In 1873, with Wichita the Kansas terminus of the Chisholm Trail, darned thirsty cowboys up from Texas shook off the dust in a bunch of bars located along the boomtown’s Chicago Street. A few days off the trail, the expectable pleasures of the flesh having run their course, improvisational cowhands instituted “The Running of the Doves,” a Sunday-afternoon athletic competition wherein saloon girls barrel-rolled into wagons for transport down the river. At the designated starting line, the ladies would strip, their garters and petticoats tossed amid wagers being made, and the goose-bumped speedsters would race back to the taverns, accompanied by cowboys shooting and shouting from the wagons.
The Dixie Lee Saloon Girls of contemporary Wichita have eschewed unprotected jogging in favor of historical re-enactments of bet-free can-can dances in Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon. The ladies dance just down the street from the Wichita and Southwestern Railroad’s depot as a nearby apothecary sells medicinal berries and Presbyterians gather in the city’s first church—each the re-enacted, painstakingly documented province of Historic Old Cowtown Museum.
Here’s the official Web site’s take: “You’re in Old Cowtown, where you’ll experience the dramatic clash of Victorian ideals and economic realities.” Cultural clashes aside, at Wichita’s Historic Cowtown Museum you’ll find 26 lovingly recreated buildings that house period furnishings, art objects, clothing, machinery, tools, and considerable folderol amid the fauna of everyday pioneer life—Percheron horses and milking Shorthorns and Light Brahma chickens by the dozen. Wichita’s Cowtown will lay long ago life on the Kansas prairie unforgettably in front of you.
CONCENTRATED CULTURE: Expect friendliness, education, and entertainment up and down this particular stretch of the Arkansas (here pronounced Ar-KAN-zuz) River. The Wichita Art Museum (the state’s largest art museum with masterpieces from Cassatt, Homer, Hopper, and Russell) is a few blocks away, as is Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, with thousands of seasonal blooms.