Time Travel at The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum

We visited the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum to learn more about the city’s Wild West days, as portrayed in the Gunsmoke series. We did find that era fascinating, but we couldn’t resist going through the rest of the museum as well.

It’s amazing that a city can go from the Wild West days to becoming the “air capital of the world” in only about sixty years.

But museum exhibits begin even before the Wild West days, all the way back to when the only population was Native American tribes. Exhibits continue through to modern times.

The Museum is an Exhibit Itself

In fact, the limestone museum building is an exhibit itself. Located downtown, it was Wichita’s first City Hall. Constructed in 1892, it contained everything from city offices to the public library to the city jail. The city used the building for 84 years, before it became home to the historical museum.

Four-story 1892 limestone museum building with turret and clock tower
The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum building was Wichita’s first city hall.

Preserved and Reconstructed Room Displays

We enjoyed several preserved or reconstructed rooms, including the mayor’s office. In another room is the reconstructed Dockum Drugstore of 1958. The drugstore is the location of the first successful black student sit-in at a white-only lunch counter. Their successful lunch counter desegregation effort led the national NAACP to allow affiliated youth groups to organize non-violent sit-ins during the civil rights struggle.

replica of Dockum Drugstore lunch counter
Replica of Dockum Drugstore of 1958, the location of the first successful black student sit-in at a white only lunch counter

A third room is set up as a Wichita Cottage, which represents a late 1880s Wichita home. Despite Kansas’ reputation as the Wild West, folks in Wichita wanted an “upscale” city. Victorian décor was common, as the furnishings in this exhibit show.

Air Capital of the World

It wasn’t until our first visit to Wichita, when we toured the B-29 Doc Hangar, Education & Visitors Center that I learned about Wichita’s aviation history. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “airplanes are to Wichita what cars are to Detroit.” It began as far back as the 1911 at the Walnut Grove Air Meet. It wasn’t long before names like Cessna and Beech get into the flying machine industry. The aerospace industry is still huge in Wichita today, with many companies that built airplane components and parts.

We found the large museum exhibit—including a video—on the airplane manufacturing industry fascinating.

Exploring Wichita’s Wild West

green felt sheet mimicking a poker table set with poker chips and two hands of cards, face up
Gambling was common in the Old West days.

The museum’s exhibit on the Wild West included fascinating bios of area legends. For instance, Jesse Chisholm, who was half Scottish and half Cherokee, was illiterate. Yet, he spoke 14 Indian languages. Chisholm is remembered as the “ambassador of the plains.”

An ambassador’s role is to negotiate. As a trader, that’s what Chisholm did: negotiate. In fact, there was a lot more peaceful negotiating in the Old West than lore leads us to believe.

We learned that Wyatt Earp was a Wichita city policeman on and off from 1874 to 1876 and tried to settle disputes not with a gun, but with words. His normal routine included things like inspecting chimneys and controlling wild dogs—not shooting outlaws.

With the Old West, of course, is the history of the Native Americans, which is always sad. Treaties made, treaties broken. The government moved tribes from one place to another to another, each place less desirable than the previous. Wichita itself is named for the Wichita tribe.

So Much More…

There are many more exhibits throughout the museum that tell interesting stories of Wichitans in history. We spent a couple of hours exploring the Wichita-Sedgwick County History Museum. We could have stayed longer, but it was getting close to closing time.

If You Go…

The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is located at 204 S Main Street in downtown Wichita. It is open Tuesday through Sunday. Check the website for hours and admission information.

Other articles in this issue of Midwest Wanderer Explores…

Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Wichita
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Dodge City
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Hays
Exploring the Kansas Gunsmoke Trail in Abilene
The Keeper of the Plains and Mid-America All-Indian Center
Time Travel at the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Boot Hill Museum: Discover the Wild West Legacy
Home of Stone: The Mueller-Schmidt House—A Living Heritage
Boot Hill Distillery: Soil to Sip in a Historical Location
Historic Fort Hays: Tracing the Footsteps of Frontier Defenders
Cowtown to Carousels: Explore the Dickinson County Heritage Center

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