Oklahoma Indian country: Part 2

Yesterday, Tom Neal Tacker took you on a journey through Oklahoma. Today, the journey continues with part two...

Trail of tears
A visit to The Cherokee Tribal Complex includes a recreated original tribal village. Defying a plausible description as tourist-y, it delivers as close to an authentic pre-colonised Cherokee experience to the visitor as it’s possible to achieve and remain sincere. The museum compels its visitors to learn about the Cherokee Nation’s infamous ‘Trail of Tears’. During the 1840s thousands from the Five Civilized Tribes were marched from their ancestral eastern homelands and dumped out-of-sight, out-of-mind in lands occupied by foreign tribes. The disastrous effects of the decimations linger in a resurgence of cultural pride obviously displayed at the various heritage centers located around the state. Native American people are reclaiming their history the way they want it to be told.

A favourite son
Days later my mood lifts at the Will Rogers Memorial outside Claremore. Arguably the state’s most famous native son, (Brad Pitt, Woody Guthrie, Ron Howard, Joan Crawford and Reba McEntire were also born in OK), Rogers was Hollywood’s best loved and highest paid performer until he died tragically in a plane crash in Alaska in 1935.

His weekly column was read by 40 million fans and was syndicated in over 500 newspapers. It’s very easy to forget the lasting impression he made on contemporary language. Saying that, “I joked about every prominent man of my time but I never met a man, I didn’t like,” he summed up his innately decent approach to life’s fellow travellers. His memorial is a key to understanding Oklahoma. Maybe I’m beginning to understand this state of contrasts finally.

Musical roots
Also in Claremore is the Lynn Riggs Memorial. Haven’t heard of him? Riggs wrote the play ‘Green Grow the Lilacs’ which was adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein. ‘Oklahoma’, the musical was born. I realise that I’ve come full circle while I read Oklahoma’s title song lyrics at Riggs’ memorial.
Yes, the irony gene is noticeably absent in many Middle Americans. But when it’s apparent, take note or risk missing gems.

Waxing the beaver
A tourism official with whom I struck a friendship was involved in organising Oklahoma’s centenary commemoration festivities in 2007. He told me about some of his experiences while visiting the state’s more far-flung small towns, one of them called Beaver, in the state’s western panhandle region. He wanted to offer its town council the opportunity to participate in the state’s celebration in Oklahoma City.

The council members suggested that their fiberglass statue of a standing beaver should be displayed as a symbolic gesture. But they were discouraged by the fact that it hadn’t been painted in many years, was looking ‘poorly’ and they couldn’t afford to re-cover the giant beaver. The statue resides on a trailer and is positioned around the town as needed. They argued for some hours about the problem until one of the councilors, a silver haired lady of impeccable taste evidently, suggested that since they couldn’t afford paint that they might just polish the beaver with wax. ‘Let’s just wax the beaver,’ she insisted. My friend left the council chamber before he offended the civic minded Beaverians with his barely suppressed laughter.

Nearer the close of my visit to Oklahome, I told the extended Beaver story to my host in Tahlequah. She laughed and told me that down the road from Beaver is a town called Hooker. The two hamlets have rival football teams that compete in the annual regional contest and theirs is a fierce battle in football obsessed Oklahoma. One year Hooker narrowly beat Beaver in a season of hard fought games played in packed high school stadiums. The following day the town’s newspaper proudly proclaimed in its headline that: “Hooker Shaves Beaver!” 

Oklahoma is one of those rare destinations where plain travel truths speak volumes of mystery.

Read Part 1 of Tom's journey

About the author: Tom Neal Tacker writes for Naked Hungry Traveller, an Aussie online magazine that bares the truth on travel experiences with stories, reviews, news, tips and pics.Tom hails from the Windy City and he talks alot. Remanded to vagabondage at an early age. Inveterate diner and drinker. Travels widely, deeply with constant hunger. Tom's preferred motto: "Suck it and see."

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