Step out of modern times and into the Wild West without even leaving Wichita’s city limits. Old Cowtown Museum is a living history museum allowing guests to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and activities common to a typical Midwestern cattle town. There is no other museum like Old Cowtown Museum in the country.
Old Cowtown Museum was established in 1952 as one of the oldest open-air history museums with more than 50 historic and re-created buildings sitting along the original Chisholm Trail.
Wichita had its first early settlers in 1864 as trader Jesse Chisholm set up a trading post. The city was founded in 1868 by four businessmen and then incorporated as a city in 1870.
When the cattle drive was at its peak, Wichita became a railhead for trade routes and was given the nickname “Cowtown.” The Historic Delano District was a popular place for visiting cattlemen, and had the reputation of lawlessness because of its rowdy saloons and brothels. As the railroads extended south and west, Wichita lost the railhead for cattle drives and the rowdy cowboys dispersed.
Old Cowtown Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the highest national recognition level for museums. Only 3 percent of all museums have this accreditation.
Old Cowtown Experience
Step off the pavement and onto dirt roads as you’re transported back in time to the 1860s. With Old Cowtown Museum’s 10,000-piece permanent collection, visitors can look at authentic textiles, furnishings, furniture, tools and art of the 19th century.
The museum focuses on telling the story of Wichita’s transformation from a simple settlement to a booming cattle town before it evolved into an agricultural and manufacturing hub.
You won’t believe your eyes when you meet and interact with costumed interpreters re-enacting the traditions and lifestyles of Wichitans in the days of the Chisholm Trail. Keep your eye out for several live animals, including Percheron horses, a Durham milk cow, sheep, a goat and chickens.
Children will have a blast with hands-on activities, educational programming and interaction with the actors who answer any question the crowd might have. Plus, stop into the saloon for an ice-cold sarsaparilla, or witness a re-enacted gun fight erupt in the street!
Groups of 10-25 people can get involved in a History Immersion Experience by encountering three of the city’s earliest residents, who will tell of their lives and struggles during the days of entrepreneurial development in Wichita. In about 90 minutes, get your questions answered and find a new appreciation for this former bustling cattle town.
With historic structures decorated just like it would be back in the 1860s and 1870s, take a trip through the olden days as you experience exactly what it was like right before electricity and running water.
Of the 54 historic buildings, 27 are originals and have been relocated to Old Cowtown Museum from other places. From old farmhouses to a 16-by-18-foot jailhouse made with 6-inch walls, the authentic buildings will give you chills as you walk where so many in history have walked before.
Cowtown in Film
Old Cowtown Museum is not only a gem sitting in the middle of Wichita; it also has movie credits, as it has been used as a backdrop in a handful of movies with western scenes. Here are the movies in which you can see Cowtown make an appearance:
“The Bender Claim” – filmed in 2013
“Bloody Dawn” – filmed in 2006
“Midnight Shanghai” – filmed in 2016
“The Only Good Indian” – filmed in 2007
“Road to Valhalla” – filmed in 2013
“Skylark” – filmed in 1992
“Touched by Fire” – filmed in 2004
“Wichita” – filmed in 2013
For more information on historical excursions and museums in Wichita, click here.