Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma ~ Early Years

For many years Tahlequah continued to be the principal trading point for the Cherokees and for the whites who had drifted into the territory, but it remained an inland town until the branch of the Frisco railroad was built from Okmulgee to Muskogee and on through Tahlequah to Fayetteville, Ark., in the early part of the present century. Prior to the arrival of the railroad, a regular stage line was maintained between Tahlequah, Fort Gibson and Muskogee.

The National Council was required by law to hold annual meetings at Tahlequah and special meetings were often called by the chief. These sessions of the council were made the occasion of a general gathering of the people, Indians and non-citizens, many of whom came seeking certain legislation in which they were specially interested, while many others came to meet old acquaintances and renew old friendships.

The Cherokees were divided into two political parties, one faction being followers of John Ross, their long-time chief, and the others being followers of John Ridge. This division into two parties originated back in Georgia, where the “Ridge” men favored giving up their eastern possessions in exchange for the Indian Territory reservation, while the “Ross” party bitterly opposed their leaving Georgia. These parties were afterward known as the “Nationals” and the “Downings,” and these party divisions were strictly maintained until the final dissolution of the tribe. They were fond of politics and adept in the political game, many of their political campaigns being bitterly fought, and the schemes, tricks and arguments which they could devise during a campaign would do credit to a presidential campaign. They were naturally fond of holding office, and many of them have not yet been able for forsake that habit. One of them, Hon. Robt. L. Owen, has represented Oklahoma in the United States Senate ever since statehood, and as a debater and financier he holds high rank in the Senate. Another Cherokee, William W. Hastings, a graduate of their male seminary and a prominent lawyer of Tahlequah, has represented this district in Congress, but was defeated a year ago by Miss Alice Robertson, the only female member of Congress, by a small majority. From 1891 to 1906, Mr. Hastings was the national attorney of the Cherokees and rendered valuable assistance in settling up the somewhat complicated affairs of his tribe. O. H. P. Brewer, another prominent Cherokee and a product of their seminary, has just recently retired from the office of postmaster of Muskogee after filling that office for four years. Many other Cherokees have held and now hold important positions in the new State of Oklahoma.

The firm of Stapler & Sons was one of the first merchandise firms to locate in Tahlequah and during all the years that have since come and gone, they have been among the leading merchants and builders of the town. The Wyly Brothers were among the pioneers in business and still remain in business there.

Other merchants who are entitled to be classed among the pioneers were : A. E. Brown, druggist; R. W. Foster, lumber dealer; J. W. McSpadden, proprietor of a roller mill; T. J. Adair, general store, and J. A. Lawrence, general store. The Bank of Tahlequah, a private institution, was established about forty years ago, and was managed principally by the Stapler family, James S. Stapler being its president. John W. Stapler, the elder, was a white man who settled in Tahlequah many years before the Civil war. He married Miss Jane Hicks, a niece of John Ross, the old chief, and for many years was a man of influence among the Cherokees. He died in 1885 and his business was continued by his two worthy sons. The Stapler store and old family residence adjoining were destroyed by fire in the early morning of October 19, 1897, incurring a loss of $18,000. Houston B. Tehee, a clerk in the store and who has just recently retired from the office of register of the United States Treasury, was sleeping on the second floor of the store, and barely escaped with his life. The store was soon rebuilt, but as in those days all goods had to be hauled across the country from Fort Gibson, there was some delay in restocking it.

Societies

A number of societies were established and permanently maintained at Tahlequah in an early day, perhaps the most important of which was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. This society was active from the beginning of its organization and wielded a wholesome influence in the cause of temperance, an influence that was very much needed in the early days. This society was honored by a visit from Frances E. Willard, the noted temperance evangelist.

In the years gone by Tahlequah has entertained many persons of national distinction among whom were : John J. Ingalls, United States Senator from Kansas ; Henry L. Dawes, Senator from Massachusetts, and his gifted daughter; Washington Irving; Hon. James Bryce, former ambassador from Great Britain, and numerous notables, including prominent Union and Confederate generals of the Civil war period.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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