Cherokees helping turn historic plantation into living museum
Hunter’s Home in Park Hill was built in 1845. It is the last remaining pre-Civil War plantation in Oklahoma. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Greg McGee, Hunter’s Home livestock manager/outdoor historical interpreter, takes part in the site’s annual “May Day Celebration” on May 4 in Park Hill. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PARK HILL – Static for years, Oklahoma’s last remaining antebellum plantation is slowly becoming what its caretakers call a “living history” museum with livestock and crops.
“We want to have more things to offer to draw more people in other than a house museum,” Hunter’s Home historical interpreter Lisa Rutherford said. “We want them to have an experience. We want them to be able to experience life on an 1850 farm.”
Built in 1845, Hunter’s Home was established by George Michael Murrell, and is tied to the influential Cherokee family of John Ross, Cherokee Nation principal chief from 1828-66.
Rutherford, a Cherokee National Treasure for her pottery skills, works alongside other Cherokee Nation citizens such as site director David Fowler and livestock manager/outdoor historical interpreter Greg McGee.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” McGee said. “I retired from the federal government as a manager, and I wanted something totally different. We’re in the process of making this a living history museum. That’s why we have animals and bees, turkeys and chickens.”
Future additions will include sheep, an apple orchard and cider mill, sorghum and draft animals for plowing.
“We’re going to be fencing the entire property,” Rutherford said. “Then we’ll start to make the animal pens, the animal shelters. Later on we may get pigs and maybe a couple of cattle. But we’ve only got the 40 acres here. We’re going to try to operate it much like they did as a farm.”
The site, formerly known as the George M. Murrell Home, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Murrell, born to a prominent family in Lynchburg, Virginia, was married to Chief Ross’ niece, Minerva.
“When the Cherokees were forced to leave their homes during the Trail of Tears 1838-39, Murrell chose to move with his wife’s family to the new Nation in the West,” a historical biography states. “In Park Hill, Indian Territory, he established a plantation and built a large frame home similar to those he remembered in Virginia. He called the Greek Revival-style house Hunter’s Home because of his fondness for the fox hunt.”
Each October, Hunter’s Home plays host to the Antique Agriculture Festival, which celebrates the fall harvest. A park east of the home was previously closed because of budget cuts.
“It was just too expensive,” Rutherford said, “and there was a lot of crime there. We had constant vandalism and theft over there. Cars were getting broken into. They destroyed our bathrooms.”
Rutherford said she and other Hunter’s Home workers were “really excited” about upcoming changes.
“People are aggravated now that the park is gone, but if they’ll just be patient, it’s going to be so much better,” she said. “The nature trail will be cleaned up. They won’t have free access to it like in the past; they’re going to have to come through the house, pay admission and be out by closing. But we’re going to have it cleaned up where it’s safer, more attractive. We’re just wanting to get it back as much as we can to like when the Murrells lived here.”
Hunter’s Home is located at 19479 East Murrell Home Road. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors 62 and older, $4 for students, $18 for families and free for children 5 and under and veterans/active military. For more information, call 918-456-2751 or visit okhistory.org