Do you have a hankering for a Wild West vacation?
We visited the Boot Hill Museum with my sister and her kids as part of a road trip to Dodge City, Kansas. I'd heard good things about the museum before our visit, but was pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to interesting historical exhibits, it's a fun interactive museum for families.
Watch a few episodes of the classic television show Gunsmoke before you visit the Boot Hill Museum. It was set in Dodge City's Wild West heyday and was the origin of the phrase “get the heck out of Dodge.” You'll find one exhibit and several references to Gunsmoke throughout the museum. Find Gunsmoke DVDs at your local library or at Amazon.com.
Order a sarsaparilla
The Boot Hill Museum has its own working Long Branch Saloon where you can order sarsaparilla, soda and beer. Our kids split a couple of bottles of locally-bottled sarsaparilla and the bartender kindly loaned us a few shot glasses to make sharing (and the photo op) better.
There was a live piano player and dancing girl in the saloon. The kids in the room were offered the chance to borrow skirts and learn to dance the can-can. The girls in our group happily accepted.
The Long Branch Saloon has been home to Miss Kitty's variety show every summer evening for the past 60 years. It's the longest running seasonal theatrical show in the USA! We did not see it on this trip, but you can bundle your ticket with your museum admission or purchase show tickets separately.
See a Wild West shootout
You can see a live Wild West shootout twice each day through the summer on Front Street at the Dodge City Museum. Shows are at noon and 7 pm. There was plenty of space to sit or stand, but arrive early if you want a seat in front. The show is only about 15 minutes long.
The show features a cast of Wild West characters who shoot it out 'til the death. Thankfully, the show also has a little humor – more than I expected. It even includes a woman or two who holds her own with a gun.
See Boot Hill
The Boot Hill Museum is actually on the site of the original Boot Hill. It is no longer a cemetery and those buried there were moved elsewhere long ago. The weathered wooden markers on the hill are replicas of markers that might have been used there in the 1870's.
You'll also see plaques describing what is known about the individuals who were buried on Boot Hill. It's interesting reading. The people who were buried on Boot Hill were not wealthy or famous. They were colorful characters of the Wild West with no money, friends or family.
Walk through the Native American exhibits in the small building next to the cemetery. They were the first to live in this region and their lifestyle was built on the bison herds that once roamed the Great Plains.
The Superior School House is one of several historic buildings at the Boot Hill Museum. It's typical of one-room schoolhouses that were found in Kansas in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Kids can sit in the desks and get an idea of how different school would have been 100 years ago. Our teens couldn't even fit in the small desks up front.
The schoolhouse has a couple of other exhibits, including one of famous people from Kansas.
Other historic buildings include the home of a wealthy family, a church, blacksmith shop and jail.
Take a photo
There are lots of good photo opportunities all over the Boot Hill Museum, so keep your camera handy. You'll also find an photo studio where your group can dress in Wild West period clothing and purchase a professional photo.
The Boot Hill Museum has a large lawn in front where kids can run and play. During our summer visit, duck races were set up and our kids had fun with those.
See the exhibits
I recognize that calling museum exhibits “fun” for kids is risky. However, I can't write a post about the Boot Hill Museum without mentioning that it has several galleries of interesting and educational exhibits about the real history of Dodge City, its famous former residents like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and the city's lasting influence on American popular culture. It wasn't my kids' favorite part of Boot Hill, but they did stop to look at a few things and I really enjoyed it.
Look for exhibits on the local Native American tribes, bison hunters, cowboys, lawmen, prostitutes, railroads and farming. I was interested to learn that the cattle roundup days that cemented the city's rowdy reputation lasted less than a decade. The city declined, then re-established itself as a respectable farming community that is an important economic hub in the region today.
Stop at the gift shop
My kids may have had lukewarm feelings about the educational exhibits, but they happily spent plenty of time browsing at Boot Hill's two large gift shops, which are filled with unique souvenirs. You'll pass through the first when you arrive and when you leave Boot Hill. The second is the dry goods store near the Long Branch Saloon on Front Street. Everything in the dry goods shop feels like the sort of thing you might have found in a real shop in the late 1800's.
Good to Know
Where: 500 W Wyatt Earp Blvd, Dodge City, Kansas. It's in the center of town, on Highway 50.
When: The Boot Hill Museum is open nearly every day of the year. Summer is the best time to visit with kids because that's when the most activities are scheduled. We visited on a summer weekday morning and found it uncrowded.
How Much: At the time of our visit, an adult general admission ticket was $11 and a child ticket (ages 5-10) was $9. Family tickets were available for $42. See current pricing and all ticket options at www.boothill.org/ticket-prices
How Long: 2+ hours
Amenities: Restrooms, gift shops, restaurant, snacks and drinks
How else can I help?
Need a place to stay? Dodge City is small, but thriving. You'll find a wide variety of hotels to choose from. Check rates and availability now at TripAdvisor.
Need a flight? Dodge City Regional Airport is the nearest airport to the Boot Hill Museum. The nearest major airports are in Kansas City, Denver or Dallas.
Need help getting around? Driving your own car is the best way to get around Dodge City. The Boot Hill Museum is a short walk from the Amtrak and bus station. Limited public transportation is also available.