Nov 23

Oklahoma: Land of Cowboys, Native Americans, Oil and … Will Rogers

I think we can be forgiven for deciding to leave Missouri as soon as possible after our experience in St. Louis. We know we missed some important Route 66 attractions but time was slipping by and we needed to pick up the pace a little.

OK map

Heading for Oklahoma, we stopped for one night at an RV Park in Phillipsburg, Missouri, some 174 miles (280 km) from St. Louis.  We didn’t need “full service” but were guided to our site to hook up to water and power.  We feel that every RV Park should offer this extra service.  It gives one a warm-fuzzy feeling for a Park owner or staff member to make sure that you are in the right site and lined up correctly to the utilities. Having been in a service Industry (travel) for a long time, we know that little extras like this make all the difference!

Next morning we met our next door RVers who were also traveling Route 66.  This was the third time they had traveled parts of the Mother Road and were gracious enough to share their experiences and recommendations with us.  In fact, they showed us the book they use to guide them to the best attractions – EZ66 Guide For Travelers   and, in the course of our conversation, they said they had an older edition which they gave us!  These are the kinds of people you meet along the way when you travel … particularly in an RV!  With the combination of the eBook we had with us, our new EZ66 Guide (and, of course, Google) we couldn’t go wrong!  Thank you, Robert and Janet and Happy Trails to you both!


rte 66 OKRoute 66 runs for around 400 miles through Oklahoma which is interesting because if you look at a map, and draw a line between Chicago and Los Angeles, you’ll notice that it bypasses Oklahoma completely!  The person responsible for making sure that Oklahoma featured prominently on Route 66 was Cyrus Avery who, back in the 1920s, worked long and hard to ensure that his State would not only benefit from the dollars spent by the many travelers using the road, but it would also place the State on the map.  Avery was anxious to change the perceptions about Oklahoma which had only achieved statehood in 1907.  Prior to that time it was simply known as “Indian Territory”, home to the tribes that had been relocated here by the Trail of Tears. He also had an ulterior motive – to promote his own businesses to the travelers!

According to America on the Move  “Cyrus Avery, a businessman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is credited with creating the identity of Route 66. Avery saw the need for better roads through his state, and as chairman of the state highway commission, he helped plan the national system of numbered highways. His proposal for a highway from Chicago to Los Angeles along a southwestern route was approved and designated U.S. 66 in 1926. Avery founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association and coined the route’s nickname, “Main Street of America.”

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Oklahoma”?  Since it’s the gateway to the “Great American West”, we think Native Americans (there are 39 different tribal nations in Oklahoma) and Cowboys (we’re not sure how many … but we saw lots!) and, of course, Oil (derricks all over the place – even next door to our Oklahoma City RV Park!)  During our visit we learned that Oklahoma is the 20th largest and the 28th most populous of the 50 states and its name comes from the Choctaw Indian words “okla” and “humma” which means “red people”.  We knew we’d have a great opportunity to explore the State by following Route 66.

We parked our trailer in Claremore, some 15 miles east of Tulsa and ended up spending a week there!  The RV Park was a State operated park located on the grounds of the Exposition Center.  This was the first time we had stayed in a State RV Park and we soon realized that, apart from having no Wi-Fi, it was a great place to be.  We hit it off with the camp hosts immediately and ended up parked in the site next to them.  The restrooms were OK (not the best showers) but everything was clean.  When we were not sightseeing we drove to the modern and well equipped Library and used their Wi-Fi to access the Internet.

Concret Totem PoleOne of the Route 66 attractions that caught our eye was Totem Pole Park in the small town of Foyil, a short drive from Claremore.  Thanks to Bill’s research we realized that our dates coincided with the annual Fund Raising BBQ at the Park so we set off to enjoy the event.  The Totem Pole Park was the creation of Ted Gallloway who spent eleven years (from 1937-1948) building and painting concrete Totem Poles as a tribute to the American Indian.  The centerpiece Totem Pole rises to a height of 90ft (27.4m) and features 200 carved pictures, with four 9 foot Indians near the top, each one representing a different tribe.  Not only did he create the concrete totem poles, he was also a talented wood carver.  The gift shop, located in the eleven-sided Fiddle House, contains hundreds of fiddles carved by Ted Galloway.  Also on display is some beautiful furniture he and his students made. The lady at the gift shop was happy to share details of his life with us

New Friends at the BBQWe were enjoying our excellent BBQ meal sitting in the sun at a picnic bench when suddenly we were joined by three couples from the area who had realized we were visitors and wanted to make us feel welcome.  Our lively conversation with them included anecdotes of their lives in Oklahoma, their travels and RV experiences.  It was obvious that they were proud Oklahomans and we learned a lot from them.  One of their recommendations was that we drive to the nearby town of Chelsea to see an original Sears Roebuck pre-cut house which was purchased in Chicago in 1913 for $16 and delivered by rail!  It is now on the market for $150,000. How times have changed!

Will RogersWhen we booked our RV site in Claremore we had no idea that this was home to the Will Rogers Memorial Museum. To be honest, we didn’t know much about Will Rogers, except for a few of his sayings, probably the most famous being “I never met a man I didn’t like”.  (Sounds like Bill, doesn’t it?!) Another very appropriate quote that we like is “With Congress, every time they make a joke, it’s a law.  Every time they make a law, it’s a joke.”  Sounds as if Congress hasn’t changed much since his day!

According to Wikipedia  William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers was an American cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor. He was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s.

What do you know about Will Rogers?

Where was Will Rogers born?

What was his early stage name?

How many movies did he make?

How and where did he die?

What’s your favorite Will Rogers’ saying?

We learned answers to these questions – and much more – during our visit to this excellent Museum.  We started by watching two short documentaries about Will’s life, one of which was narrated by Bob Hope.  These set the stage for the rest of the exhibits – twelve galleries filled with mementoes of his life, his personal collections of art and saddles, his humor and his talent.  What an interesting life he lived! Everywhere we went after that we came across his name on street signs, roads Will Rogers Rte 66(Route 66 is also called Will Rogers Highway in Oklahoma), buildings – you name it. He certainly left his mark on Oklahoma and, indeed, across America!

What a great start to our exploration of Oklahoma!   Now on to our next stops – Tulsa and Oklahoma City.



Worlds Largest Totem Pole:

Rte 66 Missouri to Claremore:

Will Rogers Museum:

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