The Eastern Trail Museum features artifacts and displays highlighting local history
VINITA, OKLA. – Long before Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the community of Vinita, IT (or Indian Territory) was a buzz of activity.
Vinita was established in 1871 by Elias Cornelius Boudinot, the son of the first Cherokee Phoenix editor, Elias Boudinot. Vinita was originally named Downingville, after Cherokee Nation Chief Lewis Downing, but was later renamed Vinita after artist Lavinia Ellen Ream Hoxie. Vinita was incorporated in 1898, nine years before Oklahoma statehood.
Vinita was a crossroads for cattle drives and, later, railroads and was the second Cherokee town to be incorporated under the Cherokee Council.
“People would take the train from Tulsa to Vinita to do their shopping and for entertainment,” Eastern Trails Museum Director Kathleen Duchamp said. “Of course, with the oil boom, that all changed; we’re the little guys now.”
To commemorate the history and heritage of Vinita and Craig County, the Eastern Trail Museum began in the 1930s with a small room in the city hall.
“It wasn’t much until 1976 when we moved into the old Coca-Cola Bottling Company plant that was donated,” Kathleen explained. “In 2014, we did a major renovation and changed everything. It’s very different from a usual small-town museum; the layout, colors and exhibits are unusual. Everything we have is from Craig County, and was owned by someone in Craig County, mostly Vinita.”
There are four main parts to the museum: ranching, railroads, Route 66 and Cherokee influence, with other exhibits featuring local Civil War battles, an early post office, schools and local mercantile.
“The four main parts are where most of our artifacts come from, especially the railroad,” Kathleen said. “Vinita is here because of a railroad junction.”
There are also smaller areas of the museum where items are rotated every few months.
“It helps keep the locals coming in and keeps it fresh for the locals,” Kathleen said.
Visitors can expect to see everything from saddles to typewriters, a high-wheel bicycle to Cherokee artifacts, and life-size cutouts and photos of some of its famous residents, including Will Rogers, who attended school in Vinita as a boy, and a 2,000-pound Brangus bull named Snuffy that appeared in the 1956 movie “Giant.”
“We have lots of photographic enlargements and magnifying glasses available so you can look at the details of the Grand River Dam construction or the big panorama of downtown Vinita from 1899,” Kathleen said.
Visitors are invited to step back in time by getting close to the exhibits.
“We like three-dimensional artifacts,” Kathleen said. “We want people to touch and hold the items, and ask questions. This isn’t a strict museum; we like kids to touch things when we can. It’s a very friendly place. We don’t have a lot of text items. People don’t go to a museum to read; they go to look at items and photograph.”
Tour groups and buses are not usual for the town with a population of just under 6,000 residents. Vinita, Okla., is a part of Route 66 folklore, which brings floods of visitors retracing the route of the Mother Road. Being only a block away from “Main Street America,” visitors find their way to the Eastern Trail Museum.
“We recently had visitors from Israel, and we get visitors from Germany, Australia, Japan, all over Europe. Route 66 is a big draw for us, and that’s how many visitors find us,” Kathleen said.
Kathleen recommended visitors contact the museum before planning a trip to ensure staff will be available and that the hours of operation have not been altered.
There is no admission charge to visit the museum, which is manned from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday by a dedicated group of volunteers and one part-time employee.
The city of Vinita is celebrating its 150th anniversary of becoming a town, and the community is adding displays to commemorate the sesquicentennial.
After being the director of the museum for the past seven years, Kathleen has her favorite parts, but it’s not one of the exhibits.
“It’s the visitors,” she said. “I think one of the reasons we have a good volunteer staff is because we have so many interesting people come in.”