Thursday, October 10, 2013


This is the largest (over 20,000 items on display); it is
dedicated to the singing cowboys and all other
b-westerns from William S. Hart to Rex Allen.
In 1938, Gene Autry
purchased 1,200
acres of land at the
railroad stop of
Berwyn, OK. He
built a large stone
structure for his
stock and apartment
for his men. It was
called The Flying A
Rodeo Ranch. Mr. Autry had a landing strip for his
personal airplane. He flew back and forth to his home
in Studio City, CA. The first Champion was purchased
and boarded here. The first pistol bits for Champion
were made in Ardmore, OK, a few miles away.
The Flying a Rodeo Show would board trains in
Berwyn and go east. Gene Autry’s first Madison Square
Garden rodeo livestock were from this ranch. Mr.
Autry owned and managed all the rodeo stock and
hired his cowboys to work the show. Of course the
music was provided by Mr. Autry.
The name of the town changed. The people of
Berwyn, Oklahoma (population 800) asked their
famous rancher if they could use his name for their
town. Mr. Autry agreed. He knew the town was never
going to be a big city, but the honor of being on a
USA map was quite an honor. On Sunday, November
16, 1941 a flatbed trailer set up with radio remote
broadcasting ability for Gene to perform his Melody
Ranch Show arrived at the railroad station in Berwyn,
Oklahoma. It was advertised he would be here. Tour
trains from several cities and states brought people to
watch Gene Autry get on his famous horse Champion
to rope the only sign and pull it down at the train
depot. They nailed up the new sign with the name of
the town of Gene Autry. This was filmed by Republic
Studios. Over 30,000 people came to see the most
famous singing cowboy to ever hit Hollywood. He was
the top money making star of B-Westerns. He passed
out sticks of Wrigley gum, his radio and television
sponsor for nineteen years. In recent days I have
personally interviewed people who were there as
children and they proudly
displayed (in a plastic
bag) the gum he gave
them those many years
December 7, 1941; this
date changed America
forever. Republic Studios,
Hollywood, California
told their star making the
most money that they would get him, Gene Autry, an
exemption from serving in the military. Let someone
else bleed. That is not what Gene did though. He went
on his coast to coast radio show and had a Major
swear him in as Private Gene Autry. Like a lot of
Hollywood movie stars he would not take a rank. He
did ask for two favors for his fame. He promised his
fans they would not see him without cowboy boots, so
the Army had the good sense to grant this favor as
long as Gene paid for them. He was a licensed pilot so
he wanted to fly. The Army allowed that this was no
problem. He got his wings to fly at the Love Field
Airbase. He was transferred to India to fly supplies
over the Himalaya Mountains to China Theater of war.
He was discharged in 1946,
Gene completed three films for Republic Studios
honoring his contract. Then he moved to Columbia
Studios. All of this took place in 1946.
The making of a ghost town: Gene Autry sold the
Flying A Rodeo Ranch at the end of the war. He had a
new rodeo partner in Texas. His name was not on it.
The school in Gene Autry never had more than 115
students in all twelve grades. The only sport the school
played was basketball. One year a student wrote to Mr.
Autry and explained to him the bad shape of their
uniforms. Yes, you are right; Mr. Autry bought the
team uniforms. He kept in contact over the years. By
the late 1960s the school, which was built in 1938, had
its last graduation from high school. Consolidation
closed it by the 1980s. The
town was “long gone” – post
office moved into the school
building. The rest of the
interior of the school was
gutted and the windows
boarded up.
Two people came to the
rescue. Two school teachers:
he was a women basketball
coach and she was a math
teacher, had a
dream. Elvin
Sweeten and his
wife Flo took a long
term lease on the
leaking old rock and
plaster school
building. The
ceilings were
dropped, the stucco walls were covered with wood,
heating and air conditioning added, and a sound
system was added in the old gymnasium. Flo was
raised in this town. The ranch where she grew up is a
few miles away. Yes, Flo played half-court basketball
while in school. She wanted the entire museum to be a
movie memorabilia tribute to Gene Autry; of course
she got it done. Flo and Elvin Sweeten traveled coast
to coast, border to border, buying up whole
collections. Something happened though; they had
Gene items, but to achieve this they literally had all the
other B-Western heroes’ memorabilia items also. Some
you may never have heard of. Toys, big books, fat
books, comics, tricycles, pistols and holsters like you
have never seen in one place. There are over 20,000
items on display and over 100,000 ft. of glass. Every
singing cowboy has his own individual display area.
Elvin is still adding items. We have the only full display
of all four Red Ryder movie stars. It goes on and on.
The museum is owned and operated by Elvin and Flo
Sweeten. They want to share their love of a bygone
age with those of us who still remember it. Admission
is by donation. The museum is open February 1, 2012
to November 30, 2012, Monday through Saturday,
10AM to 4PM. The museum will open for special
We decided to celebrate Roy Rogers100th birthday on
his birthday, November 5th. We had seven radio
stations that started in September advertising the
birthday party. Children from the local Methodist
church youth group printed “Happy Birthday, Roy
Rogers” on several hundred popcorn bags. KCCU
Radio station furnished free sarsaparilla and popcorn.
During the showing of the movie Yellow Rose of Texas
child actor, Don K. Reynolds, who was in three Roy
Rogers movies told of making the movie. Don, “Little
Brown Jug”, also had a studio date with Cheryl Rogers.
She mentions it in her book, Cowboy Princess and also
has a picture of the two of them. Two birthday cakes,
each with Roy and Trigger in color on them, were
served to over 300 people. At 4 PM we sang “Happy
Trails,” and shed a tear and told our hero goodbye.
We have a large Roy Rogers collection of memorabilia.
Elvin is continually adding to the collection.
My wife, Elizabeth and I visited the Roy Rogers
Museum several times while it was located in Branson,
MO. We even attended a New Year’s Party there. There
was never a full house for Dusty’s show or the
museum itself. In fact, we were told there were days
when nobody visited the Museum. We were sad to
hear that it had to close. We know people in our age
group are dying fast; those that remember Roy Rogers
and Gene Autry. We are the last of the B-Western
Museums. We will not be open much longer, so come
on while you can. We offer handicap accessible access.
Come share your dreams.
One of my many surprises in working as greeter at the
museum is the number of people who want to tell
their memories and have a photo taken in front of the
large oil painting of Gene and Champion. Several times
people (mostly women) will cry telling their love of
Gene or other stars all because of seeing them
displayed at the museum. We have had people visit
from Europe; one was from Transylvania. The visitors
take lots of pictures and mail post cards home with the
Gene Autry Oklahoma postmark on it.
Those of us who remember those days when we
believed that good would prevail are dying off fast –
those times of good guys always win will never be
Gene Autry OK Museum
42 Prairie St., Gene Autry,OK 73436

Shortly after the release of the July/August 2013 issue
of Smoke Signals, we received a call from an art
dealer in New York wanting to correct our reporting
in the lead story regarding the Metropolitan Museum
of Art in New York. In the story, it stated, “For the
first time since their doors opened in 1870, The
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be
featuring an exhibit of Western bronzes. Scheduled to
open December 18, 2013 and titled The American
West in Bronze, 1850-1925. This exhibit will feature
the works of Remington, Russell, Fraser and Manship
to name a few, and their artistic representations of the
Native American Indian, cowboys, cavalry and
He wanted to correct our reporting as the “MET” had
hosted an important Remington exhibit in 1989.
In fact, we are both correct. There was a Remington
exhibit in 1989, however, this new exhibit opening in
December 2013, will be the first time the MET has
hosted an exhibit of the works of several Western
American sculptors and artists, one of which is
Frederic Remington. This is not a Remington-specific
exhibit, but an exhibit of The American West in
Bronze and will be the first time a number of these
sculptors and artists will be featured at the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
On behalf of everyone at High Noon and Smoke
Signals, we thank you for your input and careful eye on
our reporting!