The Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a private non-profit institution, was founded in 1960. In 1966 the legal name was changed to Maricopa County Historical Society dba Desert Caballeros Western Museum at the suggestion of Barry Goldwater. The first president of the Society was H. K. "Mac" MacLennan, former superintendent of schools, a position he held for 30 years. The purpose of the Museum was and still is "To collect and preserve the history, learning, lore and mementos incident to the development of Wickenburg and the Arizona Territory." The founders and those leaders that followed have believed that having a hometown Museum would also become a destination attraction and be important to the economic base of the community.
The founders of the Museum, in addition to MacLennan, were Morton Bodfish, Bill Weeks, Katherine McCrady and Roy Coxwell. MacLennan, then chairman of the Round-Up Club's (now Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce) historical committee, had been working behind the scenes for years to get a museum organized. In the spring of 1960, official incorporation papers were filed with the state. According to MacLennan, "At long last we think we are ready to give Wickenburg a museum it will be proud of." MacLennan was named president and Bill St. Clair was secretary-treasurer. MacLennan gave Morton Bodfish the credit for spearheading the project.Name
The Museum has always been best known in the community and state as The Desert Caballeros Western Museum. It takes its name from the famous Desert Caballeros (DC) trail-riding group located in Wickenburg. The Museum has never been legally associated with the Desert Caballeros riders, but the group did indirectly sponsor the Museum in the beginning, and today provides an annual contribution to the operating budget.Opening
The Museum did not officially open to the public until May 8,1969, after what was said to be 20 years of planning. Housed in the building that had once been Brayton's Commercial Company, a general store built in 1906, the property was donated by W. S. "Sky" Thurber. The first curator was Orpha Baker, who was responsible for creating many of the dioramas and models and fashioned extensive artwork dealing with the early Indian culture.Fire
The Museum prospered for several years until a tragic fire consumed the entire building on December 21,1972. Hundreds of items were lost, all of which were irreplaceable. But with typical Wickenburg enthusiasm, a capital campaign was almost immediately underway and a new museum was built. A building committee was formed composed of Roy Coxwell, Naughton Lane, Carl Beillen, Harry Needham, Delbert Kirby, and John Waddell. The Fund Drive Committee included Robert Wentworth, Ralph Watkins, Jr., and H. D. Murphy. Within three years, the money was raised and a new building opened on the third anniversary of the fire, December 21, 1975. It was during this fundraising period that Mac MacLennan approached Royce Kardinal and suggested that she gather women of the community together to assist. Out of this conversation Las Senoras de Socorro (Ladies of Help) was chartered as a non profit with the intent to both raise money for the rebuilding effort, then to provide general operating funds and to provide volunteer services where needed. Las Senoras has well over two hundred member that support the Museum’s mission and each year provide substantial operating dollars.Rebuilding and Dedication
Built on the same site as the former Brayton's Commercial Co., the new museum, designed by architect Harry Van Hoven, was built at a cost of $319,000 and could boast of over 14,000 square feet. Governor Raul Castro led a parade for the Museum's dedication in December 1975 which hundreds of people attended. The parade was formed under the direction of Hal Braman and was headed by a horseback color guard of Desert Caballeros riders, followed by an antique car with the governor and his wife. Miss Gold Nugget, Cindy Voehl, and attendant Tammy Brown, Mayor Curtis Arnett, the Wickenburg High School Band, Las Damas, riders from the Flying E, antique cars organized by Ted DeVries, and the Wickenburg Fire Department were all part of the extravagant parade. Master of Ceremonies at the dedication was Roy Coxwell. He told the audience that "It has been a long hard struggle, but at last we have got it back together again." Board member Ralph Watkins introduced Governor Castro. "I am absolutely astounded to find what you've done. There's no question, it’s one of the outstanding museums I've seen in my lifetime. It indicates to me it can be done when you want to do it."
Mac MacLennan was probably one of the happiest people around when the new Museum was dedicated. "For three years, people kept asking me what we'd put in this big ol’ building. Well, here we are. With everything from turn-of-the-century room settings to bola ties. People just kept bringing in all kinds of antiques, curiosities, and monstrosities."Expansions
In the fall of 1985 the Museum board and staff embarked on a three-year expansion project. Phase I began in September when the Eleanor Blossom Memorial Library was added, along with new offices, increased work space for volunteers, and renovation of the gift shop. The architect was Reed Settle of Prescott. This phase was completed in April 1986. A capital campaign was started to raise the $510,000 needed to complete Phase II, which would add 6,000 square feet. The expansion included a new Native American Room, Mineral Room, expanded Art Gallery, classrooms and a new temperature-controlled storage area for the Museum's art collection. The period rooms were redone and moved downstairs. The groundbreaking for Phase II was done in August, 1986; the completion and dedication was April 1987.
Among the many generous individuals who have made the modern Museum possible, one deserves special mention: Aiken Fisher (1907-1996). From their home in Pittsburgh, Mr. Fisher and his wife, Jane, vacationed for many years at Rancho de los Caballeros, a guest ranch in Wickenburg. In the late 1960s, they bought a winter home there and soon became passionately committed to building the Museum’s art collection. The excellence of that collection today is due in large part to Mr. Fisher’s discerning eye and largesse over a period of three decades.Park and Sculpture
In July 1987, plans were unveiled for a museum park, which would replace the closed service station on the corner of Tegner and Wickenburg Way. Groundbreaking took place on April 11,1988. The official dedication of the park was November 26,1988. Local dignitaries attended this special ceremony and remarks were given by Governor Rose Mofford and Eddie Basha. The park, built to honor Museum Volunteers, features low-water desert plantings and a nine-foot bronze sculpture “Thanks for the Rain” by Arizona artist Joe Beeler.
The building donated by the Fisher family that had been used as retail rental space was rehabilitated in the summer of 2003 and by fall of the same year became the administrative building. It also houses the Blossom Memorial Library, a reception area and Ranch Dressing, an annex of the museum store.
With the offices moved from the downstairs of the museum building, space was redesigned creating an additional changing history gallery, redefined and enlarged classroom space, a volunteer lounge, and efficiency kitchen.Accreditation
In 1996, after an extensive self-study, Desert Caballeros Western Museum received full accreditation from the American Association of Museums. In their Summary, the accreditation team said:
“The Museum was a delightful surprise to the accreditation visiting committee, as it presumably would be for any other visitor. The knowledge and energy of the staff, and the enthusiasm of the board of directors, are remarkable. The staff was fully aware of every concern—none of which were major—expressed by the committee and has plans to address each one. Long-range plans for the DCWM are ambitious and, if carried through, will firmly establish the Museum as one of the finest such facilities in the region.”
The Museum received subsequent accreditation in March 2008.Board Chairs
H.K. MacLennan was the first board chairman. Roy Coxwell followed MacLennan and served in that capacity for nearly 25 years. Charles Klein was the third chair. Royce Coxwell Kardinal served for two years, 1990-1992. Elladean Hays Bittner served 1992-1994. Ron Badowski served 1994-1995. Eileen McGuire served 1995-1996. Joan McDermott served in 1996, Ron Badowski 1997, Joe Mendelson 1998, Craig Keller 1999, Paula Brill 2000-2002, Elmer Johnson 2003-2004, James Ludke 2005–2006, Jeri Conklin Robson 2007–2008, Dallas “Rusty” Gant, 2009-2011. John Daub is the incoming chairman.Museum Directors
Harry Needham served the Museum in numerous capacities -- as a volunteer, as a curator, then as director and executive vice-president. His involvement with the Museum spanned ten years, retiring on December 31,1984. Mac Harris was director from June 1985 through February 1991. Chet Walker and Richard K. Doud served as interim directors until Cheryl Taylor was hired as director on July 1,1991. She served until January 1,1997. Myrna Harrison served as interim director until May 2,1997. Michael Ettema began his service as director on May 5, 1997 and retired in fall of 2002. Joel Hiller became interim director for one year and was followed by Royce Kardinal who served as interim director and was then appointed executive director in the fall of 2003. Kardinal continued in that office until October of 2008. At that time Mary Ann Igna was appointed to the position of interim director and served in that capacity until May 2010. In June 2010 W. James Burns, Ph.D. was appointed to the position of Executive Director and presently serves in that capacity.Volunteers
The 250 volunteers at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum are a family of men and women who share a passionate interest in the culture and history of Wickenburg and the desert southwest. They assist the Museum in a variety of ways and in the process gain a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction. Volunteers are requested to follow Museum policies and support Museum standards, values, and its mission. They show respect for all visitors, staff and fellow volunteers. They are trained annually and encouraged to become Museum members. Areas of service include (but are not limited to) tour guides, gallery monitors, admissions desk, museum store sales, exhibit installation, carpentry, and assistance with special events. The volunteers are an integral part of the Museum which could not operate without their commitment.