TAHLEQUAH – Former Tribal Councilor William Stanley Smoke died on July 15 at age 76 after a long battle with rheumatoid arthritis and mesenteric ischemia, according to a statement from his family.

Smoke, who served on the Tribal Council from 1991-99 for the Mayes District, was born Jan. 7, 1945, in Claremore to Sam and Goldie (Dreadfulwater) Smoke. He was an Army Vietnam veteran and a fluent Cherokee speaker.

“We are all filled with unbelievable sadness. He was a quiet, reserved Native American man, fluent in the Cherokee language, and for those of us who knew him well, we enjoyed his humor, his kindness, his giggle and laughter and his love for his family,” reads the family statement.

Smoke joined the U.S. Army in February 1968 after being drafted. He was 24.

According to a 2013 Cherokee Phoenix article, he left for Vietnam in June 1969, assigned to B Battery, 5th Battalion, 27th Artillery Unit and situated near Phan Thiet, South Vietnam. The unit fired 105mm howitzers to support infantry troops who called in fire support from their positions. The howitzers were positioned on a hilltop near the South China Sea.

For four months Smoke helped deliver artillery fire, fended off attacks by Viet Cong soldiers and ducked mortar rounds that rained on his unit.

He was honorably discharged from the Army in February 1970. He told the Cherokee Phoenix that when he returned home he had difficulties dealing with his memories of the war but found work as a carpenter.

“There for a while it was rough. You go to sleep and all of sudden you’re back over there,” he said.

He eventually divorced his first wife, but later remarried, “settled down” and operated the state car tag office in Spavinaw before serving on the Tribal Council in the 1990s. In 1981, he married Deborah Robertson and they had celebrated 39 years together. She survives him along with his daughter, Audra Smoke-Conner, and husband DJ, of Peggs, and three grandchildren. 

“He was a Cherokee Nation citizen, an Army Vietnam veteran, a husband, a father, a former Tribal Councilor, a Spavinaw Tag Agent of 20+ years, a father to a former Tribal Councilor, a Craps (grandpa), a brother, an uncle, a friend to many as well as former Commander for the Spavinaw American Legion and current Vice Commander of Post 3707 VFW in Tahlequah,” the family statement reads.

Brothers, Andrew Smoke, and wife Brenda, of Vinita; Johnny Smoke, of Jay; Billy Smoke and wife Judy, of Locust Grove; and Smokey (Ron) Smoke and wife Brinda, of Tulalip, Washington, also survive him as well as his sister Virginia Young, of Spavinaw.

“William Smoke was a dedicated public servant helping our Cherokee people, promoting our language and championing the advancement of our tribe,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “We are saddened to have lost a truly good man, and another of our treasured fluent Cherokee speakers. On behalf of the Cherokee Nation, we extend our condolences and our thoughts and prayers go out to the Smoke family during this difficult time.”

Barbara Foreman, who served with Smoke on the Tribal Council, said he was a “strong advocate” for the citizens while he served on the Tribal Council.

“He was determined to make the right choices for all the members he represented,” she said. “William would pull you to the side and talk with you one to one respecting your input on issues. William was a Vietnam Veteran who served in the Army he stood proud as one of our Cherokee Warriors his dedication to country and to the Cherokee Nation citizens will always be remembered.” 

Funeral services were set for 11 a.m. on July 21 at the Peggs School Gymnasium in Peggs. Burial will be at the Jack Ribbon Cemetery in Spavinaw.