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Tahlequah / Park Hill
Oklahoma
Cherokee Nation
04/18/08 - 04/20/08

by
Paul Ridenour

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Dottie and I met Rod and Shannon Watkins at our church several years ago.  Rod said he grew up in Vinita, OK, so I started telling him about Dottie's family and that EC Boudinot named Vinita after a girl he was in love with named Vinnie Ream.  Rod said he was Cherokee but did not know much about his family or Cherokee history.  He did have his BIA card and knew he was a descendant of Nancy Ward.  Years later I created a webpage for him www.paulridenour.com/watkins.htm and it turns out that he and David Keith Hampton (The Association of the Descendants of Nancy Ward) share the same relative - Caleb Starr Thompson.

Rod and Shannon recently moved from Rockwall, TX, back up near Vinita.  We always wanted to show them Dottie's family historical markers, Tahlequah, and Park Hill.

A few days before we were going to leave, I emailed Jack Baker, Jay Hannah, and Carey Tilley (Cherokee Heritage Center) and told them we would be in Tahlequah Saturday just in case they were in town.  I called Carey Friday night right before we left and he said that Jack and David Keith Hampton were there for a Trail of Tears Association meeting (TOTA) and that Jack mentioned he was going to take Dottie and me to where Major Ridge was assassinated.  I was surprised that they were all in Park Hill and they invited us to dinner but we were still in Dallas.

Friday April 18

We left Dallas late Friday night and got stuck behind a car accident.  We arrived so late that we decided to stay in the new Holiday Inn Express in Vinita instead of driving another 15 minutes to the Watkins' house.  We got to bed at 1:45 AM. 

Saturday April 19

We arrived at the Watkins house near Bernice and we left at 9 AM.  The places we were going to visit included:

Polson Cemetery - Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Stand Watie's graves and Stand's historical marker
Elias Boudinot's grave
Cherokee Heritage Center - all things Ridge/Watie/Boudinot/Nancy Ward on the monuments
Tahlequah Courthouse - where Dottie and I had purchased bricks and the Stand Watie monuments
Cherokee War Memorial - where Dottie and I had also purchased bricks - www.paulridenour.com/cwm.htm
Historical markers for Elias Boudinot in Park Hill
Echota House Restaurant

At Polson Cemetery, Nancy Brown left her job at Cornerstone Bank in downtown Southwest City, MO, to visit with us.  Thanks Nancy!  She is always available.

We arrived at the meeting room of the TOTA behind the Restaurant of the Cherokees at 2:10 PM.  The meeting was still going on as Dr. Littlefield was still answering questions.  We decided to go ahead and visit the Cherokee War Memorial.  Dottie had never seen it before.  I saw Jack come outside.  He was looking for us because he wanted to introduce us at the meeting and especially Dottie being a 4th great granddaughter of Major Ridge through his daughter Sarah Ridge who married George W. Paschal.   After he introduced us, I was close to the microphone and said "Sarah  Ridge moved to Galveston and there are a lot of Major Ridge descendants in Houston and Dallas."

We had worn the Watkins family out and they went to a movie while Jack took Dottie, David Hampton, and me to see where Major Ridge was killed.  Before we left,  we were glad to see Betty Starr Barker and Mary Adair who were also at the TOTA meeting.  We also met Glenita of the Goingsnake Messenger.

NOTE:  I found out later that Michael Walkingstick and Alex Adair were at the TOTA meeting - two guys I have been wanting to meet.

After we left the site of Major Ridge's assassination which is off Hwy 59 at Little Branch Creek, north of Dutch Mills, Arkansas [see full story www.paulridenour.com/ridge.htm], we drove by Oak Cemetery, which I think is near Stilwell, OK, to see the grave of James A. Starr, who was assassinated in 1845.   James is a 3rd great uncle of Jay Hannah.  We saw two ladies in the cemetery and David Keith Hampton said "I bet they are my cousins."  They were.  They were Rider descendants and were looking for the grave of Gus Rider (Augustus Rider) and David was able to show it to them - his grave reads "A C Rider."   

We met up with the Watkins at 6 PM and went to Elias Boudinot's grave.  We ate buffalo steak, quail, and blackberry cobbler at the Echota House Restaurant before driving back home.  I was exhausted.

Sunday April 20

We left the Watkins' house about 11:30 AM and we wanted to drive by the Big Cabin Battlefield where Stand Watie fought.  I never saw the sign but we did drive by the Cabin Creek historical marker mentioning Watie.


Shannon Watkins, Rod Watkins, and Dottie Ridenour at Stand's historical marker in Polson Cemetery


A new monument for Rev. Samuel Worcester at the Cherokee Heritage Center, next to the monument of Elias Boudinot


Rod saw this monument at the Cherokee Heritage Center and said the names were all street names in Vinita (I already knew that - lol)


The Watkins family at the Cherokee War Memorial in Park Hill, OK


Dr. Littlefield at the TOTA meeting, Park Hill

Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., Director of the Sequoyah Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock


Jack Baker and Dr. Littlefield


Jack after introducing Dottie Ridenour


Betty Barker and Mary Adair


Dottie Ridenour and Mary Adair


Donna Clark, secretary of the Talbot Library and Museum, Colcord,OK.  She said she is a Veach and there is a Veach/Ridenour connection in her family.  I knew about the Veach/Ridenour connection through Dottie's cousin Denise Cervantes, who is joining the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the Daughters of the American Revolution via Samuel Houston Veatch.  It's a small world!  Donna's mother Imogene Veach Beals is sitting in the PT Cruiser.


Hwy 59, north of Dutch Mills, Arkansas  - to the right of the bridge is where Major Ridge was shot


Location of Major Ridge's assassination
For full details - www.paulridenour.com/ridge.htm


The large shard looking gravestone is James A. Starr's grave - Oak Cemetery

Shirley Jo Curtis Ferguson [daughter of Walter James Curtis and Juanita Bigby] and daughter Kelly Ferguson at Oak Cemetery (Rider descendants)
They are standing by the graves of
Juanita's parents.


The Watkins children at Elias Boudinot's grave in Park Hill


I've never seen this - a cow you can pet


The Watkins family at the Echota House Restaurant


The Dogwoods were in full bloom and they were everywhere


Shannon Watkins cooks at this deer hunting lodge called Cherokee Spur Ranch


Cherokee Spur Ranch


The Loft at Cherokee Spur Ranch


The Cherokee gambling god Poker Face - south of Vinita