You are not logged in.
Stick Ross: ‘Tahlequah pioneer and civic leader’
By TESINA JACKSON
Mon, Feb 28, 2011
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Many people who have been involved with the Cherokee Nation are mentioned in history books. But what of the people barely remembered such as Cherokee Freedman Joseph “Stick” Ross?
“His name was really Joseph. Stick was a nickname. He was a very tall man, according to his great grandson,” said Tahlequah historian Beth Herrington. “I have had extensive interviews with the family…They didn’t say that, but in my mind I think that might have been why he was called Stick Ross, because he was a very tall, tall man.”
According to his CN Freedmen Roll card, he was born into slavery in Indian Territory to Hector and Sallie Ross and was owned by Principal Chief John Ross.
“His date of birth is either 1854 or 1855. He’s listed on several census records,” said Herrington. “Sometimes census records will fluctuate if the census person doesn’t get it down right or the person is elderly and forgets exactly.”
Ross became a CN citizen after the Civil War when the CN and U.S. governments signed the 1866 Treaty abolishing slavery in the CN. In the document, Freedmen residing in the CN were given the same natural rights as Cherokees, which Ross later used to become a Tribal Councilor.
After he was freed, he was allotted land, which is known today as Stick Ross Mountain.
“It’s called Stick Ross Mountain because his allotments and his children’s allotments were at the top of that mountain,” Herrington said.
According to the Cherokee Advocate newspaper, Ross served as a councilor for the Tahlequah District, known today as District 1, in 1893-94.
In his book “History of the Cherokee Indians,” historian Emmett Starr lists six other Freedmen who served on the council – Joseph Brown, Ned Irons, Frank Vann, Samuel Stidham, Jerry Alberty and Creek Sam.
Ross frequently supported petitions of people applying for admission or re-admission for CN citizenship during the early 1890s, said Daniel Littlefield, director of the Sequoyah Research Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
He was listed on the Cherokee Freedman Roll on April 10, 1901. Listed with him are his wife Nancy and their five children – Malcolm, Julia, Amanda, Patsie, or Patsy and Clem. On his application for enrollment, Ross stated he had another son, Austin, who was the oldest. Ross chose not to include Austin on his application because “he is a man.” It’s thought that Ross first married a woman named Lou, with whom he had Austin.
“He was certainly a family orientated person,” Herrington said. “He reared two of his grandchildren, he and his wife.”
On his 1901 enrollment card, Ross and his wife are listed to be from the Saline District, present day District 6, while his children are enrolled as being from the Tahlequah District. At that time, the CN had nine districts – Coo-Wee-Scoo-Wee, Delaware, Saline, Tahlequah, Going Snake, Flint, Illinois, Canadian and Sequoyah.
Because little is known about his life, it remains unclear when Ross died. There are reminders of him scattered across Tahlequah such as Stick Ross Mountain and Ross Cemetery near CN W.W. Hastings Hospital.
“From what I understand the Ross Cemetery, Stick Ross Mountain, Stick Ross Mountain Road, all of those are named after him,” Marilyn Vann, Descendents of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association president, said.
The words “Tahlequah pioneer and civic leader” are engraved on Ross’ memorial marker at Ross Cemetery, where many slaves were buried during the Civil War. However, his burial site in the cemetery is unknown.
“He’s buried in an unmarked grave. We know the section and the plot and everything, but at the time he was buried…there was not a stone put up,” said Herrington.
Herrington said it’s important to remember Ross because he represents a race not really known for building Tahlequah.
“This community was built not just by white people or Cherokee people, but by African Americans, too, and the history of any community is the history of the people who built it and it wasn’t just one race of people who did it,” she said.