- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 11, 2002

Exciting, real-life characters such as Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid have provided a rich history of heroes and villains to help define American history and culture.

A place devoted to preserving this legacy, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, has spent 27 years enlightening visitors with its rich displays and art of the Old West. Hoping to attract a new generation to love the cowboy and his life, the museum has developed a Web site that takes children on a learning adventure John Wayne would love.

Diamond R Ranch

Site address: w.cowboyhalloffame.org/diamondr/index.html

Creator:

Oklahoma City's National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum produced the site with the help of Diamond R Ranch Publications in Fresno, Calif.

Creator quotable:

"We created this site because just at the time we were discussing a children's Web site design, I received a call from Jack Hannah, lead singer for the Sons of the San Joaquin and co-owner of Diamond R Ranch Publications, asking me if the first book in their 'Read, 'Rite and Recite' series might be sold in our gift shop," says Lynda Haller, public relations director.

"I knew immediately the colorful Diamond R Ranch characters and the accompanying workbook and CD with Jack's original cowboy songs could be the vehicle we needed to develop an interactive children's Web site. Our education director, Bob Gerling, agreed."

Word from the Webwise:

This colorful, character-driven cyber stop introduces six cartoony cowhands who are more than willing to help show elementary school children some of the fun reasons to be part of the Western ranch scene.

Cowboys Jack, Zeke, Waddie, Dusty Trails and Joaquin, and the lone cowgirl, Sing Song, appear on the opening screen, dressed in traditional garb. Sing Song prepares some grub on a campfire, while Cowboy Jack plucks his guitar and Waddie recites some rhyming verses to entertain the crew.

Six section icons reside under them Tours, Exhibits, Songs, Games, Characters and Printables, with each carrying over to the bottom of every page and offering a handy navigation tool.

The site mainly functions as a way to introduce younger hombres to the museum, and both Tours and Exhibits make for mighty fine places to start. Each combines illustrated images of the characters with real photos of the museum that give a wonderful overview of its resources.

Tours concentrates on paintings, sculpture and major displays, while Exhibits highlights a chuck wagon, bunkhouse and local store.

Education opportunities within these two sections range from learning about a plaster statue that has been one of the most recognized symbols of the Old West to visiting a replica of cowboy sleeping quarters. When visitors pass their mouse over the red, blinking areas strategically placed over items around the room, a text box appears at the right of the screen to explain the item's significance. For example, the chaps hanging on antlers in the corner are used to protect riders from heavy brush and rope burns when herding cattle.

Visitors should then mosey over to Songs to sing along with three tunes having a country-and-western twang. My favorite, "Read, 'Rite and Recite" sneaks in a literacy message as cowboys Jack and Waddie move on screen and words appear with the click of a mouse.

Stop by Characters to learn some background on the six ranch hands, Printables for some away-from-the-computer fun and finish the virtual trail hike with Games, which features an online dress-up cowboy simulation, an outdoors scene that works like a virtual Colorforms board and "Help the Boys," which challenges children to select the proper object a cowboy might need during his workday.

Ease of use:

Visitors will need later versions of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator to view the site with the Macromedia Flash 5 plug-in to really enjoy the many animated pages.

Don't miss:

I love art, and the Tours section features six gorgeous paintings that reside in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Works shown on the site include "Branding J.J." by William R. Leigh, "The Hand Warmer" by Tom Lovell, "The Good Life" by James Reynolds and "The Dance" by Morgan Weistling.

Family activity:

The Printables section contains a coloring page of each cowboy at the Diamond R Ranch as well as a few mazes, word finds and crossword puzzles for the entire clan to take away from the computer.

Cybersitter synopsis:

The 2-month-old site is off to a great start with enough entertaining activities to keep children busy for a few hours. I would suggest the creators add more historical information as well as a spotlight on famous cowboys.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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