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The Congressional Cemetery: Celebrating Native American Heritage Month

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This is a guest post by Ann Hemmens, a senior legal reference librarian with the Law Library of Congress. Ann has contributed a number of posts to this blog, including posts on Congressional Cemetery – The Boggs Family, Free Public Access to Federal Materials on Guide to Law OnlineU.S. Supreme Court: Original Jurisdiction and Oral Arguments, and Domestic Violence: Resources in the United States

As we have discussed in prior posts about the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., there are many interesting individuals associated with the cemetery who are buried within, whose remains temporarily rested in the Public Vault, or for whom there are markers, such as cenotaphs. In honor of the celebration in November of National Native American Heritage Month, also known as National American Indian Heritage Month, this post describes just a few items related to Native Americans found within the cemetery. For a more thorough self-guided walking tour, see the American Indians Walking Tour pamphlet produced by the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery.

Liberty and Freedom Totem Poles (Lummi)

These Lummi totem poles, also known as the September 11 Healing Poles, honor those who died in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. They were created by the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers, including master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James. The totem poles, which traveled from Washington State to Washington D.C., visiting 40 tribal nations on the journey, were initially located at the U.S. Pentagon and then dedicated in the 9/11 Memorial Grove of the Congressional Cemetery on September 23, 2004. The two base poles were carved from a single red cedar tree.

An entrance gate made of totem poles stands in front of headstones at the Congressional Cemetery.
Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C. (Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, 2010), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //
Information sign for the totem poles at the Congressional Cemetery
September 11 Healing Poles Information Board in Congressional Cemetery. Photo by Ann Hemmens.

William Shorey Coodey (1806-1849)

William Shorey Coodey was the nephew of Cherokee Chief John Ross. He walked on the Cherokee Trail of Tears from the Southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma. He wrote the draft of and signed the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation passed at Tah-Le-Quah, Cherokee Nation in 1839.  He was known to be friends with Daniel Webster and visited Washington, D.C., as a member of delegations from the Cherokee Nation.

According to articles in the D.C. newspaper the Daily Union from February 1849 and March 1849, William Coodey and other Cherokee delegates, John Drew and William Ross, had submitted memorials to the U.S. Congress, on behalf of the Cherokee, seeking fulfillment of treaty stipulations. William Coodey subsequently died on April 16, 1849.

Headstone of William Shorey Coodey that says "Son of Joseph Coodey and Jane Ross Coodey, Cherokee Statesman, Delegate to Washington From Cherokee Nation, c. 1806-Apr. 16, 1849"
Gravesite of William Shorey Coodey, 1806-1849. Photo by Ann Hemmens.

O COM O COST or Yellow Wolf (1804-1863)

A member of the Kiowa Nation, O Com O Cost or Yellow Wolf, is seen in this photo of an Indian delegation in the White House Conservatory during the Civil War, taken on March 27, 1863. He is in the first row, far right. He was wearing a Thomas Jefferson peace medal. Yellow Wolf died a few days after this photo was taken.

Aged photograph of Native American men sitting in front of a row of standing men and women from Abraham Lincoln's administration. They pose for the photograph in the White House Conservatory surrounded by plants.
Indian delegation in the White House Conservatory during the Civil War, with J.G. Nicolay, President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary, standing in center back row and interpreter John Simpson Smith at back left, [Matthew B. Brady, March 27, 1863]. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //
White marble headstone of O-COM-O-COST, American Indian, April 5, 1865
Gravesite of O-Com-O-Cost (1804-1863). Photo by Ann Hemmens.

Many of these Native Americans were in Washington, D.C., on behalf of their tribe to negotiate terms of a treaty or to seek redress or assistance from the U.S. government. To learn more about various print and online sources which include treaties between the United States and American Indian tribes, see the Library’s U.S. Treaties: A Beginner’s Guide, in the “Primary Sources for U.S. Treaties” section. Visit the Library’s Native American Constitutions and Legal Materials digital collection to locate select materials from the 19th century and constitutions and charters of Indian Tribes drafted after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

For additional information on the history of this commemorative observance, see the Library’s National American Indian Heritage Month guide. A listing of current events and exhibits is available on the Native American Heritage Month website jointly maintained by the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.


Lester Hargrett, A Bibliography of the Constitutions and Laws of the American Indians 3 (1947),

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