Trails West--Gate, Okla.
By Susen Foster
Most stories begin at the beginning. This one starts in the middle where it detours to Dodge City, Kan. Best known for its ties to Wyatt Earp and Marshal Dillon, Dodge City was also, for a time, the destination of Western enthusiasts from around the globe in pursuit of discriminating pieces for their art collections. This unusual phenomenon can be attributed to Linda Marshall (nee Spurgeon), purveyor of exquisite goods, admired business owner, and accomplished horse trainer who hails from Gate, Okla.
Linda opened the original Trails West in Meade, Kan., in 1997. A couple years later she moved the growing business to historic downtown Dodge City. Soon realizing the need for more space, she purchased 14,000 square feet in the booming part of the city. "The immensity of the space was a little intimidating," Spurgeon admits, "But in no time every inch was filled with Old West flavor and handcrafted wares by modern day western artisans."
The showroom and art gallery of Trails West have always been home to western art by Mary Spurgeon, Linda's talented mother. There is no more fascinating tale than the story of Mary Spurgeon who, though a long-time artist, began her "career" as a renowned bronze sculptor at the age of 70.
After herding cattle on her family's ranch during the Dust Bowl years, Mary Spurgeon attended college and taught in country schools, working colts in her "free" time. While teaching at Barby Ranch School on the Beaver River, she met and married Bill Spurgeon, who became a much respected horse trainer and cattleman.
Mary kept the Gate, Okla., ranch going after Bill's death and developed what she always bragged was "one of the nicest Black Baldy herds in the country." She also managed to become one of America's most respected Western artists.
Mary Spurgeon died in 2009 but will be remembered by the world for the life she breathed into her art, capturing real moments of the Old West for posterity. Pain can be seen in an Indian woman's hooded eyes; electricity felt as half-crazed hooves paw the air; impending doom sensed as Earp's fingers flicker over his holstered pistol. Many of her sculptures and paintings have been on exhibit in such prestigious locations as the Governor's Gallery in the Oklahoma State Capital.
As Mary's health dwindled, Linda and Brad moved back to the ranch where she grew up in Gate. After her mother passed in 2009, they also moved Trails West to this charming, history-filled town on Highway 64 in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Her search for the right location took some unusual twists and only in small-town U.S.A. would you find a handshake deal where, before signing the paperwork for the old grocery store in town, Linda had to promise to maintain a grocery section where the local folks could shop.
Gate's population may only be a couple hundred people, but they have an indelible spirit. In addition to Trails West, Gate has something very special that draws people to town. As store fronts began to close up, artists took it upon themselves to create the vision of a lively community by painting murals of everyday activity on fences and building walls along Main Street.
So, when you come to visit Trails West on Main Street in Gate--and see the heart of this little town--remember that somewhere behind the exquisite Western art and decor lies pretty much anything you need in groceries, too.
For more information on Trails West and Mary Spurgeon's art call 580-934-2425 or visit www.trailswestofdodgecity.com. A smaller version of Trails West's best can also be seen each year at the NHRA Futurity and AQHA World Shows in Oklahoma City.
Editor's note: Susen Foster is the owner of Pecan Cottage Bed & Breakfast in Pauls Valley, Okla. She is the author of numerous travel books. Susen can be reached at www.greatersuccess.com or call 580-622-5408.