Texas group claiming to be Cherokee faces questions about authenticity

A bronze statue supposedly of Cherokee leader Devereaux Jarrett Bell sits in the “Peace Circle,” a public art project in Grapefest, Texas. 

GRAPEVINE, Texas – On the blistering September day that ended Grapefest, a wine festival in Grapevine, outside of Dallas, Mayor William Tate pushed up the brim of his cowboy hat and addressed the crowd gathered for the unveiling of a new public work of art: “Peace Circle.”

“It is important that history be accurate,” Tate said of the 11 bronze statues made to commemorate the brokering of peace in 1843 among 10 Native American leaders and Sam Houston, the president of the Republic of Texas.

One of the statues was included after the Mount Tabor Indian Community advocated for it, represents the Cherokee leader Devereaux Jarrett Bell. According to Mount Tabor and Grapevine city officials, Bell signed the treaty under the alias “Chicken Trotter.”

For the leaders of the Mount Tabor Indian Community, a group of a few hundred members based in northeast Texas, the inclusion of the towering bronze figure is a long-awaited public recognition of the man they say led their tribe during one of its darkest chapters. 

However, according to Cherokee historians, genealogists and officials of federally recognized tribes, the Mount Tabor Indian Community’s historical claims aren’t true.

Cherokee researchers say the purported leader of Mount Tabor who signed the 1843 treaty, identified in the Peace Circle sculpture as Devereaux Jarrett “Chicken Trotter” Bell, is actually two separate people: Bell, a well-documented figure in Cherokee history who isn’t known to have lived in Texas, and Chicken Trotter, a Cherokee man of whom little is known beyond his signature on the treaty.

“It’s a disgrace to that person’s history,” said Catherine Grey, a Cherokee Nation citizen and one of the tribe’s historians. “Devereaux Jarrett Bell deserves his legacy and his history to be told correctly, as does Chicken Trotter. They both deserve that, and their descendants deserve that.”

The Mount Tabor Indian Community claims to descend from Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Muscogees who arrived in Texas in the 19th century. But the group isn’t officially recognized as a tribal nation by the federal government, and it has been unable to document its claims. Federally recognized tribes, including the CN, have accused Mount Tabor of being one of many organizations that have tried to manufacture claims of tribal status, co-opting Indigenous identity and positioning themselves to profit from it.

Cherokee officials say there is no evidence to suggest that the Cherokees who lived in the Republic of Texas in the mid-1800s ever formed a tribal government, which would be necessary to demonstrate as part of any claim Mount Tabor could make to tribal status today. 

“They’re one of a large number of organizations across the country that pose as Indian tribes and seek some form of recognition,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., CN principal chief.

Mount Tabor Chairman Cheryl Giordano denied the CN’s accusations and defended the group’s legitimacy. Mount Tabor has twice begun the process of applying for federal recognition as a tribal nation – stopping only because of a lack of funding to complete the application, the group said.

“We feel like we’ve already met the criteria and we just need to get the United States to acknowledge that,” Giordano said.

To read the full article, visit https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mount-tabor-indian-community-texas-indigenous-rcna3746