Who was J.M. Davis, and where did he get all those guns? What’s the story here? Well, it seems when John Monroe Davis was seven years old he took his medicine like a good boy. As a reward, his father gave him a muzzle-loading shotgun that cost $1.50 ( not a small amount in 1894). This began a fascination with guns that just never stopped. That first gun is still in the collection. In 1916, Davis traded 2,000 acres of Arkansas timberland for a hotel in Claremore, Oklahoma. Davis moved into the Mason Hotel and took over management. He continued to add to his collection one gun at a time. By 1929, his collection had reached 99 guns.
He decided to display the guns on the lobby walls of his hotel. But guns weren’t the only thing Davis collected. He also collected knives, swords, steins, saddles, music boxes, musical instruments, political buttons, World War I posters, John Rogers statuary, and Native American artifacts, all of which found a place of display within the hotel. And this was just in the beginning. Lobby walls became crowded; the ball room was filled to capacity. Upstairs, the long hallways were lined with guns and memorabilia. Seven private rooms were filled to capacity. With the Hotel smack in the middle of Route 66, word of Davis’ collection spread far and wide. A steady stream of people came from all over the world to see the collection, buy, sell, trade or just talk guns. He became internationally known as a gun expert. The man and his collection became the subject of numerous magazine articles. In 1965, with an eye to the future, Davis tranferred ownership of his massive collection to the J.M. Davis Foundation, Inc. In turn, the Foundation leased the collection to the State of Oklahoma at the cost of $1 for 99 years (with the option to renew). Part of the deal was that the State would build and maintain a modern facility to house the collection, and that the collection would be open to the public at no charge. The first section of the museum opened to an enthusiastic public on Davis’ 82nd birthday: June 27, 1969. Since that time, the entire structure has been completed with over 40,000 square feet of floor space. Gun displays alone total over one mile in length. In 1973, J.M. Davis died, and he is entombed on the museum grounds: he is still with his guns.