Western Prairie Museum


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 and insects.

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

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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 format for profit or other presentation without written permission of the officers of the Museum.