Inspiring Spaces: Oakdale Cowboy Museum
By Alex Cantatore
In the old Southern Pacific Railroad station, in the heart of the “Cowboy capitol of the world,” sits the Oakdale Cowboy Museum.It’s a testament to men who worked the land, forged a community, fed the region, and made a name for Oakdale at rodeos across the nation.
These real cowboys aren’t the kind who wielded six-shooters, like you’d see in the movies; they tended the herds, ranching. At night — or on the rare day off — these cowboys would compete at the rodeos, using the same skills they’d honed through work.
You can read about Oakdale’s ranching history at the Cowboy Museum, as you peruse a grazing permit from 1908 and touch old branding irons. You can see the trophy saddles of the more than 25 rodeo world champions — and 15 hall of famers — who called this region home. You can touch a saddle given to the 1936 all-around champion, or a saddle won at the 1952 Madison Square Garden rodeo.
The Oakdale Cowboy Museum started as an idea in 1995, a wouldn’t-it-be-nice concept from the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce. The idea caught fire within the community, and memorabilia started flowing into the Chamber’s doors. In 1996 the first, small Oakdale Cowboy Museum opened, occupying a small, 500 square-foot portion of the Oakdale Chamber of Commerce’s offices.
Back then, the museum was run entirely by volunteers. And even today, 19 years later, the museum is run entirely on donations.
“It’s just hard work, dedication, and passion,” said Oakdale Cowboy Museum Executive Director Christie Camarillo.
The museum expanded in 2000, and underwent a larger renovation in 2012; it now houses a rodeo-focused gallery, a ranching room, and a small gift shop. Today, with the rise of the farm-to-fork movement, Camarillo sees the Oakdale Cowboy Museum as more relevant than ever.
“It’s important for people to know you just don’t go into McDonalds and order a burger,” Camarillo said. “Don’t you ever think of where it came from?”
Of course, the museum houses merriment as well as education. Kids can dress up in a cowboy hat, put on the boots, and touch a lasso – but don’t touch the barbed wire.
The museum attracts scores of international visitors, stopping by on the way to Yosemite. These Australian, Swedish, and Japanese tourists often think cowboys come from Texas, before Camarillo sets them straight.
The museum gives back with scholarships for high school students, and hosts fundraisers like the annual “Testicle Festival.” Of course, the museum celebrates the National Day of the American Cowboy on July 25, but that’s all in a day’s work.
“Every day is the Day of the Cowboy here,” Camarillo said.
The Oakdale Cowboy Museum is located at 355 E. F St., Oakdale.
For More Information, visit oakdalecowboymuseum.org or call 209.847.7049.