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World-class collection highlights Chisholm Trail Museum

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
March 17, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 16, 2011 at 10:17 p.m.

Travis Glidden, left, and his father, Dan Glidden, of Cuero, examine saddles from the Tinker Collection at a preview for the upcoming Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum exhibit featuring the entire Horsemen of the Americas Collection. After about seven years of negotiations, the museum has secured the collection, which includes 18th and 19th century saddles, spurs, clothing and other items from the United States, Mexico and South America. The exhibit is still being designed and no opening date is currently set.

Visitors moved slowly around the exhibits - saddles, spurs, stirrups and more - often with exclamations punctuating examination of a particularly eye-catching piece.


That was the phrase heard most often to describe samples of the Horsemen of the Americas - Tinker Collection that was recently on display for a special viewing at a membership party at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero.

"This is only about maybe 10 percent of the collection," said Robert Oliver, museum board president.

The sampling of saddles on display included one used in the original "The Alamo" movie starring John Wayne, Oliver said.

The complete collection consists of more than 900 objects and artifacts from the United States, Mexico and South America. It includes costumes, personal items, clothing, saddles, bridles, stirrups, spurs, and other ranching and horse-related gear.

Victorian Joyce Raiman, a self-proclaimed transplanted "Northener," attended the sneak preview and was impressed.

"To have a collection like that is absolutely fabulous," she said. "It's unbelievable. I had never seen some of those things in person before. The craftsmanship on some of the leather work is simply outstanding."

Raiman also lauded the overall concept of the museum including the historic building.

"I am fascinated by the story of the Chisholm Trail," she said. "People should be seeing and understanding what happened here."

The museum, in the Knights of Pythias building at 302 N. Esplanade St., which is not scheduled to officially open for at least another couple of years, will house the Tinker Collection on permanent loan from the University of Texas at Austin.

Negotiations to obtain the collection took about seven years, Oliver said.

The Cuero museum obtaining the collection has not gone unnoticed.

"The Tinker Collection is the most significant collection of cowboy gear in the United States, representing traditions not only of North American cowboys but of the horsemen of Mexico and South America," said Lonn Taylor, retired Smithsonian historian at the National Museum of American History.

"The fact that the University of Texas has entrusted the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum in Cuero with this collection is an overwhelming vote of confidence for the Museum. The Tinker Collection's presence will make Cuero and the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum an international center for the study and appreciation of horsemen of the Americas."


An author and philanthropist, Edward Larocque Tinker (1881-1968) became keenly interested in international relations, particularly between the United States and its neighbors in Central and South America.

Tinker became deeply impressed by the fundamental likeness between the cattle-horsemen of this hemisphere, which included the gaucho of Argentina and Uruguay, the huasso of Chile, the chalan of Peru, the gaoucho of Brazil, the llanero of Venezuela, the vaquero of Mexico, and the cowboy of the United States and Canada.

Tinker amassed the collection with the idea that, "it might, by materializing a striking international similarity, fire the imaginations of the succeeding generations to learn more about their neighbors to the South," according to the museum website.

"This is a fabled collection that you really can't put a value on, multi-million dollar for sure," said design consultant Drew Patterson. "It's a fabulous collection."

Donated to the University of Texas in the late 1960s, the collection had been in storage for decades, and it has never been exhibited in its entirety, said Patterson.

"This is a collection that the Smithsonian, any institution around the nation, would be thrilled to get. It's stunning. It's world-class. The artifacts are dazzling to look at. It's a real thrill to get to work with it and it's a great lead-in to the story being told here."


The museum will, of course, include more than the Tinker Collection.

"Unless we developed a project that was sizeable in magnitude and importance, it really wasn't worth pursuing at all," Oliver said.

Interpretive exhibits will enhance the role of the Texas cowboy in American society.

"The assets we have to work with are tremendous," said Patterson. "It's about cattle, it's about the development of ranching. It's an important time in Texas history."

Patterson emphasized that the Chisholm Trail does indeed have its origins in Cuero.

"I like to think of it like a tree. It did come to a head north of town here. It's well documented. That's where it shaped up and formed up as a trail," he said.

From the history of the Texas cowboy and the Longhorn come the time-honored lessons of hard work, individual self-determination and the pioneer spirit; ideals still meaningful and relevant today, according to the museum's website.



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