Today’s route from Missouri and into Oklahoma traversed the Cherokee, Shawnee, Wyandotte, Sac and Fox Nations on our way to Oklahoma City. The Nation signs along the highways reminded us that this was the land onto which so many different tribes were forcibly relocated – the “Oklahoma Indian Territories”.
There was no corn as high as an elephant’s eye, given that it has all been harvested, but there were plenty of cattle to see, including several herds of impressive longhorns.
Our planned afternoon stop was at the world’s largest cowboy museum.
To be honest, I had expected something kind of kitchy and over the top: maybe giant hats and boots, country and western music, and a general glorification of the wild west.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. First of all, it’s actually called the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Second, the variety of exhibits is wide-ranging: from the history of the earliest caballeros and vaqueros, to western exploration, the Indian wars, the history of saddlery, cowboys in show business, rodeo culture, Native clothing, a complete model of an old western town called “Prosperity Junction”, examples of native pottery and dress, a rifle display, and hundreds of paintings and sculptures on Western themes.
We learned that the original cowboys (the English translation of the Spanish word vaquero) were Indians and Blacks, not the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood stereotypes we now associate with the term. Mexican landowners (caballeros, or cavaliers in English) were the equivalent of nobles, almost like knights. Indians and Blacks were actually not “allowed” to ride horses, but as ranch workers it became a necessity that they do so. Of course, they couldn’t be caballeros…. they were just “cow boys”. Over the years, they developed their own style of dress, saddles, etc. and white ranchers and explorers who rode horses in their daily lives gradually adopted those practical items. I especially enjoyed seeing the many beautifully tooled saddles.
It was a blast to walk through all the TV and movie western displays. Some of my favourite childhood memories were there: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and Walter Brennan…. and Miss Kitty’s dress from Gunsmoke. Moving onto my teenage years, there was Robert Redford (that crazy suit from The Electric Horseman), Clint Eastwood, and Sam Elliott. There was also a temporary exhibit of costumes and props comparing the 1969 and 2010 versions of the movie “True Grit”, beside an oversized bronze statues of John Wayne. The museum has a sense of humour; the exhibit was called “Two Grits”.
All in all, quite an interesting museum and, despite the museum docents in their cowboy hats, boots and sheriff’s stars, not one rootin’ tootin’ shoot-out all day.