OKEMAH, Oklahoma — I’m out here, eight hundred miles from my home. Like a rambler before me, I am walking down a road others have gone down.
In driving recently from Tulsa to Plano, Texas, I looked at a map to see how far out of the way Okemah, Oklahoma, the hometown of folk singer Woody Guthrie, was. It turned out that it wasn’t too far out of the way, making it the perfect sidetrack.
Of course, Tulsa is home to the Woody Guthrie Center, a museum dedicated to a man who wrote more than 3,500 songs. Perhaps today, he is best remembered for penning “This Land is Your Land.”
It’s also home to the Bob Dylan Center, honoring the great singer/songwriter who drew early inspiration from Guthrie.
Okemah, a town of roughly 3,000 residents, is named after a Kickapoo Indian chief. Railroad surveyors Perry Rodkey and H.R. Dexter selected the site, and Dexter apparently chose the town’s name.
In 1908, Okemah was selected as the county seat of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma, formed the year before.
Over the years, many in town didn’t hold a candle for Guthrie, irked by his politics. Opinions have mellowed over the years, and the community has seized the opportunity to honor the Dust Bowl balladeer.
In 1994, artist DeAnna Mauldin painted a mural honoring Guthrie on the side of a building downtown.
A few years later, in 1998, town leaders opted to rename Division Street Woody Guthrie Street. On July 18 of that year, 86 years and four days after his birth, the community unveiled a statue, created by Creek Indian sculptor Dan Brook, in a downtown park of the folk balladeer.
While Guthrie’s boyhood homestead, the London House, no longer stands, a carved tree stands on the site of the former two-story, six-room house.
One last memorial to Guthrie is in Highland Cemetery, established in 1908. Although Guthrie was cremated after his death in 1967, a memorial marker for Guthrie is located in his family plot, which is also the final resting place of his father, Charles Edward “Charley” Guthrie; mother, Nora Belle Sherman Guthrie; and his older sister and brother.