Historikitsch: The Buckhorn Museum’s Got It

I love history.  I love kitsch.  Lucky for me, downtown’s Buckhorn Museum has plenty of both.  On a recent rainy Sunday, my husband and I took Claudia (4) and Thomas (closing in on 2) there for an outing.  The pictures pretty much speak for themselves.

Native San Antonians may remember childhood visits to the Buckhorn Hall of Horns when it was located on the grounds of the old Lone Star Brewery.  Rest assured that the amazing taxidermy you remember endures in abundance.

photo (114)But there’s much more to enjoy. Since 2006, the Buckhorn also has been home to The Texas Ranger Museum, which features hundreds of authentic Texas Ranger artifacts, including badges, guns, a jail cell, and a replica of the 1934 Ford V8 deluxe that the infamous Bonnie & Clyde used as a getaway car.

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The museum’s badge collection contains 254 sherriff badges that represent each county in the State of Texas.  All of the badges were actually worn by the individuals whose department they represent.  The Austin Police Department badge was worn by Ramiro Martinez, who was instrumental in stopping Charles Whitman, the 1966 U.T. Sniper.

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Queen Victoria presented this Winchester Model 1876 caliber 50-95 rifle to Buffalo Bill Cody when he toured England in the 1880s.





Claudia got scared straight at the replica jail cells.  She was not amused when we tried to put various family members in lockup.

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I’m on record for having fallen hard for the romance of the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories, but the replica covered wagon gave me a new level of respect for the hardships the Ingalls family endured and had me second-guessing my fantasy family RV trip to the Grand Canyon.

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One of the best things about the Buckhorn is that it does not take itself too seriously.  It’s got tons of Texas kitsch, including a (totally real) chupacabra, a collection of furniture made out of hides and horns, a ceiling filled with antlers, and a huge collection of old-timey beer bottles.

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The collection of horns and antlers began in 1881 when 17-year old Buckhorn Saloon owner, Albert Friedrich, began accepting antlers and horns from hard-up customers in exchange for beer and whiskey.  Later, Albert’s wife, Emilie, began to accept jars of rattlesnake rattles in exchange for drinks.  She used the rattles to create works of art that are on display in the museum.

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Also on display is a cherub mirror that originally was commissioned for the Russian royal family in 1790.  Together with its Lebanese cedar frame, the mirror stands over seven feet tall.[hr]

Recently, the Buckhorn added Dr. Phineas Phiasco’s “menagerie of mysterious and mind-boggling phenomena.”  The exhibit includes a number of optical and other illusions that challenge viewers’ senses.photo (30)photo (24)


The exhibit includes a topsy-turvy house in which water seems to flow (and balls seem to roll) uphill, and visitors are able to balance on a wall-mounted chair that appears to be tipped at a precarious angle.

The crazy angles inside the house will a bit disconcerting for poor Thomas.

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photo (3y2)He eventually came around, though, and enjoyed seeing Tinkerbell.

photo (8936)We concluded our trip with a pass through the hall of funny mirrors.[hr]

The Buckhorn Museum is located downtown at the corner of Houston and Presa Streets, two blocks from the Alamo.  It opens at 10am, 365 days a year.  The on-site café, which leans heavily towards burgers and has a full bar, opens at 11am daily.

The Buckhorn is a great family outing.  My little ones had fun, and I think a lot of the exhibits would have even more appeal to older children.  The content is unusual and informative enough that adults can learn from and enjoy the visit on its own merits, not just as a kid-activity.  Best of all, it’s a great place to take out-of-town visitors to give them a flavor of the bold spirit of Texas.

Katy is a San Antonio native who spent seven years on the East Coast. She is back home now, married to her match.com sweetheart, rearing her children Claudia (5) and Thomas (3), and practicing tax law.


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