I wrapped up Thursday afternoon but didn’t have a solid opportunity to leave on an earlier flight Friday; the alternatives routed me through cities like Memphis and Minneapolis before going to Salt Lake and home. I decided that possibly getting home a few hours earlier was not worth risking getting stuck somewhere like Memphis, so I just kept my originally scheduled departure. That allowed me a few free hours, so I drove to Oklahoma City to visit the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
When you roll in the front door, the first thing you see at the end of the hall is the huge plaster sculpture of James Earle Fraser’s The End of the Trail. I’ve never been a real fan of the image, to be honest, but this sculpture is impressive. It’s big — 18 feet tall and 4 tons!
Another Fraser sculpture was at the end of the west hallway; not nearly as big, but still cool enough, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Finally, this mountain lion was also huge. According to the little guide thing they give you when you pay your $10 admission:
Canyon Princess: This 18-foot tall, 16,000 pound white cougar is carved from a single block of Colorado yule marble.
That’s a whole lotta cougar.
There were a number of other bronze, roughly life-sized statues of various cowboys like John Wayne, etc. I didn’t see a Clint Eastwood statue, which was bullshit (I’m no fan of John Wayne). There were also a number of busts of important looking white dudes, which I mostly ignored. I did say hello to this jackass when the opportunity presented itself.
The museum was actually pretty cool. A good part of it was given over to Western art; lots of paintings of cowboys, Indians, landscapes and horses. Plenty of smaller sculptures too. I like the big paintings best — the ones you see from the other side of the room and kind of gasp. Of course no cameras are allowed in those areas. I looked around once to determine if the coast was clear — which it seemed to be — because I wanted to shoot a painting of the Oklahoma Land Rush that I thought was particularly cool, if only to show how freakin’ big it was, but the simple beep! of my camera turning on summoned a uniformed guard who shut me down. She was about 95 years old and unarmed, so I was pretty sure I could have taken her . . . but I let it slide. The painting was along the lines of this picture, only with the rush coming at the viewer, and way more awesome.
Besides the art, there were different rooms given over to different themes, including the following:
- Native American art and artifacts (the beadwork on some of the stuff dating back to the 1870s and earlier was breathtaking). I got a little verklempt looking at some of the things in this room, to be honest. I was also struck by how small the clothes were.
- The Western Performers Gallery had a lot of props from movies, posters, info, stuff like that. This was mildly cool.
- The American Rodeo Gallery was set up with gates and sounds piped in as if you were at a rodeo. This was pretty neat.
- The Weitzenhoffer Gallery of Fine American Firearms was the shit. I’m not really a gun guy, but this room was awesome. Rifles, pistols, derringers all fancily displayed — it was top shelf. I’d pay my $10 just to spend more time here, if the opportunity ever presented itself again.
- The Joe Grandee Museum of the Frontier West was the real goldmine. It had rooms full of saddles, bridles, boots, clothes — you name it. Statues of different regional cowboy types. A room devoted to the military with equipment and weapons and all that shit. Mountain Men. More Indian stuff. Dioramas (let me say, for the record, that dioramas kind of freak me out). It was pretty awesome.
There was one other area called Prosperity Junction that was set up like a little town. That was also pretty cool. It wasn’t like awesomely cool, but it wasn’t hokey either.
I walked around the gardens outside. Here’s a shot of The End of the Trail from outside.
The garden areas were pretty. If I’d had time and could get beyond the traffic noise from the nearby highway, the humidity, and all the “Keep off the Grass,” “Keep off the Rocks,” and “Please Refrain from Having Fun” signs, I would have found it relaxing. There were numerous ponds full of lazy fish, and other little statues here and there. Also a few horse graves and remembrances.
The last big statue I photographed was of Buffalo Bill. This is the one that has big lights aimed at it, visible from the highway. I’m sure it’s mighty impressive at night.
I spent a couple hours at the museum, and certainly could have spent more if I’d had the time. I didn’t want to risk missing my flight home. I do have mixed feelings overall. I find the “Old West” interesting, and it is certainly relevant to where I live. But I also understand that the “Opening of the West”, for all its talk of freedom and opportunity and open spaces was also an invitation to genocide and ecological catastrophe, situations which we tend to not spend a lot of time talking about or educating our young about. That is depressing.
After I left, I decided I’d find someplace to eat so I wouldn’t have to settle for airport food. I failed. What I did find, though, was that OK City has got to have the greatest concentration of churches I’ve ever seen. It was kind of scary. One after the other, all different denominations, butted up against each other in this really shitty part of town. That was my impression though; based on what I’ve seen, these cities don’t have areas that aren’t shitty parts of town! It’s all crumbling 70s-era architecture that is ugly and barely functional. Throw in a bunch of road construction and you have urban paradise. I couldn’t live there.
I was happy to come home.