Step into another nation while staying in the U.S.: visit the Cherokee Nation, located in the outlying areas of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Cherokees originally lived in North Carolina and surrounding states. In the early 1800’s, the federal government forced them to accept a portion of land in Oklahoma instead. Their 1,000 mile walk out west became known as The Trail of Tears. Their land belies the common perception of Oklahoma being all prairies: the Cherokee Nation sits on hilly, lushly green land that is reminiscent of their North Carolina origins.
The Cherokee’s story is a story of more than surviving – they are thriving.
Start your exploration of the nation at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, the capitol of the Cherokee Nation.
There are two distinct villages: One is a replica of an ancient Cherokee village, when the tribe resided out East, the other is Adams Village, a replica of a pre-statehood Cherokee community. Both villages have craftspeople on site demonstrating period Cherokee ways of life.
Partake of a buffet with a Cherokee flair at the Restaurant of the Cherokees. Along with Southern favorites like fried chicken, the buffet makes room for the culturally iconic “Three Sisters” of squash, corn, and beans.
Tahlequah is also home to the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum and the Cherokee National Prison. The Supreme Court Museum is open to the public and the National Prison will be open to the public when anticipated renovations to highlight important events are completed. Both have the feel of the county court offices of the frontier era.
The Gilcrease Museum boasts one of the major collections of art and historical documents of the American West, much of which naturally directly concerns Native American tribes. Some of the most iconic paintings of Native Americans were collected by part Muscogee-Creek Thomas Gilcrease. Gilcrease did OK with his assigned land portion when it became part of the first major petroleum discovery in Oklahoma.
The George M. Murrell home in Park Hill belonged to a man who married the nieces of Cherokee Chief John Ross. The historic property includes land that’s being tended by members of the tribe, growing heirloom veggies, fruits, and herbs important to the area. With the combination of traditional museum exhibits and live outdoor demonstrations, the home gives visitors a good glimpse of historic Cherokee life in a manageable amount of space.
Famed entertainer/journalist/philosopher Will Rogers was from a prominent Cherokee family. Visit his birthplace and a memorial museum where he is buried in the towns of Oolagah and Claremore. Rogers’ birthplace – one of the only surviving pre-Statehood buildings — remains a working ranch, with RV hookups, a barn available for parties, and a grass airstrip. The memorial museum has an exact reproduction of his studio, a research library, plus lots of movie memorabilia.
Casinos have been an important revenue source for many native tribes and the Cherokees are no exception. They are part owners of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tulsa.
The hotel has several restaurants, A- list rock, country, and comedy acts, including Don Henley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Ron White, as well as an award-winning golf course. That’s along with a full casino, including high roller poker areas. The rooms – which have a local classic rock station playing when you arrive — are decorated with the sexy colors and materials of leopard print, black, and chrome.
Center Bar has a renowned cocktail called “Wicked Ice” that comes in any color you wish to order and bubbles up like a whole bunch of trouble.
The place is rockin’, for sure, but also retains a distinct Cherokee flavor. The Cherokee Gallery exhibits high-end art and hand-made crafts, including large-scale paintings. The Wild Potato Buffet – named after one of the Cherokee clans – serves items with a Southwest flavor, like pepper gravy, breakfast enchiladas, Mexican scrambled eggs with chorizo, cilantro, black beans, Monterey, cheddar cheeses and salsa, and chile relleno casserole. Unlike other casinos, there are windowed areas and patios, letting you enjoy nature, the seasons, and the time of day. Friends can gather for a cocktail overlooking the lush Oklahoma hills as the sun sets.