Relatively young as the nation’s 46th state, Oklahoma, taken from the Choctaw Nation words “okla” (“people”) and “humma” (“red”), has history and heritage reaching back centuries.
Most sharply defining were the decades preceding the 1907 merger into statehood of its “Twin Territories,” the Indian and Oklahoma territories. Onward from 1830, the Choctaw were among the many Southeastern tribes forcibly relocated to Oklahoma under the Indian Removal Act, or the Trail of Tears.
In 1889, “boomers” rushed to claim Unassigned Lands, or portions of territory originally set aside for tribal nations by treaty but then withdrawn. Each “Land Run” began with a pistol shot; those jumping the gun were called Sooners, giving Oklahoma its nickname.
Neighboring Texas has flown under six flags; Oklahoma today is a state of 39 tribes and nations living not on reservations, but in territories, including the Choctaw, who valiantly served as “code talkers” in World War I and again in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Against this poignant legacy, Native American culture, found in museums, heritage sites and major events such as the summertime three-day Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, is among many vital touch points in Oklahoma’s layered, complex and often deeply moving past.
State capital since 1910 following transfer from Guthrie, cosmopolitan Oklahoma City comes with an authentic Western legacy and many tales to tell.
“Historic and heritage experiences are so important for groups seeking to understand a destination,” said Dennis Johnston, vice president of sales for the Oklahoma City CVB. “Defining events for our city include the Trail of Tears, Land Run of 1889, oil boom of the 1980s and of course the Murrah Building bombing in 1995,” he continued. “To see where we are today is quite moving—this is our story and we want to tell it.”
With the event-capable Oklahoma History Center providing an ideal introduction to the state’s richly layered past, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is the nation’s premier institution of Western history, art and culture.
Its collection broadly ranging from fine art to fine firearms, the museum is home to the Rodeo Hall of Fame, which inducted cowboys and cowgirls since the museum opened in 1955. Rental facilities include the 16,500-square-foot Sam Noble Special Events Center, featuring five triptychs depicting Western scenes and accommodating 1,000 banquet guests, and Prosperity Junction, a re-created cattle town hosting cocktail receptions for 150 people.
Since 1928, each November sees new inductees into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum. With Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook among six men and women inducted in 2016, the Hall now counts 669 members. Telling Oklahoma’s story through its people, the museum’s elegant spaces include the front steps, garden (with two 40-foot cascading walls of water) and new 300-person capacity Bennett-McClendon Great Hall.
Featuring more than 400 instruments, many from the Jazz Age, recordings, film and other memorabilia, the American Banjo Museum offers rental options, all with access to galleries and exhibits, included full buyouts for 200-person evening receptions.
Offering 18,500 square feet of function space, the landmark 225-room Skirvin Hilton Hotel, opened in 1911, mixes modernity with a restored original facade. Grand, too, is the National Historic Register-listed Farmers Public Market. Offering 14,000 square feet of versatile space for parties of 200 to 1,500 guests, this 1928-era time capsule features 15-foot windows, an original wooden dance floor and 1930s Art Deco full-service bar.
About 150 miles south of Oklahoma City, Durant is headquarters of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and home to one of eight Chocktaw Casino Resorts across southeastern Oklahoma. The AAA Four Diamond Durant location offers 776 rooms, including the stunning new 286-room Spa Tower, and 20,000 square feet of versatile group space in 16 rooms, including the 14,000-square-foot Magnolia Grand Ballroom.