Residents, celebrities turn out at grand opening

Nathan Thompson
Barnsdall’s own Allie Baker, Miss Oklahoma Rodeo Teen, sings the National Anthem on June 11 during the opening of the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum in Pawhuska. Nathan Thompson/Journal-Capital

A large crowd gathered June 11 at Sixth Street and Leahy Avenue in downtown Pawhuska to celebrate the grand opening of Osage County’s latest attraction, the Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum.

Barnsdall’s own Allie Baker, the reigning Miss Oklahoma Rodeo Teen, started the evening out with a stirring a cappella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Pake McEntire, eldest brother of Reba McEntire, provided some toe-stomping country tunes and stories of the cowboy way of life, as the crowd enjoyed barbecue cooking and plenty of beverages.

Pawhuska Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joni Nash took the stage to read a cowboy poem in recognition of the historic day.

Legendary actor Buck Taylor of Gunsmoke, Tombstone, Rough Riders and Yellowstone fame entertained by telling some of his favorite memories of working with Ben “Son” Johnson, Jr. in television and motion pictures.

Museum curator Cody Garnett said the 7,500 square-foot museum recognizes all the great cowboys and ranchers of Osage County. He called up several ranching families and world-champion cowboys to the stage for a generous round of applause from those gathered at the invitation-only party Tuesday.

“We have the absolute best ranches in the world, and that culture deserves to be recognized,” Garnett said.

Ben “Son” Johnson, Jr., was famous for raising his cowboy hat in many photographs taken of him. Prior to opening the new museum for those in attendance June 11, the crowd raised their cowboy hats and hands in the air as a fitting tribute to Pawhuska’s favorite “Son.”

The museum opened to the public at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the following day, for a general grand opening. Thursday, the museum celebrated Ben “Son” Johnson, Jr.’s 101st birthday with birthday cake and a special gathering of the extended Johnson family.

Regular hours for Osage County’s newest attraction are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 918-287-9922.

For the uninitiated, Ben Johnson Sr. was a champion cowboy and his son, Ben Jr., was a champion cowboy and Hollywood motion picture actor.

Garnett said the preparation of the museum, which features the gear and exploits of champion cowboys and cowgirls from Osage County, has been continuing at a furious pace even as the opening day has come closer and closer. New material was still being added just last week about various honorees.

“We’ve had Ben Johnson fans from all over the country contact us,” Garnett said. “I just can’t wait to see the possibilities.”

Among the museum displays are photos from past editions of the Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping competition, and lists of past winners. The steer roping, which was held on Father’s Day, honors the memory of Ben Johnson Sr., who died of cancer. Proceeds are used to make charitable donations to the cause of fighting cancer.