In many ways the “man from Scraper Mountain,” George Washington Scraper, embodies the quality of pioneer that first settled in Indian Territory. Arriving in Vinita in 1881, and assigned as a judge for the Cherokee Nation, he was so well respected the citizens named a street in his honor.
But for Scraper, as well as many fellow pioneers, the road to Vinita had been both perilous and gratifying. George Scraper was born December12, 1818 on Scraper Mountain, located in what today is Cherokee County, Alabama. His mother was Tiana Smith and his father was simply called “The Scraper,” no surname. George enjoyed a typical childhood even though the winds of change were swirling around the Cherokee Nation as the white man became more determined to take their land at any cost.
In 1834, he married a former schoolmate, Louisa McIntosh, and the union that produced six children would last for the next sixty years. However, the whirlwind that had been developing throughout their young lives, struck four years later. Federal troops, enforcing the Indian Removal Act, routed Cherokee families from their homes. With only the clothes on their back they were herded into stockades during the summer of 1838, the first step toward their removal west.
Demonstrating the kind of initiative that may have foretold later successes, George managed to acquire an assignment as a wagoner for the Richard Taylor detachment that left on the Trail of Tears the following November. Placed in charge of two teams, he was paid $10 per day for the 144 days it took to reach Indian Territory.
Arriving the following March, the Scrapers received government supplies at “Breadtown,” the Cherokee name for the Baptist Mission recently established by the Reverends Evans and Bushyhead. Moving southwest of the mission, along with other Scraper families, George settled in an area that became known as “Scraper Hollow,” in today’s Adair County.
In the ensuing years, the Scraper family prospered and George’s leadership within the Cherokee Nation became more prominent. From 1841 to 1844 he served as sheriff for the Goingsnake District and in 1849 he was elected senator, then councilor of the district and served until 1860. But another whirlwind, similar to the one that had dislodged the family from Alabama, was about to descend and create even more devastating havoc… the Civil War.
After finally casting their lot with the Confederacy, the leaders among the Cherokees were charged with raising a volunteer army. George Scraper responded with over 100 recruits and was designated as their captain, but the jubilation of joining the southern cause was soon squelched. Lack of leadership and equipment, as well as betrayal by Confederate officers caused many Cherokees, including George, to revolt and join the Union cause. He served as a Union soldier from December 1861 until the end of the war.
Mustered out in May of 1865, George returned to Scraper Hollow and total devastation. The family home and outbuildings were destroyed and all of the livestock was gone. Seeking to start anew, the following February George moved his family to Lynches Prairie, near present day Strang.
Now 47 years old, Scraper was again called upon to assist his country. Since the Cherokee Nation had aligned itself with the Confederacy, the United States government was determined to mete out punishment. So, following the war George, who had become a Union soldier, was selected as a delegate, hopefully to compromise that attitude. He served in that capacity for five years and in 1871, he returned and was appointed as a judge for the Cherokee Nation. Later, in 1876 he was selected as Chief Justice of its Supreme Court. In 1883, he rented the farm on Lynches Prairie to another family and moved to Vinita where he served as judge for many years.
This “Son of The Scraper,” born on Scraper Mountain had overcome incredibly adverse situations and still emerged as a leader within the Cherokee Nation. He was ousted from his home in Alabama with only the clothes on his back, traveled the Trail of Tears, established a new life in Indian Territory, fought in the Civil War, returned home to total desolation, then rebuilt his personal life as well as occupying several positions of service to his country.
Perhaps a line in the obituary published by the Vinita Indian Chieftain summed up his life and contributions most succinctly, “The Cherokee Nation nor any other country ever had a man more highly regarded by those who knew him.”…an epitaph we all would be proud to acquire.