The American Cowboy Gallery, comprising 8,000 square feet, interprets the cowboy’s history and culture from
Spanish colonial times to the 20th century. The gallery represents the most extensive exhibition on the
working cowboy in the United States. Within the environment of a rough-hewn ranch building, in-depth
presentations reveal how various elements of equipment, such as saddles, bits, and spurs, changed over
time. Regional styles of equipment are discussed and displayed. Visitors believe this is a "mecca" for
those interested in the real history of the "cowpuncher" and his authentic clothing and equipment.
The central character of America's colorful ranching heritage is called a cowboy -- vaquero, buckaroo, or
drover, depending upon his ancestry and locale. The American Cowboy Gallery celebrates this diverse heritage
and explores themes on the working cowboy.
For many years, museum visitors have requested a larger presentation of saddles, bridles, bits and spurs
-- western gear that interprets the role of the cowboy in the history of the West. Through the generosity
of Jack and Phoebe Cooke, the public is now enjoying a beautiful 8,000 square foot exhibition featuring the
most extensive presentation of historic cowboy gear in the country. Displays of bridles, bits, spurs, and
ropes, draw visitors off the marble hallway into what appears to be a white-washed ranch building. It is
as if they had just stepped into the tack room of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. The
identity of the cowboy is closely tied to this unique equipment, or tack, developed in the American West
to work cattle from horseback.
Dominating the center of the gallery is a naturalistic diorama representing a late 19th century trail
drive complete with an authentic chuck wagon from the famous Matador Ranch of West Texas. Extremely
lifelike figures of two cowboys and a cook are featured in a springtime setting, evoked by the hand-painted
background and a foreground complete with realistic prairie grasses, wild flowers, and sounds of a
To the left is an expansive room with massive hand-hewn trusses high overhead and clerestory windows along
the side. Imposing antler chandeliers, six feet across, provide lighting with a western flair. Exhibits
trace the evolution of American ranching traditions from the introduction by the Spanish to the adoption
of the 20th century agri-business practices.
A special room featuring a colorful mounted California vaquero explores the Hispanic contribution to
our ranching heritage.
In the central room of the ranching presentation, the architecture evokes classic western imagery with
two enormous and elegant antler chandeliers hanging among hand-hewn log beams, each weighing 1,500
pounds and spanning a room finished in wood reminiscent of a ranch outbuilding. A series of exhibits
trace the development of American ranching from early Texas to the 20th century featuring rare
artifacts from each era.
Dominating the area on ranching heritage is a 900 square foot engraved granite map depicting the major
cattle trails and legendary ranches of the western states. An audiovisual display explains how the
methods and economics of cattle drives evolved from the early droving of the 1850s, to the movement
of cattle back east over the Oregon Trail, to stock Montana ranges.
A wall of mounted branding irons invites the visitor to explore a separate room to learn about branding
traditions and the introduction of barbed wire and its effect on the western cattle ranges.
Featured brands include famous ranches and some not as famous but intriguing such as the "2 Lazy 2 P"
brand. A 14' long graphic panel interprets the history of branding in the West and explains how the
brands were used and how the markings were read.
The barbed wire study collection, in drawers on either side of this room, contains 1,300 unique examples
drawn from the museum's collection of more than 8,000 different wires. Colorful panels discuss the
development of the barbed wire industry. Examples of the most important wires are highlighted, such
as the popular "Dodge Spur" with its spinning rowel on a single line and the peculiar "Phillips
In the southwest corner of the gallery on the American Cowboy, an elegant oak-trimmed room presents
the beautiful and delicate braided rawhide work of Luis Ortega. A fifth generation Californian, Luis
Ortega reigned for half a century as America's most respected rawhide braider. When he was ten, old
vaqueros at the Spade S Ranch near Santa Barbara, California, began teaching Ortega the braiding
traditions of the Spanish missions. He continued to braid rawhide while working as a vaquero on west
coast ranches, and he sold his handiwork to other riders and saddle shops.
A presentation on the development of the American stock saddle, featuring 18 saddles, runs the length
of the north wall. Custom fiber-optic lighting accentuates the delicate tooling and highlights changes
in style and form. During the past 150 years, the shape of the western stock saddle adjusted to the
needs of men who worked cattle from horseback.
The northern section of the gallery with its 22' high vaulted ceiling and huge log trusses is
dominated by platforms that present the working traditions of cowboys in different regions of the West.
The contributions of African American and Native American cowboys, as well as cowgirls, are also
highlighted in separate units. Each presentation is brought to life by a lifelike tan figure that
appears to have been delicately sculpted in clay. Rare artifacts are featured with each group, such
as the chaps of Bosque cowboy George Itziana and spurs made by Black spur maker "Cowboy" Traylor.
Stepping through the doorway of a massive rock wall two feet thick, visitors find themselves in a
recreated bunk house. This folk-life presentation includes recorded examples of early cowboy songs,
poetry, and stories, selected by pushing one of the checkers from the checker game taking place in
front of the fireplace.
The popularity of rodeo champions and western movie stars transformed the work clothing of cowboys
into western fashion. Ten-gallon hats, embroidered shirts, and brightly colored boots became recognized
world wide as distinctly cowboy in origin. Floor to ceiling glass cases allow the visitor to get a
close look at authentic cowboy clothing from the 1890s. Presentations on the development of the western
hat and the cowboy boot feature rare hats and boots from the 1880s to the present. Elaborate western
clothing by designers Rodeo Ben and Nudie, a Don Ellis parade saddle and other fancy watches, belts
and buckles complete the colorful presentation on western fashion.
Traditional clothing of American cowboys reflected both their outdoor lifestyle and cultural
background. On the Great Plains, the majority of these young men came from the eastern United
States or Europe, and this showed in the style of their wool clothing. The Hispanic heritage
of many ranches in California resulted in low-crown hats, short coats, and pants worn open
below the knee.
Freshly creased or crumpled, the cowboy hat is recognized around the world as a symbol of the
American West. Vaqueros and Texans wore broad-brimmed felt hats long before John B. Stetson made
his first trip to Colorado. The Spanish influence was so pervasive in the West that mail order
catalogs, as late as 1900, still referred to the hat of the "cow boy" as a sombrero. Felt hats
were, and still are, made from the fine hair of beaver, rabbit, and other small mammals. The
processed hair is compressed into felt and emerges as a cone-shaped hat body. Hat makers use
steam to mold the hat body over a form or hat block. Early hats came in black and natural-fur
colors, with white and color-dyed selections appearing on the market after 1920.
John B. Stetson's family had manufactured hats in New Jersey since 1790, but when he established
his shop in Philadelphia in 1865, Stetson had his eyes on the West. Cattlemen needed hats that
would protect them from the elements and not fall apart. Stetson supplied quality felt hats in
popular styles. Though other hats were available in the West, Stetson was the largest producer
and a genius at marketing his product. John B. Stetson did not invent the cowboy hat, but he set
the standard and developed styles immortalized by rodeo and movie idols.
Tall, snug-fitting boots with high heels became the hallmark of Great Plains trail-drive cowboys
by the 1870s. Boot makers set up shop in cow towns hoping to get a share of the drovers' wages
before they headed back to the range. Many of these cobblers drew on a German heritage and made
alterations to the classic European riding boot based on suggestions from cowboys. The toe was
rounded, the heel was raised, and softer tops were decorated according to the size of the
Better quality boots were made of imported French calfskin with a thin leather lining. Decorative
stitching held the lining in place and prevented the uppers from sagging around the ankles. The high
heel kept the boot from slipping all the way through the stirrup and getting caught at the ankle.
This saved a rider from being dragged by his horse during a fall. The old square toes became
rounder. As stirrups became narrow and curved, the instep or shank of the boot was reinforced and
rounded so a rider could put his weight on "oxbow" stirrups without discomfort.
By 1900, the bulky riding boot had transformed into the basic boot pattern we recognize today.
The 20th century brought more changes in toe shape, decoration, and materials, elevating the
humble boot to the status of folk art and high fashion.
When Buffalo Bill began touring his Wild West show in 1883, he added fringe, beadwork, and extra
nickel spots to the western clothing of his troupe. This trend continued as other entertainers
competed for the most "western" costumes.
By 1925, rodeo, too, had grown from local competitions to performances that toured major cities
in the U.S. and Europe. Contestants wore custom western clothing designed by tailors in Los
Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York City. Rodeo and holiday parades fostered colorful clothing
and saddles with lavish ornamentation. Tom Mix and other movie idols of the 1920s and 1930s
introduced viewers around the world to the silver-screen version of western fashion.
These high-profile figures spawned a prosperous western wear industry that produced fancy inlaid
boots and heavily embroidered shirts with western yokes, arrow pockets and whipcord piping. After
World War II, fashion elements like pearl snap buttons, bolo ties, tooled belts and engraved buckles
spread across the West. Today, clothing worn by rodeo champions and western music stars continues to
influence contemporary fashion.
Distinctly American, the cowboy with his unique equipment and clothing continue to fascinate the
public. Whether viewed by a foreign visitor for the first time or admired by a fellow westerner for
their rarity and quality, the collections presented in this gallery bring to life a West that is
colorful, diverse, and ever changing. If you have not made it by to see the galleries, it is time
to make plans. Don't forget to tell your friends to come back and visit the museum again -- for
the first time.
written by Don Reeves
The following materials are available for review in the Research Center.
F596.A22 1939 Abbott, Edward Charles and Tyler, Ronnie C. We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cowpuncher. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, Incorporated, .
PZ 3.A21 L5 Adams, Andy. Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days. Boston: Riverside Press, .
F596 .A378 Allard, William Albert. Vanishing Breed: Photographs of the Cowboy and the West. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, .
F1210 .A747 1999 Ancona, George. Charro: The Mexican Cowboy. 1st ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, .
F596.B23 1991 Ball, Robert W. D. and Vebell, Ed. Cowboy Collectibles and Western Memorabilia. West Chester: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., .
GT617.W47B43 1993 Beard, Tyler and Arndt, Jim. 100 Years of Western Wear. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, .
F596.B82 1926 Branch, Edward Douglas. Cowboy and His Interpreters. 1st ed. New York: D. Appleton and Company, .
HD9433.U52B8 Brayer, Garnet M. American Cattle Trails 1540-1900. Bayside: American Pioneer Trails Association, .
F596 .B86 Brown, Dee Alexander. Trail Driving Days. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, .
F596 .B87 Brown, Mark Herbert and Felton, William Reid. Before Barbed Wire. 1st ed., New York: Holt, .
F596 .C8773 2000 Carlson, Paul Howard. The Cowboy Way: An Exploration of History and Culture. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, .
F596.D25 Dale, Edward Everett. Cow Country. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
SF196.U5D18 1930 Dale, Edward Everett. Range Cattle Industry: Ranching on the Great Plains from 1865 to 1925. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
F596.D29 1981 Dary, David. Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries. New York: Avon Books, .
F391.D63 1955 Dobie, J. Frank and Young, John Duncan. Vaquero of the Brush Country. 7th printing. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, .
SF199.L6D6 Dobie, J. Frank and Lea, Tom. Longhorns. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, .
F596.F75 Frantz, Joe Bertram and Choate, Julian Ernest. American Cowboy: The Myth & the Reality. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
F786.H23 1937 Halsell, H. H. Cowboys and Cattleland. Nashville: Parthenon Press, .
F596.H37 Hassrick, Royal B. Cowboys: The Real Story of Cowboys and Cattlemen. 1st ed. London: Octopus Books, Ltd., .
F811.H86H84 1984 Hughes, Stella and Beeler, Joe. Hashknife Cowboy: Recollections of Mack Hughes. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, .
F596.J28 1995 James, Will. Cowboys North and South. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company, .
F596.L5 Lemmon, Ed and Yost, Nellie Irene Snyder. Boss Cowman: The Recollections of Ed Lemmon 1857-1946. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, .
F596.M68 1994 Mora, Joseph Jacinto. Trail Dust and Saddle Leather. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, .
F864.M743 Mora, Joseph Jacinto. Californios: The Saga of the Hard-riding Vaqueros, America's First Cowboys. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., .
F866.M85 1989 Morris, Ernest. El Vaquero. Templeton: E. Morris, .
TR140.S59P75 1998 Price, B. Byron and Smith, Erwin E. Imagining the Open Range: Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, .
F596.R36 1995 Reynolds, William and Rand, Ritch. The Cowboy Hat Book. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, .
E18.7.R53 1998 Rice, James. Vaqueros. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, .
F596.R95 1989 Ryan, Kathleen Jo. Ranching Traditions: Legacy of the American West. New York: Abbeville Press, .
F596.S17 1994 Sandler, Martin W. Cowboys. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, .
F596.S238 Savage, William W. The Cowboy Hero: His Image in American History & Culture. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
F596.S24 Savage, William W. Cowboy Life: Reconstructing an American Myth. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
E20.S57 1990 Slatta, Richard W. Cowboys of the Americas. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, .
F596 .S74 Soule, Gardner. The Long Trail: How Cowboys & Longhorns Opened the West. 1st ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., .
F596.A46 1983 Taylor, Lonn and Maar, Ingrid. American Cowboy. 1st ed. New York: Harper & Row Publishing Co., .
F596.W68 1996 Witney, Dudley and Price, B. Byron. Cowboys of the American West. San Diego, CA: Thunder Bay Press, .
F786.W868 1998 Worcester, Donald Emmet and Smith, Erwin E. Cowboy with a Camera; Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, .
F596.Z38 1994 Zauner, Phyllis. The Cowboy: An American Legend: A Mini-History. Sonoma: Zanel Publications, .
F596.Z87 Zurhorst, Charles. The First Cowboys and Those Who Followed. New York: Abelard Schuman, .
SF85.W3 Ward, Fay E. The Cowboy at Work: All About His Job and How He Does It. 2nd printing. New York: Hastings House, .
F594.R527 1976 Rickey, Don and Crawford, Dale. $10 Horse, $40 Saddle: Cowboy Clothing, Arms, Tools, and Horse Gear of the 1880's. Fort Collins: Old Army Press, .
SF309.9 .M36 Ahlborn, Richard E. Man Made Mobile: Early Saddles of Western North America. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, .
TS1032.B38 1997 Beard, Casey and DeGabriele, Dale. Tools of the Cowboy Trade; Today's Crafters of Saddles, Bits, Spurs and Trappings. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, .
F596.M24 1996 Manns, William and Berney, Charlotte. Cowboys & the Trappings of the Old West. 1st ed. Santa Fe, NM: Zon International Publishing Company, .
SF309.9.B42 Beatie, Russel H. Saddles. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
F596.H867 1995 Hutchins, Dan. Old Cowboy Saddles and Spurs: Identifying the Craftsmen Who Made Them - Sixth Edition. Santa Fe, NM: Hutchins Publishing Co., .
GV1834.3.K38 1980 Kauffman, Sandra. The Cowboy Catalog. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., .
SF309.9.M35 1996 Malm, Gerhard A. Bits and Bridles: An Encyclopedia. Valley Falls, KS: Grasshopper Publishers, .
SF309.9.M37 1997 Martin, Ned and Martin, Jody. Bit and Spur Makers in the Vaquero Tradition : Historical Perspective. Nicasio, CA: Hawk Hill Press, .
SF 309.0.M37 2000 Martin, Ned. Bit and spur makers in the Texas tradition: a historical perspective. Nicasio, CA : Hawk Hill Press, .
TS729.M56 1996 Miller, Ben and Basinger, J. Martin. Artistry in Silver and Steel: The Adolph Bayers Legend. Keene, TX: J. M. Basinger, .
SF287.O7 Ortega, Luis B. California Hackamore: An Authentic Story of the Use of the Hackamore. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, .
TT220 .P37 1990 Pattie, Jane. Cowboy Spurs and Their Makers. 1st ed. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, .
F596.R36 1995 Reynolds, William and Rand, Ritch. The Cowboy Hat Book. Salt Lake City: Gibbs -Smith Publisher, .
GT 2110.H46 Henderson, Debbie. Cowboys & Hatters: Bond Street, Sagebrush, and the Silver Screen. Wild Goose Press, Yellow Springs, OH .
F596.R75 Rollins, Philip Ashton. The Cowboy: His Characteristics, His Equipment. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, .
TS1032 .S47 1988 Sherer, Richard L. Horseman's Handbook of Western Saddles. 2nd ed., Franktown, CO: Sherer Custom Saddles, .
Stoecklein, David R. Cowboy Gear: A Photographic Portrayal of the Early Cowboys and Their Equipment. Ketchum, ID: Dober Hill, Ltd., .
SF309.T28 Taylor, Louis. Bits: Their History, Use, and Misuse. New York: Harper & Row Publishing Co., .
SF309.9.T8 1969 Tuke, Kiana Rosemary. Bit by Bit: a Guide to Equine Bits. South Brunswick: A. S. Barnes, .
F596 .C24 1997 Cano, Tony and Sochat, Ann. Chuck Wagon Heyday: The History & Color of the Chuck Wagon at Work. Canutillo, TX: Reata Pub., .
Dewey Cano, Tony. Dutch Oven Cooking with Tony Cano: A Complete Dutch Oven Cooking Guide Including 74 Delicious Recipes for Outdoor Use, Utilizing Charcoal Briquets, or Indoors, Utilizing Your Conventional Stove Top Burners and Oven. Canutillo, TX: Reata Publishing Co., .
TX715.2.W47G87 2000 Gunderson, Mary. Cowboy Cooking. Mankato, MN: Blue Earth Books, .
TX823.H6 Holm, Don. The Old-fashioned Dutch Oven Cookbook; Complete with Authentic Sourdough Baking, Smoking Fish and Game, Making Jerky, Pemmican, and Other Lost Campfire Arts. Caldwell: Caxton Printers, Ltd., .
TX823.H8 Hughes, Stella. Chuck Wagon Cookin'. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, .
TX715.2.W47M43 1988 Medley, Wild Wes. Original Cowboy Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from Bunkhouse, Chuck Wagon, Cook Shack, Line Shack, Saloon, Trail Drive Cooking, and Main House: Recipes from 1840's. Cairo, NE: Original Western Publications, .
TX715.2.W47V57 1994 Price, B. Byron. National Cowboy Hall of Fame Chuck Wagon Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Ranch and the Range. New York: Hearst Books, .
TX840.D88R57 1990 Ririe, Robert L. Doin' Dutch Oven: Inside and Out. Bountiful: Horizon Publishers, .
TX823.R48 Ririe, Robert L. Let's Cook Dutch: A Complete Guide for the Dutch Oven Chef. Bountiful, UT: Horizon, .
TX823.S65 Smith, Byron J. Roundup of Western Outdoor Cooking. Tahlequah: Pan Press, .
F596.F76 1985 Freedman, Russell. Cowboys of the Wild West. New Haven: Tichnor Fields, .
F591.C47 Chilton, Charles. Book of the West. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, .
E185.925.C65 1993 Cox, Clinton. The Forgotten Heroes: The Story of the Buffalo Soldiers. New York: Scholastic, .
GV1157.O3F59 1998 Flynn, Jean. Annie Oakley: Legendary Sharpshooter. Springfield: Enslow Publishers, .
HT123.5.W38K35 1999 Kalman, Bobbie. Boomtowns of the West. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
HQ792.U5K317 1994 Kalman, Bobbie. A Child's Day. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
HQ792.U5K32 1991 Kalman, Bobbie. Early Settler Children. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
TS2130.K35 Kalman, Bobbie. The Gristmill. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
TT160.K26 1993 Kalman, Bobbie. Home Crafts. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, .
F596.K353 1999 Kalman, Bobbie. Homes of the West. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
TX653.K29 1993 Kalman, Bobbie. The Kitchen. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, .
PE2839.K35 1994 Kalman, Bobbie. Settler Sayings. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
F596.K358 1999 Kalman, Bobbie. The Wagon Train. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
F591.K18 1999 Kalman, Bobbie. Who Settled the West? New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
F596.K359 1999 Kalman, Bobbie and Lewis, Jane. Women of the West. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, .
E185.925.K37 Katz, William Loren. The Black West. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., .
P593.K54 2000 Kimball, Violet T. Stories of Young Pioneers in Their Own Words. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, .
F596.K76 2000 Krohn, Katherine E. Women of the Wild West. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publications Co., .
F593.L58 1999 Littlefield, Holly. Children of the Trail West. Minneapolis, MN: Carol Rhoda Books, .
F596.M537 1995 Miller, Brandon Marie. Buffalo Gals: Women of the Old West. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, .
F1095.Y9 M87 1999 Murphy, Claire Rudolf and Haigh, Jane G. Children of the Gold Rush. Boulder: Roberts Rinehart, .
F593.O27 1997 O'Brien, Mary Barmeyer. Heart of the Trail: The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women. Helena: Twodot, .
F390.C45O74 1997 O'Rear, Sybil J. Jesse Chisholm: the Story of a Trailblazer and Peacemaker in Early Texas and Oklahoma. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, .
GV1834.5.R53 1992 Rice, James. Cowboy Rodeo. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, .
GV1834.45.S73S54 2000 Sherman, Josepha. Steer Wrestling. Chicago: Heinemann Library, .
F596.W85 1997 Wukovits, John F. The Black Cowboys. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, .
F594.W85 1996 Wukovits, John F. The Gunslingers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, .
F594.J27W84 1996 Wukovits, John F. Jesse James. Philadelphia: Chelsea House
VC00171 Kurtis, Bill. The Real Cowboy: Portrait of an American Icon. Videorecording, Chicago: Kurtis Productions & A & E Network, .