Transportation to Underlie Each Exhibit at State's History Museum

By May, Bill | THE JOURNAL RECORD, May 22, 2001 | Go to article overview

Transportation to Underlie Each Exhibit at State's History Museum


May, Bill, THE JOURNAL RECORD


It's something we all know, but has been little recognized outside the industry.

That is, that transportation underlies all cultural and economic development in Oklahoma.

What brought this up is the new State Museum of History at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rd and Lincoln Boulevard, scheduled to open in November 2004.

One of the museum's main exhibits is to focus on transportation, but "we realize that transportation underlies everything in Oklahoma," said John R. Hill, exhibits curator. "Because of this, transportation will be a part of each exhibit, cultural and business. Transportation will underlie each of our exhibits.

"First, it was the game trails, which the Indians followed and then the non-Indians that came this way, followed the Indian trails that became traces, roads and highways," he said. "Naturally, transportation in our early history involved either pedestrian traffic, animal-powered vehicles or water travel.

"It's interesting to note that just about all the modern routes follow the same direction. The roads and highways generally followed the game trails and traces."

One exhibit is an early-day map overlaid by a modern map with all the transportation routes overlaid.

"We start with the game trails, then the Indian trails, then highways and later aviation," he said. "By using this exhibit, you will notice that all of them, including aviation, generally are the same direction."

Exhibits, of course, will start with early game trails and move into the modern space travel era, noting how Oklahoma and Oklahomans influenced different modes of transportation.

"We don't want to just illustrate the infrastructure of transportation in the state -- we want to show the people involved and how Oklahomans contributed to the overall improvement of transportation in the nation," Hill said.

"For instance, we will have exhibits on the various railroads that came here because of the treaty of 1866 that forced the Indians to accept north-south and east-west rail lines. These railroads were the driving force behind opening Oklahoma to settlement for non- Indians.

"We won't just show the railroads, but the people who built and the people who operated the trains. When we talk about how railroads improved agriculture and business in the state, we'll show individual farmers whose grain was hauled by rail and the merchants who brought in merchandise by rail."

Entrance to the transportation exhibit area will be through a side-wheeler steamboat, believed to be the Caddo that sank in the Red River. It was recently discovered and excavated.

"One of the artifacts we'll have on display is a piano that the Caddo brought in to a Choctaw family in southern Oklahoma," Hill said. "There are not many ways to display an artifact like a piano, but this gives us an interesting tie to our transportation theme."

Both the Red and Arkansas rivers were important waterway links between Oklahoma and international trade at New Orleans, Hill said.

"Not many people realize it now, but the Red River was an important link to Oklahoma," he said. "There was a limited season when steamboats could traverse the Red River, but there are reports of some captains making as many as five trips a year to Oklahoma, bringing a lot of goods to people in the southern part of the state."

Hill noted that many people think Oklahoma's water-borne transportation system began with the Port of Catoosa, Tulsa's port on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System. It actually was started by pre-Columbian Indians, who used the rivers for transportation and trade. …

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