Many believe that Piney was named for its abundance of pine trees by the Old Settler Cherokees who established it. The community is bounded on the north by Dutch Mills Creek, on the east by the State of Arkansas, on the south by the Oak Grove community, and on the west by Evansville Creek. Some of its earliest families included the O’Dares (later becoming Adairs), Wrights, Palones, Watts, Twists, and Hendricks.
Nola Glass, Jr., and Jack Baker wrote about the history of Piney in the History of Adair County. Among the early settlers were members of the Tinswattie Baptist Church from the Hightower District of the Eastern Cherokee Nation in Georgia. On November 1, 1831, these members petitioned the U.S. Agent to the Cherokees for their pastor, Reverend Duncan O’Bryant, to be allowed to emigrate to the West with them. The petition was signed by John Wright, Aaron Parris, Thomas Clyne, Moses Parris, John Alberty, and George W. Parris, Jr. Their petition was granted, and O’Bryant and his large family arrived in Piney on June 6, 1832.
O’Bryant established the Liberty Baptist Church, which is believed to have been the first Baptist church in Indian Territory. Reverend O’Bryant became ill and died in 1834, and his grave is located about 100 yards north of the old Piney School. One of O’Bryant’s daughters married Zeke Proctor, who became well-known in Cherokee history.
According to Glass and Baker, Piney was reportedly named after Frank C. Piney, the first sheriff of Adair County. They listed the families of Wright, Parris, Alberty, Hendricks, Watt, Palone, Adair, and McClure as among the earliest settlers.
Piney was featured in several interviews in the University of Oklahoma’s Indian Pioneer Papers, a collection of interviews conducted by government workers concerning the settlement of Oklahoma. In 1937, W.J.B. Bigby and Gus Hummingbird interviewed long-time Piney residents: Jesse Adair, Jule K. Adair, Eli Wright, and Bill Turn. Some of the information they gleaned touched on the region’s notable inhabitants and events.
Major Ridge, the leader of the Cherokee Treaty Party, was murdered just half a mile from Piney, in Arkansas. It was said he was shot while traveling on horseback from Arkansas by supporters of Chief John Ross. He was buried in the Piney Cemetery, and his grave was said to be the third oldest grave in the cemetery. The first two were the graves of Mexicans, who were believed to have lived in Piney before the Cherokees came. Some men came to Piney and removed Major Ridge’s body from the cemetery about twenty years later. No one who was interviewed knew where the body was taken.
On October 8, 1832, Caleb Wright presented his eye witness account as to what happened to Ridge’s body. It appeared in The Chronicles of Oklahoma, vol. 10, number 4, 1932, page 116. Wright said that he was born in Piney on March 10, 1846, the grandson of Jack Wright, who settled there in the 1830s. When he was eight to ten-years-old, two men came to Piney Cemetery to get Ridge’s body. He saw the Negro Anthony Wright dig up the remains, put them in a box, and put the box in a big coffin on the back of a big hack. “Two young men, apparently Cherokees, drove the hack away northward.” Wright believed that they took the body to a point near where they lived.
A large government commissary was established and maintained for a few years, which was located a mile west of the Piney School. The first dam in Cherokee Nation was built in Piney, below the forks of the Evansville and Dutch Mill Creeks. Cherokee Eli Wright and a permitted white man named Legge built this dam. They also operated a sawmill and a grist mill there.
According to Jesse Adair, who was born in Georgia in 1868 but lived in Piney for most of his life, for some time the community was called Camp Piney because of the government commissary that was located there. This was where many of the immigrant Cherokees, who came in 1838-1839, received their rations for about three years until they could make a living on their own. He also told about the history of the Piney Church, which was established around 1882 by an old circuit rider named Charley Duncan. Some of the early families that were active in the church included the Palones, Turns, Twists, Watts, and Adairs.
The focal point of the community has always been the Piney School, which was established before statehood. The History of Adair County book states that Piney School was built on land contributed by Frank Adair. It operated from 1879-1885, 1888, and 1893 until statehood. After statehood, the school continued until it was annexed by Stilwell Schools in 1967.
. In the August 22, 1884, edition of the Cherokee Advocate, appeared a list of Indian Territory schools and teachers. Going Snake District included Piney School with Frank Aiken as the teacher.
A new school was built in 1911. In the September 7, 1911, edition of the Adair County Democrat, it was reported that “the people of the Piney School district are rushing work on their house to complete it so that school may begin next Monday.” It was described as “one of the best houses in the county, being built of only first-class material.”
In the December 26, 1916, edition of the Stilwell Standard Sentinel, under “County School Notes,” it was noted that Piney School, near the Piney Post Office, eight miles northeast of Stilwell, is taught by Miss Cherrie Alberty and Miss Mary Reasonover. The article praised Piney as “a fine school” with an enrollment of 79.
In 1965, A.D. Lester interviewed Julius (Jule) Adair, the son of Virgil Adair who came from Georgia in 1869 and settled in Piney. Jule was living in the same house he was born in, May 4, 1881. Cornelius Wright had built the house in 1858. During the Civil War, Wright sold the house to Virgil Adair before leaving the area. Jule spoke of his life in Piney, including being taught by Mrs. Whittenburgh at the old Piney School, which was likely built in the 1870s. Lester’s entire interview with Jule Adair can be found in The Goingsnake Messenger, Vol. 16, Number 2, 1999, pp. 33-34.
Eventually, Jule Adair’s son, Denver Adair, owned the old family home in Piney. He lived there until he moved to a Veterans’ Home where he died in 2011.The house was destroyed by fire a few years later. Ellen Williams Workman, the great granddaughter of Virgil Adair, took a picture of the house in 2013 and has graciously contributed it to accompany this article.
Piney Cemetery is also an important place in the Piney community. A story about Piney Cemetery’s Decoration Day appears in the June 6, 1902, edition of the Adair County Democrat. It stated that interesting recitals were given by the pupils of Piney School. J.W. McPherson also delivered an address over the graves of the old soldiers, and singing was performed by a choir, conducted by C.M. Reeves.
Ollie M. “Walkingstick” Rooks wrote about the Piney community in the History of Adair County. She spoke of how the schoolhouse was the center for almost everything, including elections, Sunday School, funerals, pie suppers, sings, Christmas plays, and gift exchanges. She listed the following as some of the teachers she recalled: Mrs. Alberty, Janie Adair, Anna Adair, Gillis Mayes, Carl Terry, Emily Terry, Doris Fry, Gussy McLemore Woolbright, Allie Brown, Ruth Reed, Loretta Francis Moss, and Henry Tate.
Rooks also wrote about the Piney Cemetery. She commented that the oldest grave, dated approximately 1860 in Piney Cemetery, was believed to be that of Crow Wofford. She went on to describe the unique sandstone vault that contained Wofford’s remains. Other old graves include Cornelius Wright, who was buried in 1867, and Alex Wofford, who was buried in 1871.
The Piney community, among the oldest communities in northeastern Oklahoma, has played an important part in the history of the Cherokee Nation and Adair County. It also holds a special place in the hearts of some Adair County citizens who will always call it home.
By Regina McLemore, ACH&GA Board Member