Trail of Tears

Ruth Smith set out to enshrine a Cherokee battleground and started a war of her own

"[Smith] acted like a wild woman," Sullivan remembers. "Screaming, 'How dare you ask me those questions!' She was very intimidating."

Paschke was so upset by Smith's response that she quit the center.
The next day, Sullivan went to see Smith in her office back in Dallas. "She turned into Chief Bowles," he says. "She slammed her fist down on her desk and said, 'I'm holding council here.'"

For more than a year, Danny and Darla Hair worked tirelessly for Ruth Smith and her efforts to buy the land. They traveled through Oklahoma to drum up support among the Cherokees. They helped bring in people to speak at the AIHC symposium in July 1994. And from most accounts, they took good care of the land, mowing it with the help of other East Texas volunteers, keeping the Jetts' cattle off the property, and inviting the Boy Scouts to camp there. The scouts took Danny up on the offer, and Danny told the boys Indian stories.

But by the spring of 1995, the Hairs were growing disillusioned with Smith. "We had questions about what was happening spiritually," says Darla. "We thought maybe we should get the tribes and the descendants involved. All the decisions were being laid down by one person."

The Hairs were never told about the center's plans for the anniversary ceremony on the battlefield in July 1995. They learned about it that morning when some friends showed up and wondered why they weren't down at the marker.

The Hairs attended the ceremony anyway, but say Smith gave them the cold shoulder. At the ceremony, Oukah, a 66-year-old enrolled Cherokee from Lancaster who claims he is the emperor of the Cherokees, recited what he said was a 300-year-old Cherokee prayer. It was delivered in a language that Danny Hair, who speaks Cherokee, could not understand.

In recalling the event, Darla Hair says, "Danny and I used to say if God comes back to earth, this is the first place he'll come, because the land's been blessed so many times."

In an ironic twist, Oukah--whose claim of royalty has put him at odds with Cherokee Nation leaders--has also recently distanced himself from Smith. Oukah claims she sells inauthentic Native American art and crafts. He also no longer supports her effort to buy the Bowles site. "I don't want her to have it," says Oukah. "She's doing it for the wrong reasons--for her ego."

A month later, Smith and others pulled down a tepee that Hair and his oldest son had built on the property. A few days later, an eviction notice signed by Clifford Dodson appeared on the Hairs' front door. When the Observer tried to contact Dodson about the eviction, he would not return calls.

The Hairs say that a week after they received the eviction notice, Smith arrived at the property with a camera crew from KTXA-TV that was going to tape a public service announcement for the project. Smith was surprised to see Danny and Darla Hair, they say, and remarked: "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be gone."

Darla says Danny walked part of the way down to the marker but was stopped by the program's executive director, center volunteer Pam Wood, who told him it was a closed set. Danny said he wanted to see what they were doing, and Smith said, "Over my dead body."

A minor scuffle ensued. Darla Hair says she called the police to report that Smith had pushed her. "Ruth called the police herself several hours later," says Hair, "and told officers that Danny had assaulted her." (Askew acknowledged in an interview that Smith claims Danny assaulted her.)

A few weeks later, Dodson arrived on the land--with Smith and reporter Bill Brown, from WFAA-TV Channel 8, who was doing a story on the Renew the Dream project. Dodson told the Hairs they had to leave because his daughter was going to live there. (She never did.) The Hairs asked for 30 days to find a place to move to. Fifteen days later, Dodson filed another eviction notice in court, and the Hairs were summoned to an eviction hearing.

"Mr. Dodson said we were liars, moochers, and the scum of the earth. He said we tore up the house," says Darla.

When the Observer asked Smith in writing why the Hairs were evicted, she wrote: "Owners wanted the Hairs removed because they failed to maintain the property as agreed."

A few weeks later, Nancy Thomas, the Hairs, Tami Paschke, and several other center members arrived at the AIHC--with a video camera "to prove we were nice," says Paschke--and asked to see the organizational documents allowed them by law, specifically a list of the members of the board of directors and financial statements. A volunteer manning the office at the time did not know where the documents were. The only document the center eventually let the group see was the articles of incorporation. "We were told if we wanted to see anything else, we would need an attorney," says Paschke.

"Ruth Smith walks in the snow and doesn't leave tracks," says Joy Wright. A former public-relations executive in Dallas, Wright and her oilman husband, Gene, live in Tyler, where Wright has been instrumental in furthering many social causes, including developing an organization that provides volunteer advocates for children who have been the victims of parental abuse.

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