Top Western History Museums

A western history museum houses and showcases a wealth of artifacts from a region that is deeply embedded in America’s national culture. These institutions also serve as cultural centers that are dedicated to preserving and educating the public on the importance of the American West. From iconic figures such as Buffalo Bill to the literary creation of Hank the Cowdog, our top western museums showcase a diverse and important heritage that has influenced many aspects of our nation’s society.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City is home to an internationally renowned collection of Western art and artifacts. Founded in 1955, the Museum collects, preserves and exhibits an outstanding array of Western art while sponsoring dynamic educational programs that foster interest in the enduring legacy of the American West.

A major tenet of the Museum’s mission is to promote awareness of the richness and diversity of the American West in all its forms. This is accomplished through the museum’s exhibition, research and educational activities, which include visiting scholars and speakers, field work, seminars, workshops and conferences, publications and special events.

The Museum’s collections and research programs are supported in part by grants from the state of Oklahoma, as well as private and corporate support. These funds have enabled the acquisition of a number of significant objects, as well as support for major archaeological projects in Mexico and Ecuador.

Among the most popular and widely recognized attractions of the museum is its outstanding collection of cowboy and Western memorabilia, including rare maps, retablos and arrowheads. The collection also includes an extensive archive of historic photographs and a world-class library that contains more than 85,000 books, journals, manuscripts, periodicals and other written materials on the history of the West and its peoples.

Other major attractions at the museum include a section devoted to the life and legacy of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846 – 1917), the famous guide, scout, buffalo hunter, showman, actor and town founder, who was an integral part of the development of the western United States. This section of the Museum illustrates the wide-ranging career and impact of the iconic figure through exhibitions that feature his personal and professional life, his Wild West shows, Indian artifacts and firearms.

In addition to an exceptional collection of historic and contemporary western art, the Museum has one of the most complete collections of Colt firearms in the world. Its Western art gallery features works by such renowned artists as Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, as well as a full range of historical displays and exhibits focusing on the American cowboy, rodeo, Native American art, Victorian firearms and frontier military.

The Museum also has an impressive collection of fossils, which have been collected in the museum’s golden era of worldwide expeditions (1980s-1930s). Specimens from Vietnam, Madagascar, South America and central and eastern Africa are among those featured on display. The museum’s fossil collections are housed in a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled facility.

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