One of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum’s most popular artifacts isn’t inside at all. The T Anchor Ranch Headquarters, the oldest surviving Anglo structure in the Panhandle, is located outside on the east lawn. The headquarters, moved to the museum in 1975, is used to teach visitors of all ages about the cowboy way.

The T Anchor Ranch began in the fall of 1877, when Charles Goodnight’s brothers-in-law Walter and Leigh Dyer and Samuel Coleman drove 400 head of cattle to the junction of two creeks just north of where Canyon, Texas, stands today. Using cedar logs hauled from Palo Duro Canyon, the buildings consist of a dog trot house with a kitchen, chow hall, office and sleeping quarters upstairs. It also features a blacksmith shop with authentic tools from the late 1800s, and an outhouse.

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“Cowboy Mike,” also known as our Curator of Art and Western Heritage, Michael R. Grauer, dresses in period appropriate cowboy clothing and discusses the origins of the Panhandle Cowboy. He talks about each item of clothing from the hat on his head to the spurs on his boots and discusses their origins in the Vaqueros of Mexico. Students learn first-hand what life was like for the cowboys at the T Anchor Ranch through discussions about food, rules, pay and even firearms.

Tour participants, especially students, are fascinated by the outhouse and the fact that folks had to leave their house, sometimes in the middle of the night, to use the restroom. Cowboy Mike talks about the critters that lived inside the outhouse and what they used for toilet paper, hint – it was a different kind of paper.

Once or twice a year, history students from West Texas A&M University help chink the blacksmith shop. Chinking, using a combination of hay, dirt and other material, fills the gaps between the logs of the cabin to weatherproof the inside. It gives the students a chance to relive and revive this part of pioneer history.

The T Anchor Ranch Headquarters is a large part of our interactive videoconferencing programs as well. Students from literally all over the world can connect with us live and hear the tales of T Anchor. We are able to move our video unit outside for this program and students can participate as if they were standing on the lawn with Cowboy Mike.

Part of our mission at PPHM is to collect, preserve and interpret the historical and cultural heritage of the Panhandle-Plains region of Texas and related areas of the Southwest. By using the T Anchor Ranch Headquarters as a teaching tool we are continuing the legacy of the Panhandle Cowboy.

How are you using outside spaces as key parts of your interpretation?

Elaina Cunningham is Education Coordinator at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.

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