Cherokee ancestor’s burial site found via cemetery preservation
Cherokee Nation citizens and Walkingstick descendants Eddie Morrison, left, and Michael Gregory on April 3 stand at the Walkingstick Cemetery on Walkingstick Mountain in Peavine. This was Morrison’s first visit to the cemetery where his great-grandmother Minnie Walkingstick is buried. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
A headstone believed to be for Minnie Walkingstick is on display at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee. The headstone was found on Walkingstick Mountain in Peavine and was taken to the museum for preservation. COURTESY
Sallie Tyskie’s headstone lies broken in the Walkingstick Cemetery in Peavine. Her headstone is one of six that were salvaged when preservation was done at the cemetery in 2002. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
One of the oldest headstones found in the Walkingstick Cemetery displays the Cherokee syllabary and is dated 1857. It is said to be for Ben Walkingstick, one of the seven sons of James and Susie Walkingstick. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
In 2002, Walkingstick descendant Howard Walkingstick purchased granite markers for his family’s cemetery on Walkingstick Mountain near Peavine in Adair County. This marker reads: “In 1834 James Walkingstick brought his family here from the Old Cherokee Nation beyond the mighty Mississippi River, here to live in perpetual peace far from the cruel and greedy white people who were stealing their ancestral lands in the east.” WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
PEAVINE – “Emotional yet prideful” was how Eddie Morrison described initially visiting the Walkingstick Cemetery and seeing where his great-grandmother’s headstone was found after years of not knowing where she was buried.
The Cherokee National Treasure’s great-grandmother, Minnie Walkingstick, died in 1895, five years after his grandmother was born. He said his grandmother was too young to know who her mother was or where she was buried.
Minnie’s gravesite remained a mystery until Morrison made acquaintances with Walkingstick descendant and family researcher Michael Gregory on social media. Gregory soon learned Morrison was a Walkingstick descendant and was searching for his great-grandmother’s grave. Gregory discovered Minnie’s death date matched the date on a headstone he found at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee nearly 20 years before.
Gregory said the “charred” cemetery stone’s words at the museum are in the Cherokee syllabary, and the description for where it was found read “found on a mountain four miles north of Stilwell, Oklahoma.” Gregory knew exactly where that was – Walkingstick Mountain. He said he knew the headstone belonged to a Walkingstick, but was uncertain where it belonged.
After more conversations, Gregory said he and Morrison “put two and two together.”
“His family had completely lost track of where she was, where she was buried at or whatever happened to her. So that put some sort of finality to that story for Eddie,” Gregory said.
On April 3, Morrison finally saw where Minnie is buried. He said he felt “exhilarated” for himself and his late grandmother. “I felt happy for my grandmother, who is passed on. I think she would have been happy because she always had that question mark of where her mom was buried.”
The Walkingstick Cemetery is in better condition than when Gregory first visited in 1999. He said during the years vandals have stolen and destroyed headstones, making the plots’ boundaries unrecognizable. “When I saw my family’s burial ground in a pile of rocks, you can imagine what that does to you, and I thought I am going to make this right.”
In 2002, Gregory, Howard Walkingstick, another Walkingstick descendant, and Joe Scraper, who worked on Adair County cemeteries, worked together to salvage what was left of the cemetery.
They fenced the burial ground to protect the remaining headstones and added granite-inscribed markers for the Walkingstick family, which settled the mountain in 1834.
According to a 2002 Cherokee Phoenix article, the Walkingsticks were Old Settlers, the Cherokees who moved west before the rest of the tribe was forced in 1838 to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. James Walkingstick and his wife, Susie, settled on the Arkansas line before taking settlement on what is now Walkingstick Mountain in the Goingsnake District. Their settlement became their allotment after their Dawes Commission enrollment. Like his grandfather, U-da-lv-nu-sti or Walkingstick, James was involved in CN affairs. He returned east in 1835 to sign the Red Clay Proclamation denouncing the Treaty of New Echota. The following February, James accompanied Principal Chief John Ross to Washington, D.C., to petition President Andrew Jackson to repeal the treaty. He later returned to his home in present-day Adair County.
The Walkingstick homestead has passed to new ownership since the last Walkingstick family lived there in the early 1890s, and during the years most of the headstones that once marked the graves of family members have disappeared. According to a 1937 Works Progress Association interview on Cherokee cemeteries, the Walkingstick Cemetery had approximately 25 graves with five graves being marked at that time.
During their preservation work, Gregory, Walkingstick and Scraper salvaged six headstones.
Gregory said it was “bittersweet” returning to the cemetery in April after 16 years. He said though it brought him joy to take Morrison to see where his great-grandmother was buried, he was disheartened to learn three headstones had been taken.
“Sometimes I think our efforts just made things worse. Other times I think that we bought awareness that this was there and needed to be preserved, “ he said. “If I could wish anything, I would wish that the property could be obtained by the tribe and set apart as a historical property site.”