By BRANDON FRYE
Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
DURANT, Okla. – Choctaw Nation Historic Preservation employees worked for two months to prepare for the May 24 ceremony honoring two full-blood Choctaw Civil War confederate soldiers at their discovered gravesites in King Cemetery near Kinta.
“I was doing family research and discovered the cemetery,” Karrie Shannon, Choctaw Nation employee in McAlester, said. “In November, I made a trip to Kinta, Oklahoma to locate the King Cemetery. I found the cemetery unmaintained and abandoned. No one might have entered there for 121 years, it was so thick you had a hard time making your way through the area.”
Private Henry Cooper and 2nd Lieutenant Jerry Riddle received military government issued headstones and were honored during the cemetery dedication in May. Both were descendents of Chief Mosholatubbee, who had seven sons with the surname King and one daughter surnamed Cooper.
Skyler Robinson, Cemetery Restoration Coordinator with Historic Preservation, said his crew works to preserve and protect abandoned Choctaw cemeteries like King Cemetery. “It was in really bad shape, thick with briars and bushes,” Robinson said. “We went in and cleaned it up, put a new fence around it with a gate, and then placed a couple of headstones.”
District 5 Tribal Council Member Ron Perry was in attendance and spoke to dedicate King Cemetery during the event. Gene Arpelar said the prayer and blessing. The Choctaw Nation Color Guard sent members, led by Herbert Jessie, to give the 21-gun salute and play Taps. The Color Guard, while honoring the veterans, also showed gratitude to their relatives. “We were there to do the honors,” Harlan Wright, Color Guard member, said. “They folded a flag and presented it to the next of kin.”
Karrie Shannon and Cheryl Stone-Pitchford, King descendants, were there to receive the flag. Stone-Pitchford, who had also researched Choctaw genealogy, aided Shannon in uncovering King Cemetery. She said it was a very sacred moment; everyone was there to remember and honor the cemetery and its buried that were too long forgotten.
“When it became apparent who was buried there, it became a real significance in our family. I also believe it is significant to the Choctaw Nation and history overall,” Stone-Pitchford said.
Dena Cantrell, also a King descendant in attendance at the ceremony, said she appreciated the genealogical research that had been done and how it was bringing the family history together. “Learning and knowing we are descendents of ancestors who played a great part in the history of the Choctaw Nation and the United States… is very gratifying,” she said.
There are approximately 50 gravesites at King Cemetery. Some were identified by grave depressions, bases of headstones or bases of footstones. There are a handful of existing headstones still standing. Approximately 15 out of 50 buried individuals have been identified. Two of Chief Mosholatubbee’s children are buried in the cemetery, and five military veterans.
Shannon is working to obtain military monuments for all five veterans within the cemetery. She received the monument for the grave of Tecumseh King, youngest son of Chief Mosholatubbee, on July 21. “There’s a lot of Choctaws in that cemetery,” Shannon said. “We’ve got to remember our Choctaw soldiers and what they have done for us. And if we can do anything to give back to them, that’s what this is all about. It’s for them.”
Robinson, with Historic Preservation, said his department gets calls informing them of abandoned Choctaw cemeteries periodically, occasionally multiple within one week. He said if anyone knows of an abandoned Choctaw cemetery, it would be appreciated if the individual calls (580) 924-8280 ext. 2236. Additionally, Shannon offered to aid anyone researching family genealogy and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.