Stop sign written in both English and Cherokee languages.
The Memorial Day weekend was quiet here as we usually try to stay off the highways as much as possible letting other folks rule the road those days. But once the holiday ended and we heard another four days of possibly severe thunderstorms were on the way, we decided to squeeze some kind of a day trip in to one of the intermittent clear days.
I got to choose and since I had been reading Mankiller, the memoir of the first female chief of the Cherokees, I wanted to do Arkansas or Oklahoma. Something about pointing the car to the west always fills us both with a sense of adventure and that Oklahoma border is so close! So we ventured out deciding on taking the Afton, Oklahoma exit off the turnpike. This was the location of the original Buffalo Ranch where you could buy great moccasins, western souvenirs, ride ponies, and see real buffalo. I loved the place as a child. Today there is a nice convenience and gift store there called Buffalo Ranch, but nothing like the memory I have tucked away.
Then we hit Sailboat Bridge over Grand Lake of the Cherokees, another memory. My grandpa had boats always, and we often did the lake scene with him and Gran. It has grown up and is more commercial in the area. Road signs showed Lake Tenkiller, Oglala, Nowata, and Spavinaw, other haunts from childhood. We pushed on into the hills that were exquisitely beautiful in the wet, cool spring. Pastures and forested hillsides were decorated in shades of green from light sage to velvety emerald. Creek beds trickled with the last rain. The winding roads were almost empty of traffic, and we felt delightfully free.
Traditional summer home of Cherokees, note thatched roof for summer air.
We ended up in Tahlequah, home of the Cherokee Nation. It has been a long time since we were there and the place has sprawled out like most towns with chain stores and fast food places. We stopped at one flea market and drove about the town noting the pretty parks, the Northeastern State College, and the red and brown skin tones I remembered from my grandmother and her side of the family. Then we went to the Cherokee Heritage Center.
Stick ball game
Making blow guns to shoot hunting darts
We took our children 30 years ago, but both of us enjoyed seeing this place all over again. There is a reconstructed village staffed by Cherokees that can tell you about the homes, games, food, dances, and tools the Cherokees once used. Nate explained how in the religious songs and prayers, they hold hands…because Cherokee are one and if someone falls down, the others pull him up. Cherokees might live like other people now, but they still practice the old beliefs like living a life of balance.
Making arrows for hunting
We also visited the John Murrell Home, a rare antebellum-styled house in Oklahoma because Murrell was from the Old South, Virginia. He married into Cherokee life through Minerva Ross, daughter of Cherokee Chief John Ross. The home was built in 1844 but is still a lovely home. Many of the furnishings are the originals belonging to the family. John Murrell and his wife left during the Civil War as he was a devoted Confederate. The house had a rough life but still stands strong.
We had gone without breakfast and lunch, but we missed eating at the Cherokee Restaurant near the Cherokee Nation headquarters by four minutes after 2:00! A local gal guided us to Del Ranchos which she said was a 50s diner. It looks a little scruffy, but we noticed a big business was patronizing the place. Inside it was neat as a pin and echoed the 1950’s. Aqua table tops, 1950’s lighting, and even a special phone in the booth you used to call in the order! DH tried to stay honest to healthy eating, but once I saw the Tahlequah Taco on the menu, I fell off the nutrition wagon like a wino under the grape arbor at a winery! This taco was made on the best fry bread I ever tasted…beans, chili, lettuce, tomato, and green salsa with sour cream topped it. It was wonderful stuff!
We knew we needed to head back north and drove to the Arkansas side to get home. Unfortunately, we ran into rush hour traffic. But we made it home fine and slept well after being out in sunshine and country air. Now, the weather is coming in with a promise of nasty stuff for the next few days. Dread that volatile weather, but hope it won’t live up to the ugly forecast.