Wild West Wichita Comes Alive at Old Cowtown Museum

We’ve been transported to Wichita’s Wild West days. In ten years, the city has grown from Jesse Chisholm’s 1860 trading post to a booming railroad town. In fact, in just a year and a half, the city has grown from 16 buildings to 175. Eight hundred people live here now. Businesses line the dirt streets. The busiest seems to be the saloon. We’ll visit the saloon in a bit, but first we’ll check out some of the other homes and businesses that make up the Old Cowtown Museum.

Established in 1952, Old Cowtown Museum is one of the Midwest’s oldest living history museums. With over 60 restored buildings on 23 acres, plus over 10,000 artifacts, it’s one of the most complete living history museums we’ve visited. But what made our visit memorable were the interactive exhibits and historical re-enactments.

Exploring Wichita’s Early Homes and Businesses

Dirt road lined with vintage-type streetlights and historical buildings

Most of the buildings at Old Cowtown Museum date back to the 1800s. They were moved from their original sites to the museum. We toured several of the buildings, including homes once owned by prominent townspeople. We found the elegant furnishings in some of the homes amazing, considering this was the Wild West. Although the furnishings aren’t original to the homes, they’re a good representation of how the homes would have been decorated.

Some of the buildings relocated to Old Cowtown Museum held different businesses over the years. That’s not surprising, given their age. For instance, a building that began as a hardware store later served as police headquarters.

One exception is the general store. It served as a general store since it was built in 1884, and continues to be the general store at the museum.

Building for the Wichita Centennial

Only handful of structures aren’t original. The museum had to expand in time for Wichita’s 1961 centennial celebration. So, the museum built them on site. A bit smaller in scale, they represent various businesses, including a funeral home.

Fun Interactive Demonstrations

We enjoy seeing the buildings and learning about Wichita’s past. But, as I mentioned, the live demonstrations and reenactments are what we like best. We come across an old-time baseball game and watch for a while. The ball is larger than today’s regulation balls, almost as large as a 12-inch softball. The players don’t wear mitts, and the pitcher pitches underhand. Overhand pitching wasn’t allowed until 1884.

A group of five men wearing old-fashioned baseball uniforms. One man is swinging a bat.

We would love to sit and watch the entire game, but we have more of the museum to see…

Like watching a blacksmith at work…

blacksmith hammering a red-hot steel rod on an anvil

And the saloon is still calling to us. As we near the saloon, we notice a show is about to begin. We take some of the last seats left and watch the showgirls dance as we sip a cold sarsaparilla.

Five women dressed as 1800s saloon showgirls on a stage

Don’t Forget the Photo Ops

Of course, we can’t pass up the many photo ops we come across throughout the museum.

If You Visit Old Cowtown Museum

Make the orientation building one of your first stops. Watch the short video and read the informational signs about Wichita’s history, the museum and its structures. Between what you learn in the orientation building and your experience during the rest of your visit, you’ll come away with a good understanding of Wichita’s early beginnings…and have a day of fun.

Location: 1865 W Museum Boulevard, Wichita, Kansas
Open: Tuesdays through Saturdays (and Sundays from April through October)
Check the museum website for hours, admission fees, and other details.

Other articles in this issue of Midwest Wanderer Explores…

Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Wichita
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Hays
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Abilene
The Keeper of the Plains and Mid-America All-Indian Center
Time Travel at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Boot Hill Museum: Discover the Wild West Legacy
Home of Stone: The Mueller-Schmidt House—A Living Heritage
Boot Hill Distillery: Soil to Sip in a Historical Location
Historic Fort Hays: Tracing the Footsteps of Frontier Defenders
Cowtown to Carousels: Explore the Dickinson County Heritage Center

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *