Relatives and friends pitch in to help care for loved ones at Agency Cemetery
(MUSKOGEE COUNTY, Okla.) Upon entering Agency Cemetery from US 69, one of the first tombstones you find is Pvt. Golden Tucker, a World War I veteran who died in 1964.
His grave is one of an estimated 1,000 that Mother Nature has hidden from the public’s view following years of neglect at the Creek Freedmen cemetery in Muskogee County.
On Saturday, a small group of people from Oklahoma and others from out of state converged on Agency Cemetery to tear down the vines that threaten to choke off the area’s heritage for good.
“It is important to honor our ancestors as they paved the way for us to be here today,” Muscogee Creek Indian Freedmen Band (MCIFB) Leader Rhonda Grayson said. “Many interred are among the first people to live in Indian Territory.”
Grayson said the Freedmen buried at Agency Cemetery traveled from their Southeastern homes in Alabama and Georgia on the infamous Trail of Tears as enslaved people to the new Muscogee Creek Nation reservation, and what would later also become Oklahoma.
“Many fought in the Civil War, WWI, and WWW2; they fought for us to have the freedom and liberties that we have today,” Grayson said. “They served their Nation in the House of Kings and the House of Warriors in the Creek Nation politics. These people made significant contributions to the country and should be honored.”
The oldest records available list the cemetery as “Creek Agency Cemetery”, named for the settlement that resulted from the establishment of the Creek agency near Fern Mountain around 1857.
The Creek agency was one of five separate agencies established for Indian Country’s Five Treaty Tribes, referred to historically as the Five Civilized Tribes.
The little town that grew up near the Creek agency was simply known as “Agency” and became a hub for trade. During the Civil War, women and children from Agency were taken to Fort Gibson to be protected and brought back when the war was over.
In 1874, individual Five Tribes agencies were eliminated and Union Agency was built to consolidate them all into one office in Muskogee.
Records from “Indian Pioneer Histories” (oral histories conducted in the 1930s) state Creek Agency Cemetery was listed as a public property in 1937, but through VNN research we uncovered the land was actually allotted to a Creek Freedmen woman named Lizzie Fields in 1903.
After working with the Muskogee County Land Records Office, we were able to determine the last living property owner of Agency Cemetery died in 2013.
“While there is a peace that I feel when walking through the cemetery, our ancestors are not entirely at peace due to the years of neglect of their sacred resting place,” Grayson said. “There is no better time than the present to work to restore the Agency Cemetery.”
Grayson said the group’s short-term goal is to meet as frequently as possible to clean the cemetery so the families can visit their loved ones.
“We can't say that the families have abandoned these cemeteries; they can't gain access, and no organization or person can manage this task alone,” Grayson said. “We need help. We want to partner with other organizations interested in helping to preserve our cemeteries. We hope enough people will answer the call and sign up, whereby we can split up into teams and rotate when possible.”
The MCIFB is currently raising funds to acquire, restore, and preserve Agency Cemetery for the Freedmen and their living descendants. Click here to donate to their cause.
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