A great deal of Eastern Oklahoma is like the Kanye West song or Chick-Fil-A, it’s closed on Sundays. This can be a bit of a mixed bag. When one is a tourist looking to enjoy some Cherokee sites, it can be a bit frustrating when both of one’s intended sites to visit end up being closed and one can only see the outside of the building and not the inside of the sites. Still, it must be said that both the Cherokee National Prison Museum as well as Sequoyah’s Cabin are first-class sites despite the fact that both are rather small when seen in comparison with other structures of their kind that I have visited throughout my travels. Even without finding very much to be open in Eastern Oklahoma during the Sunday morning and early afternoon I spent driving there, I was still able to make some observations about the area that I thought to be worth sharing anyway.
A few things are immediately evident to anyone who spends any time in Eastern Oklahoma. For one, there is an extreme tendency among the various mostly Baptist churches of the area to be intensely competitive in their naming process. In addition to the usual First Baptist Church of [insert name of hamlet here], there was a Freewill Baptist Church, an Exciting Baptist Church (according to whom?), a Trinitarian Holiness Baptist church that was open to everyone (except those who are not Trinitarians and have no interest in holiness traditions, perhaps?), another Baptist church that tried to distinguish itself by claiming that they preached Christ crucified, as if that was not the case in the literal dozens of similar Baptist churches that I saw all over the area. While my experiences as a member of the Church of God have long shown me the difficulty of coming up with worthwhile and also distinctive names of churches, the small Baptist churches of Eastern Oklahoma have this problem to an extreme degree, and many times the slogans and names of the churches simply invite more questions than they provide answers.
Besides having a competitive religious climate among Sunday-keeping Baptist congregations that seem pretty substantially identical to each other when looking at them from the perspective of an outsider, Eastern Oklahoma also has an intensely competitive tribal political culture. While driving throughout the area, I saw numerous signs promoting one or another candidate in the Cherokee tribal councils. Not being a member of the tribe or being particularly knowledgeable about Cherokee political culture, it was striking to see the nonpartisan campaigns (at least I was unaware of the party affiliation of the various people who were running for some of the seven or so seats for the Cherokee tribal council, of which the second and the seventh appeared to be the most competitive in the signs I saw in yards along the side of the road. I also saw an advertisement while visiting the closed Cherokee National Prison Museum for a Cherokee passport. This particular document includes locations for stamps for cultural locations all throughout the Cherokee nation, including the places I visited that were, alas, closed today. As someone with a strong personal interest in such a thing, I think this is a worthwhile idea and well worth getting for the tourist who has a strong interest in Cherokee history and culture.
One of the striking aspects about both Kansas and Oklahoma that I did not expect was the beauty of the local architectural traditions. All throughout my drive through mostly small towns and cities (such as Coffeyville, Kansas, to give but one example), I saw a great many examples of beautiful wood, brick, and stone buildings. As a tourist who always has an eye on the local architecture, I was pleased to see so many old buildings that have been kept up well and also so many new buildings that are built to blend in with the older ones in terms of being built in a classy and attractive way. Some of the towns appeared to be time capsules to the past–Coffeyville had a gorgeous mansion and streets lined with the American flag that was touching and enjoyable to see. While most of the drive today was through flat and gently rolling countryside with a lot of grassland and the occasional hillock and copse of trees, the towns that I could see were very beautiful and full of quirky and lovely architecture of considerable more beauty than I had any expectation of, even if most of the places were closed because it was a Sunday outside of the big cities.