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Cherokee Families of Rusk County, Texas

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Mount Tabor Indian Community of Rusk County TX

The Treaty of New Echota, dated 29 December 1835, was ratified by the United States Senate on 23 May 1836. Among other things, this treaty ceded all the land owned by the Cherokees east of the Mississippi River, about 12,000 square miles, to the United States Government.

The treaty was not signed by the principal Chief of the Cherokees, John Ross, nor was it signed by any member of the official Cherokee governing council. Accordingly, the treaty was not really a legal document.  Even so, the Jackson Administration chose to treat it as a properly executed, official document.  It was promptly submitted to the United States Senate for ratification.  On 23 May 1836, the Senate, by a one vote majority, ratified the treaty.  Article 16 of this document gave the Cherokees two years from the date of ratification to make their removal to the west.  Thus, the deadline for completion of the removal was set at 23 May 1838, a date which, as we all know, was not met.

The twenty Cherokee signers of this treaty and their supporters henceforth became known as the Cherokee Treaty Party or the Ridge Party.  However, a majority of the Cherokees opposed the treaty, including the principle Chief of the Cherokees, John Ross.  This group became known as the Ross or Anti-Treaty Party.

After the forced Great Removal of 1838-1839, these two parties became the main political forces in the new Cherokee Nation that was then being formed in Indian Territory.  The Ridge Party made common cause with the "Old Settler" Cherokees who had lived in Indian Territory prior to the Great Removal.  Even so, the Ross Party outnumbered the Ridge Party by about two to one.  Accordingly, the Ross or Anti-Treaty Party became the dominant political power in the new Nation.

Although John Ross himself was never implicated, many of his supporters began to kill prominent members of the Ridge Party. Many of the Cherokee signers of the Treaty were assassinated by their Cherokee brethren in the 1839-1845 timeframe.  Major Ridge, the most important of the signers, is reported to have said:  "I feel as if I had signed my own death warrant."  His words were highly prophetic!  Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot, all signers of this treaty, were all assassinated on the same day - 22 June 1839.  A few years later, on 02 November 1845, another prominent Treaty signer, James Starr, Sr., was slain by a posse of Ross supporters.  It quickly became clear that not only were the lives of the Treaty signers in danger, but the families related to the signers were also in danger from the Ross Party.

After the assassination of James Starr in 1845, many families related by blood or marriage to the Starrs, left Indian territory to get away from all the trouble and danger.  Several of these families ultimately removed to Rusk County, Texas where they settled about six miles south of the town of Kilgore. They included members of the Bean, Bell, Harnage, Mayfield, Miller, Starr and Thompson families.  As a group, these families came to be known as the "Mount Tabor Indian Community."  The appellation  "Mount Tabor" was obtained from the name that John Adair Bell (1800-1860) selected for his new plantation in Rusk County.

Biographical sketches for eight of the families are provided elsewhere at this website.  Many of these families buried their dead in what is now called the old Mount Taber Cemetery.  Unfortunately, this cemetery was essentially destroyed during the East Texas oil exploration boom in the 1930's and 1940's.

The genealogist, George Morrison Bell, visited the area in 1969.  He tells us:

Some of these old families owned slaves at the time they lived in Rusk County, and the slaves adopted their masterís name. Some of the Negro families living there now are descendents from these old slave families. There are several families by the name of Mayfield, Bell and Starr still living in this community, both white and black, but the name ďMt. TaberĒ is unknown to them. ...

... On October 30, 1969, my wife and I visited this old community and cemetery plot. We visited and interviewed Daisy Starr, a Negro lady, wife of Will Starr (deceased). He was a descendant of the slaves owned by the George Harlan Starr family.

Daisy Starr, who is about 80 years old, took us to this old cemetery plot and all the grave markers were gone. She told us about 30 years ago (1939) she had walked by this old cemetery once or twice a week to do washing for a white family that lived nearby, and she remembered the grave markers, but didnít remember any names. We also met Mrs. Leo T. Stephen who lived near this old cemetery for the past 25 years. It is located on her land. She also remembered the grave markers but said some were broken. She didnít remember any names.

My grandfather, John Martin Bell, Sr., was married at this old Mt. Taber Community on January 20, 1858 to Sarah Caroline Harnage, a daughter of John Griffith and Ruth (Starr) Harnage. They had one son, John Martin Bell, Jr., born October 29, 1859, who was my father. John Martin Bell, Sr. died there in 1861 and was buried in this old Mt. Taber Cemetery. His widow and young son returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1866 with the Harnage family. ...

[See Genealogy of Old and New Cherokee Indian Families (published 1972), by George Morrison Bell, page 553.]

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