DAVIS ARMS MUSEUM - CLAREMORE
It is billed as the world’s largest private firearms collection, not only guns, but swords, knives, saddles, beer steins, presidential campain buttons, and a surrey with the fringe on top. John Monroe Davis came to Claremore Oklahoma from Arkansas in 1916 looking for investment opportunities in the oil boom around Tulsa. He stayed at the Mason Hotel in downtown Claremore, where the junction of railroads met. The hotel was for sale at the time. He liked the surrounding town and saw the potential of railroad, so he traded 2,000 acres of forestland back home for the hotel.
Davis’ father gave him his first gun when he was seven years old, as a bribe to take his medicine when he was ill, an old muzzle loading .410 guage frontier shotgun which cost a dollar-fifty. He was hooked and began a lifetime of collecting guns and other unique artifacts from around the globe. For most of his life he displayed his collection around his hotel. Locals would come to admire the Gatling Gun aimed in front of the lobby registration desk and the halls crammed with arms. He collected so much, the hotel couldn’t hold it all. In 1965, Davis gave his collection to the J.M. Davis Foundation, leasing it to the State of Oklahoma for 99 years for $1.
The J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum is located 2 minutes from the memorial to Claremore’s other famous son, Will Rogers, marked by the Walker Light Tank parked out front. The collection of guns of the most amazing variety are laid out rather like a supermarket department store of display cases to wander through row upon row. The vast collection includes 13,000 guns, from a Chinese Hand Cannon from the mid-14th Century, one of the earliest known gun powder weapons, to western six guns, flint locks, mini-ball rifles, repeating guns and machine guns.
One of the more fascinating areas of the collection are the outlaw guns - weapons taken from 30’s bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde (see Texas Rangers Museum Waco), Pretty Boy Floyd and the old west’s notorious fast draw shootist, John Wesley Hardin and Jesse James as well as lawmen guns. Some of these are world famous, some more familiar at the time, with the guns accompanied by the story of their notorious origination. In one display is the world’s smallest commercially made handgun and the largest hand held gun. Here you will also find the story of the Daisy BB gun, familiar to kids, including a 1930s Buck Rogers BB “raygun” based on the movie serial. The other oddly bizarre sci-fi inspired item you’ll find is the helmet of the Iraqi Fedayeen militia designed by Sadaam Hussein’s son Uday, who based it on Darth Vader from Star Wars.
While Davis was collecting guns and swords, his wife was collecting beer steins and music boxes. The museum houses a remarkable selection of 1,200 artistic ceramic German drinking steins, which date from about 1850 to the early 1900s, including the rare Mettlach, Villeroy and Boch steins of porcelain and pewter. Also in the collection is the whimsical statuary of 19th Century artist John Rogers. One room of the museum is a recreation of the lobby of the now demolished Mason Hotel where Davis spent much of his days focused on his collection. The original check-in desk, lobby gun display and Davis’s desk with the original stuffed “Jack-a-Lope” which greeted visitors to the hotel curios.
Claremore is also the hometown of Lynn Riggs, the author of the play Green Grow the Lilics on which the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma was based. The Davis museum now displays a costume worn by Shirley Jones in the movie version and the movie prop surrey used for the song which made the wheeled wagon one the best known pioneer conveyances. Come on, I know you’re humming it now – chicks 'n geese and ducks gonna scurry…when I take you out in ma surrey…
Visiting the JM Davis Arms Museum
The museum is open 8:30 am to 6 pm Monday to Fridays and 10 am to 5 pm Saturdays, closed on Sunday. Admission is free. Claremore is about 20 minutes from Tulsa along the eastern Oklahoma section of historic Route 66. The museum is at 330 North J.M. Davis Boulevard sandwiched between the two rail lines through Claremore where the freight trains rumble through most of the day. © Bargain Travel West
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