Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Hoot Gibson. That´s quite a roster of western movie heroes from yesteryear. A person could make a museum about those characters - and now, someone has. Today, in Kansas Profile, we´ll learn about a brand new museum to honor these good guys of the silver screen.

John Birdeno is a longtime collector of western movie memorabilia. His collection is the centerpiece of the new Silver Screen Cowboy Museum, housed at the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper near Benton, Kansas, outside of Wichita.

The Prairie Rose offers all you can eat barbecue dinners and great western entertainment. Greg and J.W. Johnson bought the Prairie Rose in August 2007. In 2009, they expanded it by adding the Silver Screen Cowboy Museum, featuring John Birdeno´s collection.

John grew up in Oregon, watching shows with stars like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. His parents said, "Yes, those TV cowboys are neat, but we had the greatest cowboy of them all, Tom Mix." John´s dad rented a 16 millimeter projector and showed John one of Tom Mix´ old westerns. It sparked an interest.

John started casually collecting old time western memorabilia as he started a family of his own. One day he was talking to his son´s third grade teacher and he mentioned that he had articles and items about Tom Mix and others. The teacher asked him to bring his display to the class and give a talk about it.

The talk went so well that another teacher asked for it, and then the principal across town did the same. John began going to film festivals and actively collecting movie memorabilia. In 1990, he moved to Kansas to be closer to grandchildren. He would later settle in Buhler, Kansas.

Meanwhile, he was having lots of fun collecting these movie items of legendary cowboy movie pioneers like Lash Larue and Tom Mix. He became friends with Paul Mix, Tom Mix´s cousin. At one festival he was meeting a friend to whom he commented, "That old guy in the corner has a great collection of Lash Larue." His friend replied, "That old guy in the corner IS Lash Larue."

John gathered autographed pictures and other souvenirs from far and wide. A friend suggested he turn all this into a museum. A board was formed and several attempts were made to establish a museum, but they didn´t work out.

John approached the new owners of the Prairie Rose and explained that he wanted to find a home to display his collection, and they agreed to host it. Wichita radio personality Orin Friesen had recently rejoined the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper and took on this project.

Orin and John worked together to catalog and display John´s collection at the Prairie Rose.

John says, "Orin got more done in four days than I and others got done in four years."

In May 2009, the Prairie Rose hosted a grand opening for the Silver Screen Cowboy Museum.

The museum displays posters, autographed photos, costumes, fancy guns and saddles, rare treasures, and much more. John Birdeno says, "I have enough movie posters, lobby cards, publicity stills and arcade cards to wallpaper an airplane hangar." Displays feature everything from little known artists to John Wayne himself.

John says the collection will continue to grow, as people in Hollywood are working on gathering additional movie artifacts for the museum.

It´s a fitting addition to the Prairie Rose, the Midwest´s largest chuckwagon supper. I´m pleased that it´s located near the rural community of Benton, population 821 people. Now, that´s rural. For more information, go to www.prairierosechuckwagon.com.

Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter, Hoot Gibson. It´s a who´s who of legendary western stars, now portrayed right here in Kansas. We salute John Birdeno, Greg and JW Johnson, Orin Friesen, and all those involved with the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper and the Silver Screen Cowboy Museum. They are making a difference by preserving and promoting this element of our culture. In the end, I know that the good guy wins.

Source: Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.