Support for the Museum of the Great Plains provided in part by the City of Lawton and the City of Lawton Hotel-Motel Tax Fund.


Our backstory

Well, many years ago, lightning struck a lone tree exactly where the museum stands today.  Legend has it that the tree burned with flames of many different colors (a lot like those neat fireplace matches) for ten solid days, yet was not consumed or even damaged.  It was miraculous.  Then the tree immediately died of some totally unrelated cause.  It became known as the "dead miracle tree," and seemed unaffected by time and the elements, and did not rot.  Later, someone knocked it over after bumping it with their elbow.  In the end, the fallen tree mysteriously vanished in a blanket of fog, on a moonless night, in an odd-number year but on an even-number day, never to be seen again.  Except someone thought they saw it across the street, or in the sky, or something like that. 

Oh, you mean the official history.  That's not nearly so dramatic.


The Museum of the Great Plains started with the formation of the Comanche County Historical Society, on December 12, 1952.  A grant from The McMahon Foundation in 1958 enabled the organization to begin construction of the museum in the municipally-owned Elmer Thomas Park, adjacent to the McMahon Memorial Auditorium.  The Museum of the Great Plains officially opened in 1961.  

The Comanche County Historical Society expanded its purpose and mission, transitioning to the Great Plains Historical Association (1961) and finally the Institute of the Great Plains (1970).  The Association began publishing the Great Plains Journal in 1961, which continues today under the direction of the Institute.  In 1972, the Museum of the Great Plains became the first facility in Oklahoma to receive accreditation from the American Association of Museums.  

In 1997, through a $2.5 million grant from The McMahon Foundation, the Museum of the Great Plains added 25,000 square feet of gallery space, a new foyer, and a new store.  The same areas in the old building became offices, workrooms, a classroom, and research space, and permitted the expansion of collections storage, the library, and archives.  

The Institute of the Great Plains and the City of Lawton jointly operated the facility until January 1998, when the museum reorganized as a municipal trust.  The Institute of the Great Plains, housed within the building, continues to assist in research, education, and publishing.  The Museum of the Great Plains Authority serves as the governing board and includes appointees from the City, The McMahon Foundation, the Institute, and At-large representatives.  Although a trust of the City of Lawton, the Authority also operates as a 501(c)(3).  

In 2003 the Museum of the Great Plains became the first partner, along with Science Museum Oklahoma, in the Oklahoma Museum Network (OMN).  This event marked the beginning of the Museum of the Great Plains' association with the Donald W Reynolds Foundation, the grantor behind OMN.  The Museum of the Great Plains received a $4.2 million grant from the Reynolds Foundation in 2012.  Over the next three years, working with Science Museum of Minnesota, the Museum of the Great Plains remodeled the entire main gallery, and separately the adjacent public areas.  

Today, the Museum of the Great Plains offers traditional exhibit presentation coupled with innovative discovery-based learning activities, as it continues the mission to “Explore the human history of the Great Plains.”