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Ponca City, Oklahoma offers history, adventure

By Jennifer M. Latzke

Red soil, friendly people, oil barons and western adventure--where can you find these Oklahoma icons all in one region? Ponca City, Okla., offers these icons and more.

As a jumping off point for your adventure, Ponca City offers a selection of moderately priced hotels and accommodations for families. Plus, it's a central location for several day trips.

Standing Bear Native American Park

A typical day could start off with a walk around the Standing Bear Native American Park, at the northwest corner of Highways 60 and 177. The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and is a peaceful setting for getting in that exercise before the heat of the day or for taking in an Oklahoma sunrise. A walking trail winds from the parking lot through the 63-acre park to a 22-foot bronze statue of Ponca Chief Standing Bear. The statue was created by Oreland C. Joe, Cowboy Artist of America. There's also a one-acre pond and a shaded memorial grove sitting area for rest and reflection.

At the base of the Standing Bear statue is a circular viewing court that pays homage to the six area tribes: Osage, Pawnee, Otoe-Missouria, Kaw, Tonkawa and Ponca.

Adjacent to the Standing Bear Native American Park is the Standing Bear Native American Museum and Education Center. Open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m to 5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the museum features information and exhibits detailing the culture of the six tribes of the Ponca City area. There are tribal displays, traveling exhibits, artwork and educational activities.

Marland Estate Mansion

For your late morning and lunch time stop, you may want to visit the local grocery store and get the fixings for a picnic lunch. Then, head to the Marland Estate Mansion, at 901 Monument Road. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Marland Estate is touted as a "Palace on the Prairie." For a small admission you can tour the opulence of a 1920s oil tycoon.

The Marland Estate was created by E.W. Marland and is modeled after a palace in Florence, Italy. Its 48,000 square feet cover four floors and is considered one of America's castles. Marland was an attorney and hobby geologist with an interest in the oil industry. He made a fortune in oil in West Virginia, but lost it all in 1907.

In 1908, Marland and his first wife Virginia came to Oklahoma with little more than a letter of credit to his name. In 1911, Marland discovered his first gusher in Oklahoma. His empire quickly grew until 1922 when he controlled one-tenth of the world's oil reserves. Marland was the benefactor of Ponca City. Nearly a third of the city's population were employed by Marland Oil Co.

Marland lived a fascinating life in a fascinating time. He and his wife Virginia had no biological children, but they eventually adopted Virginia's niece and nephew, Lydie and George. Marland moved from the business world into politics and, in 1932, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1934, he was elected the 10th Governor of Oklahoma.

The estate grounds are vast and once you have toured the mansion and seen the elegance of the 1920s, visit one of the four historic museums housed in the outer buildings on the estate. There's a museum highlighting the Marland family, the working studio of Bryant Baker, who sculpted the Pioneer Woman Statue, and the John Duncan Forsyth Room with information on the architect of the mansion. And, be sure to stop by the Marland Oil Museum to learn about the oil boom of the early 20th Century.

Finally, take your picnic and let the children stretch their legs on the vast grounds of the Marland Estate. Find a shady spot and have lunch and let your imagination take you back to a time where the estate hosted grand balls, fox hunts and more. For more information, visit www.marlandmansion.com.

Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum

After you've relaxed in the shade, pack up and head to the Pioneer Woman Statue and Museum, at the corner of 14th Street and Lake Road. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m., the Pioneer Woman Museum is a tribute to the women who settled Oklahoma and who continue to pioneer new fields. Outside, the 17-foot bronze Pioneer Woman Statue stands. In 1926, E.W. Marland decided a statue should be erected to honor the pioneer women who settled the Oklahoma prairie. He commissioned a statue and asked 17 sculptors to submit small models of their designs. The models traveled across the nation and 750,000 people cast their votes for their preferred model. Bryant Baker's model was selected and the final statue was unveiled in its courtyard in 1930.

In 1958, the Pioneer Woman Museum opened its doors, just across the street from the iconic statue. It was recently expanded in 1996. The museum's architect, Rand Elliott, designed the building to resemble a sunbonnet, with a copper-lined entrance. Across the top of the copper bonnet is the phrase, "I see no boundaries," another homage to the pioneer woman. A mirrored glass door at the front entrance reflects the Pioneer Woman Statue.

Inside are exhibits on the women of Oklahoma who've made their mark in the world. The museum offers classes and activities for the whole family. Be sure to check with the museum for more information, or visit www.pioneerwomanmuseum.com.

Cherokee Strip Land Rush

Of course, no trip to the northern part of Oklahoma would be complete without mentioning the Cherokee Strip Land Rush of 1893. Across the region, there are several museums dedicated to telling the story of the Boomer Sooners who staked their claim to their own pieces of Oklahoma land. Across the state line, in Arkansas City, Kan., just north of Ponca City, the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum tells the story of the Sooner. Arkansas City was the largest registration point for the land rush, with 75,000 individuals and their families all ready to stake their claims. For more information, visit www.arkcity.org.

If you have time, you might also want to check out the nearby towns of Blackwell, Fairfax, Kaw City, Newkirk, Shidler, Burbank and Tonkawa.

For more information, visit www.poncacitytourism.com; www.redcarpetcountry.com; www.kawlake.com; or www.travelok.com.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.


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Date: 5/8/08


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