If the politicians have their way, two wonderful living history museums in the country could close very soon.
As we go to press, I have received word that two of the West’s best “towns” are in danger of being destroyed: Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming, and Old Cowtown Living History Museum in Wichita, Kansas. Our Preservation column shares how you can help save Old Trail Town.
The other attraction in danger of closing, Wichita’s cowtown, is a 53-year-old landmark museum that has been operating in the red. The county approved a $200,000 contingency fund to offset that shortfall, but the commissioners have now rescinded that contingency plan. Why? It’s an election year, and certain politicos in Wichita are grandstanding to “save the taxpayers money.”
How important is Wichita’s Cowtown? Many of us see it as the cradle of the cowboy mythology. When you stop to consider that Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson all called it home at one time, and that for several of the formative years, most of the cattle drives ended up here, well, it’s just too important to let slide.
Wyatt Earp, of course, served on Wichita’s police force for 11 months before getting into a fistfight and getting jailed overnight in the Calaboose (you can see the original jail that held Wyatt on the grounds at Old Cowtown). Earp was fined a half month’s wages and fired. Two weeks later, he and Morgan were picked up for vagrancy. “I wouldn’t be a vagrant,” Wyatt claimed, “if the city paid me the other half month’s salary.” So you see, financial squabbling between city officials has been going on for some time.
Fellow historians and good friends Ed LeRoy and Tim Holt are creating a Friends of Old Cowtown Foundation to help give the museum some outside funding so it won’t be held hostage to local politicians and wavering support. You can send letters of support to the County Commission and City Council, and to the local newspaper (The Wichita Eagle—Letters to the Editor 825 E. Douglas, Wichita, KS 67201).
We hope you’ll show your support for both of these wonderful towns that contribute so much to our knowledge of Western history.