By: Duane Blankenship | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: April 2007
John Cummings, Executive Director of the J.M. Davis Museum, proudly displays the custom .45 caliber rifle that is on loan to the museumfor the J.M. Davis Centennial Exhibit.
J.M. Davis first caught a glimpse of his future shortly after turning seven years old. Davis’ father gave him a muzzle-loading shotgun that cost only $1.50; not a miserly sum in 1894. That first gun started Mr. Davis’ remarkable collection of not only guns, but other historic collectibles, including knives, swords, steins, saddles, Indian artifacts and more.
As a young man, Davis invested in timberland in his native Arkansas. As railroads formed pathways across the country, he prospered by starting a timber mill and supplying railroads with railroad ties. In 1916 Davis traded 2000 acres of his Arkansas property for the Mason Hotel in Claremore and began displaying his gun collection in the lobby. Collecting became addictive to Davis, and the lobby walls, ballroom, upstairs hallways and seven private rooms were soon filled to capacity with guns, as well as the other items Davis had attained over the years.
In 1965 Davis transferred ownership of his collection to a trust, the J.M. Davis Foundation, Inc. The foundation entered into an agreement with the state of Oklahoma for preservation of the collection. Within four years, the museum opened in Claremore to an enthusiastic public on Davis’ 82nd birthday.
John Cummings became the museum’s executive director in October 2006. He and his staff are dedicated to renovating the museum to preserve the treasured collections of Mr. Davis and to make the entire museum experience more exciting, educational and inviting to guests. Cummings adds, “We also plan to provide more ‘hands-on’ experiences for students.”
“Collecting guns was Mr. Davis’ first love,” says Cummings. “He wanted to exhibit his historically relevant collection in a place where admission would always be free. Today, the Davis collection has over 50,000 items to view and only 13,400 of the artifacts are guns. Admission is still free.”
According to Cummings, “We are truly a historical museum, dedicated to educating the young and old and preserving the past through historically significant artifacts.”
Visitors will see items on display such as hand cannons that were used in the orient in the 1300’s to a collection of saddles, bits, bridles and spurs that played significant roles in Oklahoma’s history. Many bandits and lawmen who roamed Oklahoma Territory are also represented at the museum, including Bill Tilgman and Wild Bill Hickock.
“Although the transformation we have in mind will not take place overnight, museum visitors have already begun seeing changes,” Cummings said. “We are improving appearances with the addition of new landscaping, and we have begun renovating and adding new exhibits.”
Two displays currently under construction are the J.M. Davis Centennial Exhibit and an entire room that is being renovated to mirror the lobby of the old Mason Hotel, complete with Mr. Davis’ gun collection boards, the ones that once adorned the walls of the original lobby. Original furniture from the old hotel lobby will also be part of the exhibit. To commemorate the Oklahoma Centennial, the J.M. Davis Centennial Exhibit will showcase one of only 101 original .45 caliber long rifles manufactured and other items from the collection.
If you have never been to the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum, please go. If you haven’t been there for a long time, do yourself a favor and go again. It is indeed an Oklahoma treasure.
Blankenship graduated from the University of Oklahoma and has enjoyed a lifetime career in advertising. He started his own advertising business in 1993 and enjoys creating graphic art and writing. Hobbies include hunting, fishing and pencil drawings. Duane and his wife, Janice, have been married over 50 years and are active in their church and community. He has been a contributing writer for Value News/Values Magazine since 2005.