Ox Bow May House Cowboy Hall Of Fame

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As the Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum starts to take shape in the minds of the committee members putting the project together, the historic Ox Bow Saloon remains in the running to become the attraction's home.

"We're looking at several options, but we're definitely still talking to the Ox Bow people," said Jeanne Westphal, co-chairman along with Phyllis Windle of the newly formed committee.

"The Ox Bow is a great old place," added Windle. "It has lots of space, and lots of character and history."

The committee has announced its intention to locate the new museum on historic Main Street if possible. "The building committee is determined to build or buy a home for the hall of fame and museum, preferably on Main Street," said Sharess Von Strauss, director of the Northern Gila County Historical Society, which will operate the new attraction.

The historical society, which also operates the Rim Country Museum at Green Valley Park, recently took over the project after a 7-year hiatus. Originally conceived by Terry Morris, director of the Payson Public Library, a number of complications had put the project on hold.

Now the society has acquired legal title to the name Arizona Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum. While other communities in Arizona have museums that highlight their local cowboy heritage, the Payson facility will be the only one to feature the cowboy heritage of the entire state.

As the search for a suitable location continues, the committee has begun defining what the new museum will and will not be.

At a recent meeting, the committee decided that cowboys who were not Arizona natives, but moved here from other states, could be recognized and presented. "Since so many of our ranching families came from other states, the committee determined that they, along with their heritage, would be included," said Von Strauss.

Another issue that has received considerable attention is how much the new museum should allocate to coverage of rodeos and rodeo cowboys. "We are talking about a cowboy hall of fame, not a rodeo hall of fame," said Von Strauss. "Not all cowboys are rodeo contenders, and not all rodeo contestants are cowboys."

The question, she explained is not only one of space allocation, but also how to present the museum so the public does not think it is "all rodeos."

In its preliminary discussions, the committee is leaning toward giving rodeo "a substantial portion of the physical presentation," and to also include the histories of the various locales around the state where rodeos are held.

Meanwhile, the historical research committee is preparing information packets for state legislators informing them of the new facility, and the Museum Association of Arizona and the Arizona Historical Society will be contacted to request their assistance in identifying and contacting ranching families throughout Arizona.

A statewide competition will also be held to choose a logo for the hall of fame and museum, with the Payson Art League providing professional input regarding its development and implementation.

Von Strauss recently completed a tour of halls of fame and cowboy museums in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, from which she formulated a number of questions for the committee to consider. These include whether cowboy art should should be part of the museum, what aspects of cowboy life should receive the most emphasis, and how cowboy interaction with Native Americans should be presented?

Then there is the issue of cowgirls. "Since cowboy is the official title, what about women?" Von Strauss asked.

As these and other questions get addressed at future meetings, the committee does know one thing that it will need extensive support to make the hall of fame and museum a reality. "We have to raise about $500,000, so we want to keep the community aware of our progress," Westphal said.

Fundraising events in the planning stages include a golf tournament in October and bringing traveling cowboy exhibits to the Rim country for special showings. "The Arizona Arts Commission has a whole list of traveling exhibits we're taking a look at," said Windle.

Committee members will also be on hand to explain the concept and answer questions at the 2001 Business Showcase April 20-21 at the old Wal-Mart parking lot.

Individuals who want to get involved can call Phyllis Windle at 468-8550.

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