Explore Oklahoma History

Explore Oklahoma History

By Christian Toews
From the Oct. 2020 Biskinik

Museums give us a valuable glimpse into the past. They ensure the understanding and appreciation of various groups and cultures. With the invention of online catalogs and photo galleries, museums might seem like an outdated institution. But museums offer something that you cannot get from reading about or looking at an ancient artifact. Seeing something in person is quite different from seeing it on the pages of a book or a computer screen.

Museums across Southeastern Oklahoma offer a wide variety of displays that everyone will enjoy. One of these museums is the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma. This 58,000 square-feet museum showcases southeastern Oklahoma’s rich and diverse history. Their artifacts show us that this land has been home to many different and interesting people for generations.

The Museum of the Red River has acquired a wide variety of materials and artifacts. According to the museum’s director, Henry Moy, the museum initially focused on preserving material culture from local native American groups. However, that focus quickly grew beyond southeast Oklahoma. While they still focus heavily on the area and indigenous groups, the museum’s collection has grown to include art from around the world.

Moy said that the museum was founded in 1974 by the Herron family. When the development of the area began to escalate, many archeological projects uncovered ancient objects. These artifacts were being sent to larger cities because there was no place for them to be stored and viewed in southeastern Oklahoma. That is when the Herron family, along with a very large advisory committee, stepped in to preserve the history and culture that was being discovered, Moy said.

Quintus Herron, who founded the museum was a Choctaw Tribal member. His son Donald Herron now operates the Herron foundation that supports the museum. Donald said the museum’s mission is to provide a place where native artifacts can be taken care of and viewed.

Museum of the Red River
Jeremy Gauna inspects one of the many unique artifacts at the Museum of the Red River.

One of the museum’s most popular attractions is the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, said Moy. According to the museum’s website, this was one of North America’s largest predators and looked very similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex.

What makes this exhibit so unique is that the complete skeleton of the Acrocanthosaurus atokensis was unearthed less than twenty miles from the museum by amateur paleontologists Cephis Hall and Sid Love in 1983. The nearly 40 feet long cast of the original bones is a must-see.

Other exhibits in the museum include a large collection of Native American baskets, hundreds of stone tools and points, and pottery from the earliest people in the area.

According to Donald Herron, the museum also offers workshops on traditional basket making and other programs to inspire a love of art and natural science. More on these programs and exhibits can be found online at museumoftheredriver.org.

Admission to the museum remains completely free. Donald Herron said that they are able to keep admission free due to the Herron Foundation and private donors. The museum also offers memberships and other support opportunities. You can find out more about how to contribute to the museum on their website.

The Museum of the Red River is located a short drive from Beavers Bend State Park. Inside the park is a museum called The Forest Heritage Center. This is another place to learn more about the history of southeastern Oklahoma.

If you want to experience even more southeastern Oklahoma history, there are several museums in the surrounding area. The Fort Towson Historical Museum is filled with local and historical memorabilia donated by residents of the area. In Durant, Oklahoma, you will find the Three Valley Museum. It houses a collection of artifacts regarding the history of Bryan County.

Museums offer us the unique experience of stepping back in time to preserved history. Sure, you can read about the history of the area, but there is nothing quite like seeing and learning from actual pieces of history. The next time you are planning a visit to southeast Oklahoma, don’t forget to make a stop at one of these museums and learn what shaped this part of Oklahoma.