Ranching continues today
Ranching has always been a big part of the economy and culture of central California. Started in the 1700’s when the Spanish drove the first cattle into the state, ranching continues today on thousands of ranches of throughout the state.
Poorly suited for irrigation and constrained by the state’s limited water resources, California’s dry hills abound with native grasses and provide an ideal range for cattle.
Because the state is dry so much of the year, ranches tend to be large with each head needing many acres to satisfy its grazing needs.
“Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Ranching life in California has generally followed the pattern of ranching life in other western states – with social gatherings centered around ranch work and competitions of skill – roundups, brandings, county fairs, and especially rodeos. Starting in the 1950’s, Oakdale began to establish itself as “Cowboy Capital of the World.” The town has a rich western heritage including not only the big rodeos of the last 60 years, but also a ranching history dating back to the 1850’s.
Oakdale Cowboy Museum
Much of this history is displayed and celebrated at the Oakdale Cowboy Museum. Located in downtown Oakdale’s old train station, the museum contains interesting collections of rodeo memorabilia, saddles, tack, ranching tools and implements, and historic photographs.
Permanent exhibits feature local cowboys who won big in the arena and local ranchers whose operations have been handed down from generation to generation since the early days of the county.
Although the museum isn’t especially large, there’s plenty to see and the volunteers on duty are helpful and knowledgeable. The first room contains permanent exhibits and a small gift shop.
The museum has published a number of books of local history that are available for purchase. The second room contains both permanent and temporary exhibits. The current temporary exhibit features the tools and techniques of saddle-making.
Other recent temporary exhibits have focused on the bronze cowboy sculptures of Jo Mora and the iconic stone fences and corrals of the local foothills.
The Oakdale Rodeo on the second weekend of April each year and the museum sponsors several special events annually. Check the museum’s website or call for more information.
The museum is open from 10AM to 2PM Monday through Saturday, except major holidays. If you are curious to learn more about the ranching and rodeo heritage of Central California, this is a great place to start.
No matter what your level of knowledge and/or experience with western lore, you’ll learn something here.
The cowboy statue in front of the museum is a popular backdrop for photos.
About an hour’s drive from many towns in Merced County, Oakdale is an easy stop on the way to Sonora, Columbia, or Jamestown.
For more information
or call (209) 847-7049.
The museum is located at 355 East F Street, in Oakdale, across from the historic H-B Saloon.