The Museum of the Western Prairie tells the story of Southwest Oklahoma. The story started with the Wichita Mountains that were formed almost 300 million years ago. The hills that remain today serves as a link between every period of Southwest Oklahoma history and presides over a largely agricultural base in Southwest Oklahoma. The museum explores the activities Native Americans, frontier soldiers, cowboys and homesteaders.
The museum's exhibits begin with information about the first humans in the region. About
7,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians existed in Southwest Oklahoma. The Paleo-Indians
were hunters and gathers that moved about on foot. Six-thousand years
later, colonies were permanently created in some areas and farming began. One of the cultures connected
with the historical period after European contact developed at this time, that
of the Wichita.
During the last Ice Age, the
climate of the region supported animals that would later become extinct, such
as the mammoth and mastodon. These animals’ remains have been found
throughout the area. Extinct form of bison was said to have been found
throughout the area as well. Archaeologists found proof that humans hunted
these extinct animals about 11,000 years ago.
The museum also discusses the nomadic tribes that inhabited the area, as well as the creation of Oklahoma as Indian Territory. The museum also discusses the history of the region during the Civil War and in its immediate aftermath. At first, Texas
ranchers began moving their longhorns overland to meet a southern branch of the
Transcontinental Railroad. The route that was taken was called the Western
Trail which passed through Southwest Oklahoma. At its peak in 1881,
approximately 300,000 cattle, 7,000 horses, and 1,000 men moved up the trail.
Altogether, more than 7,000,000 cattle traveled the route during its
operation. After that period, federal land policies encouraged the settlement of individual pioneer families throughout Southwest Oklahoma. The museum discusses the history of the region during Oklahoma's territorial period, as well as the establishment of cities and businesses in cities such as Altus.