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National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum pays tribute to past, looks to future

About 55 years ago, Chester A. Reynolds was in Denver's Brown Palace Hotel when he began to shape plans to build a shrine to American cowboys. Through a site selection committee, the list of eligible locations was narrowed to Dodge City, Kan.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Oklahoma City.
bpainter@opubco.com Published: August 22, 2010
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There are no sunsets for cowboys to ride off into.

At the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum the ride goes on forever.

About 55 years ago, Chester A. Reynolds was in Denver's Brown Palace Hotel when he began to shape plans to build a shrine to American cowboys.

Through a site selection committee, the list of eligible locations was narrowed to Dodge City, Kan.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Oklahoma City.

In November 1955, Oklahoma City's Biltmore Hotel held a site dedication banquet for the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum. That year, Oklahoma City was selected as the site because of its central location and its proximity to the Chisholm Trail. A massive fund drive was started to raise $1 million to buy the land and start building the hall. The fund was at 75 percent by April 22, 1956.

Ground breaking for the hall was Jan. 7, 1958, on Persimmon Hill, attracting dignitaries from the 17 states represented in the hall of fame. Reynolds was there but didn't live to see the hall built. He died in December 1958.

In 1960, other states were raising money for the Cowboy Hall of Fame and in 1961 the first Western Heritage Awards were given to artists, movie and television stars, and writers — making 2011 the 50th anniversary of the heralded awards.

Among those presenting awards at this year's Western Heritage Awards ceremony was Anita LaCava Swift. She is the granddaughter of American icon John Wayne, a member of the museum's board of trustees from 1968 until his passing in 1979. The John Wayne Collection was received by the museum in 1979.

"He believed in the Western culture and the people who founded our country and he believed in those values," Swift said of John Wayne. "He thought it was really important to have a place where those values could be shared with and shown to many generations. As a family, the Waynes continue to support and love the museum.

"He was so proud of this museum and all the work that went into getting it going," Swift said.

The intriguing shape of the original hall started showing on the city's skyline in 1961, but encountered a significant problem when funding ran out. Construction was stopped, and wind, rain, snow and dust blew through the empty shell. The Oklahoma City Industrial and Cultural Trust was formed to sell revenue bonds, and construction resumed in 1964. Edward L. Gaylord was named president of the trust.

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