Oklahoma is a museum-goer’s paradise, with more than 280 museums covering a wide range of subjects. Visitors short on time have tough choices to make.
The types of museums are mind-boggling, covering topics ranging from Native Americans to oil companies to the state’s history to old-time pharmaceuticals and modern-day astronauts. No matter what your interest is, Oklahoma is likely to have a museum on that subject.
Oklahoma has two museums that honor famous native sons: Will Rogers, a folksy philosopher, wit and vaudevillian, and Gene Autry, a singing cowboy who found fame on the screen in the mid-1900s.
Will Roger was born in 1879 in Oolagah Lake, where his memorial museum is located. Rogers planned to retire to this site, but died in a plane crash in Alaska before he could realize his dream. The museum sits on 400 acres that has been restored as a living history ranch. The museum contains artifacts and memorabilia of his life.
Autry was born in Texas, but moved to Oklahoma with his parents as a teenager. The Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum is located – where else – but in the town of Gene Autry, so named because he owned a ranch nearby. While the museum primarily honors Autry, it is dedicated to all singing cowboys of that era, including Roy Rogers and Ken Maynard. The museum is housed in the town’s old school house.
Native American Museums
Oklahoma is home to several Indian tribes, with each having a museum or cultural center to showcase important tribal events and traditions. One example is the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur. This is a 96,000-square foot complex set on 109 acres adjacent to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The center uses movies and interactive exhibits to tell the story of the tribe. Another tribal museum showcases the culture and traditions of the Seminole Indian Nation. Located in Wewoka, the museum uses artifacts, photographs and interpretive exhibits to tell the story of the Seminoles in Oklahoma.
Museums Honoring the Old West
Numerous museums across the state are devoted to Oklahoma’s place in the westward movement across the United States. Most counties have an historical museum about the development of that county. One of the more well-known museums is the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan. The Chisholm Trail was developed to move longhorn cattle from Texas to a trailhead in Abilene, Kansas, where the cattle would be shipped east to feed Americans who were developing a taste for beef. The trail passed through Oklahoma.
The state has dozens of miscellaneous museums covering subjects from oil to space. Oklahoma is famous for oil productions, and several oil companies have their own museums. One such museum is hosted by the Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville. Then there’s the Stafford Air & Space Museum, located in Weatherford, the birthplace of astronaut Thomas P. Stafford. The museum has more than 20 aircraft, including rockets.