians Magazine subscriber and more, such as Marrika Nakk, Double D Ranch, Ryan Michael, Tasha Polizzi, Love Tokens, Juan Antonio, Rhed Lucy, Old Gringo, Liberty Black, Kippy’s, Scully, Rockmount Ranch Wear, Vintage Revival, Jan Barboglio, Lopez Brothers Silver, , and my own line of found object jewelry, Melissa Benge Designs. The works of various Texas furniture and antler artists fill vignettes with one-of-a-kind pieces to enhance any home with western flair.
Stop in at Gunslinger…sign the guest book and look over the other names of local and international travelers and see where they call home...grab a "cowboy quote" out of the basket by the front door, and remember you’re always welcome to just look around. Our motto has always been "There’s a cold one in the fridge" and a friendly, helpful face behind the counter!