People who settled the American West did it with a determination the world couldnt help but admire. The cowboy was born from this unique time in American history.
|A cowboy sculpture overlooking the gardens outside the museum (above). /National Cowboy Museum photos
Among the exhibits at the National Cowgirl Museum are photographs and stories of professional cowgirls who were in Wild West shows, rodeos and horse racing events (below). /National Cowgirl Museum photo
During the late 19th century, cowboys ran ranching empires, moved cattle across trails, roped and branded steers, tamed wild horses, drove wagon trains, explored new frontiers, and embodied the spirit of the United States. The cowboy soon became a romantic figure later immortalized in dime store novels and feature films.
Two museumsthe National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth celebrate this unique spirit of the American West.
Learn the history of the American cowboy. View fine art. Reminisce about great Western performers like John Wayne and Tom Mix. Then take a break with a stroll down the streets of a turn-of-the-century Western town.
Do it all at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Originally opened in 1965, the mission has remained the same since its beginning: to preserve and interpret our Western heritage. The 220,000-square-foot museum sits high upon Persimmon Hill in Oklahoma City.
Since 1994, the museum has tripled in size. Distinct galleries spotlight the different facets of cowboy life, the law of the frontier and American rodeo. However, fine art has always been a mainstay of the museum. Paintings by Charles M. Russell and others depict the life of the cowboy. One of the most poignant pieces of artwork is the 18-foot-high sculpture, The End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser. This recognizable sculpture of a weary, yet proud Native American man upon his horse is the focal point of the entryway.
In the Childrens Cowboy Corral, youngsters dress like cowboys, climb on real saddles and gather around the chuck wagon for some pretend grub.
Prosperity Junction, a re-created century old cattle town, is a favorite for all ages.
Historically accurate buildings include a train depot, newspaper office, church, blacksmith, and a sheriffs office complete with a jail. Dim lighting shows the town at dusk. Music from the saloon can be heard from the streets, interrupted only by the occasional train whistle, chuck wagon and the familiar sounds of a vital town.
Attractively landscaped grounds offer paths to sculptures like Buffalo Bill Cody riding his horse with his rifle raised high in the air as he looks out over Oklahoma City. Its an enjoyable stroll after lunching in the Persimmon Hill Restaurant. If you would rather rest your feet for awhile, a theater offers a brief overview of the museums collections.
Through May 31, an exhibit on the John Wayne movie, Stagecoach, is being shown to coincide with the opening of the new Western Performers Gallery.
The museums western heritage mission continues beyond cowboys and frontier life with the Native American Gallery, which features Native American tribal motifs and significant objects familiar to daily life. Other exhibits pay homage to African-American, Native American and Hispanic cowboys, as well as the 19th-century buffalo soldiers. Although cowgirls are featured in some displays, the real jewel to showcase women in the West is in Fort Worth, Texas.
A group from Texas believes the cowgirl warrants more attention. Starting in the basement of the county library in the small Texas panhandle town of Hereford in 1975, the founders set about honoring the women of the American West.
As the collection of artifacts and archives grew, the National Cowgirl Museum moved to Fort Worth in 1994 and plans for a bigger and better museum were set in motion.
Fort Worths Cultural District is now the new home for the 33,000-square-foot National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. The ornate limestone and brick museum opened to the public on June 9, 2002.
Three upstairs galleries house permanent collections. Explore the day-to-day life of the working cowgirl from childhood to old age. Read the stories of women who made it as professional cowgirls in the Wild West shows, rodeos and horse racing. Visitors can listen, watch and read about female Western performers in television, film and music who have made their marks on our culture.
A downstairs exhibit hall showcases events like the life and work of English photographer Evelyn Cameronwho owned a ranch with her husband in Montanaand a photo retrospective by Bob Wade on 25 years of the cowgirl. Rodeo Girl: Photography by Lisa Eisner opens April 26 and continues through July 20. Rodeo queen costumes will be displayed to enhance the photographs.
But the best place to start is the Spirit of the Cowgirl Theater where a 10-minute video narrated by singer Michael Martin Murphey explores the wonder of the American cowgirl. Faces of cowgirls young, old, and in betweenflash across the screen showing the audience how truly remarkable the American cowgirl is.
The presentation is the perfect introduction to the halls rotunda located just outside the theater. Twelve murals highlight the cowgirl in a series of changing images. Walk along the circular wall and marvel at the 163 women who have been inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
The walls highlight such diverse women as artist Georgia OKeeffe, author Laura Ingalls Wilder, world champion cowgirl Tad Lucas, entertainer Annie Oakley, Lewis and Clark guide Sacajawea, singer Patsy Cline, Hollywood cowgirl Dale Evans, and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day OConnor, who grew up herding cattle on a ranch on the Arizona and New Mexico border.
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame proves anyone with the right stuff can be a cowgirl. Cowgirls possess courage, determination, and an indomitable spirit, traits all of us should aspire to.