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A Town Burning Down and a Phoenix on the Rise

February 19, 2003

Almanac Transcript

A town burning down and a Phoenix on the rise this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I’m Steven Knoche Kite.

The story of the Cherokee citizen Sequoyah or George Guess as he was called should be well known to most Oklahomans. As the creator of the Cherokee alphabet Sequoyah did more to advance the Cherokee Nation than possibly any other single person. Bewildered by the ability of Euro-Americans to “talk on paper,” and convinced that he could do the same, Sequoyah set about creating an alphabet for the Cherokees.

After years of failed attempts a successful series of letters emerged allowing Sequoyah and his daughter to talk on paper. Once the pair had successfully demonstrated their ability to write, read and understand each other, the alphabet gained the approval of the tribal officials. Important beyond description, the existence of a written language allowed for, among other things, the rapid dissemination of information.

The Cherokees quickly put their alphabet to work in the form of The Cherokee Phoenix, the tribes first newspaper. It was in this week of 1828 that the first Cherokee newspaper in the history of the known world moved from presses into the hands of eager citizens and paperboys around the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee Phoenix as a news source lives on in the form of a quarterly publication of the Cherokee Nation and in the name of the current Muskogee paper, The Muskogee Daily Phoenix. Much like the Phoenix rising to success so did the town of Muskogee rise up again from the ashes of the disastrous fire of 1899.

News of a building or house catching on fire was not unusual in the days of kerosene lamps, wood burning stoves and the dependence on fireplaces for warmth. It was in this week of 1899 that not just a fire but a raging inferno erupted in Muskogee, one of the most progressive and forward thinking cities of the territory. So the story goes, early around five in the morning someone attempting to start a fire poured kerosene over coals with the subsequent explosion eventually setting most of the downtown ablaze. The fire burned out of control as the zero degree temperature, high winds and insufficient equipment prevented any successful attempts at controlling the blaze. It was in this week of 1899 that citizens in Muskogee looked out upon the smoldering charred remains and set about rebuilding what had been the largest business district in eastern Oklahoma.

A paper Phoenix and Muskogee rising from the ashes this week on the Almanac.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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