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First Chickasaw Business, Historic Artesian Hotel, Draws Guests to Sulphur, Okla.

The city of Sulphur in south-central Oklahoma may have less than 5,000 residents, but the area is attracting visitors from near and far who come to stay at a historic property that has welcomed guests like John Wayne and Roy Rogers. As the first business owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation, the hotel has a storied history.

The original Artesian Hotel opened its doors in 1906 and was named for the Artesian wells on the property. The five-story hotel had one of the largest hotel lobbies in the west during that era and featured marble floors and mosaic tiles.

Guests during that era included movie stars like Wayne and Rogers, former president and chief Justice William Howard Taft and Oklahoma Gov. William “Alfalfa Bill” Murray.

But when a fire started in the hotel lounge in 1962, it burned the hotel to the ground. A travel lodge was built in its place, and when it went into foreclosure in 1972, the Chickasaw Nation purchased the property.

The tribe renamed the property the Chickasaw Motor Inn and watched as the venture became a success. According to Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, the Chickasaw Motor Inn earned $100,000 during its first year of business. The inn also served as the tribe’s headquarters for several years.

Courtesy Chickasaw Nation

An original phonograph from the Artesian Hotel.

In 2010, the Chickasaw Nation broke ground on the new Artesian Hotel and Casino, a luxury property melding historical elements with modern amenities. The new Artesian opened on Aug. 2, 2013.

“We’ve seen that this is just a groundswell of support at the facilities in Sulphur and people are so proud of the facilities in Sulpur,” said Nick Starns, Artesian area general manager. “People are familiar with the Artesian. The property has revitalized the town.”

He said more businesses have been drawn to the area thanks to the hotel, including boutiques, small business owners and strip malls.

The current four-story Artesian features 81 rooms, a large exercise room, spa, pool and casino. The property is nearby the Chickasaw National Recreation Area and the Chickasaw Cultural Center, which features museums and exhibits exploring the history and culture of the Chickasaw Nation. The Cultural Center is hosting lectures that tie into the anniversary of the Artesian, Starns said.

Since purchasing the inn in 1972, the Chickasaw Nation has grown exponentially. The tribe employed just 25 people when the inn was purchased; today more than 12,000 people work for the nation.

Though Sulphur has a long history with the Chickasaw Nation, it is not where the tribal headquarters is currently located. That’s in Ada, Oklahoma, 30 miles northeast of the Artesian and the city of Sulphur.

“It’s in a very historical spot for the tribe,” Starns said of the city of Sulphur.

Miles and Gaynelle Schultze had their wedding night dinner at the original Artesian back in 1958. The couple, who had graduated from college on May 30 and got married in Denton, Texas, on June 1, drove to Sulphur and spotted the grand hotel.

“It was just a majestic building,” Miles, 79, recalled.

Each had the same meal in the dining room: chicken fried steak and fries and a salad.

But as recent college graduates who were newly married, Miles and Gaynelle couldn’t afford to actually spend the night at The Artesian. Instead, they stayed at a motel down the street.

“It was just very memorable,” says Gaynelle, 80. “We were just so hungry. It was just sort of the beginning of a long and happy marriage.”

Years later, however, the couple finally got the opportunity to do what they couldn’t afford to do on their wedding night — spend the night at the Artesian. It was the newly built Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa and the couple was celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary.

The couple enjoyed the same chicken fried steak as they had nearly six decades earlier — only this time around the chicken fried steak was a bit smaller, but just as delicious, Miles said.