Buckhorn Saloon and Museum
San Antonio, Texas
"Texas Bob" Reinhardt is exactly the same age as Keith Richards. His heroes are Buffalo Bill and Soupy Sales. Texas Bob thinks this is important for us to know, along with a thousand other strange facts and details streaming our way in the wonder-filled freak show known as the Buckhorn Museum. He's our tour guide, sort of; the walk through the "Five Museums in One" is supposed to be self-guided, but he's tagging along to make sure we don't miss anything.
"In this glass case is the 8-legged lamb -- if he got tired he could flip upsidedown and keep going."
Texas Bob eyeballed us wandering off the street from the Alamo, as he stood at the Saloon's entrance columns with his Old West duds and droopy mustache. We weren't there for the Saloon, though it's likely the only museum in the world where waitresses come up as you tour and ask, "Want a beer?" We wanted to see the Buckhorn's collection of stuffed freak animals, horn and antler art, and other spectacles.
The Buckhorn Saloon opened in downtown San Antonio 1881, with owners Albert and Emile Friedrich's enticing promise to customers: "Bring in your deer antlers and you can trade them for a shot of whiskey or a beer." Albert would trade cowboys two free beers for every pair of antlers; Emile bartered a shot of whiskey for every rattlesnake rattle. Albert fashioned elaborate chairs out of the antlers, while Emile made "portraits" from her pile of rattles.
As San Antonio grew, so did the Buckhorn's collection of animals and oddities. In 1956, the Lone Star Brewing Company purchased the collection and moved it to the Lone Star Buckhorn Hall of Horns, adjacent to their brewery. The brewery tour (with free beer) and Hall of Horns (soon joined by the Hall of Fins, Hall of Feathers, and Hall of History) was a fine combo attraction -- we visited in the 1980s -- until the old brewery closed in 1998.
That same year the Buckhorn collection was acquired by founder Albert Friedrich's granddaughter, Mary Friedrich Rogers and her husband Wallace Rogers, who opened a new Buckhorn Saloon only a few blocks from its original location.
The Buckhorn bar (with many "original furnishings"), cafe, arcade and gift shop are free; the sprawling 2-story museum that surrounds is not -- but touts the economy of seeing "Five Museums in One."
A giant Woolly Mammoth head, mounted on a giant plaque, greets visitors. "It's made of steel wool," Texas Bob confides to us. "We bought it on eBay."
Exhibits are jam-packed in spots -- you might see a 6-ft. long stuffed snake cozying up to a tray of vintage whiskey bottles or a collection of miniature saddles.The rarest treasures are displayed behind glass, like precious royal jewels (and who could really put a price on the head of a rare Manboon?). There are many other one-of-a-kind items, such as a cathedral made of 50,000 wooden matchsticks.
"Old Tex," the longest Texas Longhorn, with horns 8 ft.1.5 in. across, reportedly died when he was struck by lightning on a south Texas ranch. The skull and horns were preserved and are now mounted on a new body with new skin. It was acquired along with a pile of other hides and horns from the competing Horn Palace when it closed in 1921.
Though today's animal activists might scowl, horned or antlered furniture was once a sign of success and frontier prowess. Teddy Roosevelt's uncomfortable-looking 62-horn chair, made by Friedrich, is displayed. Teddy trained troops in San Antonio for the Spanish-American war, and was a Buckhorn regular, recruiting some of the saloon patrons into his Roughriders.
Along with Old Tex, another candidate for the Roadside Pet Cemetery is William S. Hart's "Famous Movie Horse Calico," which stands mounted in an alcove near a stairway. It seems mainly to work as an enticement to proceed up to the second floor to see more exhibits....
Hall of Horns
The Hall of Horns proudly boasts of more than 1,200 trophy mounts -- from a 78 point buck, to a moose with a 67 inch rack. With room after room of dead animals, visitors might get confused, so they are thoughtfully arranged in climatological and thematic groups.
For example, in the jungles of Africa, one finds "The Guard," an African gorilla, so named because he used to be on display in the Saloon`s front window, bought for $22.50 in 1914, "The first African gorilla on display in the U.S." His chest hair has been worn away from years of visitor rubbing.
A floor-mounted display, covered in plexiglass, encourages visitors to compare footprint size with an African elephant and Shaquille O'Neal.
We pause to examine three Ecuadorian shrunken heads. "They`re real!" blurts Texas Bob -- unnecessarily. Aren't all the exhibits in the Buckhorn real?
One room is devoted to horrendous escaped-the-incinerator farm animal defects. There are three 2-headed calves. There are albino creatures, extinct species (such as the last living -- but now dead dead dead -- pair of Passenger Pigeons). Most grotesque, if one has to select a favorite, is the 8-legged, 3-eared lamb.
The "locked antlers" room features many examples of what happens when two horned creatures can't reconcile their differences. These bucks, either exhausted or dead, are allegedly discovered by ranchers who can never unknot the death tangle.
Also displayed is the lynx that appeared in Mercury Lynx commercials. "Now both are extinct," Bob cracks.
"Some people get upset about all the dead animals. I tell 'em most of them have been dead since the 19th century."
The Hall of Fins, The Hall of Feathers
A 1,056 pound marlin, the world`s record, was caught in Peru by the same guy who killed an elephant with a bow and arrow (a video of this runs continually next to the dead elephant). He was a wealthy businessman who liked hunting animals exclusively with a bow.
There are plenty more trophies of rare birds and fish....
Hall of Texas History Wax Museum
The Hall of History is an artifact of the 1968 Hemisphere World's Fair in San Antonio. In a series of dioramas, wax figures depict slices of Texas life.
In "1854 Comanche Attack," an Indian scalps a settler while his wife and child await their turns. This scene, as it was arranged in the Lone Star Brewery phase of the Buckhorn, was brilliantly captured in a classic postcard (appearing as the History chapter-opening photo in the first edition of Roadside America).
A Texas Ranger prone on a bluff draws a sharpshooter's bead on an outlaw.
Bob, a stickler for historical accuracy, re-outfitted several of the mannequins with clothes from his own wardrobe closet. "They had `em dressed all wrong," he said.
At the end of our tour, Texas Bob reveals that he is a former New Jerseyan and hotel maintenance man, and that in the mid-1980s he operated his own attraction -- Texas Bob's Ardt Showcase Popular Culture Museum -- in a storeroom in Fort Davis. He spelled it that way "because some folks said it wasn`t art." He seems to have adapted well to his role as a "Living History Re-enactor" -- and living font of trivia -- at the Buckhorn.