Fifteen GEAR UP students from Harmony school recently toured the Atoka Museum and Civil War Cemetery. Established in 1979, the Museum covers the history of the Civil War in Oklahoma as well as the history of Atoka County. The seventh and eighth-grade students were greeted by Museum Director Cindy Wallis who began the day by asking them to sign a birthday card for a former Atoka resident who is celebrating his 100th birthday.
The tour continued as Wallis guided the group through the Museum while discussing the various exhibits. The first stop was a plaster cast of a complete baby dinosaur skeleton which was discovered east of Atoka along with the partial remains of seven other dinosaurs. She explained that a plaster cast was used for the exhibit instead of actual bones which would become brittle and break. The next exhibits were tributes to local celebrities including singer Reba McEntire and her family, bull rider Lane Frost, and Academy Award-winning make-up artist Matthew Mungle. The Museum even has bullets from a shootout between local lawmen and the Clyde Barrow gang.
Wallis led students through a series of exhibits which showcase lifestyles of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Displays included a school room, a doctor’s office, a post office, and a barbershop. The Museum also has a display honoring First Baptist Church in Atoka which is the oldest active Baptist church in Oklahoma. Students were intrigued by the Museum artifacts such as a Victrola turntable and a rotary phone. After Wallis demonstrated how to use a rotary phone, seventh grader Ryan Logue exclaimed, “Wow! That is so cool!”
The tour concluded outdoors with a visit to the Civil War Cemetery which was first established by travelers on the Butterfield stage road just north of Atoka. The cemetery is the only designated Confederate cemetery in Oklahoma and contains the remains of the soldiers who died during a measles epidemic in 1862. In 1988, members of the Atoka County Historical Society researched at the National Archives and were able to identify several soldiers, and new headstones were placed alongside the old. The outdoor tour also included several historical buildings, two large cast iron school bells, and the stone entrance to the historic football stadium, Phillips Field.
“Thanks to Mrs. Wallis, our students discovered that learning can be fun,” said Education Coordinator Denise Lovell. “History is more than just facts in a book. Today, history came to life.”
The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College’s GEAR UP program. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. In 2017, Eastern received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and serves over 3,000 students in 39 area schools.