The most influential Cherokee in history? Vote on it.

05/15/2020 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A bracket contains 16 of some of the most influential Cherokees in history. Beginning May 18, the public will be asked each day to select the most influential Cherokee in a series of Facebook polls. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Who is the most influential Cherokee in history? Well, you can help decide beginning May 18.

The Cherokee Phoenix is asking its Facebook audience to help name the most influential Cherokee in history. On May 18, the public will be asked each day to select the most influential Cherokee in a series of Facebook polls. The final poll will include the final two remaining Cherokees of the original 16 finalists and will be voted on by the public on June 1.

The list of Cherokees in the elimination-style poll consists of those who made impacts on the tribe’s language, culture, art, government and other areas.

“The Cherokee Phoenix’s Facebook voting event to name the most influential Cherokee in history is a way for our publication to engage our audience and educate the public on some of the most influential Cherokees in history,” Executive Editor Tyler Thomas said. “We look forward to seeing whom the public deems as the most influential Cherokee in history and thank everyone who will choose to follow and participate in this 15-day process of naming the most influential Cherokee in history.”

The “YOU DECIDE: Most Influential Cherokee in History” polls will go live at 7 a.m. and be available for voting for nearly 24 hours.

Voters will also be entered into a drawing for a Cherokee Phoenix swag bag each time they vote in a poll question during the 15 days of voting.

The 16 Cherokees from the tribe’s history in the “YOU DECIDE: Most Influential Cherokee in History” polling event include:

Elias Boudinot
“Buck” Watie or Elias Boudinot was the first editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. The brother of Stand Watie was born in 1802 in Calhoun, Georgia. He later took the name of his benefactor Dr. Elias Boudinot who paid for his education. He resigned as editor in 1832 after disagreeing with Principal Chief John Ross on the issue of Cherokee removal. In 1835, he took park in signing an illegal removal treaty that sold what remained of eastern Cherokee lands. On June 22, 1839, just three months after the last removal contingent reached Indian Territory, other Cherokees killed Boudinot, likely for signing the removal treaty.

Jesse Bushyhead
Jesse Bushyhead was a Cherokee religious and political leader. He was born in 1804 near the present-day town of Cleveland, Tennessee. He led a party of about 1,000 people on the Trail of Tears. On their arrival in March 1839 near present-day Westville, Oklahoma, he established the Baptist Mission. The Cherokees called the place “Breadtown” because food rations for Cherokee emigrants were distributed there. Bushyhead became chief justice of the Cherokee Nation in 1840 and remained in that office until his death. His eldest son Dennis Bushyhead served as principal chief from 1879-87. Jesse died on July 17, 1844, and was buried at the old Baptist Mission cemetery near Westville.

Rachel Caroline Eaton
Rachel Eaton taught in Cherokee Nation public schools, and for a time, was a faculty member of the Cherokee Female Seminary in Tahlequah. She attended Cherokee Nation public schools and graduated from the seminary in 1887. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, and master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Chicago. She is believed to be the first Native American woman to earn a Ph.D. After retiring, she devoted herself to research and writing Cherokee history, including the book “John Ross and the Cherokee Indians,” published in 1910. Eaton was born in Flint Creek in the Cherokee Nation on July 7, 1869, and died Sept. 20, 1938, in Claremore.

Durbin Feeling
A Cherokee linguist, Durbin Feeling is the single largest contributor to the Cherokee language since Sequoyah, according to the Cherokee Nation. In 2018, he co-wrote “Cherokee Narratives - A Linguistic Study,” which “contributes to the understanding and preservation of Cherokee language and culture.” Some of Feeling’s accomplishments include writing a Cherokee language dictionary and helping add the language on Unicode, which allows smartphones to offer the Cherokee syllabary. He also has developed hundreds of language teaching materials used today. In October 2019, the Tribal Council passed the “Durbin Feeling Cherokee Language Preservation Act,” which includes a large investment in the language.

W.W. Hastings
William Wirt Hastings actively served the Cherokee Nation and his country. He was the attorney for the Cherokee Nation when it made its final rolls and its lands were allotted in the early 1900s. He was elected to Congress in 1914 and served Oklahoma in Congress for nine terms. While serving in Congress, Hastings sought funding for an Indian hospital in Tahlequah, which opened in December 1935. The natural stone hospital was named in his honor. A new W.W. Hastings Hospital was built in Tahlequah in 1984. After retiring from political office in 1934, he resumed practicing law in Tahlequah. Hastings was born on Dec. 31, 1866, in Benton County, Arkansas, and died on April 8, 1938.

W.W. Keeler  
William Wayne “Bill” Keeler was the last federally-appointed chief and the first elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in the 20th century. He was educated as a chemical engineer and worked for the Phillips Petroleum Company and became CEO of the company. President Harry Truman appointed him principal chief in 1949, and he was elected to that office in 1971. In 1975, he took charge of drafting a new Cherokee Nation constitution. While leading the tribe, he promoted infrastructure building, education for Cherokees, skills training and brought back the Cherokee newspaper the Cherokee Advocate. He died on Aug. 24, 1987.

Wilma Mankiller
Wilma Mankiller of Adair County was the Cherokee Nation’s first female chief and served as chief from 1985-95. She was an activist and community developer who organized community service projects in Bell and Kenwood that gained national attention. Principal Chief Ross Swimmer invited her to run as his deputy chief in 1983. She accepted and won her race. Two years later, she became principal chief when Swimmer resigned to go work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. During her time as chief, the Cherokee Nation built health clinics, established ambulance services, launched job-training services and most importantly established self-governance with the federal government, which allowed the tribe to manage its own funding. Mankiller died on April 6, 2010.

Anna Mitchell
Anna Sixkiller Mitchell was a Cherokee National Treasure and is credited with reviving the art of traditional, southeastern/woodlands-style pottery for Cherokee people in Oklahoma. When she realized the art of Cherokee pottery was being lost she became determined to help preserve it. She had no guide for creating Cherokee pottery when she began creating objects from clay found in a pond near her home in Vinita in 1967. Using the book “Sun Circles and Human Hands as a guide, she created the Southeastern-style pottery of ancestors and mentored others to become potters. She was born in Jay, Oklahoma, on Oct. 16, 1926, and died on March 3, 2012, in Vinita.

John Ridge
John Ridge was born in 1802 near present-day Calhoun, Georgia, the son of Major Ridge. He was a leading member of the Cherokee National Council and was highly respected by neighboring tribes in the southeastern United States for his faithfulness to Indian welfare. In the 1830s, he was part of the Treaty Party that believed Indian removal was inevitable. The Ridges signed to the 1835 Treaty of New Echota that ceded eastern Cherokee lands for lands in Indian Territory. On June 22, 1839, a group of Ross partisans killed Ridge, his father and Elias Boudinot in revenge for having signed the removal treaty.

Will Rogers
Many people consider Will Rogers “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son.” He was a stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, American cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist and social commentator from Oklahoma. A Cherokee Nation citizen he was born Nov. 4, 1879, in Indian Territory near Oologah. The “Cherokee Kid” traveled around the world three times, made 71 films, was the leading political columnist of his time and was once the highest paid Hollywood film star. On Aug. 15, 1935, a plane crash took the lives of Rogers and aviator Wiley Post. Rogers is interred on the grounds of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore.

John Ross
John Ross is the Cherokee Nation’s longest-serving principal chief. In 1827, he was elected second chief and the following year he was elected principal chief by the Tribal Council. He would hold this office until his death on Aug. 1, 1866. His biggest challenge as chief was battling the state of Georgia and the federal government to keep what remained of Cherokee lands. Ultimately, he had to oversee the removal of his people to Indian Territory in 1838 and oversaw the rebuilding of the Cherokee Nation in what is now northeastern Oklahoma. Born on Oct. 3, 1790, Ross’s Cherokee name was Cooweescoowee.

Mary Golda Ross
An aerospace engineer, Mary Golda Ross made notable contributions in aerospace technology, particularly in areas related to space flight and ballistic missiles. When Lockheed formed its Missiles Systems Division in 1954 and selected its first 40 employees, she was the only female engineer among them. Her work in 1958 concentrated on satellite orbits and the Agena series of rockets that played a prominent a role in the Apollo moon program during the 1960s and 1970s. Born in Oklahoma on Aug. 9, 1908, Ross took pride in her Cherokee heritage. Her great-great-grandfather was Principal Chief John Ross. She died April 29, 2008, in Los Altos, California just three months before her 100th birthday.

Sequoyah spent 12 years developing a syllabary for the Cherokee language. In 1821, the Cherokee Nation adopted the syllabary, and within months thousands of Cherokees became literate by learning to read and write their language. Sequoyah’s syllabary was also incorporated in the tribe’s newspaper the Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. A variation of the syllabary is still used today by the Cherokee Nation. A county in eastern Oklahoma is named after this Cherokee genius. The exact date of Sequoyah’s birth is unknown. It’s thought he was born between 1760 and 1780 in his hometown of Taskigi in eastern Tennessee. It is believed he died in northern Mexico in 1843.

Redbird Smith
Redbird Smith was born on July 19, 1850. He was a Cherokee traditionalist and political activist who helped create the Nighthawk Keetoowah Society. The society revitalized traditional spirituality among Cherokees. At age 10, Redbird’s father, Pig Redbird Smith, dedicated him to the services and cause of the Cherokee people in accordance with ancient customs. In 1887 and 1889, Redbird Smith served as a tribal councilor from the Illinois District of the Cherokee Nation. In 1910 he was selected as chief of the Nighthawk Keetoowahs. Redbird died on Nov. 8, 1918. He is buried in the Redbird Smith Cemetery in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma.

Nancy Ward
Nancy Ward, or Nanyehi in Cherokee, was born circa 1738 in the Cherokee capital of Chota in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee. She was a Beloved Woman and a political leader of the Cherokee. She advocated for peaceful coexistence with European-Americans. Historian Emmet Starr wrote that in the Battle of Taliwa against the Creeks, Nancy helped her husband Kingfisher. After he was killed, she picked up his rifle and led the Cherokees to victory. Following the battle, she was awarded the title of Beloved Woman, which made her the only female voting member of the tribe’s general council. In the late 1750s, Nanyehi married English trader Bryant Ward. She died circa 1822.

Stand Watie
During the American Civil War, in February 1865, Stand Watie was given command of the Indian Division of Indian Territory. Watie officially surrendered on June 23, 1865, with the distinction of being the last Confederate general to surrender. He was born on Dec. 12, 1806, in northern Georgia, and was named Degadoga, meaning, “he stands.” He was the brother of Cherokee Phoenix editor Elias Boudinot. The Ridge-Watie-Boudinot faction migrated to Indian Territory in March 1837. Watie established his home along Honey Creek in what is now Delaware County, Oklahoma. Watie spent his remaining years after the Civil War at Honey Creek. He died on Sept. 9, 1871.


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