TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – As the 1800s came to an end, it became obvious to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole nations that the federal government was determined to take their lands in Indian Territory after being forced from their traditional homelands earlier in the century.
To accomplish this, the Dawes Commission was formed on March 3, 1893. Its purpose was to convince the five tribes to cede title of their communal land holdings and adopt the policy of dividing those lands into individual allotments.
In a recent presentation to the Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association, historian Dr. Daniel Littlefield of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock said the 1887 General Allotment Act passed by Congress began the process of allotting tribal lands. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole nations, commonly called the Five Civilized Tribes, were exempt from the act because they held fee simple titles to their lands, meaning they were the ultimate owners and the government could not simply take it.
Littlefield said the commission formed because the government had to find another way to take the land. In the end, the five nations lost most of their land holdings as the government declared any remaining lands after allotment to individual households as “surplus.” The government sold the surplus to settlers.
Littlefield said usually when the Dawes Commission is discussed the focus is on genealogy and the citizenship rolls it compiled in the 1890s and early 1900s.
“There’s not anything wrong with that, but it doesn’t get us any closer to what the Dawes Commission actually was and what it did,” he said. “For the most part, the Dawes Commission was a failure.”
Because the commission is often seen as a failure and corrupt in its dealings, Oklahoma historians mostly skirt the topic, Littlefield said.
He emphasized his presentation was about how the commission’s policy was carried out and not how it was written and what it did. Littlefield said his focus is on the years 1893-98 when the Curtis Act was implemented. The act abolished tribal governments and courts and removed the five tribes’ exemption from the General Allotment Act.
In November 1893, President Grover Cleveland appointed Sen. Henry Dawes of Massachusetts as commission chairman and Meridith Kidd and Archibald McKennon as members. Littlefield classified the commissioners as “nincompoops” who had no idea how to approach the job.
To understand the commission and its job, one has to look at the era its work took place in, Littlefield said.
“You have to, if you’re going to understand how the federal government could just, without any moral twitches whatsoever, abrogate the treaties with these five tribes,” he said. “The tribes insisted all the way through this that the treaties were still in place, and they had faith the federal government was going to honor those treaties. Why they thought that I do not know. The signs were all there that Congress was not going to honor those treaties.”
It was a period of exploitation of natural resources, urbanization, cheap labor, greed and robber barons, as well as rich men who thought they were above the law and controlled most of the country’s major industries, Littlefield said.
Racial laws passed in the 1880s and 1890s also clouded the atmosphere. Two Chinese exclusion acts were passed; states were given control of civil rights, which led to Jim Crow laws in the south; and in 1896 the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that state laws requiring racial segregation were constitutional and “separate but equal” was legal. These actions gave American people the thinking that they were graded by the race they belonged to, Littlefield said.
He said the racial hierarchy placed whites on top, Indians second, Asians third and blacks on the bottom.
“Now this society has taken the power out of the hands of Asians. They’ve taken the power out of the hands of blacks. That basically leaves Indians and whites to contest for economic dominance,” he said. “The Indians had been corralled. The question was ‘how do we put them out of the way so that we can get control of their resources?’ This is what the Dawes Commission was about.”
He said politicians of the time thought that Indians owning and controlling so much land was “un-American.” They coveted Indian Territory and its vast natural resources.
“They knew they were there. Don’t kid yourself,” Littlefield said. “Standard Oil was drilling wells at Muskogee in the early (18)‘90s and capping them.”
So how did the politicians, robber barons and other interested parties work together to take Indian lands? The answer, he said, is Arkansans and its seething hate for Indian Territory, which stemmed in part with the state’s previous dealings with tribes, including the Choctaws and Cherokees. One Arkansas politician called the Cherokees “smart alecks” and welcomed the chance to do them harm.
“This hatred was based on avarice and envy and a ton of aggressive ignorance,” Littlefield said.
Arkansas’ Congressional delegation had much influence in Congress when the Dawes Commission was created and used its influence to help take apart the governments of their tribal neighbors to the west. Other anti-Indian congressmen from other states also backed the commission’s efforts.
These congressmen influenced the makeup of the three-member (later five-member) commission.
Littlefield said because the commissioners had little knowledge of Indian Territory and how tribal governments operated, their first attempt at dealing with the five tribes in 1894 failed.
As the commission continued failing to negotiate with the tribes, it launched a smear campaign against them to influence Congress to abrogate treaties between tribes and the United States and to influence the American public to go along with the land grab. It was reported to Congress that Indian Territory was lawless, that tribes held a monopoly over commerce and were dishonest in their dealings.
“Every subsequent report filed was just that report, rewritten,” Littlefield said. “They singled out the Cherokee Nation, particularly, as examples of graft, of inefficient government, monopolies...crime. All the things they had railed against, they now make it look like most of that is in the Cherokee Nation.”
Another report to Congress in 1895 claimed if something was not done about the Cherokee Nation and other tribes “an armed rebellion” was imminent in the territory. The Cherokee Nation responded by saying the commission offered no proof of their allegations.
“The Dawes Commission really didn’t do much in terms of actual work until they began to enroll the tribes in 1896. They started with the Cherokees because they wanted to show...the ‘smart alecks’ they could do it,” Littlefield said.
After tribal citizens were enrolled, the commission began allotting tribal lands. Using a premeditated plan, Littlefield said the commission removed restrictions for Freedmen, inter-married whites, minors, people who were half Indian or less when they allotted the land, which later made it easier to for the government and others to swindle the land holdings of those citizens.
Littlefield said he read an account of a member of the Cherokee Commission, which formed in 1898 to deal with the Dawes Commission, who asked a fellow commissioner why the federal government was doing what it was doing to the Cherokee Nation. The second commissioner answered, “Because they can.”
DUTCH MILLS, Ark. – On the morning of June 22, 1839, three small bands of Cherokees carried out “blood law” upon Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot – three prominent Cherokees who signed a treaty in 1835 calling for the tribe’s removal to Indian Territory.
Tribal Councilor Jack Baker said he believes “blood law” was the basis for the men’s assassinations.
“Although they did not follow all of the procedures, I do believe that was the basis for the executions,” Baker said. “I believe the proper procedure should have been followed. They should have been brought to trial and that was not done.”
The Cherokee General Council put the law, which had existed for years, into writing on Oct. 24, 1829.
According to Thurman Wilkins’ “Cherokee Tragedy,” the law stated “if any citizen or citizens of this Nation should treat and dispose of any lands belonging to this Nation without special permission from the National authorities, he or they shall suffer death; Therefore…any person or persons who shall, contrary to the will and consent of the legislative council of this Nation…enter into a treaty with any commissioner or commissioners of the United States, or any officers instructed for that purpose, and agree to sell or dispose of any part or portion of the National lands defined in this Constitution of this Nation, he or they so offending, upon conviction before any of the circuit judges aforesaid are authorized to call a court for the trial of any such person or persons so transgressing. Be it Further Resolved; that any person or persons, who shall violate the provisions of this act, and shall refuse, by resistance, to appear at the place designated for trial, or abscond, are hereby declared to be outlaws; and any person or persons, citizens of this Nation, may kill him or them so offending, in any manner most convenient…and shall not be held accountable for the same.”
It is thought that John Ross Party members carried out this law in the killings of the Ridges and Boudinot.
He was born in the Cherokee town of Great Hiwassee, later a part of Tennessee. He was initiated as a warrior early and known by several names including Nunnehidihi, meaning “He Who Slays The Enemy In His Path,” and Ganundalegi, which meant “The Man Who Walks On The Mountain Top” or “The Ridge.”
He received the name Major while fighting with U.S. Gen. Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend during the Creek War in 1814. He used Major as his first name the rest of his life.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, in the1820s gold sparked a demand to get rid of Cherokee titles to lands within Georgia.
“While the federal government tried to create inducements to convince the Southeastern Indians to leave their homes, the discovery of gold in Georgia led to more aggressive demands for immediate removal,” the OHS website states.
While Congress debated the issues with removal, several Cherokees negotiated a removal agreement with the United States, according to the OHS.
“Major Ridge, a Cherokee planter and soldier, his son John Ridge, and his nephew Elias Boudinot conducted these negotiations with the United States despite the expressed wishes of the majority of their nation. Most Cherokees, including Principal Chief John Ross, protested and tried to stop Ridge and his so-called Treaty Party,” the OHS site states. “On May 28, 1830, while Ridge and his supporters negotiated terms of removal with the United States, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act.”
This law provided $500,000 to establish districts west of the Mississippi River, to trade eastern tribal lands for those districts, to compensate the tribes for the cost of their removal and the improvements on their homesteads, and to pay one year’s worth subsistence to those who went west, the website states.
Armed with this authority, Andrew Jackson, who was now president, authorized agents to negotiate and enforce treaties.
Major and 56 other Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota on Dec. 29, 1835. Major, who could not right, made his mark on the treaty. That ultimately led to his death.
According to “Cherokee Tragedy,” one of three bands of Cherokees sought to kill Major on the same morning as John Ridge and Elias Boudinot.
“Having learned that he had left the previous day for Van Buren (Arkansas), where one of his slaves lay ill, they had followed him down the Line Road. They discovered where he had spent the night, beneath the roof of Ambrose Harnage, at Cincinnati, Arkansas, and they rode ahead to form an ambush,” the book states.
Five men hid in the brush of trees where the road crossed White Rock Creek, now Little Branch, near Dutchtown, now known as Dutch Mills.
“At ten o’clock, Major Ridge came riding down the highway with a colored boy in attendance. Several rifles cracked. The Ridge slumped in his saddle, his head and body pierced by five bullets,” according to the book.
Those thought to have fired upon him were James Foreman, Anderson Springston, Bird Doublehead, Isaac Springton, James Hair and Jefferson Hair.
Major’s body was recovered by nearby settlers and buried in a cemetery in what is now Piney, Okla. He was later moved and buried near his home on Honey Creek in northern Delaware County.
John was born in Georgia to Major and Susannah Wickett Ridge in 1802.
Growing up, John attended school at the Springplace Mission in Georgia and then Brainerd Mission in Tennessee. In 1819, he went to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Conn., which existed until 1827.
While attending the Foreign Mission School, he met his wife, the daughter of the school’s steward, Sarah Bird Northrup. The couple married in 1824. The biracial union caused uproar from the town of Cornwall resulting in John and his wife leaving.
According to Robert J. Conley’s “A Cherokee Encyclopedia” later that year, John went with his father and Chief Ross to Washington, D.C. to protest the possible removal of Cherokees from all lands east of the Mississippi River.
In 1830, President Jackson pushed his removal bill through Congress and it passed into law. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rev. Samuel Worcester v. Georgia that Georgia’s laws over Cherokee territory were illegal and unconstitutional. It ruled that the Cherokee Nation had sovereign status, however Jackson refused to enforce the ruling in favor of the Cherokees, which caused John to change his position.
Feeling that the Cherokees had no other course of action, he began to speak in favor of negotiating a removal treaty with the United States and on Dec. 29, 1835, along with others known as the Ridge Party or Treaty Party, he signed the Treaty of New Echota.
Those who signed the treaty were Cherokee Nation citizens but were not elected officials. After signing, he moved with his family to present-day Oklahoma in 1837.
The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty and although Chief Ross and others protested it, it led to the removal in 1838-39 known as the Trail of Tears. The U.S. Army began forcing Cherokees and their slaves (for those who had them) out of their homes. On Aug. 23, 1838, the first removal detachment of Cherokees left, and on Dec. 5, 1838, the 13th detachment left. It arrived in Indian Territory on March 18, 1839. Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died along the trail.
According to the treaty, Cherokees who wished to remain in the East could do so but would be required to become U.S. citizens by giving up their tribal status, a provision that was ignored during the removal.
Because the treaty surrendered all Cherokee land, Ross supporters, the Ross or National Party, regarded the Treaty Party as traitors.
On June 22, 1839, John, his father Major and Boudinot were assassinated for having signed the treaty.
According to “Cherokee Tragedy,” 25 men reached John’s house in the morning and, while he was still in bed, fired a gun at John’s head. The gun failed to fire. He was then dragged outside and stabbed 26 times in the torso and neck. While still alive, he was then stomped on and kicked, all in front of his wife, mother and son, John Rollin Ridge.
John was buried about 150 yards to 500 yards from his home in Polson Cemetery, which is located southeast of Grove, Okla. near the Oklahoma/Missouri state line in Delaware County.
The sentiments among the Cherokee people in June 1839 in Indian Territory could be said were of misery, mistrust and resentment.
The last detachment of Cherokees forcibly removed from the East had arrived three months before and they were attempting to rebuild their lives. However, Chief Ross wished to reunite the tribe’s three factions, which lived together in what is now northeastern Oklahoma.
He called a meeting at an Illinois River camp ground located a few miles southeast of where Tahlequah now sits, and tried to get the Old Settlers, Cherokees who had settled the territory in the early 1800s, and members of the Treaty Party, Cherokees who had signed away Cherokee lands in the East, to reunite with his party or faction.
Boudinot, the Cherokee Phoenix’s first editor, his uncle Major Ridge and Major’s son, John, were members of the Treaty Party.
The two smaller factions declined any union with Ross, and the meeting broke up on June 21. Based on an 1890 statement by Allen Ross, John Ross’ son, men who had signed the 1835 Treaty and opposed John Ross as chief caused the anti-union dissention.
“After several days of endeavor to get together and having failed, some of the leaders of the emigrants called a secret meeting without the knowledge or consent of my father John Ross at what is now known as Double Springs about four miles northwest of Tahlequah for the purpose of making plans to effect an act of union,” Allen’s statement reads.
The discussion turned to the blood law passed by the Cherokee National Council that stated that any Cherokee who agreed or signed an agreement to sell Cherokee lands should forfeit their lives.
“Believing that the same men who had made the Treaty of 1835 were responsible for the failure of the Cherokee people to get together, this meeting decided that these three men (Boudinot and the two Ridges) should be executed as provided by the law,” Allen wrote. “The meeting further decided that this meeting must be kept from their chief because he would prevent it as he had once before at Red Clay before their removal.”
A committee was appointed to arrange details. Numbers were placed in a hat for each person present. Twelve numbers had an X mark after them, which indicated the executioners. Allen wrote he was not allowed to draw and was tasked to go his father’s home the evening before the executions and to stay with him and if possible keep him from finding out what was being done.
According to a letter written on June 26 by Boudinot’s friend and confidant, Rev. Samuel Worcester, Boudinot was living with Worcester at Park Hill near Tahlequah and was building a home about a quarter mile away. Worcester was at the construction site the morning Boudinot was killed.
“There he was, last Saturday morning, when some men came up, inquiring for medicine. He set out with them to come and get it and had walked but a few rods when he was heard to shriek, and his hired men, at and near his house ran to his help, but before they could reach the spot, the deed was done,” Worcester wrote. “They seemed to have stabbed Mr. Boudinot in the back with a knife, and then finished their dreadful work with a hatchet, inflicting seven strokes, two or three of which sunk deep into his head. To me he was a dear friend, a most intimate companion, and a most valued helper.”
An act of union was formed the next month and the newly formed council pardoned all parties connected with the assassinations of the Ridges and Boudinot.
Boudinot is buried in the Worcester Cemetery in Park Hill, about a mile from where the Cherokee Phoenix is published.
The three assassinations are thought to have helped form the basis of the July 12, 1839, act of union that brought together the Old Settlers and the Ross and Treaty parties.
Baker said Emmet Starr’s “History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folklore” states that the Eastern and Western Cherokees came together to form one body politic. This, Baker said, led to the CN constitution two months later.
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.”
<a href="http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/Docs/2015/5/9277_art_150414_1828PhoenixDoc.pdf" target="_blank">Click here to view</a>the complete scanned 1828 Cherokee Phoenix.
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: email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>.
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.
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="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/138836784/return-from-exile-exhibition-catalog/description" target="_blank">https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/138836784/return-from-exile-exhibition-catalog/description</a>.