Centers on Bill Mackin’s world-renowned collection.
Rugged and remote Moffat County was once a go-to place for Wild Bunch members and other outlaws seeking to escape the long arm of the law. Today, it’s a great place for law-abiding citizens to escape the crowds and get a taste of the Old West. Such a journey should include a visit to the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig, which remembers cowboys and outlaws (sometimes a person fitted both labels) and boasts collector Bill Mackin’s gallery of 1,000 artifacts.
The Wild Bunch hideout of Browns Park (originally called Browns Hole) is a 35-mile-long valley that sprawls from Moffat County through parts of extreme northeastern Utah into south-central Wyoming. Temporary residents have included such lawbreakers as Butch Cassidy, Matt Warner, Isom Dart, David Lant and Harry Tracy. Herb and Elizabeth Bassett kept a horse ranch in the hole, and their daughters Josie and Ann were known to aid and abet various badmen.
One man not welcomed by the Bassetts or other small ranchers was Tom Horn, hired by Two Bar Ranch owner Ora Haley to rid the area of rustlers. In early July 1900, Horn killed Matt Rash, an occasional Bassett ranch hand and Ann Bassett’s fiancé. Ann launched a vendetta against Haley and was arrested for cattle rustling. The case went to trial in Craig, and “Queen Ann” was acquitted. A 1956 Craig Empire-Courier article quotes Bassett as saying, “I’ve done everything they said I did and a helluva lot more.” She died that same year, and her ashes are buried on the family homestead. The museum houses a pair of Bassett’s spurs and many of her papers and documents.
Although less well known than Horn, Bob Meldrum also worked as a range detective and hired killer for big ranch owners along the Colorado-Wyoming border. He was also a saddlemaker, and samples of his leatherwork, as well as his pen-and-ink drawings, are on display at the museum. Another exhibit profiles William T. “Red Wash” Jones, a Texan who spent 13 years in prison for a murder in Wyoming and then spent the rest of his life in northwestern Colorado (dying of a heart attack during a violent quarrel at the K Ranch in 1930). A horsehair bridle and horsehair quilt Jones made while in prison are on display.
The museum first opened in the Moffat County Courthouse in 1964. In 1991 the collection moved to the 1922 State Armory, which made the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. While the museum centers on regional history, the highlight for many visitors is Bill Mackin’s dazzling “Cowboy and Gunfighter” collection. For more than 50 years, Mackin has collected and preserved historic guns and cowboy gear. Among the highlights are a Colt revolver recovered from the Little Bighorn battlefield, a 1907 .25-35 Winchester High Wall rifle with a 15-inch barrel, and a gun and holster outlaw Harry Tracy was wearing when arrested in Browns Park in March 1898. The collection includes a variety of saddles, branding irons and other tools of the cowboy trade. A separate exhibit showcases several remarkable spurs.
The exhibits, says museum director Dan Davidson, “capture the essence of the changes and accompanying conflicts that occurred as the Old West gradually gave in to the social order and structure of the new.” Frontier women, children, churches and schools of northwest Colorado are the focus of several exhibits. Perhaps the most intriguing woman is Augusta Wallihan, who hunted to put meat on the table in the 1880s while her husband, A.G., tended to duties at the local post office and chores at home. An adept shooter, Augusta attended several sportsmen’s expositions across the country, including an 1895 event at New York’s Madison Square Garden. She and A.G. also photographed wildlife across northwestern Colorado. Cosmopolitan and Life magazines heralded an 1895 “live action” wildlife photo the couple snapped as the first such photo ever taken.
The museum also presents Western art from Frederic Remington to such local artists as Gerard Curtis Delano of Kremmling, Colo. Delano’s Passing of the Old West made an early impression on future museum director Davidson.
The museum is at 590 Yampa Ave. in Craig, 90 miles north of I-70 and 100 miles south of I-80. It is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free. For more information, call 970-824-6360 or visit www.museumnwco.org.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.