The story of “The Cherokee” is about a family business that started in 1940 as “Ruth’s Gift Shop.” The owners were my grandparents, Ruth and James Wilson. They lived in an area of North Carolina known for hand-hooked rugs and chenille bedspreads. Ruth, James, and several of Ruth’s ten brothers & sisters went up north & set up a little roadside stand to sell their handicrafts in the summer. Out of necessity, my grandparents went “west” in search of yet another roadside rug stand. These locations were becoming harder & harder to find because of the nationwide interstate highway system being built.
Their search ended at Chelsea, Oklahoma, on old historic Route 66. It was fate because that is where their son, JP, met my mother, Jo Ella Garland. They married the year J.P. graduated from high school after concluding his four-year tour with the U.S.A. Navy, he & Jo Ella moved to Florida, where their first child, Randy Michael, was born. During this time, they decided they were working long hours and needed to go into business to shorten their work days. They realized the foolishness of those words more than once in the years ahead.
“Go west, young man” was their game plan to locate their rug stand. Their search ended 15 miles west of El Reno, Oklahoma, on old historic Route 66. They decided to call their little sip “The Cherokee” because by this time, the family had added souvenirs and moccasins made by the Cherokees in North Carolina on the Qualla Reservation. Jo Ella’s ancestors were also Cherokee. Like most of the rug stands, the living quarters were very primitive. They only had running water when it rained. Water entered the west door, ran through the house, and went out the east gate. They survived carrying all their water by bucket, the snake in the kitchen, and one-inch dust on the window sills. They preserved and saved their money over the next five years.
In 1962, their second child, Sheri Lynn, was born. That was a memorable year because that is also the year that Interstate 40 bypassed their little store. They were fortunate to purchase the property that is now the present Cherokee complex, or as some say, “the watering hole of western Oklahoma.” They opened the doors of two businesses in May of 1963: a standard gas station and a trading post. The first phase of “The Cherokee” was completed. It was soon evident that when people stopped to shop and refuel, they also wanted a place to eat. So J.P. again got out the napkin, with family and friends around, and drew one more blueprint. The Cherokee restaurant was built in 1965. That building burned to the ground in the fall of 1977. The present building was made, and the restaurant reopened in the spring of 1978.
In the next few years, there was a KOA Kampground and a 40-unit Best Western Motel to complete the present-day Cherokee complex. A Subway franchise was added in 1998. Without the vision of J.P., “The Cherokee” would not exist. He, indeed, was a visionary. My mother, father, and brother have all passed away, but I am still here, with the help of my children and nephew, hoping to carry on my parents’ vision of giving you the best experience possible when you stop.
Jo Ella had a motto we still live by at Cherokee Trading Post: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor vain to build it.” Psalm 127:1. She always reminded us that an unseen partner speaks distinctly and is our guide through the years.
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