Where the Buffalo Roam
This Western heritage road trip through north central Oklahoma includes ranches, museums and bison herds to give you the feel of the Old West.
|Photo: Dave Morrison|
Legends and tall tales of the Wild West are part of the fabric of life in Oklahoma. In the north central region of the state, visitors can experience Oklahoma's rich Western culture and heritage by attending Western-themed events, visiting museums and viewing wildlife, including the majestic American bison.
The 101 Ranch, Ponca City
The site of the 101 Ranch in Ponca City is a National Historic Landmark, though none of the once-sprawling ranch’s buildings remain. The ranch gave rise to the Miller Brother’s 101 Ranch Wild West Show and an oil discovery that led to the formation of Marland Oil, later known as the Continental Oil Company (or Conoco). An historical marker and picnic area commemorate the site. While in Ponca City, the Marland Mansion, Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum and Poncan Theatre all deserve a visit.
Bob Clark’s Spur Collection, Fairfax
This collection of spurs is housed in the lobby of the First State Bank at 308 Main Street in Fairfax. Owner Bob Clark has spent a lifetime collecting the 150 pairs on display, each with its own bit of Western history. The collection has spurs that are more than 150 years old and once belonged to cowboys from the 101 Ranch. Others were once used by cattle barons and rodeo stars.
Pawnee Bill Ranch, Pawnee
Gordon Lillie, better known as Pawnee Bill, was a showman on the order of Barnum and Bailey. In the tradition of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and the Miller Brothers’ 101 Ranch Wild West Show, Pawnee Bill introduced the Wild West to parts of the United States and Europe by taking it to them. His shows featured trick riders, ropers, sharpshooters and production numbers that simulated the Indian Wars.
Lillie invested well in banking, real estate and oil, and lived at the ranch until his death in 1942. The 14-room Pawnee Bill Ranch Historic Site & Museum is open for visitors to tour and is furnished with original belongings and artwork. Today, the 500-acre ranch is home to bison and longhorn cattle, which can be viewed in pastures during a driving tour. The ranch in Pawnee, Oklahoma comes alive in June each year with re-enactments of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, near Pawhuska
The American bison was once plentiful on Oklahoma’s plains, but by the end of the cowboy era few remained. The Nature Conservancy reintroduced 300 bison to the 39,000-acre Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska in 1993 and the herd now stands at its target population of 2,500.
Blacksmith House, Pawhuska
Built in 1871, the Osage tribe gave this blacksmith house as a gift to Sid Delarue, a Swiss blacksmith, on the condition that he agreed to care for the tribe’s horses. It was the first building in Pawhuska and the home of the first Boy Scout troop in America. You’ll find it at 222 Main Street, next door to the Osage Tribal Museum. Also worthy of note is downtown Pawhuska itself where 86 of the 98 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ralston Opera House, Ralston
At the start of the 20th century, the cowboy era was winding down as the first automobiles began to turn up on town streets, but there was still plenty of ranching to be done when the city of Ralston got its opera house in 1902. The spectacular acoustics helped attract some of the biggest stars of the era. The venue was nearly in ruins after 60 years of neglect, but a $400,000 restoration project helped bring it back to life. While you’re visiting, check out the restored First National Bank building, also constructed in 1902.
Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum, Blackwell
The Top of Oklahoma Historical Society Museum in Blackwell houses artifacts from the 1893 Cherokee Strip land run that settled Oklahoma through modern times, and has one section exclusively dedicated to Western heritage. Artifacts include saddles and antique ranch equipment. Electric Park Pavilion commemorates the arrival of electricity in 1913, effectively bringing what remained of the cowboy era to a close.