The Edmond Sun
So near and yet so far…I guess that’s been my attitude toward Guthrie. I keep forgetting what a cool little city it is. I hadn’t been to the Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library for several years. Last week I headed north to revisit this fine museum and was surprised all over again at how good it is.
The exhibits actually started outside the entrance with an exhibit called “Bending the Rules” — a series of panels on the subject of women who bent and broke the “rules” to which women of the Territorial era were expected to adhere. Several of the women had strong Oklahoma ties. Flora Mundis used the alias “Tom King” and led a band of horse thieves. She was captured in Guthrie in July of 1893 – definitely a rule breaker. Lucille Mulhall, also flouted convention, but to the approval of her parents and even a president of the United States.
This outdoor exhibit prepares visitors for a museum that is a reader’s delight. You can race through, just looking at the artifacts and catching a caption, but for those who want more in-depth info, there’s plenty here.
The first floor features the pre-territorial period – from the Louisiana Purchase to the Run of 1889. There are panels explaining the Indian Removals and other exhibits about the opening of the Unassigned Lands. Surveyors’ instruments and other artifacts show how the lands for settlement were marked and a map explains the division into ranges and townships.
A huge attic-like arrangement stands in the middle of the room. This area is filled with items which came to Oklahoma in the ‘89 Run. Around the perimeter are quotes relating their experiences from people who made the Run. Items range from baking pans and bedsteads to trunks and tools. A large mural by the late Fred Olds brings color and life to the story.
The second floor covers the period from the Run to statehood. At the top of the stairs from the first floor is a massive American flag. It is one of the most important artifacts in the entire collection. It is probably not the first 46-star flag but it is the first “official” flag. According to law, a star cannot be added to the flag until July 4 following admission to statehood. Oklahoma was admitted on November 16, 1907. This flag, with “Oklahoma July Fourth, 1908” embroidered on its newest star, was flown over Independence Hall in Philadelphia on that date.
Following the path set by the circular staircase, visitors are led through a section on the earliest pioneers. Most folks started out living in tents. Later, some built dugouts or sod houses. At one of the seven hardware stores that sprang up right after the opening, a homesteader could purchase a special plow which cut sod strips six to eight inches deep. These were cut into two foot sections – which could weigh as much as 150 pounds – and stacked like bricks to make the walls.
Another of the prized exhibits is a little wooden cabin – eight feet by eleven feet – which belonged to Edmond Jacobus, an ‘89er. The lumber probably came from one of the 22 lumberyards thrown up quickly by entrepreneurs who anticipated the demand for building materials.
Surprisingly, one of the important crops in the area was cotton. A wall-sized photo labeled “Guthrie Cotton Market, October 13, 1896,” shows a street filled with people, wagons pulled by horses or ox teams and stacked cotton bales. Near the photo is a bright yellow elongated stagecoach with “Tallman’s Transfer and Bus Co.” painted on the side. And it has a phone number – “Pho. 1”.
Other exhibits tell more about the lives of early Guthrie residents. A particularly fascinating exhibit explains mourning customs during that time.
From exhibits about family life, the next area deals with the law and Guthrie’s three most famous deputy marshals – Bill Tilghman, Heck Thomas and Chris Madsen. And then there are the outlaws – the Doolins and Daltons.
The next important area explores the political scene and the preparation for statehood. Major artifacts in this area include two desks used at the constitutional convention and the chair used there by “Alfalfa Bill” Murray who later served as governor of Oklahoma.
And, yes, there is a display concerning the moving of the capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City and the myths of the stolen seal. There’s so much Oklahoma history here, you’ll need hours to really do it justice.
Moving from the new section of the museum into the historic 1902 Carnegie Library, the outlaws again capture attention — one outlaw in particular. An extensive display relates the history of Elmer McCurdy — an outlaw who covered more territory dead than he did alive. The story is so strange and convoluted that it — and the museum — are scheduled to be featured on the Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” series sometime in January.
In short, get yourself to Guthrie and check out the Territorial Museum — it’s worth the trip. This is a “grown-up” museum — not a lot of hands-on exhibits and tech trickery to appeal to short attention spans. They do offer a number of guided group tours which are appropriate for a variety of ages. The museum is located at 406 E. Oklahoma, Guthrie, and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors (55+) and $1 for youth 6 – 18.