Story by Sarah Naron
CANYON – While the history of the Texas Panhandle and the Great Plains region of the United States is largely forgotten, it remains alive and well at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) in Canyon. Featuring millions of artifacts, the museum provides visitors with the opportunity to take a peek into the past and experience life as it was lived by those who called the region home a century ago.
Museum Communications and Marketing Director Stephanie Price explained that the idea for the museum began with Hattie Anderson, a former Kansas resident who relocated to Canyon to teach history at West Texas State Normal College – known today as West Texas A&M University – in 1920.
“She saw that history was being made all around her, and nobody was cataloging it or keeping the stories of the pioneers who really settled the Texas Panhandle,” Price said. “Many of them were starting to pass away, and she thought, ‘This is a problem.’”
Anderson assembled a team of like-minded individuals and formed the Panhandle Plains Historical Society. Together, they set out to establish a museum and ensure that the history of the region would not be lost to time.
“She and this group raised all of the money and the things they needed during the Great Depression, which is absolutely incredible,” Price said. “The museum opened its doors in April of 1933.”
The original museum, Price said, was housed in the space that is referred to as the Pioneer Hall in the current facility. Since its inception, the museum has undergone three renovations and expanded to feature nearly three million artifacts.
Among the exhibits permanently on display in the museum is a life-sized pioneer town.
“It’s an 1890s, 1900s, turn-of-the-century, Old West town,” Price explained. “All of the names on the buildings are real names that were in the Texas Panhandle. There’s everything from a church and a schoolyard to a mortuary to a printing press and stables.”
The exhibit is an interactive one, Price added, giving visitors the chance to carry out old-fashioned tasks such as pumping water at a well. A wedding ceremony has even been hosted in the church, she said.
“It’s a great way for people to really interact with the Old West,” Price said.
Another exhibit showcases classic cars, and the museum also boasts “one of the finest collections of early Texas art anywhere in the world,” Price said.
“Our People of the Plains exhibit is the story of how the area was founded and the different people that called the Plains their home – from the Native Americans all the way to settlers and pioneers and Comancheros that came this way,” Price said.
Visitors can also see a life-sized oil derrick that not only serves as an exhibit, but also “actually helps hold the building up,” Price laughed. The second floor of the facility is dedicated to educating visitors about the petroleum industry, a large part of the area’s past and present.
“We do five temporary galleries,” Price said. “Currently, there’s one called Native Lifeways of the Plains. It’s about Native American tribes and how their lifeways have evolved.”
An exhibit called My Heart is Not Blind debuted at the museum in February and will run through Friday, May 8.
“It features 47 photographs by people who are blind or sight-impaired,” Price explained. “There are audio stories of them telling about their experiences of being a blind person and how they navigate the world. That one’s really powerful; it’s all black and white photographs. It’s a cool exhibit.”
Other special exhibits include photographs taken in 1950 on Baffin Island by local photographer Montie Ritchie and a display called Undressing Suffrage, which Price said educates about “women’s suffrage as seen through the lens of undergarments.”
The museum is also currently hosting a Fox F Grade Shotgun once owned by Theodore Roosevelt, which is on loan from the Jason Roselius Trust.
“We have just a little bit of everything,” Price said. “We not only cover the Texas Panhandle, but all the way up through the Plains and into Oklahoma, Kansas, and a little bit of Nebraska. We try to tell that story through exhibits and interpretations.”
Visitors are encouraged to plan repeat trips to the museum, as there is never any shortage of new material to see.
“We usually have a new exhibit open every three to six months,” Price said.
The museum also hosts a multitude of events for visitors and members of the local community to enjoy.
“We have three or four special events a month,” Price said. “We’ll do our big gala fundraiser called Unveiled in April; it’s on April 18.”
As Price explained, this year’s affair is called In Bloom and will provide attendees with the opportunity to see selections from the museum’s art collection in a different light.
“We picked 10 pieces out of our collection and ha dour Facebook viewers vote on their favorite pieces,” Price said. “Florists are going to do large-scale floral pieces based on these paintings.”
Also among the annual events is Night at PPHM, which allows guests to tour the museum guided only by the glow of flashlights.
“We do a Movie on the Lawn; we do a Christmas Open House that lets us raise money and canned goods for the High Plains Food Bank,” Price said. “We have a ton of events, and we do everything from children’s programs all the way up to adult nights.”
Through it all, Price said, Anderson’s original intent of preserving history is continuously achieved.
“Hattie’s legacy still lives on,” she said. “Her ultimate goal was that people would consider this their museum and take pride in it and consider it a way to teach their children about history.”
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is located at 2503 4th Avenue in Canyon. Hours of operation from September-May are Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Hours from June-August are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, including ticket prices, please visit www.panhandleplains.org.