Welcome to Go Inside: Exploring Texas Culture! Brought to you by First Choice Power, this series will explore the legends and history that make up the meat and bones of the Lone Star State. Specifically, we’ll share our favorite indoor attractions to visit, which includes the great museums and quirky cultural outposts that fill the Texas landscape.
When people think of Texas, this vision of a rugged man or woman on horseback, riding through a vacant landscape capped by open skies, is often a mythology that enters the mind. While this holds true in some parts of the state, most of us don’t ride a horse to run errands in Houston.
As we know it today, the classic cowboy came into being from the vaqueros of northern Mexico in the 19th century. These hard-working animal herders wore what we now consider the traditional cowboy gear for sheer function as opposed to fashion, and they typically lived on ranches.
Instead of riding off into the sunset to explore the hard life of the cowbot and its historical imprint on the Texan psyche, check out these places to learn more than you ever imagined about Texas’ cowboys, cowgirls, and the vaqueros that paved that trail.
1) The Cowboy Capitol of the World – Bandera, TX
Located northwest of San Antonio, the small town of Bandera earned its claim as the “Cowboy Capitol of the World” partly for its role as a staging area for cattle drives along the Great Western Trail. A town whose original buildings along the main drag are still intact, the area boasts a ton of ranches where you can stay for the weekend, tell stories around the campfire, and really pick up on those true Texas cowboy vibes.
But to dive into the history and the relics of this tiny town, head to the Frontier Times Museum, opened in 1933. The founder John Marvin Hunter was also a historian, author, and printer, so he believed that, if an object was important enough to be donated to the museum, then it was important enough to share with the world.
The result? An eclectic and eccentric collection that has amazed visitors for over 80 years. The museum pays tribute to the legacies of the American cowboy, along with ranching traditions, while it also displays a barbed wire collection, a Western hat collection, and a Texas Heroes Hall of Fame. Where else can you learn about cowboys and see a two-headed goat at the same time?!
2) The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame – Fort Worth, TX
Cowgirls have taken on the same challenges and work as cowboys, but they didn’t receive the same recognition at first (much less any Hollywood-style attention). Thus, the mission of The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is to honor women of the American West who have shown pioneering fortitude and extraordinary courage.
With exhibits, a research library, and rare photography collection, this is a great place to learn more about the lesser-known heroines of our past. The museum not only honors cowgirls, but also artists, educators, businesswomen, rodeo cowgirls, and ranchers. Well-known honorees in the Hall of Fame include George O’Keeffe, Annie Oakley, Enid Justin, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Sacagawea.
3) The American Cowboy Museum – Houston, TX
Did you know that 1 out of every 3 cowboys was black? Sitting inn the shadows of Houston’s NRG Stadium, the American Cowboy Museum preserves and interprets the art, history, and culture of the contributions of African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and women who helped develop and shape the American West. Using exhibitions, public events, and educational programs, their efforts reflect the Texas region’s rich traditions and shared heritage.
Located on the Taylor-Stevenson Ranch, the organization also offers two annual guided trail rides each year, giving those seeking the cowboy way a first-hand taste of such an experience. They also host a Grand Market Place and Farmer’s Market every October to raise funds, provide community, and give visitors are great chance to learn more about these lesser-known cowboys.
4) The Bullock Texas State History Museum – Austin, TX
A museum dedicated entirely to the vast breadth of our state’s history, the Bullock Texas State History Museum includes multiple floors covering an expanse of rich cultural and historical story telling. The story of the cowboys and vaqueros is an important chapter, and on the Third Floor Gallery, visitors can explore the Texas cattle stories told by a Mother Hubbard Saddle. And yes, you read that correctly!
After the end of the U.S-Mexican War in 1848, the United States gained control of Mexico’s northern and western lands. This area was home to almost 80,000 Hispanic residents, including the vaqueros, or cowboys, that worked the ranches. Anglo cowboys soon joined vaqueros on these ranches and began to learn from them. Chaps, boots, spurs, hats, and lassos were standard vaquero attire, though over time, the cowboys began to adapt their tools to suit their own purposes.
Thus, the Mother Hubbard Saddle first appeared in the 1860’s, as it suited the American cowboys better. It soon became the saddle of choice for most cowboys, and it’s the leather saddle we are familiar with today.