Okemah, Oklahoma

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Okemah is a city in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 3,038 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Okfuskee County.[3] It is the birthplace of folk music legend Woody Guthrie. Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, a federally recognized Indian tribe, is headquartered in Okemah.



Okemah was named after a Kickapoo Indian Chief named Chief Okemah. In March, 1902 Chief Okemah built a bark house after the fashion of the Kickapoo tribe. He had come to await the opening of the townsite which took his name April 22, 1902.

In the Kickapoo language, "Okemah" means "things up high," such as highly placed person or town or high ground. Okemah thus had the old chief's name to live up to in leadership.

Okemah was platted by a group of Shawnee residents March, 1902 on land belonging to Mahala and Nocus Fixico, full blood Creek Indians who had no legal right to sell their holdings, but who did anyway. This apparently made no difference to the promoters.

April 22, 1902 the formal opening launched the town into an instant business success as the first plows broke the fertile area, described in Washington Irving's "Tour of the Prairies" 60 years earlier.

The town was incorporated in 1903. In the spring of 1904, when restrictions on sale of townsite lots were removed, the Indians were paid $50 an acre for their land by trustees who were authorized to give legal deeds to the purchasers who claimed title.

In its first week, the city already had the following stores: four general merchandise, two hardware, one 5 & 10 cent store, three drug stores, four grocery stores, three wagon yards, four lumber yards, three cafes, one bakery, two millinery stores, four livery barns, three blacksmiths, two dairies, two cotton gins and two weekly newspapers.

There were eight doctors, four lawyers, two walnut log buyers, and one Chinese laundryman. Two hotels were quickly put up, including the three story Broadway hotel which set the city apart as an important town in early-day Oklahoma.

Okfuskee County was organized at the time of statehood, and Okemah was chosen as county seat in an election held August 27, 1908.

"Firsts" in various spheres

It was Perry Rodkey and H.R. Dexter who first surveyed the townsite.

The town's first state-chartered bank began business the day of the opening, April 22, 1903 in a tent on the northwest corner of the present Fifth and Broadway (now City Hall).

C. J. Benson was president. W. H. Dill was vice president and served as cashier. It became the First National Bank in 1903, but was liquidated in 1939.

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