CAVE CREEK, Ariz. — Clad in a black Stetson and Tony Lama lizard-skin boots, Mayor Vince Francia adjusted the holster on his right leg. His six-shooter was loaded with blanks.
At least 300 spectators milled around the dusty gravel parking lot of the Horny Toad restaurant and bar, waiting for Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane.
This would be a duel, a quick-draw contest between the mayors to settle a dispute over a motto claimed by both towns: Which one is "the West's Most Western Town?"
High noon came and went; Lane didn't show. He had a polo tournament to attend.
Anyway, Scottsdale prefers paper over bullets. The town had already threatened Cave Creek with hired guns – known as lawyers.
Scottsdale, a ritzy suburb of Phoenix with a Four Seasons Resort, a Neiman Marcus, a Nordstrom, art galleries, more than a hundred golf courses and 220,000-plus residents, has used the "most Western town" slogan for 66 years, and trademarked it six years ago.
But rural Cave Creek, 30 miles to the north, thought it deserved those words. In this burg of 5,000 people, hitching posts dot the streets, Wednesday nights are for bull riding, and cowboy boots sell faster than high heels.
Scottsdale counters that it doesn't have to look like it did in the 1880s to be Western. Its residents don't have to wear cowboy boots or carry guns.
Horses still have the right of way in Scottsdale, even during rush-hour traffic, said Terri Todd as she maneuvered her horse-drawn carriage among BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. At one point, an impatient man in a Corvette cut her off.
Her white Percheron draft horse started in touristy Old Town Scottsdale and clopped down the urban landscape. The carriage passed the Rusty Spur Saloon, the Pistols 'n' Polish nail salon and contemporary art galleries.
J.P. Twist, the mayor's chief of staff, stretched out on the carriage's red velvet seat, his powder-blue shirt embroidered with his initials. He cited an alphabet soup of Western festivals and rodeos as evidence of Scottsdale's Western pedigree.
Todd, who wore LA Idol-brand designer jeans studded with rhinestones and Guess sunglasses along with a cowboy hat, interrupted. She nodded toward what looked like a parking structure, where visitors can park for free.
"We don't call them garages. We call them corrals. And they say we're not Western," she said with a laugh. "Our heritage speaks for itself."
At the Rusty Spur Saloon, two men wearing cowboy hats and boots enjoyed libations as they listened to a man singing Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places." Scottsdale isn't as Western as it used to be, they agreed, but neither is Cave Creek.
Myron Brower, who moved to Scottsdale in 1968, described the scuffle as a "tempest in a teapot."
"I really wouldn't consider Cave Creek more Western," he said. "It's just more rustic." He called it "icky."
On Cave Creek's dusty dirt roads, streetlights are virtually nonexistent. There's weekly bull riding outside the Buffalo Chip Saloon. At least one Laundromat reserves some machines for horse blankets. And there is no "Old Town Cave Creek"; there's just Cave Creek, where, town officials say, they live the Western life as it's supposed to be.
Forget Scottsdale's upscale shops, such as Gucci and Tiffany; Cave Creek has Finders Creekers – a secondhand store. The boot rack is a prime example of the town's Western ways, owner Dixie Guy says.
"I sell a ton of boots," she said, pointing to a large rack of Tony Lamas and other brown and black cowboy boots in the middle of her store. "We don't sell many high heels up here."
Guy and her husband, Kobey Guy, called Scottsdale "yuppie" and "hoity-toity," a place that has replaced its saloons with salons.
The slogan shootout began as banter.
Cave Creek had suffered though years of difficulties and the ouster of its longtime town manager. The interim town manager, Rodney Glassman, decided the town needed an anthem. He reckoned that rustling Scottsdale's slogan could unite the town. So, in September, city officials and volunteers composed a tongue-in-cheek resolution.
Scottsdale played along at first. It defended its legal position with a letter, written on buckskin, that Scottsdale Councilman Dennis Robbins read at a Cave Creek Town Council meeting. Robbins arrived at City Hall with an escort of police officers on horseback. (Never mind that the horses came to town in a trailer.)
Scottsdale leaders thought that would be the end of it. But Cave Creek pressed on.
The Cave Creek mayor, Francia, said he never expected Scottsdale to just surrender the slogan, but he thought both towns could use the affair for fun and publicity. After a few weeks, however, Scottsdale's Mayor Lane told him to stop and desist, Francia said.
Lane was traveling in China and could not be reached for comment. Twist, his chief of staff, said Scottsdale didn't mind playing along for a while but had to protect its motto, which it uses on city signs, letterhead and for advertising. Scottsdale, he said, had millions at stake.
Francia and other Cave Creek leaders showed up at the next Scottsdale City Council meeting, riding in a horse-drawn wagon that was preceded by a bison named Harley. Their entourage included a mounted Maricopa County sheriff's posse and a high school marching band playing "Happy Trails." (Cave Creek officials drove most of the way, just as Scottsdale's did earlier.)
Cave Creek dared Scottsdale to a series of challenges during Cave Creek's annual "Wild West Days." The "Western Showdown" included last Saturday's quick-draw shootout for the mayors and an "old fashioned" pig race, with swine chosen by the city clerks.
The winner of the majority of the events would take the motto, Cave Creek proposed, and the loser would "hold their head in shame."
Scottsdale declined. Cave Creek poked fun.
Then Scottsdale threatened legal action.
Cave Creek officials were taken aback. But they decided, like any good poker player, you have to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.
This week, the Cave Creek Town Council adopted an alternative motto: "Where the Wild West Lives."
Scottsdale's Twist called it a victory.
But Glassman, Cave Creek's town manager, says the town with no advertising budget drew national media attention, and businesses broke sales records during "Wild West Days."
"We may have blinked," he said. "But we won."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times