Cherokee Matters Volume 12

Oklahoma became a State in 1907, however, this area has been the home of Cherokee people for over two hundred years. Today we hunt the same land, fish the same water and farm the same soil as our ancestors. The names of many of the towns we live and the streets we drive are evidence of the Cherokee history of the area once called the Cooweescoowee District.

This small area has been the home of Cherokees who have risen to world fame as entertainers, athletes and authors. Others have become state and national leaders in politics, military and tribal leadership. Knowing all this made me very optimistic when I was elected to the Tribal Council representing this area that I could successfully do what our oath tells us to do. It says we must promote the culture, heritage and traditions of the Cherokee Nation.

In visiting with the people of District 14 about the Cherokee history that surrounds us, I have been overwhelmed by the response. In every community I have found friends, both Cherokee and non-Cherokee, who agree with me on the importance of sharing these stories. We have established cooperative relationships with the directors of the Cherokee Heritage Center, the Will Rogers Memorial, the J.M. Davis Museum, and the Claremore Museum of History.

These relationships have resulted in the Heritage Center exhibits on the Indian Women’s Pocahontas Club and the Cherokee Heritage of Will Rogers. With the Claremore Museum of History, the Heritage Center has worked to bring cherokee culture and history to area schools. In a few months you will see an important new exhibit in the J.M. Davis Museum devoted to the history of the Cherokee Nation in the Cooweescoowee District.

The Cherokee Nation, the Rogers County Commissioners, the state DOT, the Will Rogers Memorial, area state lawmakers, the Pocahontas Club, and the Historical Societies of Oologah, Claremore and Chelsea came together. We were able to return the name Cooweescoowee Parkway to the beautiful stretch of Highway 88 connecting Oologah to Claremore.

In partnership with Rogers County, the City of Claremore and the Historic Will Rogers Rodeo, the first ever memorial to the legendary Clem McSpadden was established. Also with the Claremore Museum of History we expanded the Lynn Riggs Memorial exhibits and established the first Andy Payne exhibit. Along with the Payne Family, we had the honor of dedicating the Andy Payne statue in Gazebo Park and celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of the Bunion Derby that made Andy Payne a legend.

Governor Boren recognized cherokee, Maggie Culver Frye, as Poet Laureate of Oklahoma many years ago. Finally her home town recognized her as a member of its Hall of Fame. Last but certainly not least, Chelsea’s own J.B. Milam, one of the founders of RCB Bank and more importantly the Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941-1949, was also finally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

All these good things have been accomplished in a short time with a great spirit of cooperation of many people. The relationships built have brought together others who also recognize the value of celebrating the dynamic history, heritage and culture of the Cooweescoowee District of the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee people. There are many stories yet to tell and I am optimistic with these results as proof…the best is yet to come!

—Keith Austin, Cherokee Tribal Council, District 14