Cowboy museum

Cowboy museum in Oklahoma

Cowboys are mainly associated with Westerns, and it is hard to imagine that one can meet them today. In fact, the tradition of cowboys is very much alive today, and they exist far beyond the movies. They grow cattle, train horses, participate in rodeo, and get together for the cowboy poetry evenings. In Oklahoma, we visited Cowboy museum to learn more about cowboys.

Irish herders who came to colonial America to tend livestock had been initially called cowboys. Interestingly, during the American Revolution, mounted cattlemen loyal to England who stole stock from American farmers also called themselves cow-boys. People tending stock are also called vaqueros, buckaroes or drovers, depending on their heritage. The Spanish word for cow is vaca, and men tending cattle from cowboys in Texas were called vaqueros, whether they were Mexicans or not. On the West Coast vaquero was modified to buckaroo. The term drover was preferred by cowboy of Midwestern roots. Among cowboys, there were also men of Native American and black origin.
Moreover, there are not only cowboys, but also cowgirls! The term appeared in 1890s to name the daughters of many pioneer ranchers who grew up runching and roping along with their brothers. Victorian attitudes deemed it improper for women to dress and ride like a man. Most women wore full skirts and rode sidesaddle.

A huge pavillion in the museum imitates the Prosperity Junction – an imagined 20-year old cattle town located somewhere in the west of the country – after dusk, when its structures are lighted by kerosene and gas lamps. Its homes and business are authentic in the design and style of that era.
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Runch work required good riding and roping skills. Though daily chores tended to be more mundane than heroic, the cowboy’s knowledge of cattle and his ability as a horseman set him apart from the miners, farmers, and other laborers on the frontier. The cowboy took pride of this distinction, and his equipment reflected this pride. Many exibitions of the museum are dedicated to different kind of equipment:
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When the cattle herds spread through the West, cattlemen took advantage of large expanses of grazing land, relying on natural barriers like rivers and valleys to contain their stock. An elaborate system of brand symbols and ear markers helped them to identify their cattle on the open range. The brand often bacame the name of the ranch.
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Barbed wire, which inspired both respect and hate from cowboys, became the symbol for the closing of the open range on the Great Plains. By the 1880s, when competition for land and water increased the need for fencing, barbed wire provided a solution for sprawling ranches where traditional fencing was impractical. The museum exibition contains 1300 examples drawn from the museum’s collection of more than 8000 different wires.
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And of course, the cowboys’ clothes and musical instruments:
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The cowboy’s most importan ally is a good horse, carefully trained to work cattle. With experience, a well-trained mount can develop „cow sense“ – the ability to anticipate actions of the cattle. Ideally, an experienced handler has to take months or years to produce a finished cow horse.

Additional halls present and tell about cowboy hats, boots, and jeans.
And, of course, the Western Performers Gallery telling about actors and films of Western movies.

An additional exibition, imitating the rodeo arena, tells about the history of this competition. Here, cowboy athletes complete a series of events combining the skills of working cowhand with the spectacle of the wild west show. Saddle bronc riding, calf roping and steer roping represent historic range practices. Bareback bronc riding, steer wresttling and bull riding are feats of cowboy daring added to the spot durung the 20th century. Some videos in the pavillion demonstrate these competitions in details.

In fact, it takes more than cantankerous critters, daring contestants and appreciative fans to make a rodeo. The rodeo committee coordinates the program, maintains records, oversees publicity and arranges stock contracting. Rodeo contractors not only supply healthy livestock, but on occasion provide an arena director, announcer, contract entertainment or clowns.



The rodeo bucking bull provides the most dangerous and certainly the most popular action in this sport. Known by their temperement, the most infamous rodeo bulls of the 1930s and 1940s earned such well-deserved named as Double Trouble, Cyclone, Tornado, and Bad Dreams. Today’s rodeo bulls are „bread to buck“ especially for the arena, and the best earns the title of Bucking Bull of the year.

In the museum, the cemetry of famous cowboy „pets“- horses and bulls is also situated. For example, Tornado bull buried here is said to be the best rodeo bull ever. In six competitive seasons, Tornado bucked off 220 professional cowboys. The better the cowboy worked, the harder Torando bent to his task. He was finally conquered in December 1, 1967 when a cowboy at the national competition mastered Tornado for 8 seconds. A few years later the bull retired to a lush pasture on a runch and died in 1972.

Some animals even have monuments to them:

Outside, there is also a monument to Buffalo Bill an American scout, bison hunter, and showman – the front figure of American Western and cowboys.

National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is situated at:
1700 N.E. 63rd Street
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73111
(405) 478-2250, Ext. 241
Museum Hours
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Daily
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
Adults $12.50
Seniors (62+) $9.75
Student with valid ID $9.75
Children (4-12) $5.75
Children (3 and under) Free

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