It’s a clichéd notion for sure, but walk through the doors of the Indian Territory Museum in Caddo and you’ll literally step back in time. The walls, shelves, glass cases, and floors are covered with photos and objects that illustrate Caddo’s progress since 1872 and antique documents that tell much of her story. If you want to hear more you only have to sit down with curator Dot McGrath for a few minutes.
If she doesn’t have the information you want she’ll do her best to direct you to someone who does. Dot has been the museum’s curator for just over two years and has welcomed visitors from as far away as Russia, Ireland, and Australia and as close to home as the next block. She still finds it amazing that some of the local residents have never visited this treasure house of Caddo history.
The foundation of Caddo’s museum began to take shape around the time of the Bicentennial in 1972. Beulah Markham, who dreamed of a repository for Caddo’s colorful history, had been gathering artifacts for such a museum for several years and displayed some of them at the community building on Sunday and Monday of Bicentennial Week, June 28-July 3. These included an antique wine press and wooden washing machine, a button hook from I. Schaffer Dry Goods, and J.J. (Pop) Geck’s band baton. Even after the celebration was over, Mrs. Markham continued to collect items and her own front porch became the drop-off spot for artifacts gathered from closets and attics all over town. Many older residents remember her as relentless in her efforts to gather as many mementos as possible.
Erma L. Taylor and Neal Milligan served as co-chairs of the Bicentennial Committee, sponsored by the Woman’s Music and Literary Club. They met with Representative Guy Davis in 1976 and got advice about creating a Historical Society and financing the museum.
Bill Miller, Bill Ammons, and Ben Karnes formed a committee to choose a building. In August of 1977, Mayor Calhoun officially handed over the keys to a large but neglected downtown building to Mrs. Markham. Green Thumb workers, local volunteers, and boys from the high school helped clean the building and organize the donated items into attractive displays. Notices were published asking citizens to donate even more items and many complied. Teachers and high school girls worked to process the hundreds of books donated to the library portion of the project. There was even a little reading corner for local children.
Finally, in February of 1978, the Bryan County Star announced the official opening of the Indian Territory Museum and Library. Dozens of volunteers helped decorate the museum, provided refreshments, and served as hostesses for the two days. Rev. Bud Jenkins acted as master of ceremonies, welcoming the crowd and introducing Mrs. T. M. Markham as one whose faith, devotion, and effort had kept the dream alive. Following a prayer of dedication, the ribbon was cut by Mrs. Judy Rowland, president of the board of directors of the museum and library.
Representative Davis made a brief talk praising Caddo for its pride in its rich heritage and its desire to preserve it. Honorable Roy Boatner was unable to attend Saturday, but visited the museum on Sunday. The paper praised both men for being “tireless in securing financial aid for this project.”
More than 220 people from Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana passed through the doors that weekend and registered their names with the hostesses. The Star reporter quoted Mrs. Markham’s response to the celebration: “Not everyone lives to see a dream come true.”
Since that opening day, the museum has continued to accept donations and loans of items as diverse as they are intriguing. You’ll find everything from clothing to fossils packed into every nook and cranny of the building that Mrs. Markham once struggled to fill.
The graduation dress worn by Judge Boland’s sister in 1906 is on display along with the attaché case carried by attorney Sam Sullivan. The WPA plaque from the old Midway school is on a wall with numerous old photos of Caddo residents and businesses.
A stereoscope gives you a peek at the first “virtual reality” technology. Glass cases hold war ration books, hair combs, salt shakers, button hooks, dishes, old coins, and tools that arouse our curiosity. There is even a shell from the Sea of Galilee. Larger items like tables, cabinets, stoves, washing machines, chairs, and trunks are on display throughout both sides of the building. One of the most popular items on display is Caddo’s old jail cell. It was removed from its home in another building and added to the museum just a few years ago.
Many hard-working men and women have devoted their time and energy to maintaining and promoting the museum during the nearly 40 years it has been open. After Mrs. Markham served as curator, Belinda Davison, Mary Peters, Deanna Lilly, Jerri Hadley, Bonnie Chaffin, and now Dot McGrath have each worked to ensure that the dream of those early history lovers has continued to grow and the Indian Territory Museum will inform and entertain many more generations to come.
The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 580-367-2787 for more information. Admission is free, but donations are accepted and appreciated.
Mary E. Maurer is an avid Caddo historian and has previously published articles in the Democrat on Gethsemane Cemetery and the Moon Mausoleum.