Since starting out on this odyssey in late October 2010 we have travelled 17,000 miles in the RV and have no idea of how many miles in “bluebug”. Oklahoma is state number 39 visited of the lower 48 and believe or not we are still enjoying ourselves, experiencing the vastness and diversity of America, learning lots, meeting wonderfully interesting people and literally lucking out, big time in some of the places we had not known of before receiving a recommendation from a new acquaintance. Our first stop was at Sallisaw, just over the border from Arkansas, in a small but nice KOA RV Park - with a pool – an absolute must in the heat we’re experiencing. Thankfully, the nights cool down sufficiently to allow us take a mile walk after dinner; we enjoyed being able to do that.
Sallisaw is in the historical Indian Territory and from there we drove to Muskogee to visit the Five Civilized Tribes Museum; the tribes were Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. These people who lived in southeastern US had taken on the Colonial lifestyle, owned their homes, had beautiful furniture, some even owned plantations and had slaves; generally they enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. Over time, wishing to be good citizens and assimilate into the colonial culture, they negotiated several treaties with the government but were tricked by the politicians of the day…nothing changes! When the Europeans originally came to the “new world” there were an estimated 12.5 million Native Americans, by the end of the 19th century there were a little more than 250,000. Disease(s), some deliberately introduced – think smallpox – almost decimated them; others were killed in wars and many died in various “relocations”. Similar to many older civilizations their history was passed on orally which meant that they did not read or write and had no alphabet of their own, so were easily tricked. A genius named Sequoyah (yes the tree is called after him) took twelve years to develop an alphabet of 86 letters that would have all the diphthongs of the various Indian dialects. In 1907 Miss Indian Territories married Mr. Cowboy Oklahoma to form the State of Oklahoma.The Curator at the Muskogee museum recommended that we should visit the Cherokee National Museum in Tahlequah which was only a 20 mile drive away. Which we did to discover a beautiful new museum built on the grounds of a Native American girl’s boarding school. The museum entrance included a guided tour of a Cherokee village; our guide a Cherokee man, with hair to his waist and wearing traditional hide pants and vest. This was a fascinating experience as each family had a summer house (with plenty of ventilation) and right next door, a winter house (where hardly a breeze could get in the door) the houses were constructed of wattle and mud with bamboo and grass roofs. On a playing field there was a group of boys and girls playing stick ball; so similar to Lacrosse that one wonders if this is where lacrosse originated. We also watched a man instructing younger men in the making of flint arrow heads and a lady making baskets, all were dressed in the traditional way. In the center of the village is the meeting house from where the elders of the tribe (male and female) govern, they meet each evening. Similar to a number of ancient civilizations the Cherokees is a matriarchal tribe, with the blood line going through the mother. Another interesting societal issue we learned is that the mother’s clan is responsible for the rearing of the children. The medicine man was a very important member of the village as he had cures for many ailments; some native cures looked like they would be much safer than the snake oil and potions being sold by quacks to the white man.
Inside the museum there’s a very good exhibit detailing the "Trail of Tears" - the forced relocation of the Five Civilized Tribes to lands west of the Mississippi during one of the coldest winters on record. The people were not allowed bring any possessions with them – this was in effect a forced march, they had no extra clothing and soldiers on horseback pushed them forward all the time. Many (some estimates are as high as 25%) died on the trail; of starvation, the cold but mostly of heartbreak. These poor people were now so isolated, far from their ancestral lands, their burial grounds and their ancestors for most this was the greatest sorrow. Not an inspiring story of the early settler, yet all part of the fabric of US history. Then when they had settled down in “The Indian Territory” their children were taken from them at age three and sent to boarding schools for the next thirteen years ((with no vacations) to be educated in the white man’s traditions and teach them a trade; afterwards they could decide if they wanted to return to their tribe or join the white man’s world. Native Americans had a highly developed society, laws and a democratic form of government, and where self-sufficient. They could not understand the concept of owning the land as man is only here on earth for such a short time, they believed that we must protect and respect the land, rivers, skies, birds, fish and animals – surely the first environmentalists!