The Culture of Cowboys & Indians

Americana, Featured Article, On the Road, Travel Destinations
on July 24, 2013
Courtesy of National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum The original Matador Ranch chuckwagon is among the exhibits at the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

From 1870s cattle-drive journals to Frederic Remington’s 1907 painting “In From the Night Herd,” the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City preserves the history and culture of the American West.

Founded in 1955, the museum has corralled more than 28,000 Western artworks and artifacts, including collections of American Indian attire, barbed wire, horse saddles, early rodeo photographs and rare firearms, such as an 1830s Colt Paterson muzzle-loading percussion revolver and an 1850s Volcanic pistol. Three halls of fame—Rodeo, Great Westerners and Great Western Performers—honor individuals who’ve made notable contributions to the Western experience.

The museum’s Native American Gallery showcases nearly 200 artifacts, including a pair of 1880s Delaware moccasins with a maple leaf beadwork design; an 1890s Teton Dakota animal hide picture calendar, known as a winter count; and a 1920s Sioux tobacco bag adorned with a beaded horse.

Cowboy life is depicted in the American Cowboy Gallery’s bunkhouse replica, chuck wagon scenes, and on a 900-square-foot granite floor map etched with historic cattle trails and legendary ranches.

Hollywood cowboys star in the museum’s Western Performers Gallery, which features actor Tom Mix’s saddle, John Wayne’s modified Model 1892 Winchester rifle carried in several movies, a black Western outfit worn by Barbara Stanwyck in TV’s “The Big Valley,” and Roy Rogers’ white Stetson hat and kangaroo boots.

Visitors also can stroll through Prosperity Junction, a re-created early-1900s Western prairie town with 15 full-size buildings, including a livery stable, blacksmith shop, train depot, newspaper office, bank and U.S. Marshal’s office.

Best known for its top-notch Western art collection, the museum exhibits paintings such as Carl Wimar’s 1860 “Buffalo Hunt,” Albert Bierstadt’s 1867 “Emigrants Crossing the Plains” and Charles M. Russell’s 1921 “When Mules Wear Diamonds.”

The museum’s iconic centerpiece can’t be missed in the entrance hall. Standing 18 feet tall is James Earle Fraser’s original plaster statue of an American Indian on horseback, “The End of the Trail,” created for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.