Saturday, December 31, 2011

Off the Beaten Track

On Thursday the temperature was fairly mild, the wind wasn’t too strong…what better time to go on a day trip and visit the gravesite of Stand Watie!

Watie, a Cherokee Indian, was born in Georgia in 1806. In the 1830s he was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, in which the Cherokees agreed to cede their lands in the southeast in exchange for a new homeland in the Indian Territory. Approved by the U. S. Senate, the treaty was controversial in part because principal chief John Ross was not a signatory. Many of the signers of the treaty were eventually targeted for assassination but not all were actually attacked. However, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were assassinated; Stand Watie escaped the attempt on his life.

When the Civil War started, Watie cast his allegiance with the Confederacy, and eventually became the only Indian to achieve the rank of general during the war. His wartime career mostly occurred in the Indian Territory where he achieved a reputation as a rather daring raider. For example, he led a force that captured a valuable Union wagon train at 2nd Cabin Creek in September 1864, and his men even captured a steamboat on the Arkansas River. Watie did not surrender his small force until June 1865 giving them the distinction of being the last organized group of Confederates to surrender. Watie survived the war for only six years, dying in the Indian Territory in 1871.

Watie’s gravesite is not near an interstate highway or close to any large urban centers. Perhaps he would appreciate the fact that Polson Cemetery is still in the midst of a rural area in Delaware County, Oklahoma. Tyson Foods trucks rumble along, though, on a state highway several miles to the east. Driving to the cemetery from my hometown of Pryor, Oklahoma, involved traveling on state highway 20 to the Arkansas state line, then heading north on state highway 43 to the town of Southwest, Missouri, and then west into Oklahoma about three miles. Googling “Polson Cemetery” will yield an accurate and helpful map.

Two photographs of Watie’s gravesite:

And, close to Watie's final resting place are markers for John Ridge and Major Ridge, assassinated signers of the Treaty of New Echota:


  1. Thanks for posting photos of Watie's grave. I didn't realize it was so far up in the northeastern part of the state. When I get around to visiting my brother in Springdale, AR, I'll plan on making a side trip.

    One little "technicality" just for the fun of it -- Ely Parker, Grant's 3/4 Seneca military secretary -- was breveted Brig. General to date from April 9 (surrender date), so one could argue that there were two Indians to rise to the rank of General during the war.

  2. Mmmm, I had forgotten about Ely Parker, and I appreciate you reminding me of him. I suppose it is more accurate to say that Watie was the only Indian to receive a regular commission as a general during the war.

    Yes, next time you're in Springdale, you should take some time to go over to the Polson Cemetery. Since my visit to the cemetery, I have mentioned the trip to several people in this area. As a history professor, I really shouldn't be surprised at this, but...few of these folks even know about Stand Watie.

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