In north central Oklahoma, the land unfolds like a blossoming flower, raising undulating hills and seas of prairie grass toward the sun and sky. Pump jacks, cattle and small towns slip by the car window, and the frontier as it once was – a place of infinite possibility and lots of heart – and the place it is today, burrows deep into your heart.
It’s a journey that always feels epic.
Driving along State Highway 64, between Morrison and Cleveland, you’ll pass through cross-timbers country, an alluring mosaic of forest, woodland and prairie, and an area steeped in the history of the West. A particularly colorful slice lies just west of Pawnee, where atop Blue Hawk Peak, the Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum makes for a mighty fine stopover and cordially captivating history lesson.
The legendary Wild West Show entertainer, Gordon Lillie, a.k.a. Pawnee Bill, and his wife, May Lillie were fascinating larger-than-life characters and the museum and ranch, their former home, is a picturesque place with a wagonload of family fun.
The centerpiece of the property is the Lillie’s 1910, 14-room dream home, brimming with family memorabilia, decorative arts and furnishings, photographs and original art work.
When my family and I took a tour, a friendly well-informed guide revealed all sorts of fascinating tidbits that made the history of this 100-plus-year-old treasure come alive. I don’t want to spill all the beans, but if no one mentions it when you take a tour, be sure to ask about spooky happenings.
The ranch, a 500-acre property, also houses a museum with exhibits related to Pawnee Bill, the Wild West Shows, and members of the Pawnee Nation, and includes the original ranch blacksmith shop, a recently restored 1903 log cabin, a large barn built in 1926, and an Indian Flower Shrine.
Western inspired living area of the Lillie’s mansion.
Kid’s area in the Pawnee Bill Museum – plenty of yippee-ki-yay fun to be had.
The old blacksmith’s shop.
The barn houses plenty of goodies, including this stagecoach, used in the annual Pawnee Bill's Original Wild West Show.
Tour the drive-through pasture and you get an extra authentic, up-close look at herds of bison, longhorn cattle and draft horses.
The Pawnee Bill historic site is a microcosm of the West’s and Oklahoma’s epic history, bringing to mind the Oscar-winning 1962 film, “How the West Was Won,” filled with triumph for some, tragedy for others, and riveting stories. There’s fragility, whimsy and earthy courage here, along with a bit of everything in between.
If after touring the mansion and ranch, you crave an extra helping of Old West adventure, be sure to return for Pawnee Bill's Original Wild West Show, a renowned extravaganza recreated by the ranch the last three Saturdays in June each year.
When road tripping, dining is often almost as important as the sites you see. If your family is anything like mine, after an adventure like this everyone’s famished. Fortunately, if you mosey on in to Pawnee for the chow at Click’s Steakhouse, you’re treated to memorable homemade food and downhome friendly service.
At Click’s the steaks are big, tender and juicy, and the signature Tollhouse pies – oh my. Think flaky crust and luxurious silky filling. Satisfied moans and sighs tell the story. And don’t miss the yeasty, homemade rolls. They melt in your mouth like butter.
Last but not least, try the fried pickles – finely sliced, deep-fried, tart and crunchy – they’re bite-sized morsels of savory contrasting flavors and textures that leave the taste buds longing for more. Or as our daughter Callie put it, “Totally epic.”