DUNCAN, OK (RNN Texoma) - The nearly 1,000 mile Chisholm Trail helped put Duncan on the map.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and Garis Gallery of the American West shows how the journey did just that, and what life was like for cowboys who embarked on the cattle drive 150 years ago.
"After the civil war a lot of those Texas cowboys did not return home, and the cattle just started running wild," said Stacy Cramer, the museum's executive director. "There were way too many of them."
She said they were only worth about a $1 a head. So a man named Joseph McCoy got the idea to take the cattle to Abilene, Kansas. That is the farthest west the railroad ran at that time.
They would take the cattle there to load them on boxcars and to get them to Chicago, Boston and New York. There they were worth $40 to $60 a head.
Cramer said while the money was good, the work was hard.
"We were the wild west," she said.
The center has displays of all animals that you would have seen in south-central Oklahoma in the mid-1800s during the time of the Chisholm Trail. From buffaloes to black bears, many of these animals you would not want to run into.
"Some of them are gone, and some of them are still here," said Cramer.
It took these cowboys about 100 days to make the trip.
The average age of those who rode the trail was about 14. Cramer said there have even been reports of some as young as 8-years-old going.
While many of them only made the expedition once, the impact would last a lifetime.
"The United States would be different without the Chisholm Trail," said Cramer.
Something Duncan residents recognized. A group of citizens realized the trail was not really talked about in school textbooks anymore.
"It's not something that students were learning that much about," she said.
Adding it was an important part of Highway 81's history.
So, the group got together and decided they wanted to open a museum in Duncan as a tourist attraction, economic driver and to preserve that history.
That is exactly what it is doing still. Cramer said each year they host about 10,000 students and have an education program.
Back in 2003, the heritage center opened an experience area. It has an animatronic and 4D theater that makes guests feel like they are on a real-life cattle drive.
Something Cramer said people from all over the world come to see. Along with artwork in the Garis Gallery of the American West.
"It's one of the premier art collections in the region," she said.
It is the personal collection of Jim Garis, who was a local oil man.
There are pieces from Frederic Remington and Charles Marion Russell, some of the great western artist.
Outside of the museum sits the largest monument to the Chisholm trail in the world. "On the Chisholm Trail" by Paul Moore.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and Garis Gallery of the American West was named one of the top 10 museums by True West Magazine and Oklahoma's attraction of the year.