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Cherokee Nation opens new Cherokee National Prison Museum

Courtesy Cherokee National Cultural Tourism

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — On May 1, Cherokee Nation officials opened the new Cherokee National Prison Museum with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Cherokee National Prison Museum is the third Cherokee Nation wholly owned and operated museum following the dedication of the John Ross Museum in October 2011 and the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum in April 2010.

Built of sandstone rock, the Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. The interpretive site and museum shows visitors how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The historic site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows.

An interactive kiosk tells the stories of notorious Cherokees and how some were perceived as outlaws in the Cherokee Nation while others were revered as patriots. Visitors can spin the “wheel of justice” and learn what punishments were doled out for various crimes and attempt to lift a genuine ball and chain.

The Cherokee Nation includes the 14-county area in northeastern Oklahoma that spans 7,000 square miles.

Restoration of the Cherokee National Capitol Building is set to begin in spring 2013. Built in 1870, the historic building currently houses the judicial branch of the Cherokee Nation and anchors Cherokee Capitol Square in downtown Tahlequah. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.