Lake Tenkiller

Photo Credits:

· Man with little girl pointing
       out to water: Barb Downard
· Boys jumping off
       rocks: Jeannie Thompson
· Jetskier: Marion Carpenter
Lake Tenkiller

Area History & Communities

Original store in early 1900's.

George Stratton Grocery in the 1940's.

Store and Cabins before relocation.

Store and Cabins in the 50's after relocation to higher ground.

A popular question asked by tourists is how Tenkiller Lake came by its unique name. In 1947, construction was begun on the Tenkiller Ferry Dam across the Illinois River. The lake was named after the Tenkillers, a prominent Cherokee family who owned land and operated a ferry service near the site where the dam now stands. Legend has it that during the "Trail of Tears" era, the Cherokee warrior was given his name by the soldiers and pioneers at Fort Gibson because of the ten notches in his bow.

Another interesting part of history concerns the town of Cookson, Oklahoma. The town took its name from Jack Cookson, who operated the local post office from his home, while the area was still Indian Territory, before Oklahoma statehood. The town was located on the shore of the Illinois River near the Cookson Bluff area, and over the next few years became a central point of business for the surrounding residents. One of the first buildings in the area was the Ballew Brothers’ Store. The Ballews had settled along the Illinois River under what is now known as the Cookson Bluffs, and operated the community store supplying local residents with everything from food, to guns and tools. Some years later, the George Stratton family took over the operation of the store, which by then was also the location of the local post office. The first floor of the building housed the store and the post office, while the top floor of the structure was home for the Anti-Thief Association. The store was a popular gathering place for the growing community, and served as a place to vote during elections. In 1947, the U.S. Corps of Engineers began construction of the Tenkiller Dam to create Tenkiller Lake. Several of the structures from the town were moved to higher ground. Among these were the old store and several small cabins which were relocated to their present location on Hwy. 82, next to the Post Office in Cookson. If you are passing through Cookson, you may want to stop and with the owners of what is now called the Cookson Coutry Store and Cabins. The store is still a popular gathering place and a great source of information. Several structures from the old town could not be moved, were left behind at the bottom of the lake, and are popular underwater destinations for scuba divers.



In the 1890’s, the Ballew family settled on the gentle, crystal clear Illinois River. The location of the homestead was under a bluff that span over 200 feet high. In the early 1890’s the Ballew family operated the Ballew Brother’s Store that supplied the local families with everything from guns, general household goods, wagons to even custom built caskets. In 1947, the Corps of Engineers started to build a dam across the Illinois River, creating Lake Tenkiller. All of the affected structures that could be moved were relocated to higher ground. Many of the structures that were moved are still being used today. What you may know as the Cookson County Store is the original store that was located on the river and operated by the George Sratton family. The structures that could not be moved are now covered by beautiful Lake Tenkiller.

Today, Cookson is a hub of activitiy. Located on the east side of the lake, Cookson has the only airport available on the lakeshore. There is a 2,600 foot runway with an attendant always on duty to serve flying visitors to the lake area. Cookson is also home to many businesses to serve visitors. From restaurants to convenience stores, dive shops to hardware and propane sales, Cookson is here to meet your needs.


Keys is located just south of Tahlequah, on Highway 82. Travelers will notice how quickly this little town is becoming the hub of restaurants, convenience stores, boat repair, and the home of Jimmy Houston’s Outdoor Store. There are two banks, hair salons, a donut shop, a hotel, a new high school, and several real estate agencies to help those with relocation in mind.


Established in 1829, and known as Deep Branch, Gore was originally a Cherokee Indian community and was a connection between the Indian’s way of life and that of the white man. Cherokee tribal court was held at Deep Branch until 1839. The town has had several names throughout its history, the second coming in 1846, when it was changed to Foreman’s Landing. It was later changed to Campbell, after Dr. W.W. Campbell, a local doctor and businessman. The town was renamed Gore in 1909 after the Honorable Thomas P. Gore, the first U.S. Senator of Oklahoma. Today, Gore is knows as the "Trout Capitol of Oklahoma," as it offers year-round trout fishing on the nearby lower Illinois River. The new Steve Owens Sports Complex is on Hwy. 64, east of downtown, and includes a walking trail and facilities for baseball, softball, soccer and football. Antique enthusiasts will enjoy the variety of shops found along Main Street. For further information write or call the Gore Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 970, Gore, OK 74435 (918) 489-2534. Visit their website at


Sallisaw, county seat of Sequoyah County, is located at the edge of the famed Cookson Hills to the north and the navigation channel of the Arkansas River to the south. Its name is from the French "salaisiau" meaning "salt provision." Indians, early settlers, explorers and trappers were familiar with the natural salt deposits found by many nearby streams.

Today, Sallisaw is an expanding center for commerce and tourism. Lake for fishing and water sports, drives to historical landmarks, horse racing at Oklahoma’s first pari-mutual track -- Blue Ribbon Downs, state parks for camping and hiking, golf, tennis (or just relaxing) all begin and end in Sallisaw.

For specific information on Sallisaw: Sallisaw Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 252 (111 North Elm), Sallisaw, OK 74955, (918) 775-2558.


Legend has it, the name Tahlequah was chosen for the new homeland of the Cherokee Tribe upon their arrival from Georgia on the "Trail of Tears." Three chiefs were to meet and select its name, but when only two chiefs showed up for the meeting, they said "Tahlequah" which in the Cherokee language means "Two is enough." Tahlequah has often been referred to as one of the most historically significant cities west of the Mississippi, and is located just 12 miles north of Tenkiller Lake on Highway 82. Rich in Native American history, Tahlequah has been the home of the Cherokee Nation since 1841. There are several historic homes in the area. Three miles south of town is "Hunter’s Home" or the George M. Murrell homesite. The Murrell home is the only remaining antebellum home in Oklahoma.  Information on this home and a self-guided tour package is available from the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce. The Cherokee Heritage Center, located just outside of Tahlequah is another interesting tourist stop. It offers visitors a unique look back into the history of the Cherokee Nation. Tahlequah has been voted the 55th Best Small Town in America. From the many beautiful historic homes, to the popular Illinois River Balloon Fest, and the rambling campus of Northeastern State University, to scenic float trips on the beautiful Illinois River, Tahlequah has something for everyone. For more information contact the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-456-4860 or visit their website: for inquiries concerning the Cherokee Nation, please call (918) 456-0617 or visit their website: *For a tour of Tahlequah attractions and accommodations visit ****


Vian’s history began as a trading post in the mid-1800’s and was established as a town in 1902. It is uncertain where the name Vian came from, but one popular version is that the town was named after an early settler, George Vi. The second syllable, "an" was added making it Vian, which in the Cherokee language means "garfish."

Vian is located 9 miles south of Tenkiller Lake on Highway 82, just off Interstate 40 and is a quiet, friendly, family community with emphasis on its youth. High School sports is at the forefront, as the town rallies around their "Wolverines."

Just south of Vian on Highway 82, you will find the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge. The American bald eagle, along with thousands of Canada and snow geese, take up residence at the refuge each year. Whitetail deer, wild turkey and several species of duck are abundant as well as mink, otter and beaver. If you are a bird watcher you will enjoy the many species of non-game and native song birds that frequent the wildlife refuge daily.

For more pictures of Lake Tenkiller, click here.
Photos are by Ron Day.