I honestly don't remember why I decided to stay the night last night in Tahlequah. It was totally out of the way of my route. I'd booked the room, though, so I continued my venture through the Ozark foothills to the capitol of the Cherokee Nation.
I'll admit, I didn't exactly know what to expect. Native Americans are not always portrayed in the most positive light in our media (extreme poverty, substance abuse problems, etc.) and I'm sure that, shamefully, my ideas of what might await me in the town were somewhat colored by those portraits.
The first thing that surprised me upon arriving at Tahlequah was that it was much larger than I had envisioned. I was greeted with many of the establishments we have come to expect in an area of a certain population size. After a quick drive through town, I settled down in my hotel for the night. I was already tired after a long day on the Talimena Byway.
I got up (too) bright and early this morning, and set off again after a nice COLD shower at my hotel (no hot water). My first stop was the Cherokee Heritage Center. I arrived a while before they opened, but enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and burgeoning fall colors.
The museum had a nice display of high-quality arts and crafts by Cherokee artisans, an exhibit on the Trail of Tears, a reconstructed 1700's Cherokee village Diligwa, and an example of a later pioneer Cherokee village. I was interested to learn something I should have already known, which was that my home in New Albany had been part of the original Cherokee Nation.
I had my guide Noel (I hope I spelled that right) all to myself through the Diligwa, and enjoyed every moment of it. He was very friendly and so knowledgeable about his native culture, customs, and language. The thing that struck me first about him, though, was that his accent was nothing like the halted speech of Native Americans portrayed in media (think John Redcorn on King of the Hill). It was, of course, silly of me to expect him to sound like that. Almost more startling to me, though, was that he instead had a twangy Oklahoma accent.
I continued my exploration of the Cherokee Nation at the John Ross Museum. John Ross was the Chief of the Nation who led his people through the Trail of Tears. I then visited the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and Cherokee National Prison Museum. Everywhere I went, the people working the attractions were incredibly friendly and enthusiastic to answer questions and share about their culture. There was a distinct sense of pride and hospitality that shone in them, which I enjoyed as much as the exhibits.
I finished up my time in Tahlequah with a stroll through the quaint downtown. I gazed in some shop windows and grabbed a bite to eat at the Iguana Cafe, but had no more time to spare because another adventure awaited me, 3 hours away. However, I left very glad that I had gone out of my way to have the experience.