Weekend Westerner

  • Arthur Kruse on the range in Oklahoma

    Courtesy Sharon Glidden
  • Arthur Kruse with the Cowboy Club Munchen in Germany.

    Courtesy Arthur Kruse
  • Arthur Kruse with the Cowboy Club Munchen in Germany.

    Courtesy Arthur Kruse
  • Arthur Kruse with the Cowboy Club Munchen in Germany.

    Courtesy Arthur Kruse
 

Name Arthur Kruse
Age 69
Hometown Munich, Germany
Occupation Consultant to the high-pressure compressor company where he was sales manager for 32 years.
Still mourned "Flites Gentleman," Kruse's quarter horse, who had to be put down after a bad fall on ice just before Christmas Eve four years ago.
Other club members About 50 men and 35 women -- a mix of blue-collar workers, professionals, and businesspeople. Some of the men make their own belts, chaps, holsters and scabbards, and some of the women make their own dresses, bonnets, beaded leather jerkins and dance-hall frou-frou clothing inspired by historic photographs and drawings.

Most weekends find Arthur Kruse riding out into the forest or down to the river. With his white handlebar moustache, custom boots from Livingston, Mont., a hat from the Bitterroot Valley, and a jacket from Texas, he makes a fine figure on a quarter horse. 

Several times a month, Kruse does some target practice with his 44.40 Henry rifle or his Colt Peacemaker revolver and throws tomahawks and knives with his friends. Not averse to the occasional whiskey, he also enjoys socializing over beer and barbecue down at the saloon.

In Kruse's case, though, the rifle and revolver are Italian copies, the tomahawks and knives were made in Germany, and the range he rides is rented from the city of Munich, Germany. For the past 20 years, Kruse has been a member of Cowboy Club München -- the biggest of eight cowboy clubs in the city, one of 160 such clubs in Germany, and, at 95 years old, the oldest Western club in Europe.

For Kruse, being a Westerner is "eine seriöse Freizeitbeschäftigung" -- a "serious hobby."

When he was a boy in Germany in the 1940s, Kruse did what many German boys back then did: He nourished his imagination on the adventure stories of German writer Karl May (1842-1912). Though May himself never ventured west of the Mississippi, he imagined the West of the 1860s so vividly and told such riveting stories about courageous, honorable Old Shatterhand and Shatterhand's Apache friend, Winnetou, that his books have sold more than 100 million copies in German.

Kruse graduated to James Fenimore Cooper and Sunday afternoons watching Western movies, grew up, went to work selling high-pressure compressors for a German manufacturer, married, had children. For 25 years, his hobby was scuba-diving. Then, at age 50, Kruse decided he was ready for a change. Encouraged by a friend who served as the Cowboy Club's president, he finally learned to ride a horse and became a weekend Westerner. For four years, Kruse was the club's stable master. Then he served as its sheriff for five years and then as president for another five. Today, he is the treasurer.

"I wasn't born a cowboy," says Kruse. "I can only try to be a cowboy."

With each visit to the American West, he grows more convinced that being "a Westerner in the old form" is the right hobby for him. On his most recent visit in 2006, Kruse stayed at Tiger Mountain Ranch in Henryetta, Okla. "He's an amazing man," says ranch owner Sharon Glidden, who refers to him fondly as "Papa Bear." Whereas Americans often come to the ranch looking to be entertained, Glidden found jovial, animated Kruse and his group "interested in why we live the way we live. They wanted to know how we check the cattle, how we work with cowboys, how we operate the ranch."

"What about the Old West draws you to it?" she asked Kruse. She still remembers his response: "To us, the cowboy and the Indian in the Old West faced life and danger one-to-one," said Kruse. "That's the ultimate show of courage."

On winter weekends, Kruse and the other club members like to gather around campfires at the old-style trappers' lodges the Cowboy Club has built in its rented forest. Sociability draws them to the campfire's "common ground," says Kruse. But authenticity also matters to these Munich cowboys. So Kruse takes pleasure in wearing the fringed leather jacket that a fellow club member made for him using a historically accurate pattern, and he treasures the bison-fetish necklace that a Native American friend in Oklahoma gave him.

Yes, Kruse enjoys riding horses, target practice, dressing the part of an old-time Westerner, and saying "Howdy." But his hobby goes much deeper than that. Seeking the right words to sum up its appeal in English, he says, "I am dreaming very often from the Old West in America … and I try to empathize this kind of live."

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