Trail of Tears participant buried in forgotten cemetery is honored
BY SHEILA STOGSDILL World Correspondent
Sunday, May 06, 2012
5/06/12 at 5:01 AM
GROVE - A young Cherokee woman who as a child walked the infamous Trail of Tears path to Oklahoma and was buried nearly 133 years ago in a forgotten cemetery located in the middle of Grove was honored Saturday.
In what was once thought to be an abandoned cemetery located on top of a hill near the community's city offices is the tombstone of Electa Crittenden. For nearly 60 years, the four-plot cemetery was hidden behind an old shed among entangled brush and vines.
"The majority (of Grove residents) didn't know the graveyard was here," Grand Lake Realtor Don Meints said. "It was about seven years ago the tombstones were discovered, and a red flag went up."
The old shed has since been torn down and hauled away, the weeds and brush removed, and the grassy lot is now mowed on a regular schedule.
Underneath a 40-foot-tall hickory tree are three grave markers, and the marker with legible engraving belongs to Crittenden.
According to the grave marker, she was born Dec. 25, 1835, and died Jan. 20, 1879, almost 28 years before statehood. At the time of Crittenden's death, Grove - referred to as Grove Springs - was a watering hole for travelers.
Engraved on Crittenden's tombstone are the words, "Her gentle ways will ever dwell in hearts of those who knew and loved her well."
On Saturday around 60 members of the Trail of Tears-Oklahoma Chapter honored Crittenden. At the base of her tombstone is a bronze plaque engraved with the words "In honor of one who endured the forced removal of the Cherokees in 1838-1839."
"This is holy ground," Billie Napolitano said. "No one can come in and move this cemetery."
"We think her 2-year-old son is also buried here," said Cara Cowan Watts, Cherokee Nation tribal councilwoman.
As a 3-year-old child, Crittenden endured the forced removal from Tennessee to what is now Adair County, said Carol Savage. She later married Henry Crittenden, and they moved to Delaware County, where they had five children, she said.
Henry Crittenden is thought to have died in 1865 in the Civil War, Savage said.
Prayers, hymns and a tribute by Savage were read under the hickory tree. Savage is a descendent by marriage and orchestrated the cleanup of the cemetery.
Jeff and Carol Savage retired in 2001 and moved to Grove right after Sept. 11, she said.
"I got interested in genealogy and began volunteering at the genealogy department at the Grove Public Library," Savage said.
The 18-by-10-square-foot plat of land was allotted a legal cemetery in 1879, she said. A Grove family bought the adjoining land in the 1930s and built a house and shed.
"The boundary line of the cemetery runs right though an old hickory tree," Savage said. "The shed encroached upon the cemetery."
James Crittenden, Electa's son, took care of the family cemetery until his death in 1953, she said. That is when the cemetery became neglected.
The house was destroyed several years ago, the shed torn down in March, and the brush, foliage and undergrowth were removed voluntarily, Savage said. Plans are to erect a fence around the cemetery.
"The people in Grove are really wonderful," she said. "It was volunteered labor that cleaned the cemetery up."
The Oklahoma Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association also honored Elijah Butler, a circuit-rider preacher and a judge of Delaware District; Dorcas Butler and Daniel Muskrat on Saturday at Butler Cemetery.
Original Print Headline: Trail of Tears participant honored after discovery
Cherokee Nation Councilwoman Cara Cowan Watts (left), Cherokee Nation members Billie Napolitano and Vivian Cottrell and Councilman Lee Keener attend the grave-marking ceremony for Electa Crittenden in Grove on Saturday. SHEILA STOGSDILL / for the Tulsa World