The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a shrine to all things cowboy, both reality and myth. The 18-foot, four ton, James Earl Fraser’s powerful sculpture, The End of the Trail is the centerpiece for the lobby. This image, of a Native American slumped on his horse with spear down because the bison have been destroyed, is also on the Oklahoma license plates. Unfortunately, the art galleries are under renovation, but I did see the award-winning works from the Prix de West show and competition held each year at the Museum. It is one of the largest shows of Western art in the country. This was just one of many facts I learned while at the Museum.
As for building the myth, all the usual suspects are there with statutes and exhibits, including John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and a host of Western TV and movie stars. It was a bit like stepping back into my childhood, until I overheard two older gentlemen commenting that they watch the western channel nightly. I don’t even know if my cable service has a western channel.
As for the realities of the cowboy, the Spanish origination of the profession is explained, there are displays of apparel and gear, and an entire room is dedicated to barbed-wire. Other exhibits highlight the cavalry, the rodeo, Native Americans and the requisite old western town is there to explore. I read about Hawaiian cowboys and that after the King Ranch in South Texas the largest ranch in the US is in Hawaii. It is an upbeat museum on the cowboy, no negativity about the hard-life, alcohol or violence. Enjoyable, yet my skeptical side questions if it isn’t too much of a myth-preserver and maybe more honesty about the life, and the other people in the West(women, African-Americans, Native-American, Asians) would serve the visitor better.