Pillar of the West: A Western Icon Joins the NRHC

Towering above the landscape in the southwest corner of the National Ranching Heritage Center grounds, the Canon Ranch Eclipse Windmill is an iconic image of western heritage and culture among the cityscape of Lubbock, Texas.

Initially constructed in 1895, the new addition to the NRHC stands an impressive 58 feet tall, with a fan spanning 22 ½ feet in width. Originally located at the Canon Ranch in Ozona, Texas, where it supplied water to the ranch headquarters for 115 years, the windmill is now one of the crown jewels of the NRHC.

The NRHC is a ranching and western heritage museum, gallery and historical park within Texas Tech University. It is home to 55 historical structures, chronologically arranged from the late 1700s to the mid-1900s, with almost all structures relocated, restored and furnished for their appropriate period. 

According to the NRHC’s website, its mission is to preserve and interpret the history of North American ranching while addressing contemporary ranching issues.

The recent addition of the Canon Ranch Eclipse Windmill is another tangible example of the NRHC’s mission, as it adds an important perspective for what ranching was like in far West Texas during its life there.

“I think the Canon Ranch Eclipse Windmill is a really special addition to our collection here at the National Ranching Heritage Center,” said Jim Bret Campbell, NRHC executive director.

One of only four remaining Eclipse models, the windmill’s purpose was to supply water along railroads for steam engines in the Southwest. Its massive size and double set of fan blades allowed the windmill to pull water deep from within the dry West Texas earth, allowing settlements such as the Canon Ranch to thrive in the harsh, arid climate of the region. 

There’s something iconic about the silhouette of a windmill. It sort of evokes a feeling of home.

Jim Bret Campbell

Ranches could not have been built in the western region of Texas without the windmill due to the little amount of surface water. 

“It fits in with talking about the evolution of ranching,” said Scott White, Ph.D., Helen Devitt Jones endowed director of collections, exhibits, and research at the NRHC. “Because ranching would not exist in a lot of these parts of the country without the windmill.”

However, the beauty of the Eclipse windmill lies not only in the blades of the fan or the thick wood of the tower but in the history, heritage, and culture it represents. Windmills were often the first sign of any civilization when trailing across the historical plains, which earned it its place as one of the most recognizable structures in western culture. 

“There’s something iconic about the silhouette of a windmill,” Campbell said. “It sort of evokes a feeling of home.”

One of the beauties of the NRHC, Campbell said, is that it is like walking into a time machine, where guests get to experience how settlers lived on the Great Plains between 50 to 200 years ago and see the furniture and tools of those eras. The Canon Ranch windmill fills a gap in the timeline, as the NRHC does not have many historical structures from far West Texas.

“To me, this windmill sort of evokes that same imagery and reminders about the ingenuity, the toughness and the grit, and the legacy that those folks left us across the Great Plains,” Campbell said.

Without a doubt, the windmill is a pillar of western heritage and culture. It serves as a reminder of the enduring legacy of ranching and western heritage for generations to come, which perfectly fits the NRHC’s mission to preserve this vital piece of America’s history.