From Chicken Creek COE Recreational Area – Cookson, OK
Located at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and almost center of the Cherokee Nation in northeastern Oklahoma is the Cherokee Capital of Tahlequah. Founded in 1838 to welcome those Cherokee forced west on the Trail of Tears today remains the capital of the modern Cherokee Nation. The city also has the distinction of being the capital of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians as well.
As you drive through the city you see evidence of the Cherokee and Native American heritage. I particularly found street signs in the historic part of downtown appearing in the Cherokee language along with English very unique and a definite symbol of this city’s heritage. They are written using the syllabary created by Sequoyah (George Gist) a teacher who in 1821 invented this syllabary making it possible to read and write the Cherokee language.
Today we toured Tahlequah’s original Townsite Historic District. In this area of the city one can find and see many historically significant sites and structures of the Cherokee Nation. They had a sophisticated government, court and prison system as well as an education system long before Oklahoma was recognized as a state.
In the center of this historic district is what appears to be a large “town square” area but it is much more. Known as the Cherokee National Capitol Square it is the site where the Cherokee Council first met in 1839 under a large open shed. In 1867 the Capitol Building that stands today was constructed and houses the Judicial Branch of the Cherokee Nation. On the grounds you can view historic monuments and follow a history timeline etched on inlaid marble sections in the sidewalk around the square.
Across the street from the Capitol Square is the oldest government building still standing in the state of Oklahoma. Built in 1844 the Cherokee National Supreme Court was the site of the first sessions of this nation’s government body held more than 165 years ago. Today it is a museum housing exhibits on the Cherokee judicial system, the Cherokee language and the first newspapers of the Cherokee Nation.
A couple of blocks away stands the original Cherokee National Prison structure from 1875. This was the only penitentiary in the entire Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. Built from sandstone rock it was said that it could “hold the most hardened and dangerous prisoners”. It just opened as a museum this summer however it was not open to the public today.
The Cherokee Nation has always placed a premium on education as evidenced by the Cherokee Female Seminary opening in 1851 and burned in 1887 mentioned in the prior journal post. After this first institute for higher learning was destroyed a new Seminary Hall was constructed in Tahlequah not far from the National Capitol Square in 1889. This seminary continued until 1909 when the state of Oklahoma purchased the building. Today Seminary Hall is the signature building on the campus of Northeastern State University.
We also found the Thompson House while in this historic district of Tahlequah. Built in 1882 this two story Queen Anne Carpenter Gothic house was the home to a prominent Cherokee physician………….…Joseph M. Thompson. The Thompson family lived in the home until the 1930s.
As we were experiencing the history of this oldest municipality in Oklahoma which came about by an act of the Cherokee National Council of 1843 more than a half century before Oklahoma gained statehood, we discovered some reasons the city is known as the “City of Firsts”
First Newspaper in Indian Territory and first printed in both Cherokee and English……..1844
First Incorporated City in Oklahoma………………….1852
First Masonic Lodge in Oklahoma…………….1852
First Flour Mill in Oklahoma………..1880
First Telephone in Mississippi Valley west of the Mississippi River……….1886
After a day full of Cherokee history there was still one more thing I had found in the “tourist” information that piqued my curiosity………the association between Tahlequah and the novel and movie “Where The Red Fern Grows”. The novel was set in the Tahlequah area where author Wilson Rawls grew up. When the movie was made it too used this area for filming and today we visited the General Store where the puppies were bought scene was shot. Today this former “General Store” is a restaurant called Jincy’s Kitchen. The city of Tahlequah holds an annual Red Fern Festival on the last weekend of April to honor its role in the novel and movie.
The rally here at Chicken Creek has given us the opportunity to visit with old friends while making new friends as well as a relaxing five days on a beautiful lake with awesome weather. As a bonus to the rally we have really enjoyed our findings and the rich history discovered in this region of Oklahoma.