Saturday, March 23, 2013

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 3/23/13:   I've been to see the Boss, the Duke, the King, the Queen and the noblemen they serve.  I have spent another few hours with the cowboys.  Not just the movie cowboys, the cowboys.

  Here in Oklahoma City is a world class museum devoted to the history of the west and the people who built it then .. and now.  In my opinion, it is presented as well as anything the Smithsonian has ever done on any subject. It is wonderful, and I come back again and again.  If I have to stay overnight to visit the museum, I stay over.  It's just that good.

  I believe in pictures.  Here's a random sample I took of the museum's collection.

  The cowboy we know came here around the time of the Civil War looking for a job.  There were cattle in the Texas scrub and they formed the basis of an industry.  

  A lot of what he or she learned was taken from the Mexican Vaqueros, who were already riding and herding and had adopted the equipment and techniques that served best.  Vaquero..Buckaroo?  Whatever works.

  Take a look at these guys.  The one on the left is from the southwestern territories, and one on the right is from the north.  

  The one on the left is wearing the big hat that shields him from the sun.  His clothing is lighter.  

  The man on the right is wearing a narrow-brimmed hat because of the winds he faces.  He's dressed in a long duster and generally heavier clothes.  

  However fanciful it seems, the working outfit of the real cowboy is probably one of the most practical "uniforms" ever devised.  It suited.  It was necessary.

  Look at the spurs.  When they could afford it, the cowboys got not only the best, but usually looked for something with a little style.  The collection of working gear..everything from boots to saddles to chuck wagons and guns is here.  It's endlessly fascinating and it's educational.

  One section goes to great length to show you how the cowboy's boot came to be as we know it today.  Bascially, it started with the English riding boot and worked up from there.  The fancy stitching you see is there to reinforce the upper sides, and the upper sides are there to keep the rider from getting his legs torn up in the mesquite and other brush.  Further--did you know that the cowpunchers often wore two pair of pants?  They would put on a pair of corduroys for padded warmth and cover them with Levis for durability.  Over that, they'd add leather chaps to further protect their legs--wooly chaps in the winter.

  I'm a big rodeo fan.  Mary Alice and I used to go to the Cheyenne, Wyoming rodeo every July.  I still do. It's great fun and as important as a sport to westerners as the NFL.  

  Bronc Riding is serious stuff.  Rodeo got started in ranch corrals where cowboys could show off and have a little fun with the skills they used every working day.  Horses were intrinsic, of course.  Bull riding came later..probably on a dare.

  If you happen to look through a fence, sometime, and see an eye like the one below looking back..that's a Bull's Eye, Friend, and you will do well to go on about your business..someplace else.
   But if you do sign up to ride, you can check a specific bull in the record books and see how he's done in the past.  Skilled riders study the bull..see how he steps out of the chute and how he will turn so the rider will be able to anticipate the animal's moves.

  By the way, the Bull usually wins.

  It ain't easy, I think.  I shall remain an interested observer, thank you very much.


End of the Trail
  The museum is an art gallery in many ways.  The famous statue above is the first thing you see when you enter the Grand Foyer.  


This statue of Abraham Lincoln is at the other end of the main corridor.


But art takes many forms.
Chief's Head Dress
Rooster Cogburn's head dress & eyepatch.
John Wayne Collection

"Fill Your Hand."
John Wayne collection.

   The movie cowboys have a gallery, of course.  They are an important part of how the old west is viewed, even though some of it is pretty far-fetched.  But some isn't.  The movies may be how a great many of us got our first glimpse of  that history.  I know I spent a lot of Saturday mornings at the Morgan Theater, watching a western, a serial and 17 cartoons.  Impressions are made in a lot of ways.

  I don't want to focus entirely on The Duke, but he and his family were very generous to the museum.  All the others are there..Roy and Dale, Gene Autry, Jimmy Stewart, James Arness, Walter Brennan, Tom Selleck.  Selleck even donated narration to the introductory film in the museum theater.

But, yes..that's Wayne's famous six shooter.  In the movies, its grip looked orange; in reality, it's ivory, turned a beautiful, soft color by years of handling and exposure to the sun.  The oils in our hands can do that to real ivory..and that's real ivory.

Main Street

  There's a complete western town in the museum.  It starts at the Livery Stable, goes to the railroad station past the saddle shop, runs past the newspaper office, the saloon, the bank and the church. 
Lock 'em up.

And if you don't behave yourself, the Marshall is just across the street

Photographer approaches the bar.

  I found the saloon.  

  And behaved myself.

  You have to see this place.  Believe me, I only scratched the surface here.  Put it on your bucket list and plan to spend some time.  It's just wonderful.

  See you down the road.