Oklahoma Territorial Museum: Guthrie, OK

Hey friend! Welcome back to another post! Today, we’re talking about the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Their collections cover the creation of the Unassigned Lands, the Land Run of 1889, homesteading, territorial government, and state government.

But first, a little bit of Oklahoma history for you! Oklahoma Territory existed from 1890-1907 when it became the state of Oklahoma. Prior to this, it had been Indian Territory. The Land Run (April 22, 1889) opened 2 million acres of land which had promised to Indigenous peoples. Thousands of people flooded into the area (Unassigned Lands). Many towns were established, some being Guthrie, Norman, Oklahoma City, and Stillwater. Guthrie became the capital of Oklahoma Territory. Make sure to read all the way to end to learn about the Outlaw mummy and hatchet-wielding woman who smashed up a saloon in the name of temperance! You don’t want to miss these stories – Let’s get started!

*All photos used in this post were taken by myself at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Museum History

The Oklahoma Territorial Museum opened in 1973 thanks to the efforts of Fred Pfeiffer. He was a local philanthropist who wanted to save the Carnegie Library in Guthrie after the City threatened to tear it down. Pfeiffer built the museum next to the Carnegie Library so that the important building wouldn’t be torn down. Today, the Carnegie Library and Oklahoma Territorial Museum are connected! For more information, read my post about the Carnegie Library!

Exhibits Inside the Museum

There were so many cool exhibits inside the museum! I have highlighted several of them here, but didn’t talk about all of them… The Oklahoma Territorial Museum website has several pages which talk about their various galleries. I have linked several of the pages in the sources section at the end of this post if you want to know more!

Indian Territory – Indigenous History

This section of the gallery on the first floor talked about Indigenous history in Indian Territory.

Railroad History

This section of the gallery on the first floor talked about railroad history.

The Land Run (1889) & Oklahoma Territory

This section of the gallery on the first floor talked about the history of the Boomers, the Land Run, and more. For more information about the Boomer Movement, see my Instagram post about the David L. Payne Memorial in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Land Run Office

This area on the first floor was set up kind of like a Land Office and I thought it was neat!

Homesteaders

I LOVE reading about homesteading history. So, the homesteading portion of the museum was really cool to see. I especially liked the section that spoke about African American homesteaders because their story is sometimes left out of the narrative of the West.

Homesteaders would choose a piece of land, built a shelter, and had to ‘improve’ the land. Many homesteaders struggled in the aftermath of the Land Run for several years with drought and economic depression. Finally, in 1897 things began to look a little bit better for the farmers in Oklahoma Territory.

African American History in Oklahoma Territory

The exhibit pictured below is outside the museum. It talked about African American history in Oklahoma Territory! You can view this exhibit anytime because it is outside and free for the public to look at.

Law Enforcement in Oklahoma Territory

This section of the museum was on the second floor. My friend and I were casually walking through when I saw the story of Florence L. Hitchcock – the first female deputy in Oklahoma Territory. Very cool! Then there was also the signs that talked about the famous outlaws in Oklahoma.

Newspaper History

Not everyone who participated in the Land Run wanted to homestead. Some people established businesses in the towns. One example of a business is the newspaper! I LOVE newspaper history. So, seeing the section about the “Daily State Capital” was super cool! Keep watching for a future blog post on the State Capital Publishing Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Journey to Statehood

The Statehood Gallery contains many items from the convention, Oklahoma’s journey to statehood, and the history of the town of Guthrie. Below are some of the items on display in the gallery. Make sure to scroll through all of the pictures in the slideshow below and read the information – there’s some really cool stuff!

46 Stars on the American Flag

Oklahoma became the 46th state on November 16, 1907. This massive flag was given to Oklahoma by the City of Philadelphia Pennsylvania on July 4, 1908. If you look closely at the star in the right corner you’ll see that it is embroidered. It says, “Oklahoma July 4 Fourth 1908.”

Original State of Oklahoma Flag

Did you know that original flag for the state of Oklahoma was not the blue one that we are all familiar with today? The red Oklahoma flag was adopted in 1911 by the Third Legislature. It was meant to commemorate Oklahoma being the 46th state of the United States. Mrs. W.R. Clement made the design. Senator McMechan and Representative Wright showed the design to Congress. The museum plaque beside the flag was full of interesting information! The plaque states that the red Oklahoma flag was phased out in the wake of the First Red Scare (1919-1921). Oklahomans didn’t want to display the red Oklahoma flag for fear of being associated with communism.

The Curious Story of Elmer McCurdy – An American Outlaw

Elmer McCurdy and two other men decided they were going to rob a train that was supposedly carrying a $400,000 Osage Indian royalty payment on October 4, 1911. They flagged down the M.K.&T. #29 train and boarded the cars. They searched high and low, but only turned up $46.00 and a couple of bottles of whiskey. The men had stopped the wrong train and now had the law looking for them.

FUN FACT! Elmer McCurdy also used the aliases ‘Frank Davidson’ and ‘Frank Curtis.’

The three men ran for three days. Finally, Elmer McCurdy was cornered in a hay loft in the Osage Hills by Stringer Felton, Bob Felton, and Dick Wallace. What ensued was an hour long gun battle… resulting in McCurdy’s death. His body was taken to the funeral home of Joseph Johnson in Pawhuska – not too far away. McCurdy’s body was embalmed and stored because nobody wanted to pay for his burial… Eventually, Elmer McCurdy turned into an outlaw mummy. Johnson stood the body of McCurdy up in a corner for people to pay to come see. And people did come see him…

One day in 1916, two strange men appeared in Johnson’s funeral home. They claimed to be the family members of Elmer McCurdy and asked for his body to be returned to them. The men said that McCurdy’s dying mother’s wish was to bring her beloved son home. Johnson didn’t think anything of it and gave the two men McCurdy’s body.

These two men had fooled Johnson – they were actually representatives for The Great Patterson Show. McCurdy’s body was on display for the next 60 years and people soon forget that he was a real mummified person and not a mannequin… One day while filming an episode of a tv show, a person grabbed the arm and pulled. It came off and he was horrified to find that there were real bones inside. The Deputy Medical Examiner confirmed that it was mummified human remains.

Soon, there was a nation-wide search across the United States to discover the identity of the mummy. Elmer McCurdy’s identity was confirmed and he was returned to Guthrie. He is buried at the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie next to Bill Doolin, founder of the Wild Bunch.

According to an article in The Daily Oklahoman, people come from all over to visit the Oklahoma Territorial Museum because of this story. Very interesting. I remember the first time I heard the story of Elmer McCurdy I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant in graduate school and the professor I worked for that semester included Elmer McCurdy’s story in the lecture. I was intrigued and had to look it up after class!

The Saloon Smasher – Carrie A. Nation

Carrie Nation is one of my favorite people to talk about because she smashed a couple of saloons with a hatchet in Kansas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the name of temperance. These events were often referred to as ‘hatchetations.’ Carrie Nation was an outspoken woman who believed strongly in her Christian faith. She once described herself as a “bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.” 

Her first husband died of alcoholism 16 months into their marriage in 1869 and this led to her hatred of liquor. She was forced to raise their daughter alone. She married her second husband in 1874. He was a widower with 5 children of his own. The family moved around a lot. They lived in Seiling, Oklahoma for a few years. The Nations moved to Medicine Lodge, Kansas in 1899. Carrie grew famous for her saloon smashing over the next 2 years. Her husband filed for divorce in 1901 because she was never home. 

Carrie Nation moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma 4 years later. Guthrie was the capitol of Oklahoma Territory at the time and she wanted to make sure that Oklahoma entered the Union as a dry state. She went on a lecture tour and published “The Hatchet” from 1905-1906. She was successful in her efforts and Oklahoma became a dry state on November 16, 1907. Carrie Nation passed away 4 years later in Leavenworth, Kansas. 

One of Carrie Nation’s hatchets and hatchet pins are at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie, Oklahoma (pictured below). According to a museum employee, Carrie Nation once lived in Guthrie for 6 months and would give speeches at a bar, get arrested, and then the bar owner (who brought her there) would bail her out. Carrie Nation drew a crowd wherever she went and he paid to bring her to Oklahoma to hopefully increase the sales at his business. Carrie Nation took every opportunity to speak about the temperance cause she so strongly believed in. 

Concluding Thoughts

I REALLY liked this museum. It’s definitely in my Top 10 favorite museums in Oklahoma list! I loved the layout of the museum and the staff member working the Saturday I went was so kind and knowledgable. I will definitely be going back and plan to spend more time walking though the museum. I hope you’ll pay this museum a visit!

Happy Traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂

Visit

406 East Oklahoma Avenue

Guthrie, Oklahoma 73044

TRAVEL TIP: This museum requires admission – please see their website for details. I did see on their Instagram page that this year the museum offered free admission on Saturday of 89ers weekend. So, keep that in mind!

Sources

Oklahoma Territorial Museum Sources

Oklahoma Territorial Museum – Website

“Life in the Territory Gallery”

“Oklahoma or Bust Gallery”

“The Outlaw: Elmer McCurdy”

“Spotlight Exhibits”

“Statehood”

Oklahoma Historical Society Sources

“Oklahoma Territorial Museum and Carnegie Library” – Oklahoma Historical Society

Jon D. May, “Doolin, William M.,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=DO007.

Linda D. Wilson, “Nation, Carry Moore,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=NA006.

Other Sources

“The Progressive Era,” American Yawp. Textbook.

Dino Lalli, “Discover Oklahoma: Transition to statehood showcased at Territorial Museum & Carnegie Library, The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), June 5, 2016.

89ers Parade and Celebration – Website

3 thoughts on “Oklahoma Territorial Museum: Guthrie, OK

  1. Wow what an amazing piece of Oklahoma history. I had never heard of the Oklahoma red flag. Interesting 👏 I also never heard the traveling “mummy”. Cool and funny – sort of. I knew the hatchet story but didn’t remember she traveled so much her husband divorced her. Thanks again Katie for discovering all this amazing Oklahoma history. You are great 👍👏🥰

    Like

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