How Oklahoma Began

Story by Matthew Koster

Photos provided by Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar

This spring twenty-six classes of 3rd graders from Stillwater and the surrounding areas will take a trip to the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar for the award-winning education program, “How Oklahoma Began.” The program dates back to 2014, when a partnership with the Oklahoma WONDERtorium was formed.  Since the program’s inception, it has reached around 3,000 students. This year we are proud to announce that the program will be sponsored by BancFirst, which is celebrating its 120th Anniversary.

The purpose of “How Oklahoma Began” is to provide students with an overview of some of the most significant historical events in the State of Oklahoma and the native tribes. Third graders will learn about important historical events, like the Trail of Tears, the creation of Indian Territory, the Land Run of 1889, and Oklahoma’s Statehood in 1907. By the end of the program, students will remember these significant events and even more facts, such as the names of the Five Civilized Tribes and where the name “Oklahoma” comes from!

“How Oklahoma Began” education events began on April 16th and will last until the end of the school year. The museum offers morning and afternoon sessions, with the schools having the choice of which time to book. Parents who attend the events, along with their children’s class, often learn just as much as the students.

The program will last approximately two hours, starting with a thirty minute interactive map exercise in the upstairs auditorium. Students will learn about how Native Americans were removed from their lands, the creation of Indian Territory, the opening of the Unassigned Lands for settlement with the Land Run of 1889, and the declaration of Statehood in 1907.

After the map exercise, students will be divided into three smaller groups, where they’ll be rotated through all of the events that the program has to offer. These activities include making toys like what the pioneer children would have made, as well as puzzles and games they would have played (Marbles, Jacks, Flying Graces, etc.). The museum will also host a game of I-Spy for the children. While touring the museum, they will be given a list of objects to look out for while viewing the exhibits. During this activity they’ll also be given a chance to interact with the hands-on carts, which are filled with a variety of tools and objects which reflect life on the frontier. All of the games and activities will be carefully explained to students who may not be familiar with them.

On top of pioneer related activities, the children will also be exposed to the languages of Native American tribes, as well as play with period games. Museum staff will be able to answer questions about the tribes while they enjoy the museum, such as how they lived, what tools did they use, what did they use buffalo for, etc.

The groups will be rotated to make sure that every student gets a chance to participate in all activities and see the whole museum for themselves. While walking through the museum, they will be looking for items in the exhibits to identify, and each will get an allotted time with the hands-on cart. If there is enough time at the end, students will even learn how to hunt for water.

Each year, numerous community members volunteer their time to help make each program a success, with each class requiring two staff members and two volunteers to truly bring the program to life.  There is still time to volunteer, contact Debbie Williams at programs.sheerarmuseum@gmail.com to learn more.

All staff and volunteers working with the museum have been trained in all aspects of the program. They’ll be able to answer the student’s questions about subjects such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830, The Trail of Tears, the Five Civilized Tribes, the Land Run of 1889, the Organic Act of 1890, and Oklahoma/ Indian Territory merging to become the State of Oklahoma.

How Oklahoma Began is a free program that is open to the public. It is an annual event that serves around five hundred 3rd graders every spring. Programs like this would not be impossible without help from generous sponsors like Bancfirst. The premiere bank of Stillwater will be celebrating their 120th anniversary this year. The bank’s history is highlighted inside the museum, as well as inside the main branch on South Main. The next time you stop by Bancfirst, please give them a thanks for doing their part in building and maintaining the Stillwater community.