Tahlequah (Cherokee: , pronounced /tælɨkwɑː/ tal-ə-kwah) is a city in Cherokee County, Oklahoma, United States located at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It was founded as a capitol of the original Cherokee Nation in 1838 to welcome those Cherokee forced west on the Trail of Tears. The city's population was 15,753 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Cherokee County. The main campus of Northeastern State University is located in the city. Tahlequah is also the capital of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the modern Cherokee Nation.
Many linguists believe the word ‘Tahlequah’ (Tah-le-quah) and the word ‘Teh-li-co’ are the same as ‘di li gwa,’ the Cherokee word for grain or rice. (See Cherokee Nation Lexicon (dikaneisdi) at cherokee.org under culture/language. Scholars report the Cherokee word ‘di li gwa’ describes a type of native grain, with a red hue that grew in the flat open areas of east Tennessee. One particular area, Great Tellico (Tellico Plains TN), was named for the grass with the red seed tops that grew in the flat open areas. Others interpret a word ‘tel-i-quah’ as ‘plains;’ however, there is no word for ‘plains’ in the Cherokee lexicon and the word ‘tel-i-quah’ is not found in the lexicon. The idea that ‘tahlequah’ means ‘plains’ lends weight to the belief that the name refers to the wide open grassy areas of Great Tellico (Tellico Plains TN). When the Cherokees first arrived in the Tahlequah OK area, they viewed the native grasses that grew in the open areas around the foothills of the Ozarks. It reminded them of the grassy open ‘Overhill’ areas of Tellico, so they called their new home ‘di li gwa’ (tah-le-quah or teh-li-co), the open place where the grass grows.
Local legend states the name is derived from Cherokee words meaning 'just two' or 'two is enough.' Supposedly three tribal elders had planned to meet to determine the location of the Cherokee Nation's permanent capital. Two elders arrived and waited for the third. As dusk approached, they decided that 'two is enough.' According to tribal elders and Cherokee County elders, this legend first began to circulate in the 1930s. Tahlequah was a settlement as early as 1832 and the Eastern and Western Cherokees joined their governments at Tahlequah in 1839. Tahlequah had a name long before it was chosen as the Cherokee capital.