By Gerald E. McLeod, Fri., July 5, 2002
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth is a sassy, fun-loving, classy kind of gal. Just like the women honored within its polished walls, this museum blazes its own trail with a combination of high tech wizardry, cutting-edge art, playful, interactive displays, and historical artifacts.
When the museum opened to the public early in June, it filled a void in the quilt of American museums that had been missing since the original Cowgirl Museum was packed into crates in 1994. Organized in 1974, the museum was in the basement of the Deaf Smith County Public Library in the Panhandle town of Hereford before it made its move to Cowtown.
Among the criteria for inclusion in the museum is a connection to the Western land. The majority of inductees were rodeo performers, but it is more important that the women showed the iron-willed determination that exemplifies the cowgirl spirit. The list of 158 honorees includes ranchers, writers, photographers, nuns, hatmakers, lawyers, potters, and social activists.
From actress Dale Evans to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the remarkable women enshrined in the museum have helped create American history. Clara Brown, inducted in 1997, was born a slave in Virginia, and after buying her freedom she moved west where she helped settle Colorado. Willa Cather, Georgia O'Keeffe, Sacajawea, Annie Oakley, Patsy Montana, Patsy Cline, Laura Ingalls Wilder, her sister, and her mother are included. From Texas, Henrietta King, Molly Goodnight, Hallie Stillwell, Cynthia Ann Parker, and bootmaker Enid Justin, among others, all have their stories told.
The role of the modern museum has expanded from merely being depositories for heirlooms and memorabilia. Museums have become entertainment centers as well as classrooms and research centers. With the help of architects such as the wizards from Walt Disney Imagineering, the Cowgirl Museum is a vibrant experience that is as inspiring as it is insightful.
The red brick building sits at the southwest corner of the Fort Worth Cultural District a short distance from the Will Rogers Coliseum, the site of the annual stock show and rodeo. The first floor of the grand rotunda greets visitors with a royal welcome. On the wall are computer-controlled, life-sized video monitors that display the honorees in the hall of fame. The monitors can be controlled by a touch to the screen, or the pictures can roll like a slide show. One of the neatest things in the building are the Lifetiles that cover the second story railing. From different angles the pictures change in a subtle montage of historic women.
In the second-floor galleries of the museum is where the fun really starts. Sit on a horse saddle stool and watch a short film on the evolution of the cowgirl in the Reel Cowgirl Theater. Then walk past showcases of women's contributions to music from Patsy Cline to the Dixie Chicks.
A large portion of the back gallery is dedicated to women and the land. The horse and gun made women of the Old West equal in a predominantly male world. Their contributions also include land management and animal husbandry.
One of the largest galleries is dedicated to the evolution of women in the rodeo. Beginning in Wild West shows as trick riders, cowgirls moved on to riding broncs and bulls in rodeos. Athleticism and determination took many of these women to the top rung of their sport.
This is one museum that is full of surprises and excitement for both genders. Connie Douglas Reeves, a Hill Country summer camp riding instructor for more than six decades, summed it all up when she said: "Real cowgirls saddle their own horse."
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is west of downtown Fort Worth off Montgomery Street at 1720 Gendy. Hours of operation are Tuesday, 10am-8pm; Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; and Sunday, noon-5pm. The museum is closed on Monday. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for children, and $5 for seniors. Wednesday is half-price day. For more information, call 817/336-4475 or visit their Web site at www.cowgirl.net.
To receive a coupon for a free child's ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket plus special offers to other Dallas/Fort Worth area attractions, call 800/METROPLEX or go to www.dallasmetroplex.org.
578th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.