By Gina Olaya
Imagine yourself in the late 1800s, Tahlequah, Indian Territory. It’s Monday morning. The sun’s happily shining through a partially draped window. A family of birds, without a care in the world, continue catching unsuspecting bugs just outside your front door. A soft breeze continually taps a tree branch against the windowpane, reminding you it’s time to get up. You yawn. All of a sudden it hits you; today is music day.
Maybe you’re a student at one of the Cherokee Nation-run seminary schools. Quite possibly, you could be a young adult eager to learn the piano. Or, you’re one of many people who proudly sing for the local Presbyterian Church’s choir.
Across town, a very eccentric, middle-aged man, an exile from Russia, is readying himself for the day. He’s small in stature but bold and strict in teaching. His bearded face and tall hat are intimidating. According to Miss Grace McGregor, he’s not hesitant to “crack your knuckles with a lead pencil” for not paying attention.
Known as Russian Prince Edwin V. Dolgorouki (Dull-gar-ah-ski)—often spelled Dolgouski, Dolgoruky or Dolgorukov—this teacher is one of history’s mysteries.
Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society
According to several books, handwritten letters and Cherokee Advocate news clips, Prince Dolgorouki appeared in Tahlequah sometime in 1883. Quickly landing a job as a music teacher, the prince slowly began to settle into life amongst the Cherokee. To anyone who would listen, he would tell a story of royalty, heroism, poverty, determination and exile.
Born to a royal family in Russia, Prince Dolgorouki would need to grow up fast. While studying music under Anton Rubinstein in St. Petersburg at the age of 14, he fought during the Crimean War, where he survived a gunshot wound to the stomach. Captured by Ottoman Empire soldiers, Dolgorouki spent almost five years in a Siberian salt-mining camp, rarely seeing the light of day. With the help of Christian sympathizers, he escaped, making his way to Asia. There he spent another nine years before landing in San Francisco, California. Drifting toward the East, Prince Dolgorouki eventually walked his way into the town of Tahlequah.
Historically, many Cherokee citizens studied music under Prince Dolgorouki, including Clu Guligar, W.W. Hastings, John Henry Covel and William P. Thompson, as well as dozens and dozens of male and female seminary students.
Russian Prince Edwin V. Dolgorouki disappeared from Tahlequah the same way he appeared: mysteriously. While attending a social function at local educator John “Henry” Covel’s home in 1890, a stranger walked into the house wearing an unrecognizable uniform. The Russian prince became paranoid the unidentifiable man was there to force his return to Russia. The prince immediately left Mr. Covel’s home, never to be seen again.
There are a few speculations about his life after Tahlequah. There is no Edwin V. Dolgorouki listed within this Russian Dynasty’s family tree. Nor is there a story about a 14-year-old Dolgorouki who was captured by the opposition and shipped to a salt mine in Siberia during the Crimean War. Who do you think is the real Edwin V. Dolgorouski, and what happened to him after he left Tahlequah?