More small towns in Oklahoma

RV travel is a great way to see the country and travel in comfort, and not have to leave our two dogs behind. Thanks to the convenience of our RV, we have been able to discover even more small towns in Oklahoma.

more small towns in Oklahoma

I hope you enjoy these stories about our discoveries in more small towns in Oklahoma. I would love to get your feedback in the comments section at the end of the post. Have you visited these museums before?


Our first stop on this trip is Tonkawa. Tonkawa, named for the Tonkawa Indians who inhabited the area at the time of European contact, is the county seat of Kay County and has a population of less than 3,000.

The city of Tonkawa was claimed in the Oklahoma Land Run in 1983 and founded in March 1894. I read that the accepted translation of Tonkawa is “they all stay together.”

Tonkawa Casino RV Park

We chose to make the Tonkawa Casino RV Park next to the Tonkawa Hotel and Casino our home base for a few days. The RV Park has eighteen pull-thru RV spots with full hookups on concrete pads and reasonable overnight prices, and it was a perfect location for us.

We did spend some time in the Casino and had a great time. We gambled and enjoyed a meal from the Hub Food Truck inside the Casino. We also enjoyed a very unusually served beer using a Bottoms Up Draft Beer System. I have never seen this system before. Have you?

McCarter Museum of Tonkawa History

The McCarter Museum of Tonkawa History, located in the center of Tonkawa, Oklahoma, is in a building purchased by the Tonkawa Historical Society in 1997. This Museum is a great place to learn about the fascinating history of Oklahoma.

Much to our dismay, we discovered a closed sign on the door of this Museum as we approached it. However, we were delighted and amazed when the amazing Russ Burger opened the door and invited us inside to tour the Museum! We learned all about the fascinating history of Tonkawa from this kind gentleman.

more small towns in Oklahoma

This Museum contains a wide variety of exhibits and tells the history of Tonkawa through a gallery of photos on display. A medical collection, newspaper office, military room, depression era kitchen, and country church are only a few exhibits on display here.

Did you know that there were six main war prisoners camps and at least 24 branch prisoners of war camps in Oklahoma at one time during World War II? I had no idea! One excellent exhibit room that tells this story is the World War II German Prisoner of War Camp exhibit.

more small towns in Oklahoma

Tonkawa’s train depot. Today it is an event and community gathering center.

Camp Tonkawa Prisoner of War Camp

During the War, the 160-acre Camp Tonkawa had more than 180 wooden structures to house 3,000 German POWs. The POW Camp also housed 500 US Army guards and employees. Nothing remains of the POW Camp today except a memorial marker placed where the entrance to the camp once was.

more small towns in Oklahoma

In 1943, Camp Tonkawa began housing German prisoners captured in North Africa and remained at near-total capacity throughout the War. The prisoners worked daily at nearby farms and the alfalfa plant in Tonkawa.

That same year a German soldier, Johannes Kunze, was discovered by his fellow prisoners to be a spy. His fellow prisoners retaliated by beating Kunze to death! These prisoners were tried and hanged for their crimes.

You can read about this story in Vincent S. Green’s book, Extreme Justice: The True Story of Murder in an American POW Camp.

Centennial Park

Centennial Park, created in 1993 and 1994 across the street from the McCarter Museum was built to commemorate the opening of the Cherokee Outlet a hundred years earlier, in 1893, and the founding of Tonkawa in 1894.

more small towns in Oklahoma

One of the most extraordinary things about this Park is this sculpture. The opening makes a perfect heart shape if you stand away from it.

more small towns in Oklahoma

When you walk up close to the sculpture, you can see the many tokens affixed to it are clay hearts with grade school children’s thumbprints surrounded by their names and the art they created.

Heart in the Park Labyrinth

Tonkawa’s beautiful Heart in the Park Labyrinth is the world’s first heart-shaped labyrinth!
The labyrinth is a peaceful place to walk, reflect, meditate, and pray. Local graduating classes have incorporated a walk through the labyrinth into their graduation ceremony.

more small towns in Oklahoma

Tonkawa’s motto is “Wheatheart of Oklahoma.” Local artist Audry Schmitz used a single wheat stalk imprinted on the pausing stone of this heart-shaped labyrinth and surrounded it with a historical timeline of Tonkawa.

more small towns in Oklahoma

We recently encountered another labyrinth when visiting the Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Top of Oklahoma Historical Museum

The Top of Oklahoma Historical Museum is in a spectacular building that opened on Easter Sunday in 1913 as an event and community center. It had an electrically lighted dome and could be seen for miles when lit. This building was the first in the County to have electricity.

more small towns in Oklahoma

Originally known as the Electric Park Pavillion, this building is on the National List of Historic Places and was refurbished and turned into a museum in 1972. It is overflowing with history and stories about Blackwell, Oklahoma.

One side of the Museum contains the history of Oklahoma’s land run and local businesses. One of the biggest industries at one time in Blackwell was Hazel Atlas Glass. One of the glass items this plant manufactured was canning jars.

more small towns in Oklahoma

Hazel Atlas had a glass plant in Blackwell and one in Ada. Today, it is possible to know where a glass jar was manufactured by the initial on the bottom. Interesting, huh?

Hazel Atlas Glass ceased to exist when it, along with other businesses, suffered significant damage during a 1955 tornado in Blackwell and decided not to rebuild.

The Museum contains memorabilia from the 1893 Cherokee Strip Land Run to today. Exhibits include a military room, a Native American room, and period rooms filled with antiques that display life in Blackwell in the 1900s.

more small towns in Oklahoma

A fun and informative train exhibit donated by the family of Leroy Jacks from his Derailed Railroad Company Museum is on display here.

more small towns in Oklahoma

One extraordinary exhibit is a cane exhibit of several walking canes made and donated by Charles Elmore Heizer of Nuevo, California, in 2001. A written legend tells what kind of wood, where it came from, and when Mr. Heizer made it.

Other unusual exhibits here are stained glass windows from the local Christian Church. The windows have the likeness of Frances Willard, a famous educator leader for women’s rights.

more small towns in Oklahoma

An entire tornado room contains exhibits from Blackwell’s horrific 1995 tornado. After causing significant damage in Blackwell, the tornado reformed and hit Udall, Kansas, as an F-5 storm.

I hope these stories of history in still more small towns in Oklahoma may encourage you to take a little journey to Oklahoma and check out some of these Museums for yourselves. Steve and I still have many more places to see and discoveries to make.

More small towns in Oklahoma

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