The Choctaw Nation is the heart of McCurtain County and the Broken Bow Area, and the tribe’s history is both celebrated and preserved to this day. It is for this reason that you’ll find multiple historical sites, museums and events all over southeastern Oklahoma, including the Jefferson Gardner Mansion and Museum, one-time home of the “Chief of the Choctaws”.
During the relocation of the Choctaw Nation from Mississippi to Oklahoma on the historic “Trail of Tears” in 1831 and 1832, Eagletown (located just east of Broken Bow) was established as the first Choctaw town in the new Choctaw territory. This location became a logical stop for all traveling to Oklahoma. From here, the different branches of the tribe dispersed. But Eagletown became known as the anchor point of the Choctaw Nation, and it is here that the local Choctaw Nation became established and thrived.
Jefferson Gardner was born west of the area in 1847 and lived there until his late 30’s as a farmer and livestock keeper, also active in tribal senate. In 1884 he moved to Eagletown and built the mansion, where he resided for the rest of his life. Locally, he worked as a mercantile businessman and he served as Eagletown’s postmaster for several years. He was also active in both the town and the Choctaw tribe politically, which is how he came to be elected Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation in 1894.
Known as a man of integrity and earnestly stood for the rights and interests of both the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes… so much so that he belligerently refused to acknowledge changing modern attitudes of the peoples, which led to his defeat in 1896. However his steadfast defense of the Nation’s interests explains why his home still stands today.
The mansion itself is a two-story farmhouse-style home with a classic “T” design, located east of Broken Bow on US Highway 70 near the Mountain Fork River. Beside the long lane heading north to the house itself is a red “Museum” sign noting the home and “GIANT CYPRESS TREE”. Just to the left of the lane are historic markers for both the Gardner Museum and Eagletown which was created as a stopping place for the Choctaw after traveling from Mississippi on the Trail of Tears. The Museum’s official address is 6745 East US Highway 70, Broken Bow, OK.
Inside the Museum, you’ll find a bounty of items commemorating the area’s history: from Indian artifacts dating back to prehistoric times, to items from the pioneer days when those venturing west came upon the area.
Also of interest is what remains of a 2000 year-old Cypress tree outside the museum which was used as a landmark to those Choctaws traveling the Trail of Tears to their designated Indian Territory. When they saw this very large tree, they had finally arrived at their destination. Sadly, the tree was hit by lightning in 1982 and subsequently died.
When you arrive at the Museum, you’ll find the Mansion and a gift shop. Guided tours through the Mansion are provided. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 6-11. Children 5 and under are free.
Consider a visit to the Gardner Mansion and Museum during your Beavers Bend Creative Escapes getaway, and immerse yourself in local tribal history.