By Worcester P. Bong
Back in 1955, due to the notoriety of the “World’s Oldest Rodeo,” Prescott was one of the top ten western cities under consideration for the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum.
The idea for a National Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum originated in the early 1950s. Chester Arthur Reynolds, a Kansas City, Missouri native and once the President of Lee Jeans, founded the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, now the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Reynolds was concerned about what he considered the nation's loss of a Western heritage. Patterned after the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, his idea was to create a museum that would honor the men and women who settled the American West. He envisioned a museum that would represent seventeen western states; the board of directors would include a representative from each of these states.
In January 1955, Prescott’s Chamber of Commerce announced its support for a National Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum in Prescott. As quoted in the January 21st edition of the Prescott Evening Courier, Chamber President Earl Meyer said, “If there is to be a National Cowboy Hall of Fame, there is only one place for it. Prescott gave birth to the first official rodeo and records prove it.” During their annual convention in Yuma in February, the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association adopted a resolution designating Prescott as the logical museum site. Unanimous support also came from Prescott’s civic, service and fraternal groups. The Prescott Hall of Fame committee submitted Prescott’s application to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame site selection committee on February 28, 1955.
The March 2, 1955, Prescott Evening Courier announced that Prescott was selected in the top ten from forty-six cities that had applied. Other cities selected were Canyon, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Dodge City, Kansas; Las Vegas, New Mexico; Miles City, Montana; North Platte, Nebraska; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Rapid City, South Dakota. Starting mid-March, the site selection committee toured each city. Five cities would be chosen and given one more opportunity to present their reasons to become the permanent museum site. The Prescott Hall of Fame committee announced they would show three potential sites: two near the airport and one north of Watson Lake. The tour would also visit the Sharlot Hall Museum, the proposed temporary site while the permanent Hall of Fame Museum was being built.
On the afternoon of Monday, March 14th, the site selection committee arrived at the Prescott airport. Governor Ernest W. McFarland and a large contingent of dignitaries from Prescott, Yavapai County and southern Arizona met the committee. A tour of the three sites commenced. They also visited the Sharlot Hall Museum, the Governor’s Mansion, Whiskey Row and St. Michael’s Hotel. A dinner and program at the Sheriff’s Posse Clubhouse concluded the tour.
The unfortunate news was announced in the March 24, 1955, Prescott Evening Courier. The headline read “Prescott Loses Out as Museum Site”. The site selection committee had announced that only three cities would be recommended for the permanent location. These cities were Colorado Springs, Dodge City and Oklahoma City. Although Prescott and Cheyenne filed protests noting that originally five cities were to be considered, no further consideration was given.
Since opening on July 26, 1965, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City remains a nationally recognized cultural institution devoted to preserving the heritage of the American West.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at email@example.com for information or assistance with photo requests.