I recently read a review of an autobiographical book written by a man who bought a Conestoga wagon and retraced the Oregon Trail. Now, readers of a certain age may have fond memories of typing "bang" while hunting wild buffalo, or of writing their frenemies' names on the tombstones of members of their party who perished of cholera in the computer game. Author Rinker Buck--an older gentleman and an intrepid traveler--will always remember the three mules who pulled the wagon he and his younger brother lived and traveled in in the summer of 2011. I thought of his "mule-whisperer" talents when visiting the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas. It's a small-ish collection in a building that apparently has architectural value. (Something about the floor and ceiling tiles. They looked nice. I was more charmed by the tiny lizard [gecko?] that had found its way inside.) Cowboy apologists and cattle enthusiasts seem to enjoy the romance of the vast plain and the nostalgia of barbed wire. Really. There was an entire exhibit dedicated to the dozens (hundreds?) of designs humankind has dreamt up in sharp metal. I suppose the exhibit designers were thinking of ranching. I was thinking of WWI.
Speaking of gun violence, one room was dedicated to Nick Eggenhoffer's (1897-1985) illustrations of the many different situations in which men could find themselves shooting each other: cavalry and "Injuns," robbers and stage coach drivers, Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, cattlemen and rustlers, drunk cowboys in a saloon... You might recognize the "King of the Pulps"'s work from old Western fiction (click for an example).
A back room houses an interactive exhibit about the Oregon Trail (here's a photo). Ostensibly for kids--who can dress up and clamber inside a small covered wagon--the exhibit includes a lot of context, from the mail system to medical treatment. (Although, in the effort to offer an authentically "old"-looking sample text, they used a facsimile of an 18th-century medical text that would have been out of date by the time of the western migrations.) Nevertheless, I appreciated the fictitious storyline told in the first-person viewpoint of a child experiencing the grueling journey.
I don't know that this museum would be worth a second visit, but it certainly filled a late afternoon. Perhaps the most interesting moment came when a trio of women approached me to ask about my knapsack, a cheap giveaway from the campus bookstore that I take to Camp CAMP because I won't mind if it gets dirty or lost. It turns out that they used to live in my area, and the daughters/sons-in-law had attended my university. One wanted to know where to find the t-shirt I'm modeling above, and somehow I found myself explaining my educational path through two degrees. I'm sure there's an Oregon-Trail analogy that could be made there, but I'll spare you.