Hawaiian Cowboy Exhibit at Old West Museum
September 3, 2008
The 2008 edition of Cheyenne Frontier Days has come and gone and it was a huge success. Maybe you were one of the thousands that went to Frontier Days. You attended the rodeo, took pictures at the Indian Village, saw the Chuck Wagon Cook-Off, and walked along Outlaw Gulch. You even went to the carnival, the Buckin’-A Saloon, and a night concert, but you just didn’t have time to see the exhibits at the Old West Museum. Don’t worry, you can still make the short trip to Cheyenne and see the Old West Museum, as it is open all year.
The Old West Museum was founded in 1978 and it is rated as the number one year-round cultural tourism attraction in southeast Wyoming. The Old West Museum has also been rated as a “AAA Gem” attraction by the American Automobile Association.
The Museum is located on the east side of the Frontier Park grounds and has a fantastic collection of exhibits relating to the history and culture of Cheyenne, Cheyenne Frontier Days and the American West.
A special exhibit featuring the 100-year history between Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Hawaiian cowboy or Paniolo, is currently on display.
Roping was the core event in the early years of Cheyenne Frontier Days and from its beginning in 1897 to 1907 all the roping winners were local cowboys from within one hundred miles of Cheyenne. All that changed in July of 1908 when three Paniolos, Ikua Purdy, Archie Kaaua, and Jack Low came to Cheyenne with Angus McPhee. Angus was a member of the cattle ranching McPhee family from north of Cheyenne. He had been working on the famous Parker Ranch in Hawaii and brought the Hawaiians back to Wyoming to see how ranching was done in the West.
Steer roping as a working ranch skill hasn’t changed too much since the 1800s, and it is the same no matter where you live. A cowboy, working alone, has to bring down a sick or injured animal, tie and doctor it.
On the other hand, competitive steer roping has undergone some significant changes. For one thing, cowboys today don’t use rawhide ropes. But the biggest change is that in 1908 when Purdy and his fellow Hawaiians entered The World’s Steer Roping Contest held at Cheyenne Frontier Days, the length of the ‘score’ or head start the steer is given was 60 feet. Today, the ‘score’ used at Frontier Days is only 30 feet.
The Paniolos did very well and Ikua Purdy won the event by tying two steers in an average time of 50 seconds. Newspapers throughout Hawaii and the West heralded the Purdy win with banner headlines. That win put Hawaii on the map in ranching circles and made Cheyenne Frontier Days a mecca for rodeo contestants from all over the West.
The exhibition at the Old West Museum is a multimedia event which will take the viewer back 100 years to the time when destinies were born and legends were made. Using popular media of the era, artifacts, and educational programs on screens throughout the exhibit, visitors will learn more about the competition and how the Paniolo success fostered legends. There is also a large amount of information about Hawaii’s famous Parker Ranch, which was founded in 1847 and still going strong today.
Be sure a take a close look at the large boot in the center of the Museum. The boot measures 8 feet tall and 8 feet from the toe to the spur. It was painted by the renowned display artist Ross Lampshire of Loveland, Colorado. When the exhibit closes at the end of September, the boot will be crated up and shipped to Hawaii where it will be placed on exhibit by the Paniolo Preservation Society.
The Old West Museum is worth a visit anytime, but especially now when you have an opportunity to learn about the unique Paniolo culture and how it compares to the culture of the American Cowboy.
The Museum is located in Frontier Park at 4610 Carey Avenue, Cheyenne. For more information, please call (307) 778-7290 or visit their website at http://www.oldwestmuseum.org.