PARK HILL – While Hunter's Home staff members have been trying to reopen with the safety of guests and staff in mind, a local man has tried to get the site shut down, or at least altered.
A petition titled “Close the Murrell, Hunters Home, slave plantation in Tahlequah” was started on change.org by Tahlequah attorney Jim Cosby. He wrote: “This Petition demands the closing of the slave plantation or change from celebrating slavery to educating the public on the evils of slavery.”Cosby is a Cherokee Nation citizen.
“ I did start it because it did so little to represent slavery and the freedman,” said Cosby. “They assured me they were taking steps to correct that.” The petition was updated by Cosby on June 15: "I have been assured positive changes will be made, therefore ends the need for a petition." Cosby said he was asked not to disclose who had promised the changes.
Hunter’s Home Historical Interpreter Jennifer Frazee said she is not aware of Cosby's contacting the site’s staff, and that what was written in the petition was false. The site operates under the auspices of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
“We have been working for seven years to raise awareness of the enslaved population here,” said Frazee. “He said he was assured we’d make improvements; he’s never talked with us.”
She said members of the public have expressed concern about the possibility the site would be shut down, and one resident even called the Daily Press to ask about it.
“We want to reassure everyone that’s not the case. If we shut down, who will speak for Eliza, Andy, and Susan and the people here who don’t have voices?” Frazee said of the enslaved workers from the home’s history.
Frazee said staff members don’t recall Cosby visiting in recent years or offering to volunteer. But Cosby said he has visited Hunter’s Home within the past few years.
“They are entrusted to oversee it. I’m just a guy trying to protect Cherokee history from destruction,” he said.
The petition marks the first time the staff has heard of any concern about the topic.
“If he’d come out here, he’d see we’re already doing as much as financially possible to get the word out about the enslaved people,” said Frazee.
Two petitions to save Hunter's Home have also been posted to that website.
Frazee said the OHS site has been focusing on researching information about the enslaved people’s lives since she began interning there eight years ago.
About seven years ago, representatives from the University of Oklahoma archaeology department began pro bono geophysical surveys to find the footprints of the enslaved quarters. They had no luck, but Frazee said it made sense because the quarters would not have been built on farmland. Thinking the quarters were on the back side, another researcher spent two years looking, but was met with a challenge.
“We have to clear out the invasive underbrush before he can do more. We can’t get equipment out there very well,” said Frazee.
Around three years ago, the site received a grant to continue research on the enslaved people there. This enabled them to develop and make informative panels for the grounds area, which complement panels already in the house. These are placed in areas where the enslaved workers would have spent most of their time. They show the jobs and activities they were doing at the time.
“The panels will be up all year-round. When visitors come to the site, they can see that there was an enslaved person’s hand in everything from building the house to the flowers in Minerva’s parlor,” said Frazee.
Another point listed in the petition was that George Murrell was an officer in the Confederate Army: “It was constructed by Confederate Officer George Murrell, who was a non-Cherokee slaver who used many slaves to profit from the plantation.”
“He was a confederate, a slaver, and supported the Confederacy. I have no documentation of his official rank, but his involvement was great. Hunter’s Home was only spared for that reason,” said Cosby.
Frazee said that as far as their research shows, Murrell had no ties to an army.
“His nickname was Major, but he had that before Removal,” said Frazee. “We don't do a lot of George Murrell history here. It was Minerva’s plantation and then Amanda’s.”
Cosby said he would like to see the historic site changed in ways “other former slave plantations have.”
“Maybe hire some freedman to tell the slave side of the plantation. I know Hunter’s Home has done a few things, but it hasn’t been a priority as much as it maybe should,” he said.
Frazee said enslaved history is a bit of a passion for some on staff, and they would like to have a Black interpreter or volunteer. The main concern is the safety of the volunteer, according to Frazee. She has heard numerous stories of Black interpreters at other historical sites, including Fort Gibson, being belittled, groped, and verbally abused by visitors.
Cosby said that if advertised, many people would love the opportunity to work or volunteer there, and that he does not know of any freedman or Black person who has been harassed.
“It concerns me that Black people are afraid to participate or are being harassed. Why has that not been a concern? That’s a hate crime,” he said.
Frazee said they are always looking for volunteers or people to join Friends of the Murrell Home.Those who may be descended from enslaved people from the area are also asked to contact Hunter’s Home. Frazee stressed that if people do have concerns about Hunter’s Home presentations, they should contact the staff directly.
“We interpret facts as we find them so people can come to their own conclusions,” said Frazee. “We have to teach history – that’s our job – so it’s not forgotten, swept under the rug, or whitewashed.”