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Montana Western Heritage Project

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Firearms, Gunleather and Attire of the Frontier West, 1960-1900
By Emily Stifler Managing Editor

BOZEMAN – Creating this full color photo and history book was a labor of love by authors Todd D. Kesner and William Abbot.

Kesner, who directs the Montana State University Extension 4-H program, started the project as part of the 4-H shooting sports program, and meant it to be a resource for educators. But, as he got into learning about the American West between 1860 and 1900, it evolved.

The book is now a coffee table-style guide for “anyone interested in frontier authenticity, from teachers to history buffs and reenactors to cowboy shooters,” reads its introduction. “Myths, legends, Hollywood inaccuracies and revisionist history have so shaped our perspective of the American frontier that a true and accurate picture of the Old West is hard to find.”

Since Kesner started the shooting program in Montana in 2008, interest has grown, and now more than 50 kids are involved across the state.

“The kids have really gotten into it,” Kesner said. “You shoot these old West style guns. You have steel targets, and it’s timed. The fastest person with the fewest misses wins.”

The program has spread to Missouri and Texas, and several other states have expressed interest.

The kids are already getting their gun safety, and Kesner figured, why not teach them some “good, accurate history,” along the way?

So, he and Abbot, a photographer, did extensive research at the Pioneer Museum and in Virginia City, and their book now covers everything you need to be part of the Western Heritage Project.

The Montana Western Heritage Project book is available through the Montana State University Extension (, and at Ranks Mercantile in Virginia City, the oldest store in Montana. All proceeds support the Montana 4-H Shooting Sports Program,
where tomorrow’s leaders are taught to ride, shoot straight and tell the truth.

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