Mount Tabor Indian Community
171 Years as a distinct American Indian Community in Rusk, Smith & Gregg counties of east Texas.
The Mount Tabor Indian Community is made up of the lineal descendants of the six remaining families of Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee-Creek Indians, who have continued to reside in rural Rusk, Smith (and after 1873 Gregg) counties of east Texas from historical times to present day.
The historical community was formed in stages, beginning with the Treaty of Birds Fort on September 29, 1843, then the purchase of 10,000 acres of land by Benjamin Franklin Thompson in the spring of 1844. This was followed by an Executive Order of United States President James K. Polk, allowing members of the Old Settler and Ridge Party Cherokees to leave Indian Territory for Texas to re-establish a government there in order to protect their lives and that of their families from a near civil war state that existed in the Cherokee Nation following the forced removal of 1838-39.
The Texas Cherokees that were a party to the Treaty of Birds Fort were led by Chicken Trotter (aka Devereaux Jarrett Bell). They had waged a guerrilla war against the Republic of Texas from 1840 to 1843, following the murderous expulsion of the Texas Cherokee Nation by the Texas Army in summer of 1839. The Treaty of Birds Fort ended hostilities between the Cherokees, its allied bands and the Republic of Texas. With this treaty the Texas Cherokees were recognized as a distinct Cherokee tribe in Texas.
The Cherokees who came to Texas from Indian Territory were led by such men as John Harnage and John Adair Bell. The latter Bell was the brother of Chicken Trotter. Thus by 1845, the community began to take shape.
The 1850 United States Census for Rusk County also shows that other immigrant mixed blood Native groups had joined the community. The Yowani Choctaws, who had been invited into Texas by the Mexican government in 1824, had been split into several family factions by the oppressive anti Indian policies of the Republic, especially under President Lamar, that had led to the murders of countless Indians, not only Yowani in an unwarranted attack on their village on Attoyac Bayou in 1840, but also Caddo, Lipan-Apache and Comanche to name just a few.
Some of the Choctaws had blood ties to the Cherokees through the Thompson and McCoy families, thus the most likely reasons for them to relocate to Rusk and later Smith counties. These Indians were also accompanied by members of the McIntosh Party of Creek Indians, led by William Berryhill. The McIntosh Party Creeks were a pro-removal Muscogee-Creek group, similar to the Ridge Party. When William Berryhill’s life was threatened in the Creek Nation, he too decided it was time to leave for Texas. Eventually not only the Berryhill’s but related Posey and Self family members were living in Rusk County later to be joined temporarily by members of the McIntosh and Drew, Creek families.
The community itself got its name from John Adair Bell, where he called his home place Mount Tabor. This is recorded in a letter from him to Stand Watie in 1854 that can be found in the book “Cherokee Cavaliers”. The community in general took its name from this following the establishment of the Mount Tabor Indian Cemetery on what was once Bell’s land. Later the town of Bellview was formed and many references to the community refer to Bellview, rather than Mount Tabor. However, after the railroad passed by Bellview in favor of Troup, the town began to die, with most of the remaining Indians following the tracks to towns such as Overton and the aforementioned Troup. Bellview itself after the Civil War was renamed Pirtle by non-Indians who moved into the area. Today, there is little left of the once prosperous town, but the name Mount Tabor remains tied to the descendants that make up a distinct community today.
Between 1850 and 1860 the community took much of its form, the base of which continues to present. One must look at the group historically to understand its current familial structure.
Some of the families that made up the historical Mount Tabor Indian Community among the Cherokee were: Adair, Bell, Benge, Buffington, Candy, Cooper, Dupree, Fields, Harlan, Harnage, Hicks, Lynch, Martin, Mayfield, McCoy, McLemore, Rider, Ridge, Springfrog, Starr, Tegaheske, Thompson, Vann, Ward, Watie and Wyche.
Among the Choctaw, the families were the: Doak, Franklin (Pitchlynn), Jackson, Jones, Riddle, Spring (Pitchlynn) and Thompson.
Among the Muscogee-Creek, the families were the: Berryhill, Drew, McIntosh, Posey and Self.
Finally, among the Chickasaw, the families were the: Hicks and McCoy.
Following the Civil War, beginning in 1866, with the death of John Ross and continuing until the close of the 19th century, most of the people who had made up the historical Mount Tabor Indian Community relocated away from east Texas. The Cherokee Nation had an open return policy that many took advantage of. For the Choctaws, it was not so friendly. Of those that relocated to the Chickasaw Nation (Martini noted how the Yowani relocated to the Chickasaw Nation as well) in order to seek Choctaw Citizenship (Choctaws and Chickasaws could live within each others nations), only those that were a part of the William C. Thompson et al vs Choctaw Nation case, were eventually admitted as Citizens by Blood in the Choctaw Nation. This policy was not only aimed at Texas Choctaws, although the Thompson’s were specifically noted as being on an “enemies list”, but also referred to other Choctaw groups including the Jena Choctaw’s from Louisiana.
While some of the Creeks did relocate to areas near Eufaula in the Creek Nation, the majority stayed in Texas with a substantial number settling in Limestone County, Texas with a few remaining near Troup, Texas today. Their reasons for the majority leaving the community seem to be tied to the Civil War. None served with Indian units in Indian Territory, nor did they serve with units drawn together by John Martin Thompson in Bellview, made up of Cherokees that refused to fight with Stand Watie, as well as Choctaws along with inter-married whites. There descendants have through inter-marriage and proximity remained a pat of our community to this day.
Thus by 1900, the current structure of the six remaining families took shape. All of these families were part of the original ones that appear on both the 1850 and 1860 US Census, but their homes, their sacred places were and still are in east Texas not Oklahoma. Not a splinter group as some might suggest, but a unique distinct community of Cherokees, Choctaws and Muscogees that exists no where else, physically, culturally and linguistically. Much in the way Chief Bowles also known as Duwa’li, had envisioned it with the signing of the Treaty of Bowles Village in 1836. While the Cherokees were the dominant group, twelve other tribes, including the Yowani, were included in the treaty. Duwa’li’s desire to see the establishment of an inter-tribal society is realized in a limited way by the Mount Tabor Indian Community.
A few Cherokees did return to east Texas after the close of the Dawes Commission’s Final Roll. Through such, some descendants of the Adair, Bell and Starr families have maintained social contact with the community and a few membership exceptions are made for these individuals, however, general citizenship in the community today is limited to lineal descendants from one of the six following families:
(1) Thompson-Martin; The descendants of Annie Martin-Thompson, wife of Benjamin Franklin Thompson, who purchased the initial lands on which the community was formed in 1844. Annie, a Cherokee Indian, the daughter of Judge John Martin, first Chief Justice of the Cherokee Nation and his wife Eleanor “Nellie” McDaniel. Note: All descendants of Annie Martin-Thompson who are members of the Mount Tabor Indian Community, link directly to an ancestor on the Guion Miller Roll.
(2) Bean; The descendants of John Ellis Bean and his wife Henrietta Cloud Dannenberg-Bean, both Cherokee Indians. John an enrollee on the Old Settler Roll and his wife and children all enrolled on the Guion Miller Roll.Other members of the Bean family also settled in Rusk County however, only Caleb Starr Bean and his wife Mary Thompson remained. They have no living descendants today.
(3) Harnage; The descendants of Nannie Sabina Harnage-Bacon. She, being the daughter of George William Harnage and Nancy Mayfield, both Cherokee Indians. Nannie and her children all were enrolled on the Guion Miller Roll. George Harnage’s brother John was one of the Cherokees who left Indian Territory in 1845 to seek lands in Texas along with John Adair Bell.
(4) Thompson-McCoy; Descendants of Margaret McCoy-Thompson a Choctaw-Chickasaw Indian whose lineage is well documented in the William C. Thompson et al vs Choctaw Nation case. She was the daughter of Atahobia, a Choctaw Indian and Sally McCoy a half blood Chickasaw Indian. Of her three sons with Henry Thompson, one Henry Jr. was with her in the Chickasaw Nation for a short period before returning to Alabama. William the youngest, was in Texas early and left for the Choctaw Nation following the attack on the Yowani in 1840. He died near Fort Towson shortly after arriving, and finally Archibald, the middle son, was the only one to settle at Mount Tabor. He died there in 1856 and is buried in the Asbury Indian Cemetery near Overton. All three of her sons had children that settled at Mount Tabor and have descendants there today.
(5) Jones; Descendants of Samuel Jones also known as Nashoba. A half blood Choctaw who was the son of a Welshman named Simon Jones and a Choctaw mother named Tuskanoga. His line too is well documented in the William C. Thompson et al vs Choctaw Nation case. William Clyde Thompson was descended paternally from Margaret McCoy-Thompson, but maternally from Nashoba.
(6) Berryhill; Descendants of John Berryhill a quarter-blood Catawba Indian and Elizabeth Derrisaw (Durouzeaux)-Berryhill a 3/4 blood Muscogee-Creek Indian. This family was part of the McIntosh Party of Creek Indians who supported removal and came to Texas when there life was threatened by anti-removal Creeks. Through inter-marriage they also bear the names of Posey, Self and Barber as well as inter-marriage with existing Choctaw-Chickasaw and Cherokee Mount Tabor families.
The community maintains ties to six area cemeteries that have either all of our people buried in them or a large percentage. These are the original three tribal cemeteries, the Mount Tabor Indian Cemetery in Rusk County; the Thompson Cemetery, also in Rusk County and the Asbury Indian Cemetery in Smith County. These were later added to by large numbers of descendants being interred in the Sheffield Cemetery in Gregg County; Union Grove Cemetery in Smith County and finally the Kilgore City Cemetery in Gregg County. Of these the saddest of all, the original Mount Tabor Indian Cemetery in Rusk County was destroyed by oil field workers in 1967, in what appears to be a clearly racially motivated move. All the headstones were bull dozed into the creek to try to erase any idea of American Indian rights to the lands in Rusk County. In this cemetery, (which was predominately Cherokee, but also holds the remains of Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee-Creeks) lay very prominent people in the history of the Cherokee Nation, the State of Texas and the United States, of whom many are our own lineal community ancestors. No respect was given their final resting place. An attempt was made by the Community to purchase the lands which were sold for taxes by the county. The Community was undermined in this effort by a local Henderson attorney who purchased the lands before the Community was even notified of the sale. Thus we continue to fight to get the cemetery designated historically, as well as get it back into the hands of the Mount Tabor Indian Community. Our ancestors deserve better.
It was found in a 55 gallon Oil drum by Mack Starr and George Bell in 1968. It is in family hands in Oklahoma today. Thus the disgusting legacy of racism towards American Indians in East Texas. May we never forget such injustices nor stop trying to correct them.
Photo from George Morrison Bell Sr.
What protected the other cemeteries was the fact that some or all have remained in family hands to the present. Had that not been the case, then the fate of the other cemeteries would have been similar to Mount Tabor’s. All of our cemeteries started out as Indian only or Indian along with inter-married non-Indians. Over the years, all of the cemeteries in question, while being taken care of, can hardly be referred to as Indian cemeteries any longer as non-Indians are buried among our peoples.
This brings us to the group today. While it is true that as many as 40,000 people may have had at least one ancestor that lived at Mount Tabor in Rusk or Smith counties in the past, the majority of these being today a part of the Cherokee Nation, there is a difference between descendants and citizens.
As of this writing there are approximately 450 enrolled members of the Mount Tabor Indian Community. All trace to at least one of the six remaining families and all either still live on lands within the community or have demonstrated that they and/or their immediate families have maintained continual social interactions with the community since 1934 and the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Mount Tabor Indian Community will close its base roll after January 1, 2018. The current working roll is based upon several previous lists. The first of these was the descendants list developed for the Indian Claims Commission in 1949 in the Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands vs The United States. The next is the 1978 general membership list originated by Judge Foster T. Bean, followed by the 2001 community roll which was closed for 13 years. It is this last membership roster which is the basis for the current working roll, although qualifications for admission apply to having ties to all previous rolls. Once the base roll is closed, membership will be limited to children born to enrollees, who live in community. Any exceptions to this will need approval from the General Assembly which meets annually.
A recent statement by the Enrollment Committee clarifies the bands position as to qualifications of citizenship:
Per the 1998 Constitution and 2014 Enrollment Ordinance, the Enrollment Committee considers our band to consist of individuals who have BOTH a common ancestry AND social contact to the Mount Tabor tribal body itself. Ancestry must be traced via birth certificate to a one or more of the specific group of historical community extended families identified by the Mount Tabor Indian Community. Social contact requires pre-existing mutual socialization with existing community members to a level determined satisfactory by the Executive Committee and /or General Assembly of the Mount Tabor Indian Community. This criterion may surprise some individuals who assume that ancestry and/or a particular blood quantum are all that is required. As we seek status as a sovereign nation, the Mount Tabor Indian Community reserves the right to decide its own citizenship and we have chosen these criterion’s to ensure a focus on the social aspect of what it means to be an American Indian in a distinct community and/or band versus simply being a family tree social organization.
For those individuals seeking community citizenship, we provide limited contact information because if you have the pre-existing mutual socialization described above, you should already have sufficient social contact to the band to know how to make the necessary inquiries. We do not have a paid staff to respond to membership inquiries, especially the huge number since announcement that our band is seeking federal acknowledgment.
Individuals who do contact the band regarding membership issues are advised that the Mount Tabor Indian Community reserves the right to choose whether or not to respond. Unsolicited documents will not be returned. Unsolicited monies will not be returned and will be donated to the Mount Tabor Indian Heritage Center, Inc. a 501 (c) (3) not for profit corporation and Texas tax exempt organization.
We realize that possibly as high as 40% of the surrounding population claims to be of some Indian blood, generally Cherokee. However, as ours is a distinct community, Cherokee blood, even if it can be proven, is not a qualification in itself for membership. This some find hard to comprehend. One must be part of the distinct community (ies) that make up the Mount Tabor Indian Community. These pocket communities lie in rural areas near Troup, Arp, Overton, Price, New London and Kilgore. This includes community owned lands in Rusk, Smith or Gregg counties We live in tight knit somewhat introverted communities where family is a priority as is holding on to lands our ancestors have lived on for generations. While we invite non-community members to take part in our open activities, please note that our culture and traditions are ours alone, the lands including our cemeteries are also ours alone and must be respected. Finally, we are not in the business of doing genealogical research for any individuals. The burden of proof as relating to lineal descendancy and social contact, for the purposes of qualifying for membership, lay with the individual only.
For specific criteria as to membership, please refer to the 1998 Constitution of the Texas Cherokees and Associate Bands of the Mount Tabor Indian Community, ARTICLE § 2 or the 2014 Enrollment Ordinance. Both can be accessed through www.mounttaborcommunity.org.
Per the actions of the General Assembly in the town of Troup, Smith County, Texas on July 18, 2015, the Mount Tabor Indian Community will seek federal recognition, pursuant to 25 CFR 83.11 a-g, through the Office of Federal Acknowledgment. The original project started in 1990 was stopped in 1992.
Thank you for your interest in the Mount Tabor Indian Community
For general inquiries:
Mount Tabor Indian Community
P.O. Box 2472
Kilgore, Texas 75662-2472
(903) 704-0011 Chairman’s Number
J.C. Thompson David Carlisle
William E. “Billy” Bean Misty Allen
Caroll Ecby Beth Ann Sewell
John Soules Sr.
The tribal seal is the work of Mary Adair a Mount Tabor enrollee and descendant of Walter “Black Watt” Adair and Rachel Thompson-Adair. The scene is titled “Corn Mothers Wisdom”. It depicts not only our children but how the land sustains us from the past to present.