Be it film, poetry, literature or art, there is perhaps no period in time more romanticized than the American West, and the life of the cowboy.
Known as the last frontier, the West is filled with personalities and stories of one’s ability to overcome, survive and thrive with a lifestyle still prevalent today.
The western expansion of the 19th century provided opportunity, and challenges that created what would become the last truly American lifestyle, and it captures the imagination of people from all over the world. The curiosity in cowboy history is well known and a tourist industry built around it from such countries as diverse as Germany and China.
The ability to relate to something that is centuries old, or less, compared to millennia, is perhaps one of the attractions. In some ways western history seems like yesterday, kept alive through film and literature, western attire and lifestyles.
The other attraction is the characteristics that define the individuals who persevered and define a period in American history like none other.
From a historical standpoint, events such as the shootout at the O.K. Corral took place in 1881. Buckey O’Neill and the Rough Riders, Troop A — for which the statue on the north side of the courthouse plaza was erected — had their last stand on July 1, 1898, less than 125 years ago.
Interest in and the preservation of this heritage has been going on for years through museums and private collections.
Locally, Dennis Gallagher, founder and CEO of the Western Heritage Foundation, is one individual who has made it his mission to preserve history, stories and lifestyle of the American West.
Having completed his first career with Motorola, and later living a transcontinental life based in the Valley with regular trips to Holland and Germany, Dennis took up art as a hobby. Not just art, Western Art, and specifically Western Bronze Sculpting.
Along the way, he and his wife, Mary Ann, began to meet others who held an interest in the West and its lifestyle. Attending poetry readings, musical concerts and events led to Dennis joining the board at the Phippen Museum of Western Art, while still living in Phoenix.
The following year, in 2007, Dennis and Mary Ann moved to Prescott where they immersed themselves in the community, and the Western Lifestyle.
With a desire to create a Legacy Project based on Western Heritage and Education, Dennis formed the Western Heritage Foundation in 2010.
With cowboy hat, bola tie, notebook under arm, and a mission, Dennis hit the pavement taking names, sharing his passion and his plan. He did not stop until he reached the middle of Whiskey Row, 156C S. Montezuma St. to be exact. It was here that the Western Heritage Center opened in 2019, in the heart of Prescott.
The Western Heritage Center is a culmination of the work and passion of many, bringing together snapshots from local museums and private collections in a unique and beneficial collaboration.
With 20 rotating exhibits, a mercantile, and monthly presentations given on topics such as Wyatt Earp, Sharlot Hall, stories of local lore, and historical presentations, the center is a great way to whet your appetite as you discover the many opportunities to experiencing local and regional history.
The pride and joy of the center is the Rough Rider Exhibit, which was provided shortly after opening, joined by other local memorabilia and artifacts.
Run completely by the board and more than 100 volunteers, the Western Heritage Center has no paid staff, there is no admission to enter, and local museums and exhibit space is provided for free.
In addition to this unique set up, the Western Heritage Foundation has been able to provide annual scholarships to young adults with an interest in Western Studies, be it music, history or literature. On Nov. 5, the foundation will be honoring four local students at the annual Western Heritage Banquet at the Prescott Resort with $2,000 dollar scholarships — bringing the total to 19 since the program began in 2015.
Dennis Gallagher and the Western Heritage Foundation, preserving the past, educating the present, and planning for the future, right on Whiskey Row.
For more information, visit www.visitwhc.org.
Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.