Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift
By Kara Briggs
WASHINGTON – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian recently received notice of a bequest from Cherokee citizen Mary Golda Ross, who died in 2008 three months shy of her 100th birthday.
Ross joined 25,000 Native people who help open the museum in 2004. Now her gift, invested in the museum’s endowment, will help perpetuate the NMAI’s cultural and educational mission for future generations.
“She was a mathematician, and she knew if you gave a large scholarship it would be gone in a year,” her niece Evelyn Ross McMillan said. “But if you gave to endowment the principal would continue to give.”
Though no dollar amount was given, NMAI officials called the gift “generous.”
“She was a strong-willed, independent woman who was ahead of her time,” said Norbert Hill, chairman of the NMAI’s board of trustees.
Ross, whose Cherokee lineage includes former Principal Chief John Ross, was a rocket scientist who spent her 99 years of life looking mostly into the future.
Born in 1908 in the foothills of the Ozarks, she was one year younger than the state of Oklahoma. A gifted child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah to attend school. At 16, she enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers College.
“When I went to the college to enroll, they asked me what I wanted for my major subject. I said, ‘What’s a major subject?’” she said later in life. “The person finally said, ‘What did you have the most fun with when you were in high school?’
She said she answered math, of course and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1928. She taught math and science for nine years in nearby high schools. But by 1937, Ross asked herself if she was going to go out and see the world or stay in Oklahoma.
She took a civil service exam and was hired as a statistical clerk at the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. There, a Cherokee woman from the Department of Education noticed her.
“We can’t waste you here,” the official said. “You’re an Indian with a degree and experience in teaching. We need you in the field.”
In 1937, she was sent to Santa Fe, N.M., to work as the girls’ advisor at a school for American Indian artists. The school later became the Institute of American Indian Art. In the summers Ross pursued a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Northern Colorado.
While there, she took astronomy classes and read every book about the stars. But it was while visiting friends in California when she heard that the Lockheed Corp., short of skilled workers upon the outbreak of World War II, was looking for people with her technical background. She was hired as a mathematician in 1942.
She was assigned to work with the engineering staff on the effects of pressure on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane as it neared the sound barrier and improving the aero elasticity of that first plane so large it had to be treated as a flexible body.
After the war, Lockheed sent her to the University of California at Los Angeles to get a professional certification in engineering. She studied mathematics for modern engineering, aeronautics and missile and celestial mechanics. By 1948, she was on the ground floor of what would become the space race.
In 1952, Lockheed asked Ross to be one of 40 engineers known as the Lockheed Skunk Works, a secret think tank. It was the start of Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., a major consultant to NASA based in Sunnyvale, Calif. Ross was 45, the only woman and the only Native American.
“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she recalled later. “I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”
Ross retired from Lockheed at age 65 in 1973, and turned her attention to the next generation of Native Americans and women in engineering. She recruited high school and college students to the field.
A member of the Society of Women Engineers since the 1950s, she also took an interest in American Indian groups such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes.
“To function efficiently, you need math,” she said later in life. “The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.”
One of the regrets Ross mentioned was that she had spent much of her life apart from Indian people. Part of Ross’ longevity, her niece said, stemmed from her belief in “keeping old friends and making new friends.”
Among her newer friends was Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts, who is also an engineer: “Just think, a Cherokee woman from Park Hill (Okla.) helped put an American on the moon.”
ATHENS, Ga. – For the last 500 years, and particularly since they began to be displaced and removed from their ancestral homelands, Native American tribes from what is now the Southeastern United States have returned annually for ceremonial rites on the autumnal equinox in late September.
“Return from Exile,” an art exhibition of more than 30 contemporary Southeastern Native American artists timed to coincide with annual homecomings, will be on view Aug. 22 to Oct. 10 at the Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens. The exhibition is beginning a two-year tour of museums throughout the U.S. and is sponsored by the University of Georgia Institute of Native American Studies and the Lyndon House.
On Saturday Aug. 29 a daylong symposium will feature panels of artists and scholars of Native American art and guided gallery tours. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 and is sponsored by the institute. All events are free and open to the public.
The exhibition features art representing the five tribes removed from the Southeast in the 1830s: Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole.
“Featuring those five tribes and in Athens is particularly apt because the Oconee River was the traditional dividing line between the Creeks and the Cherokee, so Athens straddles that territory literally in Georgia,” said Jace Weaver, the Franklin Professor of Native American Studies, director of the UGA Institute of Native American Studies, and one of the exhibition’s curators.
The exhibition and symposium are bookends to related events designed to highlight the equinox and the celebration of Native American cultural heritage and return to the region.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Lyndon House will host a screening of “This May Be the Last Time,” a documentary directed by Sterlin Harjo about the tradition of Creek Christian hymn singing.
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, the first American Indian Returnings, or AIR, talk will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Room 214 of the Miller Learning Center. The speaker will be Jodi Byrd, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and associate professor of English, gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Byrd’s lecture, “Something Native This Way Comes,” will address issues of literary genre, returns, embodiment, civility, and horror.
“Return from Exile” is curated by Weaver; Bob Martin, associate professor of visual art at John Brown University; and Tony Tiger, former chair of the art department at Bacone College in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Following its run at the Lyndon House, the exhibition will travel to the Collier County Museum in Naples, Florida. It will then travel the country through 2017 to venues including the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and the Cherokee National Museum in Park Hill, Oklahoma.
The UGA Institute of Native American Studies, the Southeastern Indian Artist Association, the Lyndon House Arts Center, the UGA President’s Venture Fund, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, the Cherokee Nation, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is supporting the exhibition.
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – For nearly 60 years, Miss Cherokee has served the Cherokee Nation as a goodwill ambassador and messenger, promoting the tribe’s government, history, language and culture. And during her one-year reign, Miss Cherokee wears her crown when representing the tribe.
According to the Cherokee Heritage Center Miss Cherokee exhibit, which was set to end Aug. 23, the original Miss Cherokee crown was a leather strap that would have a feather in the back. Later, in the 1960s, the crown became fully beaded.
The first indication of royalty during the Cherokee National Holiday, where a new Miss Cherokee is crowned each year, was in 1955 when Phyllis Osage, a Sequoyah Vocational School student, was Queen of the Cornstalk Shoot. In 1957, the title was changed to Miss Cherokee Holiday, and Linda Burrows was the first to hold that title. The first to be crowned with the Miss Cherokee title was Ramona Collier in 1962.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, created by Cherokee artist Willard Stone, the crown was handcrafted from copper. Seven turkey feathers were incorporated into its design symbolizing the seven Cherokee clans. The Cherokee seal was also inscribed in the crown’s center with the Cherokee star, also representing the seven clans.
Turkey footprints also appear on the sides of the crown leading toward the crown’s center design symbolizing young Cherokee maidens going toward the “golden Cherokee hills” to compete for the Miss Cherokee title, according to the exhibit.
In 1992, updated by Cherokee artist Bill Glass Sr., a pearl shell Cherokee star was added to the front of the crown while feathers are still represented. His daughter, Geri Gayle Glass, became Miss Cherokee the same year and wore the crown.
Since 2003 there have been two crowns created by Cherokee artist Demos Glass.
“As an artist I knew the challenge because these aren’t any kind of small feat, so I was intrigued by the idea and my grandfather (Bill Glass Sr.) had made the last one and I had seen what he had done and I studied my grandfather’s work and checked it out and that was part of my education growing up as a metalsmith,” he said.
The first crown Demos created, which was used until 2013, had sterling silver and pink mussel shell incorporated with the copper.
He said for his first crown he wanted to stay within the same design as the crown created by Stone. For the second crown, he got inspiration from early 1900s drawings of the Cherokee people at events and celebrations.
The second crown, which is used today, is all copper.
Demos said he wanted to curve the feathers and make them taller to give them a “southeast feel.”
Both crowns display the seven feathers and Cherokee star.
“I wanted to have a chance to get involved with today’s youth and make sure that my design was something that empowered the up-and-coming young lady that was going to lead our culture into the future,” he said. “I put a lot of pride into the fact that I did make something for this title, and it was something I felt whole heartedly about, give the upmost respect to this title.”
Sunday Plumb is Miss Cherokee 2014-15. Her reign will end when a new Miss Cherokee is crowned at the Cherokee National Holiday during Labor Day weekend.
MARIETTA, Ga. – The Cherokee Garden at Green Meadows Preserve in Cobb County will be dedicated 10 a.m. on Aug. 29.
The garden was the brainchild of Tony and Carra Harris of Marietta. Tony is a Cherokee Nation citizen, a member of the Cobb County Master Gardeners and vice president of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association. Earlier this year, the Cherokee Garden became a certified interpretive site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
The garden features plants and trees that the Cherokee used for medicine, food, tools, weapons, shelter and ceremonial purposes prior to the Trail of Tears. The plants will eventually be marked with their Cherokee and English names. Volunteers from the Cobb County Master Gardeners and members of the Georgia Native Plant Society maintain the property.
Green Meadows Preserve is part of the Cobb County Parks System. It is located at 3780 Dallas Highway, Powder Springs, Georgia. The park is free and open to the public.
Cobb County Parks will have a tent or canopy at the dedication site. For additional information, email <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a> or call 770-425-2411.
MCKEY, Okla. – An archery contest will take place on Sept. 19 in this small Sequoyah County community.
Registration begins at 9 a.m. and the contest starts at 10 a.m. for the “Northeast District Archery 3-D Contest - Circuit Series.” Entry fee is $15.
There will be compound and recurve bow divisions with Junior, 9-11 years old; Intermediate, 12-13 years old; and Senior, 14-18 years old age groups.
To reach the competition site, people may exit I-40 at the 303 exit and turn south or right on Dwight Mission Road for 3.3 miles and then turn right on East 1110 Road.
Sponsors are Sequoyah County 4-H and Ely 6J Beefmaster Ranch. For more information, call 918-775-4838.
DAHLONEGA, Ga. – The September meeting of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Sept. 12 at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park in the Educational Center.
The speaker will be President of the Kennesaw Historical Society and a member of the executive board of the Kennesaw Museum Foundation Robert C. Jones. Jones has written a number of books on Civil War and railroad themes, including “Retracing the Route of Sherman's Atlanta Campaign,” “A Guide to the Civil War in Georgia,” and “Conspirators, Assassins, and the Death of Abraham Lincoln.”
The topic of the meeting will be the role of the Cherokee Indians in the Civil War. Cherokee Indians fought on both sides in the Civil War. On the Confederate side, most Cherokees fought under the command of Brigadier General Stand Watie, the only Cherokee (and one of only two Indians) to rise to the rank of general during the Civil War. This presentation will examine Watie and his command, including their exploits at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, and the Second Battle of Cabin Creek. It will also examine their reasons for fighting for the Confederacy.
Trail of Tears Association meetings are free and open to the public. People need not have Native American ancestry to attend TOTA meetings just an interest and desire to learn more about this fascinating and tragic period in the country’s history.
TOTA was created to support the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail established by an act of Congress in 1987. The TOTA is dedicated to identifying and preserving sites associated with the removal of Native Americans from the Southeast. The association consists of nine state chapters representing the nine states that the Cherokee and other tribes traveled through on their way to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
For more information about the TOTA, visit the National TOTA website at www.nationaltota.org and the Georgia Chapter website at <a href="http://www.gatrailoftears.org" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>. The address for the park is 900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., Kennesaw, GA 30152 and the telephone number is 770-427-4686. For further information about the September meeting, contact Tony Harris at <a href="mailto: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
LOST CITY, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Larry Shade has lived his life in this northern Cherokee County community learning the ways of the Cherokee culture from his grandparents and father, the late Deputy Chief Hastings Shade. Among the cultural aspects he’s learned, one he truly enjoys is crawdad gigging.
Larry gigs crawdads in a section of Fourteen Mile Creek that his family owns.
“It’s just something that my dad always did when we were growing up. He worked, and when he came home that was the first thing we were going to do. We’d go out in the daytime, but a lot of times we’d go out at night, which is a lot easier,” he said. “It’s just a time-honored tradition that we hold true to our culture.”
He said many people who catch crawdads use traps, but he and his family use homemade gigs, something he also learned to do from his father.
“The gigs we are using tonight are all hand-forged by my dad. I’m in my 50s and the gigs that we’re going to use, I was 18 when dad made them,” he said.
Hastings died in 2010 at age 67. He was known as a Cherokee traditionalist and was widely recognized for his work in cultural preservation and as a skilled traditional artisan. He was designated a Cherokee National Treasure in 1991 for his craftsmanship, which included making gigs.
When gigging, Larry said they never catch more crawdads than they can eat. He said he and his family will determine how many crawdads they need to feed everyone and then they’ll go out and catch that amount.
“We always leave some either for the next family or next year’s crop, but we never take more than what we need,” he said. “It’s part of the Cherokee way.”
He said most of the time when he and his family “get together” they go gigging the night before.
“My son, some of his friends and my daughter, we all go out and they know how,” he said. “We go through whether the water is cold or it’s warm, whether it’s leaches or snakes. They understand there’s a few dangers out there, but it’s something that we’ve done all our lives.”
The method the Shades use to catch crawdads is not the easiest, Larry said, but it’s their tradition and it’s how he honors the Cherokee traditions and culture.
“There a lot of easier way to get crawdads, but this is a time-honored tradition for us,” he said. “I’m skilled in what I’ve done and it’s hard for me to do something else.”
Larry said he’s been gigging as long as he can remember.
“Ever since dad trusted us and we were old enough to understand what ‘no’ meant and ‘don’t do that,’” he said. “I’m going to say, 5 or 6 years old…at least 46 years.”
He said years ago catching crawdads was a way to feed one’s family. It’s not like that so much now, but the experience of providing for his family is something he said he would always honor and cherish.
“My grandparents did it and passed it on to my dad. And you know my grandfather, he forged his gigs, which he passed on to my dad,” Larry said. “Dustin’s (one of Larry’s son) with me most the time and I’m glad that he’s with me and I hope that he carries it on. We all won’t be here…too much longer and we hope the traditions that we have…we carry on to our children and even the friends of my sons and daughters. I hope that they carry on.”
Larry said if no one has ever tried gigging they are welcome to email him at email@example.com.
“I more than welcome you to look me up. Give me a holler. I will definitely take you. We’ll go out one night and I’ll show you the cultural way,” he said. “I invite all Cherokees or any tribal member. If they want to come experience a little history and a little culture.”
Larry Shade and his family slowly walk through creek waters at night carrying a lamplight, a bucket and a gig. Crawdads feed at night.
The Shades catch both in shallow and deep waters. “So it just depends on where you find the crawdads. You have to go to them. They don’t come to you,” he said.
Larry said many people “bait” a hole the night before by throwing out “chum” or something for the crawdads to feed on and draw them with. “If I clean fish, sometimes I’ll throw that in the water and that’s just so the crawdad have food. I don’t go back and bait the hole. What we do is we do it the sportsman way. I don’t cheat nature,” he said.
Larry said when gigging, get close enough to the crawdad without scaring it, stab the crawdad with the gig in the upper portion of the body because you eat the tail and you don’t want to damage it. He said it’s also important to make sure when hunting at night that one’s light is bright enough to shine through the water and always be aware of your surroundings.
<strong>Cleaning and Cooking</strong>
After a good catch, Larry and his family clean the crawdads, usually at the creek because it’s just easier.
“The way we clean ours is we take the back part of the crawdad and pull the back part up and we clean the guts and intestines (out). And then we turn the crawdad around and we’ll find the middle fin and we’ll pull the middle fin. That way the intestinal track will come out. Most the time we’ll tear the legs off because the edible part is the front section that we cook and we’ll break up the tail part and just eat the meat in the shell.”
After cleaning, he said they soak the crawdads in hot water with about one tablespoon of salt to ensure the crustaceans are clean and preserved until they’re cooked.
If the Shades don’t cook them that night, Larry said sometimes he’ll place them in just enough water to cover each crawdad with a half teaspoon of salt in a gallon plastic bag and put them into the freezer.
When they’re ready to cook, Larry said he doesn’t add a whole lot to them, just a little season and cornmeal.
He said to lightly salt and pepper and add just enough cornmeal to coat each crawdad.
“Little salt and little pepper and then a little cornmeal and then we’ll fry it,” he said. “I know it’s kind of the unhealthy way, but it’s something that we’ve done our whole lives.”