Lake Texoma

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Graveyard Bluff

by
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Kendall Davis is well-versed in the English language. She has 20 years experience as a published author and writing for clients. Her published works include historical articles in museums, magazines, newspaper articles, columns, content marketing, advertising copy, blogging, and academic papers. Kendall also makes her way in the literary world as a copyeditor. Writing about history is her first love interest. If you have editing or content needs on your website or for your books, articles, blogs, or columns, please visit her website to see details and more examples of her work, the services she offers, and contact information. http://kdavis1836.wixsite.com/luminiwrites




The construction of the Denison Dam gave rise to an island named Graveyard Bluff in Lake Texoma on its farthest west end in Love County, OK. Texomans and tourists today don’t boat to this island like they do to the popular ones north of Hagerman NWR.


Well-known recorded history states that the U.S. government's removal of the Native Americans from the southeast forced many of their tribes to settle in Indian Territory via the Trail of Tears. The Edmond Pickens family of the Chickasaw Nation settled in the Texoma region of Indian Territory. Deep roots connect the Chickasaw Nation to Graveyard Bluff. Edmond Pickens, the first elected chief and last chief of the Chickasaw Nation, served his tribe for eight years. In 1856, following one of the signed treaties between the United States, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaws in 1855, the Chickasaw Nation officially called their elected leaders Governor. Some of the lands on which the treaties established land ownership of the two tribes (1) are located on what is now on the Oklahoma side of western Texomaland.


An oral interview conducted in 1937 by Jennie Selfridge (2, 3) recorded that locals in the Graveyard Bluff area reported that the Pickens family founded their cemetery on a high bluff overlooking the Red River in 1850. The locals thought there might have been as many as 50 graves. Chief Picken’s son, Johnson Pickens, died in 1858 as the result of a poisoned arrow wound sustained in a battle with Comanches (2). His grave is one of the oldest known graves in Graveyard Bluff. So what happened to the graveyard on Graveyard Bluff Island? Only ten tombstones existed on graves encircled by cedar trees in 1937 (2). Only six named graves are known (2).


Jennie tells us that residents of the area, which is close to Enville, OK, and Lebanon, OK, today, cut down the cedar trees for fencing material in the winter of 1936-1937, and treasure hunters destroyed most of the graves prior to her visit. In 1895, the island’s geographical isolation resulted in the abandonment of the cemetery. Then, believe it or not, after Lake Texoma poured into Love County, ranchers raised hogs and cattle on the island. What a deal; no fence needed; hard to rustle; inbreeding impossible. Plus the ranchers could fish for dinner on the way home from feeding their livestock.


At that time, no one knew of the historical importance the island held because of its association with one of the most prominent 19th Century Native Americans in Texomaland. In 2003, the Keel Cemetery Association moved the remaining headstones to its cemetery Marshall County (2). Bricks and cement walls reinforced all of the Picken’s graves. Visitors today can see the grave depressions and supposedly, bricks still lay about. You can drive to see Graveyard Bluff from SH 32 east of Lebanon and by turning south on Bois D’Arc Road. Drive until you reach the lake.


Jennie Selfridge worked for Federal Writer’s Project under the Work Projects Administration as a result of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. Jenny surveyed the cemetery in 1937 and also conducted many historical interviews in the Texomaland region (3). Jennie’s daughter documented that she worked for OU while conducting her interviews (4).


Most of the information in this article came from a man named Luke Williams on a Find a Grave website. I found no information on him, nor is there a date on the website (2).


Side Notes:


There are three really interesting side notes which I discovered while researching this story in the form of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nation’s treaties with the U.S. government. I first documented the time of Edmond’s election as Chief through a reference to an 1855 treaty. Then I read an 1832 treaty, and then next the 1830 treaty. The wording is very interesting, and I included links. To understand the gist of my point in this paragraph, I refer you to these excerpts from the treaties:



Preamble to the 2002 amended Constitution Of The Chickasaw Nation: http://thorpe.ou.edu/constitution/CHICKASA.html;


Paragraph 1, page 356: http://digital.library.okstate.edu/kappler/Vol2/treaties/chi0356.htm#mn5;


Article 1: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/nt008.asp.


Every treaty seemed to record the wording from each prior treaty. In 1830 the Native Americans who owned lands in the southeast ceded those lands to the U.S. In 1832 and 1855, they only owned land in Indian Territory. The most interesting fact to me about the 1832 treaty, was this wording: “Being ignorant of the language and laws of the white man, they [sic] cannot understand or obey them. Rather than submit to this great evil, they prefer to seek a home in the west, where they may live and be governed by their own laws.”


1. Preamble to the 2002 amended Constitution Of The Chickasaw Nation:
http://thorpe.ou.edu/constitution/CHICKASA.html


2. Luke Williams:
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=cr&CRid=2177100


3. The Children of Charles Francis ("Frank") Selfridge and Mary Ely:
http://www.yronwode.com/selfridgefamily.html


4. Paragraph 5:
http://www.oklahomahistory.net/newsletters/TT657.htm


 




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