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Mother teaches 3 sons weaving tradition

01/12/2009 09:05 AM
REEDS, Mo. – Cathy Moomaw, a third-generation loom weaver originally from Jay, Okla., has been weaving since she was 8 – the age she learned it from her “Granny” Pearl Abercrombie. These days Moomaw is passing the tradition to her three sons.

“My grandmother taught most all of her kids and grandkids how to weave, so it’s only natural that I want to teach my boys. And as far as we know we are the only fourth-generation Cherokee weavers we have been able to find,” the 46-year-old Cherokee Nation citizen said.

Since there are so few Cherokee weavers left, Moomaw said she began teaching her sons once they were big enough to reach the loom pedals.

“There are just a handful that we have been able to find, and there are not a lot of young weavers,” she said. “Out of all the grandkids, I feel very honored that I was the one that gets to pass this on. And I think it’s my responsibility to make sure that I teach more generations and that we keep this going and not let this die out.”

Chance, her youngest son at 13, said he likes weaving because it’s relaxing and it allows him to create artwork for others to enjoy.

“Being a fourth-generation weaver, it is kind of an important tradition to keep going and hopefully my kids will get to weave, too,” he said.

As part of keeping the art alive, Moomaw makes many blankets, including diamond weave blankets, which her grandmother was known for. In 2006, Moomaw entered a diamond weave blanket into the annual Cherokee Art Market at the Cherokee Casino Resort in Catoosa, Okla., and won.

The win got her an invitation to the 2007 Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, which is one of the biggest Native American art shows in the country. Once there, she won her division with another diamond weave blanket.

“I felt like that was a real honor, just to be invited to get to go and then to win first was a even bigger surprise,” she said.

At the 2008 Red Earth, she placed third for an entry, while her oldest son Isaac Plumb, 28, took second place and Chance won the children’s division. Gus Plumb, her 20-year-old son, attends college and hasn’t entered a contest.

Moomaw’s award-winning knowledge of loom weaving stems from her days at the Oak Hill Indian Weavers hall in the Oak Hill/Piney community just outside Jay. There she learned from her grandmother how to weave and spent summers weaving rugs. However, that changed after she graduated high school and moved away from the area. Following the death of her grandmother, an aunt gave the looms to Moomaw, who has been weaving since.

Moomaw said to her knowledge the history of Cherokee loom weaving in Oklahoma goes back to the 1930s, when the CN established several weaving halls. She said her grandmother learned to weave at the Oak Hill hall and later became its president.

“She had the weaving hall for about 40 years where the other women in Oak Hill would come over and weave,” Moomaw said. “I still have my first placemats that I made when I was 8 years old.”

Part of her grandmother’s legacy includes a blanket in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“We do have a letter from the Department of Interior where they commissioned her to weave draperies,” she said. “I hopesomeday she will be nominated for the Cherokee National Treasures. That would be the ultimate to see her receive that award considering how many weavers she taught and how she tried to keep natural fibers going.”

Moomaw said when the Cherokee weavers started they began weaving with wool and natural fibers but later switched to acrylic fibers. However, she said she prefers natural fibers.

“If I’m going to wrap up in something I want to wrap up in something that is natural,” she said. “There is more work in a wool blanket, but a wool blanket is going to look just as gorgeous 50 or 60 years from now as it does the first time you use it, so that’s why I like them.”

Moomaw said her grandmother was strict on how she taught her children and grandchildren. They had to have their tension, edges and stitches just right.

“A lot of people who see weaving, they see the design and the color and they think that’s how you pick a weaving, but for people that weave it is the edges and the tightness and the even spacing that’s the hard work of weaving,” she said.

Moomaw said she didn’t realize the importance of being meticulous and working hard at a blanket until now. She said crafting a 55-inch-by-72-inch blanket, which sells for about $500, usually takes her eight hours.

“Now that I have started doing the competitions I am so thankful that she took the time and taught me to do it the right way,” she said.

And anyone expecting to learn from Moomaw can expect the same teaching. (417)-358-4907.
About the Author

Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007.

She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. 

Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. 

She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. 

“My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at • 918-453-5560
Reporter Jami Murphy graduated from Locust Grove High School in 2000. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass communications in 2006 from Northeastern State University and began working at the Cherokee Phoenix in 2007. She said the Cherokee Phoenix has allowed her the opportunity to share valuable information with the Cherokee people on a daily basis. Jami married Michael Murphy in 2014. They have two sons, Caden and Austin. Together they have four children, including Johnny and Chase. They also have two grandchildren, Bentley and Baylea. She is a Cherokee Nation citizen and said working for the Cherokee Phoenix has meant a great deal to her. “My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Leaf Springston, worked for the paper long ago. It’s like coming full circle. I’ve learned so much about myself, the Cherokee people and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Jami is a member of the Native American Journalists Association, and Investigative Reporters and Editors. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilynnmurphy or on Facebook at


Senior Reporter
07/28/2015 08:33 AM
ROCKY MOUNTAIN, Okla. – The July heat and age doesn’t deter Flint Rock Ceremonial Grounds Chief Bird Wolfe from taking part in a stickball game on the grounds. Members of the grounds gathered on the Fourth of July to play stickball, share a meal, fellowship and take part in a stomp dance that night. “All are welcome here to dance and play stickball,” he said. Bird, 68, has been coming to Flint Rock since he was 8 years old, when the ceremonial fire was moved about 100 yards west to where it sits now. He can’t recall exactly how long the grounds have been there, but he said in his lifetime the grounds have not changed, and the ceremonies are the same. He carries Cherokee traditions and ceremonies handed down to him. He passes on that knowledge, he said, and strives to treat people right, “talk to them good, and appreciate them for what they do.” One person Bird has shared his knowledge with is his nephew, Nathan Wolfe, who said has led stomp dances at the grounds since he was 5 years old. “Ever since then I’ve just picked up on things and what people have taught me I just try to hold on to it and teach it to others,” Nathan said. Flint Rock members meet the first Saturday of the month and play stickball on Sundays at the grounds. Nathan said about 40 people regularly attend the grounds and participate in the stickball and ceremonies. “Sometimes we have a crowd and sometimes we don’t, but we keep going, even in the rain,” he said. He said people who visit the ground are “welcome to jump in at any time” to join in the stickball games or the dances. Some grounds make visitors wait a set amount of dances before they can participate, he said. “Here, we welcome anybody as soon as they get here,” he said. Nathan said the grounds close out its dancing season in October with two dances, on the first and fourth weekends. The last dance celebrates the grounds’ birthdate, and a hog fry and an all-night dance is held followed by a stickball game on Sunday morning. He emphasizes that the Flint Rock ceremonial fire was not moved to Tahlequah to the Echota ceremonial grounds. In 1998, Bird stepped away from the grounds as chief after his son Edward died. One of his brothers took over his duties while he was away. In that time some of the members left and established a fire and grounds near Tahlequah called Echota. He said just as it is common for people to leave their church and start their own church, it is also common for people to leave a ceremonial ground and start their own. He said people should have more patience with a ceremonial ground when things are not going well and think about their children who will inherit the lessons taught there and the grounds themselves. “This ground here is pretty much the original place. The fire never did move. A lot of people think you can take coals or ashes and you got a piece of that fire, but it don’t work that way. When you have to move it, you have to move the whole thing and what’s underneath, and none of them got that. It’s right here,” Nathan said. He said the only time the fire was moved was when there was a dispute over land the grounds once sat on, about 100 yards east of its current site. “Here nobody owns it. It’s for everybody,” he said. “No one can stake a claim to any of this stuff because it was given to our people in the beginning.” He said to keep the grounds going, parents get their kids involved in the grounds and traditions even when they are not at the grounds. “We teach them the differences between different cultures. We teach them to try to understand each other instead of holding a grudge against each other and say one is better than the other,” he said. “The people here, I know there’s not a whole lot like most grounds, but still their hearts are just as strong, and we want everybody’s heart to be strong.” Nathan said a person’s heart has to be good and really “in it” to be a part of the ceremonial grounds. You have to be a “good person” for the people. Also, the grounds are not just for traditional people. It’s for everybody, all indigenous people and whoever needs it, he said. “The medicine is here that the Creator put on earth for all of us to benefit our health and well-being, to nourish ourselves,” he said. “All we ask is people recognize that we’re still here. We’ve been here just as long as the others. That fire is old. There’s a lot of good that comes out of here. Anybody is welcome to come at anytime and go anytime they want. All we ask is if they come within our boundaries to have an open heart and good fellowship toward one another.” To reach the grounds, from Stilwell turn right on D0834 Road, which is approximately four miles west of Stilwell, from 100 Highway. Then follow the wooden arrowhead markers pointing to the Flint Rock Grounds. People may also call Nathan Wolfe for more information at 918-772-0868.
07/22/2015 11:44 AM
INDIANAPOLIS – Cherokee Nation citizen Lisa Rutherford received the Harrison Eiteljorg Purchase Award for a war chief’s mantle made of turkey and goose feathers titled “In Times of War.” The mantle, which is worn over the shoulders like a cape, will be a part of the museum’s permanent collection. Award winners were announced at the 23rd annual Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival held on June 27-28. Thousands of fans of Native art and cultures, families and collectors attended the market and festival that featured more than 140 Native artists. Artists were awarded more than $28,000 in prize money and ribbons within 10 divisions. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western art seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. The Eiteljorg is located in downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park, 500 W. Washington. For information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call 317-636-9378 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
07/16/2015 10:13 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m. on July 18 in the Cherokee Arts Center at 212 S. Water Street behind the Spider Gallery. Social activist Dr. J. Wade Hannon will discuss his written works. Hannon published his collection of poems, LOVE AND REVOLUTION, in 2010 and authored professional papers, along with articles and poetry in anthologies. He has a doctorate in counselor education and lived and taught in Fargo, North Dakota, and Chicago before coming to Tahlequah. Following the meeting, a new group of writers focusing on playwrighting will meet at the same location at 4 p.m. The public is invited to come to both meetings. Janis Contway, founder of the Oklahoma Playwrights Association, recently brought new Oklahoma-written scripts to Arts on the Avenue, working with the Tahlequah Community Playhouse. Bryn Smith recruited TCP readers as presenters of the works, entertaining local attendees in June. Those interested in the art of writing for live performances can learn the mechanics of playwrighting. The meeting is to gauge interest in forming a local playwrighting group. Tahlequah Writers is an informal group comprised of published writers and aspiring writers of a variety of genres. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights, scriptwriters, and more. Meetings discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. For further information, email <a href="mailto:"></a> or call 918-207-0093. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.
07/14/2015 10:27 AM
TAHLEQUAH - A Youth Stickball Tournament, ages 8 to 12 years-old, is scheduled for Saturday, July 18, 2015 beginning at 9 a.m. The tournament will be hosted by the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. The Warriors will battle the NDN Outlaws and Nighthawk Juniors in a double elimination game. The event is free to the public, bring your lawn chairs and come and support our tribal youth. The game will be played at the George Wickliffe Education Building on the UKB tribal complex located just off Hwy. 62. Take Willis Road to Whitmore Lane, first building on your left. For more information contact Wes Proctor, 918-506-0765.
07/14/2015 08:33 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) – As Southern states left the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, opposing factions in the Cherokee Nation maneuvered to secure political advantage. Principal Chief John Ross proclaimed neutrality and resisted pressure from Arkansas to ally with the Confederacy. On July 12, 1861, Stand Watie, who had been organizing a battalion to support the secessionists, accepted a commission in the army of the Confederate States of America. The abandonment of Indian Territory by federal troops and rebel victories at Bull Run in Virginia and Wilson’s Creek in Missouri compelled Ross to ally the Cherokees with the South. Although they were now on the same side, relations between Ross and Watie remained as strained. The treaty with the Confederacy obligated the tribe to raise one regiment for the defense of the Nation, but both men recruited regiments loyal to them. The first significant action in Indian Territory occurred near the end of 1861 when rebel forces moved against a band of neutral Indians that coalesced around Opothleyahola, an 82-year-old Creek leader at odds with the mixed-blood leadership of his tribe. Pressured by the Confederates, he and his neutral Indians withdrew to the north. In November and December, Confederate forces fought two indecisive battles with Opothleyahola’s band. In a final confrontation on Dec. 26, 1861, rebel troops, augmented by Watie’s regiment, routed their opponents and sent them fleeing through a snowstorm into Kansas. One of Watie’s officers, Lt. Clem Rogers, father of Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers, scouted Opothleyahola’s position before the engagement. The tide began to turn against the rebels in Indian Territory in early 1862 with a Confederate defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwestern Arkansas on March 7-8. Watie’s regiment fought with distinction, assisting in temporarily capturing a battery of Union artillery. Later, it scouted for the Confederate army and covered its withdrawal. Throughout the engagement, Watie’s command was the only Native American unit that remained cohesive despite the chaos of battle. The Union victory at Pea Ridge made Indian Territory vulnerable to Union invasion. Watie was ordered to the northeastern corner of the CN to screen against incursions from Kansas and Missouri. Adroitly avoiding Northern patrols seeking to pin him down, the Cherokee commander flanked the Yankees and launched a two-prong attack far to their rear near Neosho, Missouri. In his first independent command, Watie not only forced the enemy to withdraw from Indian Territory, but also demonstrated his skill in hit-and-run tactics. Throughout the rest of the war, he would prove himself a master of guerilla warfare. On June 1, 1862, a Union force of regimental size, with artillery support, marched south to destroy Watie. Six days later, the Northern commander attacked at Cowskin Prairie just as the sun set. Heavily outnumbered and outgunned, Watie and his men took advantage of the dark to elude the enemy, although they had to abandon provisions and livestock. Several weeks later, a 6,000-man Union force, including two Indian regiments recruited from the survivors of the Opothleyahola campaign, launched an all-out invasion of the CN. Reaching Fort Gibson near the Arkansas River after routing rebels at Locust Grove on July 3, the Union commander, Col. William Weer, sent a patrol to Park Hill. It “captured” Ross, who made no attempt to flee despite repeated warnings of the enemy’s approach. When the Union invasion force withdrew from the CN in July, Ross accompanied it and rushed to Washington to convince Lincoln that he had allied with the South only because the Union had abandoned Indian Territory and left him no choice. The next month, Watie’s supporters elected him principal chief of the Cherokees to replace Ross, who, they pointed out, had deserted his post. The Confederates controlled the CN most of the remainder of 1862, but in a series of battles over the next year, Union victories destroyed the South’s ability to provision its army in Indian Territory and forced Watie to do what he did best – employ guerilla tactics against his stronger opponents. At the Battle of Old Fort Wayne on Oct. 22 and Prairie Grove on Dec. 7, Confederate armies were defeated despite the steady performance of men under Watie’s command. On Dec. 22, Watie could organize no effective defense of Fort Davis on the south side of the Arkansas River near the mouths of the Verdigris and Grand Rivers. Col. William Phillips, who commanded the Union Third Indian Home Guard Regiment, burned the Confederate supply depot. In April 1863, Phillips drove Watie out of Fort Gibson, occupying it and most of the CN for the Union until the end of the war. Watie countered on July 1-2 with a daring raid on a Union supply train moving down the military road where it crossed Cabin Creek. High water in the stream prevented the Confederate colonel from consolidating his command and forced him to fall back empty handed. Later in the month, Gen. James Blunt, commander of the Union Army of the Frontier, crushed the rebel army at the Battle of Honey Springs. Although Watie was elsewhere, his presence would not have changed the outcome. No longer able to provision his entire force, Watie furloughed many of his men and called them to duty to exploit Union vulnerability. Watie lacked the manpower and resources to challenge the Union army in conventional battle, but with intelligence about its location, provided by a network of informants loyal to the South, he attacked at times and places advantageous to him. On Nov. 12, Watie wrote his wife that he had seized Tahlequah where Pin Indians were holding a council. He killed all who resisted and burned the council house. Captured Union Indians, including Ross’ nephew, William Potter Ross, were not harmed. Passing through Park Hill, the Cherokee colonel could not resist the opportunity to settle old scores. He torched Ross’s palatial home, Rose Cottage. Col. Phillips spurred his men to rid him of the marauding Confederate colonel. A sizable portion of Phillip’s command fought a skirmish with Watie on the banks of the Barren Fork of the Illinois River on Dec. 18. The commander of the Union force claimed he inflicted greater casualties than he suffered but did not deter Watie from a raid into Missouri. Despite inadequate support and troops with little combat training, in May 1864, Watie’s success earned him promotion to brigadier general, the only Native American to earn that rank on either side during the Civil War. He immediately demonstrated the wisdom of his promotion by two victories. In June, he captured the J.R. Williams, a Union riverboat steaming up the Arkansas with supplies for the garrison at Fort Gibson. In September, he participated in a raid that captured a Union wagon train carrying supplies and munitions valued at $1.5 million to the Second Battle of Cabin Creek. These were victories made more remarkable by the limited resources available to Watie and the growing strength of the Union in Indian Territory and all other fronts. They also had no impact on the outcome of the war.
Senior Reporter
07/10/2015 09:04 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Cherokee artist Leslie Gates didn’t grow up learning about her Cherokee heritage, but she has made up for it by studying Cherokee lifeways and reading Cherokee legends and stories. Gates was born and raised in Ponca City, but she lives in Lewisville, Alabama. Her parents live in Tahlequah, so she has connections to the Cherokee Nation. “I am proud to be Cherokee, but was not raised up with it. Ironically, it was after I moved to Alabama and was doing some research for a piece that I was working on, I began to learn more about it (Cherokee culture). I was very fascinated and very intrigued, so I just got more and more into it. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know,” she said. Her artwork is centered on using gourds of all sizes to make pieces. “I like to use different sizes and shapes of gourds and put different pieces together. Most of them are kind of figurative pieces. I also use animal motifs,” she said. “I also do acrylic paintings and colored-pencil work and mixed media, which sometimes will incorporate both of those – the paintings and the drawings – and I also add pieces of paper.” She’s attended the Cherokee Art Market, held in Catoosa each October, the past two years and has participated in the Santa Fe Indian Market through the Nation’s “Spider Gallery” in Tahlequah. She said she likes to focus on participating in Cherokee art shows such as the annual “Trail of Tears Art Show and Sale” in April and the “Homecoming Show” in September, both at the Cherokee Heritage Center in Park Hill. She also enters her work in the Cherokee National Holiday Art Show in Tahlequah. Gates has a website at that showcases her artwork and the media she uses such as gourds, paintings/mixed media on canvas, colored pencil drawings, and Cherokee-inspired artwork. “I enjoy doing it. Working with the gourds is really fun. I guess my little thing that’s different is working with the eggshell that on a lot of my pieces. I work with crushed eggshell. Many of the pieces have it,” she said. “I also have some Cherokee information (on her website). I’ve got some pages where they can read about the seven clans for someone who doesn’t understand that. Several of my pieces deal with the seven clans. There’s a page that talks about the syllabary because I love using that in my mask work. Those have been well received.” In Lewisville, she works in the office of a pecan-shelling plant for her uncle and works on her art in the evenings and on weekends. She said she’s been interested in art since she was a child. “I’m literally one of those that’s been drawing since I could hold a pencil. The summer after seventh grade I took some summer art classes at the art center that was there in Ponca City,” she said. Later, she also took watercolor painting classes with the instructor who had taught the summer art class and continued to learn about art and eventually began using colored pencils. She said being Cherokee, it’s “exciting” for her to create Cherokee-inspired artwork to sell and take part in art shows. She added that as she has learned more about her Cherokee heritage and culture, her artwork has begun to take on more characteristics of the stories and legends she has read.