The Best Western Air Museums

We have visited some very unique air museums in the western United States and we have offered a brief description of each below. All are quite unique in their own way and might make a good addition to your western vacation planner if your travels take you to California, Arizona or Oregon.

north american fighter planes

North American O-47B

Planes of Fame

The museum was first established in 1957 in Claremont California by Ed Maloney as the Air Museum. Today the museum is known by that name and also as Planes of Fame, located at the Chino California Airport. The museum expanded at it became apparent that a second location should be added. The Arizona museum opened in 1995 at the reopened Valle-Grand Canyon Airport which at one time served as a TWA facility.

This site is located halfway between Williams Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The Valle-Grand Canyon site displays over 40 of the Museum’s vintage aircraft with many of them being flyable. Many of the vintage aircraft are kept flyable by the people who donate both funds and aircraft parts to the museum. Additionally many people have donated their time to help maintain the aircraft. Aircraft restoration is a big part of what this organization does.

mohawk aircraft

OV-1 Mohawk

At the Chino California museum…Grumman Bearcat, Grumman Avenger, Vought Corsair, Grumman Hellcat, North American Mustang, Misubishi Zero, Lockheed Lightening.

At the Valle-Grand Canyon Arizona museum…Standard W.W. I Trainer, Curtiss Robin Flying Replica, Martin Airliner, North America Trojan, Billy Walker Nieuport Flying Replica.

Pacific Coast Air Museum

If you’re planning a San Francisco vacation and/or a wine country tour, I think you’ll find a visit to the Pacific Coast Air Museum a very historically interesting side trip. It’s one of the best aviation museums on the west coast and a lot of fun for the entire family, young and old.

california air museums

Pacific Coast Air Museum

From San Francisco drive north on U.S. Hwy 101 through Santa Rosa. Exit Hwy 101 at Airport Rd. and turn left. Off Airport Rd. turn left on N. Laughlin Road and then right on Becker Blvd. Parking is near the museum entrance. Their phone number is 707-575-7900 .

The Museum is located on the grounds of the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

The museum has on display a very historic aircraft that took part in the U.S. military’s response to September 2001 terrorist attacks. This aircraft is the genuine F-15A which was the first military jet that responded over the skies of New York City during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack. It’s obviously a unique display to have and I would recommend you stop and give it a look if you are anywhere near Santa Rosa or Windsor California.

Below are photos and information on just two of the aircraft on display at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.

grumman tracker airplane

Grumman Tracker

The Grumman S-2A Tracker

The Grumman S-2A Tracker was built for the military as a submarine hunter aircraft. The plane is powered with two Wright Twin Cyclone R-1820 nine cylinder radial engines. Each engine produces 1,500 horsepower.

The cruise speed of this aircraft is 150 MPH with a top speed of 195 MPH. The Grumman S-2A has an empty weight of 18,750 pounds with a maximum takeoff weight of 27,000 pounds. Dimensions are a 70 ft wing span, 43 ft 6 in length, 16 ft 7 in height and a wing area of 496 sq ft.

uh-1 huey helicopter

UH-1 Huey

The UH-1H Huey on display at the Pacific Coast Air Museum was restored and updated and displays markings of the 188th Assault Helicopter Company referred to as the “Black Widows“.

This particular helicopter saw combat action in Vietnam flown by “Black Widow” air crews. When the Pacific Coast Air Museum acquired this helicopter it was being used by the California National Guard. The restoration was performed by Vietnam Vets from the Black Widow unit. Other markings seen on this aircraft include the bulls-eye of the 269th Combat Aviation Battalion, white markings belonging to the 2nd Platoon and the 2nd Platoon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” door marking.

See the articles on our Western Trips site on the links below…

Visit a Rocket Museum in Albuquerque NM

Wiley Post and His Record Setting Lockheed Vega

The U.S.S. Hornet / Alameda California

Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum

If your western travel plans include the Columbia River area of Oregon, make a point to stop and visit the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River Oregon. Without a doubt, you will find this one of the most unique airplane and vintage auto museum in the U.S. Once restored by our volunteers, all of the antique cars and planes at this excellent museum can and do run.

hood river oregon air museum

Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum

The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum features over one-hundred vintage and classic autos plus about seventy-five flyable antique aircraft.

This is all under one roof. Aircraft, automobiles, motorcycles, tractors, military jeeps are all on display. One of the impressive vintage airplanes on exhibit at WAAM is the Beechcraft airplane E18 S shown below. This is the post World War Two “Super 18” and is remarkably restored.

The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum is located at 1600 Air Museum Rd, Hood River, OR.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Explore Tucson Arizona / Historic Landmarks

El Presisio San Augustin del Tucson

At one time a Papago Indian village stood where present day Tucson is. The first Jesuit priest visited the Tucson area in 1692 and the Franciscans followed after that.

In 1775 the Spanish built El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson to help solidify their claim to the northern frontier of New Spain. One positive reason for the selection of Tucson as a garrison site was provided by the Native Americans themselves.

tucson in the 1800's

Tucson in the 1800’s

The Spanish first built the Tubac Presidio, about forty miles south of Tucson in 1751. This was following an Indian rebellion in which Tubac was razed and most of its inhabitants slain.

When the Spaniards built their missions along the California coast northward from San Diego in 1769, there was a need for protection for an overland route to frontier California from Sonora. Because of this the Spaniards ordered the garrison at the Tubac Presidio transferred northward to the new presidio in Tucson. The Tucson Presidio would be built along the Santa Cruz River across from Pimam Tucson.

st anns tubac arizona

St Anns Church in Tubac Arizona

Visiting St. Anns Church

While St. Anns Church is in Tubac Arizona, just a short drive south of Tucson, it is worth adding it to your Tucson trip planner. Along with it’s deep Spanish history, today, Tubac is a growing art community and offers fine resorts, shopping and dining.

A guided walking tour map of Tubac is available from any of the town merchants and at the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park.

St. Ann’s Church, which stands on Calle Iglesia near Placita de Anza in Tubac, is a relatively modern reminder of the presence of the Catholic Church in the area for most of 250 years.

Construction of a new church on the site of the original churches was begun in 1910 after parishioners mounted a fund drive, and St. Ann’s Church was completed in 1912.

tucson arizona presidio

Photo of the reconstruction Presidio San Agustin del Tucson northeast bastion, 2009.

Building El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson

The social structure of the entirety of colonial Spanish America had been built around a base of food-producing Native Americans. In fact one big reason why the site for the new presidio in Tucson was chosen  was because of the close proximity of the Indians.

Defense officials could rely, they assumed, upon the Native American gardens at Tucson providing the garrison with at least some of its food needs. The site also offered adequate pasturage and firewood resources.

The new Tucson garrison was responsible with building the presidio.  Tucson garrison at first lived on an open post. A typically defensive fort was not built immediately at the new location, even though some Apache bands had been stealing horses and raiding and killing settlers near Spanish outposts to the east since 1773.

The first actual fortifications erected apparently consisted of a wooden palisade. Some of the houses of citizens and soldiers were outside the palisade. Eventually an earthen defensive wall surrounded the military post, although some members of the garrison and civilians still lived in houses outside the wall.

tucson historic district

Tucson Historic District street photo

The El Presidio Historic District

As one of the oldest continually inhabited areas in the country, Downtown Tucson has no shortage of history. Located downtown at Washington and Church S, the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson is a re-creation of the northeast corner of the original 1775 Spanish presidio.

The walls of the Presidio were said to have run along Washington Street on the north, Church Street on the east, Pennington Street on the south, and Main Avenue on the west. Each wall was reported to be approximately 750 feet long.

The El Presidio Historic District is a residential neighborhood containing adobe and brick buildings in the Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American and Eclectic architectural styles. The district is on the site of a prehistoric Hohokam Indian site and the original presidio. The Tucson Presidio Trust hosts Living History Festivals, October through April, where visitors can sample Spanish colonial food, listen to stories of old Tucson, learn period crafts and see musket and cannon fire.

The El Presidio Historic District is located north of West Alameda Street and west of North Church Street.

southern pacific steam locomotive exhibit

Southern Pacific locomotive exhibit outside Tucson Railroad museum

Tucson and the Southern Pacific Railroad

There’s one thing about Tucson Arizona that differentiates it from many of the other towns in southern Arizona and New Mexico. While the Southern Pacific Railroad certainly added to the growth of Tucson, the difference is that Tucson was a key settlement long before the arrival of the railroad.

Where some Arizona towns grew in direct relationship with the Southern Pacific Railroad, the story of Tucson, as explained above has all to do with the Spanish fort on 1775. Also, one time during the American Civil War Tucson served as the capital of the Confederates western Arizona region.

reno locomotive of the virginia and truckee railroad

reno Locomotive built in 1872

The Old Tucson Studios

This is a site you want to be sure to visit when in Tucson Arizona. The Old Tucson Studios is a replica of an old western town that was built in 1939 for the movie “Arizona”. The studios have also been used for many western movies and TV films. The studios offer visitors stage coach rides as well as rides on a narrow gauge railroad.

Also see the staged old west gunfights and stunt performances. Also see Old Tucson’s very own “silent” movie star, The Reno locomotive. The locomotive is stationed at the north end of Old Town Tucson. The Reno has more than 100 film and television credits. From Interstate 10 exit at Speedway Blvd and head west following signs to Old Tucson. From Interstate 19 exit at Ajo Way (AZ 86) and head west following signs to Old Tucson Studios.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Western Civil War Trips

Drive the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic Byway

A La Jolla California Getaway

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum is also located in Old Town Tucson adjacent to the train station. The museum address is 414 N. Toole Ave. Tucson, AZ. Here you can explore much of the town’s railroad history regarding the Southern Pacific Railroad.

southern arizona transportation museum

Southern Arizona Transportation Museum adjacent to the Tucson Train Depot

Outside of this Old Town Tucson museum is the famous Southern Pacific Railroad locomotive #1673. Southern Pacific locomotive #1673 is one of 105 of its type originally numbered 1615-1719. During it’s operation on the Southern Pacific it traveled over one million miles, primarily in freight service in the Southern Arizona region.

The locomotive was built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in New York in the year 1900. The SP locomotive #1673 was retired in 1955 and donated to the city of Tucson. In December of 2000, the old engine and tender were brought home to the historic Southern Pacific depot in downtown Old Town Tucson.

Hotel Congress

Now here is an old hotel with quite a history. The Hotel Congress, located in Old Town Tucson and across the street from the Tucson train station, in itself is a living piece of Tucson history.

historic tucson hotels

Historic Hotel Congress

The Hotel Congress is a historic building located in downtown Tucson and built in 1919.

The train station directly across the street at the rear of the hotel. The Hotel Congress building was added to the National Historic Register in 2003. The hotel is a valuable part of the Old Tucson community.

The Hotel Congress is conveniently located downtown and is extremely well restored right down to the rotary dial phones in the rooms. The Hotel Congress is also home to a Tap Room, the music venue Club Congress and an excellent restaurant. Club Congress is a music venue attached to the historic hotel. The music venue was opened in 1985. You’ll also find a great patio for food and beverages and it’s a good place to people watch.

(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos of Congress Hotel, Southern Arizona Transportation Museum and Southern Pacific Steam Locomotive from Trips Into History Collection. Remainder of photos and images in the public domain.)

Cattle Drives and Cowboys / What It Was Really Like

When you think of the days of the great western cattle drives and cowboys you might just think of all those western movies and television series that were made. While these were entertaining, quite a bit about the daily life of the western cowboy and the actual mechanics of a cattle drive were romanticized to the point of being inaccurate. This is to be expected. A motion picture or television show was made to entertain, not to necessarily educate. There’s nothing wrong with that. With that being said, the real life of a working cowboy was more adventuresome and dangerous and with much less glamor than you might think. A cattle ranch was a business and the work of a western cowboy was part of that business.

american cowboy

American Cowboy, circa 1888

One of the best places I know of in the U.S. that accurately portrays the cowboy life is the Western Cowboy and National Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. The exhibition wing houses a turn-of-the-century town and interactive history galleries that focus on the American cowboy, rodeos, Native American culture, Victorian firearms, frontier military and western performers. Another interesting stop is the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame located in the stockyards historic district of Fort Worth Texas. The museum opened in 2001 and honors men and women who have excelled in the sport and business of rodeo and the western lifestyle. A third very interesting museum of the American cowboy is the Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame located in Hobbs New Mexico in the Western Heritage Museum Complex. Lots of excellent artifacts and information about the cowboy way of life.

The Cattle Drive Trails

charles goodnight

Charles Goodnight, the Father of the Texas Panhandle

One of the best ways to describe accurately the life of an 1800’s western cowboy is to detail what was involved in a cattle drive. After the end of the American Civil War there were three trails established from Texas to the rail heads and markets to the north. Because of the Civil War, there was an abundance of cattle in Texas that under normal circumstances would have already been driven to market. The three trails that came into being were the Chisholm Trail, the Goodnight-Loving Trail and the Great Western Trail (sometimes referred to as the Texas Trail).

The Chisholm Trail led from the south Texas grazing land up through Texas near the current Dallas-Fort Worth area and then north over the Red River, through Indian Territory and ended in Abilene Kansas. The Goodnight-Loving Trail went west into New Mexico near Fort Sumner and then northward east of Las Vegas New Mexico and then into Colorado. The largest trail, the Great Western, started in south Texas with feeder trails at the Rio Grande. The trail went north parallel to the Chisholm but about 100 miles further west. It crossed the Red River near present day Vernon Texas and led through Indian Territory with a final destination of Dodge City Kansas.

jesse chisholm

Jesse Chisholm of whom the Chisholm Trail was named after.

The Western Cowboy and the Cattle Drive

The book Trail Driving Days, by Dee Brown and Martin F. Schmitt, offers a very detailed look at the mechanics of driving a herd of cattle hundreds of miles to a rail head.

A typical drive of 3,500 head of cattle, and there were drives of many more head, might require eighteen cowboys. Also needed was a cook and his chuck wagon and a horse wrangler who was responsible for the “remuda”. The remuda was a herd of tame riding horses which the cowboys chose to use. Many horses were required because the cattle drive was a long distance affair over rivers and ever changing terrain.

To start the cattle drive, cowboys would have to gather all their equipment together and report to the trail boss. The trail boss essentially ran the operation.The trail boss would select one dominant steer to act as a lead for the herd. The drive would not begin all at once. Typically, the steers would be left to graze in the morning and then slowly led down the trail. This type system of grazing and driving would be employed for the purpose of getting the cattle used to the drive. After days of this, the herd would be accustomed to the routine and automatically begin to follow the lead steer who would be led by the point cowboys. The placement of the cowboys in relation to the herd was very important. In addition to the two point riders at the lead steer, there were swing and flank riders. The swing riders would be on each side of the herd about one-third of the way back. The flank riders would be two-thirds of the way back. The tail riders rode behind the herd. This was the least desired position. This might be the job less highlighted in cowboy western movies. Their job was to keep the weaker steers moving. As you can imagine, the tail riders rode in a cloud of dust not to mention the smell. No surprise this wasn’t a coveted position.

Western Cowboy Event at the New Mexico History Museum

Cowboys Real and Imagined: April 14, 2013 through March 16, 2014

This is a stop you want to put on your trip planner if your travels take you to New Mexico. The New Mexico History Museum is located in Santa Fe New Mexico behind the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe plaza.
Using artifacts and photographs from its wide-ranging collections, along with loans from more than 100 people and museums, Cowboys Real and Imagined (April 14, 2013, through March 16, 2014) blends a chronological history of Southwestern cowboys with the rise of a manufactured mystique as at home on city streets as it is in a stockyard.

More on the Western Cattle Drive

At his point you can see how the western cowboys, each with their particular assignment, kept the herd moving and in the right direction. The trail boss and the chuck wagon cook would ride perhaps two or three miles ahead of the herd. The trail boss would be looking for a suitable location for the noon rest. A suitable location would include a good watering hole. At the end of a typical day, the herd might have advanced perhaps fifteen miles. This could vary because of rivers to cross and terrain.

cowboys of the xit ranch

XIT Ranch Cowboys, 1891

Stopping at the end of the day meant more things to do. The herd needed to be bedded down. Watches were scheduled throughout the night. A watch might be two to four hours long. At night you wanted quiet and peace. Above all you didn’t want anything to rile the herd. You wanted to avoid a stampede at all costs. A stampede, if one did occur, would more likely occur at night. It could be set off by a thunder clap, the noise from the cook’s skillet, the breaking of a twig. Any sudden noise if just right had the potential of causing a stampede. In addition to causing the drive to lose valuable time, a stampede could be a deadly affair for a cowboy. More than one cowboy was crushed to death in a stampede after his horse stepped into a prairie dog hole and fell over. A stampede was serious business. Keeping the camp as quiet and peaceful as possible at night was important. To be sure, stampedes could also happen during daylight. Causes could be everything from a violent thunderstorm to an Indian waving a blanket at the herd. The possibility of being caught up in a stampede would be the most dangerous thing that could happen to a cowboy on a cattle drive.

Links to two additional articles on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy are The XIT Ranch and Building of the Texas State Capital and Cattle Brands in the American West.

Relaxing on the Drive

Most accounts of old western cowboys on cattle drives say very little about relaxing. For all intents and purposes there was very little relaxing. A trail drive was a tough and dangerous business. As we say today, it wasn’t a Sunday drive. The trail boss was under a lot of tension and the drovers were weary from the hard riding. Two constant threats were weather and Indians.

What relaxing there was might be card games at night if time allowed. Poker would usually be played using match sticks as chips since the cowboys pockets were empty. They would not see money until the end of the drive. Relaxing for the western cowboy was at night when things were hopefully quiet and the herd contented. It might very well be this quasi-relaxation while on the long cattle drive that culminated in the celebrations at trails end. In other words, the real relaxing was after the drive ended and the cowboy received his wages.

A Rare Diary of a Cattle Drive

Cowboys keeping diaries on the cattle drive was rare. The book, Trail Driving Days, does mention one diary kept by an early cowboy on a south Texas to Iowa trail drive in the year 1866. This was about ten years before cattle were driven up the long Western Trail to Dodge City. This particular drive in 1866 consisted of a herd of about one thousand. The diary makes special mention of two big fears, weather and stampedes. The diary was kept by a man named George Duffield. Some excerpts…May 1st, “Big stampede. Lost 200 head of cattle”. May 2nd, “Spent the day hunting and found but twenty-five head. It has been raining for three days”. May 8th, “Rain pouring down in torrents. Ran my horse into a ditch and got my knee badly sprained”. May 9th, “Still dark and gloomy. River up. Everything looks blue to me”. George Duffield continued to drive the cattle through Texas and after a difficult crossing of the Brazos River near present day Waco attempted to cross the Red River into Indian Territory.

His diary entry of May 31st states, “Swimming cattle is the order. We worked all day in the river and at dusk got the last beefe (diary spelling) over. I am now out of Texas This day will long be remembered by me. There was one of our party drowned today”. The cattle drive continued north. On June 19th, Duffield recorded an encounter with Indians. “15 Indians came to herd and tried to take some beeves. Would not let them. Had a big muss. One drew his knife and I my revolver. Made them leave but fear they have gone for others”. After the Arkansas River was crossed on June 27th, George Duffield wrote…”My back is blistered badly from exposure while in the river and I with two others are suffering very much. I was attacked by a beefe in the river and had a very narrow escape from being hurt by diving”.

George Duffields cattle drive finally ended when the herd reached Ottumwa Iowa on October 31st. There he sold his herd. By the time the cattle drive reached it’s destination it had about 500 of the original 1,000 head. The diary of George Duffield is invaluable as it paints a realistic picture of the extremely hard work and dangers of being a western cowboy on an 1800’s cattle drive. The year of Duffield’s drive was a time before Indian troubles calmed down. Some of the later drives into Nebraska and further north occurred in the late 1870’s after the Sioux had largely retreated to their reservations.

wyatt earp and bat masterson

Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, Dodge City Kansas, 1876. Public Domain photo.

The Cowboys Celebrates the End of the Cattle Drive

Again, the best way to learn the truth about cowboy rowdiness or lack thereof is to compare real eyewitness accounts and statistics to what you may have seen watching the old westerns at the movies or on television.

There is a statistic of shooting deaths in Dodge City Kansas during the year 1872. Dodge City gained it’s reputation not only from the massive cattle drives but also, before that, from the buffalo hunters and Indian fighters. In fact, the shipping east of buffalo hides was the trade of Dodge City before the cowboys arrived. In the year 1872 there was a recorded twenty-five murders in Dodge City resulting from fights. Out of these twenty-five, only one involved a cowboy.

While on the trail, cattle drive trail bosses were the law. Rules to follow were known before the drive ever started. Breaking of the rules would be dealt with harshly. Murder could result in a hanging. The cowboys during the drive would usually follow the rules and regulations to the letter. Some ranchers would forbid gambling and drinking during a drive. Once the trail drive ended, the cowboys would be paid and they would let off steam. Depending on the length of the drive, a cowboy might have eighty or ninety dollars in his pocket when paid. There were many saloons and gambling halls more than willing to relieve the young cowboy of his new found wealth.

In fact, the large Texas influence was not lost on saloon keepers and others in Dodge City. Business names such as The Alamo, Nueces, and Lone Star popped up. Some establishments advertised Russian Caviar, anchovies and ice cold beer. Quite a departure from the beans, biscuits and beef served on the trail drive. The cowboys had money in Dodge City and the merchants had delicacies.

Setting aside Hollywood stereotypes, what really went on in Dodge City Kansas at the end of a trail drive? First of all, it was common knowledge that innocent people very very rarely were touched by violence. In a town like Dodge City, if an innocent woman walking down the street were attacked by a drunken cowboy, the punishment would be swift and severe. Letting off steam at the end of a drive would be characterized more by bragging and drinking rather than breaking the law. Practical joke playing would be experienced before gunfire would.

For sure, things could become rowdy but very rarely deadly. You also have to realize that a booming cow town attracted a wide assortment of colorful characters. Gamblers, prostitutes, outlaws and con men came to Dodge just as they came to the gold mining towns of California two decades earlier. Shootings in general in a town like Dodge City Kansas were not nearly as frequent and deadly as the Hollywood movies would have you believe. The difference was that if they happened in a place like Dodge City the eastern newspapers jumped on the story.

cattle drive

Modern Day cattle drive

The Cowboy and the Rancher

There’s an interesting relationship between the cowboy and the rancher. When you strive to learn more about the cowboy, his daily life and habits, you really need to go back and look at the rancher himself. The book Cattle Kings, by author Lewis Atherton, talks about the relationship of the two. Atherton points out how the rancher took a background role in many cowboy novels.

Literature about the history of the ranching industry places much more emphasis on the cowboy than it does on the rancher. Few novelists have used ranchers as the central figure. Novelists have employed the rancher as a background figure in the shadows. The rancher was described as a businessman, not a hero. The hero in most of these novels was the cowboy himself. The majority of authors seemed to place the cowboy in the role of hero in an otherwise lawless land. This type of setting was perfect for fiction writers. Most descriptions like this were simply the imagination of dime novelists. It was discovered that you could actually sell more books by creating a western hero. Who better than the lone cowboy? The novelists for the most part chose the cowboy over the rancher. What isn’t a part of most cowboy novels is the influence that the rancher himself had on how the cowboy conducted himself. After all, this wouldn’t help sell the dime novel. For the cowboy to actually have a boss would take away from the rugged individualism that the author’s wanted to highlight.

The majority of ranchers discouraged the carrying of revolvers by their cowboys. With the exception of carrying firearms to protect oneself from wild animals, firearms were not a piece of equipment seen as frequently as Hollywood or the dime novelists would portray. One rancher summed it up pretty well when he pointed out that an unarmed man would not be challenged to a gunfight. The Code of the West as it was known forbid firing on an unarmed man. Many ranchers felt that the act of carrying six-shooters could lead to unwanted trouble. As a result, there were more cowboys walking around unarmed as there were armed. In the majority of cases, the branding iron and a rope were tools more familiar to the cowboy than a six-shooter.

cowboys branding cattle

Cattle branding, circa 1888

The American cowboy was a hard working man. The glamor however attached to the work was largely literary embellishment. A cowboy’s daily routine working with livestock was hardly glamorous. Reading some excerpts from the diary written by George Duffield is evidence of this. A cowboy, just like the general public, could be good or bad or in between. Usually he was good, hardworking and had a sense of humor. The cowboy had to adapt to a rugged and sometimes hostile environment. His job was not something suitable for everyone. The cowboy had a boss. The boss was either the rancher himself, the trail boss, or both. What the literary authors may have had correct was the fact that the cowboy represented individualism. It took individualism to decide to become a cowboy in the first place. Individualism after all is what America was about. The cowboy fit the bill to a tee and it wasn’t a major literary leap to also make him a hero. The cowboy legend may be one of the only legends that actually gets larger as time goes by.

(Photos from the public domain)








Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

The story about the great Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody were two life stories as dissimilar as can be imagined while at the same time had some interesting traits in common.

sitting bull

Sitting Bull

There was probably no other Indian leader who resisted the United States takeover of Sioux native lands as much as Sitting Bull did. Sitting Bull was believed to have been born in 1831 near the Standing Rock Agency which was in the Dakota Territory. To be sure, Sitting was a warrior during his younger years. He was very involved in leading war parties during Red Cloud’s War which lasted from 1865 to 1868 and resulted in the abandonment of three army forts along the Bozeman Trail in Wyoming and Montana. Sitting Bull went on to become the central figure in the Sioux War of 1876 which resulted in the Battle of the Little Bighorn debacle. Following that battle, Sitting Bull along with a few hundred of his people fled to Canada in 1877. His stay in Canada was quite an ordeal for both he and his people. The winter weather was severe and food was in short supply. Finally, in July of 1881 Sitting Bull crossed back into the United States and surrendered himself to the army.

Shortly after the Sioux War of 1876-77, the Native Americans of the Montana and Wyoming area began returning to reservations. Some held out longer than others such as Crazy Horse, but in the end they all gave themselves up and were transported to various reservations. Steamboats were even used by the government to transport some of the Sioux. In fact, as a bit of irony, the steamboat Far West, which was used to transport many of the wounded soldiers from the Sioux battle of June 1876 back to Fort Abraham Lincoln, was also employed by the army to transport surrendering Sioux back downriver towards their reservations months later. This occurred all during the years of Sitting Bull’s self-imposed Canadian exile.

buffalo bill cody

William "Buffalo Bill" Cody

When Sitting Bull surrendered in 1881 he was moved down to the Standing Rock Agency which today is very near the North and South Dakota border. He and his people were kept separate from the others fearing that his presence night reignite trouble. At one point in 1881 Sitting Bull and his band were sent to Fort Randall in the southern part of the territory as prisoners of war but were moved back once again to the Standing Rock Agency in 1883. While Sitting Bull was totally aware that the struggle against the white man was over, he still resisted adopting a new way of life. In a way it was peaceful resistance. At the same time, the U.S. military was aware of Sitting Bull’s influence among his people.

What’s interesting to the historian of the Indian Wars and the old west in general is how Sitting Bull’s return happened about the same time that William Cody was organizing his Wild West. Cody was born in 1846 and went on to be a soldier, a buffalo hunter and finally one of the United States’ most successful show promoters. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West began in 1883 in North Platte Nebraska. This would have been the same year that Sitting Bull was relocated to the Standing Rock Agency.

Although Cody served as an army scout, he fully respected the rights of native Americans. Buffalo Bill was quite outspoken in his belief that the Indian troubles were a direct result of broken treaties on the part of the U.S. government. He went out of his way in calling the Native Americans our “former” foes who are now our friends. This was not necessarily an opinion held by many and it did set buffalo Bill apart from others. The former bison hunter also pressed for limits on hide hunting and the establishment of hunting seasons.

William Cody was known for his employment of Native Americans as part of his Wild West productions. In answer to criticism from some quarters, Cody simply pointed out that he was giving useful work to unemployed Indians. The one thing that could be said about the Wild West was that audiences were seeing the real thing. Native Americans performed as warriors attacking stagecoaches and wagon trains. They and their families were also encouraged to set up camps while traveling with the show similar to the camps they would have set up on their native land. Cody’s use of the native Americans as performers was one of the reasons for the Wild West’s enormous success.

sitting bull and buffalo bill cody

Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody

In regards to Sitting Bull, Buffalo Bill Cody held no grudges. Sitting Bull was as entrenched in his beliefs as Cody was with his. Sitting Bull was asked by Buffalo Bill to join his show as a performer. Sitting Bull was given permission by the army to leave the reservation to join the Wild West. The great Sioux chief received about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, where he was a popular attraction. Not bad money at all in 1884.  A story was started that Sitting Bull cursed his white audiences as he rode his horse in the arena but historians could find no proof that this really occurred. It was said that Sitting Bull did give out autographs for about one dollar each before and after performances. The Chief reportedly gave this money back to his people who were quite poor. Sitting Bull was also known to have given speeches promoting education for Native Americans and for all parties, Indian and white, to reconcile relations. Sitting Bull spent merely four months with Cody’s Wild West and afterward returned to the Standing Rock Agency. Sitting Bull was ultimately killed while being taken into custody in 1890 during what was called the Ghost Dance movement. The story of the Ghost Dance and Sitting Bull can be found on our link Ghost Dance..

Another related article that’s quite interesting is the story of Pawnee Bill and his Wild West show.

When you look at both Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill Cody, it’s not too hard to see how both men came together in the Wild West shows. The early 1880’s were a time of transition for both. The Indian Wars were winding down, Sitting Bull was being held on the reservation and Buffalo Bill was preparing to showcase an entire era of American history to the world. If anything, Sitting Bull’s participation in Cody’s Wild West gave him a platform to press for aid for his people. Where at one time Sitting Bull was considered an enemy, he was now acting as a delegate for Native Americans everywhere. It’s also fitting that someone with the respect for Native American rights that Buffalo Bill Cody surely had, would also be in a position to help the Indian by offering a public platform for one of their most famous Chiefs.

(Photos are in public domain)

Frontier Women

The American Frontier Woman

I think it can be said that the vast majority of stories about our American West have been written from the perspective of the male. A journey to and inside the old American frontier west was filled with dangers and perhaps because the male was considered the protector and usually the provider, the stories were a reflection of those challenges.

One of the most significant dangers faced by white settlers during the days of the old west was the Indian menace. This again was the responsibility of the male to protect against. Certainly the stories of Indian Wars and buffalo hunting are what popular western novels and historic pieces are made of, but the contribution of females on the western frontier, although very under publicized, were equally important in many aspects. In most cases the women traveled to the frontier after the males, such as the first gold prospectors in California and the fur traders before that, but they did emigrate there and in greater numbers with the among the Oregon Trail wagon trains. Some historians contend that true civilization didn’t come to the western frontier until the pioneer women made their presence. On top of all the other duties of a pioneer woman, there is no doubt that the pioneer women cooks changed the living standards much to the better. The image below is of Narcissa Whitman, a missionary who was massacred with her husband by Indians after an disease outbreak in the year 1847 near present day Walla Walla Washington.

The contributions that women made to the frontier are as complex as those of the male. Just like with the male, the women pioneer came from all backgrounds and with many different goals. Some frontier women displayed extreme bravery in the face of danger. Some helped provide for their frontier family as much as their male partner. On the other hand, some women of the west were filled with as much mischief as the Likewise, there were some women who matched the males in mischief and criminal activity.The painting below is of a Nebraska wagon train by C.C.A. Christensen now in the public domain.

I think it’s safe to say that history books have publicized the women bent on mischief and thievery somewhat more than the woman of virtue. The reason might simply be that it makes for more colorful copy and sells more books. For the most part characters such as Belle Starr, Calamity Jane and Pearl Hart seem to garner more copy than perhaps the hard working frontier woman trying to care for her family while on a six month journey over the Oregon Trail from Missouri to California.

There of course were exceptions such as the many stories of the famed Annie Oakley but Annie Oakley’s fame really surfaced during the late 1800′s and early 1900′s, many years after the days of the wagon train and the great Indian Wars of the West.

Traveling on the American western frontier presented new challenges for the female who really saw her role change dramatically. In many cases she had to take on many of the tasks a man would solely assume back east during the era. While traveling overland it was more important to get things done than spend time deciding who would do it. A woman might have to drive a team of mules while her husband was busy with another task. A woman might have to learn to shoot a gun where this might have been unheard of back home. A woman on the frontier had been placed in what many thought to be a man’s world. Learning new skills was a necessity more than a choice.

There are some excellent locations where you can learn more about the pioneer womans history in helping to civilize the American western frontier. One in particular is the Pioneer Woman Museum located in Ponca City Oklahoma. The address is 701 Monument Road. Ponca City is in far north Oklahoma. The location is at the intersection of U.S.-77 and Highland, 22 miles east of Interstate-35. The museum is now 10,000 sq ft and showcases the contributions made by women to the state of Oklahoma and the nation as a whole.

Another interesting article we have on our Western trips site is the story about the famous female California stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst.

There is another interesting historic site near Barlow’s Pass Oregon. The site is named Pioneer Woman’s Grave, pictured at left. It has been established as a memorial gravesite to all those who lost their lives enroute to Oregon. A survey crew discovered the grave site in 1924. The site is on the Barlow Hiking Trail. Pioneer Woman’s Grave is off of Hwy 35 a little under one mile past the intersection of Hwy 26 and Hwy 35 on FS Road 3531.

A third excellent location to learn more about the pioneer woman is the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles California. In 2002 the Women of the West Museum merged with the Autry National Center. The site offers programs, exhibitions, collections, research, and education about women’s experiences in the American West. According to the museum their goal is to gain a new understanding, not simply of what women have done but of why it matters for the West—past, present, and future. The Autry Center is located in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles.

Many of the stories from common hard working pioneer women are now found in diaries of the era. It’s quite amazing that there was time to keep a diary under the circumstances but they did. Many of the diaries tell the story of hardship, much of it having to do with sickness along the trail. This was a time before antibiotics and of course a doctor would have been hard to find. Many were lost to epidemics along the way and a good deal of this is chronicled in diaries kept by the pioneer women. Following is an excerpt from the diary of Samantha Jane Emmons Dillard published by her great grandson John Christopher Stone. This excerpt concerns part of the journey west near Fort Kearney Nebraska which was the last fort before the much more perilous journey westward. Their journey was from Illinois to Oregon.

“Our next main stop was at Ft. Kearney, Nebraska, where we were held until a sufficient number of emigrants had arrived to make up a train to start our journey across the plains. We had traveled alone until we reached here and It had rained almost all of the time and the water was high. Here we were joined by enough emigrants to make up a train of twenty-two wagons, as it was necessary to have this many in the train in order to make a corral. There were four wagons pulled by oxen and the rest by horses. Since the ox teams traveled a good deal slower than the horses all hands In the morning would get the ox teams started ahead first and of course during the day we would pass them and go on ahead and when camping time came we would have things ready for the ox teams when they arrived. Our Captain had been across the plains before and knew just what to do, so at night we would all drive our wagons in a big circle and make a big corral and our stock was all put inside this corral and we would keep fires burning all night, and two men stood guard every night. When It came my father’s turn to stand guard, the next day I would have to drive our four horse team and wagon. I was thirteen years old then and small for my age. Our Captain knew where all the watering places were and the distance between these places largely determined the number of miles traveled each day by the train, which averaged from ten to twenty-five miles per day..”

I think it’s safe to say that the pioneer woman possessed a lot of bravery to travel over the frontier west looking for a new and better life. The bravery and sacrifice of the ordinary settler compares equally to any of the more famed characters and celebrities during the frontier and wild west days.