Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
Located in Canyon, Texas at the West Texas A&M University, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum presents the entire history of the West Texas area from the time of the dinosaurs to the conquistadors who settled in the area and beyond. Known as the largest history museum in all of Texas, this 285,000 square-foot facility boasts over 3 million artifacts and caters to 70,000 visitors a year. The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum seeks to display the stories of life, courage, hardship, victory, and defeat that defines the area’s rich 14,000-year history, and since 1933, university students and the general public have used the museum as the premier resource for anything associated with Texas history. In addition to artifacts, visitors can also discover art, Native American art and artifacts, antique vehicles and firearms, textiles, petroleum industry artifacts, and much more. Furthermore, visitors can explore the renowned outdoor Pioneer Village, which features a realistic saloon, livery, schoolhouse, and even a rustic pioneer cabin.
Backstory and Context
History of the Museum
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum dates back to 1920, when educator Hattie Anderson moved to the small city of Canyon to teach history. At the West Texas State Normal College where she taught, Anderson discovered that both the students and the public were deeply engrossed in a living history, and by 1921, Anderson and the head of the college’s history department, along with other faculty members and students, organized the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society with the goal of preserving the natural and human history of the region.
Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Society gathered enough funds to build the 12,500-square-foot Pioneer Hall in 1932, and the museum officially opened to the public in 1933. Since its opening, the museum has been flooded with artifacts, and this influx led to the development of several buildings. Over time, the Panhandle-Plains Historical museum gathered over 2 million artifacts in its 6.4 acre facility.1
In terms of the permanent and ever-changing exhibits, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum solely focuses on one thing: the history of the Panhandle Plains region. Therefore, visitors of all ages and with different historical preferences can find something for them. For example, the People of the Plains exhibit begins by showcasing the lives of West Texas inhabitants over 14,000 years ago. This exhibit also details how the Native Americans never wasted a part of the buffalo, while at the same time it introduces visitors to what life was like for American settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Museum-goers who like to go further in the past can explore the Paleontology Exhibit, which contains fossils from the Cambrian period to the Quaternary period. The Firearms Exhibit brings the Old West to life by displaying over 1,000 arms dating back to the Spanish explorers of the 15th century. Other permanent exhibits include the transportation exhibit, an exhibit on windmills, the Pioneer Hall exhibit, a geology exhibit, and more.2
Pioneer Town, however, stands as one of the most popular exhibits, as this recreation of a Texas Panhandle town immerses guests into the life and culture of the inhabitants who lived there from 1890 to 1910. Some sights in Pioneer Town include a Chinese laundry, an adobe casita, an hotel and saloon, and 26 other buildings.3