Cutline: MCN Historic and Cultural Preservation Department’s Tribal Archeologist LeeAnne Wendt and Cultural Technician Gano Perez use Ground Penetrating Radar to survey for unmarked graves
Muscogee (Creek) Nation assists in clean-up and surveying of unmarked graves at first MCN Mission School
by: Kyla McKown/MCNPR
COWETA, Okla. – What once was a place for higher learning, the Koweta Indian Mission School just south of the city of Coweta, Okla., a site where many Muscogee (Creek) citizens sent their children to learn. Today, it’s just a memory. But it’s not just a reminder, it is a sacred place of resting for many Creek citizens. On the same land of the mission was a cemetery known as the Koweta Mission Cemetery. Present day Coweta, Okla. citizen, Mike Walker, visited the property and was saddened to see the cemetery in such disrepair.
A volunteer clean-up project that began two and a half years ago has become an ongoing duty to locate the unmarked graves of other Creek ancestors who were laid to rest at what is today known as the Bruner Cemetery.
The Bruner Cemetery is on the original allotment of Creek citizen Emmett Bruner and was the location of the first school in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which was established around 1843.
The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 6, 1973. As Walker and other community members began the clean-up, Walker started researching the property and found the history behind the land that was once the land of the Creek people.
“You know, originally it was just to clean the cemetery,” Walker said. “Now we’re trying to locate all the unknown graves and every Memorial Day we want to respect all of them. We want to do that for the cemetery and pay respect to all of the past elders and people that may be here. We have no idea who they are or what they did but they are community members and they were fine people of the Creek Nation.”
About six months ago, MCN Cemetery Clean-Up Crew began assisting with removal of trees and brush along with the MCN Tribal Driveways Department, which provided assistance in making the land accessible by vehicle again.
Now the MCN Historic and Cultural Preservation Department is on the eight-acre site working to locate the unmarked graves.
There are 37 known names that are buried at the cemetery but MCN is spending the next couple of weeks at the site to survey other burials using Ground Penetrating Radar.
GPR is a non-invasive method that is used to penetrate the ground to see what is underground without disturbing anything below.
MCN Historic and Cultural Preservation Tribal Archeologist LeeAnne Wendt said MCN uses GPR regularly to find Muscogee (Creek) family cemeteries and plot burials for citizens. However, surveying the Bruner Cemetery is a much larger project.
After surveying a portion of the cemetery using the GPR, MCN will flag the locations then download and process the data in order to get a 3D aerial version of underground. At that time, they are able to go layer by layer to see if it is an unmarked grave.
Walker said once the unmarked graves are found the volunteers plan to use sandstone to mark the graves so they are permanently marked.
According to MCN Historical Cultural Preservation Cultural Technician Gano Perez, MCN has more than 260 cemeteries within the Nation’s jurisdictional boundaries and the department is continuously finding other cemeteries.
“Throughout the 11 counties, hopefully we’ll be able to get them all properly document and protected to make sure every one of them are safe from pipeline projects, road projects, powerline projects, anything.” Perez said. “That way our office will deal with that in consulting the areas that are going to be affected due to those projects.”
As the clean-up and surveying continues, volunteers are welcome to join the project by contacting 918-728-5833.
For those interested in more information on the cemetery or family buried there, contact the MCN Historic and Cultural Preservation Department at 918-732-7733.
Also, be sure to watch for the Koweta Indian Mission Cemetery Clean Up video version by MCN Photojournalist Mark Abbott.