Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Where the Old West Comes Alive
By Hannah Kochman, Act One Intern
Have you ever wondered where Arizona’s Western culture originated? Are you curious about what early life was like on the first American frontiers and ranches? Do you want to know more about American Indian cultures that have called the Southwest home for centuries? The Desert Caballeros Western Museum offers impeccably detailed and awe-inspiring exhibits of artifacts and artworks dedicated to the Southwest. At DCWM, fans of the frontier can “Experience the Old West, the New West, and the next West.”
The DCWM is located about an hour outside Phoenix in the little town of Wickenburg. Founded in 1863, Wickenburg has since come to be regarded as “Arizona’s most Western community,” making it a perfect home for a museum that seeks to celebrate Western history, preserve its ambiance and educate visitors about its cultural impact even centuries later.
The museum initiates numerous arts programs and community events that create a Western experience for children, adults and classrooms alike, but just a simple visit to the museum offers a vivid look into life on the frontier, covering every detail of the West from the early 1800s to today.
The museum features a nearly overwhelming array of tributes to the West. Upon first entering, you are given a personal welcome and brief introduction as well as a headset offering audio accompaniment for all there is to see. At any point in the museum, if one wishes to learn more information about a given exhibit or hear a more in-depth analysis about the artwork in front of them, they can simply put on their headset and listen to recorded explanations that play throughout the visit.
After becoming fully equipped with headset, informational pamphlets and a quick overview of the current exhibitions, you may choose exactly where to start your journey through the Western frontier. The DCWM almost always has a fresh piece of Western history to share with museum-goers, so even frequent visitors may return to find they are looking at new artifacts, learning new information and discovering more artistic creations attributed to the American West.
The museum’s permanent collection, however, is in itself worth more than a single visit. The Desert Caballeros Western Museum makes sure to cover every nook and cranny of Western life, from the cowboy settlement on the Plains to the Native American experience, from the rodeo to the birth of revolutionary weapons, tools and inventions.
The life-size exhibit of a Western town in Wickenburg is perhaps the most intriguing attraction at the museum. Visitors descend down a flight of stairs to be instantly transported back to the early 20th century when the Southwest frontier way of life thrived. You can peer into life-size replicas of saloons, hotels, grocery stores, post offices, and even living quarters, seeing everything from authentic clothing to “modern” inventions like the refrigerator as well as real playing cards, children’s toys and other everyday items from the early 20th century. Mannequins demonstrate a frozen moment in time during the hustle and bustle of the average day in a Western town.
Enhancing the array of authentic items from the Old West is an even wider variety of artwork attributed to or inspired by life there. The exhibits are packed full of works of art, from cast bronze sculptures to oil paintings and pencil drawings — and every expression in between — that are dedicated to depicting the gritty nature of the West and its breathtaking landscapes. In a single exhibit, viewers are exposed to abstracts, realism, romanticism, surrealism and an artistic vibrancy that offers a nearly indescribable experience.
In addition to the expansive collection that resides in the DCWM itself, you can also visit locations like The Cultural Crossroads Learning Center, located directly north of the museum itself, or the 160 acre Boyd Ranch, owned by DCWM since 2004. These alternate locations, “[extend] the educational and recreational opportunities for others to enjoy for many years to come.”
The DCWM seeks to do more than provide the public with an impeccable execution of the West. Events like Cowgirl Up! allow for a connection with the community that exceeds the expectations of any museum. For this annual month-long art show, no less than 58 female Western artists are invited to display their paintings, drawings and sculptures, sell their work and receive awards for their creative talent and dedication. A Wickenburg fixture for more than 10 years, Cowgirl Up! continues to draw more and more enthusiasm and loyalty from community members and visitors alike.
With a museum as dedicated to education and the community as DCWM, involvement with Act One seems to be a natural marriage. With the Act One Culture Pass, library card holders can visit the DCWM and experience the wonders of the Old West for free. Since the partnership of the museum and Act One, the DCWM has exposed more people to the unique beauty of Western culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and inspire more appreciation than ever of the frontier life.
To learn more about The Desert Caballeros Western Museum, its hours, location and additional programs, please call (928) 684-2272 or visit westernmuseum.org.
Article published July 2018.