Most works of art are named by their creator, but this was not the case with the longhorn steer statue which stands at Second Avenue and Wyatt Earp Boulevard.
In the 1970s, Boot Hill Museum chose to honor the over 4,000,000 cattle which came up the trail from Texas to Dodge City from 1875 to 1885. They commissioned Arizona sculptor Jasper D’Ambrosi to create a longhorn steer statue which would be prominently placed in Dodge City.
As D’Ambrosi was working on the steer, arguments erupted over where to place the large statue. At first, downtown businesses had no objection to placing it near the city center, but later they argued the steer’s placement in the business district would impede the flow of traffic in and out of the downtown. They felt, since this was a Boot Hill Museum project, the statue should be close the Museum.
The decision was ultimately made by the Kansas Department of Transportation which insisted North Second Avenue be blocked at Wyatt Earp Boulevard because two highways met there. It turned out be a great place to showcase the statue.
In addition to the controversy involving where to place this monument to the longhorn, was the question of what to name it. For some reason D’Ambrosi left the name of his creation up to its recipients.
In 1978, while anticipating the statue’s arrival, the Longhorn Steer Committee and Kansas Heritage Center offered a $50 prize to the winner of the "Name the Longhorn Contest."
People from Dodge City and southwest Kansas got into the act; some submitting multiple entries per person or per family. As a result the Heritage Center received a lot a creative names.
Among the rejected, were names of historical figures, Ham Bell, Grenville (Dodge), Socrates and Tecumseh.
Some names were just too cute — Babe, Buckwheat, Sunflower (two people submitted that one) and Slowpoke.
Others, more majestic, were Liberty, Charger, Commander, Courage, Emperor of the West and Thunder.
Some were downright scary or overly imposing — Lucifer,& Chico Diablo, Fireball and Stampeder.
Gunsmoke, Maverick, Rawhide, Old Dodge and Big Horn were obvious entries.
El Capitan was, of course, the winning entry. Noted long-time resident Lois Flanagan was announced as the winner of the naming contest at the First Annual Western Art Show on Nov. 14, 1978.
El Capitan — The Captain — depicts the leadership of the guiding animal which lead the herd to the end of Trail. After his long trip he appeared lean and lanky, yet strong. Many of these steers made multiple trips in this leadership position. The Spanish name is also fitting since the first longhorns were brought to our continent by Spanish explorers.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education for Boot Hill Museum.