The following story is one of those strange, unexplainable family tales that happen to be true. There are a lot of these in my family that we usually just tell within the family. Maybe because we know each other well enough to know we don’t lie about things like this. Today I am going to share a tale with you.
It all started over forty years ago when my daughter Alison, who was around three or four years old, was entertaining herself with make-believe. One night I found her, crouched under our kitchen table, which she had covered with a bedsheet. When asked what she was doing, she replied, “I’m Ned Christie, hiding in my fort.”
I wish I had asked her then how she knew about Ned Christie, but I didn’t. By the time I got around to asking her this question, she didn’t have even a faint memory of imitating Ned Christie when she was a preschooler.
At the time of the Ned incident, I only knew the standard version of Ned’s story. He had been portrayed as a sort of Cherokee outlaw who was gunned down by a posse of United States marshals and their followers for killing a fellow marshal. For some unknown reason, I always felt drawn to him, perhaps because he was a fellow Cherokee and had died a gruesome death, but I knew little of the real story.
The incident stuck in my brain, and I once discussed it with my husband Dennis. His reply was, “She probably got the idea from a story your dad told her about Ned Christie.”
I outwardly agreed, but inwardly, I had my doubts. My dad wasn’t much of a storyteller. He didn’t tell me many stories until he was on his deathbed. Then he spoke about his Cherokee grandfather Riley Clay and related harrowing family stories from Indian Territory days.
As his health grew worse, people I didn’t know came to say goodbye. One day he introduced me to a visitor, a Cherokee man. “This is Jackie Christie. He’s my cousin.”
By the time Alison was in high school, we had moved to the community of Wauhillau, which was where Ned had lived and died. One day Alison announced that she had chosen Ned Christie as the subject of one of her school assignments. I drove her to Ned’s gravesite at the Christie Family Cemetery where she took pictures and to the general location of where we believed Ned had once lived. A friendly farmer pointed out where he believed “Ned’s Fort” was located, and we took pictures. I didn’t know until later that we hadn’t walked far enough to reach Ned’s homesite.
The years flew by, and I eagerly grasped the extra time retirement brought me. I finally had time to read, study, and write. Soon, I had read and studied enough Cherokee history to know that my instincts about Ned Christie were true. He had been wrongly accused and executed by federal marshals under the orders of Judge Parker.
As I was conducting research for a family history story I was writing about Riley Clay, I made a surprising discovery. I found the name and picture of my great, great grandmother, Susie Christie Clay. She was the first cousin of Watt Christie, Ned Christie’s father. Ned Christie is my second cousin, several times removed.
This discovery inspired me to write a nonfiction story, “Another Look at Ned Christie,” which was published in the western magazine, Saddlebag Dispatches. But my connection with Ned didn’t end there.
A few years ago, Dennis and I joined the Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association (ACH&GA). When they began conducting historical tours of Adair County, Ned Christie’s gravesite was one of the sites featured. In my role as a tour guide, I met Betty Christie Frogg, Ned’s great, great niece, when she shared her perspective of Ned’s life and death with our tour participants. Thanks to Betty I felt like I knew Cousin Ned much better.
Recently, I conducted my first tour since Covid. One of the participants, Jackie Bob Martin, a Christie descendant, who grew up in Wauhillau, asked if he could share something with the group. Of course, I agreed, and the next thing I knew he had directed the driver to a long, rough dirt road which eventually crossed a small, flowing branch.
Goosebumps popped out when Jackie Bob announced, “There’s Ned’s Spring.”
Then he showed us the bare remains of Ned’s fort where Ned’s life was cut short by the marshals.
I was struck by a new revelation. What I had heard, read, and wrote about Ned Christie was real, and he was connected to my family. He was connected to me. Maybe blood ties can be more than physical. Maybe little Alison sensed her connection to Ned some forty years ago.
This story reminds me of one of my favorite Shakespearian quotes: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Below is the picture I took of Ned’s Spring.