The days of the American Wild West may be long since gone, but the history of that lawless era is still etched in the landscapes, towns and saloons of the former American frontier.
For those keen to experience what life was like in the Old West, here are 6 historic attractions that will allow you to walk in the shoes – or cowboy boots – of a 19th-century gunslinger. At these sites, you’ll be able to witness reenactments of infamous shootouts, retrace the steps of notorious outlaws and explore exhibits on just about every aspect of the Wild West.
Fit for thrill-seekers, history fans and families alike, here are 6 Wild West attractions to visit across America.
1. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Wyoming
A complex of five separate museums housed on one site, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is a must-visit for fans of the American West. Based in Cody, Wyoming, the museum is an essential resource of Wild West history, with extensive collections and a broad remit covering everything from classic western artworks to Native American history.
Start at the Buffalo Bill Musem, which features a whole host of different Wild West artefacts and exhibits. Then take a look around the Plains Indian Museum and learn all about Native American culture, traditions and history.
The site also features the Cody Firearms Museum, which boasts thousands of historic weapons, the Draper National History Museum, covering Yellowstone’s flora and fauna through time, and the extensive western art collections of the Whitney Western Art Museum.
2. The Birdcage Theatre, Arizona
The Birdcage Theatre is a historic gambling den, brothel, theatre and saloon located in the once lawless town of Tombstone, Arizona. In its prime during the late 19th century, the Birdcage played host to vaudeville acts, the longest poker game in history (played from 1881 to 1889) and more than its fair share of violence and gunslinging.
Nowadays, the Birdcage Theatre is a museum. And though it’s less of a hotbed for mischief, the relics of the saloon’s violent past haven’t entirely faded from view. Bullet holes still line the walls, for instance, and visitors can explore the old brothel rooms around the back of the building.
3. OK Corral Historic Complex, Arizona
On 26 October 1881, tensions between the Earp brothers (Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt) and rival gang the Cowboys reached a breaking point. A 30-second gunfight, known as the shootout at the OK Corral, played out on the streets of Tombstone, leaving 3 dead and 3 others wounded.
Today, visitors to Tombstone can watch reenactments of the famed shootout at the OK Corral Historic Complex, on the site of the fateful gun battle. You can also explore photographic exhibits, tour reconstructions of an 1880s stable, ride in a Wild West buggy and pan for gemstones in a replica mining sluice.
4. Whiskey Row, Arizona
Prescott, Arizona, was once a Gold Rush boomtown, famed for its population of prospectors, cowboys, settlers and outlaws. In 1900, a fire devastated a large portion of the settlement. But the town quickly rebuilt, with a row of some 40 saloons appearing on the site of the blaze. This melting pot of drinking dens became known as Whiskey Row.
Whiskey Row still stands today, and visitors to the area can enjoy a tipple at a historic saloon, watch live reenactments of shootouts on the street and relive the lawless days of the Old West. It’s not all gambling and gunfights, though: the street is also home to galleries, murals and sweet shops.
5. Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, Colorado
Situated in La Junta, Colorado, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is a former 19th-century trading post. Used primarily as a safe place for trappers, explorers and settlers to trade with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, the remote trading post was used for roughly 16 years before being abandoned in 1849.
Bent’s Fort is now a family-friendly attraction and museum, centred around a reconstruction of the former 1840s trading post. Visitors can expect to witness reenactments of the fort’s former life, embark on guided tours of the area and even participate in interactive historical demonstrations.
6. National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City is one of the United States’ leading Wild West heritage institutions. Its extensive collections contain thousands of Native American artworks, an array of Wild West artefacts and the biggest collection of American rodeo memorabilia in the USA.
The museum first opened in 1955, and now serves as an essential resource on the history of the American frontier. Visitors can explore the site’s interactive exhibits, view historic western paintings and sculptures and even tour a replica Old West town.