The Cherokee Nation is building a public archery range near the tribe’s main complex in Tahlequah. It is the first range to ever be built on tribal lands, and will become only the third public archery park in Oklahoma.
The Joe Thornton Archery Range, opening by Labor Day weekend in a field just west of the tribe’s complex, will bear the name of Cherokee Nation citizen Joe Thornton, the 1961 World Archery Champion.
The 99-year-old Thornton was surprised with the honor on Wednesday at a groundbreaking attended by Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma Wildlife Department officials.
“The Cherokee people have a long and culturally significant history with archery, but no modern-day Cherokee is more famous with a bow than Joe Thornton,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “He’s been a teacher of the sport, so as we build this range for archery students, hunters, cornstalk and target shooters, it was natural to name it after the greatest archer in the Cherokee Nation.”
Thornton learned to shoot a bow and arrow in high school at Chilocco Indian School in north central Oklahoma. After serving in the Army, he returned to Oklahoma, found several archery clubs and began competing.
“I’m very happy to see a good archery range here and would like to see other archers come along and be world champions. I believe it is a possibility,” Thornton said. “It feels great. I owe the archers in this country something.”
Thornton won the World Archery Championship in Oslo, Norway, in 1961 and the British National Championship in 1962. He was a member of the USA World Champion Archery team.
The Cherokee Nation is providing the land for the archery range. Fifty thousand dollars to help build the park was provided by the Archery Trade Association, which helps states start archery parks. The Oklahoma Wildlife Department provides archery kits to schools so they may attend the range.
“We’re putting money into schools in this area to give them an opportunity to shoot at the range,” Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Education Supervisor Colin Berg said. “One of the popular features is a tower stand. A lot of hunters like to hunt off the ground, and finding a place to practice in Tahlequah is not always easy. Climbing onto a 12-foot stand to shoot at targets instead of hanging one in your backyard and worrying about whether an arrow will go across the fence is a great thing to offer the community.”
There are 500 schools with archery programs in Oklahoma. Currently Coweta and McAlester have public ranges. The Joe Thornton Archery Range will be the third.
The park will feature a 70-meter Olympic style range with a 125-foot awning to shield archers from the weather. There will also be a tower, restrooms and a 3D range.
The Cherokee Nation education services department offers archery camps each summer. The range will also be used for cornstalk competitions. For more information on the archery park, call coordinator Brian Jackson at 918-453-5000, extension 7053.