Historic Sites In Oklahoma. More Than Just Parks has 5 incredible must-see sites for you.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing these articles for More Than Just Parks.
I’m going to give you my list of the 5 Historic Sites In Oklahoma that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks. (More on that below)
If you are planning a trip to Oklahoma then you might want to pick up a copy of Weird Oklahoma: Your Travel Guide to Oklahoma’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Wesley Treat.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Historic Sites In Oklahoma
#5. Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center
At More Than Just Parks were committed to bringing you the most interesting and diverse historic sites so as to maximize your traveling experience whenever you decide to boldly go where you’ve never gone before. As a retired history teacher who loves to get in his car and go exploring it’s my hope that you will benefit from my experience both in the classroom and on the road.
At #5 on my list of the best historic sites in Oklahoma is the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center.
Travel seven miles outside the eastern Oklahoma town of Spiro and you will find the remarkable Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center. The park preserves the remains of an advanced prehistoric Native American civilization. Regarded by many archaeologists as one of the four most important prehistoric Indian sites east of the Rocky Mountains, Spiro was a center of culture during the Mississippian Era (A.D. 900 – A.D. 1540).
Things To See
This era marked the spread of a common, organized religion across much of the Southeast and Midwest. Several of the 12 known mounds at Spiro form a sort of giant calendar for tracking the seasons. The mounds were constructed to create unique alignments when the sun rose and set on solstice and equinox days marking the key seasons.
The Center preserves 150 acres of the site along the Arkansas River. The center offers interpretive exhibits, an introductory slide program and a small gift shop. There are nearly two miles of interpreted trails, including a one-half mile nature trail.
Special tours of the site, available to everyone, are offered during the solstices and equinoxes. Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center features an annual Family Kite Flite Day on the third Saturday of March, Archaeology Day, and Birthday Bash in May, and periodic temporary exhibits sponsored by the Spiro Mounds Development Association. (Source Oklahoma Historical Society)
#4. Chisholm Trail Museum
Coming in at #4 on my list of the best historic sites in Oklahoma is the Chisholm Trail Museum.
For almost 30 years, I taught high school history. What impresses me most about the field of history are the amazing stories of men and women whose contributions changed the course of human events. In doing so, they helped to bring about the country we have today.
One of these remarkable people is Jesse Chisholm. The Chisholm Trail was established as a freight trade route from Kansas to Texas, through the Indian Territory, by traders Jesse Chisholm and James R. Mead during the Civil War.
Sam Houston, and others, called on Chisholm for his skills as an interpreter and guide in many of the early Native American councils prior to the Civil War. During the Civil War, Chisholm lived in Wichita, Kansas, and served both sides as a trader and interpreter. Though the famous route was named for him, he never had the chance to enjoy the notoriety. He died in 1867—the first year the herds began to follow his route.
Check Out The Chisholm Trail Museum
The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum sits on the Chisholm Trail which was a trail used in the late 19th century to drive cattle overland. The museum includes a life size cattle drive silhouettes, Johnson County’s original courthouse, a working blacksmith shop, a stagecoach station, teepees and more.
There’s also the Big Bear Native American Museum which features a collection of Native American artifacts donated by Leonard “Big Bear” Beal and additional artifacts supplement his collection to provide a complete overview of Native Americans in North America from their arrival over 13,000 years ago to the present.
Special exhibits at the museum include: the Chisholm Trail in Texas-Ranching Heritage of the Guadalupe River Valley, Horsemen of the Americas-Tinker Collection and Edward S. Curtis-A Portrait of Native American Life.
Historic Sites In Oklahoma
#3. Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
At #3 on my list of the best historic sites in Oklahoma is the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.
On November 27, 1868, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer led his famed 7th US Cavalry on a surprise dawn attack on a Cheyenne village. In his military dispatches, Custer referred to it as the Battle of Washita.
The strike was hailed by the military as a significant victory aimed at reducing Indian raids on frontier settlements as it forced the Cheyenne back to the reservation set aside for them.
For a long time it was seen as a glorious victory for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer against Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne Nation. Instead of winning against Cheyenne soldiers, however, Custer and his troops reportedly massacred more than a hundred people, including Chief Black Kettle and his wife.
From the numbers of women and children who were senselessly slaughtered at the site, it has since been determined to have been not a battle, but a massacre.
The Dust & Fire Trail
Visitors can learn about this time in history at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Roger Mills County. There is a one and a half mile trail which is self guided with many brochure stops along the way.
There’s also a shorter Dust & Fire Trail. While walking it, you can learn about life on the prairie. Visitors can also explore flora, fauna, a dugout house, and a working windmill.
If you’ve never been there before then I would highly recommend starting your visit at the visitor center. It provides interactive and educational experiences including a 27-minute park film called Destiny at Dawn.
The film describes the engagement which happened on the site and the events leading up to it. There’s also a museum providing views of the Washita River Valley, which includes the Western National Parks Association Bookstore.
#2. Santa Fe National Historic Trail
We’re closing in on the top historic site in Oklahoma. At #2 is the Santa Fe National Historic Trail.
Westward Ho! Between 1821 and 1880, the Santa Fe Trail was a highway connecting Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The route was originally pioneered by Missouri trader William Becknell.
Once Bucknell showed how it was done, others decided to follow. By 1825, goods from Missouri were being traded in Santa Fe, as well as other points farther south.
There were two major routes. Some used the Mountain Route, which offered more dependable water, but required an arduous trip over Raton Pass.
Others took the Cimarron Route. It was shorter and faster, but required knowledge of where the route’s scarce water supplies were located. It you ran out of water then you weren’t likely to survive the journey.
Now here’s an interesting fact. During the Mexican-American War, the U.S. Army actually followed the Santa Fe Trail westward to successfully invade Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended this war in 1848.
Afterward, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the more settled parts of the United States to the new southwest territories.
the santa fe trail today
Today the Santa Fe National Historic Trail extends between western Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the way, there are museums, historic sites, landmarks, and original trail segments located all along the length of this historic trail.
There’s a wonderful book filled with amazing stories about life on the legendary Santa Fe Trail. Written by David Dary, it’s titled The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore.
The #1 Historic Site In Oklahoma
#1. Oklahoma City National Memorial
At the top of my list is the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
This horrific bombing happened at 9:02 a.m. It killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others. The bomb destroyed more than one-third of the building, which then had to be demolished.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial is a memorial honoring the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by this tragic event. It was authorized on October 9, 1997, by President Bill Clinton’s signing of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Act.
The Memorial is located on NW 5th Street between N. Robinson Avenue and N. Harvey Avenue.
Visitors are encouraged to check out the Memorial Museum. It’s an interactive learning experience. It takes visitors on self-guided tours through the story of those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever.
The Museum includes 35 interactive exhibits as well as hundreds of hours of video and artifacts to show visitors each personal detail. Admission fees help to maintain the Memorial.
Map Of Oklahoma Historic Sites
List Of Historic Sites In Oklahoma
- Oklahoma City National Memorial
- Santa Fe National Historic Trail
- Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
- Chisholm Trail Museum
- Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center
About the Folks Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for the More Than Just Parks website. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
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To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Oklahoma National Parks: 6 SURPRISING Oklahoma National Parks