Although the need for a Ford County History Museum is listed in about eight places, the only direct statement about this plan is --
If the Ford County Historical Society is interested in adding a county museum, it would be wise to do a feasibility study and/or a long-range plan to determine appropriate funding strategies, location, and possible partners or cooperative ventures.
Note that no other addendum or section -- from a $18 million agro center to a multi-million dollar new Kansas Heritage Center -- lists this requirement for a feasibility study, nor does this statement stand with the many places in the master tourism study that call for a new museum. (Although the study does echo in many, many places my early suggestions to Heberling Associates -- in fact, every point shows up except the big one -- a plan for a Ford County History Museum. Gee, wish we had seen the draft of the plan.)
Museums in Dodge City & Ford County, Kansas
by George Laughead Jr.
Faced with major archives unseen, major donations ungiven, dropping tourism numbers, high levels of needed capital improvements in current facilities, and on-going operating costs, et al -- I wanted to think out loud (or out web, in this case) about what we might do to work together, solve major problems of finance and support, and grow back to having world-class Western Heritage archive and museum.
For tourism, this would work with the world class dirt race track, softball fields, and the Santa Fe Depot, truly world class of its type. For those that love movies and theatres, the Dodge Theater again fits into that level, and for house museum or Victorian house fans, the Mueller-Schmidt House represents much more than its true Old West heritage, and cattleman builder. Windthorst Church is another venue becoming known around the country, thanks to their work and PBS television. And Fort Dodge is still a living Old West fort. The bridle collection and the DC Roundup Rodeo are both on this list. We start with assets.
Why this matters -- local views are not in line with world interest in the Old West
It has become clear to me in the last few years that local views of the importance of our place in frontier, pioneer, Old West and American West history are not in line with the on-going and large interest that the rest of the world has in our history.
Among the millions of users each year on web sites that I'm involved with, most of the hits continue to be for Old West history. I get tens of thousands of users a month for sites related directly to Dodge City and Ford County, including the WWW-VL: American West history, Old West Kansas, and Dodge City history. There is no lack of interest, even if local viewpoints are not focused on this.
Fact: Ford County and Dodge City government giving to museums, et al, has been on an emergency basis, or in the case of the Mueller-Schmidt House Museum, a minimum amount to keep the facility open. We must see the combination of Why Not Dodge! money, county and city support, USD support, possible casino funds, coordination with CVB funds, and grants as necessary for the long term growth and protection of our history.
Fact: Among the collections owned by Boot Hill Museum, the Kansas Heritage Center, the Ford County Historical Society, Trail of Fame Inc., and others, we have a world class pioneer Old West, American West and Great Plains archive potential.
The Ford County Historical Society alone owns much, from business records and hand written notes of Dodge City founder, Robert Wright, to Josephine Earp's journals and an original carbon of Wyatt Earp and John Flood's book, to Dr. C. Robert Haywood's complete history library and research files (FCHS Haywood Collection -- on loan to the Kansas Heritage Center) and the Betty Braddock FCHS Photograph Collection -- the list of important items goes on and on.
The possible combining of all these into one modern facility under the staff of Kansas Heritage (protecting each group's ownership), would make us one of the stops necessary for research for magazine articles, books or movies on almost any topic of the American West, and especially on the Wild West of Dodge City and Southwest Kansas. It would protect all of these for the future.
Boot Hill Museum
Fact: Cost of both being an entertainment/retail tourist attraction and being an archive/museum is a major double burden. Possibility of lifting some of that cost and responsibility may be one answer to allowing Boot Hill to become more focused on different elements of the tourism industry, retail, entertainment, events. Possibilities might include the funding of the archive and curator costs through other funds than those raised by Boot Hill Museum Inc. I suggest that any decision has to keep Boot Hill Museum Inc. clearly involved and of primary importance.
Fact: Drawing all the most important artifacts into one modern designed small museum exhibition area would allow the best presentation of unique historical items, from Old West Wyatt Earp related artifacts to actual coverage of major events from Dust Bowl to hot rods, the WWII air base to the Great Arkansas River Flood, the Santa Fe Depot and Mexican Village -- events of high interest to the world but not covered in any local museum. (And, I believe, still all part of the American West, the Great Plains, the Wild West.)
Future artifact donations
Fact: Donors will open up gates of giving when the right modern and protect exhibition space is available. The donation of the most famous gun in the Old West is on hold, due to the lack of modern secure exhibit space. The Kansas State Historical Society has suggested that their world-class exhibits could come to Dodge City for viewing, given the right space. Time is an issue, too. Some major possible donors are aging, and might give their donation to other states and museums.
Submitted to Heberling Associates Inc., 2007
Dodge City/Ford County, KS, Master Tourism Plan On-line