Families honor ancestors who survived Trail of Tears

BY WILL CHAVEZ
Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
10/24/2018 02:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The fifth great-granddaughter of James and Catherine Bigby, Mary Jo Swietek, right, reads the biography of James during an Oct. 20 Trail of Tears Association ceremony at the Hungry Mountain Cemetery in Cherokee County. The ceremony honored the Bigby couple, which survived the Trail of Tears. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
During an Oct. 20 ceremony at Hungry Mountain Cemetery, metal plaques were placed on each survivor’s headstone that reads: “In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838-39. The Trail of Tears Association Oklahoma Chapter.” The plaque also includes the TOTA and Cherokee Nation seals. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
James and Catherine Bigby descendants worked together this past year to have a gravestone made, which allowed the Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association to place a metal plaque on the stone to honor James and Catherine. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
The Oklahoma Trail of Tears Association and Christie family members honor Trail of Tears survivor Jackson Christie on Oct. 20. He was born about 1836, probably on Valley River near present-day Murphy, North Carolina. Both of his parents were Cherokee, Jesse Christie (died 1868) and Polly (died about 1850). The family came west on the forced removal in the Situwakee/Jones detachment, which left in October 1838 and arrived in the west in February 1839. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Jackson Christie descendants stand in front of his headstone at the Hungry Mountain Cemetery in Cherokee County. Robin Christie, left, came from Texas to attend an Oct. 20 ceremony honoring her grandfather, who survived the Trail of Tears. Next to her are Leona Ferrell; Robin’s sister, Brenda; Mike Garner; and his son’s Ben, left, and Will. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TENKILLER – On Oct. 20, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association hosted a ceremony to honor three Cherokee people who came to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, during the 1838-39 forced removal of Cherokee people.

The ceremony was at the Hungry Mountain Cemetery on Highway 100 in Cherokee County.

Those honored were Jackson Christie (c.1836-1900), James Bigby (c.1779-1855) and Catherine (Foreman) Bigby (1785-c.1867). Metal plaques were placed on each headstone that reads: “In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838-39. The Trail of Tears Association Oklahoma Chapter.” The plaque also includes the TOTA and Cherokee Nation seals.

CN citizen, Mary Adair, who lives near Sallisaw, attended to honor James and Catherine Bigby.

“James and Catherine Bigby had several children. One of them was Thomas Wilson Bigby, and he married Margaret Catherine Adair. Their daughter was Mary Ann Bigby, and she was my grandmother’s mother,” Adair, 82, said. “Most of these (Bigby) relatives I had not met. Some I talked to on the telephone. I wanted to meet these people and get acquainted with them. Some of them have never lived in Oklahoma. They have lived in other states because the oldest daughter (of James and Catherine Bigby) didn’t come on the removal.”

Adair said some Bigby descendants worked together this past year to have a gravestone made, which allowed the Oklahoma TOTA Chapter to place a metal plaque on the stone to honor James and Catherine.

“It’s a beautiful stone, and it’s a pretty cemetery. I didn’t know where it was or anything about it until this came up. I’m glad to be a part of honoring them today,” Adair said.

Tina Flournoy, of Fort Gibson, went to honor her Foreman ancestors. Catherine Foreman Bigby was her fifth great-grandmother.

“I think it’s fantastic because anytime that you can honor a family member it should touch everyone’s heart because that person should never be forgotten. Being a mother who lost both of her children in a car accident in 2002, I never want my children to ever be forgotten. So it drives me to make sure my past relatives never be forgotten,” she said.

Mike Garner traveled from Tulsa to honor Jackson Christie, his third great-grandfather.

“My grandmother (Carol Elizabeth Christie), before she passed, lived in Park Hill. She was really the conduit for all of the Christie history that we grew up with. A lot of cultures have oral traditions, but we never realized how important those oral traditions were until the passing of my grandmother who for us kept a lot of the oral history alive,” he said. “So to have a direct descendant that you can track back to the forced removal, and to have him honored in such a way, and be a part of it, is a good day. I feel a lot pride in the Christie name and that family history.”

He said the day also allowed he and his two young sons to meet cousins they had never met and to learn more about their Cherokee heritage.

Garner’s cousin, Robin Christie, who lives near Dallas, also went to the Hungry Mountain Cemetery to honor her grandfather. She attended the ceremony with her sister, Brenda Christie, and read his biography.

“I personally am very honored to be here. If not for the hardiness of the people on that trip we would not be here. I’m grateful to them. I’ve determined from documentation that we (she and her sister Brenda) are the fifth generation,” Robin said. “I was hoping I could participate in some way. I offered and was very happy that they let me do that.”

National Trail of Tears Association President Jack Baker said TOTA chapters in nine states have “worked hard over the years” to identify and mark the trails and campsites used by Cherokee people as they traveled to Indian Territory.

“In Oklahoma, they (Trail of Tears detachments) disbanded close to the border (with Arkansas). So, we decided in 1999 that the Oklahoma Chapter’s project would be to honor those people who came on the Trail of Tears and made it possible for all of us to be here,” Baker said. “We wanted to mark the graves and bring the family members together. We have the markers so that when people come here to visit the cemetery, and you bring your children and grandchildren here, and they see the marker, you can tell them ‘this is your ancestor who came on the trail.’”

He said along with marking the graves to make it personal for the families, the markers show that the Trail of Tears “wasn’t just something that happened back in history.”

“The Trail of Tears happened to our families,” he said.

During the ceremony, family members read biographies of each survivor, and hymns were sung to honor them. The Oklahoma Chapter has now marked 156 survivors’ graves since 1999.

Biographies of 3 Trail of Tears survivors honored

Jackson Christie was born about 1836, in the Cherokee Nation East, probably on Valley River near present-day Murphy, North Carolina. Both of his parents were Cherokee, Jesse Christie (died 1868) and Polly (died about 1850). The family came west on the forced removal in the Situwakee/Jones detachment, which left in October 1838 and arrived in the west in February 1839.

The family settled in the Flint District. Jackson’s first marriage was about 1854 to Lucy Proctor (c.1838-c1876), daughter of Oo-li-skah-kah-ni and Lucy Proctor. They were the parents of two children: William Christie (1855-1889) and Levi Christie (c.1857-1887).

He was elected sheriff of the Flint District in 1867 and was elected district judge of the Flint District in 1869 and 1871 and appointed to that office in 1879. In about 1878, he married Nellie Poorbear (1853-1898), daughter of Poorbear and Sally Desahsky. They had no surviving children.
He was elected senator from the Flint District in 1879 and again in 1887 and 1897. He was also elected chief justice of the CN Supreme Court in 1885 and served as National Party delegate in 1895. He died on July 26, 1900, at Wauhillau in the Flint District and is buried in the Hungry Mountain Cemetery.

James Bigby was born in the CN East about 1779. His father was a Scotsman. His mother was a Cherokee whose first name is not known, but she was the daughter of Peg and Nathan Hicks. Because of his known literacy, he must have received educational opportunities in his youth, but the circumstances are not known.

About 1800 he married Catherine Foreman, daughter of Susie and Anthony Foreman. They were the parents of 10 children. Mary Ann Bigby Taylor, Jane Bigby Taylor, Thomas Wilson Bigby, James Bigby Jr., Wiley Bigby, Elizabeth Bigby Fields, Sarah Bigby Williams, Andrew Jackson Bigby, Susan Bigby Riley McNair and Malinda Bigby Guilliams Redman. In 1817, the Bigby family took a reservation in current McMinn County, Tennessee, but abandoned it two years later and moved near Candy’s Creek in present-day Bradley County.

While he lived in the old CN, written accounts of him show he spoke both Cherokee and English, but “always prays in English.”

In 1828 he was elected to the Cherokee Council from Amohee District.

The Bigby family came west during the forced removal in the George Hicks detachment where James was employed as interpreter. This detachment left the east in November 1838 and arrived in the west in March 1839. The family settled on Hungry Mountain in the Flint District, CN, now Cherokee County, Oklahoma, where he died on Nov. 16, 1855. He was buried in the Hungry Mountain Cemetery.

Catherine Foreman Bigby was born in the CN East on April 17, 1785. Her father was a white man, Anthony Foreman, and her mother a full-blood Cherokee named Susie. About 1800, she married James Bigby and they had 10 children. She and her husband were members of the church at Candy’s Creek and 1828 church records record the following information about her:

“Catherine Bigby was one of the first in this place who embraced the Gospel. She understands and speaks a little English. She is a sister of Thomas Foreman, one of the two principal headmen of this district. Her habits of industry are very commendable. For example, she and her daughter manufacture cloth for the supply of her family, which is quite large.”

Catherine died about 1867 probably in her home on Hungry Mountain and was buried in Hungry Mountain Cemetery.
About the Author
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M.

He e ...
WILL-CHAVEZ@cherokee.org • 918-207-3961
Will lives in Tahlequah, Okla., but calls Marble City, Okla., his hometown. He is Cherokee and San Felipe Pueblo and grew up learning the Cherokee language, traditions and culture from his Cherokee mother and family. He also appreciates his father’s Pueblo culture and when possible attends annual traditional dances held on the San Felipe Reservation near Albuquerque, N.M. He e ...

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