Muskogee, Oklahoma is a burly, by the bootstraps kind of town inhabited by cowboys, Indians, artists, oil tycoons, and roughnecks. An eclectic community of diverse folks who believe living free is an idea worth going to battle for. As the locals like to say, “It’s hip to be real.”
Situated near a confluence of the Arkansas, Verdigris, and Grand Rivers, the citizens of Muskogee inherited the grit and determination from a motley crew of ancestry that share two key common denominators: pride and perseverance. Pride of country, people, and heritage – white, black, and all spectrum of color in between and surviving the Civil War, Trail of Tears, the dustbowl, and the Great Depression.
Long Time Coming
It was in this small burg at the Five Civilized Tribes museum dedicated to the history of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole tribes, that I ran into an opinionated – if a tad camera-shy – older woman of color with Cherokee blood coursing through her veins, sipping coffee on the steps watching her grandchildren play nearby.
She referred to herself in the third person, which was ironically endearing, as she explained the storied history of the tribe, the successes and failures, and pride in America that was slow in arriving, but entrenched now in her Native American identity.
“Mattie stands for the national anthem at every rodeo. I teach them (motioning by puckering her lips towards her grandkids) the same. We are all one people now. This country is good to all of us, no matter how we arrived here. I’m a proud Indian and American.”
“Ugh, that woman.”
I was advised to take in the latest exhibit at the museum and brush up on my American Indian history. And then she whistled through her teeth and the children came running – smiling and red-cheeked from heavy play – and she turned to leave.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity and asked her if the museum still sold the cookbook Pow Wow Chow, featuring Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) famous Cherokee great grandmother’s recipes (although even the recipes were stolen from a French chef).
She eloquently replied, without turning around, “Ugh, that woman.”
They Still Open the Door for You
Near the main drag of U.S. Route 69, on North York Street, sits a tiny diner called the Frank-N-Swine. I steered into the skid for a taste on the name alone and experienced my own October surprise – Chili Cheese Swine Spud. A pleasant surprise.
I was met at the door by a 30-something handsome cowboy, Lucas, sporting creased Wrangler jeans, roper boots, a pearl snapped plaid shirt, and a black felt Stetson. As is the gentlemanly way, he opened the door, called me ma’am, and tipped his hat.
He helped me navigate the menu, and obligingly answered my questions on how the Sooner state saw the affairs in the Swamp, specifically the looming midterm elections:
“How anyone can vote for the people trying to create a freebie nation on the backs of the middle class is beyond my understanding. People around here, black, white, Mexican – heck all the colors of the rainbow and hard workers who are likely voting a straight ticket after the last two years of the Democrats losing their marbles. Ma’am, we vote logically and conservative around here, so I believe we will stay fire-engine red.”
“Man, that woman needs to just stop.
“Man, that woman needs to just stop.
I had to ask, in mean girl fashion, how their number one daughter, Fauxcahontas, ranked in the eyes of the region. He just grimaced and replied, “Man, that woman needs to just stop. It’s not a joke with the Cherokees around here. They don’t take kindly to defaming their heritage.”
I crisscrossed Oklahoma – taking in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Eufaula, Newcastle, Okemah, and all points in between – and was hard pressed to find much in support of the neo-communist leaning Democratic Party.
What I did find was the inspiration for the Broadway musical by Rogers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! The people were a fair resemblance to Ado Annie, Laurey, Ali Hakim, and Curley, and the farmers and the cowmen were, actually, friends. Yep, “You’re doing fine Oklahoma, Oklahoma, O.K.”