By Krystan Moser
In the heart of Little Rock, Arkansas, is the Mount Holly Cemetery: the final resting place of former governors, Supreme Court justices, military heroes and many other historical figures. Included among these is Elizabeth “Quatie” Brown Henley Ross, the first wife of Cherokee Nation Principal Chief John Ross.
Elizabeth “Quatie” Brown, herself a Cherokee, was born in the Old Cherokee Nation in 1791. Prior to her marriage to Principal Chief John Ross, Quatie was married to Robert Henley, with whom she had at least one child. It is unknown when Henley died exactly, but some researchers claim he was killed during the War of 1812. Although historians disagree on whether Chief Ross married the young widow in 1812 or 1813, their marriage produced six children.
During the forced removal of the Cherokee people, Quatie and John Ross began their journey west on Dec. 5, 1838, in a detachment of 231 Cherokees aboard the steamboat Victoria, which was owned by John Ross. Their detachment, led by John Drew, was the last detachment of Cherokees to leave our eastern homelands.
According to an article published in the “Arkansas Gazette” on Feb. 6, 1839, Quatie died on the steamboat on Feb. 1, 1839. She had contracted smallpox and died shortly before reaching Little Rock. She was buried in the city cemetery where William Woodruff, the founder of the “Arkansas Gazette,” and a group of local businessmen placed a headstone for “Elizabeth Ross” in 1839. That same year, Albert Pike (later an infamous Brigadier General in the Confederate Army during the Civil War) led a campaign to establish a larger cemetery for the Little Rock area.
In 1843, the Mount Holly Cemetery was founded, and those who had been buried at the city cemetery were reinterred at Mount Holly. It is not clear why her original headstone was not replaced at the site of her second burial. In 1935, the General George Izard Chapter of the United States Daughters of 1812 placed a replacement headstone to mark Quatie’s final resting place.
It was not until 1996, during an excavation of the Mount Holly Cemetery receiving house, that a portion of the original marker was found. Since then, a reproduction of Quatie’s original headstone has been placed next to the monument left by the Daughters of 1812, and what remains of the original is on permanent display at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock. Today, visitors leave rocks, coins and other items at Quatie’s memorial, perhaps as a sign of remembrance or respect. If you would like to visit Quatie’s memorial, the Mount Holly Cemetery is located at 12th Street and Broadway in Little Rock. A short drive from there will take you to the Historic Arkansas Museum at 200 East 3rd Street.