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Frontier Times Museum celebrates 90 years this Saturday

May 17, 2023 - 00:00
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One of Texas oldest history museums is commemorating its 90th anniversary.

Opened on May 20, 1933, the Frontier Times Museum is celebrating exactly 90 years later on Saturday, May 20, 2023.

“Many of the history museums in Texas opened in response to Texas’ centennial celebration in 1936,” explained Executive Director Rebecca Norton, “There is only a handful of history museums, such as the Witte Museum and Waco’s Strecker Museum, that opened before the Centennial.”

To celebrate this milestone, the museum is inviting everyone to a free birthday party on Saturday, May 20, complete with music, fun and birthday cake. The festivities will go on from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the museum grounds and will feature music by Retro Flashback band, free hotdogs and family games and activities.

At 11:30 am, a small ceremony to mark the occasion will be held with proclamation readings by Mayor Rebeca Gibson for the City of Bandera and a representative for Bandera County. The museum will also have free admission for the whole day.

The museum is named after a long running magazine, the Frontier Times.

Newspaperman and printer, J. Marvin Hunter, Sr., moved to Bandera in 1921 to purchase the weekly newspaper, the Bandera New Era. An amateur historian, he was fascinated with stories of the Old West. In addition to publishing the local newspaper, he began publishing his own magazine, the Frontier Times, in 1923.

The magazine quickly gained a wide readership throughout the country. Readers of the publication were encouraged to contribute their own stories. Along with their writings, they soon began to send Hunter their family treasures and relics from the frontier. Soon the New Era office was filled to the rafters as Mr. Hunter displayed all that was sent to him.

When Hunter had to knock out a wall to accommodate his growing collection, he began to dream of building his own museum.

Though the Depression was gripping the country, Hunter worked out a way to raise funds to build his dream. He decided to print a book, The Authentic History of Sam Bass and his Gang, with an edition of 1,000 copies, and sell them for $1 each, to raise $1,000. He built his limestone building on the highest point in the city of Bandera, on Delightful Hill.

The museum proved to be so popular that by 1935, Hunter had to expand the original building with the construction of Chisholm Hall, named for Jesse Chisholm and the Chisholm Cattle Trail.

After Mr. Hunter’s death in 1957, the museum was sold in 1960 to the F. B. Doane Foundation, established by Foster Bic Doane, a successful businessman who had a keen interest in all things western.

The Doane Foundation funded and operated the museum, constructing another expansion to the back of the museum, the Doane Western Art Gallery. In 1971, the Foundation gifted the museum to the residents of Bandera County but continues to be a supporter of the museum and its endeavors.

“Our founder, J. Marvin Hunter, opened the museum during the height of the Depression and it’s been a popular attraction ever since,” said Norton, “In 1971, it was gifted to the people of Bandera County by the Doane Foundation, and it’s been a public museum since then. If you are a resident of Bandera County, you are an owner of the museum.”

Built by master stonemason, Hough LeStourgeon, the museum building itself is a historical artifact.

As one of Bandera’s most unique buildings, the museum walls are filled with fossils and crystals, fossilized brain coral from the shallow sea that once covered today’s Hill Country, petrified wood from trees that grew along the shoreline, and a millstone from the Mormon settlement.

Visitors from all over the world walk through the museum’s doors and are transported back to the days when museums served as cabinets of curiosities.

Hunter never said no to a gift to the museum’s collection. He felt that if the artifact was important to the donor, then it should be important to everyone. This resulted in the museum’s eclectic and eccentric collection.

Today, the museum preserves Bandera history with exhibits on Bandera’s settlers and the Silesian families who helped establish Bandera as well as exhibits that honor the legacy of the American cowboy and our ranching traditions with displays on local rodeo champions, the Harvey Chelf Barbed Wire Collection, the Debbie Henderson Western Hat Collection, and the Texas Heroes Hall of Honor. The museum’s 90th birthday party will honor this local treasure.

The Frontier Times Museum is located at 510 13th Street, Bandera, Texas.