The Sooner State has a pretty wild past. From ancient Native American burial mounds to the outlaws who looted them, shootouts, ghost towns, and more, Oklahoma has been bringing excitement and adventure since before it was even a state! Dive into the incredible stories of the mysterious Spiro Mounds, the hideouts of outlaws like Jesse James, and more. Explore the incredible past of Oklahoma's Choctaw Country on this scenic cruise rich in history.
The history of this region doesn't start with the settlers, and it doesn't even start with the Choctaw Nation; back around 900 C.E., the Northern Caddoan Mississippian Indians began building a complex of earthworks and homes with grass-thatched roofs. They occupied the site until nearly 1450 C.E., using the mounds for religious ceremonies, burials of important political figures, and more. Craig Mound, one of the larger earthen mounds at the site, was a kind of American King Tut's tomb, as it was found that people were buried here along with objects like baskets, cloth, shell carvings, tools, and more. You can visit the site and see the mounds the Caddo painstakingly built, along with some of the artifacts recovered from the site. It's pretty incredible to see earthworks built so long ago still standing. This is believed to be one of the four most important archaeological sites east of the Rockies.
Eat like an outlaw (or a modern-day one, at least) at Talihina's Outlaw Bar-B-Que. Once a take-out only operation, it’s become so popular that the owners opened a sit-down location where you can chow down on smoked chicken and beef, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, and more alongside bikers who cruise here off the Talimena Scenic Byway to grab a bite to eat. This is the real deal when it comes to barbecue!
Located in the former Choctaw Council House, a gorgeous 1880s-era building, the Choctaw National Capitol Museum & Gift Shop is a must-visit for anyone in the area. You can learn about early and modern-day Choctaw culture and art and browse the carefully curated museum exhibits. Here, you can get insight into the Trail of Tears, and learn about the Choctaw Code Talkers. These were Choctaw men who pioneered the use of Native American languages for military code. During World War I, American officials found that because German soldiers spoke perfect English, it was easy for them to crack codes in intercepted messages. But, since Native American languages, like Choctaw, had no basis in English and had never even been written down, it was impossible for the Germans to decipher the messages. The use of Native American languages in coded military messages continued through WWII and played a major role in that war as well, thanks to the Choctaw who helped develop it.
The forest is crisscrossed by trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, and you'll find caves and bluffs aplenty to explore. The sandstone cliffs are perfect for climbing and rappelling, and the park encompasses three lakes where you can swim, boat, and fish to your heart's content. The land was originally developed as a Boy Scout camp (and the first facilities were built by skilled prisoners!) and then it was turned into a state park, which the CCC developed further during the Great Depression. The name comes from the fact that numerous gangs and outlaws used the caves and crannies here as hideouts. Who knows... maybe you'll even find treasure left behind from Belle Starr, Jesse James, the Daltons, or the Rufus Buck Gang as you hike along.
Scour McAlester's Old Town Historic District's many antique shops for a one-of-a-kind souvenir to take home and commemorate your tour through Oklahoma's crazy history. You can also make an appointment to tour the J.J. McAlester Mansion, the home of the town's founder and a character from the novel and movie "True Grit.” Check out the old post office, courthouse, and restored filling stations as you wander the charming area. Stop and grab a bite to eat at the Whistle Stop Cafe, a local favorite.
Located on the McGee Creek Reservoir, McGee Creek State Park is an incredible destination for lakeshore fun and scenic beauty. North of the park, you'll find the McGee Creek Natural Scenic Recreation Area, which offers even more camping, hiking, canoeing, bouldering, and fishing. Boat ramps, horseback riding trails, and rustic lake huts right on the water are additional reasons to spend a day immersed in the scenery here.
With burial mounds filled with treasure, military code talkers, outlaw hideouts tucked away among lakeshore bluffs, and quaint towns loaded with quirky antiques, Oklahoma's crazy past shows through today in its interesting destinations and attractions. Add in loads of stunning scenery and some delicious eateries, and you've got a trip through Choctaw Country that's well worth taking!
Whether you’re looking to wander off the beaten path, explore hidden gems, take a peek into the past, or enjoy beautiful scenery as you cruise, Choctaw Country in Southeastern Oklahoma has all the makings of the great American road trip.