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
10/16/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 9, Native Americans, including many Cherokees, celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day in Tahlequah and on Northeastern State University’s campus. The following Cherokee Phoenix video highlights people and events of the day.
10/15/2017 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A small Oklahoma town is irate that the state has decided to restore its Capitol with marble from a Chinese vendor over marble produced from the town's own quarry. Locals in Marble City, located near the Arkansas border, say the marble used for the project should come from Oklahoma, not another country. Over the next four years, workers will replace parts of the Capitol's lowest floor, eventually laying down about 25,000 square feet of marble. One of the bids was linked to Polycor, a manufacturing company that produces marble from a quarry in Marble City. The Oklahoman reports that construction officials said the bid using those materials came in over budget, and called the Chinese marble "superior" to the quality of the Polycor product in every measurement category.
10/15/2017 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Three hung juries in the case of a white former Oklahoma police officer charged with fatally shooting his daughter's black boyfriend had one thing in common besides unwillingness to convict: Each had only one African-American juror. Race has been an undercurrent in ex-Tulsa officer Shannon Kepler's first-degree murder case, which is headed for a fourth trial. Criminal law experts and U.S. Supreme Court cases point to the importance of racial identity and policing when it comes to jury selection, which is set to start Monday. Kepler, a 24-year veteran of the force, was off duty in August 2014 when he fatally shot 19-year-old Jeremey Lake, who had just started dating Kepler's daughter. Kepler doesn't deny pulling the trigger but says he did so only because he thought Lake was armed. No weapon was found on or near Lake's body. Officers across the U.S. involved in fatal shootings of black residents have recently faced similar trials. In the past year alone — including in Tulsa — juries were unwilling to vote for a conviction or prosecutors were unwilling to charge officers in cases from Baltimore to St. Louis. In May, a jury acquitted now-former Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby in the killing of an unarmed black man, which roiled the city's black community. "I don't see how race cannot play a role," said Kris McDaniel-Miccio, a professor at Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and a former Bronx-based prosecutor. "I don't think there's any way to get around it because of what has happened in this community." The racial makeup of the juries in Kepler's previous trials prompted criticism from at least one civil rights group. Tulsa activist Marq Lewis with We the People Oklahoma said Kepler's defense attorneys have been booting potential jurors based on skin color. "The last three juries somehow felt that Jeremey was a bad person because he was black," Lewis said. "They couldn't bring themselves to believe this off-duty officer would literally shoot someone in cold blood without thinking somehow the black guy is sinister and he's done something bad." Richard O'Carroll, Kepler's defense attorney, has denied race played a role in Lake's killing. O'Carroll did not return messages this past week seeking comment on the case. Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler declined to comment specifically on the racial makeup of the past juries, but acknowledged "frustration" with the results of the trials. "I know I had citizens who put in a lot of effort and worked very hard and I know from their perspective they are frustrated as well," Kunzweiler said. Another racial element was recently added to the case when Kepler argued that he couldn't be tried by state prosecutors because he's a member of an American Indian tribe. A judge determined the fourth trial could move forward in state court. Kepler says he's 1/128th Muscogee (Creek). Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that prosecutors violated the Constitution by excluding African-Americans from an all-white jury that convicted a black Georgia death row inmate of killing a white woman. The decision emphasized rules set by the court in 1986 to prevent racial discrimination in jury selection. Seating more jurors of color — especially in cases involving police who have fatally shot people — could be a factor in how a jury ultimately votes, said Bridgette Baldwin, professor of law at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. "The life experience is different," said Baldwin, who is black. "I may not be scared of a young male with a hoodie on because I've been socialized to be around these types of individuals. You see things differently, you hear things differently, you process things differently." McDaniel-Miccio, the Denver law professor, said the Kepler case illustrates what the U.S. is trying to address when it comes to race, police and the justice system. "How many generations do we have to have pass before we come to the honest realization that there is a distinct racial and ethnic asymmetry in this country?" she said. "We live in a world where we should believe that when something like this happens, they will be facing justice and they will be held accountable if they broke the law — no more, no less.”
10/14/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation will install storm shelters in its Head Start campuses after recently receiving an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The above-ground storm shelters will protect nearly 300 toddlers, preschoolers and staff at seven Head Start sites from severe weather and will be used as multipurpose facilities at the centers. An internal notification system for staff is also being implemented. “Ensuring our most valuable resource, our children, are able to stay safe and keep sheltered during a life-threatening storm gives us all a better peace of mind,” Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden said. “Providing these additional levels of protection is a responsibility we take very seriously at Cherokee Nation. In northeast Oklahoma, dangerous weather is an inevitability we must prepare for, and these storm shelters will enable the tribe to offer Cherokee families a better sense of security when it comes to their kids.” The CN is one of 77 tribes to receive a portion of $55.2 million worth of Indian Community Development Block Grants awarded by HUD on Sept. 14. The grants are meant to improve housing conditions and community amenities and to stimulate economic development across Indian Country. Shelters built at the seven Head Start campuses will be for the use of students, teachers, parents or visitors who are on-site during an emergency and will not be open for general community use. “This grant is providing a great opportunity to keep our students out of harm’s way during severe weather,” Ron Etheridge, deputy executive director of CN Education Services, said. “I can think of no better investment than in the safety of our children and the staff charged with teaching those students on a daily basis.” The tribe’s Head Start program worked with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service and Emergency Management to apply for the grant. Planning for the project is underway, and installation must be complete within 24 months. Head Start campuses that will receive storm shelters are the Children’s Village in Tahlequah, Cherry Tree campus in Stilwell, Redbird campus in Stilwell, Jay campus, Kenwood campus, Wauhillau campus in Nowata and Pryor campus.
10/14/2017 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A hearing examiner has determined that Oklahoma City is entitled to a permit for water from a reservoir in the southeastern part of the state. The city seeks to take up to 115,000 acre feet (nearly 1.42 million cubic meters) of water annually from the Sardis Lake reservoir in the Kiamichi River basin, The Oklahoman reported . The reservoir impounds water from Jack Fork Creek, which is a tributary of the river. The city plans to invest $1 billion in infrastructure upgrades to divert the water to Lake Stanley Draper. Jim Couch, the city's manager, said the water will help the city's future growth. The report by hearing examiner Lyn Martin-Diehl was released Tuesday. It said the water the city is seeking is available for appropriation and that the city's plans will put the water to beneficial use, which is a requirement under the law for obtaining a permit. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will consider Martin-Diehl's recommendations. Opponents of the permit say it negatively would affect the Kiamichi's flow as well as wildlife and tourism in the area. Martin-Diehl said the city's use of Sardis water won't interfere with the area's water needs with the proper management. Acquiring the permit is one of the steps necessary to finalize last year's water settlement between the city, the state, and Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. The settlement aims to end litigation over water management in southeastern Oklahoma. The settlement includes plans to manage the reservoir's levels and the river's flow as well as ensure tribes have a role in resource management in the region.
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
10/13/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Oct. 10, Election Commissioner Teresa Hart was presented a letter commending her for her years of service to the Cherokee Nation and citing that her service with the commission “has come to a close.” In the letter, Principal Chief Bill John Baker thanked Hart for her service with the commission. “On behalf of the Cherokee Nation I want to thank you for your service as a Commissioner of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission,” the letter states. “During your years of service on the Election Commission, there has been much progress pertaining to the Cherokee Nation Election process. This progress could not have happened without the guidance of the Commissioners, and for that you should be commended.” Hart said she appreciated the opportunity to serve on the EC. “My life has truly been blessed. I have met so many wonderful people and made several lasting friendships,” she said. “The past year has not been as enjoyable to me, and I’m grateful to be moving on. Thank you Chief Baker for giving me this opportunity.” Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. shared his admiration for the work Hart has done at the EC. “We appreciate Teresa’s service to the Cherokee people. Those who serve on Cherokee Nation boards and commissions sacrifice so much of their time and share their talents in the name of good government. Teresa certainly did so and she is rightfully proud of her tenure on the CNEC.” According to a 2013 Cherokee Phoenix story, Hart was appointed by Baker to take the seat of former Commissioner Lindsay Earls. Hart served in her first EC meeting in September 2013. Hart’s letter of dismissal was accompanied with a letter of appointment for Randy Campbell. According to the letter, Baker informed Tribal Councilors that he would be appointing Campbell to fill the vacancy with a four-year term beginning on Oct. 1 and concluding on Oct. 1, 2021. “I’m pleased to appoint Randy Campbell to the Cherokee Nation Election Commission,” Principal Chief Bill John Baker said. “Randy has tremendous experience in organizational management which will be beneficial to the election commission.” Newly appointed commissioner Campbell spent 35 years with the Teamsters Local Union 523 where he served as president and business manager before retiring in 2007. He also served on the executive board of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations). “Its an honor that my chief and the rest of the board would ask me to be involved and take this position on. I hope I can fulfill their expectations and plan to do a great job.” Campbell said.