More cowboy memorabilia than you can poke a branding iron at
Cowboys aren't really my thing but it's hot outside and I have time to kill so I take refuge in Craig's Museum of Northwest Colorado.
The man at the front desk looks surprised to see me. He is Bill Mackin, a well-known name in the world of western memorabilia. He gives me a run down on the museum's layout and points skyward to the cowboy and gunfighter room upstairs. The items up there, he says, he collected himself.
And what a collection it is. There are saddles that look and smell freshly polished. Chaps, hats, ropes, handcuffs, holsters, boots, spurs, clothes. Such elaborately carved leather, these ranchers and rustlers were a stylish bunch.
You can't have cowboys without guns and there are plenty of these too. Cabinet after cabinet of weapons. Knives, revolvers and other vintage firearms.
Someone was always shooting someone for something it seems.
I learn of handsome African American Isam Dart, the slave-turned-outlaw-turned-rancher, shot and killed by gun-for-hire Tom Horn. Horn later came after Ann Bassett, Queen of the Rustlers and love interest of Butch Cassidy, but didn't succeed.
My knowledge of cowboys has been limited to old movies so I am surprised to learn they weren't all white men.
More than cowboys The museum is more than cowboys though. Photographs of weather-beaten stockmen and settlers line the mezzanine walls. The ground floor and basement displays tell the story of Craig and Moffat County from the Ute people to today.
Household items, a reconstructed classroom and old surgical equipment that would make your eyes water. A shiny red fire engine, fossils and a history of Victory Highway. The road is one-way now and drivers had politely gotten out of my way when I accidentally drove the wrong direction down it a few hours ago.
There are dead things too, my favourite a couple of mule deer doing battle through a wire fence. The deer were found in 1966, frozen to death, their horns locked in combat. Turn of the century wildlife photographers Allen and Augusta Walliham are represented here too. Their images speak of how still and patient this husband and wife team must have been.
Housed in the old State Armory on Yampa Avenue, the museum is neat, the display cabinets gleam and its exhibits are free of dust.
I sign the visitor book and Bill Mackin tells me there used to be a lot of cowboy memorabilia collectors in Australia, where I am from. I tell him we have a similar history, his country and mine. I am happy I stumbled across this excellent museum and that Bill Mackin's collection has found a home here where it is cared for and loved.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado is free. But donate generously because this place is worth preserving.