Biographical Sketch of the Family of Thomas Starr
By Phil Norfleet
A white man named Caleb Starr (1758-1843) was the
patriarch of the Starr family. He was of Quaker parentage and had immigrated
from Pennsylvania to the area of Cherokee Nation (now southeastern Tennessee)
after the end of the Revolutionary War. In about 1794, Caleb married a 1/2 blood
Cherokee woman named Nancy Harlan, and in so doing he became a member of the
Cherokee Nation. Caleb and Nancy had twelve children, including Ezekiel Starr
(1801-1846), James Starr (1796-1845) and
George Harlan Starr (1806-1879). Caleb Starr and his sons became
leaders within the Cherokee Nation and were involved with the Cherokee Treaties
of 1816 and 1819, and with the final removal Treaty of December 1835.
By the early 1830's, the Starrs became convinced
that removal of all Cherokees to new lands west of the Mississippi River was the
only way to keep the Cherokee Nation from being completely destroyed by the
Government of the State of Georgia, aided and abetted by the Federal Government
led by President Andrew Jackson. Even so, most Cherokees were opposed to
removal. In 1828, an anti-removal party came to power in the Cherokee
Nation who attempted to preserve their remaining eastern lands. John Ross
was elected principal chief of the Nation. Ross and his followers strongly
opposed removal. However, during the 1817-1837 time frame, many Cherokees
voluntarily emigrated to the lands west of the Mississippi and became known as
the "Old Settlers."
Caleb Starr and his sons supported emigration.
Ezekiel Starr and his family traveled to the west in 1834. James Starr became a
leading member of the Treaty Party, On 29 December 1835, James Starr and 19
other Cherokee leaders, signed the controversial
Treaty of New Echota, which required
the Cherokees to move west within two years after U. S. Senate ratification of
the Treaty. The treaty was ratified on 23 May 1836 - thus the removal
deadline for the Cherokees was 23 Mayfield 1838. James Starr and his
family removed to the Cherokee portion of Indian Territory in 1837.
The majority of the eastern Cherokees, under the leadership of Chief John Ross,
fiercely resisted removal and were were forcibly removed to the west in
1838-1839 time frame. During this removal, they suffered severely on what
came to be called the "Trail of Tears."
Upon arrival in the Indian Territory, the
differences between the Anti-Treaty or Ross Party and the Pro-Treaty or Ridge
Party erupted into violence. On June 22, 1839, three leaders of the Treaty Party
- Major Ridge, his son John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot - were assassinated by
members of the Ross faction. James Starr and Stand Watie were due to be killed
the same day, but they found refuge at Fort Gibson. John Ross was elected
principal chief of a new, "unified" Cherokee government in the Cherokee Nation
in Indian Territory.
In the Cherokee election of 1841, Ezekiel Starr was elected to the Cherokee
legislature from the Flint District, and his brother, James Starr, was elected
to serve from the Goingsnake District. However, the supporters of Chief Ross
were still eliminating the supporters of the removal treaty and many murders
were being committed by both sides. James Starr's son, Thomas Starr (1813-1890),
reacted to attempts on his father's life with violence. He was accused of
attacking and murdering the Ross supporter and trader, Benjamin Vore and his
family, at their home near Fort Gibson in 1843. This Cherokee civil war included
murderers perpetrated by both sides to the conflict, but the majority Ross
faction labeled Tom Starr an outlaw. A reward of one thousand dollars was
offered for his capture.
In 1845, Ross followers decided that James Starr would be held
accountable for the actions of his son, Tom, and on November 9th they acted.
Thirty-two armed men raided the home of James Starr in the Flint District. Starr
was gunned down on his front porch, as was his crippled son, Buck. Both were
dead. Starr's other three sons barely escaped the massacre. According to Tom
Starr, in retaliation, he killed every one of the thirty-two men except for
those who became sick and died in bed before he could get to them. A truce was
called in 1846, and a resulting peace treaty between the two factions included a
special clause that "all offenses and crimes committed by a citizen of the
Cherokee Nation.......are hereby pardoned." It was the opinion of many Cherokees
that the pardon was for Tom Starr.
Tom moved to land in the southern portion of the Canadian District of the
Cherokee Nation, near present-day Briartown. Tom Starr served in the Civil War
as a scout for General Stand Watie and was acquainted with William Clark
Quantrill. After the war, some of Quantrill's former guerrillas frequently
came to visit Tom, including Cole Younger and some of his brothers. As a result,
that part of the Canadian River near Tom's ranch became known as "Younger's
Bend." Tom raised eight sons, including Samuel Starr (1857-1886). In 1880,
Sam Starr married Mrs. Myra Belle Shirley Reed, widow of an outlaw named James
C. Reed. She henceforth became known as "Belle
Interview with a
Former Neighbor of Tom Starr
On 15 September 1937, John Henry West (born 1866) was interviewed by a
Historical-Indian Research Worker, Mr. James S. Buchanan. The interview covered
many topics, including West's boyhood recollections of his infamous neighbor,
Tom Starr. Pertinent excerpts from that interview are as follows:
I, John H. West, was born July 31, 1866 two miles
west of the present site of Briartown, on the Canadian River.
My father was John C. West, the son of John W. West, an Irishman who came with
the Cherokees from Tennessee to the Indian Territory in 1832. His wife was a
Cherokee by the name of Ruth Fields.
My grandfather, John C. West was considered the most powerful man in the
Cherokee tribe. During the prime of his life the Cherokee Council passed a law
forbidding him to hit a man with his fists for they were considered deadly
My mother was Margurette Elizabeth Hickey West. She was part Cherokee, the
daughter of J. H. Hickey, a white man who married a Cherokee woman and came to
the Territory with the Indians in 1832. ...
... When I was about three years of age, father established a new claim at the
foot of the mountain, three-quarters of a mile southwest of where the town of
Porum was later established. It was at this place that I, my brothers and
sisters were reared. The old settlers of that community and neighbors were Tom
Starr and his family, Sam Campbell and his family, Charley Lowery and his
family, and the John Robertson family.
It has been written by misinformed writers that Tom Starr, during his early
life, was a common outlaw and guilty of many crimes, which is untrue. Tom Starr
was not guilty of anything except what he was driven to in the defense of his
people or himself. I never knew a better man nor had a better neighbor. I knew
Tom Starr from my earliest recollections until his death, which occurred when I
was about twenty-three years of age.
All of the old settlers in this part of the country in those days were good
people because they had to be good if they were able to stay here long enough to
be Old Settlers.
In the early part of my life this was a wonderful country. It was sparsely
settled, open range for stock, and the prairies covered with blue stem grass as
high as a horse’s back. All kinds of game such as deer, turkey, prairie chicken,
etc. were here. Wild fruit and nuts grew in abundance and the Indians and early
settlers put forth every effort to protect those natural resources ...
with Dr. George Washington Culledge re Tom Starr
Foreman Collection contains a 1937 interview with a certain Dr. George
Washington Culledge who practiced medicine in Briartown in 1894. He graduated in
medicine from Vanderbilt University in 1885 and served as a intern assisting his
brother-in-law, Dr. Robert Niddly at Silcam Springs, Arkansas, until June, 1886.
He had this to say about his practice at Briertown in Indian Territory and his
acquaintance with Tom Starr:
I decided to embark on my own career in Indian
territory, I rode horseback from Washington County, Arkansas, via Tahlequah,
over the old stage road through Ft, Gibson to Muskogee, crossing the Arkansas
River on a ferry at the mouth of Grand River,. Leaving Muskogee, I started
south with Briartown as my intended destination. When I had ridden a distance
over the open country which I thought should be near my destination, I saw a
cabin near the trail so I decided to inquire as to the distance to Briartown.
I rode up to the house and saw a man lying on a pallet by the door of the
cabin. I asked him to tell me the distance to Briartown. He raised up and
looked at me in amazement and said, "Mister you are right in the middle of
my surprise I learned that Briartown was a community, instead of a village as
I had visualized it. This man, Lacy Crane, was my first acquaintance at
Briartown. The Briartown post office at that time was in the home of Isaac
Mooney, the postmaster. His place was situated about three quarters of a mile
northeast of the present site of Briartown. I was fortunate on my arrival to
finding lodging and board in the home of Jim McClure, about two and one half
miles east of the present site of Briartown.
country at that time was very sparsely settled and I was the only practicing
physician in the territory between Texanna, Muskogee and Webber Falls. The few
roads through the country were nothing more than trails. Many of my calls were
several miles over which there was not even a trail. I practiced medicine
there for two years, then I returned to Arkansas to marry Martha Williams.
Immediately after our marriage we started back to Indian Territory in a
two-horse wagon. We were thirteen days making the trip of two hundred miles,
which we enjoyed as our honeymoon. On my return to Briartown we boarded in the
home of a Cherokee Indian by the name of Bill Phillips a short time, then
moved to the home of Jeff Surratte where we boarded for three years. I
continued my practice here until 1894.
then returned to Vanderbilt where I studied for one year. I returned to Indian
Territory, this time stopping at Whitefield, across the river from Briartown.
I stayed one year in this community, then moved to the little town of
Starvilla about three miles east of where Porum now stands. I lived and
practiced Medicine there until 1901, then moved back to Briartown and
continued my practice there until 1919.
discontinued my medical practice and farmed in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas
until 1931, when I returned to Briartown and resumed my medical practice until
the present time (1937).
Tom Starr was one of my closest friends
and I made professional calls to the home of "Uncle Tom" as he was familiarly
known. Dr. Lindsey, who was a physician at Texanna for many years was Uncle
Tom's family doctor. During the time I was located in Whitefield, I made many
calls to his home.
There have been many exaggerated stories
about the early life of Tom Starr. I would like to brand as false any story
that gives the impression that Tom Starr was an outlaw at heart or that he had
any criminal or cruel characteristics. I knew Tom Starr well, I never knew him
to make a false statement. He told me of his early life and troubles after
they moved to Indian Territory from the old nation in Georgia. The murder of
his father, James Starr and his little brother, the burning of his mothers
home etc. (The story Dr, Culledge told was much the same as told in the book,
Belle Starr, so I won't repeat it here.) But Dr Culledge emphasized, "I am
confidant that what he related was true."
Dr, Culledge went on to tell more about
Tom Starr. He said Tom Starr was a very clever character, he also had a great
sense of humor. He seamed to have a great influence over the superstitions of
the Indians. On one occasion one of Uncle Tom's fat hogs that he was intending
to kill for meat, suddenly disappeared. He waited three or four days, in his
characteristic way of silently figuring things out, and yet the hog did not
Finally Uncle Tom strolled over to the
cabin of an Indian, who lived a short distance away. When he came in view of
the cabin, where he was sure to be seen, he stopped and stood erect in the
trail, looking toward the sky, taking long drafts from his pipe and blowing
the smoke in the direction of the cabin. He repeated this several times before
he reached the door of the cabin. The Indian had been watching and wondered
what he was doing.
The Indian asked him in, Tom entered the
cabin in a slow and mysterious way, took a seat near the cellar door in the
floor of the cabin. He continued to take an occasional draw at his pipe.
Finally he broke the silence by saying "The medicine I make through my smoke
say to me my hog is in the cellar"
The Indian, in a state of superstitious
fear confessed to killing the hog and begged to be permitted to pay for it.
Uncle Tom at that time was fencing some land. He let the Indian make one
thousand fence rails at $1.00 per hundred and every thing would be forgiven.
Tom never lost any more hogs.
One trait I admired in Tom was that he
would never speak ill or slander any woman, nor would he engage in
conversation with anyone who was doing so. If he was talking to his closest
friend and the friend happened to make an ill remark about some woman, Tom
would immediately walk away from him. I remember one day when a bunch of men
had been standing around in idle conversation, and some one made remark about
a woman, Tom turned to me and said, "No man should speak evil of any woman,
our mothers were women."