Tahlequah Daily Press


March 10, 2014

Moulton touts importance of history

TAHLEQUAH — Northeastern State University’s motto is “Gather here. Go Far.” The phrase aptly applies to Dr. Gary Moulton.

Moulton, graduate of NSU and University of Nebraska Thomas C. Sorensen Emeritus Professor of American History, is perhaps the country’s leading authority on the history of Cherokee Principal John Ross, as well as being selected to review and edit the writings of Lewis and Clark.

Dr. Brad Agnew, chairman and professor of the NSU History Department, called Moulton the “world authority” on Ross.

“One of our graduates of Northeastern, 1968, he’s the most illustrious graduate of the history department. Nobody equals him,” Agnew said. “His real claim to fame is not just John Ross, but being selected to edit the Lewis and Clark journals.”

Moulton spoke about his work as part of the 66th annual Conference of Historians. Agnew said he invited Moulton to speak so students could get to know about the NSU graduate.

For NSU History Professor Chris Owen, the event was an opportunity for the Oklahoma Association of Professional Historians and the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta to shine.

“This organization is a great place for students in Oklahoma colleges to network and see quality research presented by both graduate and undergraduate students,” Owen said. “And it builds a sense of community among historians in our state.”

Judging papers presented by students and awarding prizes was also part of the Friday activities for conference.

According to Dr. Pam Fly, assistant vice president and provost of Academic Affairs Administration, historians provide the lens that makes history accessible and interesting to a third-grader.

“Historians help us make sense of current events,” said Fly.

Although Moulton attended NSU and walked where Ross had, it wasn’t until he received a random Ross assignment in graduate school that he become enamored by the Cherokee chief.

“I had to do a lot of original research, places like the Gilcrease Institute and Oklahoma Historical Society has original papers,” Moulton said. “The National Archives in Washington, D.C., had original records of Federal relations with the Cherokees. Ross spent time pleading the Cherokee’s case to give them the rights they deserve.”

Petitions, pamphlets, letters and other documents had to be read for details and to add to his overall comprehension of who John Ross was.

It took several years for Moulton to get his manuscript about John Ross published. The University of Georgia took it, he said.

“They were more acceptable to the longer version, and published it in 1978,” he said.

After that, Moulton got involved in documentary editing, something he learned about from a professor at the University of Oklahoma who was editing Will Rogers’ daily telegraphs.

Being at the right place at the right time gave Moulton the opportunity to edit the John Ross Papers.

The National Historic Publications and Records Commission had been criticized for not including women and minorities, so when Moulton approached them about editing John Ross’ papers, they were more than pleased to fund the research, he said.

Shirley Pettengill, former site manager of the Murrell Home, values Moulton’s research.

“His books are so helpful to us at the Murrell Home,” Pettengill said. “We still go back to his books and papers of Chief John Ross when we don’t know something.”

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