As an enthusiast, advocate and lover of the American West, I thought I would share a few snippets, thoughts and media resources so that fellow enthusiasts (and students of history and cultural movements :) can better enjoy this great period which helped shaped the values, principles, culture and geography of our great country.
Let’s start with an incredible venue located in Oklahoma City but which certainly has international credibility and ‘voice’ – the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
If you can travel in person – plan to do so at your earliest opportunity. If you seek to visit online, the institution is part of the Google Cultural Institute platform featuring easy and free access. Photos, sculptures and exhibits tell a thorough story of the American West by way of illustrating the triumphs and adversities of Pioneers, Cowboy and Native American cultures.
This epic painting stands six feet tall and impresses thousands of visitors/guests annually. The Leader’s Downfall. William R. Leigh, 1946, oil on canvas. Gift of Luther T. Dulaney, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. 1969.192.
In April, 1959, Life Magazine started what they called a great new series entitled “How The West Was Won” featuring the famous painting Emigrants Crossing the Plains (below).
The series included photos, artwork and stories of the American expansion into the West and had world-wide appeal. A story of the struggle between the settlers, wagon trains, railway lines, cowboys, ranchers and Native Americans who were all fighting for different ways of life in the same space.
Anchoring the first exhibit space within this great institution, see Emigrants Crossing the Plains. Albert Bierstadt, 1867, oil on canvas. Gift of Jasper D.Ackerman, National Cowboy &Western Heritage Museum. 1972.19.
The “How The West Was Won” series was the creative impetus for a screenplay by the same name credited to James Webb, and turned into an incredible classic Western film.
This motion picture starred many award-winning Hollywood stars – including John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, Karl Malden and Henry Fonda. To gain a better sense of the American Western movement, this film is a ‘must watch’.
How the West Was Won is a 1962 American Metrocolor epic-western film. The picture was one of the last "old-fashioned" epic films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Divided into five segments spanning, more or less, two generations, the movie runs 162 minutes and rightfully won all of the awards of its time. The compelling drama, a magnificent score, and an incredible visual presentation made this Western beloved by millions, including me.
If reading is a more familiar medium, you must discover the best-selling author, Louis L’amour. His book – using the same title as the film – is approximately double the length of many of his more popular books. In his lifetime, Mr. L’amour created 105 existing works which are still in print. Still today he is one of the world's most popular writers.
His books are known to effectively tell the story of the West with gritty truism, beautiful character development and the ruggedness known for this period in American history. Give Mr. L’amour’s books a try for a deeply fulfilling reading experience.
In this book, L’amour showcases how pioneers handled epic struggles, fierce enemies and nature’s cruelty to win the rich and untamed West.
Louis L’amour, 1985 Western Heritage Awards. Leslie “Woody” Wood, 1985, chromogenic print. Leslie “Woody” Wood Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. 2004.113.186
For a hands-on appreciation of the America West, head to Cimarron, New Mexico and the Express UU Bar Ranch.
Formerly owned by Oklahoma oil magnate Waite Phillips, this famous property spanning 200,000 acres is just south of the famous Philmont Scout Ranch.
Managers John and Teri Caid would be honored to host you and your special guests at one of the most beautiful and authentically Western ranches in North America.
A crew of cowboys, chefs, ranch hands and guides will greet you with a smile and a handshake. Western hospitality will ensure your stay is comfortable, productive and memorable - especially rewarding if you enjoy the authentic and historic sites like Buffalo Soldiers bunk house, Kit Carson’s home and the Santa Fe Trail.
The 200,000-acre Express UU Bar Ranch features rugged terrain, native wildlife and breath-taking views. Head to Cimarron, NM and enjoy this historic ranch and all the cultural landmarks and culinary experiences nearby.
Whether with family, alone or with friends, you can enjoy time, relaxation and rewarding visual experiences at the historic lodge. Take the opportunity to appreciate world-class hunting, pursue jaw-dropping photographs or reel in sizeable rainbow trout.
Cap this trip off with a visit to the nearby and historic St. James Hotel where you can dine with locals and enjoy world-class cuisine. Take a look into the saloon to see how the many bullet holes indelibly mark turbulent days of westward expansion in northeast New Mexico.
At age 80, I still enjoy learning about the forming of our great country, the awe-inspiring American West and the many associated tales, stories and personal journeys. Join me in this hobby and pen me a note if you find something extraordinarily interesting!