Monday, September 7, 2015

Tahlequah: The Capitol of the Cherokee Nation

Recently, I went on a road trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, one of the most historic towns in the State. My first stop was Morgan’s Bakery in downtown Tahlequah where I succumbed to temptation and ate a glazed doughnut. Revitalized, I walked down the street to Capitol Square and tried to imagine what life was like there during the Civil War era.

My imagination was aided by an antebellum account. In the fall of 1841, Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock traveled to the Indian Territory to investigate charges of fraud in providing supplies to the Cherokees and the Chickasaws after their removal from the southeastern United States. On November 30, 1841, Hitchcock arrived in Tahlequah and wrote in his journal, “As we came in sight of the capital, I saw a number of log houses arranged in order with streets; or one street at all events, was clearly visible but the houses were very small. One house was painted: ‘The Committee sit there’; (some distance off) ‘to the left, the principal chief stays’—we saw a number of people. ‘There are cooks, public cooks we call them’ said Mr. Drew, ‘along those houses, meat etc., is furnished to them and they cook for the public. Everybody can go to the public tables. See there,’ said he, ‘you see some eating dinner.’ I saw some 20 at one table. ‘The nation pays the expense’” (pages 36-37).

Two years after Hitchcock’s visit, the Cherokee Supreme Court building was erected, and today it houses the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. The structure is one of the few surviving pre-war buildings in Oklahoma.

The log structures that housed many of the Cherokee Nation’s government offices were burned during the War and replaced by this handsome brick building in 1870. 

Bear in mind that the Cherokee Nation experienced much devastation during the War and in the postwar period was forced to give up some of its lands in the Reconstruction Treaties. The Nation, though, proved to be exceptionally resilient and rebuilt its society and government in the postwar years. By the way, the monument in front of the building honors Cherokee Confederate soldiers. Seeing this begged a question--why is there no monument to the Cherokee Union soldiers?

Citation for Hitchcock quote: Foreman, Grant, ed. A Traveler in Indian Territory: The Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1930 (reprinted in 1996).

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