As vast as the West is, so is the collection at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The museum, in Oklahoma City, Okla., houses major artworks by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, American Indian art and artifacts, archival photos and other items. It also has a re-created turn-of-the-century town, educational programs and interactive history galleries. Past exhibitions featured Dorothea Lange photos from the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, Andy Warhol’s “Cowboys and Indians” series from 1986, and sketches and engravings of wildlife in the West.
Founded in 1955, the museum gained attention during the pandemic-related temporary closure last year when the director of security operations, Tim Tiller, one of the few people left in the building, managed the museum’s social media platforms. Tiller’s affable and engaging approach, which featured fascinating tidbits about the various rooms and artifacts as well as selfies with his coffee mug, made him an internet sensation. Earlier this year, the museum had a temporary exhibit of Tiller’s posts, along with his coffee mug and other items.
The museum is in District 48, which is represented in the Oklahoma Legislature by Senator George Young (D). We caught up with Young for a chat about what the museum means to him and his constituents.
What makes the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum stand out among Western-themed museums in the U.S.?
What makes the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum unique is its extensive Western-themed artifacts, and not just the unusual, barbed wire collection, saddle and livery pieces. The stories don’t stop but continue with the annual awarding of “The Wrangler” during the Western Heritage Awards. This ongoing recognition of contributors to keep the history of the West alive makes the museum special.
Have you been to the museum? What is your favorite exhibit?
I try to annually make a visit to the museum just to see the new exhibits. My favorite by far are the Buffalo Soldier presentations. Those exhibits highlight a little-known or unknown significant part of the history of the West, the role of African Americans in that westward movement. The fact that the museum is located in my Senate district, and that my district has the largest number of African Americans within it, leads me to push the museum to have exhibits that offer reasons for the local residents to attend.
During the pandemic, Tim Tiller, the head of security, took over social media and won his own following. Has there been an increase in visitors in the area since the museum reopened?
Tim Tiller has done a masterful job of promoting the museum during the pandemic. His innate ability to tap into what would make for good exposure in showing the diverse possible interests of individuals comes from his work within the facility. The following for the museum has grown and has helped to maintain interest during this unusual period. I have not checked the numbers, but I do believe he has helped to keep a steady stream of interest for the museum, even if it is not translated into more patrons physically present.
What else should visitors see when they are in the area?
Senate District 48 in Northeast OKC is a cornucopia of great places to visit. There is the Science Museum Oklahoma, which provides a hands-on experience in exploring scientific principles. The Oklahoma City Zoo is a world-class facility that is constantly remaking itself to bring the wonders of nature to its visitors. The USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex is a must-see, and just this year we saw some of the most exciting moments of sports during the Women’s College World Series. There is also the Oklahoma Firefighters Museum and Railway Museum in the same area.
If that is not enough, we are planning the construction of the Clara Luper Civil Rights Museum, where the memories of this community will be housed and displayed. Check back by 2024. As you can see, I am fortunate and blessed to represent such a diverse and entertainment-laden district. Come visit!
The area is also represented by Representative Jason Lowe (D), District 97.
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer.
“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to tell us about life in the places they represent, from the high-profile events to the fun facts only locals know. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.