In a cemetery down a dirt road off the highway from Guymon to Goodwell in the Oklahoma Panhandle, an area called No Man’s Land by the locals, there are several handmade headstones. This one was for a baby who died in 1929. Life was hard and rough here even before the Dust Bowl times, I thought, finding other baby’s graves mixed in with young children and another grave marked by a handmade headstone that said simply, Mr. Dawty.
We were the only visitors at two museums. The first was the No Man’s Land Museum in Goodwell, Oklahoma. It is a town’s museum and it seems like everyone in the town had brought their grandparents’ heirlooms. The building was packed with things like wringer washers and flat irons, baby shoes and button hooks. A large set of panels told family stories and it was here that the quote about the Dust Bowl times made history come alive. Whatever else they had done, this little town had been wise to record people’s stories. What they remembered made everything seem so real.
The second museum was the Cimarron Heritage Center in Boise City, Oklahoma, a city of just 2,500 people in the very corner of the Oklahoma Panhandle. This is a combination dinosaur, Santa Fe Trail, local history, and Dust Bowl museum. It has a wall full of button collections (apparently a very big thing in this part of the world) and rooms full of local memorabilia. There aren’t one or two military uniforms, there are dozens. They hang in a distinguished row.
We were in the museum so long, the smell of all the old things got in our lungs. Grasshoppers skittered across the floor while we studied the hundreds of different types of barbed wire. We never knew this about barbed wire. That it was art, not just science.
Outside, there was more. A long building full of farm equipment and two replica buildings – one of a Dust Bowl house and the other a red school house. Though replicas, they were weathered and dusty, so much so they might have been just left there from the thirties. Flour sack curtains were hung at the windows, knotted loosely at the bottom like one would do to let the light come in. In the kitchen, the table was set with the plates upside down, a technique we learned was meant to avoid the blowing dust from accumulating before dinner was served.
We loved this place. Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl. You can tell from this picture of my wonderful traveling companion. We’re lucky to have come here.