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Tahlequah, Oklahoma
Downtown Tahlequah
Downtown Tahlequah
"City Of Firsts"
Location within Cherokee County and the state of Oklahoma
Location within Cherokee County and the state of Oklahoma
Country United States
State Oklahoma
County Cherokee
Cherokee Nation founded 1838; second capital city
 • Total 12.45 sq mi (32.2 km2)
 • Land 12.45 sq mi (32.2 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
797 ft (243 m)
 • Total 16,359
 • Density 1,314.0/sq mi (508.0/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 539/918
FIPS code 40-72100
GNIS feature ID 1098721

Tahlequah (/ˈtælkwɑː/ TAL-ə-kwah; Cherokee: ᏓᎵᏆ) is a city in Cherokee County, Oklahoma, United States located at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It is part of the Green Country region of Oklahoma and was established as a capital of the 19th-century Cherokee Nation in 1839, as part of the new settlement in Indian Territory after the Cherokee Native Americans were forced west from the American Southeast on the Trail of Tears.

The city's population was 15,753 at the 2010 census, an increase of 8.96 percent from 14,458 at the 2000 census. The 2014 estimated population is 16,496.

It is the county seat of Cherokee County. The main campus of Northeastern State University is located in the city. Tahlequah is the capital of the two federally recognized Cherokee tribes based in Oklahoma, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the modern Cherokee Nation.



Cherokee stop sign
Cherokee stop sign with Cherokee language transliteration and the Cherokee syllabary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with "alehwisdiha" (also spelled "halehwisda") meaning "stop"
Cwy no parking
Cherokee traffic sign in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reading "tla adi yigi", meaning "no parking" from "tla" meaning "no"

Many linguists believe the word 'Tahlequah' (Tah-le-quah) and the word 'Teh-li-co' are the same as 'di li gwa,' the Cherokee word for grain or rice. (See Cherokee Nation Lexicon (dikaneisdi) at under culture/language). Scholars report the Cherokee word 'di li gwa' describes a type of native grain with a red hue that grew in the flat open areas of east Tennessee. One area, Great Tellico (Tellico Plains, Tennessee), was named for the grass with the red seed tops. Others interpret a word 'tel-i-quah' as 'plains;' however, there is no word for 'plains' in the Cherokee lexicon, and the word 'tel-i-quah' is not found in the lexicon. The idea that 'tahlequah' means 'plains' lends weight to the belief that the name refers to the wide open grassy areas of Great Tellico.

Another explanation is the name Tahlequah came from the Cherokee words Ta-li (meaning two) and Ye-li-quu (enough). The story goes that when the Cherokee came to Tahlequah there were supposed to be 3 different Chiefs at the meeting. For whatever reason the 3rd Chief was delayed. The people said "two is enough" or ta-li-ye-li-quu which later became anglicanized to Tahlequah.

When the Cherokee first arrived in the Tahlequah area, they noticed the native grasses that grew in the open areas around the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. This reminded them of the grassy open ‘Overhill’ areas of Tellico, so they called their new home 'di li gwa' (tah-le-quah or teh-li-co), the open place where the grass grows.

Local legend states the name is derived from Cherokee words meaning 'just two' or 'two is enough.' Supposedly three tribal elders had planned to meet to determine the location of the Cherokee Nation's permanent capital. Two elders arrived and waited for the third. As dusk approached, they decided that 'two is enough.' According to tribal elders and Cherokee County elders, this legend first began to circulate in the 1930s. Tahlequah was a settlement as early as 1832. After the Western Cherokee agreed in 1834 to let the newer migrants settle near them, they joined their government with the Eastern Cherokee at Tahlequah in 1839. Tahlequah was named long before it was chosen as the Cherokee capital.

Cherokee Nation capital

In 1839, Tahlequah was designated the capital of ancestors of both the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians. Initially the government buildings were a complex of log or framed structures. Most of these buildings were destroyed during the Civil War, during which the Cherokee became divided into two bitterly opposing sides.

After the war, a brick capitol was built and first occupied in 1870. In 1907, at the time of Oklahoma statehood, the building was converted into the Cherokee County courthouse. It was returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1970.

Several markers of Cherokee and Native American heritage are found in town: street signs and business signs are noted in both the Cherokee language and English. Such signs use the syllabary created by Sequoyah, a Cherokee scholar of the 1820s who created the writing system.

The Cherokee Supreme Court Building, located in downtown Tahlequah and constructed in 1844, is the oldest public building in Oklahoma.


Tahlequah is located at 35°54′55″N 94°58′12″W / 35.91528°N 94.97°W / 35.91528; -94.97 (35.9153700, -94.9699560). The city has a total area of 12.45 square miles (32.2 km²), all land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1900 1,482
1910 2,891 95.1%
1920 2,271 −21.4%
1930 2,495 9.9%
1940 3,027 21.3%
1950 4,750 56.9%
1960 5,840 22.9%
1970 9,254 58.5%
1980 9,708 4.9%
1990 10,398 7.1%
2000 14,458 39.0%
2010 15,753 9.0%
Est. 2015 16,598 5.4%
2013 Estimate
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the 2010 census, there were 15,753 people, 6,111 households, and 3,351 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,312.75 per square mile (506.5/km²). There were 6,857 housing units at an average density of 571.4 per square mile (220.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 53.8% White, 2.4% African American, 30.0% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 3.7% from other races, and 8.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 9.8% of the population.

Out of 6,111 households, 25.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.5% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.2% were non-families. 34.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.99.

In the city, the population was spread out with 21.1% under the age of 18, 23.6% from 18 to 24, 24.3% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 12.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 27.8 years. For every 100 females there were 93.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.2 males.

As of 2013, the median household income was $29,114 and the median family income was $43,940. Males had a median income of $32,475 versus $27,939 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,003. About 20.7% of families and 33.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 43.2% of those under age 18 and 21.8% of those age 65 or over.

Many people in Tahlequah speak Cherokee, and there is a Cherokee language immersion school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, that educates students from pre-school through eighth grade with the Cherokee language as the medium of instruction, and no English.

In media

  • Tahlequah is featured in the well-known book, Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls.
  • Tahlequah was once named as the fictional "home office" for the Top Ten Lists on Late Night with David Letterman.
  • Tahlequah is mentioned several times in Mark Twain's 1892 novel The American Claimant as the origin of a bank robber named One-Armed Pete.
  • Tahlequah is visited by the main characters in "Westward of the Law" by Matt Braun.

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