Trail of Tears

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

A year and a half ago, Wright, who says she has "a smattering of Cherokee blood," got involved with Ruth Smith and her campaign to save the land. She held several pricey receptions for Smith at her home, where she introduced Smith to many monied and influential people in the community who might be interested in helping her cause.

"I urged her to develop a special committee in East Texas and introduced her to people--a juvenile judge, two Ph.D.s. from two colleges in town, and even suggested my husband, who has advised the state on petroleum issues. These were people that everyone would have absolute faith and trust in. I had support tailor-made for her, but she wouldn't do anything about it."

Wright first became irritated with Smith after Wright's husband donated $300 to Smith to produce a monthly AIHC newsletter. "We only saw one issue," says Wright. "Ruth promised a lot of things down here that never transpired."

Wright's irritation grew when Smith once came to Tyler and excitedly told Wright about another piece of land she was interested in purchasing in nearby Chandler, where Chief Bowles and his followers had camped before the final battle. "I told her I wasn't interested in helping her. I said, 'My God, you can't pay for the one you've got. You can't buy all of East Texas.' It seems all her group ever did was sell T-shirts and argue."

Wright asked Smith why she never went after any grants or got in touch with the Texas Historical Commission, which might be willing to give her money for the land or make it into a park. "She told me she didn't want to take the 'white man's dirty money.'"

Earlier this year, Wright had a final falling-out with Smith. Last summer Wright agreed to finance the cost of making 1,000 prints of a watercolor called "Ellegy" that a center volunteer had drawn of the land and with which he incorporated a poem Wright had written after her first emotional visit there. Wright and Smith agreed that the center would sell them for $50 apiece and the center would get all the proceeds minus the first $3,000, which would reimburse Wright for her expenses.

"Ruth said she would sell them at powwows, but she got irritated with everyone and didn't do anything with them," Wright says. "The artist tried to sell them on his own. He went to one powwow in Oklahoma and made $1,100. Ruth sent me a check for $500 and said it was the first monthly installment [of the $3,000]. I never saw another dime."

In response to Wright's allegations, Smith wrote to the Observer: "The center did have a contingency contract to sell the posters at the July 16th anniversary of the death of Chief Bowles held at the University of Texas at Tyler. However, Ms. Wright did not finish the posters in time for this event and they could not be sold. She was paid $500 for her costs of printing and the unsold prints still remain in her possession."

Smith, however, doesn't explain why the prints couldn't be sold after July 16.

Saddened and disappointed with her experience, Wright decided "Ruth Smith was an emotional extravagance I could no longer afford. It got to the point that my husband said, 'Sweetie, we've been in the oil business a long time and we know about dry holes. You plug and abandon them.' And that's what we did.

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