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.
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.
PANHANDLE-PLAINS HISTORICAL MUSEUM
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.
CODY FIREARMS MUSEUM
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.
BUFFALO SOLDIERS NATIONAL MUSEUM
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.
DAYS OF ‘76 MUSEUM
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.
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.
YAKAMA NATION MUSEUM AND CULTURAL HERITAGE CENTER
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.
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.
CHISHOLM TRAIL HERITAGE CENTER
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.
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.