A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
On Saturday, America will cowboy up.
At least two Oklahoma institutions – the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and Chisolm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan — are planning special events for National Day of the American Cowboy, an annual celebration of the one of country’s most recognizable icons.
“It gives us as an opportunity as a national institution to bring before our public the fact that there are still cowboys and the different aspects we owe of our national character and national identity to those cowgirls and cowboys, ranch women and ranchers,” said Don Reeves, McCasland Chair of Cowboy Culture at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
“It is the one figure in American heritage that is widely recognized throughout the world as quintessentially an American figure. … The cowboy has become like a folk hero of the American public.”
In 2004, American Cowboy magazine embarked on a campaign to preserve the country’s cowboy and Western heritage and lobby for passage of a national resolution designating the fourth Saturday of July as a time to honor cowboys and cowgirls for their contributions to the pioneering spirit of America.
In Oklahoma City
In addition to the cowboy culture and Western art in the National Cowboy Museum’s galleries and gardens, visitors can expect extra entertainment with their regular admission from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Many of the festivities will be aimed at children, including a family scavenger hunt and a stick horse obstacle course. The first 125 children in the doors will get to make a stick horse out of a pool noodle, said education director Gretchen Jeane, and the first 400 youngsters will receive a free bandanna.
On the plaza, the Ward Family Trick Ropers at noon will demonstrate their advanced techniques and let children try their hands at basic roping. Oklahoma County Mounted Sheriff’s Patrol will be greet guests as they enter the gates of the museum, and Rodeo Opry of Oklahoma City will provide live music on the half-hours beginning at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
The Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Scholarship Pageant contestants will be introduced at 10 a.m., and 14 ladies will be vying for titles in four age divisions from 4 to 24. The 2013 and 2014 titleholders will sign autographs from 2 to 3 p.m.
Reeves said the National Cowboy Museum also will unveil Saturday displays dedicated to two “Cowboys of Influence”: bull riding champion Lane Frost, who died 25 years ago during a competition, and real-life cowboy Robert Norris, a prestigious rancher, former Marlboro Man and longtime museum board member.
In Duncan, the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center will celebrate the National Day of the American Cowboy Saturday with free admission from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a special tribute to American Indian cowboys. Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roping champion Shane Slack, who hails from Idabel and is of American Indian descent, will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“This has been a three-arc where we’re celebrating kind of the unsung heroes in the cowboy world. We started out with the vaqueros, then last year we did African-American cowboys, and this year, we’re doing Native American cowboys,” said Chisholm Trail Heritage Center Executive Director Stacy Cramer Moore.
Powwow dancer Jordan Beartrack of Apache will perform, Myron Beeson and Duane Paul will play handcrafted American Indian flutes, and author Jami Cole will read from her children’s book “What Wolves Are Wearing.” A special exhibit devoted to the late, great Chiricahua Apache artist Allan Houser also is on view.
Plus, face painting, roping, Western games, a photo booth and more will be offered Saturday.
“The cowboy is just an icon of the American frontier, and especially in Oklahoma, we’re very young and we still really are part of the frontier,” she said. “We have real-life cowboys right here every day just living their lives, doing their jobs, and we need to respect them and their place in history.”
National Day of the American Cowboy festivities
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Where: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63.
Cost: Festivities are free with regular museum admission, which is $12.50 for adults, $9.75 for seniors (62 and older) and students (with ID), $5.75 for children ages 4-12, and free for children 3 and younger.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, 1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway, Duncan.
Cost: Saturday admission and activities are free.