Memorial Tribute to Friend and Brother -Damien Jay McGirt
We first had the pleasure of meeting Jay McGirt about 35 years ago here in Red Hill on his second trip to the Southeast. Jay and our good friend,
Frank Chambless, were on the road tired and hungry-the Chambless' family Lake Martin cabin was already fully occupied. We received a call about 9:00 p.m. from Frank that night in hopes to maybe rest for the night. Of course, they were excitedly welcomed in
-already friends with Frank, Jay became family that night to all of us.
The next morning mama had cooked a huge breakfast-it was Jay's first time to ever eat grits and he was unsure how to approach that. Frank, in his ever so kind way, gently told him,
"Just watch me."
Later that day, we received permission from Melvin Taylor, Jr. to visit Jay's ancestral grounds of Tuckabatchee (where GKN is now located in Tallassee). Jay's third grandfather, Zechariah Mcgirt was a Scottish trader who married a Muskogee
Creek woman from Tuckabatchee Town-the meaning of Tuckabatchee is "The Place of Broken Sticks". An article was written by Jack Venable on the occasion of Jay's first visit back "home."
Through the years Jay would visit many times and we shared many
great stories of his life. He loved to sit on the front porch and drink coffee and speak of the Traditional ways. Jay was very well known for his knowledge and ability in textiles, pottery and beadwork. His work can be found at Horseshoe Bend Military Park
(mannequin), at Moundville Archeological State Park (the likeness of the chieftan portrayed there is in Jay's image)-which he molded and crafted. He worked at moundville for over six months and lived on site while he worked there.
one of the few artists who still created the traditional beaded bags-which sometimes took months to complete, each tiny bead stratigically placed to form Muskogee Creek patterns. They can be found in many private collections including The Porch Creek in Atmore,
Alabama and The Seminole Brighton Reservation, near the Lake Okeechobee, Florida, as well as the Creek Nation in Oklahoma. Jay made a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington to study the bags that were on display, two of which were found on the Horseshoe Bend
battlefield after the battle (March 27, 1814).
Jay was also involved in Educational programs here in the Southeast; Moundville, Horseshoe Bend, Loachapoka, Fort Toulouse and also Atmore, teaching the Muskogee language. One of Jay's last visits was to
Seminole Brighton Reservation where he taught youngsters the Muskogee Creek/Seminole language.
Jay was a Traditional Muskogee speaker raised in the traditional ways. His father, Samson never spoke English, only Muskogee. There were 32 clans among the
Creek people-Jay was of the Wind Clan (Hotvlkvlke) -One of the more prominant. Many Mekko (Chiefs) were from the Wind Clan. The Clan was determined through the mother's lineage. His Creek name was Tall Deer:
Muskogee Creek was Jay's only language
until he was eight years old. He was taken from his family and put in a white school, which presented many issues, one of which he could not speak his native language. He told stories of the difficulty he had trying to communicate and he had such sad things
happen to him while in that school. Many bad memories for him in the white school.
Jay grew up a very proud Native of the Wind Clan, Muskogee people-his family lineage included all the old traditional families before the Indian removal of the 1830's.
His ancestors include Alabama historical greats as The McQueens, McGillivray, and Weatherford families. Jay was involved with the building of the Tuckabatchee monument, (probably one of the only ones containing the Muskogee language on one side of the monument).
The monument is placed just below GKN. He spoke at the monument dedication and also that same weekend was an integral part as the instructor of the play in Tallassee, Tucumseh at Tuckabatchee.
Jay always loved coming to Red Hill as he always called
it coming back home. He wanted to sit on the porch and drink coffee and tea and just relax and hang out with all the family-including Phyllis Miller-they loved making road trips. When Jay came he stayed usually a few months just unwinding and enjoying the
simple things. He was planning a visit back here in the near future but he passed away suddenly on the morning of December 18, 2018 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A memorial was held in Sepulpa, Oklahoma on March 9, 2019 and was well attended by close friends and family.
In attendance were many Native groups: Cheyanne, Uchee, Muskogee and Seminole. Many songs and prayers were sang in Muskogee Creek and there was much storytelling and a meal also shared.
We traveled from Alabama to honor our dear friend/brother. We were
showed great respect by all at the gathering. As we passed through a great storm in Conway, Arkansas, Frank and I noted that the huge storm brought a cleansing to the earth; when we cleared the storm, the sun came out and the wind picked up-we jokingly said
Jay was passing throguh (since he was of the Wind Clan). Jay's intention was to write a book-Growing up Muskogee Creek, in which he was including stories of his Alabama family connection.
Jay in the traditional way of thinking always said when the Spirit
returns to the Creator, one would walk the Milky Way and head South to sit with the Elders under the arbor.
Jay always said the land remembers and so we will remember Jay McGirt.
Submitted by Charles Chambers & Molly Tatum