The Best of the American West: the Autry Museum

5 minutes read

The Autry Museum in Griffith Park explores the western United States and its influence on our culture. Embrace the heritage of the Wild West and learn about its inclusive history, art, and culture.


A pinch of history

  • Jackie & Gene Autry and their friends Joanne & Monte Hale founded the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum (now the Autry museum In Griffith Park) in 1988.
  • The Autry encompasses today three campuses: the Autry Museum, the Resources Center of the Autry, and the Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus

Gene Autry, “America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy”

Gene Autry is a legend in the entertainment industry. Over 60 years of his career, he appeared in 93 motion pictures (from 1935 to 1953), made 640 recordings (he wrote or co-wrote more than 300), broadcasted Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch radio show for 16 years and the TV, Gene Autry Show, from 1950 to 1956!

Gene Autry

He is the only person honored with all FIVE stars on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. The five stars are Motion pictures, Music, Radio, Television, and Live performance.

Did you know?

“Gene Autry was the first artist to sell one million copies of a single record”

In addition to his career as an entertainer, Gene Autry was a successful businessman. He invested in real estate and media. He owned several hotels, television stations, and motion picture studios across the United States.

Did you know?

Gene Autry owned the Angels Major League Baseball team (now the Los Angeles Angels) from 1961 to 1998.

Communities of the American West

The museum highlights the different communities of the West and their lifestyle in the 1900s.

California was home to the largest number of different Native people. The picture below reflects the different groups with their unique language and culture.

Native people in California

Below are some artifacts from the permanent exhibit. Admire the clothing and saddle decorated with beadwork.

Temporary exhibits also highlight Native American artists and topics related to this community. One of the latest I saw was about the pipeline in North Dakota and the Standing Rock protests. As a reminder, the Dakota access pipeline threatens sacred land and menaces the environment.

Western extension, especially with the California Gold Rush attracted a lot of people worldwide. Besides, the development of transportation and communication lead to urban area extension and interaction with the West.

At the beginning of the 20e century, segregation by race, ethnicity, and religion was omnipresent.

Communities in the West – 1890

Life on the Wild West: Cowboy, Saloon, and firearms

Cowboy

Would you become a cowboy? A buffalo hunter? A lawman? Learn more about some iconic profession and their lifestyle back in 1885.

Did you know that cowboys earned between $0,81 to $1,30 per day (today that represents $22,33 to 34,24 per day)?

Did you know?

A cowman is referring to the owner of the cowherd while a cowboy is a novice cattle worker.

William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was an American soldier, buffalo hunter, and showman. He became a legend of Western entertainment creating Buffalo Bills West in 1883. His company performed American Old West shows worldwide.

James Butler Hickok, alias “Wild Bill” is another iconic figure of the West. Gunfighter, gambler, lawman, scout, and showman, Wild Bill’s reputation and fame spread after a show tour with Buffalo Bill and the Dime novel publication (see picture above).

Did you know?

Buffalo Bill was the first to mention the word cowgirl to refer to women athletes in rodeo. Later, cowgirl will include all women working in ranching.

Saloon

Saloons were a social and entertainment center in the West. They combined bar, restaurant, gambling, tobacco, liquor store, dance halls, and theaters.

Saloon

Did you know?

By the 1880s, companies specialized in “saloon outfits” and developed catalogs with a large variety of products (glassware, accessories, supplies, etc.).

Did you know?

In the 1880s, beer, one of the most popular drinks, was delivered by refrigerators railroad cars.

Firearms

The Greg Martin Colt Gallery exhibits some of the finest firearms from manufacturers like Colt, Winchester, and Remington. It highlights the role and impact of the weapons on the West. Observe also the evolution of technology and mass production over the different artifacts.

Among the historic and rare firearms, you will see President Roosevelt’s Winchester carbine.

Culture of the American West

The Wild West image has been influenced, romanticize, and soften by movies, TV, songs and radio.

Movies and TV shows

Early on, Western movie narratives tell a story of white people versus native American people, developing stereotypes and twisting history.

Also, Native American and women actors/actresses may not have received credit for their work (neither equal pay) in the major production as the example of stunt double actress Odille Dorothy Osborne.

Contemporary western discontinued most of the previous cliché of the West thanks to:

  • different viewpoints and perspectives
  • the emergence of strong, complex, and independent women, native Americans, and Afro Americans as lead characters and sidekicks.

Did you know?

Native Americans negotiated with the Studios to bring their families and livestock on the set. Sometimes, the Studio used them in the production (and they paid them)

What is a Western ?

Zorro, the Cisco kid, Thelma and Louise, Walker, Texas Ranger – to name a few – are western movies and TV shows. Western voices outlaw friends escaping and crossing the American West

Radio Westerns

On the Air! In the mid-20s, radio was a source of information and entertainment. Radio westerns like The Lone Ranger were popular programs. Below are some tricks that performers and producers used for sound effects like horses, gunfights, crickets, etc.

Radio Western sound effects

Music

The American “frontier” has been inspiring musicians from Pasty Montana to Michael Jackson.


Stage performance costume worn by Eddie Dean and Rex Allen

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, the “King of the Cowboys” and the “Queen of the West”, were a popular couple who teamed up in movies, television, and radio.

Did you know?

Pasty Montana (born Ruby Rose Blevins) was the first million-selling record by a female country-western singer with her song “I want to be a cowboy sweetheart” (1935)

Lifestyle

The American West has been influencing popular culture and lifestyle. Below are two examples: kids’ toys, and saddle outfits.

The Big Saddle is Edward H. Bohlin, the “saddlemaker to the stars”, masterpiece (14 years of work). The saddle detailed the life of the West with scenes including Native Americans, cowboys, and animals. The seventy-pounds saddle is silver, and gold made.


To conclude the exploration of the American West, stroll by the ethnobotanical garden and discover over 60 native California plant species.

The Ethnobotanical Garden

Article based on my visits in 2018 and 2019

Ready to explore the American West?



*COVD-19 update as of December 2020*

  1. The Autry Museum, store, and cafe are temporarily closed to the public.
  2. The Autry Museum is available online. Discover the current exhibitions, collections, and special installations.

Plan your visit:

  • Location: The Autry museum, 4700 Western heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA 90027-1462
  • Hours: To be determined when it will re-open.
  • Admission: $15 for adults. Free every second Tuesday of the month.
  • Duration: 3 hours
  • Parking: Free on-site lot
  • More information available at https://theautry.org/

If you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment and share it with a traveler visiting Los Angeles.

4 thoughts on “The Best of the American West: the Autry Museum

    1. Thank you Geri!

      I’m glad you appreciated it. I enjoyed discovering this museum: the “real” life in the America West, the past and present impact in our culture, and Gene Autry’s artistic career (I’m still impressed by his career as an entertainer).

      Happy Holidays!
      Marie

      Liked by 1 person

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