Osiyo, which means “Hello” in Cherokee, is spoken often in Oklahoma. After all, this is home to Tahlequah, Capital of the Cherokee Nation. As I traversed the state in my week-long visit, I got a glimpse into the varied landscape and people that make up Oklahoma.
I have never seen as many wranglers, boots and cowboy hats as when I stepped off the plane in Oklahoma City. That’s saying a lot, since I lived in Dallas and the Southwest for many years. But this cosmopolitan-meets-cowboy capital of Oklahoma captured my attention. Once the center of industrial activity, Bricktown is now Oklahoma City’s most vibrant and exciting neighborhood, with a mile-long canal traversed by water taxis and lined with restaurants and night clubs.
The masterful way the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is put together is amazing and truly transports you into the bombing and events that took place on April 19, 1995. Housed in the former Journal Record Building that withstood the bombing, it takes you on a chronological journey of the day of the bombing and the weeks and years afterwards. Tissues are located throughout the museum and even after almost twenty years, there weren’t many dry eyes.
The collection at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art includes European and American art spanning five centuries. It also boasts the most comprehensive collection of Chihuly glass in the world, including a 55-foot-tall glass tower at the entrance.
Just outside Oklahoma City is Stockyards City, the world’s largest cattle market. Here is where authentic, working cowboys come to buy and sell cattle. It’s a bustle of activity on Monday and Thursday mornings and a bit of a ghost town the rest of the week. Homeland Security even has security cameras monitoring the marketplace because it’s such a major food source for the U.S. Once the cowboys are done with the cattle, they frequent nearby Langston’s Western Wear, the oldest western store in the U.S. and get a bite to eat at Cattleman’s Restaurant, which has been around for over 100 years.
A trip to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum is a 220,000 square foot adventure of everything cowboy. “Barbed wire and windmills are what settled the west,” and the museum has everything from featured western artists such as Charlie Russell and Remington to a full-scale replica of a frontier town.
At The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino , if one of the 2100 gaming machine or 65 game tables aren’t enough to capture your attention, you can take advantage of the indoor/outdoor pool or play a round of golf on the 18-hole Perry Maxwell-designed course that is ranked as one of the top public golf courses in Oklahoma.
The Gilcrease Museum is known for its 23 acres of magnificent gardens, but it also has an extensive collection of rare books, maps and other documents, including a handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence, along with letters from Thomas Jefferson. It also has one of the nation’s largest collections of art and artifacts from the American West and Native American cultures.
The state of Oklahoma seemingly worships Will Rogers and no visit to the Sooner State would be complete without a visit to the Dog Iron Ranch, where Will was born. The house was originally built in 1875 and has great views of Lake Oologah. Next stop is the Will Rogers Memorial Museum where you can learn about the life, the wisdom and the humor of Will Rogers and his Cherokee connections.
Located on the grounds of the first Cherokee National Female Seminary, The Cherokee Heritage Center and National Museum was established in 1967 to preserve and promote the Cherokee legacy. It has an ancient village where you can learn what life was like for the Cherokee in the 1800s. Watch children playing stickball and even participate in a game yourself. You’ll also learn how bows, arrows and blow guns made from green river cane shot darts and were used to hunt food. The Cherokee had large communal gardens along with their own and mostly grew beans, corn and squash. There are many other exhibits depicting Cherokee life, including a six gallery Trail of Tears exhibit.
Built in 1875, the Cherokee National Prison focused on reform, learning a trade and working in the community and was the only penitentiary building in the entire Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. Close by is the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, the oldest government building still standing in the state of Oklahoma. Exhibits depict the Cherokee judicial system and written language.
I was pleasantly surprised after my visit. I learned Oklahoma is diverse, not just in the landscape, but in the people, the culture and the heritage. It’s a place where you can tap into your inner cowboy and appreciate fine art — in the same town. So I will put away my cowboy hat until I can visit again and say Osiyo to Oklahoma.