Kansas: Sunflower State, home to Superman, and birthplace of little ol' me! While visiting relatives in Wichita, my sister and I decided to take a short visit to the Old Cow Town Museum. We'd been before as children, but this is not the Cow Town of my youth. The museum has undergone a serious upgrade in the last 20 years and has been accredited by the AAM!
Cowtown opened to the public in 1955 and sits on 23 acres off the Chisholm Trail in the historic Riverside neighborhood. There are 54 historic and recreated buildings and the museum maintains an artifact collection of over 10,000 objects.
We missed the opening of the season by only a couple of days, so there weren't any interpreters during our visit. During the summer months there are cattle drives, parades, and loads of people everywhere! That being said, we still had a great time.
The "Hodge House" was built by Wesley Hodge, an African-American blacksmith from 1878-1885. He lived here with his wife Millie and their two children, Fannie and James. Not only is this house adorable, but it also helps illustrate the early diversity of Wichita. Another example of this is the Chinese laundry located in an alley next to the Southern Hotel. The information placards do a great job of contextualizing not only these individuals, but the communities to which they belonged. It would have been very easy to omit references to people of color, but Old Cow Town ensures that their presence is known and appreciated.
Max M. Fechheimer, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria, came to Wichita in 1869. He opened a clothing store on Douglas Avenue in the late 1870s. The Dry Goods and Clothing store at Cow Town is a fun and illuminating display on the goods available to Wichitans at the end of the 19th century. Being able to see both the homes and the businesses typical of this period helps contextualize the stories being shared.
A particularly nice home on display is that of Marshall Murdock, founder and editor of the Wichita City Eagle. Built in 1874, the Murdock House features the Gothic Revival style of architecture and is an example of an upper middle class home. I can only imagine the interiors of truly upper class residences of the time!
The Old Cow Town Museum is a must see in Wichita. They have worked hard to improve the interpretation and attain accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums. The people and stories of early Wichita come alive, with or without the actor-interpreters. Be sure to allot plenty of time to meander through the buildings and take a walk along the river. It makes for a lovely afternoon!
Keeper of the Plains
Another favorite stop for us on our trips to Kansas is the Keeper of the Plains. The Keeper of the Plains is a 13.4 meter sculpture by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin. It was donated by the artist in 1974 and it open to the public year round.
Just down the street from the city's museums, it stands at the junction of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers in Wichita. At the base of the statue are displays which describe the local tribes, as well as fire pits which illuminate the statue at night.
In addition to his work as a fine artist, Bosin was the grandson of a Kiowa chief, a veteran of World War II, and a commercial artist as well. He donated The Keeper to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial.
There is a convenient parking lot for visitors who want to take a stroll along the river and appreciate the statue day or night. We always make sure to stop by and see it when we're in town.
Enjoy some vacation snapshots!