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Indian Pioneer Papers - Index

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: January 25, 1938
Name:  Mrs. Emma Love
Post Office: Claremore, Oklahoma
Residence Address:  
Date of Birth: 
Place of Birth:  
Place of Birth:  
Information on father:
Place of birth:   
Information on mother:
Field Worker: Carl R. Sherwood
Interview #: 12831

Walter Starr Crittenden was born May 4, 1866, in the hill country of what is now Eastern Oklahoma, then Flint District, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory.

His father was George Washington Crittenden, a Cherokee Indian, who fought as a soldier under General Stand Watie in the Confederate Army, Cherokee Regiment.

His mother was Miss Martha Starr, also a Cherokee, a sister to Walter A. Starr, who served first as Sheriff and later as District Judge of Cooweescoowee District.

Walter S. Crittenden, who is known as ‘Uncle Watt’, was a nephew of Judge W. A. Starr, and a first cousin of Emmett Starr, the Cherokee historian, author of ‘Cherokee West’, early history of the Cherokees. No man in the Claremore vicinity is better known or more respected than is ‘Uncle Watt’ Crittenden.

His wife, Aunt Rachel, died a few years ago and was admired by all who knew her best.

Early settlers well remember the welcome accorded a guest in the day of yore in the home of Uncle Watt and Aunt Rachel at the foot of a hill near the village of Sequoyah a few miles northeast of Claremore. Although Aunt Rachel has gone to her reward and ‘Uncle Watt’ is stricken in years, the memory of those visits is vivid in the memory of many.

Aunt Rachel’s maiden name was Henry. She was a sister to Josiah Henry, one time District Attorney of Cooweescoowee District.

The courts for this District were formerly held at Kephart’s Spring, six miles northeast of Claremore and near the present head of lake Claremore. About 1883 the District courthouse was moved to Claremore, where it remained until the Cherokee courts were abolished by the Curtis Bill and the Cherokee Treaty of 1902.

Walter Starr Crittenden’s mother was as Old Settler Cherokee, which meant that she or her parents came west to the Indian Territory before the general exodus of Cherokee under Chief John Ross had before the signing of the New Echota Treaty. His father was an emigrant Cherokee, one who came west in accordance with the treaty under the guidance of Chief Ross. He came her in 1836 from the Old Cherokee Nation in Georgia, and he and Martha Starr were married while the country was ravaged by the horrors of the Civil War. The Cherokee Indians suffered greatly during the Civil War. 

General Stand Watie and his followers adhered to the southern course, and he raised, equipped, and trained a regiment of Cherokee soldiers. The Pin Indians, the full blood element and followers of John Ross, at first proposed to remain neutral and to take no part in the controversy but later, finding that impossible, became loyal to the Northern or Union cause. Thus brother was against brother, and sometimes father against sons in this terrible ‘slaughter’ of the innocent.

The tragedy of Goingsnake, which occurred in Goingsnake District Court House, near the present city of Stilwell, Adair County in 1872, was a sad after math of this deplorable war. In the battle of Goingsnake, several members of the Beck Family were slain and seven graves all in a row at the ancient home of Geoffry Beck, near the present town of Row, in Delaware County, are marked by plain marble slabs that tell the story.

‘Uncle Watt’s’ father was at one time a member of the National Council, the same as our state legislature, while his wife’s father, Joe Starr, served in the Cherokee Senate.

The Cherokee Nation was divided, for political and judicial purposes, in to eight districts, which correspond to what is now termed counties under the Oklahoma laws.

‘Uncle Watt’ came to what is now Rogers County, then Cooweescoowee District in 1880, and has lived in the vicinity of Claremore ever since. He was a young man then and for a few years lived with his uncle and aunt, Judge and Mrs. Walter A. Starr, at what has been known as old Claremore, five miles northeast of the present city of Claremore; the change in location having been made soon after the building of the Frisco Railroad in 1888.

As a young man he worked on the farm, fished in the Verdigris River and hunted deer and turkey at the famous Claremore mound. He remembers Bill Pigeon, one of the most dreaded outlaws of the Cherokee Tribe. Pigeon, at first a peaceable and law-abiding citizen, lived near the present town of Locust Grove, on Spring Creek, or one of its tributaries called Snake Creek. He had a fight with a Negro who claimed to be a Cherokee Freedman, a Negro who was formerly a slave of a Cherokee Indian Citizen, over some hogs which the Negro had stolen from Pigeon. The trouble became intense, the Negro drew his gun and probably would have shot Pigeon, who happened to be quick on the draw for the Negro was killed.

Pigeon was ready to surrender to John Jumper, sheriff of Illinois District, and stand trial in the courts of that district, of which George W. Benge was presiding judge, but the fact developed that the slain Negro was not what he seemed and was not a citizen of the Cherokee Nation so as a citizen of the United States, was subject to trial in the United States Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, presided over by Judge Isaac C. Parker, commonly called the ‘Hanging Judge’. Pigeon did not take kindly to this idea and virtually went into the brush to avoid this terrible fate.

He crossed the Grand River at Markham’s ferry near Locust Grove, at midnight and before daylight was with his friends on the ranch near what is now called Scaly Park Mountain in what is now the southern part of Rogers County. Here he remained for a time, until Federal officers were seen scouting the country. Then he changed his rendezvous to a deep canyon in the Hog Creek Hill country, near the present location of Washington School in Claremore and on lands now owned and occupied by Arch Helms, a Cherokee citizen, and a blood relative of Pigeon. Here be built a miniature fort, the remains of which are still in evidence, and evaded arrest for a year or two. He was a skilled hunter and kept his friends and neighbors supplied with deer, brought down by his trusty rifle, in exchange for which he was supplied with ammunition, tobacco, and other necessities.

A few years ago children of C. E. Fallen, while playing around this old hiding place, unearthed and old stone pipe, a favorite smoking pipe of Joe Pigeon.

The matter of the killing finally died out and was forgotten and Pigeon returned to his family and his cabin home, between Locust Grove and Rose Village, Delaware County, where he committed suicide. He lies in an un-marked grave on the banks of Snake Creek in an ancient Indian Cemetery near an Indian Church called Little Rock, so called because an older church a few miles away is called Standing Rock.

The Federal officers managed at one time to arrest Pigeon and took him to a school house near Oowala to spend the night. He slept on a pallet which was on the floor of the school; he slept between two officers who were heavily armed and went to sleep early in the night while wintry blasts blew on the outside. As he was sleeping and snoring loudly, the officers became careless and soon fell asleep. About the middle of the night they were awakened by an Indian war hoop from outside the school and discovered their prisoner, as well as their guns, were gone. Pigeon whooped, fired his pistol several times, disappeared into the night and was never recaptured.

On my visits to the Crittenden home, when I was a small girl, I feasted on canuche, and Indian relish prepared from native hickory nuts, in the making of which Aunt Rachel was an artist.

Aunt Rachel’s health began to fail and home remedies failed to bring relief, which fact was charged to evil influences of a disappointed suitor. This disappointed suitors’ grudge against Watt was so bitter that he ‘smoked the pipe of hatred’ and the smoke passed through the air to the young wife who suddenly became very sick. According to tradition, sickness could be brought on is this way and love could also be promted by those in the know-how. The pipe was filled with a powerful native herb, know only to members of the Kee-too-wah, an ancient Indian society.

Aunt Rachel was near the point of death, and on the advise of friends, her grief stricken husband took her to the home of an Indian doctor, who resided in the hills near Tahlequah. The once charming young lady was reduced to skin and bones. She took no interest in life and her young husband was prostate with grief. At the suggestion of his Indian doctor, they took the patient to a camp at Oil Springs, near the Illinois River, a few miles northeast of Tahlequah, where the healing waters were supplied and aid of the Great Spirit invoked on behalf of the maiden who was slowly fading away. All that was required of her was to sit on the banks of this clear stream, look up into the Heavens and listen to the ‘doctor’.

This treatment was carried on for nine days, each treatment being before sunrise. On the ninth morning, they felt a change in her condition and realized that the evil spirits were taking flight, have been subdued. In a few days she regained her normal size, weight, and sunny disposition.

Uncle Watt said in the olden days before the white man came, the Cherokees were divided into seven clans, known as the bird, deer, holly, long hair, stealer, wolf, and paint clans. When a young man desired a wife, he sought her in another clan for all his own clansmen were considered his relations. Children belonged to the clan of their mother, who was the head of the family, doing most of the work about the home and leaving the man free to rest and hunt.

Modern maidens of Cherokee blood have long since abandoned the idea that a husband is a luxury to be slaved for. They figure that a man should support his wife and children

Transcribed for OKGenWeb by Catherine Widener, October 2002.