Monday, June 28, 2004

TAHLEQUAH (AP) — The rusty iron cross sat in Floyd Lyerla’s basement for more than a decade — a seemingly rare, but perhaps unimportant marker from the past.

It wasn¹t until Bob Freeman came to visit that Lyerla found out what he had.

Freeman, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, heard through a friend that Lyerla might have a Confederate cannon used in the Civil War. Instead, he found something with much stronger Confederate ties.

After it turned out that the cannon was not Confederate, Lyerla said, "I have something else that might interest you."

He led Freeman to his basement shop, where the cross had been kept for more than a decade.

"It was on the floor leaning against his work table," Freeman recalled.

He recognized it instantly.

"This is the cross that went on Stand Watie¹s grave," Freeman told Lyerla.

Watie, a controversial figure for the Cherokees, led the tribe¹s forces under the Confederacy during the Civil War. He was the last Confederate general to surrender.

The cross had been placed on his grave by the Daughters of the Confederacy before World War I and historians figure it was stolen within a few years.

Lyerla, a history and archaeology buff from Pittsburg, Kan., paid $500 for the cross at a Tulsa flea market years ago, not knowing exactly what he was buying.

Through the years, he declined offers from collectors, hoping it would someday wind up with someone who could appreciate whatever its true meaning was.

When Freeman told him the cross’ significance, he decided to sell it to Freeman’s Hot Springs, Ark., group for $800, enough to cover his cost plus interest.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans donated it to the Cherokee Nation, which held a ceremony Saturday in Tahlequah to celebrate its return.

Richard Fields, director of the Cherokee Heritage Center, said officials haven¹t decided what to do with the 25-pound cross.

A replica has been placed at the Watie gravesite near Grove, and the original might end up as part of a veterans memorial at the Cherokee Tribal Complex, Fields said.


Information from: The Oklahoman, and the Muskogee Phoenix & Times Democrat,