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By Austin Tackett
Osiyo (pronounced oh-SEE-yo) means “hello” in the traditional Cherokee language, and is a phrase you will hear often if you find yourself in the northeast part of the state near Tahlequah. While the Cherokee Nation is spread throughout 14 different counties, it is here where visitors will find the highest concentration of attractions that tell the thrilling tale of the Cherokee People.
In Tahlequah, tucked away in the beautiful foothills of the Ozark Mountains, you’ll find the Cherokee Heritage Center. This outstanding tribute to the Cherokee people is a great place for visitors to learn about Cherokee history and their way of life, and because of this, the Heritage Center may just be the best place to begin your tour of the Cherokee Nation. On this 44 acre complex visitors can walk through working ancient villages where Cherokee interpreters tell stories and play stickball, an ancient game most comparable to modern day lacrosse.
The main attraction at the Cherokee Heritage Center is the Cherokee National Museum, a repository of precious information that charts the Cherokee people’s beginnings all the way to their eventual removal in the Trail of Tears. Visitors can walk their way through many interactive displays that tell the very intimate tale of these native people using audio and video clips, artifact displays, and life size dioramas. A permanent Trail of Tears exhibit is in place that is both beautiful and haunting. There are few who can walk away feeling untouched.
Just down the street is the Murrell Home, Oklahoma’s only remaining antebellum plantation home. Built around 1845 by George and Minerva Murrell (the latter of which belonged to a wealthy Cherokee family), the Murrell Home is a beautifully restored relic of a time past. Visitors to this one-of-a-kind attraction get a first hand look at what life on the plantation was like during Civil War era Indian Territory.
Travelers interested in more Cherokee antebellum history need only to travel few miles south to Fort Gibson. Originally established in 1824, and eventually reconstructed by the WPA in the 1930s, Fort Gibson served as a base of operations for several military expeditions that sought peace between tribes of the region. Although the fort was abandoned in 1890, you can still relive the experience of antebellum soldiers through the eyes of dedicated interpreters and historical exhibits located at the Fort’s on site museum.
Will Rogers, Oklahoma’s favorite son, was also the son of a prominent Cherokee senator, judge, and cattleman. In Claremore you won’t want to miss the Will Rogers Museum, a collection of everything of and about the world famous humorist and cowboy. This world class collection detailing Roger’s life includes art, artifacts, and even a theater which plays some of Will’s greatest films. This is most certainly a must see attraction for Will Rogers fans of all types.
The attractions listed above are only a small sampling of the many people and places that Oklahoma has to offer in terms of Cherokee history, and Native American history as a whole. By exploring these sites we allow ourselves to expand our understanding of a crucial, but sometimes overlooked element of our nation’s past.
For more information, contact Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism at 877-779-6977 or visit CherokeeTourismOK.com. Those interested in exploring more of Oklahoma can also log on to www.travelok.com for travel ideas and discounts or call 1-800-652-6552 to speak to a tourism specialist.