The history of the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center is in part a history of its
parent institution, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (nee National Cowboy Hall of
Fame and Western Heritage Center). The museum history provides the context for describing the
evolution of the Center.
In 1948 Chester Arthur Reynolds (1887-1958) was so impressed with the Will Rogers Memorial in
Claremore, Oklahoma, that the experience prompted him to ask the question: Why not build a Hall
of Fame honoring cowboys, cattlemen, and ranchers?
The question set the planning in motion. On July 20, 1953, Reynolds formally announced that he
would invite governors of the seventeen western states, prominent cattlemen, and leaders in the
sport of rodeo to serve on the Board of Trustees of a "shrine" to be called the National Cowboy
Hall of Fame and Museum. On June 28, 1960, the Board of Trustees would change the name to the
National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center. This change was made ostensibly by the
Board "to better explain the purposes of the organization originally planned by Mr. Reynolds."
During January 20-21, 1955, the Board's first organizational meeting was held and a site selection
committee was formed to narrow the field of 46 cities desiring the museum. By March, three finalists
were selected: Dodge City, Kansas; Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
On April 16, 1955, the Board met in the conference room of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver and,
after two ballots, Oklahoma City was voted as the site. On November 11, 1955, the 37-acre site
on Persimmon Hill donated by Oklahoma City was dedicated with Will Rogers, Jr. as the master
It is interesting to learn that Reynolds had an interest in a library early on as a component
of the Hall. In a February 11, 1956 letter to Glenn Faris, Executive Secretary of the Oklahoma
City Chamber of Commerce (later becoming the Executive Vice President of the Board), Reynolds
refers Faris to an article about the United States Congress making it possible for the Truman
and Eisenhower presidential libraries to become field branches of the National Archives.
"When our Shrine is completed we may find that we also qualify as a Field Branch of the Natl.
Archives Assn. We certainly should have a big library and have a separate [sic] room to house it."
In 1956, Governor Raymond Gary mounted a fund-raising drive to raise $1 million for the Hall and
by April 22, three-fourths of that amount had been raised. By February 1957 an architectural
competition was underway with the approval of the committee on architectural competitions of the
American Institute of Architects. Among the competition guidelines presented were that the
"strive to encourage the interest in the cowboy as epitomizing some of the finer qualities of the
American citizen...Though the cowboy's existence as such was relatively short-lived, his is an era
that is almost unique in American history and one which is deserving in perpetuation."
The February 22, 1957, competition guidelines also address the issue of a library. Accordingly, the
library should include reading, browsing and research space and a small work space located for control
for one librarian. The guidelines read,
"It is not expected that this shall become a large library but rather a carefully selected
collection available particularly to scholars and research workers. No allocation of space
has been given this element in first construction. It is contemplated that acquisitions for
the library may be housed in a portion of the museum until future funds make the more complete
On August 5, 1957, the United States Congress recognized the Hall through Senate Resolution "as a
memorial to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the opening and development of
On January 7, 1958, ground breaking ceremonies occurred coincident with the national convention of
the American National Cattlemen's Association. The architectural design of Jack Begrow and Jack Brown
of Birmingham, Michigan, had won the competition over 257 architects from 39 states.
By 1962 the construction had halted due to lack of finances. To complete the Hall, arrangements were
made with the Oklahoma City Industrial and Cultural Facilities Trust to sell $1.2 million in bonds on
August 24, 1964, causing the Trustees to give up title to the building and the land. Title to the
buildings and the land was regained on July 1, 1972.
On June 26, 1965, the Hall was opened. Dean Fenton Krakel, hired in November 1964, became the Hall's
first Executive Director. Formerly a librarian at the Oklahoma Historical Society and a University of
Oklahoma graduate, Mrs. Dorothy Williams became the Hall's first librarian for the "Research Library of
Western Americana." It was the aspiration of Williams for this library, as a research source and a
component of the Western Heritage Center, to "bridge the gap for scholars, researchers and writers of
the West's unique past and heritage will be recognized." The library contained more than a thousand
volumes. These numbers were increasing through donations and purchases. Williams stated,
"We want anything pertaining to origins, cattle, agriculture, brands or people, whether it's
manuscripts, maps, diaries, books or letters. If we are to be unique, I'd like to see it be in
cattle brand books."
From the early publicity literature a mission and some goals for this library can be discerned. One
such piece reads,
"This library [Research Library of Western Americana] will contain a most complete collection of
Western literature and information on the history of the West. It should become the mecca of
students and researchers who wish to obtain information concerning the life of the American West.
It will be a repository for papers from famous Western ranches, have a complete file of Western
brand records and other valuable information having to do with the development of the Western
states. Scores of people throughout the country who have collections of rare western books will
want to leave them to some library as a memorial. With imaginative planning we should be able to
attract some of these collections to our library."
While Williams began a handwritten library accession register on March 25, 1965, entries were often
sporadic and inconsistent. There was no formal acquisition policy.
Having been a volunteer librarian since the fall of 1967, Esther Long joined the staff as cataloger
and acting librarian in February 1968. It is likely Williams resigned at this time. A graduate of
State College in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, Long had received a teaching certificate in library
science from Central State College in Edmond, Oklahoma. By April, Long was actively soliciting for
books, and by November 1969, Long reported that "generous gifts of funds, book collections and
individual volumes have swelled the shrine's library to 3,500 volumes."
Under the editorship of Don Hedgpeth, the Hall's magazine, Persimmon Hill, was launched with the
summer 1970 issue. Esther Long is listed as editorial assistant and served as associate editor
between 1972 and 1976. During this time she was acting in two roles, editor and librarian. In 1973
Long is noted as "Librarian at the Hall" and "an authority on Western Americana." She retired in
During the 1960s the library acquired through gifts the substantial libraries of Gerald J. McIntosh,
Josephine Freede, Dora Aydelotte, Bishop W. Angie Smith, James Earle Fraser, and Ellsworth Collings.
During the 1970s the library was gifted with the libraries of Walter Brennan, Orval R. Withers, John
Wayne, Jesse Hooper Hill, Jacob S. Payton, H. Violet Sturgeon, Frederick L. Grillo, and Eula E.
Fullerton. Throughout this period as well, the library received each year the entries and winners of
the Western Heritage Awards. This tradition continues currently.
By the mid-1980s a cadre of museum volunteers assumed the tasks of accessioning, classifying, and
shelving books. They also maintained subject vertical files. The only significant library acquired
through gift during this decade was that of Jasper D. Ackerman in 1982. The Hall was suffering from
diminishing revenues and its leadership was called into question. By March 1, 1985, the Board of
Trustees demoted Dean Krakel to Curator and then Paul Strabaugh was appointed Director. In May the
Hall went into receivership with first Chancellor E. T. Dunlap then Governor Henry Bellmon acting
as receivers. In June 1986, the court appointed John C. Andrews the Hall's final receiver.
On January 1, 1987, B. Byron Price began his ten-year stint as Executive Director. In 1992, the
"Visions of the West" $35 million capital campaign was launched with the desire to triple the
museum's size and programming by 1995. In the planning, about 5,275 square feet was allocated to
a library. While care of the library still remained in the hands of volunteers, several significant
collections were acquired. They include the libraries of Nolie Mumey, Arthur & Shifra Silberman,
Frank Harding, and W. D. Grisso.
By mid-May 1997, the Research Center, comprised of a closed stacks library, archival repository,
and reading room, was operating and formally staffed by Assistant Librarian, Jerri Stone, who had
a Masters degree in English, but no formal training in librarianship. Stone reported to the
Assistant Director of the Hall, Bobby Weaver, in his role as Director of the Center for the Study
of the Western Experience. This Center was an umbrella program incorporating research, education,
From September 1, 1997 to January of 2010, Charles E. Rand was Director of the Research Center. Rand,
with an ALA accredited Masters of Library Science, directed efforts inward during the first two years
calling it "a period of self-assessment, planning and inventory."
In December 1998, Kenneth W. Townsend, the Executive Director since January 15, 1997, requested Rand
to create a plan for the next five years (2000-2004), which would position the Research Center as a
national resource. On January 29, 1999, that plan was presented and included seven goals related to
four programmatic initiatives: collection development/collection management, reference/research services,
education/outreach, and planning & administration. By March 1999, the Center became known formally as the
Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center.
In April 2000, library catalog data were converted to a MARC format and automated through the Winnebago
Spectrum software from Sagebrush Corporation. The newly redesigned museum web site went live and included
a significant presence by the Research Center.
The museum became a member of the Research Libraries Group whose membership was open to any nonprofit
institution with an educational, cultural, or scientific mission and a stake in sharing the responsibility
of supporting research in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. By April 15, 2003, the Center's
MARC records were uploaded to the Research Libraries Group's Union Catalog database.
Along with the substantial funding from the Dickinson Foundation, the goal of expanding, enhancing, and making
available the library and archival collections received a boost through the funding and implementation of the
A. Keith Brodkin Contemporary Western Artists Project formalized in February 2001. This project facilitates the
achievement of the Center's goal to preserve, expand, enhance and make available collections related to western art.
It provides future artists, art historians, educators, and researchers with primary resources. These resources, which
are often overlooked and lost to posterity, include the personal papers, studio ephemera, photographs, and other
items that reflect both the life and career of an artist. Additional resources are acquired through personal oral
histories captured by recorded interviews. Effectively, this project preserves artists' careers for posterity.
The Rodeo Historical Society Oral History project was initiated in February 2003. This project
collects, through recorded interviews, the biographies and stories of rodeo cowboys and cowgirls
nationwide. These interviews are preserved and made available to authors, historians, and other
interested persons in the Research Center.
In July 2003, discussion began with the University of Oklahoma Press about
launching a publication series called "The Western Legacies Series." The Museum and the
University of Oklahoma Press finalized this series agreement on January 15, 2004. The series
will consist of works on western culture germane to the National Cowboy & Western
Heritage Museum, such as biographies, directories, material-culture monographs, art histories,
photo essays, and corporate histories. The first volume in the series A Western Legacy:
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum was published in 2005. The second volume
Arena Legacy: The Heritage of American Rodeo was published in the fall of 2010.
In October 2004, the Center purchased the services of Inmagic to develop a web-based database
incorporating record information about and images of photographs held in the Center. In
September 2005, the Image Archive was accessible to on-line users. A major portion of the database
has always been dedicated to cowboy and rodeo imagery. In 1979 the Ralph R. Doubleday was acquired,
and in 1991 an access database was created for each negative. Through a National Endowment for the
Humanities grant the negatives were scanned in May 2000.
Another Rodeo photography collection is the DeVere Helfrich Photographic Collection comprising 37,369
negatives and fourteen log books, dating between 1941 and 1970, listing the negative number, title of image,
the location/rodeo venue and date, and darkroom processing notes. These negatives were scanned in the early 2000s.
The third largest collection of rodeo negatives came from Bern Gregory in 1999, followed by Ferrell Butler in 2013.
Scanning of both of these collections is on-going.
In February 2005, the Center became a contributing member of the Online Computer Library
Center (OCLC) and by April the Center's bibliographic records were uploaded to OCLC making
the Center's holdings searchable through WorldCat.
In March 2006 the Research Center implemented a parallel accessioning process with that
of the museum's process. Beginning with items and collections acquired in January 2006,
they will have accession numbers in the following format: RC2006.###.#. Also, in March
the final three sections of the compact shelving were installed.
AGent Verso library management software from Auto-Graphics was implemented to replace the
8-year-old Winnebago Spectrum software in December 2008. On February 13, 2009, the Dickinson
Research Center launched its fan page on Facebook and on February 20 the Center launched
the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum channel on YouTube.
Gerrianne Schaad, Librarian and Certified Archivist, joined the staff of the Dickinson Research Center
as the new director in June of 2010, and continues the good work of her predecessor. Since 2012 the
Center has a presence on History Pin and Instagram in addition to the other social media outlets.
The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center's mission is to preserve,
document, and interpret the heritage of the American West for the enrichment of the
public by collecting, organizing, describing, making available and preserving library
and archival materials related to: the West and its history, discovery and exploration
of the West, westward movement, Native American material culture, Western and Native
American fine art and artists, cowboy culture, rodeo history, frontier and pioneer life
(including military, firearms, and hunting), western city and town life, ranching, and
western popular culture including entertainment, cowboy music and poetry.
The Center collects, preserves, and provides access to library and archival materials in
support of the institution's research, educational, curatorial and exhibition activities.
Second, it provides research, photographic and moving images services to scholarly and
general public users. Third, it maintains institutional records.
The facility consists of a reading room (1046.75 sq.ft.), closed stacks (4226.75 sq.ft.),
and overflow storage (1019.50 sq.ft.).
Written By Charles E. Rand, March 1999
and Gerrianne Schaad, November 2013