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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


05/20/2015 08:30 AM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Cherokee Nation citizen Albert Eagle, of Stilwell, recently came across a May 14, 1828, Cherokee Phoenix issue. Eagle first saw the newspaper about 40 years ago when his grandmother, Dora Adair, was going through paperwork. “Yeah, the last time I saw it was when I was about 13 just before going to high school. My grandmother had it laying on the bed and she was looking through other papers so I asked her ‘what is this?’ And she said, ‘it’s just an old paper I’ve been saving for years and years and years,’” Eagle said. Eagle isn’t positive, but from what he could gather, his great-great-great-grandmother, Susie Livers, and her parents, Chulio Livers and Eliza Jackson, brought the newspaper with them when they were removed to Indian Territory on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39. He said when he saw it years ago he didn’t think to find out the newspaper’s history, why it was brought or consider how old it was. “Thirteen years old, you don’t pay attention to things like that you know. So I left it alone and here about two weeks ago (in April) I was cleaning out an old dresser of hers and there was a bag way in the back,” he said. When Eagle grabbed the bag several documents fell out, as well as the newspaper. “First thing that popped in my head was that ‘yeah, I remember this,’” he said. “You know when I unfolded it, it tore a little bit so I was trying to be careful with it. What got me the most was the date on it.” What Eagle said was most interesting about its age was that it predated the Trail of Tears and Civil War. A big question on Eagle and his family’s minds was why his ancestors thought so much of the newspaper to bring it with them on the trail. The 53-year-old said he didn’t think to ask his grandmother years ago why it was brought to Indian Territory, but he wished he had now that she has passed. “I kind of wished I did back then though. I would’ve tried to have somebody keep up with it. It’s just something you don’t pay attention to when you’re that age,” he said. After speaking with Eagle initially, current Cherokee Phoenix staff members looked at photos of the four-page edition and located the name Walter Adair in an announcement as candidate for the Committee for Coosewattee District. The announcement also contained well-known Cherokees John Ridge and Major Ridge, as well as Tesahdaski and James Foster. Staff members contacted Eagle regarding the Adair name and Eagle said he would check into it. Later, Eagle told staff members that Walter Adair was his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and possibly the reason the newspaper was kept all these years. Although Eagle said he and his family are working out plans for the 187-year-old print, the idea he and his sister, Margaret Wermy, had was to show it off during the Cherokee National Holiday, possibly with the Cherokee Heritage Center. “It belongs to my sister, too. We’d like to have it taken care of, you know, and put up for display for the holiday. We’d like to share it with other people, the Cherokees,” he said. “My main concern was to share it with everybody.” CHC interim Archivist Jerry Thompson said he was impressed with the newspaper’s quality. To preserve it, Thompson digitized it for Eagle to keep the original in good condition. “So for it to be almost 200 years old, it’s in really great condition,” Thompson said. “The document itself is a great record for the time period. From what he had told me and from what we were seeing, he had never seen the inside of the newspaper itself and after digitizing it and him being able to look at the inside of the paper itself, it was pretty revealing. I mean you could see it on his face. And for him to have kept it in his family for this long period of time in the condition that it’s in, that’s really outstanding.”
Senior Reporter
05/19/2015 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Paints, a canvas and some instruction from an artist are all people need to create a piece of art in the “Brush Strokes” class held in the Spider Gallery at 212. S Water St. Cherokee Arts Center instructor and cultural specialist Callie Chunestudy teaches class on Tuesday evenings. Adults, children and small groups can take part in classes that costs $25 per person, which includes all materials. “We have them several times a month, painting several different pictures. We can also do private groups and private parties where you can bring your own refreshments. We actually specialize in doing staff development for different departments,” Chunestudy said. She said many students’ paintings are going to be figurative paintings done in an impressionists-style. Figurative paintings are taken from real object sources such as a person or landscape. “It’s an easy technique to teach on the spot. We just walk you through it step by step. It’s generally a step people can come out of the class happy with,” she said. Chunestudy earned a fine arts degree from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and has been teaching art classes for two years after spending time teaching Cherokee culture classes. She has been formally trained to instruct art classes. Before class, Chunestudy provides each student with a plate of acrylic paint colors they use to create their paintings. In front of the class hangs the painting the students will be copying. Two dancers wearing colorful dresses was the subject for the May 12 class. Brenda Fitzgerald, of Tahlequah, attended the “Brush Strokes” class for the second time May 12. This time she brought her twin sister Glenda Sellers, of Welling. “I wasn’t very good the last time, but I’m hoping to be an expert this time,” Fitzgerald said. “I’ve always enjoyed artwork. Of course, Callie is an excellent coach and teacher. It’s just something I always wanted to pick up maybe in my retirement years – to become an artist, but I don’t know. It’s going to be my hobby. I’m just having a great time. It’s really fun.” After students finish creating the backgrounds on canvas for their paintings, Chunestudy draws stick figures using longs lines for the dancers’ bodies and limbs. The students follow her instructions, however, some of the students create their own lines for their dancers’ movements. From time to time, the students compare their work with each other. Every painting has variations from the original painting hanging on the wall. The dancers’ dresses are various colors, and some students add an additional dancer to their paintings. When the paintings are finished, the students gather outside the studio with their paintings for a group photo. Chunestudy does this for every class and posts the photo on Facebook. General classes are for ages 14 and up. Chunestudy said there are also adults-only classes where adult beverages are allowed, and there are children’s classes for children 6-year-old and older. Proceeds from the “Brush Strokes” classes go to the Cherokee Arts Center and its operation. The CAC exists to support Cherokee artists and their work. The Spider Gallery features the work of Cherokee artists, and the art is for sale. “The (“Brush Strokes”) classes are similar to the ‘Pinot’s Palette’-type classes in Tulsa except they are in Tahlequah and local,” Chunestudy said. No previous painting experience is needed to take a class. Classes begin at 5:30 p.m. For more information, call 918-457-5728 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
05/13/2015 08:30 AM
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Most days you’ll find Jerry Wolfe behind the ticket counter of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. He’s reading a yellow-bound New Testament, and he has open a Bible written in Sequoyah’s syllabary. Sporting a Stetson with a beaded headband, a thin gray braid of hair at the back of his bent neck, Wolfe gets up to greet a visitor with a firm handshake. “‘Siyo,” he says – Cherokee for “hello.” Still spry at 90, Wolfe is a living repository of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ wisdom and the old ways on the Qualla Boundary. As one of the tribe’s most respected elders, Wolfe has been named the Beloved Man, the first Cherokee to hold the honorary title in more than 200 years. He’s seen war and peace. A Navy veteran who saw action on Normandy Beach during D-Day, a stonemason who laid rock through the Smokies, Wolfe is one of the last elders fluent in Tsalagi – the native language he grew up hearing in the Big Cove community. Up in Big Cove, there were no paved roads, only footpaths or wagon trails. In the 1930s, the Blue Ridge Parkway would come right across Wolfe’s birthplace, forcing the family on down the mountain. His father, Owen, spoke no English – only Cherokee. His mother, Luciana, had gone through the fifth grade and knew English, which she often spoke with her youngest child. “I learned by listening to my dad. And I often asked my mother, what did he say? Back in those days, we didn’t have the tube to watch. My dad would build a big fire to keep us warm, and he would start talking.” He told of Spearfinger, the terrible witch who could impale your liver on the sharpened nail of her finger. He talked of the stickball game that the little mouse won over the big bear. But mainly, his stories were of great stickball matches – the native pastime that evolved into modern-day lacrosse. Each of the towns – Big Cove, Wolf Town, Paint Town, Bird Town, Snowbird and central Cherokee or Yellowhill – fielded a team. The rivalries were bloody, the exploits remembered for many winters. “No helmets or shoulder pads. Just two sticks and a lot of wrestling. We still play it today,” Wolfe said. As a boy, Wolfe heard of the exploits of his uncle, Standing Turkey, the strongest man on the boundary, never defeated in wrestling or stickball. A European wrestler once came to Qualla, challenging Standing Turkey to a bout. “Send that man to the center ground,” said Standing Turkey, who had a stickball game to play first. “He body slammed all the opponents, cleared the field. He didn’t run. He just walked over to the goal to score,” Wolfe said. “OK, I’m ready to wrestle,” Standing Turkey announced to the cheering crowd. “Where’s that man?” But after witnessing the carnage on the field, the European was long gone. “They found him a mile down the road to Bryson City,” Wolfe said. “He took a big bank roll out of his pocket. ‘Give this to Standing Turkey.’” Wolfe went on to attend the Cherokee Boarding School. His mom and dad dropped him off at the dorms when he was only 7. His mother had waited a year until he was big enough to take care of himself. In the strange dorm, the little boy sidled up to a circle of other boys in the strange dorm. Naively, he asked a question in English. The other boys glared at him. “Nuneltiwoni,” they said. “Why you talk so ugly?” But speaking Cherokee was strictly forbidden in the school. English was imposed with a military discipline. The boys and girls woke to a bugle sounding Reveille and went to bed to Taps. They marched up and down the knoll to the dining room and to the classroom. “If you didn’t salute the flag, you’d get a strapping,” Wolfe said. All that drilling came in handy when war rolled around. The teacher came in and told the children that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. “I didn’t know there was a Pearl Harbor,” Wolfe recalled. Overnight, the big boys dorm emptied out as Cherokee went to fight for their country. In 1943, Wolfe completed the 10th grade and volunteered for the U.S. Navy. It was the first time other than a couple of trips to Asheville or over to Bryson City and Sylva, that Wolfe had left the Boundary or been out of the mountains. Wolfe served on a tracked landing vehicle, ferrying troops to storm Normandy Beach on D-Day in 1944. Later, he led a crew of sailors by train that pulled into New York on the day that Victory in Europe was declared. The train stopped on the tracks as the whole city celebrated. They came back with armloads of whiskey and vodka, but under Wolfe’s command, he got all his sailors safely to Rhode Island. He would ship out to Pearl Harbor – the place he had never heard of as a boy – when the Japanese formally surrendered that summer. Wolfe still carries the memento of his sailor day, sporting the profile of a feathered Indian Princess, the initials U.S.N. and his service number inked on his forearm. Warriors run in Wolfe’s family. Ask Wolfe for his favorite story, and he’ll talk about his grandfather, Joe Stout Wolfe, who had fought for the Confederates across the mountain in Knoxville, Tennessee. Among the Southern troops mustered, there was a bully who challenged everyone to wrestle. “Then he’d put an extra hurting on them,” Wolfe said. “Everyone hated the man.” Finally, he called out Joe Stout Wolfe. “I’m no wrestler. I just play stick ball,” Joe Stout insisted. But the young Indian turned to a pair of Cherokee elders who were visiting the camp. They went into the woods, gathered medicine, herbs and formulas to prepare their warrior to wrestle. Joe rushed the bully and lifted him overhead, and body slammed the bully. Everyone cheered. The bully, who lay on the ground, calling feebly for water. No one lifted a finger to help the man they all hate. He slowly crawled to the nearby spring and died. The elders then asked to take Joe up into the mountains for healing rituals after he had killed his opponent. “They had to cleanse his soul so he wouldn’t worry about what had happened,” Wolfe said. Respect for elders is a long Cherokee tradition. Wolfe followed it when he was learning his trade in construction, calling on old men to help him learn how to lay brick and rock. After he returned from the war in 1949, settling into married life with his wife, Juanita, he earned $3 an hour laying rock up in Heintooga in the Smokies. “We built Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbriar.” He can still see his handiwork across the mountains and in Qualla. “I did the bank, the post office, the Teepee Restaurant, the Drama Motel.” In 2013, the Tribal Council showed appreciation by naming Wolfe the tribe’s Beloved Man. Barbara Duncan with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian researched the records and found that the tribe’s last Beloved Man, Little Turkey, had died in 1801. Having lived through war, the Beloved Men and Women served as trusted advisers to the war and peace chiefs of the nation, Duncan said. In 1783, the Beloved Woman, Kattuea of Chota, wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin, enclosing some tobacco as a sign of peace. “I hope you can smoke this with your Beloved Men and Women,” she wrote. The tribe has honored Beloved Women in recent years, conferring the title on Myrtle Driver and Ella Bird of the Snowbird community. Bo Taylor hopes the tribe doesn’t wait another 200 years to name a Beloved Man, but adds “Jerry has set the bar high.” Now the museum’s executive director, Taylor was the Big Cove representative on the council who nominated Wolfe for the honor. Taylor pointed to Wolfe’s war record, his work in the church and for the Cherokee Lion’s Club, his long years as a mason and his championing of the Cherokee language and culture. “We are a tribal nation and we have to live in a world interacting with a dominant culture,” Taylor said. “It’s important to remember we are a native people with unique traditions.” Wolfe is proud of his culture and quick to show you that Bible he studies at the ticket counter. “We have the Old and New Testaments, written in our language. We’re the only tribe on the whole globe with our own written language. Think of that.” And long ago, listening to his dad by the winter fire in Big Cove, and through the years telling stories to different audiences, Wolfe learned to move between two worlds, between two languages. “You can tell a story in Cherokee language to a bunch of people and they all have a big laugh. I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s strange but if you tell in English, there’s no punchline,” Wolfe smiled.
Senior Reporter
05/12/2015 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A national traveling exhibition featuring 34 well-known Native American artists of Southeastern tribal heritage will begin its run Aug. 21 at the Lyndon House Art Center in Athens, Georgia. The “Return from Exile” exhibition, sponsored by the Southeastern Indian Artists Association and the Cherokee Heritage Center, is slated to run through 2017 and scheduled to make five stops, but more dates will be added later. “For many historical and political reasons, we thought taking a group of (mostly) Oklahoma Native artists back to their historic homelands could be an interesting concept for an art show. It sort of blossomed into a traveling show when other venues started taking an interest in the idea,” said Bobby Martin, of Tahlequah, a participating artist and one of the curators. Within the first 40 years of the 19th century, almost all of the original inhabitants of the Southeastern United States the – Muscogee (Creeks), Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees and Seminoles – had been removed, either voluntarily or forcibly, to new lands in what are now Oklahoma, states the exhibition’s description. “In a stunning triumph of ethnic cleansing, the United States government’s policy of removal of Indian tribes from their ancestral homelands succeeded in uprooting and relocating whole tribal cultures to a strange and distant Indian Territory in the west,” the description states. “For almost 200 years now, that strange and distant territory has been home to the “Five Civilized Tribes” – while the original homelands in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and the Carolinas have in large part become a distant memory only recalled through historic documents and oral tradition.” Has that memory, that connection to place of origin, really disappeared? How do contemporary Southeastern Native peoples see themselves in light of the historic events of removal and displacement? Do these historic events still have an affect on lives today? These are questions this art exhibition seeks to address, the exhibition’s description states. Martin, (Muscogee Creek), said artists from the five tribes are represented in the exhibition, as well as Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Florida Seminole citizens. He said it is hoped some of the participating artists will be at the exhibition stops. “We have some grant money available that we hope to use to help artists travel to opening events. At each venue we will have programming that will include artist talks and panel discussions,” Martin said. Participating artist America Meredith (Cherokee Nation) of Santa Fe, New Mexico, said just a few years ago, Southeastern Indian art wasn’t on the public’s radar. “The concerted efforts of artists like Tony Tiger, Bobby Martin, Martha Berry, Shan Goshorn and others have made incredible strides promoting Southeastern art,” she said. “Native artists usually have to wear many hats, so these artists are incredibly generous curating shows, educating and promoting other Southeastern artists. The Southeastern Indian Artists Association is a shining example of what grassroots, artist’s organizations can achieve.” Meredith added that Southeastern art has often been neglected in museum collections and scholarship. She said she hopes “Return to Exile” piques the public’s curiosity. “Tiger and Martin are committed to contemporary art and letting the public we are living people. The future belongs to those that can envision it, so this show gives us artists the opportunity to image how our tribes, languages and cultures can grow in the 21st century,” she said. “As a Cherokee, traveling back to North Carolina has been so important, since our history is tied to that landscape. I’m excited about the relationships that ‘Return to Exile’ can grow between Oklahoma artists and artists from the tribes still in the Southeast. If you include Texas, with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe there, there are 11 federally recognized tribes since in the Southeast.” The exhibition in Athens will close Oct. 10. Other exhibition sites include the Sequoyah National Research Center, J.W. Wiggins Gallery in Little Rock, Arkansas, Feb. 4 to April 30, 2016; Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe, Aug. 18 to Dec. 31; 2016; Cherokee Heritage Center, Tahlequah, June 2 to Aug. 20, 2017; and Chickasaw Cultural Center, Sulphur, October 2017 to May 2018. Exact dates for Sulphur will be announced later, and Martin said more exhibition sites will be announced later as they are confirmed. Funds are being raised for catalogs for the exhibition. Martin said the group’s goal is to raise $8,000 by May 16 to be able to print 1,000 catalogs. As of May 1, $1,229 have been pledged. The catalogs will be 8.5 inches by 11 inches, 116 pages with a soft-cover and full color throughout with images and essays featuring all 34 artists. “Besides being one of the curators, it is an honor to be able to participate in the conversation about home and sense of place and what that means for Native artists in Indian Country. Also being able to speak about the resilience of our peoples in the face of extreme adversity is inspiring to me,” Martin said. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
05/08/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In recognition of Mother’s Day, Cherokee Nation is offering free museum admission to mothers on May 9. CN museums include the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum, the Cherokee National Prison Museum and the John Ross Museum. Originally built in 1844, the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is Oklahoma’s oldest public building. The 1,950-square-foot museum features exhibits on three historic aspects: the Cherokee National Judicial System, the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers, and the Cherokee language, with a variety of historical items, including photos, stories, objects and furniture. Touch-screen kiosks offer visitors documentary style learning on various legal topics as well as teaching conversational Cherokee. The Cherokee National Prison was the only penitentiary building in Indian Territory from 1875 to 1901. It housed sentenced and accused prisoners from throughout the territory. The interpretive site and museum give visitors an idea about how law and order operated in Indian Territory. The site features a working blacksmith area and reconstructed gallows, exhibits about famous prisoners and daring escapes, local outlaws and Cherokee patriots, jail cells and much more. The John Ross Museum highlights the life of John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation for more than 38 years, and houses exhibits and interactive displays on the Trail of Tears, Civil War, Cherokee Golden Age and Cherokee Nation’s passion for education. The museum is housed in an old, rural school building known as School #51 and sits at the foot of Ross Cemetery, where John Ross and other notable Cherokee citizens are buried. The Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum is located at 122 E. Keetoowah St., and the Cherokee National Prison Museum is at 124 E. Choctaw St., both in Tahlequah. The John Ross Museum is located at 22366 S. 530 Road in Park Hill. Cherokee Nation Museums are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For information on Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism, call 877-779-6977 or visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
Senior Reporter
05/05/2015 08:22 AM
WESTVILLE, Okla. – Guest speaker Luke Williams shared little-known facts about the construction and use of the second Cherokee Female Seminary during the Goingsnake District Heritage Association meeting on April 18. In October 1846, Principal Chief John Ross proposed the creation of two Cherokee Nation high schools or seminaries, one for males and one for females. Construction began in 1847 with the male seminary located about a mile and a half southwest of Tahlequah and the female seminary located in Park Hill, about a mile and half south of town. “Both of these structures consisted of three-storied brick buildings with classical-style columns on three sides. The buildings measured 185 feet long and 109 feet wide, and each one of these buildings cost in excess of $60,000,” Williams said. Some subjects taught at the schools included geometry, Greek history, algebra, geography and vocal music. “These rigorous academics prepared young Cherokees to become educators,” he said. On Easter Sunday, April 10, 1887, the Cherokee Female Seminary caught fire and was a complete loss. Only the exterior brickwork and the classical brick columns remained standing. Three of those columns still stand in front of the Cherokee Heritage Center. A month later, Principal Chief Dennis Bushyhead recommended the reconstruction of the seminary and signed a bill on May 21, 1887, to order its construction on the north edge of Tahlequah near a fresh water source called Hendricks Spring. Charles Edward Ilsley of St. Louis, who owned an architectural firm, was chosen to design the building. He completed its design in July 1887, and it called for a three-story brick building that had two main wings in an L shape. The Richardsonian-Romanesque style of the building called for two three-story towers with conical roofs, a five-story bell tower and numerous round-top arches over windows and doors. The construction project was to cost $57,500. The CN National Council requested a project completion date of Aug. 1, 1888. Construction began Nov. 3, 1887. Because the nearest railroad was 30 miles away in Muskogee, the construction project relied on materials that were acquired locally, Williams said. “Quarries near Tahlequah provided the lime and sandstone necessary for the large foundation stone and the window sills. Yellow pine timber provided the lumber for the joists, the studding and the flooring, and local kilns fired the extra bricks required for this project,” he said. In autumn 1888, the council approved an additional $4,000 for completion of the project, which included funding for a wrought-iron fence surrounding it. On April 18, 1889, Ilsley transferred the completed building into the hands of the tribe’s building committee, and on May 7 a celebration was held “to celebrate the revival of the Cherokee Female Seminary.” On Aug. 26, the seminary opened its doors with an enrollment of 232 young women. Williams said the building contained modern conveniences including indoor toilets, hot and cold water, a steam heating system and a trunk elevator. Also, the building had 356 windows and two 70-foot chimneys to provide ventilation for the building’s boiler. The 98-foot bell tower on the east side of the building stood out on the north side of Tahlequah. “The L-shaped building consisted of a main east-to-west wing measuring 226-feet long and 78-feet wide. A smaller north-to-south wing measured 146-feet long and 40-feet wide,” he said. The first floor contained a front vestibule that included a fireplace, a hallway that ran down the length of the 226-foot long building, five large classrooms, a parlor, chapel, kitchen, kitchen storage, and a dining room (in the north-south wing), which was the largest room on the first floor. The second floor contained only dormitory rooms that lined both sides of the hallways. The third floor contained large bedrooms with closets and smaller bedrooms with no closets. The far northeast corner of the third floor contained the sick ward. About three years after the seminary’s construction, the toilets and the building’s sewer system failed. The system was set up to allow sewer to empty into a pit about 300 yards from the building, Williams said. Water quickly filled the pit and water and sewage backed up into the seminary. “If that’s not bad enough, this sewer pit was only 100 yards from Hendricks Spring. Remember, this is where they are getting their source of fresh drinking water,” he said. “The Cherokee Advocate referred to the seminary’s plumbing problems as, quote, ‘a health destroyer.’ After several students died and the constant fear of typhoid fever, the Cherokee National Council ordered the indoor toilets sealed. After this closure, the students used a row of outdoor privies that were constructed out on the east lawn.” In March 1909, the “dissolving” CN government sold the seminary building to the new state of Oklahoma for $45,000. In September 1909, the doors reopened as the Northeastern State Normal School. Today, the building is used for classrooms for Northeastern State University. On May 7, 2014, CN, NSU and state officials celebrated the 125th anniversary of the building being opened on May 7, 1889.