It’s about more than just horses.
Well known are the names of those whose decisions made Western history—from William Clark and Meriwether Lewis to William Travis and Jim Bowie, from George Custer and Sitting Bull to Virgil Earp and Ike Clanton. The names of those whose decisions honor and preserve that history, however, are rarely known.
Three names in the latter category are R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard, who founded a not-for-profit corporation in 1989 to share with the public their extensive collection of art works, and Anne C. Stradling, who soon approached the Hubbards about giving a permanent home to her collection of art, artifacts and materials related to the horse. The trio reached an agreement, and the collections were officially joined in 1992 to create the Museum of the Horse, whose name was changed later that decade to the Hubbard Museum of the American West, since the collections, exhibits and programming were about more than horses. In 1990 and 1991, the Hubbard family had brought attention to the new facility by offering the Hubbard Art Award for Excellence, with a $250,000 winning prize.
“Our collection is based largely on a donation from Anne C. Stradling in 1991,” said Jay Smith, the director of the Hubbard Museum of the American West. “Mrs. Stradling was a dynamic woman born in New Jersey to wealthy parents. She had a love of horses, and eventually married a Westerner and spent the majority of her life in Arizona. She created a museum [the Stradling] in Patagonia, Ariz., but transferred much of its content to the Hubbard Museum prior to her death in 1991.”
Nestled in one of the most picturesque parts of southern New Mexico, the Hubbard Museum is at the former Convention Center, just a halfmile from the popular Ruidoso Downs Race Track. Combining this extensive collection with the tremendous draw provided by the horse racing has proved wildly successful. In its first two years alone, the Hubbard attracted 25,000 people. In 1995 the museum began serving as host of the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, which attracts more than 20,000 people to the three-day event every October. Today the museum continues to play a role in that symposium by providing family and educational events.
Also in 1995, the Hubbards commissioned internationally known artist Dave McGary to create one of the largest equine sculptures in the United States. Free Spirits at Noisy Water became a signature piece for the museum. At a total length of 255 feet, it depicts eight horses, weighing 3,000 to 5,000 pounds each, balanced on only nine hooves—an impressive engineering feat. The monument is a powerful draw. Museum attendance doubled following its unveiling, growing to more than 55,000 visitors per year in 1998 and 1999. In 2000 the Hubbard became the first New Mexico museum to be designated an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In August 2005, the Hubbard family transferred control of the museum to the city of Ruidoso Downs.
Naturally, the Hubbard Museum has also addressed the story of perhaps New Mexico’s most famous character from the territorial days—William Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. In cooperation with the nearby village of Ruidoso, the Billy the Kid National Scenic Byway Center opened on museum grounds in 1997. Two years later, at the request of the Lincoln County Heritage Trust, the Hubbard Museum accepted ownership and operational responsibilities for historic Lincoln, one of the New Mexico towns forever associated with Billy the Kid. The village of Ruidoso now operates the Billy the Kid Scenic Byway Center, and ownership of Lincoln was transferred to the state of New Mexico in January 2006. Meanwhile, the Hubbard Museum has on loan a six-shooter that is said to have once belonged to the Kid.
The Hubbard offers much to those who love horses or history or both. The collection boasts some 9,000 items, many horse-related but including Indian artifacts, vintage stagecoaches, photographs, art displays and much more. Its recently formulated mission statement is: “To collect, preserve and interpret the political, social, business, cultural, and environmental history of the American West from the period of human habitation to the present day, with special emphasis on the local and regional arts, history and culture… The Hubbard Museum programming, exhibits, and special events will seek to empower audiences to engage in a dialogue about the legacy of the American West and its continuing impact on American Society.” Jay Smith added, “We are seeking new artifacts, but we are focusing our energies on the American Southwest.”
The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, with a $6 admission charge for adults and $2 for children 6 to 16. Group rates are available. For further information, write: The Hubbard Museum, P.O. Box 40, Ruidoso Downs, NM, 88346; call 505-378- 4141; e-mail [email protected]; or visit www.hubbardmuseum.org.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.