Research Interests

George Odell
Professor of Anthropology




            Situation: Most people are familiar with the Cherokee (and other eastern tribes’) diaspora known as the Trail of Tears.  But most people don’t know that, in the course of settling into their new Indian Territory home, the Cherokee divided their land into nine districts, each with its own courthouse.  These courthouses decided mostly civil cases, criminal proceedings taking place in Tahlequah.  Indian legal actions of this nature were terminated by the Curtis Act of 1898, and the Cherokee courthouses devolved into desuetude.  At present only one of them remains: the Saline Courthouse near Rose, Oklahoma, due east of Tulsa.  The courthouse itself is still standing but in pretty dismal shape.  In addition, there exists a spring house, built over an active spring that still bubbles up cold and clear on the property.  In all, the Cherokee Nation owns 14 acres of hills and creeks around these two buildings.  


            Recently there has arisen a movement to preserve the natural and cultural features of this property.  A grass roots organization, the Saline Preservation Association (SPA), has grown up organically, so to speak, to direct this effort.  At present it is actively pursuing this goal; in fact, it has procured funding for this project and has commissioned the architectural firm of Fritz Baily to oversee the operation.  Their master plan envisions restoration of the two buildings, as well as construction of an educational trail on the grounds, a parking lot, and an interpretive center.  The courthouse itself would once again hear court cases, perhaps once a month, and the caretaker would live on the second floor. 

            I became involved in the Saline Courthouse Project through Herb Fritz of the architectural firm, who is an amateur archaeologist and has worked with me on several occasions.  With Herb’s guidance, the SPA identified a need for archaeological reconnaissance before any of the restoration or building processes occurred.  Indeed, if their intent was to preserve, and eventually use, the cultural resources on the property, they had to know exactly what they had.  It is certain that this plot had prehistoric residents, as an archaeological survey conducted at the time that Federal Highway 412 was put through found site 34Dl-145 right in the middle of the property.  How much additional occupation there might be was anybody’s guess.  If parking lots, walkways and interpretive centers were to be constructed, then there would be a need to know exactly what kinds of occupations had been present in the past and where they were located.  This was the sort of information the SPA sought from us.

            So for three weeks in July of 2006 we baked our bottoms in the Oklahoma sun, surveying and testing the Saline Courthouse property.  We discovered two sites that had never been recorded and provided more detailed information on the prehistoric camp that was already known.  Our load was lightened and made more enjoyable through SPA’s Director, Lisa Melchior, who made sure that someone from their organization was out there almost every time we appeared – often, that was one or more members of their own family.  In the end we provided a comprehensive report detailing the nature and extent of all prehistoric occupations or activity loci on this property.  We also provided information on historic properties but, to do this subject justice, somebody will have to conduct an intensive search of all extant historic documents. 

            Future Prospects: The archaeological survey located all the prehistoric sites that are likely to be found out there.  Testing of the most promising of these, site 34Dl-145, established that it should be left alone but that no further archaeological work is advisable at this time.  Historic structures on this property have never been documented, so archival work is needed to establish their location and integrity. 

            Publications: Upon completion of the field work, a detailed report on the findings was submitted to the Saline Preservation Association, as well as to the State Archeologist.  Specific reports for the Oklahoma Site Files Database were submitted on the two new sites discovered.  In order to publicize this project and make people aware of the work that the SPA is doing, I have submitted to Oklahoma Archeology a summary report, entitled, “The Cherokee Saline Archaeological Project.”  It should appear some time in 2007. 


Walnut Creek
Saline Courthouse
Yale Bridge
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