The Place Where Cowboys Call Home

Author: C.L. Harmon
Category: Cowboys
Date Published: February 10, 2020

What do you get when you mix cow­boys, jail doors, guns, a Hol­ly­wood icon, and horse sad­dles togeth­er? If you’re think­ing block­buster west­ern, you would be wrong…well at least for this arti­cle you would be. For this com­pi­la­tion, you need to be think­ing muse­ums. And not some big city gath­er­ing place for such a col­lec­tion, but Oklahoma’s own lit­tle cor­ner of cow­boy his­to­ry nes­tled in a place where many of the great­est of the greats hail, Pawhuska.

It’s true, many of us think Hol­ly­wood when we think cow­boy. After all, it’s the birth­place of John Wayne’s Roost­ers Cog­burn, James Arness’ Matt Dil­lon, Clint Eastwood’s Josey Wales, and Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp. But most real cow­boys were born out of ranch­es in places like Pawhus­ka and did tricks with hors­es and ropes not guns. They ranched and they rode and they rodeo’d. It was their way of life from dusk till dawn and it was the well Hol­ly­wood dipped into when it need­ed a les­son about the real cow­boy way.

A cou­ple liv­ing in the small town of Pawhus­ka in Osage Coun­ty decid­ed a few years back that it was time to pro­vide a les­son to the rest of the world about one of the places that tru­ly is home to the cow­boy way. Hus­band and wife Cody and Lau­ren Gar­nett grew up that way. She, a native from Pawhus­ka and Cody a for­mer pro­fes­sion­al top 20 steer rop­er on the rodeo cir­cuit and busi­ness­man who sold steers to rodeos across the US in places like Pawhus­ka. Being that Pawhus­ka is the steer rop­ing cap­i­tal of the world, he found him­self there quite a lot and always con­sid­ered it his home­town. The fact that he met Lau­ren while at a rodeo there prob­a­bly made it seem even more like home.

To them, Pawhus­ka has as much or more cow­boy his­to­ry than places like Dodge City, Kansas, and Dead­wood, South Dako­ta that peo­ple often asso­ciate with the West when it comes to cow­boy history…and they’re prob­a­bly right con­sid­er­ing their Ben John­son Cow­boy Muse­um has been ranked the num­ber one new west­ern attrac­tion in the US and has been fea­tured in True West Mag­a­zine. This acco­lade already and the cou­ple only opened the doors last June.

“We want­ed to cel­e­brate our area’s west­ern her­itage and remind peo­ple of the great cow­boys and cow­girls who have come from here. We have need­ed some­thing like this in this area for a long time and it should have been done 50 years ago,” Cody said. The name of the muse­um, Ben John­son alone is enough to give it cre­dence as a bona fide part of west­ern her­itage. Osage Coun­ty is, of course, the birth­place of the 1953 World Cham­pi­on Team Rop­er and Acad­e­my Award win­ner. This is not to mention

John­son had a career in movies span­ning over 50 years work­ing with oth­er screen leg­ends to leave a lega­cy of the West most actors can only dream of. An accom­plish­ment such as this and so many more from those who trekked across Osage Coun­ty on hors­es com­pelled Cody and Lau­ren to “build it and they will come” type of attrac­tion. Turns out they have come, from all over the world Cody explained. But it’s not just Ben John­son exhibits and arti­facts from his career that peo­ple come to see. There is more…so much more.

Osage Coun­ty has pro­duced a world cham­pi­on in every area of equine sports from rodeo to polo, accord­ing to Cody. Think about that for a moment… a small piece of ground in rur­al Okla­homa has pro­duced a world cham­pi­on in every area of equine sports! That’s quite extra­or­di­nary. But as men­tioned, there is more. Just a few exhibits include fig­ures such as Tom­my Way­man who won six US Open Polo Cham­pi­onships, his uncle George Way­man who served nine terms as Osage Coun­ty Sher­iff and is the longest-serv­ing sher­iff in the coun­ty, var­i­ous west­ern artists and their works of art includ­ing cow­boy crafts­men, the 10-time world cham­pi­on quar­ter horse jock­ey G.R. Carter who became the all-time lead­ing earn­er in Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse Rac­ing his­to­ry in 2008, icon­ic ranch­es over 100 years in exis­tence and their his­to­ries, events such as Cav­al­cade, Rodeo, (the world’s largest ama­teur rodeo which is cel­e­brat­ing 75 years this year) and the 67th anniver­sary for the Ben John­son Memo­r­i­al Steer Rop­ing com­pe­ti­tion in hon­or of Ben Sr., a Grand Cham­pi­on Rop­er in 1922 and actor Ben Johnson’s father. It also hous­es the world’s largest col­lec­tion of cow­boy mem­o­ra­bil­ia includ­ing over 30 sad­dles from greats Like Bar­ton Carter who won the Steer Rop­er cham­pi­onship of the world at Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1925. And not to for­get, the world’s largest col­lec­tion of bronze sculp­ture art from famed bronze artist John D. Free among many oth­er exhibits from cow­boys and arti­sans from all over Osage County.

Inter­est­ing side notes about Bar­ton Carter: He and Will Rogers were friends and Carter once sold him his favorite horse named “Soap Suds”. Jock­ey, G.R., Carter’s grand­fa­ther, Alva (Red ) Carter sold his horse, “Boot­leg­ger”, to Rogers as well.

“My wife and I have a great pas­sion for the cow­boy way of life. And we felt that we need­ed to do some­thing to show the world all these grand cham­pi­ons, artists and ranch­ers in Osage Coun­ty. This is some­thing that we want to live on for­ev­er,” Cody said. Their pas­sion and belief that peo­ple would come if they built are begin­ning to pay off. They have gar­nered much atten­tion world­wide with arti­cles, vis­i­tors and great reviews. As such, they are con­tin­u­ing to build. In the works now is a media room com­plete with seat­ing to watch a Ben John­son doc­u­men­tary as well as oth­er films high­light­ing cow­boys from the area. In addi­tion, there will be a co-star/di­rec­tor exhib­it focus­ing on those who John­son worked with dur­ing his act­ing career. “When you’re in over 300 movies and tele­vi­sion shows, the list of peo­ple you work with is pret­ty damn impres­sive, Cody said. A quick Google search will pro­vide some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Also in the works, is a 2,000 square foot gift shop which will con­tain a west­ern art gallery where patrons can pur­chase art and relics. The art will come from west­ern artists all across Amer­i­ca as well as local arti­sans. This will be the “go-to” spot for any­thing you want that has to do with the west­ern way of life, Cody said.

Cody and Lau­ren spent over five years work­ing with the fam­i­lies of those who are memo­ri­al­ized in the muse­um obtain­ing pieces for the exhibits. In addi­tion, the cou­ple has spent count­less hours research­ing, com­pil­ing and orga­niz­ing to bring this col­lec­tion of arti­facts and infor­ma­tion to the pub­lic. They have had great sup­port from the John­son fam­i­ly and many friends and fans of their endeav­or who have gra­cious­ly donat­ed and/or loaned many of the arti­facts in the exhibits. Cody is also a col­lec­tor and has spent years acquir­ing many of the pieces on dis­play. One of his favorite pieces is the jail doors from the Indi­an Ter­ri­to­ry Jail that was torn down sev­er­al years ago.

Cody and Lau­ren Garnett

“In many ways, this muse­um felt like a call­ing. We had so many things that just came togeth­er.” Cody said. He explained that the way cer­tain arti­facts just made their way to the muse­um almost effort­less­ly and the sup­port of so many peo­ple in so many ways lets him know it was meant to be.

The muse­um is a walk into the past of west­ern Amer­i­ca and Indi­an ter­ri­to­ry. From the moment one walks through the doors, it is a jour­ney into a liv­ing his­to­ry that con­tin­ues grow­ing every day. And what sets it apart I think is the true desire from Cody and Lau­ren to not just pre­serve a his­tor­i­cal moment in time, but the impor­tance placed on the indi­vid­ual who lived in that moment…to remem­ber their names. There are famous peo­ple with­in the muse­um walls cer­tain­ly. But more than this, there are cow­boys, nor­mal every­day peo­ple rec­og­nized who cared not for fame but for the love of just being a cow­boy, a lover of hors­es and proud to hail from the prairies of Osage County.

Ben John­son Cow­boy Muse­um is locat­ed at 201 E. 6th Street. Pawhus­ka is also home to the Pio­neer Lady Mer­can­tile, Drum­mond Ranch and the Tall Grass Prairie where bison can be seen roam­ing freely among the prairie.


C.L. Harmon

C.L. Harmon

C.L. is an award-winning journalist who spent many years in the newspaper and freelance fields. In addition to holding reporting and editing positions throughout his career, he also owned and operated a newspaper for several years. He was born, raised, and continues to reside in Oklahoma.


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