The formal education of the Cherokee people began with the invention of their alphabet by Sequoyah in 1821. Because the Bible and their newspapers were published in their own language, illiteracy was practically unknown among the Cherokees.
Before the removal of the Cherokees to Oklahoma, better known as the Trail of Tears, the original Cherokee schools were established in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina by the Presbyterians, as well as the Moravian and Baptist missionaries, at the beginning of the 19thCentury. Free tuition for the Native Americans was furnished with each mission. When they were moved to this area, many of the teachers and religious workers came with them. Without the missionary societies, Cherokee schools probably would not have existed. The Council realized the good results of these schools and appropriated funds to construct new buildings. Consequently, education advanced rapidly until the Civil War.
Unfortunately, the Civil War brought the closing of the schools, and the buildings were destroyed or badly damaged. When the Cherokees returned to this area, they started the task of rebuilding their schools as they realized the importance of education for their people. They repaired and reopened male and female seminaries near Tahlequah whose buildings were closed at the outbreak of the Civil War. During the War, these buildings were occupied by soldiers from each of the armies at various times. With the newly repaired schools, the Cherokee students made great progress in education. In 1919, the female seminary was sold to the State and became the Northeastern State Teachers’ College. Fire destroyed the male seminary, and the grounds were sold for farming.
WEST POINT SCHOOL
Probably the first school established in what is now Rogers County was West Point, and it was located about two miles southeast of Claremore. In 1869, the citizens of the neighborhood built a log school house which was only 16 feet by 20 feet in size. Four times a day, two students were sent for a bucket of water a quarter a mile away. Some of the students rode their horses eight miles to reach the school. Later, a new frame West Point school was built east of West Point Spring. This school was also used as a church. Some of the students’ names will sound familiar to you: Chambers, Starr, Schrimshere, Ross, Gunter, Fry, Ramsey, Coker, and Rogers. The children of Clem Rogers stayed with their cousins, the Schrimsheres, during the week to attend school and went home for the weekend.
The story of the Oowala School and community is in reality the life of the Lipe family, who had much to do with the education of the Cherokee people. Oliver Lipe was a white man who was given the name “Oowala” by the Cherokee people. In 1839, he married Katherine Gunter, a half-blood Cherokee girl whom he had met in Indian Territory. They became the parents of DeWitt Clinton (called Major) and Clark Casper (known as Jake.) After the Civil War, they settled near Claremore Mound after the Osage Indians were removed. This would be northwest of Claremore. The Oowala community was named after Major Lipe as he was a man of culture and high ideals. He settled in the community in 1872 and established the first store, post office, and the Oowala School. In 1881, he provided a one-room log building, which had been a granary. A new modern school was built in 1884 with a storm cellar as they feared tornadoes. Drinking water was carried in buckets from the well at the store that was one-fourth mile west. Major Lipe’s store and the school was the center of activity in the Cooweescoowee district. The families in the Oowala community brought their charm and culture from the old south with them.
CLAREMORE’S FIRST SCHOOL
Four miles northeast of Claremore was Kephart Springs Courthouse for the Cherokee Indian government for this district. It was originally called Henry Springs, but became known as the Kephart Springs after the Kepharts established their boarding house near there in 1878.
The courthouse was moved to Claremore Station about 1890. The first school ever opened in Claremore was held in the Kephart Springs Courthouse which had been moved to the new village.