Note: The story was first published in the May-June 2011 issue of the Gypsy Journal.
In the small west Texas town of Pecos, we toured the West of the Pecos Museum, a place I’ve wanted to visit for years, and I’m glad we finally made the time to do so. Housed in the old Orient Hotel, originally built in 1896, the museum tells the story of the people and events of west Texas, with three floors of displays and artifacts.
Former Texas Ranger R. S. Johnson built the two story red sandstone building, which had a saloon on the first floor and bedrooms upstairs. In 1904, the three-story Orient Hotel was built next door.
The Orient was constructed of crude, but durable, concrete blocks, produced with hand-operated molding machines. Today both buildings are incorporated into the museum.
For its time and place, the Orient offered comfortable lodgings. Each room had a rug, an iron bedstead, two chairs, a washstand with a large white bowl and pitcher, and a dresser with a mirror. A wash room was on the ground floor, and the second and third floors each had a large, complete bathroom. Water was supplied by an artesian well behind the hotel. The Orient Hotel was in use until the mid-1950s.
Today, visitors can tour the old saloon and the hotel, with room after room filled with Old West artifacts and exhibits on small town life.
The first floor includes the hotel lobby, furnished in period items, and the old saloon, where gunfighter Barney Riggs killed two men in a shootout in 1896. Riggs walked on both sides of the law; for a while he was a Pecos County deputy, but he wasn’t above rustling the occasional steer or horse either. In fact, his own brother-in-law, Sheriff Bud Frazer, arrested him in the next county for rustling, public drunkenness, and assault, charges that were eventually dropped.
Two hard cases, John Denson and Bill Earhart were overheard making threats against Riggs in Fort Stockton, and when they set out for Pecos, a friend telegraphed a warning to Riggs. On the morning of March 3rd, Riggs was helping out a friend by filling in as a bartender in Johnson’s Saloon. He was alone when Earhart and Denson stormed into the saloon and opened fire.
One of Earhart’s shots grazed Riggs, but didn’t stop him from drawing his own gun and firing back, killing Earhart. Riggs and Denson had a brief struggle, before the assailant attempted to flee. Riggs wasn’t ready to end the battle, and as Denson was running away, he shot him in the back of his head, killing him on the spot. Riggs was charged with murder in the shootout, but was acquitted when the case went to trial.
Brass plaques in the saloon’s floor mark where Denson and Earhart fell, and bullet holes from the gunfight can still be seen in the walls. The saloon also contains its original stairway to the upper bedroom, along with the “Bedroom” sign.
The Railroad Room, adjacent to the saloon, contains Texas & Pacific Railroad items from the 1881 era, plus 1890 period items from the Santa Fe Railroad, and 1909 artifacts of the Pecos Valley Southern Railroad.
The two upper floors of the museum include rooms dedicated to area ranchers and cowboys, local doctors, military veterans, the Indians who once called this land home, and exhibits of early home appliances and tools. Younger visitors will enjoy the Pecos Bill Room, and the stories of the larger than life folk hero of west Texas. The Saddle Room holds an impressive collection of period saddles, tack and barbed wire.
There are also rooms with exhibits on rodeos, a large collection of rocks, Native American artifacts, and the E. B. Kiser Room, which contains a collection of early Sheriff’s items and arrowheads. And what would a classy hotel like the Orient be without a bridal suite? Other rooms on the second floor are dedicated to growing up in Pecos, and local churches.
The third floor is home to a variety of exhibits ranging from the early days of the oil and gas industry, to washtubs, washboards, flatirons, and other household tools used by pioneering women in the area.
The Wynn Hamilton room showcases an assortment of mercantile items found in a typical early Texas general store.
Rooms on the third floor cover the Mexicans, Native Americans, and African Americans who lived in the region, as well as local war veterans.
After you tour the museum, step outside to explore exhibits of farming and ranching equipment, and a replica of Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly saloon and courtroom.
Barney Riggs wasn’t the only Old West gunfighter who spent time in Pecos. Another familiar figure was Clay Allison, who “never killed a man that did not need killing.” Allison’s grave is located on the museum grounds, near the Jersey Lilly.
We always enjoy small town museums, and the West of the Pecos Museum is one of the best we have found. The next time you are traveling through west Texas, make time to stop and check it out. The first floor of the museum is handicapped accessible.
The museum is located at the corner of First and Cedar Streets in Pecos. There is a parking lot across the street from the museum, as well as curbside parking. We saw a couple of motorhomes parked nearby. There is free RV parking at First and Oak Streets, next to the Museum’s Chuck Wagon Display.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 – 4 p.m. Labor Day through Memorial Day, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and is closed Sunday and Monday.
For more information, call the West of the Pecos Museum at (432) 445-5076, or visit their website at www.westofthepecosmuseum.com.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an audiobook of Blood Honor, the debut novel in my friend Russell Blake’s The Day After Never post-apocalyptic trilogy. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.