Interested in Native American beadwork? Cowboy gear? Firearms? Cowboys in the movies? Branding irons? Sculpture? Saddles? It’s all here at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It’s easy to spend a whole day in this facility and still not see everything it has to offer. Just walking through all the spaces takes about an hour; if you stop to read the displays, examine the exhibits or watch the videos, expect to spend quite a bit longer.
The museum opened in 1965 and has expanded both its exhibit space and its scope since. Our favorite sections include Prosperity Junction, a replica frontier town with a church, doctor’s office, school, blacksmith shop and more than a dozen other buildings; the Western Performers Gallery with a video about movie cowboys and memorabilia like John Wayne’s hat and eye patch from True Grit; and the American Rodeo Gallery with a 1950s-style rodeo arena and exhibits. Signature museum sculptures include the 18-foot-tall The End of the Trail by James Earle Fraser.
If you’re traveling with kids, the Children’s Cowboy Corral in a separate building gives little ones the chance to try on cowboy clothes, sit in a saddle or pretend to rustle up dinner at a campsite. The exhibits in the main building, however, appeal mostly to adults. The annual Prix de West invitational art exhibit is a summer highlight, showcasing more than 300 Western paintings and sculptures by contemporary artists.