The Observer has heard the story of Quatie Ross, the Cherokee woman who died at Little Rock as she traveled the Trail of Tears, many times. The late history-loving Peg Smith, who did so much to preserve early Little Rock’s stories and structures, loved the story of Quatie, the Indian woman who, the legend goes, succumbed to pneumonia after giving her blanket to a shivering child. Peg would tell the story and we would picture the scene: A young woman, a wool blanket with stripes, a muddy grave. All probably wrong.
We had the opportunity to think more about Quatie on Sunday afternoon, as we stood by her monument at Mount Holly Cemetery while visitors on the Quapaw Quarter Spring Tour passed by. Next to her monument is a replica of her headstone, found a decade ago when Mount Holly’s receiving house was being restored. Written history being what it is — the whole truth of the past is never really known — artifacts are a historian’s delight. The headstone backed up a news item published in 1839 in the Arkansas Gazette reporting that Quatie was laid to rest at the city’s first burial grounds, roughly where the federal courthouse is now. Some histories left her in a shallow grave on the riverfront.
On the tantalizingly cracked headstone only the word “Yrs.” appears; Quatie’s age was missing. So we got out the passel of printouts we’d brought with us to Mount Holly and looked more carefully at the dates.
We could find no birth date for Elizabeth Brown Henley — that was her name, though she was, according to some sources, full-blooded Cherokee. But several sources agreed that she and John Ross were married in 1813. Ross was 23. Quatie had been married previously and had a child; she had five more with Ross, who was 1/8 Indian and one of the richest men in north Georgia, where they had a 200-acre farm and other businesses.
When John Ross buried his wife in 1839 in Arkansas, he was principal chief of the Cherokees and he and Quatie had been married 15 years. Her husband had lost a hard-fought battle to keep the Cherokees on their land in the east, and like most of their nation, they were refugees.
The Observer asked others in the office what they pictured when told the bare bones story of Quatie. Like the Observer, they saw buckskin, braids, moccasins. What else?
But now The Observer pictures a worldly woman, in 18th century Anglo clothing, maybe heavy homespun. Stout, perhaps, from bearing so many children. Whose family sought to acculturate but whose land was too valuable and heritage too native to allow them to become Americans. Who was caught in an incomprehensible injustice. Seeing death all around her. She was one of 4,000 Cherokees who died on the forced march to Oklahoma.
People leave rocks and pennies and other items on Quatie’s memorial. We’d like to see a Cherokee rose planted there. And maybe leave a blanket.
There are so many alert readers out there. The Observer spelled Estell’s Grocery en route to Scott with one too many Es and misplaced it by a distance.
And an item on the Buffalo River in the Times last week referred to its headwaters as its mouth. Its mouth is at the White River, smarty-pants reader Chad Chives pointed out, so if one were to paddle from the mouth to the White, one wouldn’t go anywhere.
Our mouth is full of feet.
In Russellville recently, The Observer spied a police car sporting calligraphy on its rear bumper that read “Sponsored by the Mobley Law Firm.”
We’d never heard of a law firm sponsoring a police department, though we can see benefits to such an arrangement. It would certainly cut down the need for middleman ambulance chasers, for one thing.
Russellville Police Chief James A. Bacon, however, disabused us of the notion. What the Mobley lawyers paid for was the cruiser’s new paint job. The firm and dozens of other individuals and businesses helped the cash-strapped Russellville police repaint their cars, which had been white with vinyl striping, the latter worn off on some cars and filled in with magic marker.
Bacon said sponsors were warned they’d get no special favors from police. In fact, he said, shortly after the paint project started, a sponsor was arrested for DWI.