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Oklahoma's Cowboy Culture and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Oklahoma

Oklahoma's Cowboy Culture and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

By: Shayla Martin

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  • States:
    Oklahoma

Steep Yourself in the Cowboy and Americana Culture in Oklahoma.

The cowboy is one of the most iconic symbols of United States Western culture, dating back more than two centuries. The folklore hero is alive and well in Oklahoma, where visitors can learn how the humble cattle herder and ranch hand became larger-than-life figures, permeating pop culture through novels, poems, songs and movies. And there's no better place to dive deep into this Old West cultural phenomenon than at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

Cowboy Culture Across Oklahoma

The pioneer spirit is strong in Oklahoma, nicknamed the Sooner State after millions of people  poured into central Oklahoma before the land's designated settling time to stake an early claim on the land. The adventurous nature of these new residents, combined with the cultures and traditions of their Native American predecessors, cement the cowboy heritage that is found in the state today.

Visitors to Oklahoma can embark on classic cowboy pastimes like roping and herding cattle, riding horses and savoring a meal under the stars by campfire light at guest ranches, like the Hitching Post Ranch in Kenton. Or, leave it to the professionals and watch cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills at an action-packed rodeo like July's International Round Up Club Cavalcade in Pawhuska, the world's largest amateur rodeo, or the annual Will Rogers Memorial Rodeo in August. On Monday's at historic Stockyards City in Oklahoma City, watch a live cattle auction at the world's largest feeder and stocker cattle market, then head over to nearby Langston's Western Wear to outfit yourself with proper square-toe cowboy boots and a Stetson cowboy hat.

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Since its founding, more than 10 million visitors have come from around the world to seek a deeper understanding of cowboy history and American western culture at the National Cowboy Western & Heritage Museum. Founded in 1955, the museum displays a thoughtfully curated collection of Western art and artifacts, as well as interactive galleries centered on the American cowboy, rodeos, Native American culture, Victorian firearms and Western performers. The awe-inspiring experience begins the moment guests walk through the door to face the dramatic, five-meter “End of the Trail" sculpture of an exhausted looking cowboy on horseback. Galleries house the museums permanent exhibits, like in the American Cowboy Gallery where cowboy history is charted from the Spanish colonial era to the 20th century. Here, you can see how ranching equipment, saddles, spurs and clothing have evolved over time.

The Native American Gallery tells the story of Oklahoma's indigenous people, through intricate cultural artwork, crafts and traditional dress. View fine art like paintings, sculptures and graphic art depicting scenes from the Old West in the Art of the American West Gallery, and get swept up in the glamour of vintage movie posters and iconic costumes in the Western Performers Gallery, which highlights how the Wild Wild West was portrayed by Hollywood in both film and literature.  

In addition to the permanent galleries, rotating exhibits are featured at the museum to keep the experience fresh for visitors. There's also a speaker series for adults, usually held in the Dub and Mozelle Richardson Theater and a variety of programs for kids, like arts and crafts programs to decorate bandanas or thread bracelets, story time sessions and illustration classes.

How to Get There

The museum is located at the I-44 and I-35 junction in northeast Oklahoma City. From I-44, take Exit 129 (Martin Luther King Boulevard), then travel north to 63rd Street and left (west) to museum entrance.