The National Ranching Heritage Center


Have you ever had a place you wanted to visit so badly? I have had plenty. One of them is the National Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock, Texas. But finally two weeks ago a friend and I visited there. I had wanted to go see it ever since I moved to this area over a year ago. I finally made it and I wasn’t disappointed.

For those of you who haven’t heard of this extraordinary museum, it began in 1970 after a group of people decided to try to preserve slices of history and depict the evolution of ranching life in the state at the same time. A multitude of historical structures were falling into disrepair and ruin and needed to be preserved. Members from the center traveled all over Texas to see which structures they could acquire and bring to the 30 acre site set aside by the Texas Tech University. The first of their acquisitions were a dugout, blacksmith shop, two windmills, and a carriage house.

Currently there are 35 authentic, furnished or outfitted structures depicting ranch life from the 1700’s when we were under Spanish rule all the way up to the 1900’s.

I’ve never seen a museum like this. It was simply amazing to be able to touch the structures built by tough, determined men and women and get a sense of what life was like in those early years. It was like strolling through history.

Especially of interest to note is that the landscaping around each display accurately shows the landscape in the place where each building came from. And when restoration is called for, materials are taken from the same area as the building.

The oldest building is called Los Corralitos and was originally built in 1780 by Don José Fernando Vidaurri. Evidence suggests that it may be the earliest standing ranch structure in the state of Texas. You’ll notice it has no windows and only one door with plenty of gunsights built in the thick walls. That was for protection against invaders. All of the cooking was done outside. This is the first dwelling you see as you start walking the path through the outdoor museum.

The next building we came to was called the El Capote Cabin (c. 1838.) The cabin existed under the governance of three flags: the Republic of Texas, The U.S. of America, and the Confederate States of America. Square-headed, hand-made nails held the cabin together. Leather patches hinged the doors and rope was used for a door handle. The first owner was a French captain in the American Revolution. It was also owned by Theodore Roosevelt and his wife at one time, although they probably never lived in it. The last people to occupy it were probably cowboys who used it as a bunkhouse.

The Matador half-dugout, built in 1888, is situated into an embankment with the only door facing southeast to catch breezes in summer and protect the cowboy from cold weather in the winter. Families didn’t live long in dugouts. They moved out soon as more conventional homes could be built. But even then, the dugouts served as bunkhouses or outposts for cowboys and they could prove to be a lonely place. Few men looked forward to months of solitude stuck in the middle of nowhere.

This next building is the Waggoner Ranch commissary (c. 1870’s.) I found it really interesting that ranches of any size, especially if they were a quite a ways from town, had their own commissary, blacksmith, and windmill man. This building is constructed of rock and wood. It held supplies needed by the ranch cowboys. Very convenient and saved long trips into town.

One of the most amazing pieces of information at the Heritage Center is learning about the different materials used to construct the different buildings. It demonstrates just how adaptable the frontiersmen and settlers were. They had to be ingenious an use whatever they could find when they decided to fashion a dwelling. Where he could find trees he built a log cabin. In hill country, he used river rock and stones. On the flat plains, he simply dug a hole in the ground and put a roof over it. But sometimes he had to really use his wits. In far West Texas there are no trees, no rocks, and the land is sandy so that left only one thing to make a home out of-the yucca-like sotol plant. That’s what this next house is fashioned from.

It’s called the Picket and Sotol House. It was built in 1904 by sheep and goat raisers along the Texas-Mexico border. The thatched roof is made from grasses and had to be continually replaced due to the harsh desert climate.

The last house I’ll tell you about proves a stark contrast to the simple bare dwellings that were so common on the frontier. This is called the Barton House and it was very fancy and luxurious for its day. It was built in 1909 by Joseph Barton. He owned the TL Ranch. He tried to start a town called Bartonsite but when the railroad bypassed him it killed the fledgling town. Everyone up and moved away. His dream died. Standing and looking at the house, I could just feel his deep overwhelming sadness. The house is so beautiful and stands as a testament to the kind of hopes and dreams these settlers had.

I wish I had room to tell you about all of the other buildings but maybe I’ll do some more another time. Each of the structures have so many interesting stories. There was Leanna Jowell who almost lost her life while her husband was away on a cattle drive. She trusted her nagging uneasy feeling, grabbed up her baby and rode hard to a neighbor’s house, barely escaping with her life. When she returned, she found her home burned to the ground. When her husband returned he built a house of solid stone with no windows. It only  had a door.

And then there’s John Bunyan Slaughter, owner of the U Lazy S Ranch, who weathered numerous adversities, including prolonged droughts and severe blizzards that killed thousands of his cattle. He died in 1928 after spending the entire day riding in a roundup. He died the following morning. They had his funeral at the big ranch house and folks descended in droves to pay their last respects.

Anyway, this is but a scratching of the surface of all that comprises the National Ranching Heritage Center. If you ever get a chance to come to Lubbock, make plans to tour the facility.

Maybe you have something similar in your area. Do you like to visit places like this and stroll through history?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

31 thoughts on “The National Ranching Heritage Center”

  1. What a thrill to see these pieces of real history, Linda. You can just imagine the stories that took place within these walls. Being there would give me goose bumps.
    Here in Utah we have many historic spots, including an old stone fort near where I grew up. But nothing to compare to this. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Williamsburg, VA. We have always loved historical architecture.

    I was thrilled when we went to Louisa May Alcott’s home. Hope some day to do the tour of all the places mentioned in the Little House books.

    But this ranch museum beats all…to have a whole time line in one location! Fantastic. I am adding to my future visits list!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Peace, Julie

  3. Linda, what an interesting post! I’m so glad you shared your visit with everyone. As you know, I didn’t get to make the trip, but am plannin’ on draggin’ you back out for it soon, along with a couple of writers from the Panhandle. It’s such a wonderful exhibit and museum, so I’m really lookin’ forward to visiting it. See you tomorrow, and travel save. Love, P

  4. This is exactly the type of place we visit whenever we travel. On our trip to Oklahoma and Texas last year we visited two such sites in Oklahoma: The Cherokee Heritage Center and the Har-Ber Village in Grove. We discovered there is a lot more of Texas we need to see and this will be on our list.
    There are several such museums within 100 miles or so of us. Haven’t been yet, but will. Of course there is Williamsburg, VA and other restored and preserved areas, which we have visited over the past 40 years.
    Thanks for an interesting post, as always.

  5. What an interesting place. The photos make me want to go exploring! The Texas Department of Tourism should put you Texas girls on their payroll. Every time one of you writes about Texas, I add a new location to the list of places I need to visit. 🙂
    Linda, do you know whether Leanna Jowell’s home was destoyed by prairie fire, Indian raid, or household accident?

  6. I’m like you, Linda. I’ve been longing to visit the NRHC and just haven’t done it yet. My 12 year old daughter and I are thinking about taking a trip up there one weekend. It looks like a fabulous place. I fell in love with it just from the website. Thanks for lighting the fire under me again!

  7. Hi Elizabeth…….glad you liked my blog. I’d love to see that old stone fort that’s near where you grew up. Bet that’s neat. There’s nothing like visiting places that evoke your imagination.

    By the way, my copy of Christmas Moon finally arrived yesterday. I cannot wait to read it.

  8. Hi Julie…….thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my subject today. Sounds like you’re a woman after my own heart. We both love going to places that hurl us back in time. That’s exactly the way I felt when I strolled through these old buildings. And the museum people really went to extra lengths to recreate the interiors exactly as it must’ve looked.

    Keep looking for new places to visit. I’m so envious that you saw Louisa Mae Alcott’s home. That must’ve been really special.

    Hope you do make it to the Ranching Heritage Center here. You won’t regret it.

  9. Morning Phyliss……..I hope that today’s post really spurs you on to come see the Heritage Center. And by all means, bring as many Amarillo ladies as you can. The more the merrier. I’m looking forward to visiting the Center again. Just name the date.

    Thanks for the good wishes about my trip tomorrow. I promise to take my time and keep an eye out for crazy drivers. Can’t wait to see you.

    Wishing you lots of luck with your Christmas novella!

  10. Hi Patricia B………thanks for coming by to leave a comment. Yes, there are so many interesting places in the U.S. to see. And Texas has a lot, but then it’s a huge state. My brother recently drove from Houston and it took him ten hours and he never left the state. Anyway, I’ll be thrilled for you if you get to come to see the Heritage Museum. It is something else. I’m happy I could tell you about this wonderful place.

    Have a great day!

  11. Hi Judy H………glad you enjoyed my blog. I had to laugh about the comment that the tourism bureau should put us Texas girls on the payroll. I might have to mention that to them. We certainly do try to get people to visit the state because we’re so darn proud of what we have to offer tourists. Glad you’ve added the Heritage Center to your list of places of visit.

    To answer your question about Leanna Jowell’s home that burned…it was an Indian attack. She barely escaped with her and her baby’s lives. It so scared her husband that he constructed a fort-like house. He never wanted that to happen again.

    Hope your day is full of lots of interesting things!

  12. Hi Karen……..I hope you and your daughter can come to visit the Ranching Heritage Center. The pictures don’t do it justice. To me, it’s such an intriguing museum. And it’s not all that far from where you live. You can do it, girl!

    I bought a copy of “Head in the Clouds” but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s calling me though. I know it’ll be great.

    Take care and keep writing!

  13. Hi Linda,
    Thanks for the tip. I made it here to comment. So glad to hear the Matador dug-out is from the Matador Ranch in Matador, Texas. My grandfather probably worked for that ranch at one time. He was a cowboy in his youth. We still have his silver spurs and lots of stories about his cattle drives to Colorado. Thanks for the great article and the memory reminder!

  14. Thannks for these pictures, Linda. I think we forget just how rustic things were back then. I liked the little house with the overhang roof, I might do that on a bunkhouse someday. I’ve seen that before in old pictures but never think of it when I’m writing.

  15. I like the way they’re all (or almost all) right flat on the ground. One had a threshhold. But I’ll bet they’ve got dirt floors, if it rains the water would just flow right in. The more I stare, the more I see.

  16. Oh Linda, what a terrific blob and pictures. I dearly want to go here! I personally was desperate to visit Texas, and a real ranch, which I did get to do a few months ago. I love visiting historical sites…we have some pretty close. We watch a funky show called California’s Gold hosted by a dorky but cute guy named Huell Howser and he visits wonderful historic out of the way places.

    I love this museum! oxox

  17. Linda, Great blog! Thanks for taking me with you to the Ranching Heritage Center. It was a great place.I have lived in the Lubbock area always and with your encouragement made my first trip to the buildings at the RHC. I am looking forward to going with you on more day trips.

  18. Hi Tanya Stowe……thanks for dropping by to visit. We’re really looking forward to having you guest blog here tomorrow.

    How neat that your grandfather probably once worked for the Matador Ranch! That’s too cool. Hope you hang onto those silver spurs. You’re going to come back and visit Matador one day. Bet it hasn’t changed much from when your grandfather and mother once lived there. You have a rich heritage.

  19. Hi Mary…….glad you enjoyed my blog today. I’m trying to entice people to come see this museum for themselves. It’s really quite amazing what they’ve done. And you’re right about the dirt floors. A lot of those structures do have dirt floors. I never thought of it before but you’re probably right about when it rains it runs in. It was also very difficult to keep snakes and scorpions and those things out. In one of the bunkhouses that were there they told about how tons of snakes came out when they lit the fireplace the first time in the winter. Cowboys would stand back with their guns drawn and start shooting. The stories and little tidbits about each structure were so interesting. I’m going to try to remember some of these little details and put them in a story.

    Have an inspiring day!

  20. Hi Lyn…….thanks for coming by. It’s always a pleasure to see you here. Glad you found my blog interesting. Hey, next time you come to West Texas you’re going to have to stop at the Ranching Heritage Museum. It sure takes you back in time. The house made of yucca was really neat. The picture doesn’t do it justice. I’m so amazed at the resilency of the frontier settlers. They could make a house out of just about anything.

    Hope your writing is going well!

  21. Hi Tanya H…….glad my blog caught your interest. I could talk about the Heritage Museum all day. The next time you come to Texas maybe you can come this way and see it for yourself. And we could get together for some lunch or something. I’d love to meet you in person, my Filly sister.

    You’ve done some really neat things. The trip to the ranch in Bandera, TX and the wagon train experience in the Tetons. You sure know how to have fun and broaden your horizons.

    Wishing you lots of success with your writing!

  22. Hi Tretha…….wow, you made it! I’m so glad you left a comment. Thank you so much for going with me that day we went to the RHC. We had so much fun. Thank you for buying lunch. I’m glad to have someone to do these with me. Hopefully, we’ll do lots more. There’s still the windmill museum and the tractor museum. So many places to go and so little time. But we do our best. Hey, maybe we can go back to for the Christmas candlelight tour at the Heritage Center. That would be neat.

    Thank you so much for your friendship!

  23. I’m a bit late today. Loved the pictures of the old ranches. We have some like that in the Sierra back country where the cattle were spread during the summer months. And dirt floors. Varmits burrowing up by the wood cooking stove. and mice galore. Once the shock and turning stomach are over you can get used to it. They made them on the ground because there was no plumbing to make a foundation for. When you see some of the homes in the Ozarks or Eastern mountains that are right on the ground you start looking for the outhouse.
    No plumbing. Our Eastern Sierra Museum has an outside area of old ‘local’ buildings moved there to preserve them. It is called “Pioneer Village” and is a lot of fun to visit.

  24. Hi Mary J……..better late than never I always say. I’m so glad you took a minute to stop by. And I’m glad you found my blog of interest. It’s hard to imagine any house these days having no plumbing. I’d hate to have to use an outhouse. Yuck! I remember the smell of those from when I was a kid. And there were always lots of spiders in them. Made going to the bathroom not for the faint of heart. I’d love to see your Eastern Sierra Museum. That would be right up my alley. I’d have so much fun visiting Pioneer Village. I think it’s wonderful that people are preserving things and places from our past. It’s a great learning tool for children.

    Have a good day and come back often!

  25. I would love to be able to visit this museum, but Texas is a long way from Oregon.
    Would also love to read more about this.

  26. Hi Estella…….Thanks for coming by. It’s always nice to see you here. Glad you enjoyed my blog today. Yes, the Heritage Center is quite something to see. But like you said, you live a long ways off. Who knows, maybe you’ll take a vacation and come here. We love having visitors. There’s lots to see and do here.

    If you want to read more about the NRHC here’s the link:

    Have a wonderful day!

  27. Hi Margaret…….I’m glad you enjoyed reading about this unique museum. It is something to see. At Christmas time they have people in costume in the different houses. It’s really neat. Just hope your bucket list doesn’t too awfully long.

    I just finished reading A Suitor For Jenny and loved it! It was so funny in places. That Hank Applegate was a real hoot. And I loved Jenny and Rhett. Can’t wait for your next one now.

  28. Hi Linda,
    I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post and the pictures. I didn’t know this place existed! What a great topic for a post. Awesome, as always!
    Cheryl P.

  29. Thank you for the photos, Linda. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to Texas, but if I do, this Ranching Heritage Center will be on my list of things to see. The building materials used are ingenious.

    Anita Mae.

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