Oklahoma Cowboy Culture
Hang out with real-life cowboys
When cattlemen and cowboys come to Oklahoma City, they head straight for Stockyards City Main Street, a retail district right in the middle of town and chock-full of saddleries and Western-wear clothing stores. It’s right next to the Oklahoma National Stockyards, the world’s largest stocker/feeder market, where every Monday and Tuesday you can watch live cattle being auctioned.
With their business dealings done, everyone heads for Cattlemen’s Restaurant, the consummate Western steak house and the state’s busiest restaurant. The most popular cut is rib eye, quickly broiled (read grilled) over hot charcoal and served in a salty jus (sauce) with home-made Parker House rolls. The original 1910 café is popular for breakfast, but the dinner crowd likes the 1960s-era South Dining Room. Settle into a red vinyl booth and enjoy the backlit wall-size panorama of two ranchers herding Black Angus. One of them is Gene Wade, who won the place in a craps game in 1945 and ran it until 1990.
The Old West comes alive at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The American Cowboy Gallery follows the evolution of the working cowboy in America, and there’s a good permanent collection of Western artists, particularly Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington. On Memorial Day weekend in May, ranch hands rustle up cowboy food at the museum’s annual Chuck Wagon Gathering & Children’s Cowboy Festival.
Oklahoma is home to 39 Native American tribes. Visit in June for any of the powwows that take place here or for the annual three-day Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival. More than 1,200 Native American artists and dancers from more than 100 tribes come from across the nation (and Canada) to participate in ceremonial dance competitions, parades in full traditional dress and a marketplace where it is as much fun to browse as it is to buy.
An unsurpassed repository for the best of the Old West, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is the lasting legacy of a one-eighth Creek Indian, who struck it rich when oil was found on his 160-acre allotment 20 miles south of Tulsa. Thomas Gilcrease started his own oil company in 1922 and spent his profits gleefully amassing the world’s largest selection of fine art, artifacts and archives devoted to the American West. (Some 327,000 items make up the Gilcrease treasure, if you count every last arrowhead and piece of pottery.)
Buying great Western art at a time when few others were interested, Gilcrease quickly built a major collection. The depth and breadth of Gilcrease’s taste outstripped his ability to pay, however, when the price of oil declined precipitously in the 1950s. Rather than sell off a single piece, he handed over the deeds for the entire collection to the city of Tulsa, which approved a $2.25 million (£1.45 million) bond issue to cover his debts. Gilcrease put his oil revenue towards museum maintenance until the bond was repaid; he died, debt-free, in 1962.
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Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.