The city of Muskogee has been dubbed one of 12 "Distinctive Destinations" for 2011 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It's a distinction that recognizes the city's commitment to preserving the past, including treasured buildings, landscapes and cultural milestones for future generations to enjoy. Some of Muskogee's top attractions honor and celebrate its rich Native American heritage. Local leaders take pride in the diversity and sustainability that attracts visitors and often turns them into new residents.
History, Art, Civic Pride
The city's business, civic and tourism sectors are all influenced by its Native American heritage, which includes one of the saddest moments in the country's history, and some of its strongest people.
“It very much is part of the fabric," said Jonita Mullins, executive director of Downtown Muskogee. "There’s a lot of history and culture here, and a high percentage of our population claims Native American blood. It’s all very much a part of who we are.”
The Trail of Tears, in which entire Native American tribes were relocated, ended near what is now downtown Muskogee. The Five Civilized Tribes Museum preserves the history and culture of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muskogee) and Seminole Indians who played a role in the founding and growth of Muskogee.
Ataloa Lodge, on the campus of Bacone College, features artwork and historical pieces from several Native American tribes. It’s named for Ataloa, also known as Mary Stone McClendon, a Chickasaw Indian known for her efforts to promote education among Native Americans.
The Masonic Building is an emblem of both the city’s Native American heritage and its civic pride. It’s one of the largest and most elaborate Masonic structures in Oklahoma, houses three lodges and is one of the city’s grandest structures, according to Mullins. There’s also a library in the building with many books about the history of Masonry. Efforts are underway to get the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Oftentimes, we might take for granted the history we have," says Sue Harris, president of the Muskogee Chamber of Commerce. “We have a lot of Native American history, black history and more all in one place. It has been fun to see it celebrated by this kind of award.”
Another local event growing in popularity is the National Soul Food Cook-Off. It’s normally held on the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
“It started out local, then became regional, and now we have people coming from several states and it’s growing on a national level,” Mullins says, adding that several larger, unique food companies have become sponsors, and the festival has also attracted attention from the Food Network.
Heritage Days, held the second week in October, takes place in Muskogee’s historic Depot District on the grounds of the Three Rivers Museum and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, both of which are in former depots. Native American song, dance and storytelling are a big part of the event, along with living history reenactments of the Buffalo Soldiers, African-American Army units started after the Civil War.
“It’s growing, and we expect it to become one of Muskogee’s premier events in just a few short years,” Mullins says.
For military buffs, there’s the War Memorial Park and Museum, which is also home to the U.S. Batfish, a World War II submarine open for tours. The Thomas-Foreman historical home offers a glimpse of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Harris says tourists notice and appreciate the city's diverse history and culture. "Visitors come to town and tell us and sometimes, we don't see it. It (the Distinctive Destinations honor) caused us to be able to reflect on what positive things we have going on in our community."
Learn more about events happening in Muskogee, OK.