Family, historians share insights about Cherokee Sen. Ned Christie
WILL CHAVEZ Assistant Editor – @cp_wchavez
06/05/2020 12:00 PM
Betty Christie Frogg, a great-great niece of Ned Christie, stands in front of the former home site of her uncle (grove of trees) in Wauhillau. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A spring-fed creek still runs about 100 yards in front of the former home site of Ned Christie in Wauhillau in Adair County. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
The grave of Ned Christie is located near Wauhillau in Adair County. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A display focused on Ned Christie is in the Fort Smith National Historic Site Museum in Fort Smith, Arkansas. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Fort Smith (Arkansas) National Historic Site Park Ranger Cody Faber stands of the steps of the porch where Ned Christie’s body was put on display after he was killed on Nov. 3, 1892. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – As more Cherokee history is studied and uncovered, there is better understanding of people such as Ned Christie, who today is considered a patriot by many Cherokees.
In May 1887, he was called an outlaw after being falsely accused of murdering Deputy U.S. Marshal Daniel Maples in Tahlequah. This forced Christie to hide and fight attempts to capture him in order to take him to the federal jail in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Cherokee Nation History and Preservation Officer Catherine Foreman Gray said Christie offered to turn himself in if federal Judge Isaac Parker would allow him to post bail. His request was denied, so Christie spent the next five years hiding in Wauhillau in what is now Adair County.
“During this time he was accused of murders, robbing places, just all different kinds of crimes here in Indian Territory. Anytime there was a crime, Ned was the one getting blamed for it,” Gray said. “At one point the marshals do come and they burn his house down, and so he rebuilds it, and what he rebuilds is a double-walled cabin. It’s got little portholes in it and had some sand (between the walls). It was a secure structure.”
For five years, he never left the Wauhillau area, but lawmen and bounty hunters came after him. In one incident, a bullet went through Christie’s left eye after it ricocheted off his nose, and a deputy was wounded and later died.
In May 1889, Jacob Yoes was appointed U.S. Marshal of the Western District of Arkansas with a priority to capture Christie.
Fort Smith National Historic Site Park Ranger Cody Faber said three other men were indicted for killing Maples, including Charlie Bobtail, John Parris and Bub Trainor. Bobtail and Parris were arrested. Trainor had witnesses who exonerated him and the charges were dropped. This left Christie, and Yoes wanted him arrested.
False stories about Christie committing crimes while he was a fugitive did not help his cause, Faber added.
“Much of that information they were getting through the newspapers was false,” he said.
Faber also said by the 1880s the CN had survived the forced removal, its own civil war and was recovering from the American Civil War that ravaged the tribe.
“You break them socially and economically and then surprise, surprise you have a wonderful mass ingredient for crime and disorder and social upheaval, so what the U.S. Marshal Service was dealing with and the court system and the tribal police was dealing with was an enormous amount of crime that followed all of that. This was a dangerous place to be,” he said. “Part of understanding what they (law enforcement) were going through and perhaps what played up that mythology, not years later but right then, was the fact you have all of the crime and it’s very well known, not just locally…but nationally.”
Initially, there was a $500 reward for Christie’s capture, but Parker wrote a letter to the attorney general to request $1,000 because it seems he was buying into the erroneous stories about Christie, Faber said. “It’s not Parker’s job. He’s not sending out deputy marshals. It’s the U.S. Marshal’s job to send out police.”
So, in the fall of 1892, Yoes gathered a posse to apprehend Christie.
“He thought this had went on long enough…so they send a posse out of at least two dozen men to finally try to apprehend him. It takes over a day. The shooting happens and then it stops,” Gray said. “They end up bringing in a cannon from Kansas. After they ran out of ammunition with that, they also had dynamite and they used that and rolled it up on a carriage to Ned’s home, and then that’s when they were able to catch his cabin on fire. And so, he comes out. He had been out of ammunition for a little while, and that’s when they killed him.”
Deputies placed Christie’s body on a door, she said, and took it to Fort Smith to claim the reward.
“You’ll see pictures where he’s propped up on the courthouse and marshals come take photos with him. He was on display the entire day,” Gray added.
Betty Christie Frogg, Christie’s great-great niece, was raised in Wauhillau and said the thought of her uncle being displayed brings tears to her eyes.
She said the deputies had to let people know they captured the “infamous” Christie, which is why they took his body to Fort Smith to display. She said for years a photo of him on display at the courthouse hung in the Fort Smith National Historic Site Museum, and the family petitioned to have it taken down.
“It took a while, but they finally took that picture down. I have tears in my eyes when I think about it,” she said. “He was declared innocent years later, which everybody knew it was true.”
Gray said Christie’s death upset Cherokee people because he was “very well-liked in the Cherokee community.”
“He was a blacksmith, and people really admired him and what he stood for as far as Cherokee sovereignty,” she said. “He wanted the federal government out of Cherokee affairs, period. He was against the white intruders coming into the CN and against the railroads. He was known for giving heated speeches on the Senate floor against all of that. And so he earned a lot of respect for that, and a lot of people will call him one of our last great warriors when it comes to trying to fend off the federal government.”
Frogg said as a tribal leader, Ned and his father Watt had the Nation’s welfare in mind and regularly traveled to Tahlequah to take part in tribal meetings.
Standing about 50 yards from where her uncle was killed, Frogg shared stories she heard about him while she grew up in Wauhillau. “Some of stories we heard was stuff like how he built his house and him being a gunsmith. He could take a gun apart and put it back together blindfolded. From what I’ve heard Ned was not a mean person.”
Frogg said her uncle was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” to be accused of Maples’ murder.
A grove of trees surrounded by pastureland gives no hint Christie’s cabin stood where it did 128 years ago. About 100 yards from where the cabin stood is a creek that Frogg said she used to swim in with her cousins when she was young.
A report states when the deputies arrived at Christie’s cabin on Nov. 2, 1892, Christie was living there with his wife Nancy and their daughter Charlotte. Also at the cabin were a young boy named Arch Christie and a man named Ned Adair. It was Arch who first saw the posse hiding near a creek. A deputy’s bullet grazed his neck while running to the cabin to warn the others.
“That attack, from what I’ve heard, was horrible,” Frogg said.
During the attack, Christie sent his family out the back door, a report states. The last to leave was Arch. After his departure, Christie ran out the front with his rifle and was killed on Nov. 3, 1892.
In 1918, a Cherokee Freedman named Dick Humphreys came forward, said Gray, saying he witnessed Bub Trainor killing Maples, not Christie. Christie had slept through the killing but was in the area.
“This was the Jim Crow era, so he (Humphreys) was afraid to come forward at this time because he was a Cherokee Freedman, and so that’s why it was so many years after the fact that he finally comes forward,” she said.
A train took Christie’s remains from Fort Smith to Fort Gibson, near present-day Muskogee and about 20 miles southwest of Tahlequah. Watt Christie and his son James claimed the body and took it back to Rabbit Trap near Wauhillau for burial in a family cemetery.
Frogg said she wants people to know her uncle cared for the Cherokee people when he worked as a CN senator. “He fought for the Cherokee people when he was on the council. And I want them to know he was not an outlaw.”
Will Chavez is a Cherokee/San Felipe Pueblo Indian who has worked in the newspaper and public relations field for 25 years. During that time he has performed public relations work for the Cherokee Nation and has been a writer, reporter and photographer for the Cherokee Advocate and Cherokee Phoenix newspapers.
For many years h ...