Rodeo time in Oakdale is also anniversary time at the Oakdale Cowboy Museum. It was the second week in April 1996, when Chamber of Commerce staff and volunteers invited merchants, and members of our community to celebrate the grand opening of the Museum by hosting a Chamber Rodeo Mixer. After all it was during a planning meeting of the Chamber Board of Directors that the idea to create an institution that would celebrate our unique western history was born. The City of Oakdale agreed to lease 500 square feet of space in the historic Southern Pacific Railroad Building to hold a collection of ranching items, photos and memorabilia from our local ranchers and Champion Rodeo Cowboys.
At the end of 1997, the Cowboy Museum had filed for their non-profit status, created bylaws and a fifteen member board of directors was formed. Local Realtor Sonja Herndon was Board President and “wrangled” support from other members of the community to serve on the board as well. The group coordinated one of their first events as a dinner and auction fundraiser that included movie actor and cowboy favorite Wilford Brimley as the guest speaker. It was a sell out event with about 150 people in attendance at the old Gene Bianchi Community Center, which is now part of the Oakdale Police Department.
After several successful fundraisers, the Cowboy Museum was able to purchase the old train depot from the City of Oakdale in 2002. The collection could now be separated into two rooms which included a ranching gallery and a rodeo gallery. Stories about the early pioneers driving cattle from the foothills to corrals located south of the train station were shared with visitors that were standing in the waiting room of the depot that still has the original benches. Inquires of ranching tools and branding irons were also discussed. And a rodeo cowboy history that originated the “Cowboy Capital of the World” slogan was told with pride and joy.
“Today, the Cowboy Museum is every bit of the vision I had,” said Herndon.
The Museum holds five events annually, awards $4,000 in annual scholarships and supports organizations such as the Nor Cal Junior Rodeo Association and the District 5 High School Rodeo Association. Museum staff also visit local and county schools and presents an interactive “Cowboy 101” lesson.
Rodeo time also kicks off the first fundraiser for the Cowboy Museum which is an event co-sponsored with the Oakdale Rotary Club fondly known as the Oakdale Testicle Festival. This event has drawn national attention to Oakdale by late night comedians such as Jay Leno and David Letterman. It was also selected as one of the top 10 events in the West by American Cowboy Magazine. But the “hottest ticket in town” probably goes to the Cowgirl Luncheon which is held the Wednesday before the rodeo. Tickets go on sale about two months in advance and this year were sold out in less than four hours. That’s 464 tickets! What’s the draw, you ask? Well, the local rodeo cowboys and ranchers from Oakdale, Escalon and other neighboring communities are the servers. And what lady doesn’t like a cowboy?
This April during our Annual Cowboy Museum/Chamber Mixer and Rodeo Queen Coronation on Thursday, April 12, we’ll not only be celebrating our 16th Anniversary but a long awaited expansion as well. The Museum is going through a major renovation which will include an interior and exterior restoration. The community is invited to stop by and see our progress.
Christie Camarillo is Executive Director of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, which includes displays and memorabilia from throughout the region regarding the ‘Cowboy Way of Life.’ Look for more community interest columns in this spot in the weeks ahead.