http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgThe historic Saline Courthouse near Rose, Okla., is the last remaining district courthouse built by the Cherokee Nation in the 1800s. In 2003, the Saline Preservation Association was formed to restore the courthouse and the grounds around it. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The historic Saline Courthouse near Rose, Okla., is the last remaining district courthouse built by the Cherokee Nation in the 1800s. In 2003, the Saline Preservation Association was formed to restore the courthouse and the grounds around it. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Saline Courthouse: A Place of Beauty and Mystery

03/02/2016 12:00 PM
ROSE, Okla. (AP) – On the border between Mayes and Delaware counties sits a property that is one of the best-kept secrets in Oklahoma. The Saline Courthouse site is a magical natural wonderland in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by empty meadows, a chicken farm or two, pasture and woods, the courthouse is a spring creek-fed idyll full of beauty and mystery and…death.

People in the know visit this place to take photos along the rock-lined creek and watch tadpoles and crawdads scoot around. In the summer, it is a great place to sit on the grassy bank and dip your feet in the cold water. The courthouse doors have been closed for many years, but the old white building serves as a good backdrop while lounging.

In 2003, the Saline Preservation Association was formed to restore the courthouse and the grounds around it. The courthouse is the only remaining one of nine that were built in the 1880s by the Cherokee Nation. Though it only operated as a courthouse for 14 years, it has a rich history.

Mayes County Assessor and SPA President Lisa Melchior said, “The first time I visited Saline was with my mother in 2002. The door was locked but the windows were busted out, and you could just step right in. It was in a dilapidated state with rotten wood, paint peeling, etc.”

Melchior was intrigued and went home and began searching for information about it. She discovered it was on Preservation Oklahoma’s Most Endangered List.

“Here was the last remaining structure of nine rural courthouses in the Cherokee Nation from the 1800s and it seemed to be forgotten,” said Melchior.

After she and others worked to form the SPA, they began working with the CN on a master plan to restore, renovate and renew the property, which is now designated as the Saline National Park.

When the courthouse closed in 1898, it passed through a succession of private ownerships, including being the property and residence of John Teehee, John and Poca Phillips, Coon Phillips, Stanley Perkins and finally Lee and Florine Ransom. The Ransoms sold the house in 1970 to the Oklahoma parks department. The CN eventually took ownership of the property in the 1980s.

The springhouse was the first building to be restored, and the courthouse has had major improvements made, and a plan for the original 14 acres around it is being carried out, piece by piece.

In addition, said Melchior, “The Teehee Cemetery had the stones repaired and a fence placed around it. A split-rail fence was put along the roadway. The courthouse structure has been stabilized with the lead paint abated, porch, chimneys, fireplace and foundation restored.”

“Broken windows have been replaced, rotten siding replaced and a new roof put on. It has come a long way and is now one of Preservation Oklahoma’s success stories,” said Melchior.

Travis Owens, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism manager, said the organization is continuing to work on a master plan for the property.

“We hope to have the plan complete by fall and will consider site access, walking trails, parking, public restrooms and options for the permanent use of the courthouse,” Owens told the Pryor Daily Times.

“The master plan focuses on exterior grounds and our first priority was preserving the building’s structural integrity,” said Owens. “We have successfully completed an exterior restoration, which included the stabilization of the building and a new roof.

“At this time a future use for the property has not been determined but we look forward to developing plans for the interior restoration,” he added.

Melchior noted that the CN had bought 50 additional acres for a Memorial Trail and other trails around the courthouse.

“I envision hiking trails and historical markers telling the story of the Saline District and the Cherokee Nation, a place that families can spend time visiting nature at its best and learning the history of the Cherokee Nation,” said Melchior. “The Cherokee Nation has not determined the future use of the courthouse structure, but I personally would like to see it used in a way to tell the judicial story of the Cherokee Nation.”

Melchior envisions the site being an interpretive one that “brings the past to life though pictures and stories.”

“People are drawn to the site and have been for hundreds of years. It’s a special place with a unique and special story,” she said.

Stories of the courthouse abound, many of which involve some not-so-savory characters and happenings.

In the cemetery located on the grounds is a gravestone for A.J. Colvard. The thing about this stone was it read “Born April 12, 1958, Murdered . . . “ The date is illegible. It’s not many gravestones one sees that have “murdered” on them.

Colvard was a store owner who was apparently killed by Stand Rowe, with John Hicks as an accomplice, in February 1892. Rowe was killed running from the law, and Hicks was tried and convicted but acquitted in a second trial.

Five years after Colvard’s murder, “The Saline Courthouse Massacre” occurred. Omer Morgan describes this incident in a 1955 article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma. According to Morgan, on Sept. 20, 1897, three people were shot and killed at the courthouse, one of them the outgoing sheriff Jesse Sunday and the other the current sheriff Dave Ridge. Also killed was Saline community store owner Thomas Baggett.

Stories conflict surrounding the murders, but what is known is that Dave Ridge showed up at Baggett’s store after it closed and stood on the porch trying to get in. Baggett appeared at an upstairs window and talked to him, and as he did, he was shot.

Most reports blame the murder on Sampson Rogers, who was hiding out nearby with a friend of his. Rogers apparently had a feud with Baggett and supposedly was going to pin the murder on Ridge. Rogers then allegedly killed Ridge.

The outgoing sheriff Jesse Sunday deputized some men and then came to the Saline Courthouse to see what anyone knew about the murders. Martin Rowe, who lived there, and John Colvard, his friend, were sitting on the porch. Sunday apparently took a shotgun from Colvard and then began searching the area around the courthouse. During his search he was shot and murdered.

Rowe was convicted of Sunday’s death, but the sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison, since the evidence was not strong. Rowe, however, escaped three months later, fled to Texas, joined the army, was discharged and eventually ended up in Stilwell, where he lived the rest of a long life.

Rogers was tried and found not guilty of Ridge’s murder.

Despite some unsavory stories involving it, the Saline Courthouse continues to be a place where people can learn about the past and soak in the beauty of the natural scenery.

For more information about the SPA, visit


Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
12/13/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The annual lighting of the Cherokee Nation Capitol building was held Dec. 1 when Principal Chief Bill John Baker turned on Christmas lights decorating the downtown square. The event unofficially announced the arrival of the holiday season. Visitors enjoyed refreshments as well as music by the Cherokee Nation Youth Choir. Children were also treated to a live nativity scene and holiday train rides.
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
12/12/2017 08:00 AM
TULSA, Okla. – Oklahoma audiences were treated to a special Q&A with Cherokee actor Wes Studi after screening his new film “Hostiles” on Nov. 29 during the Tribal Film Festival at Circle Cinema. “The story itself goes on to touch on the basis of the fact that we do have to come together, be it for survival or whatever,” Studi said. “It’s really a matter of survival that we bring our minds together to forge a better beginning as we move forward.” “Hostiles” is set in 1892 and follows Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) as he battles hatred towards dying Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Studi) while being forced to escort him and his family from New Mexico back to their ancestral lands in Montana. The film also stars Rosamund Pike, Adam Beach, Q’orianka Kilcher and Ben Foster. Christina Burke, curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art, moderated the panel. Also participating were “Smoke Signals” director Chris Eyre and Dr. Joely Proudfit, who were tribal consultants for the film and brought in to the production to assist with creating an accurate portrayal of Cheyenne people and customs. “We were brought in pretty early on, and we were on set most of the time. I would say over 90 percent of the time, everyday on the set, both of us or at least one of us,” Proudfit said. “We had an actual Cheyenne chief come and do a blessing before we began shooting. And for a production of that caliber to take that time to allow for this culture and tradition to be a part of the process, I’ve never seen anything like that.” Studi was quick to agree and praised their efforts on the film. “(Eyre and Proudfit) really brought a lot to the table in terms of authenticity, of not only the language, but customs and other things we needed from the Cheyenne community,” he said. “I think that the film is much better off for the fact that they were there to help us.” The audience was also given a peak into the choices made during filming, including what motivated certain characters and that the cast and crew shot two versions of the ending. The panel also shared with the audience that while they have screened “Hostiles” multiple times, there are still new things to discover about its message. “This movie is a touchstone to so many ideas that we have right now in this country and that’s why I think this movie is so valuable because it’s about the gray areas,” Eyre said. “I keep watching, and I think the highest compliment to the movie is that I keep getting new things out of the movie.” Proudfit agreed, telling audiences that “you have to see it again.” “It takes time to marinate because these are such deep issues,” she said. “We’ve seen it eight times and every time we hear something new. We’ve been entertained so much with film and media now that we’re not ever asked to feel or think anymore, and I think we do that in this film.”
12/11/2017 04:00 PM
VINITA, Okla. – On Dec. 5, Cherokee Nation and city officials unveiled a 12-foot-by-10-foot captioned photo as a mural in honor of the late Anna Belle Sixkiller Mitchell, a Cherokee National Treasure who revived Southeastern-style pottery. “This project started a year ago as a way to beautify the city and celebrate the historic nature that we have with the Cherokee Nation. As people drive by in Vinita they can learn more about our town and our community,” Vinita City Councilor Stephanie Hoskin said. The City Council worked with downtown store owners to find a space for the mural and with the Eastern Trails Museum for the mural’s photo. The project was funded through the city’s hotel tax. The photo depicts Mitchell making pottery in her studio. She is known for restoring the Southeastern-style of pottery back into the Cherokee culture. The tribe’s pottery tradition was not continued after removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s until Mitchell began making pottery in the 1960s. Mitchell was born Oct. 16, 1926, to Oo-loo-tsa and Houston Sixkiller in Delaware County. Several CN officials – including Mitchell’s daughter, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez – attended the mural’s unveiling. “I saw it on the wall, and I was just blown away. It just made my heart soar because my dad especially would be so proud. He was very proud of what mom did, and if he could have been here today we would just be beaming, but I can feel what he would have felt,” Vazquez said. “Most of all, I’m just so proud of our community, the fact that we would have an idea to do this and make it happen in such a short period of time.” Cherokee National Treasure and graphic artist Dan Mink was responsible for the photo’s look. He said he was up for the challenge of designing the border and selecting the color and font. “Just thinking about what I was doing and what this lady represented, I just wanted to do a good job,” he said. “I thought the little script font that looked like a paintbrush type effect on there, I thought that, to me, it suited her well. I got the color off that vase or the pottery that’s in the picture. It was an ochre red, which is a traditional color of ours, so I took that color and made the border around it.” The mural, located at 127 S. Wilson St., will stay up until it is replaced with another notable Vinita resident who has made a contribution to the community.
12/11/2017 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee National Treasures were honored by Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Business officials with an annual holiday luncheon on Dec. 4 in the O-Si-Yo Room at the W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex. Treasures enjoyed a lunch catered by the Restaurant of the Cherokees and received $100 gift cards and chances to win door prizes. The luncheon was hosted by CNB, which officially took on the program in 2015. “Today’s event was the annual holiday luncheon for Cherokee National Treasures. This event brings treasures together to celebrate the holidays and a special meal together where they can visit and just catch up with everyone before the busy Christmas season,” CNB Senior Vice President of Marketing and Cultural Tourism Molly Jarvis said. Tribal Councilor and Cherokee National Treasure Victoria Vazquez spoke about the day’s importance. “It’s very important because throughout the year (Cherokee) National Treasures continually contribute to sharing the art and culture and language that they have learned and used for many years. A lot of times it’s done without anyone knowing about what they’ve done. So it’s a way to pay back for their giving because a lot of these treasures are elderly and probably have been doing this thing that they do probably for 25, 30 years. This is just a small pay back for them.” CN officials spoke about the CNT program and what it means to keep the arts, language and culture alive. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said since the recognition of treasures, the value of their art has increased. “I was talking to Lorene (Drywater)…and her (buffalo grass) dolls have gone up seven and a half times, which is part of the marketing,” Baker said. “I hope that all of our art goes up in value because it’s priceless. It truly is priceless. But it’s my honor and privilege to work with you and work for you. I’m always there with an open ear, an open mind and an open heart to help you do what you do.” Jane Osti, a Cherokee National Treasure for pottery, said she came to the event to see her “treasure” friends and thinks the program is on a “good path” with the mentoring program. “I think we are on a really good path with our mentoring. I think if we continue that, we can continue our arts and language and culture. I think that everybody is wanting to work toward that, that we have a good group of people that care about it,” Osti said. Many treasures brought their “Cherokee National Treasures: In Their Own Words” books to be signed by other treasures with the opportunity to visit and take photos. For more information, call 918-207-3503 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>.
12/09/2017 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A nonprofit public watchdog is suing Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter for refusing to release a special audit into criminal allegations connected to the state's effort to clean up heavily polluted communities in northwest Oklahoma. Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability filed the lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court Monday against Hunter and Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, seeking the audit's release. Jones' office conducted the audit in 2011 at the request of former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump's pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But after the audit's completion, Pruitt ordered it not to be released. The audit looked into suspected unlawful contracting practices of a state trust involved in a buyout of residents in the lead-polluted communities. Hunter's office declined comment Monday on the lawsuit.
12/07/2017 04:15 PM
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — President Donald Trump's rare move to shrink two large national monuments in Utah triggered another round of outrage among Native American leaders who vowed to unite and take the fight to court to preserve protections for lands they consider sacred. Environmental and conservation groups and a coalition of tribes joined the battle Monday and began filing lawsuits that ensure that Trump's announcement is far from the final chapter of the yearslong public lands battle. The court cases are likely to drag on for years, maybe even into a new presidency. Trump decided to reduce Bears Ears — created last December by President Barack Obama — by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante — designated in 1996 by President Bill Clinton — by nearly half. The moves earned him cheers from Republican leaders in Utah who lobbied him to undo protections they considered overly broad. Conservation groups called it the largest elimination of protected land in American history. The move comes a week after tribal leaders decried Trump for using the name of a historical Native American figure as a slur. On Nov. 27, Trump used a White House event honoring Navajo Code Talkers to take a political jab at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat he has derisively nicknamed "Pocahontas" for her claim to have Native American heritage. "It's just another slap in the face for a lot of us, a lot of our Native American brothers and sisters," Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez said. "To see that happen a week ago, with disparaging remarks, and now this." Trump also overrode tribal objections to approve the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. The Navajo Nation was one of five tribes that formed a coalition that spent years lobbying Obama to declare Bears Ears to preserve lands home to ancient cliff dwellings and an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. Native Americans visit the area to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and wood for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and do healing rituals. A lawsuit from the coalition of the Hopi, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni tribes and Navajo Nation was filed late Monday night. Earlier Monday, Earthjustice filed the first of several expected lawsuits, calling the reduction of Grand Staircase-Escalante an abuse of the president's power that jeopardizes a "Dinosaur Shangri-la" full of fossils. Some of the dinosaur fossils sit on a plateau that is home to one of the country's largest known coal reserves, which could now be open to mining. The organization is representing eight conservation groups. Trump, in a speech at Utah's Capitol with the governor and other politicians, said the state's lands should not be managed by "very distant bureaucrats located in Washington." "Your timeless bond with the outdoors should not be replaced with the whims of regulators thousands and thousands of miles away," Trump said. "I've come to Utah to take a very historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens." The decision marks the first time in a half century that a president has undone these types of land protections. Trump's move followed months of lobbying by Utah's mostly Republican officials who said the two monuments closed off the area to energy development and other access. Environmental and tribal groups say the designations are needed to protect important archaeological and cultural resources, especially the more than 1.3 million-acre (2,030-square-mile) Bears Ears site featuring thousands of Native American artifacts. Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch said only Congress, not the president, has the power to reduce a national monument, something that the tribal coalition argued in its lawsuit. Additional legal challenges were expected from environmental groups and outdoor clothing company Patagonia. Outside Trump's announcement Monday, roughly 3,000 protesters lined up near the State Capitol. Some held signs that said, "Keep your tiny hands off our public lands," and they chanted, "Lock him up!" A smaller group gathered in support, including some who said they favor potential drilling or mining there that could create jobs. Bears Ears has no oil or gas, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters, though Grand Staircase-Escalante has coal. Bears Ears, created nearly a year ago, will be reduced to 201,876 acres (315 square miles). Grand Staircase-Escalante will be reduced from nearly 1.9 million acres (nearly 3,000 square miles) to 1 million acres (1,569 square miles). Both were among a group of 27 monuments that Trump ordered Zinke to review this year. Democrats and environmentalists accuse Trump and Zinke of engaging in a secretive process aimed at helping industry groups that have donated to Republican political campaigns. Zinke accompanied Trump aboard Air Force One, as did Utah's Republican U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee. Hatch and other Utah Republican leaders pushed Trump to launch the review, saying the monuments designated by the former Democratic presidents locked up too much federal land. Trump framed the decision as returning power to the state, saying, "You know and love this land the best and you know the best how to take care of your land." He said the decision would "give back your voice." "Public lands will once again be for public use," Trump said to cheers. Hatch, who introduced Trump, said that when "you talk, this president listens" and that Trump promised to help him with "federal overreach." No president has tried to eliminate a monument, but some have reduced or redrawn the boundaries on 18 occasions, according to the National Park Service. The most recent instance came in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy slightly downsized Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the protections, which Trump is able to upend under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The law gives presidents broad authority to declare federal lands as monuments and restrict their use. Zinke has also recommended to Trump that Nevada's Gold Butte and Oregon's Cascade-Siskiyou monuments be reduced in size, though details remain unclear. The former Montana congressman's plan would allow logging at a newly designated monument in Maine and more grazing, hunting and fishing at two sites in New Mexico. Patagonia President and CEO Rose Marcario said the outdoor-apparel company will join an expected court fight against the monument reduction, which she described as the "largest elimination of protected land in American history."