TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Twenty-five years ago, Cherokee Nation officials regained ownership of the tribe’s original Capitol, Supreme Court and prison buildings after losing them in 1906 due to the Curtis Act of 1898, which abolished tribal governments.
To celebrate the anniversary of the acquisition, those who wear Cherokee Nation apparel June 5 will receive free entry into any of the three museums operated by Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism. Cherokee Nation museums include the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, the Cherokee National Prison Museum and the John Ross Museum.
The three downtown buildings were vacated as Oklahoma neared statehood in 1906 and then purchased by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners in 1913 for $40,000. The prison was then used as the county court with the Supreme Court building used for some of the court’s business due to overcrowding at the other building.
Cherokee Nation officials inked a deal with county officials in 1978 to provide $910,000 to the construction of a new county courthouse complex. The contribution allowed the tribe to regain control of its original government structures a year later.
Today, the Cherokee National Capitol Building houses the judicial branch of the Cherokee Nation. It was completed in 1869 and occupied the center of the town square. It held the executive and legislative offices until 1906.
Originally built in 1844, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The 1,950-square-foot museum features exhibits in three historic aspects: the Cherokee National Judicial System, the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers, and the Cherokee language with a variety of historical items, including photos, stories, objects and furniture.
The Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. The interpretive site and museum show visitors how law and order operated in Indian Territory. Today’s museum offers an interactive kiosk to learn stories of notorious Cherokees and how they were perceived as outlaws in the Cherokee Nation, while others were revered as patriots.
The John Ross Museum highlights the life of John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation for more than 38 years, and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and Cherokee Nation’s passion for the education of its people.
The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is located at 122 E. Keetoowah St., and the Cherokee National Prison Museum is at 124 E. Choctaw St., both in Tahlequah. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Rd. in Park Hill.
Cherokee Nation Museums are open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, including museum operations, please call (877) 779-6977 or visit www.VisitCherokeeNation.com.