I hope you are keeping well and warm on this frosty January day! I know my friends north of here are experiencing extremely cold temperatures this Oklahoma girl can’t even imagine….stay safe! And keep bundled up and warm!
Here it is cold and clear day with beautiful blue skies. It’s been a chilly month this January, but we’ve had no real snow. Since this is the start of the year, I thought a fun project would be to share with you Hunter’s Home throughout the year as the seasons change. Hunter’s Home is the living history museum where I volunteer as a historical interpreter. At most events you can find me there, usually with my spinning wheel and a basket of wool. This year is going to be particularly exciting at Hunter’s Home because we will be getting more livestock and outbuildings to make the museum an even bigger and better working farm. And I love having a place where all my favorite ‘old timey pursuits’ are an asset and where I can meet people who love history like I do.
In today’s post though, I thought I’d give you a little peek inside the home and at the people who lived there. What makes this home so special is that it is the only remaining antebellum home left in Oklahoma (from the time when the area it is located was the Cherokee Nation). It was built in 1845 by a white man named George Murrell who was married to the niece of the Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation.
Let’s start from the beginning though….and as the months go by, explore the story of the Murrells and the Rosses and the people of The Cherokee Nation….
George Michael Murrell was born in 1808 to an affluent, plantation owning family in Lynchburg, VA. As a young man, he joined his older brother in the operation of a mercantile store in Athens, TN, near the border of the Cherokee Nation in its original tribal lands.
In business, he became acquainted with Lewis Ross, brother of the Nation’s chief and a wealthy merchant in his own right. Lewis Ross was also the treasurer of the Cherokee Nation.
Soon, George found himself deeply infatuated with Lewis’ young teenage daughter, Minerva. He wanted to marry her, but was denied permission. So instead, George and Minerva decided to elope in 1834– she was just 15 and he was 26.
It seems all was quickly forgiven though, as George was brought into the family business and family life, and when the Cherokee were forced from their ancestral lands by the United States Government, he decided to travel with the Ross family on the arduous journey now called “The Trail of Tears” to Indian Territory. This was a harsh forced removal over land, in the dead of winter, with dwindling supplies. Approximately a quarter of the tribe perished on this journey.
|Minerva Ross Murrell|
However, once they had settled in their new allotted land, the Cherokee Nation began to rebuild itself as a formidable nation in their own right. The capital at Tahlequah became a hub of culture and refinement. The neighborhood of Park Hill, where the Murrells built their stately Greek Revival home (much like what George would have seen growing up in early 19th century Virginia), was especially renowned. The Chief himself lived just up the road at his home Rose Cottage— which was decidedly not a cottage in its stately beauty. A Cherokee Female Seminary (A women’s college) was also just up the road. George was an ardent Anglophile, loving all things English gentry, and would even host fox hunts on his lands. That is how the home came to be called Hunter’s Home, and you’ll see many references to foxes within the home and in the gift shop.
What may surprise many readers is that on the journey to their new homeland, many Cherokee also brought their own African slaves. And as a white southerner, George Murrell also owned enslaved people and would inherit more through the years. It was enslaved artisans and servants who built Hunter’s Home, cutting massive stone, making intricate woodwork, building walls and installing windows. They then lived in cabins on the property, and essentially kept the plantation of Hunter’s Home running while George set up his new mercantile business in the Cherokee Nation.
Today, the home is open to tours Tuesday-Saturdays. The amazing thing about the interior of the house, is that many of the furnishings are original to the Murrell and Ross families. The living room set you see above, the piano, the art….these are all original family artifacts, lovingly sourced back to the home after they had been dispersed to different family members in the late 1800s.
The photo above is the formal parlor, where affluent guests would have been received. The Chief undoubtedly was invited into this room to either talk the politics of the day, or play a genteel game of cards. It is also likely that this is where George spoke with delegates of the Confederate States and eventually let the treaty that joined the Cherokee Nation to the Confederate cause be signed in October 1861.
This room is actually the second parlor, used as an informal family space. You are probably shocked to see a bed in this room, but this was actually Minerva’s bed. In about 1850, Minerva was diagnosed with an illness called ‘intermittent fever”, which was most likely Malaria. As her health failed, Minerva still wanted to be part of family life, and so in the summer months she stayed in this beautiful bed while her family visited, knit, sewed, read the paper and relaxed with her.
|Amanda Ross Murrell|
After 5 years of struggling with her illness, Minerva passed away and is buried in the Ross Cemetery just up the road. After a mourning period of about 2 years, George married Minerva’s younger sister, Amanda.
While this may seem a little out of the ordinary to our modern sensibilities, it was a common practice to marry a dead spouse’s sibling in the 19th century. And in George’s case, it was especially important that he marry another Cherokee woman so that he could stay in the Cherokee Nation with his home and business. In marrying Amanda, he kept his life mostly unchanged, even keeping his same in-laws.
While George and Minerva had had no children of their own, George and Amanda went on to have 6 children. However, only one of those children was born at Hunter’s Home, because the Civil War was on the horizon and would tear the gentile world of Park Hill apart….
But let’s save that for another time, shall we? 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about Hunter’s Home, you can visit the website HERE. Thursdays through Saturday, they offer Living History with dressed interpreters (and sometimes, I’m one of them!). Even though it is winter, there is a lot going on as staff prepare for the spring planting season and planning for new livestock. It’s a wonderful place to visit, and Tahlequah is a really neat town with a history much older than a lot of the state’s towns. The Cherokee Heritage Center is just up the road, as is the Chief John Ross Museum and cemetery.
Til next time,