The Curious Tale of Osenappa

For more than forty years, whenever I have had occasion to be in the area, I have lingered for a time at the Old Stone Church Cemetery in Clemson, South Carolina.  For a few years in the 1970’s, I lived not many miles away.  I last visited the cemetery in 2011.

It is strange how a cemetery can evolve over the years, even without considering the new graves that are filled. In the 1970’s, there was no “Cherokee Indian” named Osenappa buried at the Old Stone Church.  Or, at least, I saw no sign of such a thing back then.  Now, one finds these words, taken from the Historical Marker  at the Church and duly recorded in the Historical Marker Database:

“One of the oldest graves is that of Osenappa, a Cherokee, who died in 1794. In addition to the marker, a cairn (piled stones) identifies the grave. He is the only Native American buried here. His role in this South Carolina frontier remains undiscovered.”

And, there is a crudely inscribed stone marker, this one, at the end of a cairn:


As you can see, the marker does not appear to be ancient.  Of course, it may have been merely a home-made replacement for an earlier, vanished stone, made by some person of good will.  I do not know who made it or how it got there. But, it was a replacement for an earlier marker.

The catch is that Osenappa was very probably not a Cherokee Indian.  The Cherokee language does not have any [p] sound at all; it is not a Cherokee name.  My mildly educated guess is that the word is from one of the Muskogean languages, most likely Choctaw.

In January 1935, Mary Cherry Doyle, a descendant of the Reeses, wrote a brief history of the Old Stone Church and Cemetery, apparently for the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Among her descriptions of the graves and their occupants, we find this mention:

A small stone marks the grave of a child. Osenappa Reese, who was said to have been named in honor of an Indian chief, Osenappa, who was kind to the settlers in this vicinity. Here is that stone:


Osenappa Reese was the son of George Reese II, and, so far as we know, he was born late in 1829 and died on 4 June 1930 of diphtheria. He was named for the Indian Osenappa.

In the cemetery is buried Rev. Thomas Reese, pastor of the church from 1792 until his death in 1796. He is said to have been the first, or among the first people buried in the cemetery. Nearby is the grave of his brother George Reese, the grandfather of Osenappa Reese.

Little Osenappa, thus a grandnephew of Rev. Reese, was named for the Indian Osenappa. [Old records say that Osenappa was converted to Christianity by Rev. Reese, and that he lived for a time in the manse with the Reese family. Apparently, he died within a year or two of his conversion.]

Did the Indian Osenappa befriend the white settlers in the Pendleton District? Where did he come from, if he was not a Cherokee?

Was there an Alabama connection? A few miles to the south of West Point, on the Georgia-Alabama line, Osanippa Creek empties into the Chattahoochee River [or, rather, into the upper reaches of Lake Harding, formed by a dam on the Chattahoochee].   A coincidence of names?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  In older documents from the 19th Century, several of them, the creek’s name appears as Osenappa.   Is it the same name?  Is there a direct connection?  The creek’s name seems to have come from a Muskogean word meaning “moss up high,” perhaps indicating its banks were moss-covered, or it may simply have referred to a tree with a high moss cover.

Curiously, George and Mary Ann Reese, the parents of Osenappa Reese, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1874 at the home of their son Milton E. Reese in West Point, Georgia. Their last residence was Bluffton (now called Lanett), in Chambers County, Alabama.