Before the Murrell Home existed, the land was pasture and woods, with a creek running through it.
After George and Minerva Murrell bought it, trees were cleared for a Cherokee family plantation home. Theirs is a love story.
And there are tales of action and adventure, tragedy and triumph.
“A lot of visitors don’t understand this place was a fully operating plantation, what they did here, the plantation economy,” said historical Interpreter Amanda Pritchett.
The antebellum period in Indian Territory was the golden age of the Cherokees, Pritchett said.
The social and economic institutions were being rebuilt after the Trail of Tears.
The staff is letting visitors know that Park Hill was the important social community of the time, Pritchett said.
“We’re ready to make it one of the premier sites in this area. It’s so unique; there’s no place in the country that has the history of this place,” she said. “All the ethnic groups, the socio-economic groups and different elements, social institutions, seminaries, the fact the chief lived here. All these different subjects you can study in one place.”
“We get to talk to interesting people and do research about things history geeks like me love,” Pritchett said. “People come here because they want to learn about Cherokees and the history of this area. People don’t realize we have this history here.”
And they didn’t realize Indians had houses like the Murrell Home, added Jennifer Frazee, the new historical Interpreter at the Murrell Home.
“They thought they were living in teepees,” Frazee said.
The staff members are developing a new site plan, based on their interpretive plan. Recently they completed a new interpretive plan, which looks at the overall themes and the story they want to tell about the house.
“The story we want visitors to learn while here are the site – how we can interpret that story for the visitor, where we are now and where we want to be,” said Pritchett.
The interpretive plan includes how they address static displays, programming and special events, publications and online context.
The last one was done in the 1990s, Pritchett said: “It’s something we’ve been needing to do for a long time.”
Four new outdoor fiberglass exhibit panels, funded by a grant from the National Park Service, will be in place before the end of the year, Pritchett said. The smokehouse, spring house, barn and corral area and basic history will each be featured on a panel.
When an archaeology survey was conducted in March, researchers found the foundation of the barn. They already knew what it looked like because photos exist.
“When we’re doing interpretive events, we’ll remove the panels and return them, for when people are walking around and can see them to understand more of the history,” Pritchett said.
After completing the text for three of the exhibit panels, Pritchett is now working on the fourth. The information will be sent to Oklahoma City for the Oklahoma Historical Society graphic artist to put it all together with photos.
“We expect to have them in place in the next few months, maybe by the end of summer,” Pritchett said.
They’re working on rebuilding all the exhibits in the house and new descriptive panels for each room.
“They’ll be updated, easier to read and lower profile,” she said.
With 11 years at the Murrell Home, Pritchett has seen improvements all along.
“I love the history of this place,” she said. “When Shirley Pettengill was here, she kicked it up a notch. She did all the research and physical restoration. We’re building on what she did with the interpretive plan.”
The staff has gone through the house and outside areas, and made goals and objectives to help them tell the story better.
“All the rooms and those areas will get upgrades in the next five years,” Pritchett said. “George and Minerva’s bedroom, where she was sick with malaria, will display medicine bottles, and there will be information about the illness and treatment for the disease.”
It will be one of the temporary projects they’ll make into a program and exhibit.
“We have some of the entries of the doctors who treated Minerva, like Dr. Jonathan Brown, an Army doctor,” she said. ”Jennifer [Frazee] has been researching that.”
Since January, Frazee has been the second historical interpreter at the Murrell Home. She’s completing a master’s in American Studies at Northeastern State University and interned through NSU as an undergraduate. Last summer, she was the cabin interpreter.
“This place has a way of getting under your skin,” Frazee said. “I like history. This property has changed since George and Minerva came here. Then it was owned by an ‘old settler’ and the Murrells transformed the area.”
The Murrells were young when they eloped, and the house tells a story of action and adventure, tragedy and triumph.
“Anybody could come here and find something they love,” Frazee said.
Pritchett has been reading second wife Amanda Murrell’s diary from 1850.
One afternoon, they’d just gotten out of their dresses and were in their chemises when Dr. Wood called unexpectedly.
“It took them two hours to redress to visit with him,” said Pritchett.
Frazee was surprised and pleased to see their sense of humor.
“Now I understand that everything, people, are just the way they are today,” she said. “They were well-educated and spent time together, with no television or cell phones.”
This summer, a new cabin interpreter, Travis Wolfe, joined the staff. He’s a graduate student at NSU.
Other changes are in the works. This spring, the Lawn Social was moved from June to the first weekend in May, due to the heat with which the women, in particular, have to cope in such heavy and layered clothing.
“And this year, it was snowy the first weekend in May and it rained a little,” Pritchett said, “but it was cooler.”
The Historical Society schedules all its events in the spring and fall, she said.
“Nothing was going on that weekend in the community here or for the Historical Society, so that’s when it will be from now on,” Pritchett said.
Upcoming events through the end of the year include the Cherokee National Holiday on Labor Day weekend; Ghost Stories Oct. 26-26; and the Christmas Open House Dec. 8.
“The [Cherokee] Holiday weekend is always special for us; we’re one of the many places you can go during the weekend,” Pritchett said.
Before the Murrell Home existed, the land was pasture and woods, with a creek running through it.
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Plea deal arranged for ex-fire chief
A former Cherokee County volunteer fire chief has agreed to plead guilty to forgery and embezzlement charges in exchange for a suspended sentence and payment of restitution.
Third Thursday Art Walk
Shoppers will have a chance to visit downtown merchants in the evening during the Tahlequah Main Street Association’s first Third Thursday Art Walk and After Party on Thursday, March 20.
Participating downtown businesses will keep their doors open to offer specials until 8 p.m., and artists will display their work at different locations. Art exhibitors, including the Cherokee Art Center’s Spider Gallery, will stay open late.
Sex offender bill reaches House
By a unanimous 44-0 vote of the Oklahoma Senate, a bill that would make it more difficult for registered sex offenders to change their names has reached the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 1421, authored by Kyle Loveless, Oklahoma City Republican, underwent its first reading in the House on Feb. 27.
Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault said he did not know of any instances, during his service with the department, of registered sex offenders evading detection with new names for any length of time.
SB 1497 may aid transparency
Government transparency advocates were pleased, and some were surprised, when a proposed bill designed to strengthen Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act passed the Senate Judicial Committee recently.
Senate Bill 1497, by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, would allow citizens who are denied access to public meetings to bring civil lawsuits, and if the court rules in favor, to collect attorney’s fees. A continuing resolution has already been filed.
Should the legislation pass into law, it would become effective Nov. 1 this year.
Moulton: Sovereignty is John Ross’ legacy
When describing the Cherokee people, the words “well-educated” and “independent” may come to mind. Those attributes were principles held most dear by John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokees from 1828-1866.
Dr. Gary Moulton, University of Nebraska Thomas C. Sorensen emeritus professor of American history, discussed Ross’ history during a presentation at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center Thursday. The event was organized by the history department at Northeastern State University.
The bear facts
A joint project linking two state agencies with researchers at Oklahoma State University is gathering the “bear facts” on a growing population in the northeastern part of the state.
A six-year study on black bears in Cherokee, Adair and Sequoyah counties is being conducted as a precursor to possible establishment of a controlled hunting season in Green Country. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management of Oklahoma State University have partnered for the endeavor.
Drug task force seizes K2 at a Tahlequah house
The District 27 Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force seized between $200 and $300 worth of synthetic drugs during a bust Friday.
The Tahlequah Police Department and the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service were also in on the raid. Members of the task force hope the seizure will aid in an ongoing investigation to find larger suppliers.
“We received information that sales were being made from a residence off Choctaw Street,” said Michael Moore, task force director. “Further investigation led to a state search warrant based on the federal Schedule I list of drugs.”
Citizens can report sight obstructions to city
On Feb. 25-26, the Tahlequah Fire Department responded to motor vehicle accidents at South Muskogee Avenue and South Street, and since that time, a few citizens have expressed concern about the sight lines at the intersection.
A visit to the intersection showed that, for traffic westbound on South, the view south down Muskogee is partially obstructed by shrubbery and a tree that appear to be on private property.
Spears: OSRC should help boost business
In a little over 25 years, Arrowhead Resort owner Jack Spears has grown his business from being the smallest float operator on the Illinois River to the second-largest, and he’d like to continue on that path.
Spears believes tourism is vital to the Tahlequah area. He says if the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission would eliminate a zoning issue along the river, both the agency and his own business would reap the benefits.
Spears recently asked the OSRC to consider doing away with recreational floating zones. Commercial flotation device licenses are granted to operators in each area for a total of 3,900 licenses.
Last-place swine earns top sale bid
Local businessmen drew regional attention through a record-setting bid of $10,000 at the Cherokee County Spring Livestock Show last Saturday, but now they say they don’t want the recognition.
The annual show, which ends with a premium sale featuring top winners, is a fundraiser for local FFA and 4-H participants. Proceeds help cover the animals’ expenses or are used for future projects or showings. Community members, organizations and businesses bid on the livestock, but it is not a purchase. The children showing get to keep their animals.
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