Monday, January 12, 2009

"A Most Singular Monument, Such As I Never Saw Before"

Although I have visited hundreds of cemeteries, family plots and single graves, by far my favorite is the grave of Spring Frog in the very old (for Oklahoma) cemetery near the little town of Briartown in southern Muskogee County. The stone is unusual, so unusual in fact that Briartown resident Lucy West (1904-2005), a local historian and genealogist, once commented that at one time the gravestone was recognized and shown in "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

The photo above I took in 2003. When you compare it to the one on the right that Lucy West took in about 1967 you can see a big difference. All of the first of the three layers is now underground.

In a 1955 "Notes & Documents" article in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, Muriel H. Wright described the stone: "This grave is marked by a large coffin-shaped marker of sandstone, about 5 1/2 feet long and 8 inches thick lying on a base of two similar stones of the same shape, each a little larger than the stone above. The marker is beautifully cut and bears an inscription in Cherokee (Sequoyah alphabet), which has been translated by someone: 'Spring Frog Born 1803, Drowned in Canadian River, 1859.' This is said to be the oldest grave in Briartown Cemetery."

Lucy West noted in a 1970 interview that Spring Frog died 31 August 1859 at the age of 100 years. Lucy was Cherokee herself so she may have related her own transcription of the Cherokee writing on the stone.

I. B. Hitchcock "rambles over the Cherokee Nation"
and described the stone in an article "Noted Spots in the Cherokee Nation" for the Twin Territories: "Another is a most singular monument, such as I never saw before. A pile of rough-dressed native sandstone is built upon the grave, and on that lies a perfect, solid coffin cut from the nearby sandstone, with an inscription in Cherokee characters--the name, age, and date of death of [bottom of page missing] place of 'Spring Frog,' 'Doostoo'--100 years old."

Karen West Sanchez and her brother and sister sitting on Spring Frog's stone. 1967.

Photo from the West family collection.