One of the largest collections of artifacts and documents of the American West is in Galveston. Whether you’re a history buff, American West fan, or art lover, you’ll be fascinated by the collection at the Bryan Museum.
In 2015, it became home to a collection of artifacts, documents, and art of “the west as it will never be seen again.” The collection spanning more than 12,000 years has been assembled by J.P. Bryan. There are approximately 70,000 items including 30,000 documents in Spanish, German, French, and English, three dozen saddles, more than 250 antique firearms, several hundred sets of spurs, along with fine art, religious art, folk art, portraits, and rare maps.
You’ll see everything from Native American stone tools to traditional cowboy clothes. You should start in the Orientation Gallery for a brief overview.
Then head into the Spanish Colonial Era Gallery. Many of the Native American artifacts were actually found on J.P. Bryan’s ranch in South Texas. This gallery explores the Native American, Spanish, and French influence on the West. It’s home to artifacts like a 17th century carved mesquite cross, Spanish mission bell, stunning French fan, and a 17th century mother of pearl chest that carried a Spanish royal grant for California lands in the 18th Century.
Stephen F. Austin greets you as you walk into the Texas Frontier Gallery. This gallery takes an in-depth look at the Anglo-American influence in Texas covering Mexican rule, Texan independence, and American statehood. There are such artifacts as Major James Graham’s protractor. He was with the U.S. Boundary Survey. It was first used in 1839 and 1840 when Texas declared its independence from Mexico and used again in 1850 and 1851 for the US-Mexico boundary.
The Statehood and Beyond Gallery takes a look at the Civil War to the classic “wild west” period. I was immediately drawn to a violin case. It’s not a violin at all. It’s a shotgun and powder flask from the Civil War.
The saddle collection is impressive with a range from working saddles to early parade saddles to mid-20th century parade saddles. One tidbit I learned was how to tell the difference between Mexican and Texan saddles. Mexican saddles traditionally have wider horns. This gallery also includes a wonderful display of sombreros and artifacts from the Mexican Revolution.
As you head upstairs, you walk into the Rest of the West Gallery featuring artwork from outside of Texas like pop art prints from Andy Warhol’s “Cowboys and Indians” series. Three of the eleven are in the museum. The gun display is home to some of the best and rarest guns ever made including Colts, Winchesters, and Remingtons. Some date back to the 1800s. The spurs display is equally impressive. Each pair is unique like the charro spurs with silver inlaid rattlesnakes from 1885. The Texas Masters Gallery is for the fine art lover. You really get a sense of the landscape and people at different times in history through the works in this room.
Head down to the first floor to see the Galveston orphans home gallery including a secret hideout used some of the kids. It was discovered during renovations. Take a few moments to relax out on the museum’s lush gardens to enjoy the butterflies including monarch butterflies, the tranquility of fountains, and songs of the birds.