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What do the following items have in common? A shrunken human head. A pair of fleas dressed in clothing. A set of porcelain teeth. A Texas map made from rattlesnake rattles.

They are all items displayed in the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera, Texas.

Texas Hill Country

Known as the Cowboy Capital of Texas, Bandera is located in Hill Country, about 77 kilometers (48 miles) northwest of San Antonio.

At first glance, Bandera (population 957) seems an unlikely location for a museum that attracts thousands of visitors annually. Many of its rare and valuable artifacts rival those found in much larger, more famous museums.

The collection of more than 40,000 items was established in 1933 with some pioneer artifacts owned by journalist-historian J. Marvin Hunter.

Driving directions

To drive to the Frontier Times Museum, follow Highway 16 from San Antonio to Bandera. Frontier Times Museum is located one block behind (north) of the Bandera County Courthouse at 510 13th Street.

Opening hours are Monday through Saturday, from 10 am to 4:30 pm.

Old West

Examine the fieldstone walls and fireplaces in the original building, in the northeast section of the museum. You'll find fossils, petrified wood, flint arrowheads and even a millstone.

Relics from between the American Civil War and the closing of the frontier, in 1890, form a large part of the collection: an Indian peace pipe and feathered headdress, a sausage-stuffer, a butter churn, a set of electric curlers used to give permanent waves, branding irons, rawhide lariats and a set of Texas longhorns spanning 2.4 meters (eight feet).

Other animal artifacts are also on display. A Gila monster peers from a dusty countertop. A two-headed goat vies for your attention with a tarantula preserved in an old Gerber food jar, a sawfish blade and an alligator tooth necklace.

Sign and museum entrance
Sign and museum entrance
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Shrunken head

The latter is part of a South American collection that includes a porcupine fish, a wooden idol from Easter Island, a 400-year-old pair of brass conquistador stirrups, a young boa constrictor's skin and the shrunken head of a girl, about 18 years old.

Beautifully preserved, the head is about the size of a large orange with hair measuring 56 centimeters (22 inches) long. The head was shrunken by the Jivaro Indians, who lived in the jungles of northern Peru. To prevent the spirits of their dead enemies from inhabiting their bodies, they performed an elaborate ceremony that involved the shrinking of their victim's head.

Museum exhibits

Besides an art gallery and displays of champion cowboys, the Frontier Times Museum also houses treasures from other countries. An ornately carved walnut throne chair, for example, comes from the Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy.

Perhaps the rarest foreign object is a reincarnation plate from the Golden Krishna Temple in Benares, India. Intricately carved in silver, copper and brass, it was used by Hindu priests to teach their followers about the cycle of reincarnation.

A collection of more than 400 bells from around the world includes Russian sleigh bells, elephant and camel bells and an ancient Ming dynasty Chinese gong. Other musical items include an 1849 piano and a music box from Civil War days.

Military firearms can also be found amid the clutter of memorabilia — muzzle-loading rifles, powder horns, bullet molds, German bayonets and several prehistoric arrowheads.

Pioneer collectibles

How did the Frontier Times Museum accumulate such an eclectic collection? According to the curator, pioneers brought their personal treasures and precious souvenirs of their travels with them as they settled the Southwestern United States.

Because objects of historical significance were scarce, the Frontier Times Museum gladly accepted anything that people were willing to donate. They ranged from old dentistry equipment to a telephone exchange. Today, due to lack of space, the museum is much more selective when it comes to adding new items to the collection.

There are some collectibles that are just too hard to resist, however. One of them sits gleaming in a glass case, surrounded by Confederate money. The item? A Canadian "loonie" dollar.


Frontier Times Museum: www.frontiertimesmuseum.org

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