Renovation Underway At Historic Cherokee Cemetery

Monday, July 20th 2009, 5:14 pm
By: News On 6

By Craig Day, The News On 6

PARK HILL, OK -- A makeover is in the works for a fascinating part of Oklahoma history.  The Ross Cemetery is nearly 170 years old and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It's the final resting place for many people who survived the Trail of Tears.

The Ross Cemetery is along a road less traveled in the Park Hill area south of Tahlequah.  It is perhaps Oklahoma's oldest cemetery.  The cemetery is the final resting place for many Cherokees who survived the Trail of Tears, including Chief John Ross who led the tribe on the forced removal and through the Civil War.

"This is one of the most important historical sites we have.  And, it's our duty to preserve and protect the identity of the Cherokee people for the next 100 years," said the Cherokee Nation's Ben Elder.

The Cherokee Nation recently finished restoration work at the historic cemetery.  The old limestone wall and columns around the Ross family plot were replaced and the iron fence was fixed and reinstalled.

"It was in real bad shape.  It was actually falling down on the other sides.  It's been straightened and repositioned and looks great," said Steve Rush with the Cherokee Nation.

While you'll certainly notice the improvements made at the historic cemetery.  You may also notice that there is something missing.  You see, some of the wrought iron points weren't replaced during the renovation work on purpose because that is part of the cemetery's story.  Many of those points were removed to make bullets during the Civil War.   

Ben Elder is the Cherokee Nation's Cultural Tourism Coordinator.  He says the cemetery and other nearby sites are part of Cherokee Cultural Tourism Tours.

"I think that's really what is the best part of what we do, is we're able to offer a glimpse of something that many people have never heard of or never learned or studied about," said Ben Elder with the Cherokee Nation.

A second phase of the cemetery project will include a trail system, scenic overlook and better parking.

Tribal members say the work is a fitting way to honor ancestors and to educate future generations.

The Cherokee Nation offers four different cultural tourism tours.