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Oklahoma's heritage reaches to the core of the American experience. From the prehistory of dinosaurs and Clovis man, to the mound builders of Spiro whose descendants became the modern Wichita and Caddo tribes, Oklahoma is a treasure trove of pre-Columbian American history. Contemporary Oklahoma, alive with memories of frontier heroism and tragedy, was decisively shaped by the country's westward expansion by car, train, and prairie schooner. The state was also a benefactor and later a victim of the 20th-century oil boom and bust. A prime family vacation destination, Oklahoma blends safe and clean outdoor activities with cultural opportunities and historic preservation to give visitors a memorable travel experience.
During the 19th century, under pressure from settlers in the southeastern United States to open up Indian lands, the U.S. government decided to remove the Cherokee, Muscogee Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Euchee tribes out of their homelands and to the newly created Indian Territory. As a result, Fort Gibson stockade became the westernmost outpost for the government and still stands as a restored site maintained by the Oklahoma Historical Society. Fort Gibson became the final stop on what was known as the "trail of tears," when many tribal members perished on harsh journeys to Indian Territory. Learn more about this history in Tahlequah, Muskogee, Okmulgee, Ada, Seminole, and Durant.
Many people are not aware that tribal members of the Muscogee, Cherokee, and Choctaw came to Indian Territory and established plantations much like the ones in the South, complete with African American slaves. This early establishment of an African American population in the area began an entire legacy of black accomplishments, all-black towns, and the accompanying social challenges. Travelers can find out more about this fascinating episode in America's history by visiting the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa, and the Battle of Honey Springs Civil War Battlefield where blacks fought in Union uniforms for the first time. The battlefield is open to the public and a new interpretive center explains the 1863 conflict touted as the "Gettysburg of the West."
With 39 federally recognized tribes currently in the state, and with a larger Native American population than any other state in the union, Oklahoma can rightfully be referred to as Indian Country. A traveler can learn about more living tribes in Oklahoma than in any other state. Powwows take place every weekend from May through September and are almost always free and open to the public. Many tribes have excellent museums, including the Osage Museum in Pawhuska, the Kiowa Museum in Carnegie, the Creek Council House in Okmulgee, and the Seminole Museum in Wewoka.
Along with Native American and African American history, Oklahoma's Anglo-American history is that of the cowboy, oilman, farmer, and enterprising pioneer. The Great Plains Museum in Lawton, the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, and the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City all provide excellent introductions to frontier life in Oklahoma. To see contemporary cowboys carry on their traditions, catch one of the rodeos or horse shows that begin in April and continue through November. The state also operates guest ranches with abundant recreational activities at Roman Nose State Park and Western Hills Lodge. The wealth and upscale manifestations of Oklahoma's oil century are still obvious in two of the state's most popular attractions, the plush 55-room Marland Mansion in Ponca City, and the annual OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesvil le held in June.
America's Main Street, Route 66, was born in Oklahoma, mapped out by a Tulsan named Cyrus Avery, and rolls along in Oklahoma for over 400 miles. Look for the brown and white "Route 66" signs that mark the old highway and take your own postcards in front of the blue whale in Catoosa or the Giant Kachina Doll in Elk City. In the east, Route 66 roughly parallels I-44, in the west it follows I-40.
Along with Oklahoma's historical opportunities, water sports of almost every kind exist in the state. Travelers can canoe the lazy rolling Illinois River, or enjoy swimming below Turner Falls in the Arbuckle Mountains, just outside Davis. Of course, camping, hiking, and climbing activities abound from the Kiamichi Mountains and Wilderness in the southeast, to the Tallgrass Prarie Preserve with its herd of buffalo and learning center north of Pawhuska.
Other noteworthy attractions include the Oklahoma City Zoo and the University of Oklahoma in the central part of the state, the ancient Wichita Mountains, the grave of the Apache medicine man Geronimo at Fort Sill, and the interactive Percussive Arts Society Museum in Lawton. Don't miss the sand dunes of the Little Sahara State Park, and Black Mesa, the highest point in Oklahoma.