By Renée Gordon
“I will stand my ground, and I will not be moved from my duty, from my love of Oklahoma and all its people….. I will stand my ground.”
No state capitol is more filled with art that is visually stunning, representative of its multiculturalism and reflective of its history than that of the state of Oklahoma. A visitor could explore this one edifice in depth for days but there is a great deal more in the state and Oklahoma City (OKC), its capitol, which must be seen. We’ll begin this astonishing trip in Oklahoma City at the State Capitol and wind our way through cities and towns filled with sites and stories that border on the unbelievable. www.travelok.com
Oklahoma did not gain statehood until November 16, 1907 when it became the 46th state and a domeless capitol was completed 10 years later. The history of the region can be traced archeologically back to 850 AD through burial mounds. Twelve of these mounds are located at Spiro Mounds on a 140-acre site that was inhabited until about 100-years before European contact. www.exploresouthernhistory.com/SpiroMounds1.html
A number of tribes, both nomadic and villagers, migrated into the area and these tribes were there to meet Coronado, the first documented explorer, as he passed through Oklahoma searching for gold in 1541. Though the French, under Bernard La Harpe, did not explore the region until 1791, both the French and Spanish claimed the territory. The matter was settled in 1803 when Oklahoma was included in the Louisiana Purchase.
Between 1820 and 1842 the US Government relocated thousands of Native Americans to Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory, and thousands died along the route. Today the state is home to the largest Native American population in the country, more than 250,000, and is the location of more than 60 tribal headquarters.
Many Indians joined the Confederacy during the Civil War and the result was the destruction of their homes and livelihood by war’s end. Oklahoma rose from the ashes by establishing a thriving cattle industry and a cowboy culture.
The earliest reference to the Indian Territory being referred to as Oklahoma appears in 1866 in a treaty. The name is a combination of two Choctaw words, “ukla” and “humá” meaning “person” and “red”.
In the late 19th century the land was opened up for settlement after an initial proposal to make the territory a place for African American settlers. Ultimately six land runs were held for “Boomers” between 1889 and 1895 and twenty-seven all-black towns were founded.
The neo-classical State Capitol has 650 rooms on 11-acres of floor space. The building is constructed of materials donated from each of the state’s counties and is primarily white Indiana limestone and pink and black granite.
The interior and exterior artwork on display is stunning, each painting and sculpture a gem. Tours begin on the fifth floor with Ross Myers’ “White Tail Deer in Choctaw County” and proceed pass four murals by Charles Wilson on the fourth floor, portraits of famous Oklahomans and the second floor “Governor’s Art Gallery”. Free hourly tours are offered and self-guided tour brochures are available.
The dome rises 190-ft. into the air and is 80-ft. in diameter. The interior of the dome features the state seal and replicates the colors of the state wildflower. It was completed on June 7, 2002 with the placement of the monumental sculpture, “The Guardian,” on top. Enoch Haney’s 5,980-lb Native American stands 22′ 9″ and personifies the spirit of the state. The warrior is poised to ward off any threat, shield in hand, lance at his side piercing his legging, staking him to the land, forever holding his ground. www.art.ok.gov
Downtown OKC’s Bricktown was established in 1889. Originally a commercial district, the structures were constructed of red brick, and many of the buildings retain their decorative elements. The district was renovated in the 1990s and is now a thriving entertainment district filled with shops, clubs, restaurants, galleries and a one-mile canal complete with water taxi. www.welcometobricktown.com
Nestled near the entrance to Bricktown is the American Banjo Museum. Numerous galleries on two floors relate the 370-year history of the banjo, from its African roots to its modern incarnations, through the use of videos, memorabilia, artifacts, photographs and more than 250 banjos on display.
The self-guided tour begins with a life-sized diorama of Henry O. Tanner’s “The Banjo Lesson,” painted in 1893 in Philadelphia. A film, “The Banjo Goes Hollywood,” highlights the use of the instrument in such films as “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Cat Ballou,” and “Deliverance.” The second floor contains a performance space, the National 4-String Banjo Hall of Fame and the largest collection of banjos on public view in the world. www.americanbanjomuseum.com
The world’s largest cattle market can be found in OKC in Stockyard City. More than 10,000 head of cattle are auctioned every Monday and Tuesday from 8 AM until the sales are complete. The district, originally known as Packingtown, was placed on the National Register in 1979. The name was changed in the 1980s to reflect the fact that the slaughterhouses were closing. As of 2009, from the moment you enter the Stockyards Homeland Security is visually monitoring you in an effort to protect our nation’s beef supply.
Since 1910 this has been an area filled with real cowboys and the first Saturday in December the area hosts the Cowboy Christmas Parade, complete with longhorn cattle. The district stores sell artwork as well as authentic western gear and a visit here can be like stepping into a western movie set. www.stockyardscity.org
The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a western lover’s Mecca. The museum’s goal is to preserve and present the nation’s frontier heritage in realty and myth through dioramas, art, film and material culture. The collection and its presentation are outstanding and visitors should allow a minimum of three hours to hit the highlights. Artists represented include the breathtaking Remington and Russell galleries.
A focal point of the collection is the iconic 18-ft., 4-ton, “End of the Trail” sculpture by James Fraser. It is visible as you enter. Tours walk guests through every aspect of life on the frontier including Equipment, Ranch Life, Clothing, the American Rodeo, Nomadic Tribes and Trappers, Traders and Trailblazers. The “Western Performers Gallery” features every star who ever appeared in a western movie and one of the showcased items is John Wayne’s eye patch from “True Grit.” The US Military section is built around a life-sized diorama of a Buffalo Soldier in full gallop. The role of the African American soldier in the area is interpreted in this section.
Though most of the first African American residents in the area came as Native American slaves they later came as settlers, cowboys and soldiers. They fought as part of the Federal Army of the Frontier in the 1863 Battle of Honey Springs, the Gettysburg of the West, along with whites and Indians. This critical battle broke the South’s hold on the Indian Territory. Later the ninth and 10th cavalry would build and be stationed at forts in Oklahoma during the Indian Wars. www.nationalcowboymuseum.org
The 30,000-sq. ft. Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum honors the memory of those who perished and those who survived the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building. The museum is housed in the west end of the former 1923 Journal Record Building and is enhanced by outdoor displays.
The formal entrance to the site is marked with “The Gates of Time,” two gates that are etched with 9:01, just before the bombing, and 9:03, the exact time America’s innocence was lost. An outline, made of granite from the Murrah Building, delineates the shape of the former structure. Nine rows of bronze and stone chairs with glass bases, replicating the building’s nine floors, feature 168 chairs. Each chair is etched with the name of a victim with the 19 smaller chairs containing the names of the children killed.
Self-guided tours begin on the third level and proceed chronologically, hour by hour. An orientation film, “A Day Like Any Other,” establishes how unexpected the attack was and how normal the day seemed. The second major exhibit area depicts an office in which a hearing was taking place. As you listen you hear an actual recording of the hearing, the explosion and the panic that ensued. The explosion killed 168 people and injured 700. This gallery displays cases of keys, shoes, watches and glasses that were found amidst the rubble.
The galleries that recount the investigation and subsequent manhunt for Timothy McVeigh are extremely interesting and the most arresting item in this portion of the museum is the twisted license plate from the Ryder truck used to carry the explosives.
On the second level the “Gallery of Honor” features individual cases with photographs of the victims and personal items chosen by their families. The cases of the smallest victims jut out from the others and contain children’s toys and even a pacifier. This is one of the most moving tributes I have ever visited. www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org
Oklahoma is a place where legends never die or lose their luster and Oklahoma City invites you to experience history, heritage and old friends in new ways. It is a gateway to everything the state has to offer. Information is available online. www.visitokc.com
I wish you smooth and awesome travels!