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Oakdale corrals cowboy history

John Wayne would be proud of Oakdale’s museum

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Oakdale corrals cowboy history

Oakdale Cowboy Museum docent Lindsey Giles takes a closer look at the 2007 FRAM-Autolite Sonoma Grand National Funny Car Championship Trophy won by Oakdale product Eric Medlen. A rodeo team member ...


POSTED June 16, 2012 3:16 a.m.

OAKDALE – There are some museums that dig way back into the history of a given area.

Geological formations. Archeological finds. Anthropological discoveries.

And then there are the types of museums that John Wayne himself would be proud to walk into.

That’s exactly what the curators at the Oakdale Cowboy Museum have captured with their unique telling of the story that blends together a frontier lifestyle with an appreciation for the customs and traditions that were commonplace in the Old West.

With a combination of tangible items like world lassoes, saddles and belt-buckles and the lore of local cowboys and fixtures that made their indelible mark on the rodeo community, the museum not only tells the local history but hints at the iconic spirit that allowed regional cowboys to chase their dreams as far as they could.

For some that meant a World Championship belt buckle. Manteca bull rider Ted Nuce took home his sport’s top honor in 1985, and the chaps that he wore during that season hang on the wall beneath a picture of the Wrangler-sponsored cowboy doing what he did best.

For others it meant shattering the mold in the event that they pursued.

Oakdale brothers Leo and Jerald Camarillo devised a strategy that eventually netted them six Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) World Team Roping Titles, 39 National Finals Rodeo qualifications and six NFR Team Roping titles (a record.) Leo was voted the top All-Around Cowboy by the PRCA in 1975 – a saddle from his team-roping championship that same year sits in a corner of the museum.

“We always say that the spirit of Oakdale’s western heritage is alive and well in the walls of the cowboy museum,” said museum executive director Christie Camarillo. “Our whole rodeo era started at a time when cowboys would come to the area and work on ranches and spend their weekends pursuing what it is they loved.

“We also have a rich ranching heritage here in Oakdale, and that’s something that we try to capture as well.”

Other unique artifacts and tributes include:

• A tribute to original Oakdale cowboy John Bowman – Awarded the PRCA World All-Around Rodeo Champion honors in 1936, Bowman set the mold for future rodeo cowboys in the region to follow. A trophy bearing his name is presented to the best all-around cowboy at the city’s prestigious rodeo in April.

• A montage of cowboy Jerry Hixon – The bronc rider, according to the story, broke down outside of Modesto when traveling on Highway 99 and quickly discovered that Oakdale wasn’t necessarily a bad place to be. A variety of photos of him throughout the years are on display.

• A saddle once owned by actor Wilford Brimley – Known for his gruff appearance, Brimley – who starred in “The China Syndrome” and acted alongside Robert Redford in “The Natural” – made a trip to Oakdale for an auction that helped raise more than $20,000 for the museum.

• The “wire that won the west” – A panel that shows several different varieties of barbed wire points out the importance that it played in the west when it came to keeping cattle in given range area. Prior to its introduction cows would often migrate across territorial lines since heavy wood fencing was expensive to install and maintain. 

• The 2007 FRAM-Autolite Sonoma Grand National Funny Car Championship trophy awarded to Oakdale native and rodeo hand Eric Medlen. Later that year Medlen would die during a test run in Florida. A picture of him with a horse next to his car at the starting line sits next to the trophy.

The Oakdale Cowboy Museum is located at 355 East F Street. Take State Highway 120 east through Escalon and continue until you arrive in Oakdale. Follow the road straight until it intersects with F Street and turn left (it’s the city’s main intersection.) The museum and parking will be immediately on the right.

For additional information visit or call (209) 847-7049.

209 staff reporter

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