Go West! Stories of Western heritage engage visitors of today…and the future.

Boot Hill Museum is the premier heritage destination in Dodge City, Kansas. A traditional longhorn cattle drive through town and past the museum’s Front Street is a highlight of the 12-day Dodge City Days celebration, held every year at the end of July. – Max McCoy –
Boot Hill Museum is the premier heritage destination in Dodge City, Kansas. A traditional longhorn cattle drive through town and past the museum’s Front Street is a highlight of the 12-day Dodge City Days celebration, held every year at the end of July.
– Max McCoy –

Museums across the West continue to embrace Old West stories with exhibits on John C. Fremont, Liver Eatin’ Johnston, cattle trails and the Buffalo soldiers, but as they reach out to newer audiences, they are expanding their storylines. In our “Top Ten Museums of 2016” you might have a chance to learn about and view work of Old West artists, guns from the Western television era or even hear the histories of World War II veterans.

The trend we are seeing as we cross the West visiting museums, is the desire to not only show the artifacts that are important to a local place—from prehistoric tools to 20th-century clothing—but to engage visitors through use of better films, more interactive exhibits and stronger programs, particularly those aimed at younger visitors. Now more than ever it is time to take the family to the museum.

We’ve looked far and wide and have selected a top ten list of museums, but we can’t stop there and have many more museums we highly recommend you take the time to explore. 

Candy Moulton lives near Encampment, Wyoming, and has traveled the United States extensively, always making time for a visit to a local museum.

 

 

  1.  BOOT HILL MUSUEM
    Dodge City, KS

    From the opportunity to play a game of cards with Doc Holliday at a life-sized sculpture in front of the Boot Hill Museum, to the rumbling experience of a buffalo hunt, a visit to this museum is an immersion in the Old West. The museum presents shows in the Long Branch Saloon, focusing on that famous Dodge City bunch: Miss Kitty, Matt Dillon and the cast of Gunsmoke.
    Boothill.org

    Dodge City’s Boot Hill Museum holds entertaining gunfights along Front Street twice a day throughout the summer, while inside exhibitions on gambling, guns and American Indian history provide valuable insights into life on the Kansas frontier. – Photos Courtesy Boot Hill Museum –
    Dodge City’s Boot Hill Museum holds entertaining gunfights along Front Street twice a day throughout the summer, while inside exhibitions on gambling, guns and American Indian history provide valuable insights into life on the Kansas frontier.
    – Photos Courtesy Boot Hill Museum –

     

  2. PANHANDLE-PLAINS HISTORICAL MUSEUM
    Amarillo, TX

    Watch for the Western Illustrators Gallery, being installed this fall, which will feature artists whose work is part of the permanent collection of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Among the artists included in the exhibit are W. Herbert Dunton, Frank Tenney Johnson, Edward Borein, Matt Clark, H. D. Bugbee, Will Crawford, Herbert Morton Stoops, Arthur Mitchell, N. C. Wyeth, Philip R. Goodwin and Frank B. Hoffman.
    PanhandlePlains.org 

  3. CODY FIREARMS MUSEUM
    Cody, WY

    See a Hawken rifle that once belonged to John “Liver Eatin’” Johnston and Colt Single Actions used in Bonanza and Gunsmoke among the hundreds of firearms on display. A new exhibit centers on quick-draw competitor Bob Munden. The museum includes the Winchester Arms Collection, but also has Sharps, Henry, Hawken, and Spencer rifles, along with the John Moses Browning firearms collection.
    CenterOfTheWest.org

  4. BUFFALO SOLDIERS NATIONAL MUSEUM
    Houston, TX

    This museum has a broad mission to preserve the legacy of black American soldiers beginning with those who fought in the Revolutionary War, and continuing through the soldiers of the Indian Wars and into the 20th century. Each Saturday the “Day in the Life of a Buffalo Soldier” program is presented and the museum also takes presentations into schools. This July the museum sponsored the 15th Anniversary Reunion of the Buffalo Soldiers.
    BuffaloSoldierMuseum.com

    The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas, is the nation’s headquarters for the sesquicentennial celebration of the famed units created after the Civil War to serve in the Indian Wars. – Courtesy Buffalo Soldiers National Museum –
    The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas, is the nation’s headquarters for the sesquicentennial celebration of the famed units created after the Civil War to serve in the Indian Wars.
    – Courtesy Buffalo Soldiers National Museum –

     

  5. DAYS OF ‘76 MUSEUM
    Deadwood, SD
    Here you’ll see outstanding artifacts, including a unique carriage and horse-drawn vehicle collection, and public programs on topics ranging from Calamity Jane and other women of the Old West to Lakota traditions and caring for your personal heirlooms. We like that the museum holds history camps for children during which they learn about the characters in Deadwood’s past.
    DeadwoodHistory.com

    The Days of ‘76 Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota, provides visitors an interactive introduction to the history of the wild mountain mining town, including its signature collection of horse-drawn vehicles, and one of the state’s oldest heritage events. – Courtesy Days of ‘76 Museum –
    The Days of ‘76 Museum in Deadwood, South Dakota, provides visitors an interactive introduction to the history of the wild mountain mining town, including its signature collection of horse-drawn vehicles, and one of the state’s oldest heritage events.
    – Courtesy Days of ‘76 Museum –

     

  6. NEVADA STATE MUSEUM
    Las Vegas, NV

    A private collection of materials from the USS Nevada battleship is the centerpiece of a new exhibit. The museum brought in veterans who served aboard the Nevada who shared their stories with ROTC members and the general public. A new exhibit, “Becoming Animal: Standing Witness for the Sentient Wild,” debuts in October and will feature black-and-white photographs of the wild kingdom of Nevada’s Mojave Desert taken by wildlife biologist and noted artist Sharon K. Schafer.
    Museums.NevadaCulture.org

  7. YAKAMA NATION MUSEUM AND CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTER
    Toppenish, WA

    This center recognizes the most important American Indian leaders in the nation—from Sequoyah to Red Cloud and Chief Joseph. Every June the center holds a Treaty Day Ceremony to recognize the signing of the 1855 treaty. Exhibits focus on both cultural traditions and today’s members of the Yakama Nation.
    YakamaMuseum.com

  8. COLUMBIA GORGE DISCOVERY CENTER & MUSEUM
    The Dalles, OR

    Ice Age Missoula Floods, geology of the Columbia Gorge, American Indian life, early explorers and the Oregon Trail are exhibit topics at this discovery center. One exhibit shows a wagon, with wheels removed, on a raft in the Columbia River, readying for the final leg of the Oregon Trail journey. A traveling exhibit on John C. Fremont, who passed through The Dalles in the fall of 1843 with Kit Carson and Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, is in place through most of 2016.
    GorgeDiscovery.org

  9. CHISHOLM TRAIL HERITAGE CENTER
    Duncan, OK

    Preparing for the 150th anniversary of the Chisholm Trail in 2017 this museum features numerous permanent exhibits—“Romancing the Trail,” “Folks on the Trail,” “The Duncan Store”—plus a roping area, branding station, Chisholm Trail map and interactive kiosks like “How Old Am I?” and “On The Trail to Abilene.” The kids can hear animals in “Ecology of The Trail,” a diorama ecosystem that features life-sized taxidermy of a longhorns, buffalo, quail, turkeys, bobcats and more.
    OnTheChisholmTrail.com

  10. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST
    Los Angeles, CA

    A Winchester rifle presented to Dr. D. F. Powell “White Beaver” by W.H. Cody in 1881 is one of the new acquisitions at the Autry. But this year marked the opening of the newly renovated Cowboy Gallery, which now has a full-sized chuck wagon, artifacts exploring the tools and tasks of the cowboy including rare mid-19th-century California saddles, and hands-on activity stations for families. Also on display are William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s beaded buckskin jacket, Thomas Moran’s painting Mountain of the Holy Cross and pistols given to Annie Oakley by her husband Frank Butler.
    TheAutry.org

    The Autry Museum of the American West has major exhibitions on the pantheon of Western history—ranging from film and television props such as Steve McQueen’s gunbelt and “Mare’s Laig” 1892 Winchester carbine from Wanted Dead or Alive to ranching dioramas of cowboy life on the range. – Courtesy Autry Museum of the American West; Winchester Donated in part by Mr. Douglas L. Boyer. Autry Museum; 88.279.1.; Gunbelt Donated by the Ritts Family. Autry Museum; 89.92.1. –
    The Autry Museum of the American West has major exhibitions on the pantheon of Western history—ranging from film and television props such as Steve McQueen’s gunbelt and “Mare’s Laig” 1892 Winchester carbine from Wanted Dead or Alive to ranching dioramas of cowboy life on the range.
    – Courtesy Autry Museum of the American West; Winchester Donated in part by Mr. Douglas L. Boyer. Autry Museum; 88.279.1.; Gunbelt Donated by the Ritts Family. Autry Museum; 89.92.1. –

What do you think?

Candy Moulton

Candy Moulton is a frequent contributor to the Renegade Roads column in True West Magazine. For 17 years, she edited the Western Writers of America’s Roundup Magazine; in 2012, she became WWA’s executive director. The Wyoming native leading the organization has written 13 Western history books (including the Spur-winning biography Chief Joseph), co-edited a short fiction collection and written and produced several documentary films (including the Spur-winning Oregon Trails documentary In Pursuit of a Dream).