In 1983, Kenneth Tate built a cabin on the prairie east of Dewey, intending to use it as a retirement getaway. More than fifteen buildings and thirty years later, he’s still hard at work on Prairie Song, a cluster of buildings arranged as an 1880s prairie village located just over two hours from Oklahoma City.
Though he has no formal training in architecture or construction, Mr. Tate has built each of the buildings himself, with just a handful of helpers needed along the way. When he decides he’d like to build something, he thinks it out in his mind and then gets to work without even sketching his ideas out on paper. Each structure is paid for as it is built and once it is finished, his wife, Marilyn Moore-Tate, furnishes it with antique pieces from the appropriate period.
A Living Museum
Prairie Song is something you have to see for yourself to understand. As Mr. Tate told me, some people think it’s just a few cheap buildings slapped together with some old junk inside, but really, Prairie Song is a living museum, each site carefully constructed and then furnished with items related to the building’s theme.
The first building we visited was the hardware store, where we saw just about every type of tool you could imagine—all from the 19th century. In the bank, you can see the 15,000 pound safe and hear the alarm bell the tellers would ring in case of a robbery. You can also visit a doctor’s office, general store, marshal’s office, saloon, post office, church, and schoolhouse—along with several other themed buildings.
What makes this experience so wonderful is that Mr. Tate is usually the tour guide and he can tell you what each item is, what it’s used for and the history behind that specific piece. Many of the antiques, such as the bank safe and the jail cell, were acquired from small towns in the area.
Finding Prairie Song
To find Prairie Song, take the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa—don’t forget your $4.00 for tolls if you don’t have a PikePass—and then continue onto I-244 E when you exit the Turnpike. Take US-75 North toward Bartlesville (look for exit 6B) and this road will take you through Bartlesville and into Dewey. Turn right onto Durham Road (you’ll see a Dollar General on the northeast corner of the intersection) and continue just over five miles until you see the entrance gate on your right.
Visiting Prairie Song
If you want to take your family to visit Prairie Song, call ahead to schedule your guided tour. Admission is $8 per person and tours usually last about two hours. There is a fair amount of walking and there are steps into most buildings, so this trip is best for those who can walk independently or be carried if necessary.
The last weekend of September is a fantastic time to visit Prairie Song as part of the annual Western Heritage Weekend.
The Tom Mix Museum & Western Heritage Weekend
You may know Tom Mix as the star of the earliest cowboy movies ever made, but you may not realize that he was also the town marshal of Dewey, Oklahoma and worked at the famous 101 Ranch near Ponca City. Several decades after his death, the town of Dewey purchased many of Mix’s personal items from his estate, and now the Oklahoma Historical Society helps the city run the Tom Mix Museum, located in downtown Dewey.
Inside the museum you’ll find many articles of clothing and costumes, saddles, photographs and other memorabilia. If you don’t know much about Tom Mix, the friendly and knowledgeable museum staff will be happy to help you out. You can also watch a short film about him that includes clips from some of his more than 300 movies.
The Great American Medicine Show will provide amazing demonstrations of sharp shooting, illusion, science, chicanery, psychic forecasting and good old-fashioned flim-flam throughout the day.
Children’s games, petting zoo, music, vendors, simulated bank robberies and gun fights, free admission to the Tom Mix Museum, a silent auction and food make the festival a family destination.
Located just north of Bartlesville on Highway 75, Dewey is roughly two and a half hours from Oklahoma City. Take the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa and then continue onto I-244 E when you exit the Turnpike. Take US-75 North toward Bartlesville (look for exit 6B) and this road will take you through Bartlesville and into Dewey. Turn left onto Don Tyler Avenue and go two blocks to Delaware Street. The museum is located on the southwest corner of Don Tyler and Delaware
402621 W. 1600 Road
Dewey, OK 74029
Adults $8, students $6, children under 6 free.
Tours available. Call for details.
Tom Mix Museum
721 North Delaware
Dewey, OK 74029
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am-4:30pm February-December. Closed during the month of January and major holidays.
Suggested donation of $3.00 per adult and $.50 per child.
Jennifer Geary is a homeschooling mom from Broken Arrow, formerly of OKC, who loves to have adventures with her family.