Wichita's Beginnings

The Pre-1865 Wichita's Beginnings area of Old Cowtown Museum represents the area before permanent settlement. The area where the union of the Little and Big Arkansas Rivers met served the Plains Nations indigenous to the area, and others such as the Wichita, who came north during the Civil War to become wards of the federal government.

It also provided a location for traders to come and exchange their wares. The exhibit shows the nomadic use of the land by Plains Nations, buffalo hunters, and traders on land that legally belonged to the Osage Indian Nation as trust lands.

Native Nations hunted and traded on the lands while the Osage acted as the governor of appropriate use and punished those who abused the privilege given. The Tipis represent shelters used by the 4 major nomadic tribes: the Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa who used the area. Posters inside the tipi tell the tribes' story and some of their unique culture. The resident Osage and short-lived Wichita representations are mentioned in the posters outside the first tipi.

This area is sponsored in part by the Wichita Inter-Tribal Warrior Society.

​The Foundational Economics

Many men came to the Great Plains to hunt fur-bearing animals of all kinds. The sale of their skins was quite profitable, especially the buffalo. As they killed so many buffalo at one time, most took only the choice pieces of meat and left the rest for the prairie scavengers. The collection of the bleached bones from the buffalo carcasses created a "bone trade" that provided more economic activity.

Traders interacted with the area's Native American population, arriving settlers, as well as the hunters. Many of the hunters and traders also engaged in hauling freight to the "Indian Territory" (Oklahoma). As the Native Americans had been moved from the area to the south, they were promised government goods by treaty.

These activities all combined to provide a solid economic base to begin a town which continued into the Cattle Trade era of Wichita.


Heller Cabin

The Heller Cabin is interpreted as a trading post on the plains, such as what J.R Mead or “Dutch Bill” Greiffenstein might have occupied. The hunting and trading activities are the primary economic draw to the early settlement of Wichita. The area around Wichita was important to the Native Americans for hunting and trading. Non-Native American hunters and traders capitalized on the natural resources of the area i.e.: buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and on trading with the Indians. Hunting, trading, freighting and government subsidies for supplying goods to the Native Americans south of Wichita remained an important economic base for the city throughout the 1870s. The prairie trade lingered with buffalo hunting, with the hide and meat trade as well as the bone trade continued to provide business after the arrival of the railroad. The hunting culture paved the way, as well as overlaps, the cattle and farming economy that builds Wichita.

Heller Cabin was built by Civil War veteran Leonhard Hoffman, who expertly cut and pieced the logs together. Its log construction aspects, including notching and flooring, are different from that of Old Cowtown Museum's Munger House or the Trapper's Cabin, both of which were built during the same time period.

The cabin was donated to Old Cowtown Museum by the estate of Wichita resident Donna B. Heller. The restoration process that began in April 2009 and was opened in October 2009.

Its addition to Old Cowtown Museum was especially significant as it is considered as one of the top 10 intact structures in the United States from the settlement period. This rank was given to the cabin by Douglass C. Reed of Preservation Associates in Hagerstown, Maryland, who originally assessed the structure in 2002. Reed is a nationally known preservationist, author and historian on the subject.

Historic Wichita Cowtown, Inc. funded the efforts to move Heller Cabin from Elmo, Kansas to Old Cowtown Museum and its restoration.