MUSEUM OF THE WESTERN PRAIRIE
In the span of a little more than one hundred years, southwest Oklahoma
has changed from a homeland of the Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache to an area of
prosperous farms and growing communities.
Situated on the border of the semi-arid Great Plains, with a marginal water supply, both
past and present inhabitants of the region have adapted and prospered. For centuries this
nearly treeless "prairie ocean" was home to the roving tribes who lived by
hunting the millions of buffalo that roamed the region. The Wichita, Kiowa and Comanche
all claimed the land at various times and for years successfully defended it from the
Spanish, French and American intrusion
From 1874 to 1890, Texas drovers herded millions of longhorn cattle up the Great Western Trail
to the cow town of Dodge City, Kansas. By the 1880's, however, non-Indian settlement of
the area known as Greer County, Texas, and military intervention had forced the Nations to
relinquish their hold on the land. This settlement began as a result of promising reports
of a great expanse of good grass, by returning drovers. Texans began to move across Red
River and establish vast ranches in the area.
In 1896, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Greer County did not belong to Texas
as claimed, but was a part of Oklahoma Territory. The decision opened up 1,500,000 acres
of land for settlement. Texans already living there were allowed first choice of a
homestead and the opportunity to acquire an additional 160 acres. "Old Greer
County" of Texas was later divided up to become Jackson, Greer, Harmon and a portion
of Beckham Counties of Oklahoma.
The first task of the homesteader was the construction of a suitable home, which usually
consisted of a half dugout built into the side of a hill. The people in these crude
structures were plagued by leaking roofs, and often unwelcome guests of snakes, lizards
The farmer next turned his attention to the planting of crops. While traditionally a
cattle raising area, a rise in cotton prices in the 1890's convinced many to plant that
crop. Many believed the area was too far north to raise good cotton, and were surprised by
the successful crops.
Soon after 1900, the first railroad came to the region. As the railroad brought in lumber,
frame farm houses were built. Small towns such as Altus, Mangum, and Hollis prospered and
became thriving centers of commerce through which agricultural products and consumer goods
passed. The development of irrigation soon established southwest Oklahoma as a state
leader in cotton production.
The Museum of the Western Prairie
The Museum of the Western Prairie is located at 1100 N. Memorial Drive, Altus, Oklahoma.
Hours of operation are 9:00-5:00 Tuesday through Friday and 2:00-5:00 Saturday and Sunday,
closed State holidays.
Designed in the form of a half-dugout, the Museum
of the Western Prairie houses two galleries exploring the history of southwest
Oklahoma through display vignettes and dioramas. Topics include fossil remains, Native
American life, cattle trails, frontier life, agriculture, the Altus-Lugert Irrigation
Project and Altus Air Force Base. The grounds also feature an historic half-dugout, an
operating windmill, farm implements and a carriage barn with additional displays.
The Museum of the Western Prairie also houses the Bernice Ford-Price Memorial Reference
Library (available by appointment). Holdings include family histories, material
related to Altus and surrounding communities and an extensive collection of photographs.
When you are visiting Altus, Oklahoma, stop by for a visit with us, and get a small taste
of the old Southwest Prairie. The Museum also has a weekly column in the Altus Times Newspaper
Return to WTGS
Web Page by Ethel Taylor
Pages created February 15, 1999
NOTICE: The Museum of the Western Prairie grants that this information and data may be
used by non-commercial entities, as long as this message remains on all copied material,
for personal and genealogical research. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any
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