Who was Nede Wade Christie? Was he a violent criminal guilty of murdering a federal officer? Or a Cherokee statesman who suffered a martyr’s death for a crime he did not commit? For more than a century, journalists, pulp fiction authors, and even serious historians have produced largely fictitious accounts of “Ned” Christie’s life. Now, in a tour de force of investigative scholarship, Devon A. Mihesuah offers a far more accurate depiction of Christie and the times in which he lived. In this conversation, Mihesuah talks to playwright, Falen Johnson, placing Christie’s story within the rich context of Cherokee governance and nineteenth-century American political and social conditions. More than a biography, Ned Christie traces the making of an American myth. Devon Abbott Mihesuah is the Cora Lee Beers Price Teaching Professor in International Cultural Understanding. She holds a Ph.D. in American History from Texas Christian University. Her career has been devoted to the empowerment and well-being of Indigenous peoples. She served as Editor of the American Indian Quarterly for nine years. Her research, writing and speaking focuses on decolonization strategies and is one of the few Indigenous writers who successfully writes non-fiction and fiction. She regularly speaks nationally and internationally about issues pertaining to empowerment of Indigenous peoples; her works are cited and reprinted in hundreds of publications and her books and essays are used in classrooms across the world. The host of this episode is Falen Johnson, Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations Grand River Territory. She is bear clan. Falen is a writer, producer, director, and actor. Her plays Salt Baby, Two Indians, and Ipperwash have played in theatres across the country. Her writing appears in publications such as Granta Magazine, Brick Literary Journal. She has also been featured in The Canadian Theatre Review as well as on the Moth Storytelling podcast. Falen has earned TV writing credits for Urban Native Girl (APTN) and was a researcher on Colonization Road (Frog Girl Films). She co-hosts the podcast The Secret Life of Canada with co-creator Leah-Simone Bowen.
Books by Devon Abbott Mihesuah
Ned Christie: The Creation of an Outlaw and Cherokee Hero
Recovering our Ancestor’s Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness
Indigenous American Women: Decolonization, Empowerment, Activism
Books and other related materials by Falen Johnson
The Secret Life of Canada: a Podcast series
Indian Act: Residential School Plays
Other Related Materials
Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation: Learn from All I Observe
Cherokee: an Independent Nation
Beginning Cherokee (learning the language of the Cherokee; multi-media materials)
Sequoyah and the Invention of the Cherokee Alphabet
Music is by The Worst Pop Band Ever
Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations features curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.
Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. Marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.
Live Mic: Ned Christie: Cherokee Outlaw or Hero
Gregory McCormick: Welcome to Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations, our regular Toronto Public Library podcast series featuring curated discussions and interviews with some of today’s best-known and yet-to-be-known writers, thinkers and artists, recorded on stage at one of Toronto Public Library’s 100 branches.
Falen Johnson (FJ): Thank you everyone for joining us this afternoon, it's lovely to see you all here on a Friday, got wine in hand for some of you, which is nice. And I wanna thank you, Devon, for being here today. I know that it was a bit of a tumultuous journey maybe at points. Your flight in was delayed and it was a bit scary for a minute, but you made it, so welcome to Toronto.
Devon Abbott Mihesuah (DM): Hello?
FJ: You're good.
DM: Am I on? Well, I have to say, I'm incredibly impressed with the library. I walked into this building, I thought this is a university. It's really stunning, and I'm also greatly impressed by the programs this library puts on. And I'm really impressed that Falen has agreed to do this, so she really should be the centre of attention here, and is quite accomplished, so I'm really [chuckle] sort of overwhelmed. And I do appreciate everybody showing up for this. For somebody who is rather far removed from Toronto, Canada, yeah, this is fun to be here. I appreciate it.
FJ: Yeah. And you're from Kansas, yes? And you teach at the university.
DM: Well, I live in Kan... I'm not from Kansas, I live in Kansas, I work at the University of Kansas, yes.
FJ: So quite a trek.
FJ: But you made it.
DM: I did. I survived. [chuckle]
FJ: Congratulations on the book.
DM: Thank you.
FJ: I just finished it yesterday. It's fantastic, it's exactly the kind of story that I like to read. It's the kind of stories I like to hear told coming from the fingertips of an Indigenous female writer, so thank you so much for all of your hard work on it 'cause it's a fantastic read, and I really appreciate it.
DM: Thank you.
FJ: I wanted to talk a little bit about Ned and how you came to his story. Can you tell us a little bit just about who he is?
DM: Well, Ned Christie, his name actually is NeDe WaDe, which means Ned, son of Watt, but people in the Wild West, I guess, genre, they know him as Ned. So I kinda had to tussle with University of Oklahoma Press, and we had to call him Ned Christie, otherwise people wouldn't be able to find him on Google. [chuckle] Ned Christie, he was a Keetowah Cherokee, and a Keetowah is a traditionalist, and this is an individual who very strongly adheres to tradition, shuns the ways of white society as much as they can. He very, very strongly felt that his tribe was being overrun by intruders once they got to Indian territory. But Ned Christie, his family came over the Trail of Tears. He was born in 1844 after the family arrived in the 1830s. So Ned grew up listening to stories about the US government and the atrocities that were committed against not just the Cherokees, but other tribes as well.
DM: So Ned's family, his father, his uncles, his brothers, they had been very, very active in Cherokee politics. So he would sit there in his father's blacksmith shop listening to stories about tribes around the country, and what had happened to his people, and what had happened to his family. So Ned, by 1887, Ned had been appointed to the Cherokee National Council under the chiefdom of Dennis Bushyhead. And this was really a great honour. Ned was very astute; by this time, he could read and write in Cherokee and English. He was very well aware of the United States Constitution, the American ways of governance. And by the way, the Cherokees did copy the United States form of governance. And so here he was, sitting on this National Council in a very prominent place. In 1887, a US deputy marshal named Dan Maples came to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which is the capital of the Cherokee Nation, still is. And Dan Maples came because he wanted to go hunting and fishing. And how many of you all have been to Oklahoma, eastern Oklahoma? It's really quite beautiful, it's very lush, it's very green. And during this time period, lots of deer, lots of turkeys, waterways were just filled with all kinds of fish. So it really was a destination.
DM: So Ned had been at a National Council meeting, and Dan Maples was in town at the same time. Well, this perfect storm kinda came together because there were six other miscreants, we'll call them, in town, who had very long histories of drinking, and selling whiskey, and stealing horses, and just doing various other things, and they had also been in jail, so they had rap sheets. Dan Maples, he and his company had camped at a spring, which is known as Seminary Spring. So that evening, Dan Maples went to a local store, it's called Stapler store, Stapler and Sons store to buy some eggs, and actually to use the telephone. And he was probably the first person in Indian territory to use the telephone, which is kind of a first. And on his way back to his campsite, somebody, under the cover of darkness, shot him. Shot him in the chest, reportedly the eggs went flying that he had just bought. He drew his pistol and started shooting randomly, but the assailants got away.
DM: The first six indictments were against those six men who were in town, not Ned Christie, and all six men did go to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Has anybody been to Fort Smith, Arkansas? You can go there. This is the site of the hanging judge, Judge Parker. Have you heard of Judge Parker? If any of you saw the movies True Grit, or if you read the novel True Grit, this kind of gives you an idea of what Indian territory was like, 'cause this took place during post-Civil War Indian territory. It was incredibly violent, and this took place in the Choctaw Nation, where my family was from. If a person committed a crime against a white person in Indian territory, they would be tried at Fort Smith, Arkansas. If an Indian committed a crime against another Indian, they would be tried in tribal court. But because a white marshal had been murdered, these people, if they could get a hold of them, would be tried at Fort Smith, Arkansas. And the reason that I asked if you had ever been there, because you can go and see the jail, you can see the gallows, you can see Judge Parker's courtroom. It's been completely refurbished. It looks quite pretty.
DM: So these six men they got a hold of, and they took them to Fort Smith, and every one of them blamed the other. They said, "Well, I didn't do it, he did it." "I didn't do it, he did it." But one thing they all said was, "But there was this other guy there, and his name was Ned Christie." And so Judge Parker says, "I want to speak to this Ned Christie." So he wrote an indictment to get him to come, and Ned Christie refused. And this was probably his biggest mistake, because for the next five years of his life he avoided capture, until 1892 when a posse came to his house where he lived in Wauhillau, Wauhillau Cherokee Nation. And they tried to blow up his house with a cannon, but the projectiles were too small so they kept bouncing off the walls of this log cabin. But some of the marshals had some dynamite, and so they snuck up under the moonlight, put dynamite under his house, blew it up. And as the house is burning, Ned came running out sort of a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and they shot him. And so he died.
DM: And so Ned Christie really... That story is kind of easy to tell, a man was born, he lived and he died, but what is important about Ned Christie are the stories that were told about him. This is a man who was innocent, yet there have been hundreds of stories that have made him out to be one of the most violent pathological killers in all of Wild West lore. And so I really wanted to find out where did this come from, and why did people do this, and why are they still writing about him in this fashion?
FJ: Do you remember when you came across his story, the first time that you encountered his story, or was it always just inside you and something that you knew?
DM: My great-great-grandfather, Charles Wilson, was a Choctaw Lighthorseman. He was also a sheriff of the Moshulatubbee district, which was obviously in the Choctaw Nation. But during that time period in the 1880s, Fort Smith was also using experienced lawmen, Indians who were experienced lawmen as US deputy marshals, so Charles Wilson became a US deputy Marshal. So he was murdered in 1884 by the opposition party within his tribe; he was a Nationalist and he was murdered by Progressives. And so this was only three years before Dan Maples was killed, so in a lot of the documents that I read, Ned Christie's name or... His name is right there by my great-great-grandfather's name, because the Choctaw Nation is just south of the Cherokee Nation, so they're very close together and their histories are very, very similar. So I would see Ned Christie, oh yeah, that's interesting. So I would just kind of collect that. And the first book that I wrote back in the Dark Ages was on the Cherokee Female Seminary, and Ned Christie's name came up quite a bit within that, too, because it was Cherokee history, of course. So I've kind of been aware of Ned for 40 years, 30, 40 years, I guess. Yeah.
FJ: And do you remember when you made the decision to write this biography?
DM: It took me a long time to decide to do it because you can't... I feel like if you're gonna write a book about somebody who has a very large family, the Christie family is big. If y'all have a copy of this book, and you look, you see this family tree, that's only part of it. The Christie family today is quite big. They're kind of scattered around, but out of respect for the Christie family, I really felt like I needed permission from them and get their okay before I dove into this, and so I did. And I did get permission from one of the more prominent members, his name is Roy Hamilton, and he's... Figures very prominently because he's the one that kept the stories about Ned. And unfortunately he died as the book went to press, but he did get to see the galleys and he approved, so that really meant everything to me.
FJ: And what does getting permission kind of look like? What is that process or what was that process like for you?
DM: Well, it's, "I will write this book and I will let you look at it before I submit it."
FJ: That is huge. [chuckle]
DM: Well, it really is, because another person had written the book about Ned Christie, Bonnie... Her name's Bonnie Spears, and she gave the book to the family to look at, and they did not approve, and they said, "You got an error," and they pointed out specifically on this page, that page, this page. She published it anyway. [chuckle] Thought no, you just don't... You don't do that, I don't think.
FJ: I think that's something that... In my own work that's a... And it's a thing that I'm starting to learn more about is the... How ethically we, as Indigenous women, as Indigenous people, how we request these permissions and how we go about telling stories that maybe don't belong to us. So I totally understand what you're saying there, yeah. So Ned's life sort of... He became an archetype in a lot of ways for a lot of future figures. I'm wondering if you can talk us through a few of those archetypes that we might be more familiar with and where their roots may start with Ned.
DM: Well, okay. I also have a PowerPoint presentation that goes along with this, and I have hundreds of pictures that I truly believe Ned was the root of some of these characters; the outlaw Josey Wales for example. The iconic photograph of Ned where he's standing there, he's got his pistol here, he's got his rifle there, he's got another pistol tucked in. If you take a look at that picture of Clint Eastwood as the outlaw Josey Wales, side-by-side it's just really identical. It could be a great coincidence, but I don't know, I don't think so. Ned... There wasn't a whole lot written about Ned until after he died in 1892, and I think it is because people wanted to rationalize why it is that these white marshals killed him. And this is when we start seeing these fantastic, insane stories about him, where he killed women and children, and he just blasted through anybody that he came across, and very...
DM: What I think really kind of summarizes what they were attempting to do to Ned is if you look at the Wild West literature, they portray him as being 6'4" or 6'5". Some people say he was even taller than that. And they say he was the bodyguard for the chief of the Cherokees. Well, I wanted to find out just exactly how big was Ned, because the roots of that came from a man named McKennon, and he wrote during the heyday of John Wayne. And of course, everybody knows who John Wayne is, and he really was a big man, big masculine, he could just sort of defeat anybody and everybody. So how do you figure out how tall Ned was? So what I did was I took a look at the weapons he carried compared to how he is standing, and there... And that picture of him where he's got that... And actually it's a carbine. The weapon that he had was a Winchester. It was a model 1873, and it was a carbine. And if you take a look at his height compared to the carbine, he actually was maybe 5'6", [chuckle] maybe 5'7".
DM: And then there's another photograph where he's in death, and there's another rifle that had been placed in his arms, because this one deputy marshal said, "You can't have an outlaw without... You can't photograph him dead unless he's got a gun in his hands." So somebody else put his rifle in Ned's arms; it wasn't Ned's. And a friend of mine who works at Fort Smith had access to that particular weapon, he says, "I know how long that is." So we measured, and this mathematician friend of mine, who actually is a young man... I should say it's a friend of my daughter's who went to Pitt State in Kansas. I said, "Okay, Ethan, tell me. Let's measure this. What do you think?" He says, "Well, I think he may be 5'5"." [laughter] So at the absolute maximum he was 5'7", so why is it that people felt compelled to make him so huge and big and just capable and all this? Well, I think it is because the bigger and badder the bad guy, this makes the people who took him down look even bigger and badder.
DM: And it wasn't just the height that was exaggerated with Ned, it was his ability to shoot a weapon; he could never miss, ever. They exaggerated about the type of house he lived in. They wrote that he had constructed a fort. It was a fort, it was incredible. And being kind of sarcastic in my PowerPoint, I have this big Mesa Verde kind of thing up on the mountain top, because people would write about it: He had a view from all directions, and he could shoot you from a mile away, he could see you coming. In reality he had a little cabin just made of heavy logs, that's all it was. So I really think when we look at characters such as The Wild Bunch. We look at Shane, we look at The Rifleman. Who do I have? Lee Van Cleef, and Chuck Connors, and Warren Oates, and all of these guys, all of these men are very, very distinctive. They're very distinctive-looking. Gene Hackman, they're all very tall, are they not? They're physically strong. And there's something about this masculinity issue during this time period, and people take a very, very great interest in this. And it's not necessarily the women who like it, it's really the white males. And it's during this time period we see the rise of boxing and the rise of football, and so this is becoming the masculine norm. People wanna see these kinds of stories. And so I was kind of connecting these dots, and Ned, boy, he fits perfectly right into that.
FJ: It's so interesting. Even then, I guess we don't... Because we have so much social media now and TV, it's just so surprising to think of someone not being in control of their identity at that time, but that really was the case. And I imagine that when you were going back through this, you were encountering a lot of the old sources or the sources that other biographers or historians and writers, had used to try and illustrate his life. Can you tell us about some of the... like what sources? I guess this is my history nerd speaking, 'cause I'm always interested in where people find Indigenous sources or source from our perspective. Can you tell us about some of those?
DM: Well, I looked at all the Cherokee House and Senate records, and those are…anybody can go look at them if you're inclined to. They are at the Oklahoma Historical Society, and they're in big bound ledgers. And so these records, there was a young lady who would sit there and take minutes. She would record the minutes of all of these meetings. Ned Christie said, or Chief Bushyhead said, they followed Robert's Rules of Order. So, these things are very, very detail... Painfully detailed, and the handwriting is absolutely beautiful. What is fortunate for me now, which is different from when I first started out 30 years ago doing this, is now it's digitized, so I can look at it on the comfort of my own home, as opposed to going through and looking page after page. I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of newspaper articles.
DM: Ned did not leave behind any diaries or letters or interviews. He did not talk to the press. And one thing that might be of interest to you is, after Ned died in 1892, other members of his family started dying. A young cousin, his wife's cousin were found dead on the road, they were almost decapitated. His young cousin, Arch Wolfe, was sent away to prison, and eventually he died in Canton asylum for insane Indians, which was dreadful. And so a medicine man, who was a member of the family, he performed a ceremony in 1893, and the ceremony specifically was nobody will know about the Christie family for 100 years. And what's very interesting about that is, for 100 years, none of the Christie family said anything, there were no... Nobody said anything. There were no interviews, no newspaper articles. And it wasn't until 1994 that Roy Hamilton knocked on the door of a cousin and said, "Now will you talk to me?" And she says, "Come in." And Roy had told me, he says, "I think that was when the spell was broken after 100 years."
DM: The thing with Ned Christie, and actually with other native people who were written about all during the 19th century, they had no recourse. Somebody wrote something about you, what are you gonna do about it? You can't come forward and really complain. Slander, libel, no one's gonna listen to you anyway. But with Ned, there's that added layer of silence basically. And really it was in 1994 that we had a Christie family member who attempted to set the record straight. He didn't quite make it, but he started doing it and tried to do it.
FJ: And I think reading the book, seeing some of the newspaper articles, and you shed light on how those stories would have been written and why they would have been written, the way that they were in terms of... You had to... If you wanted your paper to sell, and if you wanted your article to do well, you would have to have a sensational... It's almost like fake news.
DM: Fake news.
FJ: Fake news. But really fake news.
DM: Yes. Look at Billy the Kid, look at Belle Starr. You can just go back through time and look at any of these prominent people. The movie Tombstone, pick out those characters, right? What I discovered with Ned Christie was that... This is what would happen is something would happen within the Cherokee nation, and a story or the little blurb would come out of Tahlequah, and it would be telegraphed all over the country, to Iowa, to New York, some places in Canada actually, over there to Utah, to California. And so the newspaper guys would get ahold of this story and say, "Well, that sounds interesting." So, they would just decide to be fed up a little bit. So, instead of, "Well, some posse tried to catch Ned and he wounded two of them," we're gonna write, "He killed 10 of them." So I could trace back to what was the original story and then how did this branch out and then turn into just these insane crazy things. It's as if we were all sitting in a circle, you know that kids game where I whisper something to you, and what does it turn out to be by the time it comes back? It's sort of like that. Some of these stories are completely unrecognizable.
FJ: Do you have a favorite outlandish Ned Christie newspaper headline or newspaper story?
DM: Oh, my goodness. Oh, there are so many, geez. There was one where Ned rode his horse overnight 40 miles away to Eufaula specifically because he was angry at this store owner, and he took... Apparently he took with him two buckets of tar. And then when he got there, he heated up those buckets of tar, he dumped it over the storekeeper and somehow found feathers, and covered the man with feathers. And then rode his horse back 40 miles, and he was back by dinner. [chuckle] Yeah. And so people write these stories and they're totally serious, thinking, "They'll believe this. He tarred and feathered him."
FJ: And it's interesting, 'cause people did want to believe. It's almost like the basis of, I guess, like dime store novels or comic books in a way, right?
DM: Well, if you keep in mind, in 1892... Actually it's 1890, the West was closed. In 1892, the West has been settled. And I think a lot of people, they sit around and they're bored, and they want stories. They want Wild West stories, they want stories of the wilderness. Where has our wilderness gone? The buffalo are almost extinct by 1900. There's, what, 25 of them left. They're not thundering across the plains anymore. All the tribes have been put on reservations. So, when you come out with these stories, people love it. And the crazier, the better. And so Ned really did serve a purpose, and he still does serve a purpose. He's a comfort story. He's a comfort story for people who need to know that good will triumph over evil, and Ned just happens to portray the bad guy in this story.
FJ: When you were taking on this story, were you apprehensive about telling the story?
FJ: Why were you?
DM: Because my apprehension and my fear sort of came true, with some people writing me saying, "How dare you? I think you should have looked at the old sources. I prefer the old sources." And I think, "Well, I looked at the old sources. I just investigated the old sources." And I think that what some of these Wild West fans were referring to were their heroes or the lawmen. There is a lot of lawmen in this book. And in Oklahoma, if you know anything about Oklahoma, Boomer Sooners, holy cow, their lawmen are just absolutely put on pedestals. And so any kind of disparaging remark or questioning their ability, you're fair game, and particularly if you're a woman. In fact... And some people, Devon, they thought I was a man. This is my 16th book. So clearly, if they looked me up, they didn't look very closely. [laughter] But I think just the fact that a female kinda took this on, was upsetting to some people because I really do challenge.
DM: And the other thing that I was able to do was to take a look at some of the stories of these lawmen, and I discovered that what happened was these lawmen would walk into a newspaper office and say, "Let me tell you my story." And they would tell... They could do anything. You would think we were watching Infinity War or something, The Avengers. They could do anything, they're just masterful at all things weaponry. And so they... As I wrote in here, they were sort of contributors to their own mythologies. And the last ones alive were the ones who really get the most attention, because they could say, "But I was the one who shot Ned, and Ned shot me several times," because there's nobody left alive to tell him, "That's not true." So I found a couple of those men who actually said that.
FJ: Why do you think people try to hold on to this, this idea of the Wild West? What is so alluring about it, or so captivating? Because for me, as an Indigenous person, I can see the problems in that story, but I guess it has to do with the foundation of the country or identity.
DM: Well, it's because the wilderness is hard to navigate. Once again, if you've been to Oklahoma, even today, a lot of it is cattle country. If you think you're gonna get through that on foot, it's really difficult. That's hard country to traverse. It's mysterious, not everybody can ride a horse, not everybody can shoot a gun. It's like, "Why do people like action movies?" You put yourself in their place I think it's kind of, "Well, if I were them, I could do... " Or being a great athlete or you imagine yourself when you're out jogging, "I'm pretending I'm running the 400, and I'm winning the Olympics." I think it's just imagination. And it's a good story, and Ned makes a really good story. He does. He's a very interesting-looking person.
DM: One thing that I really wish that Wild West writers had incorporated, and what I tried to do, is to incorporate the women in his life. There are a lot of women involved here, and these women were rough and they were tough. You talked about people who needed to survive, post-Civil War Indian territory, like I said, was incredibly violent. Everybody was carrying guns and knives. Even little kids had to know how to defend themselves. So, little kids were walking around with big 'ol pistol hanging off their belt. But these women also knew how to do these things. And Ned had been married multiple times, and I asked Roy, I said "Well, why was he married five times? What was going on there?" And he said, "Well, two of them died." And two of them, he believed, left him because he was so fervently an activist for his tribe, and I think they got a little tired of him campaigning to get the white people out of the Cherokee Nation, and to fight against railroads, and all of that. But the last woman that he married, Nancy, she held his life together for the last five years. She ran the farm when he wasn't there. She's the one who sold the produce. And I just think it's really too bad, in all these Wild West stories, women are just basically there to bolster the masculine narrative, I think. And oftentimes they are just referred to as the "old squaw," in the back room or something. No, they were right there in the front with them.
FJ: Where did you learn about these women or find out about these women? Where did their stories lie in your research?
DM: Well, once again, Roy Hamilton, he's a young man, I should say. He was in his 50s when he died several years ago, but he had a lot of health problems. He was born right there in Wauhillau, the same place where Ned was born, and he actually was raised and lived just a few houses down from where Ned lived. And he was raised by Ned's nieces, so he remembers growing up and going down and getting water from the same spring where Ned got his water. And so these women knew the stories, and so they told him. He was kind of the keeper, again. And he would tell me things, and I was like, "Can I say that?" He says, "Please, tell that story." So, that is where the women come from.
DM: But you didn't necessarily have to get the stories from a family member because I could see in the National Council records and the receipts of the jail that Nancy was very active in selling produce to the jail. She was driving that wagon 30 miles several times a week, one way, just to sell produce, try to make a living in Tahlequah. And that's not easy. Think about it, 60 miles, round trip, by yourself. And they were trying to conceive, trying to have a child, and they just couldn't and she was constantly miscarrying. Yeah, she was a very, very strong person, I thought.
FJ: Have you received many kudos from the family or anyone from the Cherokee Nation?
DM: Yeah, a lot of people, "Thank you very much." But then there are some people... I think instead... How do I say this? There's silence amongst some people. I think it's because some members of the Cherokee Nation liked the legend of Ned as the big guy. They liked him being tall and they've argued with me. They said, "But he had to have been at least 6 foot." I said, "He wasn't. He couldn't be, look at the pictures." And they don't like that. And I think they also don't like... There is also... I have a whole chapter, it's called the "Humphrey Theory," in which a story came out in an Oklahoma newspaper in 1912…1918, in which an eyewitness said that he saw who killed Dan Maples. Well, I was able to take that story apart and dissect it, and it could not have happened. Nobody saw who killed Dan Maples.
DM: Well, a lot of members of the Cherokee Nation hold on to that story because that is the definitive exoneration of Ned Christie. And when I said, "No, that story is a fabrication," they don't know what to say about that. But I don't think you need that to exonerate Ned. After going through all the court records and the timeline and graphs and my spreadsheets, and just making a mess of my office to where you couldn't even walk in there, you could see that Ned did not do this. But it's hard to convince people there's more evidence than just that one newspaper article that they cling to.
FJ: Do you think writing this book... I think anytime you write something, you're a little bit different from when you started. Do you think this book changed you?
DM: I think it did, because regardless of the criticism or lack of attention, or whatever, I just felt Ned's story needed to be told. And I cried so many times in some of these little vignettes in there, particularly about his cousin, Arch Wolfe. Arch Wolfe was a teenager who was there when Ned was killed. He was sentenced to prison. It was only a five-year sentence. It was three charges, two charges of whiskey selling. He was trying to sell a bottle of whiskey twice, big deal. And then the other was assault with intent to kill. And that was a lesser charge than selling whiskey. So, he was sent to prison, and instead of releasing him when he should have been released, they sent him to Saint Elizabeth's, which is in Washington, DC, which is an insane asylum, right? And he really suffered. He suffered there. And so I went to DC and I looked at his ward notes, and I saw what they were doing. They were treating him as if he was insane because he didn't speak English. That was not his language. He spoke Cherokee. Well, he's not speaking English, so he must be insane. And one of the ways that they treated insane people during this time period was to give them laxatives. And they just dosed him with laxatives three times a day, so he became very dehydrated, very sick.
DM: They also gave him something called "blue mass," which is what they gave Abraham Lincoln, if you all know the history of Abraham Lincoln, and some people think that maybe this is what contributed to Lincoln's mood swings because he would really have these mood swings 'cause he's taken all this stuff. So then they transferred him from Saint Elizabeth's to Hiawatha Asylum, which became known as Canton Asylum for Insane Indians in South Dakota. And that is where he stayed until he died at age 35. They never released him. He was not insane, but because he was quiet and kept to himself. And to me what happened to this poor kid, who was a teenager, who never got to see his house again or his home, his homeland, and his family wrote letter after letter, "Please, please let him go," and they wouldn't do it. It's even worse than what happened to Ned Christie. And so I look back and I think... I try to put myself in the place of all these people I've written about and I wonder what was it like, what were they thinking? They don't have the resources that we have today. They don't have the legal people that they can go see. They don't have the money. Yeah, it really has changed me 'cause I hope I did right by him. And I think that he deserves better than what has been presented.
FJ: Yeah. I think you've successfully done that.
DM: I don't know. I hope. I hope.
FJ: Well, for me, you have definitely, because Ned Christie, it really is... I'd known the name and I kind of knew the story, but not really, not in any in-depth way. So I have to say, yeah, I think it is definitely pervasive in American culture and popular culture. And in Canada, I think, slightly less known. But definitely the tropes of who Ned is, we see that here. There is no border when it comes to your entertainment, in many ways.
DM: Oh, right. And fake news.
FJ: And fake news. [chuckle] So, you've said that you don't think you can ever really fully know the story of Ned Christie, there will always be some holes in that story.
FJ: How does that sit with you?
DM: Well, I don't know. We all wanna sometimes go back in time and see what was this like, what were they like, what did they sound like, what did they look like, what were they going through? I don't know. Maybe there should be holes. Are we supposed to fill them in? Should there still be mystery? I have so many questions, so many things I want answered. I just hope the family could eventually find peace. I don't know... If you all do read about this book, you'll find the Ned's wife, his widow, married his brother and they ended up having five children. Two of those boys died during World War I. And after they all died, they were buried in a separate cemetery from where Ned was buried. And some white... A white family eventually bought that property. The patriarch got a bulldozer, and he bulldozed their caskets, their headstones, their bones, everything, into the deep pond and then left the white portion of the cemetery intact and it is still there. And so Roy Hamilton, once he found this out, he decided one day, "Well, I'm gonna go scuba diving," bless his heart. He couldn't do it, but he did... As much as he could get, he recovered halves of two tombstones, and then he brought them home and put them in his garage. So, the past, and this is the present, and things like this happen.
Gregory: On the Live Mic episode page, livemic.ca, you will find biographies of featured writers, guests and hosts, as well as links to TPL’s collections or other episode-related materials. For all of TPL’s podcast series go to tpl.ca/podcasts.
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Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations is produced by the Toronto Public Library. Episodes are produced by Natalie Kertes, Jorge Amigo, and me, Gregory McCormick. Technical support by Michelle De Marco and George Panayotou. AV support by Jennifer Kasper and Mesfin Bayssassew. And marketing support by Tanya Oleksuik.
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I’m Gregory McCormick, Manager of Cultural and Special Event Programming at Toronto Public Library. Thanks for listening and stay tuned for another episode of Live Mic: Best of TPL Conversations.