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High Desert Museum: Staking A Claim of Western History in Central Oregon

A saloon girl, all rosy and bare, poses provocatively against a fountain. Relax, she's just on canvas. Even so, it's subject matter you wouldn't consider typical fare for Central Oregon's High Desert Museum, but in this case, it's perfect. Blazing a new trail, the museum just outside of Bend debuted the exhibition called "Sin in the Sagebrush" last February (it runs through September26).

Re-creating an authentic 19th-century high-desert saloon and the characters and artifacts that would have inhabited it - from bottles of laudanum and French contraceptives to games of chance and games of cheating - the interactive exhibition transports visitors to the seedier side of the Old West. It's one of the most in-depth exhibitions to examine the lives of folks who went West seeking opportunity and fortune and found community and escape in saloons and bordellos.

The job of bringing to life that Old West story in museum format fell to Bob Boyd,the museum's curator of Western history. Boyd is used to digging deep and wide in his research, having spent 30 years scouring the region,visiting pawn shops, antique shows, attics, barns, and forgotten shelves and spending years getting to know the individuals who help him re-create the past. His obsession with all things Western and his deep respect for its people, land, and culture are a succinct metaphor for the museum he serves.

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