, Muskogee, OK

February 20, 2013

Checotah museum takes shape

Spring opening is group’s goal; chili feed is latest fundraiser

By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer

— CHECOTAH — Rodeo stars, Creeks and other aspects of Checotah’s past are part of a museum that supporters hope to open this spring.

The Heartland Heritage Center takes up what once was a Chevrolet dealership at 114 N. Broadway.

Lloyd Jernigan, the chairman of the Heartland Heritage Center Trust, said the museum has been in the works for at least six years. Supporters have been bringing artifacts, pictures, news articles and other items to the museum space over the past two years.

“It’s been a poor man’s project,” Jernigan said. “When we get money, we move on and do something. Then we wait to get more money.”

A chili cook-off to benefit the heritage center will begin at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Checotah Senior Citizens Center. For a $5 fee, participants can sample various types of chili. This is the sixth year for the cook-off.

The cook-off’s chairwoman, Frankie Blagg, said she hopes it could bring in $4,000 to $5,000. The museum also has received other types of donations.

Blagg said she hoped to raise enough money to open the museum for two or three days a week this spring. Last year, the museum was open during special events, such as Old Settlers’ Day she said.

“Last summer, we had 18 to 20 people from England — they were with MillerCoors brewing. They emailed the chamber and wanted to see a rodeo,” said Jernigan, who also is the director of the Checotah Chamber of Commerce.

Checotah had no rodeos that weekend, but a bull-riding Buck-Out was scheduled for a Tuesday.

“They came over here to tour the museum, then went to the Buck-Out,” Jernigan recalled.

Over the past few years, the museum has received or collected items from area rodeo stars.

Checotah has been called the “Steer Wrestling Capital of the World” because of the number of “bulldogging” rodeo cowboys in its area. They include Roy and Sam Duvall, Billy Hale and Ote Berry. The museum has exhibit cases honoring the bulldoggers.

Other area rodeo winners, including barrel racer Betty Roper, also have exhibits at the museum.

In 2004, Wrangler Western Wear named a line of colorful Western-style men’s and boys’ shirts after the community. Examples of those shirts are on display at the museum.

Other displays honor Muscogee (Creek) Indians who settled the area. There is a bust of tribal Chief Samuel Checote, for whom the town is named. One corner of the main room has a film projector that was used in the old Gentry Theater.

Another room features enlarged pictures from Checotah’s past.

Supporters also hope to raise money for a second phase of the museum. Open space at the end of the old building would be used for the Native American items, Blagg said.

Checotah already has a museum, the Katy Depot Museum and Information Center, located in a former railroad station. The Depot’s collection includes memorabilia of the area railroads, pioneer businesses, Native Americans, military and the Battle of Honey Springs during the Civil War.

Jernigan said the Heartland Heritage Center is a complement to the Katy Depot Museum.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or

If you go

WHAT: Chili Cook-off benefiting Heartland Heritage Center.

WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE: Checotah Senior Citizens Center, 611 N. Broadway, Checotah.

COST: $5.