Skip to main content

Robert E. Cunningham Oklahoma History Collection

Identifier: 2000-005

Scope and Contents

This collection contains photographs and negatives taken by W. S. Prettyman, Andrew Alexander Forbes, G. B. Cornish, I. H. Bonsall, D. S. Mitchell, and C. P. Wickmiller. The photographs in this collection can be searched and viewed in the DRC's online image database.

The largest portion of the collection consists of more than 500 images produced by Stillwater, Oklahoma frontier photographer Henry Madison Wantland. Born in Springfield, Illinois on April 4, 1864, Wantland moved from Eureka, Kansas, to Stillwater, Oklahoma Territory in 1891 with his wife and children. Wantland bought W. A. Flower’s Stillwater photographic studio in 1897 and called it The Peoples Photo Studio and later, Wantland’s Art Studio. For the next 20 years Wantland made hundreds of exposures on glass plates of the people of Stillwater and produced cabinet cards that he sold at $1.50 per dozen. Wantland’s business declined after his divorce in 1909, and he eventually ended it to sell furniture. He died in 1953 at the age of 88, and Cunningham acquired his collection of glass plate negatives at an estate auction 35 years later.

Another photographer featured in the collection is Vince Dillon. Stillwater pharmacist, hunter and amateur photographer, Dillon befriended many Native Americans to document life on the plains during the early 1900s. His images record life on the 101 Ranch, Bliss, Oklahoma, and Native American chiefs and tribal life within Oklahoma.

Some of the most prolific frontier photographers within the collection are C. P. Wickmiller, D. S. Mitchell, Andrew Alexander Forbes, W. S. Prettyman, and I. H. Bonsall. Seven original Wickmiller prints provide a photographic record of Captain David L. Payne, Captain William L. Couch and the “Boomers” entering and leaving Indian Territory in 1883. I. H. Bonsall, apprentice under Mathew B. Brady, recorded 1860s Civil War portraits, structures and cities. In the 1870s he traveled to Arkansas City, Kansas and photographed Couch and Payne parties before departing for Oklahoma Territory. D. S. Mitchell recorded the 1889 land run and growth of Guthrie, Oklahoma. Of the most famous and widely duplicated historical photographs in the collection are Prettyman’s (1858-1932) and Forbes’ images of the 1893 Cherokee Strip opening. Other Oklahoma historical subjects within his collection document Guthrie, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University (A & M College), Oklahoma homesteading, and oil drilling within the state.

Historically significant records within the collection include the Guthrie, Oklahoma Charter Convention Meeting Minutes ledger (June 7, 1889-July 8, 1889), the transcribed diary of Simon Peter Duck, (October 22, 1861- March 27, 1865), Civil War veteran of the Fourth Iowa regiment, letters from artist Augusta C. Metcalfe to Cunningham’s Stillwater Engraving Co. (1958-1961), and pendants from A & M College, and 101 Ranch. Additional files contain clippings from Cunningham’s Stillwater New-Press, newspaper articles, manuscripts, and research notes.


  • Creation: 1856 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

The Robert E. Cunningham Oklahoma History Collection has no restrictions and is available for research. If you are interested in researching the materials, please contact the Dickinson Research Center to make an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert E. Cunningham Oklahoma History Collection is the property of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Materials, even if owned by the NCWHM, may be protected under third party copyright. It is the patron’s responsibility to research and secure any such additional copyright and pay any required fees or royalties. It is not the intention of the NCWHM to impede upon any third party rights, and the NCWHM cannot be held responsible if the patron is involved in legal action due to violation of third party copyright claims.

Biographical / Historical

Born in 1906, Cunningham moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma in 1923, when he enrolled as a freshman at Oklahoma A & M College, now Oklahoma State University. While living in Stillwater, he worked for Smith’s Studio, a local photographic studio detailing the development of A & M College and Stillwater. Leaving college for a five-year period, Cunningham edited the newspapers at Geary and Hinton, and worked as an assistant pressman for Lakeside Press in Chicago, Illinois. He returned to A & M and finished his college career by earning Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees in 1931 and 1932. After serving in both World War II’s European and Pacific theaters from 1942 to 1946, Cunningham returned to Stillwater, where he operated a photoengraving business, Stillwater Engraving Company.

He was an avid collector, meticulous researcher, and prodigious writer. Among the books he wrote were 50 Years Of Oklahoma A & M, Indian Territory: A Frontier Photographic Record, and Trial By Mob, all published in 1957; Stillwater, Where Oklahoma Began, 1969; Perry: Pride Of The Prairie, 1973; and Stillwater Through The Years, 1974. He also worked for the Stillwater News-Press and wrote articles for Daily Oklahoman Sunday Supplement on Oklahoma history and early settlements. Cunningham died in 1991.


34.59 Linear Feet (33 glass plate negative boxes, 26 document boxes, 2 bankers boxes, 6 oversize boxes, 15 binder boxes)

Language of Materials



Cunningham, photograph collector and Stillwater photographer, chronicled the development of Oklahoma through his historical acquisitions and personal photographs. Cunningham’s collection records Oklahoma’s development from 1883 through the 21st century. The collection contains an extensive assemblage of negatives, photographs, documents and other archival materials. This description reflects the collection's documents and other archival materials. The photographic elements can be searched on the DRC's image database.


Series 1: Subject Files, 1890-1984 Includes a 1917 A & M College, Stillwater, Oklahoma, Commencement Week Program listing all 1917 graduates, 1949-1950 student handbook, 1928 Kloran or Ritual of The Women of the Ku Klux Klan official publication outlining the creed and ceremonies [39/22], a 1892 dedication service program from the First M.E. Church, Stillwater, Women’s Christian Temperance Union [39/22], First District Convention, 1st Methodist Church, Stillwater, 1892 flyer, and dance card from the Masque Ball, Tecumseh Dancing Club, November 28, 1894 [39/22].

Series 2: Photographs, 1856 – ca. 1970s The photographs in this collection are not described in this finding aid. They can be searched and accessed in the DRC's online image database.

Series 3: Advertising Cards, 1893-ca. 1930s Contain unique cards such as custom standing and flat colored black cat advertising card for Black Cat Hosiery; Chicago-Kenosha Hosiery Company, Floyd Lease ‘(Pretty Boy) Floyd’ political card “Not a bank robber but a trouble shooter;” 1893 Payne County Fair, 1907 “Guthrie, The Capital of Oklahoma” advertising booklet printed by State Capital Company; duplicated photographs by Armantrout Bros.; J. L. Calvert advertising card from Perry, Oklahoma land run era; and numerous colored advertising cards from The Buzza Company.

Series 4: Clippings, 1893-1983 These are local newspaper articles written by Cunningham, ca. 1960s – ca. 1980s, or articles referencing Cunningham’s photograph and negative collection [boxes 74, 75, & 76.] Stillwater New-Press and the Daily Oklahoman were the principle publishers of Cunningham’s historical articles. Additional newspaper clippings may be found within Subject Files, box 38 & 40 processed by Chuck Rand previous to the total collections processing.

Series 5: Journals, 1889 Journals of the City of Guthrie Charter minutes, 1889, [box 38, Oversized materials], and Journal Ledger, Guthrie, 1889: Commercial, Merchants, & M. Neal Little Bank, Occupational Tax, Special Collections, Police, Judge payments, Real Estate Purchase Records, [box 45, Oversized materials.]

Series 6: Magazines, 1891-1968 Contain University publications and national magazine publications dating from 1891, boxes 41, 45, & flat box 74. Also within the collection are two university publications from the 1890s. The history of Oklahoma A & M College (Oklahoma State University,) featured article in the College Mirror, Vol. 2 No. 8, April 15, 1896 magazine, and The Normal Philomath, Vol. 1 No. 5, May, 1897 from the University of Central Oklahoma, previously known as Central State University. The Normal Philomath relates information about the commencement exercises for the Normal School, A & M College, (Oklahoma State University) and the University (University of Oklahoma.) The national publications of Cosmopolitan, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly and Midland Monthly contain articles about western frontier America. The container list outlines the magazines’ specific article topics.

Series 7: Newspapers, 1893-1974 Within the collection, newspapers are for the most part local Oklahoma newspapers. Rare copies of Oklahoma Review, Enid, Oklahoma, 1897, Oklahoma Farmer, Oklahoma City, 1893, Home Field and Forum, Guthrie, Oklahoma, 1893 and 1894, 1897 Perry, Oklahoma newspapers,and The Citizen newspaper from Taloga, Oklahoma, 1893 are preserved through photocopying. Newspapers in advance deterioration were destroyed, if alternative sources of preservation were located. Please refer to Appendix B for a complete listing of Oklahoma newspapers found within the collection, and alternative archival reference locations.

Series 8: Notebooks, 1890-1997, & n.d. These are Cunningham’s interview and resource notebooks.

Notebooks, folder 1, n.d.: #01: Hy-grade Premium notebook, n.d. The first section of the notebook focuses upon the life of John Juregien [sic] as a WW II German (Nazi) soldier – deployments and surrender to Tito partisans, his escape, capture and second escape back to Germany. Juregins settled in Stillwater, Oklahoma after World War II. The majority of the notebook contains notes about the history of oil drilling in Oklahoma, and the product’s commercial application, and development. Many Oklahoma towns are referenced in the notes: Bartlesville, Glenn Pool, Cleveland, Tulsa, Cushing, the Osage allotment, Red Fork, and Oklahoma City. A five-page manuscript excerpt of Chapter III, Clayton oil town, and secondary source notes regarding oil industry development, oil companies and oilmen conclude the notebook’s reference notes.

#02: n.d. The notebook consists of a historical reference book list, and concludes with pioneer interviews of Louie Geiser and Jno. Renworthy dated 1960. Antidotes and stories of Oklahoma pioneers are covered in last nine pages of notes.

#03: Hy-grade Premium notebook, n.d. The first part of the notebook reflects Cunningham interview notes relating to early day Oklahoma photographers Henry M. Wantland, and Jaques Moreau. Additionally, the notebook documents interview notes relevant to pioneer life and events; names of partial references include Governor Steele, Coopers, Jim Williams, and Les Thatcher. The notebook concludes with secondary source notes from the Chronicles of Oklahoma, and Harpers Weekly¸Vol. 33, 1889.

Notebooks, folder 2, 1890-1997: #01: Hy-grade Premium notebook, 1997. The notebook contains an index of Cunningham photographs using a code system developed by him: A=A & M College, 15 photos; B-Opening 1889, 10 photos; C-Opening 1893, 23 photos; Opening 1892, 13 photos. Additionally, it contains an outline of Osage history throughout the Territory referencing Guthrie Leader, Chandler Leader, Norman Transcript, Oklahoman, Kansas City Star newspapers, and secondary sources.

#02: Hy-grade Premium notebook, n.d. Quotes from letters received from the erritory to the Department of Missouri, Government Office in 1892, and notes relating to specific photographs compose the notebook’s material.

#03: Hy-grade Premium notebook Contains a variety of resources notes and interviews pertaining to Indian Territory: resource notes from unidentified secondary sources describing the land run, interview notes with 89ers George Fleming and Ralph Oyster, and Bill McClure, notes from telegraph and government military correspondence in relation to Indian Territory, 1890-1899, and George B. Cornish’s 1902 journal notes on Vince Dillon, Oklahoma photographer.

#04: n.d. Within the notebook are biographical notes on photographer William Prettyman, Cunningham’s secondary source notes, 1897 & 1898 Gazette newspaper quotes, and general notes on Osage Indian settlement.

Series 9: Postcards, ca. 1900-ca. 1940s Cover a diversity of topics: Oklahoma cities and towns, Oklahoma universities, Churches, Indian portraits, Oil, and Frank Eaton, “Pistol Pete” [box 53, 2000.005.16.001-.157].

Series 10: Scrapbook Albums, 1882-1984 Consist of lithograph advertising cards and magazine portraits [Boxes 72 & 73, Scrapbook #1 & 2]. Inscription in Scrapbook #2 – “Lou Young, Nov. 1882, Fredonia, Kansas.”

Souvenir Edition Opening of Oklahoma 50th Anniversary – 1893-1984 contains numerous clippings related to historical events. Clippings found within the book cover historical events within Oklahoma: research material clippings used by Cunningham for his published pamphlet Trial by Mob, 1957; clippings from the State Capital newspaper, 1893-1897, regarding events in Oklahoma Territory & Indian Territory; citizen’s war between Pond Creek and Round Pond (Enid), O. T. regarding the Rock Island railroad’s depot location; general discussion about Oklahoma Territory town development; the Dalton Gang; Tom King; Dynamite Dick; Cherokee Bill; Bill Cook; Oklahoma statehood question as addressed by O. T. newspapers; disagreement between William Mathewson and Bill Cody regarding the name Buffalo Bill; Dawes Commission; Kansas City Star article recalling Quantrell’s life; and 1893-1897 KKK (Whitecaps) disturbances.

Series 11: Sheet Music, 1906 Contains the Cover of Iola sheet music published by Jerome H. Remick & Company [box 74].

Series 12: Audio Visual, n. d. This is the “The Oklahoma Story,” filmstrip written by Cunningham, and used as an educational filmstrip for elementary school classrooms. Box 40, file folders 7 & 8 contain Cunningham’s original storyboards of the filmstrip.

Series 13: Pennants, n. d. Pennants of the 101 Ranch, 2000.005.18.0001 and Oklahoma A & M, 2000.005.18.0002 are an undetermined age.

Series 14: Negative & Ferrotype Sleeves & Notes, ca. 1860s-1970s These are the sleeves and notes from the collection’s safety and nitrate negatives [boxes 42m 43m & 44]. One ferrotype sleeve is housed in box 44.

Series 15: Booklets & Pamphlets, 1890-1961 This series includes booklets and pamphlets, including a 1934 copy of Interstate Migrations Among the Native White Population as Indicated by Differences Between State of Birth and State of Residence, A Series of Maps Based on the Census 1870-1930, United States Dept. of Agriculture, and several Cardui Songbooks.

Processing Information

The Robert E. Cunningham Oklahoma History Collection was donated to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2000 by Jane Mitchel. Original order was maintained in Subject Files, and Photographs. For ease of research, the subject and material dictated the organization of the remaining series. Historical accuracy through chronological order was instituted when appropriate.

Subject Files, 1890-1984: Subject files maintain Cunningham’s original order and titles arranged alphabetically and contain special “Indian” tribal file folders under the subheading Indian. Files of specific frontier photographers researched by Cunningham are located under “Photographers” at the end of the subject files. While rehousing the subject file folders, Chuck Rand segregated all photographs into a separate series, Series 2: Photographs. Original file titles were used in creating Series 2 file folders. Cataloged photographs 2000.005.9.0001-.0386 are the separated photographs from Cunningham’s document files, preserved in box #37. The photographs are not cataloged in the database, which contain the balance of the Cunningham photograph collection.

Photographs, 1856-ca. 1970s: Cataloged within the online image database are photographs 2000.005.9.0387-.2384 which reflect the balance of the Cunningham’s photograph collection. These photographs were rehoused and processed according to Cunningham’s original order, utilizing his assigned subject headings. Original photograph containers included binders, boxes, envelopes with additional loose photographs found within the indicated subject headings. The “Title” field within the database contains Cunningham’s original subject headings. Original container information is notated in the archival box subject heading dividers, and finding aid. Cunningham’s notes on specific photographs were transcribed into the database’s ‘Notes/Summary’ field. Any DRC staff-made titles or additions to titles are indicated by using brackets [a].

Clippings, 1893-1983: Cunningham wrote numerous newspaper articles recounting Oklahoma history from pre-land run to the 1970s. His extensive photographic collection acted as a basis for many of the published articles. The DRC’s in-house database cross-references the photographs to the specific published articles. Most of the articles published between 1960 and 1974 are cross-referenced by subject and photograph. Specific persons referenced in clippings are cross-referenced to the DRC’s in-house database.

Newspapers, 1893-1974: All newspapers originally part of the collection are listed on Appendix B. Alternative archival sources were searched and only rare newspapers found within the collection were preserved. All original copies of the newspapers were destroyed after photocopy preservation.

Postcards, ca. 1900-ca. 1940s: Cunningham’s original organizational grouping, place name and subject division was maintained. Groupings were arranged alphabetically from general category to specific subject image.

Booklets & Pamphlets, 1889-1961: Booklets and pamphlets found within the subject files were separated and accessioned by Chuck Rand. Pam Bell created the container list at the end of collection processing.

Destroyed Materials: Photographs, Nitrate Negatives: Six nitrate negatives were destroyed due to extreme deterioration. The negatives were part of 2000.005.8.0096 A-I, Hoke Family.

Clippings: Photographic copies replace original clippings for preservation purposes. All original copies were destroyed at the end of processing.

Newspapers: Newspapers found within the Cunningham collection preserved in alternative archival repositories were destroyed at the end of processing. See the Newspaper Container list for a complete listing of holdings found within the collection.


Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NCWHM Special Collections at Dickinson Research Center Repository

1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 73111 United States