Denver, Colorado, was founded as a gold rush town. Remnants of the Wild West are seen throughout the state, even in pockets around Denver. Civic Center Park displays two permanent sculptures that share a narrative of what life might have been like at the time of roaming bison and gold mining.
“Bronco Buster” is a cowboy riding a wildly bucking horse, presumably breaking it in after capturing it from the herd on the prairie. The Civic Center commissioned artist Alexander Phimster Proctor to create the sculpture in 1920. Proctor found a man named Slim Ridings to model the cowboy. When Slim landed himself in jail for cattle rustling, Proctor paid the bail money so that they could finish the job. Slim’s own experience as a cowboy gives the sculpture serious credibility.
The second culturally significant piece is another Proctor sculpture called “On the War Trail.” It’s another man on a horse, but this horse is much more subdued, and the man is a Native American. His head is high, he holds a spear in his right hand, and he gazes with an angry expression toward the horizon. Three men worked as models: Jackson Sundown from the Nez Perce people, Gray Eagle from the Blackfoot people, and Eddie Beaver from Browning, Montana. The sculpture was completed and dedicated in 1922.
Although both sculptures were completed and erected in Civic Center Park in 1920 and 1922, Proctor wasn't officially identified as the artist until 2014. The Alexander Phimister Proctor Museum in Seattle collaborated with the City of Denver to create bronze nameplates designating Proctor's works, which were unveiled in a public ceremony. Proctor's sculptures are now a recognized tribute to Wild West history.
Cover image by Daderot is licensed under CC 1.0.