If you ride the hop-on hop-off bus or look up things to do in San Antonio, chances are you’ll become aware of the Buckhorn Saloon and Museums. I didn’t really have any interest in the saloon or getting something to eat in the cafe, but I definitely was interested in seeing the Texas Ranger Museum. So, while I was doing a self-guided walking tour of downtown San Antonio, I decided to take the short walk to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museums from The Alamo.
When I arrived at the Buckhorn Saloon, I went in to the gift shop which is where you purchase your tickets. The gift shop is large with lots of merchandise including plenty of Texas memorabilia. I spent some time looking around and found a t-shirt I liked. Then, I purchased my ticket and headed into the museum.
Into the Depths of the Buckhorn Saloon and Museums
When I entered the museum, I was totally surprised by what I saw. I was expecting Texas Ranger memorabilia. What I saw instead was an introduction to the Buckhorn Saloon Museum which I wasn’t even aware was a part of the experience. (Totally due to a lack of research on my part!)
When Albert Friederich opened his saloon in 1881, he had a standing offer to all patrons – bring in deer antlers to trade for a shot of whiskey or a beer. Albert’s father made hand made horn furniture for the saloon, beginning the most unique collection of horns and antlers in the world.
In 1898, when the US declared war against Spain, Teddy Roosevelt frequented the saloon to recruit his Rough Riders, the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry. When he returned to San Antonio as President, Albert’s father presented him with a chair made of 62 American bison horns to thank him for his business.
When Prohibition began in 1920, the Buckhorn Saloon discontinued the sale of alcohol. It survived as a curio store and soda fountain.
The Lone Star Brewing Company purchased the world-famous collection of horns in 1956. A building was erected on the brewery grounds to house the collection.
In 1998, when Stroh Brewery Company became the new owner of Lone Star Brewing Company, they moved brewing out of San Antonio. To keep the Buckhorn collection in San Antonio, Albert’s granddaughter and her husband bought the collection back. They moved the Buckhorn Saloon to its current location, just a few blocks from its original location.
The Texas Ranger Museum opened at the Buckhorn Saloon in 2006. In 2011, they opened two new exhibits, The American Sideshow and The Carnival of Curiosities.
The Texas Ranger Museum
Past this introduction, you do enter the Texas Ranger Museum. It covers several rooms and tells the entire history of the Rangers. Priceless artifacts including photos, badges, weapons and so much more give you insight into the life of a Texas Ranger. The exhibit spans more than a century of Ranger history.
In 1820, Stephen F. Austin, often called the father of Texas, got permission from the Mexican government to bring 300 families into the territory of Texas, which was still part of Mexico. Within a couple of years, it became apparent that the pioneers needed some sort of protection. In 1823, Austin got permission from the Mexican government to hire some men to protect his “new frontier.” So, the Texas Rangers came in to being to track the movements of renegade Indians and protect the settlers.
Most of the Ranger force was disbanded after the end of the Mexican-American war in 1848 when protection of the frontier came under the jurisdiction of the US Army. Today, since 1935, they are a division of Texas Department of Public Safety. They fulfill the role of Texas’ state bureau of investigation.
The Texas Ranger Museum also includes Ranger Town, a recreation of San Antonio at the turn of the century.
Replica of the 1934 Ford V8 Deluxe — the famous Bonnie & Clyde getaway car. Fun fact: the bullet holes are painted on!
The Buckhorn Saloon Museum
When I entered the first room of the Buckhorn Saloon Museum, that’s when my surprise and amazement began. I’ve since seen the museum referred to as a wonder-filled freak show and I probably can’t describe it better. Things like two-headed calves and 8-legged lambs definitely cement this description.
If you are offended by taxidermy and seeing dead animals, this is not the place for you! The Hall of Horns alone boasts over 1,200 trophy mounts. Room after room is filled with mounted wildlife from all over the world, including mammals, birds and fish. Animals from every continent and fish from the seven seas represent more than 520 species of wildlife.
The huge, 3-story museum features 40,000 square feet of exhibit space! The incredible exhibits include a 1,056-pound black marlin and a 10,000-year-old elk.
Just when you think the exhibits are ending, you come face to face with Buffalo Bill. In the American Sideshow, Buffalo Bill and PT Barnum share stores about sideshow pageantry. Through video technology you’ll see PT Barnum’s smallest man on earth as well as daredevils and freaks.
The Carnival of Curiosities
But that’s still not all! The topsy-turvy town of Turmoil Texas is full of optical illusions. This is a hands-on, interactive exhibit.
The Buckhorn Saloon and Museums Details
The Buckhorn Saloon and Museums are open 365 days a year. The museums, saloon and gift shop open at 10am daily. The cafe is open Friday through Sunday. Entrance to the museums is $22.99 for adults and $16.99 for children 3-11.
The Buckhorn Saloon is just a short two-block walk from the Alamo and only 50 feet from the Riverwalk at the corner of Houston Street and North Presa Street. It is also a stop on the hop-on hop-off bus.
My Final Thoughts on the Buckhorn Saloon and Museums
The Texas Ranger Museum was educational and very interesting. However, the rest of the exhibits were jaw-dropping fascinating. Perhaps that is partly because it was so unexpected. Whatever the reason, this was a totally extraordinary, amazing experience. You could easily spend 3-4 hours here. Add in the saloon and cafe and who knows?
As for all the dead animals, keep in mind that they have all been dead for more than 100 years, some many more. Life was different in the 1800s. Thankfully, even though we have a ways to go, we have learned a few things about wildlife conservation.
Until next time…