Whether a person’s interest is shopping, fishing, scenery, wildlife, local history or just something delicious to eat, Tishomingo and the southeastern Oklahoma hills that surround Johnston County beckon. Throw in some live country music and your journey will surely be memorable.
Tishomingo is one of the oldest towns in Oklahoma, with its first post office established in 1857. It was also the original capital of the Chickasaw Nation after the tribe was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in the 1800s, named for the great Chickasaw chief Tishomingo (who died on the difficult journey). The tribe’s story is told in the Chickasaw Council House and Museum, located close to downtown.
A city of just over 3,000 residents, Tishomingo is the seat of Johnston County, and, despite its size, offers multiple entertainment options.
“We are all about southern hospitality,” says Jordyn Frazier, executive director of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce. “On the sidewalks, people still look at you and smile.”
There is much to smile about in Tishomingo; the economy is rebounding after the statewide shutdown to fight COVID-19. Frazier says several new businesses have opened downtown as of late, including a wine bar and an event center.
Spurring much of downtown’s activity is Ole Red, a sprawling bar, restaurant and entertainment hub opened in 2017 by country megastar Blake Shelton, born in Ada. The name comes from Shelton’s chart-topping 2002 eponymous smash hit. Ole Red’s website describes the place as “a lot like Blake himself: laid-back and genuine … a bit irreverent but always fun – and all about the music.” The joint opened about a year after a similar venture, The Pink Pistol, closed next door. (The closed venue was owned by another prolific country artist, and Shelton’s ex-wife, Miranda Lambert.) Frazier says Ole Red has brought a “whole different dynamic” to town.
“Now we have a lot of car clubs, older couples and bikers coming,” she says.
Also to be found among downtown businesses is a retail store operated by the local higher education institution, Murray State College. Murray on Main carries home accessories, furniture, clothing, college textbooks and a bridal registry, provides the college an income stream and offers its students employment and retail experience.
The two-year college itself is interwoven into Tishomingo life.
“Our mission is to enhance the community,” says Cheryl Phelps, Murray’s communication director. “Any college town is a benefit to the community. It brings in diversity and supports local businesses.”
Frazier echoes: “It’s insane how much they contribute to the community. It’s a huge economic driver for us.”
The Chickasaw Nation remains a major presence in Tishomingo and operates an all-encompassing visitor center on Main Street that Frazier says is a must-visit. The original Council House and the Bank of the Chickasaw Nation Building are also open to visitors.
No trip to Johnston County can be considered complete without a visit to the nearby Tishomingo Wildlife Refuge, maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s a haven for year-round fishing and for photographers looking to snap some shots of wildlife. Rick Cantu, refuge manager, says he’s awaiting word on when a grand opening date for a newly-constructed visitors center – delayed by the pandemic – can be announced.
Murray State College: