At the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

Sometimes great things start with humble beginnings, mixed with big dreams. Such is the case of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, located atop historic Persimmon Hill in Oklahoma City. It now boasts 200,000 square feet of space to “preserve and interpret the evolving history and cultures of the American West for the education and enrichment of its diverse audiences.”

But this grand structure, which features 28,000 items related to the real West and the reel West (Hollywood), was only a dream back in January 1955. Without a building, or collection, founder Chester A. Reynolds and friends came up with a mission, “to preserve and interpret the heritage of the American West for the enrichment of the public.” Some 10 years later, on June 26, 1965, they opened an 80,000-squarefoot facility at the current location. Since 1994, the museum has expanded westward, adding 120,000 square feet of space. It was called the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center before adopting its current name.

Prosperity Junction, a favorite of many visitors, occupies some 14,000 square feet of the museum. The full-scale town was built under a 40- foot-high ceiling, which allows for its two-story structures. Modeled after a 1900s cow town, it shows the transition that took place in the West as the raw frontier became more “civilized” with the arrival of the railroad. Even the lumber for the 19 buildings was rough cut to true dimensions with a circular saw. The north side of town features a livery stable, blacksmith shop and railroad depot, and the south side is home to the church, residences and the school, with the business district in the middle. Careful research drawn from catalogs of the day led to the design of the buildings, as well as metal ceilings of the period, wallpaper and even hardware for the doors. Walking down the street, you can hear the church organ playing a hymn, or something more edgy from the piano in the Silver Dollar Saloon.

The museum also includes the American Cowboy Gallery, American Rodeo Gallery, the Joe Grandee Museum of the Frontier West, the Weitzenhoffer Gallery of Fine American Firearms, Western Performers Gallery, Native American Gallery, the Arthur & Shifra Silberman Gallery of Native American Art and the Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center. The focal point of the museum is the poignant End of the Trail sculpture by James Earle Fraser (1876-1953), which was acquired in 1968. “Being part of the museum’s constantly acquired in 1968. “Being part of the museum’s evolving process into a world-class facility with exceptional exhibitions and amazing events that reach out to diverse audiences over the past 13 years has been exciting,” says Lynda Haller, director of public relations and museum events.

The institution, at 1700 NE 63rd St., was built on “a great mission that is still vital,” says Executive Director Charles P. Schroeder. The museum operates independently—relying on memberships, gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals, foundations and corporations—and annually sponsors the prestigious Western Wrangler Awards. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $8.50 for adults, $7 for senior citizens, $4 for children 6-12 and free for children under 6. Please visit www.nationalcow boymuseum.org or call 405- 478-2250.

 

Originally published in the October 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here