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Okemah, Oklahoma
—  City  —
Location of Okemah, Oklahoma
Coordinates: 35°25′52″N 96°18′20″W / 35.43111°N 96.30556°W / 35.43111; -96.30556Coordinates: 35°25′52″N 96°18′20″W / 35.43111°N 96.30556°W / 35.43111; -96.30556
Country United States
State Oklahoma
County Okfuskee
 - Total 2.7 sq mi (6.9 km2)
 - Land 2.6 sq mi (6.7 km2)
 - Water 0.1 sq mi (0.2 km2)
Elevation 909 ft (277 m)
Population (2000)
 - Total 3,038
 Density 1,170.5/sq mi (451.9/km2)
Time zone Central (CST) (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 74859
Area code(s) 918
FIPS code 40-54200[1]
GNIS feature ID 1096198[2]

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.

J. E. Galloway was the first mayor; Perry Rodkey, first postman; E. D. Dexter, first hotel operator; W. H. Dill ran the first telephone company; John D. Richards had the first hardware store; McGee Brothers put in the first cotton gin and E. E. Shook established the first lumber yard.

The first church in the city was the North Methodist, at Sixth and Ash, but the first church service was in the Baptist faith presided over by the Rev. Black.

Editor, Charles Barnclaw, published the first newspaper.

Development of education

S. L. O'Bannon was the teacher in the first school which was opened in 1902 with funds gained by subscribers and classes were held in a store building.

The first school building was built in 1902 on the site of the old Wilson School. The first public school was opened with Dr. Z. Cheatwood as superintendent in 1904.

A store building housed one of the first public schools and the other was situated in buildings where the American Legion building now stands. Noble School, completed in 1907, was named for Miss Mae Noble.

Okemah High School gained accreditation in 1912 and met in the old Noble School building until the building of 1918 was erected.

In the high school complex the band shop building was erected 1941 and a vocational building in 1948.

Vigilantes and lynching

Though a police force was organized in the town soon after its foundation (a Mr. Franklin wore the first city policeman's badge), vigilantes have been very active in Okemah's early years, and evidently enjoyed an almost complete freedom of action.

The first "execution" in the Okemah's history - of a man alleged to have been trying to steal a saddle - was carried out by the vigilantes rather than by any kind of due process.

In 1911 Okemah had the very dubious distinction of being the scene of a racist lynching targeting a Black woman, the 35-year old Laura Nelson, who had tried to protect her son from the white vigilantes and ended being hanged from a suspension bridge along with him (see [1]).

This brutal act was carried out with the evident intention of intimidating the town's already considerable Black community, near whose dwellings the lynching took place.

Notable Okemahns


Okemah is located at 35°25′52″N 96°18′20″W / 35.43111°N 96.30556°W / 35.43111; -96.30556 (35.430987, -96.305500)[4].

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.7 square miles (6.9 km²), of which, 2.6 square miles (6.7 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (2.63%) is water.


As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 3,038 people, 1,242 households, and 763 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,170.5 people per square mile (451.1/km²). There were 1,506 housing units at an average density of 580.3/sq mi (223.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.09% White, 2.37% African American, 22.84% Native American, 0.10% Asian, 0.46% from other races, and 5.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.94% of the population.

There were 1,242 households out of which 29.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.8% were married couples living together, 15.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.5% were non-families. 35.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 3.04.

In the city the population was spread out with 27.4% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 23.3% from 25 to 44, 19.9% from 45 to 64, and 20.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 82.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 76.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $21,306, and the median income for a family was $26,659. Males had a median income of $21,905 versus $15,375 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,645. About 19.5% of families and 25.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.6% of those under age 18 and 16.6% of those age 65 or over.


  1. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  2. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2000 and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2005-05-03. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Okemah is a city in the Frontier Country region of Oklahoma.

  • Okemah Lake
  • Okfuskee County Historical Museum - this is a 1926 Masonic temple. It now contains the history of the county and an early days schoolroom display.
  • Territory Town Museum - contains Indian, Western, Oklahoma and Civil War artifacts.
  • Grape Ranch Winery & Vineyard, Rt 3, (918) 623-2250 (), [1].  edit
  • Kellogg's Restaurant, I/40/SH-27, 918-623-2918.
  • Brick Street Café, 104 S 2nd St., 918-623-1356.
  • OK Motor Lodge, 605 S Woody Guthrie, 918-623-2200.
Routes through Okemah
Oklahoma CityShawnee  W noframe E  HenryettaFort Smith
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