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By Shauna Struby
In north central Oklahoma, the land unfolds like a blossoming flower, raising undulating hills and seas of prairie grass toward the sun and sky. Pumpjacks, cattle and small towns slip by the car window, and the frontier as it once was – a place of infinite possibility, epic stories and lots of heart – and the place it is today, burrow deep into your heart.
Driving along State Highway 64, between Morrison and Cleveland, you’ll pass through cross-timbers country, an alluring mosaic of forest, woodland and prairie, and an area steeped in the history of the West. A particularly colorful slice lies just west of Pawnee, where atop Blue Hawk Peak, the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum makes for a mighty fine stopover and cordially captivating history lesson.
The legendary Wild West Show entertainer, Gordon Lillie, a.k.a. Pawnee Bill, and his wife, May Lillie were fascinating larger-than-life characters and the museum and ranch, their former home, is a picturesque place with a wagonload of family fun. The centerpiece of the property is the Lillie’s 1910, 14-room dream home brimming with Lillie family memorabilia, decorative arts and furnishings, photographs and original art work. When you take a tour, well-informed guides reveal all sorts of fascinating minutiae that make the history of this 100-plus-year-old treasure come alive. Don’t want to spill all the beans, but if no one mentions it, don’t forget to ask about ghostly happenings.
The ranch, a 500-acre property, also houses a museum with exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, the Wild West Shows, and members of the Pawnee Nation, and includes the original ranch blacksmith shop, a recently restored 1903 log cabin, a large barn built in 1926 and an Indian Flower Shrine. Tour the drive-through pasture and you get an extra authentic, up-close-and-personal look at herds of bison, longhorn cattle and draft horses.
The Pawnee Bill historic site is a microcosm of the West’s and Oklahoma’s epic story, bringing to mind Oscar-winning 1962 film, “How the West Was Won,” filled with triumph for some, tragedy for others, riveting stories and everything in between. But if, after touring the mansion and ranch, you still crave an extra helping of Old West adventure, be sure to return for the Pawnee Bill's Original Wild West Show, a renowned extravaganza recreated by the ranch the last three Saturdays in June each year.
If all the touring leaves you famished, mosey on into Pawnee proper for the chow at Click’s Steakhouse. Mouthwatering homemade food and smiling people reign at Click’s where the steaks are big, tender and juicy and the signature Tollhouse pies assure plenty of satisfied moans and sighs. Don’t miss the fried pickles – tart and crunchy –and yeasty homemade rolls. For bunking down, try the Pawnee Bunkhouse Bed and Breakfast, located on the 90-acre Dancing Bean Ranch.
Before you leave the Pawnee area, add these two destinations to your prairie itinerary: The well-organized Pawnee County Historical Society Museum in Pawnee features artifacts from area ghost towns and a special area devoted to Pawnee native Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip; and the architecturally significant 1939 WPA Pawnee Bathhouse and Waterpark, built from hand-cut and coursed native stone, on the National Register of Historic Places, is another memorable historic treat.
For details on these and other Pawnee attractions or to order free travel brochures, visit www.TravelOK.com.