While you’re in Oklahoma City, don’t miss the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The museum bills itself as “America’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture.” You’ll realize the description is an accurate one as you wander through its multiple art and sculpture galleries, stand in front of the poignant 17-foot-tall “End of the Trail” sculpture by James Earle Fraser or explore a replica of a Western town for children, called Prosperity Junction, and the Children’s Cowboy Corral. You’ll learn about cowboy culture and gear, Native American history, Western performers, settling the frontier and more.
The museum has plans for its future, such as a seven-acre outdoor addition, but here’s a bit about its past.
It was founded as the National Cowboy and Hall of Fame and Museum in Oklahoma City in 1955, seven years after its founder Chester Arthur Reynolds envisioned a hall of fame that would honor cowboys, cattlemen and ranchers.
Governors from 17 western states, prominent cattlemen and leaders in rodeo were invited to serve on the museum’s board, and a 37-acre site at what is known as Persimmon Hill was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1955. And in 1960, the museum became the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. (It took on its current name, dropping the Hall of Fame part, in 2000.)
Although fundraising efforts stalled along the way, it finally opened in 1965. It fell into disarray in the 1980s but a $35 million capital campaign revived it. In 1993, President George Bush formally dedicated the site that had expanded to more than 230,000 square feet.
Since then it’s been host to numerous community events, collections and Museum events such as the annual Western Heritage Awards, honoring significant contributions to literature, music, film and television.