Firearms exhibit examines guns in Texas heritage

An unidentified man holds up a gun to another man. Photo taken at the Horn Palace, Yorktown. Courtesy Regional History Center, VC/UHV Library.

From hunting to war, target shooting to John Wayne, guns are part of Texas’ heritage and culture. Starting on Feb.13, visitors to the Museum of the Coastal Bend can explore regional history through guns. A new temporary exhibit, "Winning the West: Firearms in the Texas Coastal Bend," uses historic guns, photographs, toys, and artwork to show the links that firearms have to regional history and culture.

The phrase “firearms in Texas” calls up images of six-shooters in the Old West. While there are plenty of those in the exhibit, there’s more than might be expected.

“Even though we might think of saloon shootouts and masked bandits in the Wild West, guns have been with us for a long time,” said Eric Ray, curator at the Museum of the Coastal Bend.  They were a source of food for settlers making a new home in Texas. They were also instrumental in the establishment of Texas during the Texas Revolution.

Victorians commissioned a shipment of guns to be used in the revolution, though the guns never made it to Texas.  They were lost in a shipwreck in Matagorda Bay, and pieces were recovered in 1998 by the Texas Historical Commission.

“The guns didn’t make it here in time for the Revolution,” Ray said, “but they’re making it to Victoria after all, even if it’s almost 180 years late.” Marks show that some of the guns were originally issued to the British army, a theme that is common in the exhibit.  “Guns were used and used and used, changed from style to style as technology improved. They were not disposable,” said Ray.

"Winning the West" doesn’t stop with real guns. John Wayne’s movie six-shooters, and BB guns were an important part of many childhoods, and the exhibit includes the impact of guns on pop culture and toys.

“When you grow up with cowboy movies and books, and plinking cans with a BB gun, it can’t help but affect the way you look at the world,” Ray said. “Those shared experiences are as much a part of history as anything else – how many people have heard ‘you’ll shoot your eye out’?”

The exhibit opens with a preview reception for members and invited guests on Tuesday, Feb. 12 from 5 – 7 p.m. At 6 p.m., Kurt House, noted firearms collector and Colt Collectors Association publications chairman, will give a lecture as part of the exhibit’s opening. Non-members who are interested in learning more about the museum are encouraged to attend.

"Winning the West" is organized and curated by Ray, who joined the museum’s professional staff in August 2012.

“With his experience and education, Eric has brought another level of expertise in exhibits research and design, as well as collections management to the Museum of the Coastal Bend,” says Sue Prudhomme, director of Cultural Affairs. “Eric is leading the redesign and expansion project of our permanent La Salle Odyssey Exhibit, scheduled to open in fall 2013. "Winning the West" gives our audience a first taste of the aesthetic that Eric brings to the table.”

"Winning the West" is open to the public from Feb.13 through Aug. 30. The Museum of the Coastal Bend is on the corner of Ben Jordan and Red River, on the Victoria College campus. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for visitors 55+, $2 for students through 8th grade, and free for members and VC/UHV students.

Published: Thursday, 07 February 2013

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