A decade ago, most Americans likely hadn’t heard of Pawhuska, and the northern Oklahoma town of 4,000 certainly wasn’t a travel destination. But in the past few years, two unrelated events have put Pawhuska on the map.
In April 2017, journalist David Grann published Killers of the Flower Moon, a suspenseful mystery that was recognized as one of the top books of that year. Detailing the cold-blooded murder and systematic poisoning of members of the Osage Nation, what makes Grann’s book so terrifying is that it is nonfiction.
Visiting the region once full of millionaire-making oil that inspired a best-selling book may not be enough to draw most people across the tallgrass prairie from larger cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma City. But the chance to catch a glimpse of legendary director Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, or Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio might do the trick. The trio is filming the big-screen version of Killers of the Flower Moon in Pawhuska in 2020.
And then there’s Ree Drummond.
From an Osage County cattle ranch established by her husband’s great-grandfather around the time of the terrifying Osage murders, the bubbly redhead started a food blog in 2006. It began with musings and photos of everyday life on the ranch -- from shipping cattle to close-ups of caterpillars -- and bloomed into a cooking blog. With detailed, step-by-step instructions and mouth-watering photos, her post “How to Cook a Steak” launched her to household-name fame. (After all, she is married to a fourth-generation cattle rancher, so she probably didn’t want to start by tossing a salad!)
Fun Fact: Decades before food writer Ree Drummond was known as the Pioneer Woman, English-born Bryant Baker cast a bronze sculpture of a homesteading woman leading her young son toward a bright future in Oklahoma. You can see the original Pioneer Woman in Ponca City, about an hour due west of Pawhuska.
Whether it’s history, Hollywood stars, or the smell of a steak sizzling in butter that draws you to Pawhuska, here are six perfect ways to enjoy the Pioneer Woman’s stomping grounds.
Pro Tip: The largest town in Oklahoma’s sprawling Osage County, Pawhuska is about 60 miles northwest of Tulsa, 150 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, and about 130 miles southeast of Wichita.
1. Shop At The Pioneer Woman Mercantile
In 2016, fans of Ree’s Food Network television show watched the restoration of the circa-1910, red brick Osage Mercantile at Kihekah and Main. Crews carefully refinished the original wood floors, polished the tin ceilings, and painstakingly preserved the original National Biscuit Co sign. When the Pioneer Woman Mercantile (also known as The Merc) opened in October of that year, it quickly attracted thousands of visitors a day to Pawhuska.
Fun Fact: When Ladd Drummond’s Scottish great-grandfather first arrived in Pawhuska, he worked at the Osage Mercantile as a clerk.
When you visit, you’ll see an ever-changing collection of seasonal items -- think recipe books, kitchen decor, and cooking utensils -- blended with unique, one-of-a-kind (and even quirky) items like silver “I Love Butter” bracelets and baby cowboy chaps.
Pro Tip: Before you head to The Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska, read Ree Drummond’s first post about the building from 2012. Seeing the dilapidated “before” photos makes the post-renovation experience even more impressive.
2. Eat At The Pioneer Woman Restaurant
As you approach the Pioneer Woman Mercantile, don’t be discouraged by a long line outside the restaurant. Yes, there’s nearly always a wait for a stack of lighter-than-air pancakes and melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, but the staff at The Merc works hard to make the time pass quickly by passing out water on warm days, providing sidewalk chalk, and asking trivia questions.
Pro Tip: If your Pawhuska itinerary doesn’t allow for a three-hour lunch, follow the Grab and Go sign to a streamlined selection of Pioneer Woman favorites and take your meal on the road!
3. Sip A Cup Of Cowboy Coffee Paired With A Baked Treat
After you’ve browsed through the store and enjoyed a delicious meal at the restaurant, climb the wide staircase (or take the elevator) to the second floor. Finish your visit to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile by sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee or munching on a sweet treat from the bakery in this spacious, sunny area.
Pro Tip: If you are visiting The Merc with a food allergy, know that the Pioneer Woman bakery has gluten-free options like pound cake!
Before you leave, take a moment to admire Ree Drummond’s photography throughout The Merc. Digital slideshows on flat screens and framed pieces on the 100-year-old brick walls showcase nearly two decades of everyday life on a working cattle ranch in northern Oklahoma.
Fun Fact: The town of Pawhuska is named after Paw-Hiu-Skah, the 18th-century leader of the Thorny Valley People. Pawhuska means “white hair” in Sioux, and the chief was given this nickname after attempting to scalp a British officer wearing a white wig.
4. P-Town Pizza And Charlie’s Sweet Shop
If you prefer wood-fired pizza to spicy Dr. Pepper pork, then cross Kihekah Avenue and walk about a block to P-Town Pizza. Added to the Pioneer Woman portfolio in 2018, this stop is a great place to pair a pizza pie with a signature cocktail. Top off your meal with a layered dessert jar.
Or, if ice cream is more your style, mosey over to Charlie’s Sweet Shop. Named after the Drummonds’ beloved basset hound, who passed away in 2017, and housed in the same building as the Pioneer Woman’s pizzeria, Charlie’s serves scoops and sundaes guaranteed to satisfy every sweet tooth.
Pro Tip: All of the Pioneer Woman’s ventures are closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly when you visit Pawhuska!
5. Visit The Lodge On Drummond Ranch
For a behind-the-scenes glimpse at Food Network’s The Pioneer Woman, visit The Lodge. Located at the Drummond Ranch, the family’s guest house doubles as the set where Ree films her show.
Visit The Merc in downtown Pawhuska to request lodge tour tickets. Available dates are published on The Pioneer Woman Mercantile website.
Pro Tip: If you’re visiting Pawhuska with a four-legged friend, be sure to find a safe place for them to stay before heading to The Lodge as pets are not allowed on the ranch.
6. Bunk Down At The Boarding House
If you plan to spend the night in Pawhuska, check out The Pioneer Woman Boarding House. This eight-room hotel, wrapped in cowboy luxury, is located in downtown Pawhuska just north of The Mercantile.
Originally The Indian Silk Shop, this century-old red brick building was also a J. C. Penney department store. Today, each generously sized room (they average 670 square feet) is thematically decorated, providing guests with a unique lodging experience. Soak in the clawfoot bathtub lit by a crystal chandelier in the Boudoir Room or enjoy the views of downtown Pawhuska from the Prairie Room. And if you need a room that is ADA accessible, book your stay in the Photograph Room, which is accented with Ree’s beautiful photos.
Other Things To Do In And Around Pawhuska
To fully embrace Pawhuska from a variety of perspectives -- from the Native American to the homesteading pioneer woman or even the present-day celebrity -- here are some additional things to do during your visit.
Visit the Osage Nation Museum. Housed in a brick chapel built in 1872, this small but very well-done museum presents the history, culture, and art of the Osage Nation. It is the oldest tribally owned museum in the United States.
The Osage County Historical Society Museum provides insight into pioneer life, the early days of the oil industry, the chilling Osage murders, and the area’s connection to the Boy Scouts of America.
Born on the Osage Indian Reservation, Ben Johnson was an Academy Award-winning actor, legendary stunt double, and world-champion rodeo cowboy from Oklahoma. Learn more about his life (and experience first-hand just how hard it is to rope a steer) at The Ben Johnson Cowboy Museum.
If you love puffy fry bread layered with taco toppings, then plan your trip to Pawhuska around the National Indian Taco Championship.
While millions of acres of tallgrass prairie once covered the central region of North America, less than 4 percent of this unique ecosystem remains. Visit the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, about 20 minutes north of downtown Pawhuska, to take in the beauty of the largest protected remnant of tallgrass prairie left on earth. Watch for free-roaming bison, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and bobcats along with a variety of plants, birds, and insects.