Sometimes, when you live in a town like Tahlequah, it’s easy to get caught up in everyday business and forget about all of the history surrounding you.

That’s why is nice to have people like Beth Herrington around.

Not that she’s been around so long that she actually remembers all of the historic events in Tahlequah’s past. But she has done an awful lot of research, most of which she’s committed to memory.

Herrington, local historian and retired educator, gave a presentation Thursday evening at the Murrell Home on some of the more historic landmarks in Tahlequah, many of which will be featured in an upcoming tour sponsored by the Friends of the Murrell Home.

“Tahlequah is really a great city of ‘firsts,’” said Herrington, who then went on to point out a few of those firsts, including:

• Stephen Foreman, the first school superintendent west of the Mississippi River.

• The first Masonic Lodge in Indian Territory (which would later become Oklahoma – the Eufaula Lodge claims to be the oldest one in Oklahoma, so it’s a matter of good-natured debate between the two lodges).

• The first flour mill in the state.

• The first town to have a platted main street.

• The first town in what is now Oklahoma to be incorporated.

• The first telephone service west of the Mississippi River.

Herrington began her presentation and accompanying slide show with a picture of the Loeser Cabin, which still stands today just south of the NSU NET building.

“Dr. Loeser was a medical doctor in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Gibson,” said Herrington. “His cabin is the oldest standing building in the city of Tahlequah.”

The cabin was built in 1833, and after the 1839 Trail of Tears brought the Cherokees to the area, it housed Dr. Erwin Loeser; his Cherokee wife (who was only 10 years old when she first came to Tahlequah and married Loeser); and their children.

“Keep in mind, this was just a cabin out in the woods,” said Herrington. “Park Hill was the community center at that time.”

During the Civil War, Cherokees who sided with the north moved northward and those who had more confederate tendencies naturally headed south.

The Loesers did neither, and when many area residents returned home after the war to find their homes destroyed, the Loesers took many of them in until new homes were built.

Moving – figuratively, at least – a little farther down the first platted main street in Oklahoma (Muskogee Avenue), Herrington explained the layout of the town’s square, which is now home to the Cherokee Judicial Branch.

Originally, the square housed all of the government offices of the Cherokee Nation, although it, too, was destroyed by Cherokee Confederate general Stand Watie during the Civil War (or “The War Between the States” for those who still fail to see anything civil about the whole event).

“Around the square, there were four stores, a couple of taverns, and some public buildings,” said Herrington. “Four cabins were build on the four corners of the square.”

Those cabins housed Cherokee officials, including the chief, the justices, and the council.

Herrington said that after the post-Civil War sale of the Cherokee Outlet, the money for the sale was divided among Cherokee Nation members who received their money at the main building on the square.

Cherokees walked in the west door of the building, received their money, and walked out the east door, where they were greeted by bill collectors hoping to recognize debtors. One of those bill collectors was Johnson Thompson, who built several houses for relatives in Tahlequah, some of which still stand.

One “Thompson house” is none other than the Thompson House, which Johnson built for his son, Dr. Joseph Thompson, and is now one of Tahlequah’s most recognizable historic landmarks.

Much of the growth of the area during the 19th century was the result of various religious groups that came to the Cherokee Nation to establish missions.

Openly admitting her Baptist tendencies, Herrington nevertheless gave credit where credit is due.

Brick-laying Mormons, in fact, built some of Tahlequah’s most historic structures, including the National Hotel and the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court building. Both were located adjacent to the square. Baptists built a mission and boarding house for Cherokee children at the site now occupied by Central Elementary School.

The Bacone House, right across the street, was part of the mission, and was also the first home of the Indian University. Unfortunately, however, the university didn’t have a lot of room at its Tahlequah location, and eventually moved to Muskogee. It’s now known as Bacone College.

The Cherokee Nation donated two lots between Choctaw and Keetoowah Street and Muskogee and College Avenues to the Freemasons. A two-story building was constructed there and served several purposes. The Masons had their lodge upstairs. The Sons of Temperance evidently got along with the Masons well enough to hold their meetings downstairs, which also served as a location for revivals (one of which was the scene of a shooting; fortunately, the victim turned his head at just the right time and only lost an eye and a piece of his nose!).

The first Presbyterian church in Tahlequah began in 1881, and the Methodists settled in around 1888 (although they’d been holding services in town for a while, probably at the Masonic Lodge/Sons of Temperance hall/revival center/crime scene mentioned above.)

But the oldest congregation in town is none other than Beth Herrington’s very own: the First Baptist Church of Tahlequah, which started in 1841 (although it hasn’t always been located on the Bertha Parker Bypass; the bypass, of course, was’t around back then).

“The Moravians were in and out of the area, and the Methodists had circuit riders who came through,” she allowed. “But the Baptists have the oldest continuous congregation.”



Learn more

The Friends of the Murrell Home will host a tour of the area’s historic buildings from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, March 18. For more information, call the Murrell Home at 456-2751.

Tags