Emmet McDonald Starr

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Native American (Oklahoma Cherokee), History, Genealogy

Emmet McDonald Starr


Dr. Emmet Starr was an acclaimed historian who documented Oklahoma Cherokee lineages in order to preserve tribal citizenship rights and cultural traditions through his numerous publications. 

Emmet McDonald Starr was born in 1870 in the Going Snake District in the Cherokee Nation of Indian Territory (now in Adair County, Oklahoma). His parents, Walter Adair Starr, a district judge for the Cherokee Nation, and Ruth Thornton Starr, were both members of the Cherokee nation of Cherokee/Irish/English heritage. They raised him and four other siblings on a farm at Claremore in Rogers County, Oklahoma. After attending Cherokee public schools, Starr graduated from the Cherokee Male Seminary in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (1888), and then earned his MD from the Barnes Medical College in St. Louis (1891). 

In 1894, Starr began collecting genealogical and historical materials about the Cherokee people who had been forced to resettle in Indian territory as he worked as an interviewer for the Dawes Commission.  The Dawes Commission had been set up by the Federal government to aid in the processes of determining who qualified for Cherokee citizenship and was therefore entitled to an allotment of land in Indian territory. In these interviews, people had to prove their Cherokee lineage. Through this process, Starr gained access to and recorded much of the personal histories, lineages, and documents of Cherokees in Indian territory, which formed the foundation for his books. After having practiced medicine successfully for five years in the Cherokee Nation, Starr dedicated himself primarily to the study of Cherokee genealogy, history, and folklore, and became recognized as one of the preeminent scholars of Cherokee history.  

In 1901, he served a two-year term as a Cooweescoowee District representative on the Cherokee National Council. He served as a delegate to the Sequoyah Convention, which petitioned to have Indian Territory as admitted as its own state in 1905 and opposed Oklahoma statehood. Dr. Starr’s oft reprinted publications include:

Cherokees “West”, 1794-1839 (1910); Encyclopedia of Oklahoma, based on the 1910 Census (1912); Old Cherokee Families (1922).

Of particular interest to folklorists are:

Early History of the Cherokees, Embracing Aboriginal Customs, Religion and Laws, Folklore and Civilization (1917)

History of the Cherokee Indians and their Legends and Folklore (1921)

Phyllis M. May-Machunda