As wildfires blown by cold strong winds raged across Oklahoma, thick smoke descended on Oklahoma City on Friday afternoon, April 13. I had come there to accept my National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Outstanding Juvenile Book Award for Lotta Crabtree: Gold Rush Fairy Star. Lotta was America’s first female comedian and the first female to strum the banjo onstage. She spent many relaxing summers at Lake Hopatcong. I obtained two photos for the book of Lotta, her family, and her “cottage” from Martin Kane, president of the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum.
Since the first event of the two-day National Cowboy and Western Heritage Awards began at 5:30 p.m., I toured the museum that afternoon. I was impressed with their marvelous classic and contemporary art collection. For my Charlie Russell: Tale-Telling Cowboy book, I had obtained two Russell art images from them and hoped to see the originals. Neither was currently exhibited, but I was delighted with a display of other Russell sculptures, drawings, and paintings and the works of other famous artists. I also wandered through history galleries focused on cowboys, rodeos, Native Americans, Victorian firearms, frontier military, western performers, and an excellent turn-of-the-century frontier town. If you visit Oklahoma, don’t miss the unique National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
In the evening, the museum hosted a cocktail reception and autograph party. A large crowd attended, and some guests wore leather cowboy boots and western attire. As I signed copies of my book, I chatted with folks from Europe and America about art and history. Soon word spread that one guest had brought his two rare Leopard Appaloosa horses. I dashed outside and snapped a photo of the beautiful animals and their owner in a Stetson. Where else but in Cowboy Country would this happen at a cocktail party at an art museum?
The following evening, I returned to the museum for its 58th annual Awards. The event pays tribute to those who have made extraordinary contributions to shaping the American West’s rich heritage and to individuals who show a strong commitment to the future. Women and men also receive awards for their work in film, music, television, and literature. Eight hundred people streamed into a large room decorated with five colorful painted triptychs of western landscapes for the star-studded evening.
At my table, I met the sponsor of my Outstanding Juvenile Book Award: Ellen Vick, age 11. She has attended every Awards since she was four months old and has an autographed copy of every winning book. After a dinner of tenderloin steak (this is Beef Country, too) the masters of ceremonies, actress Katherine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and other movies) and her husband, actor Sam Elliott (The Hero, The Ranch television series plus numerous movies) introduced the presenters of awards for each category. Many were entertainers who had worked together over the years and shared great stories about one another. A high point of the night was a video of singer Lynn Anderson (Rose Garden), who died in 2015. Anderson was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers. For a list of other 2018 Award and Hall of Fame winners, visit www.nationalcowboymuseum.org.
When my turn came, I stepped onstage and gave my acceptance speech thanking the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and my publisher, Pelican Publishing Co., Inc., for the honor. In 2010, when I obtained my two Charlie Russell art images from the museum, I never imagined I would be standing there and accepting an Award for a book about Lotta Crabtree. I wrote Lotta’s life story to inspire children to follow their dreams like she did – I think she would approve, and know she would have enjoyed celebrating the arts at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s Awards.
Story provided by Lois V. Harris