History of Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Their first tribal councils after arriving at their new Indian Territory were, by common consent, held in the vicinity of the present site of Tahlequah, on account of the beautiful natural surroundings and the numerous sparkling springs which bubbled up from the level ground on all sides, but in the Autumn of 1841 the Cherokee National Council enacted a law making Tahlequah the capital of the Cherokee Nation, and it continued to be their capital, their principal town and their principal public meeting place from that date until the final dissolution of the tribal government. Their first council house and the first homes of the village were built of hewn logs but in the course of a few years many of them built substantial houses of stone, brick and lumber. They reserved the most central block of ground in the village for their council meetings and in the course of a few years they erected a commodious two-story brick building, with assembly halls for their two legislative bodies designated as the “National Committee” and the “Council,” the two branches combined being known as “The Cherokee National Council.” On the sixth day of September, 1839, their National Council, in session at Tahlequah, adopted a constitution, patterned somewhat after the Constitution of the United States, and which was, without doubt, the most complete and comprehensive document of its kind that had ever been adopted by any Indian tribe or nation. Their constitution divided the powers of their government into three departments-legislative, executive and judicial-and defined the duties and authority of each department. This constitution continued to be the supreme law of the tribe, without change or amendment, until 1866, when the treaty entered into with the Federal Government, soon after the close of the Civil war, necessitated several amendments.

The Cherokees were far in advance of the United States in adopting prohibition, as the records of the proceedings of their council meetings at Tahlequah disclose the fact that in October, 1841, they enacted a law which provided that from and after the first day of January, 1842, the introduction and vending of ardent spirits within the Cherokee Nation would be unlawful and their prohibition law was never repealed by any of their successive councils.

Tahlequah, the county seat of Cherokee County and the former capital of the Cherokee Nation, is the only town of any size or importance in the county. ‘The geographies of forty years ago gave Tahlequah as the capital of Indian Territory, although it has never been other than the capital of the Cherokee Nation. Each of the Five Tribes has had its own capital ever since they came to this territory, but Tahlequah early became quite a village and an important educational center, while the capitals of the other four tribes were, prior to the coming of railroads, merely meeting places for the tribal councils.

The history of Tahlequah and Cherokee County is but a repetition of the history of the Cherokee Nation, for here their council fires were held, their tribal laws enacted, their political conventions assembled, their treaties discussed and- agreed upon, their tribal moneys distributed, and as Tahlequah was the only town worthy of being so-called, most of their money was spent here. Although the abolition of tribal government and the individual allotment of lands and tribal moneys have robbed Tahlequah of. much of its former importance and distinction, its historic events and associations, together with its natural picturesqueness, will, for generations to come, continue to make it very near and dear to the hearts of all Cherokees.

The famous treaty made with the Federal Government at New Echota, Ga., in 1835, sounded the death knell of the tribe in the east, and the long, dreary march to their Indian Territory home began soon thereafter. Indeed, some of them became wearied with the persistent encroachments of the avaricious Georgians and left their Eastern reservation several years before this treaty was made, and crossed the Mississippi River in search of homes where they would be beyond the reach of the white man, and where they could live in accordance with their time-honored customs, free from molestation. These first emigrants stopped in Arkansas and built their homes there, in the vicinity of White River. The border line between Arkansas and Indian Territory was not at that time very clearly known and some of these first emigrants drifted across the line. These first settlers afterwards became known in Cherokee history as the “Old Settlers,” while the great army of emigrants who came in 1838 and 1839 and settled on their new reservation, of which Tahlequah was the center, were denominated as “Eastern Cherokees.”

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.

2 thoughts on “History of Tahlequah, Oklahoma”

  1. I’m trying to trace my family tree and many of its branches lead to Tahlequah. Many of my ancestors are buried in Park Hill Cemetery. Of particular interest is the identity and lineage of my Great, Great Grandmother and the Mother of my Great Grandfather, Pyramus Herbert Hathcote. There are no records of her that I can find.

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