Anecdote: A Modern Columbus

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Herbert Williams, president of the Cherokee Nation outside the building that he had designated as the Cherokee Embassy. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, 1987
Herbert Williams, president of the Cherokee Nation outside the building that he had designated as the Cherokee Embassy. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, 1987

Texas Border Business

In April of 1987, that is 31 years ago, I drove to Brownsville to meet and interview retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Herbert Williams. He was 77 at the time. I had heard that he owned a tract of land separated either from the U.S.or Mexico and became an island in the middle of the Rio Grande River.

Flying his own airplane and in route to his ranch in Tampico, Tamaulipas Mexico, he saw from above, the piece of land and became interested. Later, he made a trip to Brownsville and inquired about the land and finally bought it. My recollection of the details of this story are now vague.

Shah Of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi

I do remember and according to Col. Williams, the Shah of Iran sent an envoy to talk to him with express orders to acquire the tract of land to make it his own nation. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as Mohammad Reza Shah, was the last Shah of Iran from September 16, 1941, until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. He had no nation and onmultiple instances, he was denied entrance or only permitted a short stay in other nations around the world. That is why he was interested in acquiring the land.

The island was formed in 1967 due to Hurricane Beulah, and sometime later wasacquired by Williams. The Shah of Iran haddied in 1980 and I interviewed the colonel in 1987.

About Hurricane Beulah – it was the second tropical storm, second hurricane, and the only major hurricane during the 1967 Atlantic hurricane season. The hurricane made landfall just north of the mouth of the Rio Grande River.

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I will research more inmy files hoping to find the originalaudio tape and negatives. If I find them I promise that I will write a second article with more interesting information and photos. Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, remembering and sharing history.

A Modern Columbus 

Herbert Williams or Songhatio, (Little Bird on A Shoulder) has a dream. A dream filled with worthy intentions. To restore the dignity and pride once held high by the mighty Indian tribes of North America. Because of this dream, he is pursuing an effort to create a separate nation of the Cherokee tribe on a small island between the United States and Mexico in the Rio Grande River.

The first step, as he sees it, to restore the Indians dignity, is to provide every Indian who registers in his nation with a quality education and proper health care. It is these two elements which he feels the United States has denied all Indians of North America. The U.S., according to Williams, has made drunken bums of the American Indian by granting them a reservation, but no means to become educated or earn a respectable living.

“The Cherokee Nation” as he has named his new colony, has encountered problems of its own in seeking proper recognition of its status as a sovereign nation. Even the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs contends that Williams’ venture is not only wrong but illegal. The governments of the U.S. and Mexico declared that Williams’ nation is a nation that isn’t.

Col. Williams showed me one of the embassy automobiles with Diplomat License plates. It also read Cherokee National Government. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987
Col. Williams showed me one of the embassy automobiles with Diplomat License plates. It also read Cherokee National Government. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987

In an attempt to add credit to his claim as President of the Cherokee Nation, Williams has issued diplomatic passports and license plates, as well as established a diplomatic residence or ’embassy’ in Brownsville and has minted coins in the currency of ‘Eagles’.

Williams’ own life would make for good reading. He is the son of a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. He is 77 years old and retired from the U.S. Air Force with rank of Colonel. Formerly of San Antonio, Williams has photos that show him rubbing elbows with such notables as film stars Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster and the reclusive Howard Hughes. He claims to have made a semi-fortune in the state of Arizona in the 1940’s in the construction industry.

As an Air Force pilot in 1967, on a flight to the U.S. from Mexico, he first spotted the island he now calls his nation, a narrow, 154-acre parcel of land created as a result of Hurricane Beulah. It seems the force of the hurricane diverted certain currents of the Rio Grande River to produce the land between waters running between the U.S. and Mexico.

As we mentioned earlier, the intentions of the new nation are indeed noble and honorable intentions, but even the most saintly would find it difficult to gain recognition from many governments and the status implied by such recognition. The legal battles for the new nation are far from over, but Williams remains positive and is confident that in time he will earn the respect and consideration his nation seeks. Although he has been rebuffed by the U.S. State Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Motor Vehicle Division, Williams insists his goal is not merely an old man’s ‘Pipe Dream’.

For someone who is so convinced of the worthiness of his actions, Williams should be able to muster the ‘benefit of the doubt’ from many people, and indeed there are many people who are equally convinced of his future victory in establishing the Cherokee Nation.

While there are a number of individuals scoffing, laughing and criticizing Herbert Williams, in the back of their minds they should not forget that stranger things have been accomplished by man.

Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987
Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987

This certificate hung inside the Embassy and read as follows:

The President, faculty, and directors of Clayton University. To all persons to whom this writing may come… Greetings Be it known that in recognition of outstanding contributions to the Allied Indian Tribes of the North American Continent resulting from the successful founding of the Cherokee Nation as a sovereign and independent Nation and in recognition of his continuing guidance as First President of the Cherokee Nation, we do hereby grant this honorary degree. Now, therefore, we, by virtue of Authority granted us by Articles of Incorporation in the State of Missouri, do hereby confer upon Herbert M. Williams, Colonel (Ret) the honorary degree of Doctor of Political Science, with all the rights, privileges and immunities thereto appertaining. In witness whereof, we have caused this Diploma to be signed by the duly authorized officers of the University and sealed with our Corporate Seal in the County of Saint Louis, City of Clayton, Missouri, on this fifteenth day of March nineteen hundred and eighty-one. 

Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987
Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez 1987

Another frame that I was able to photograph. It reads the following:

In remembrance of our beloved Algonquin Sister Princess Pocahontas Rebecca Rolfe A.D. 1559 – A.D. 1617, Wife of John Rolfe, who although sleeping in Gravesend, Kent, England, in the land where she was graciously received, and treated with great honor lies in eternal repose beneath the soil of the beloved land of her ancient people. The soil which has been placed upon the gravesite area has been lovingly given by the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the land upon which she was born and spent most of her life. We extend our lasting genuine gratitude to the gracious English Sovereigns, and to the warm British people, who so opened their arms, and their hearts, and made her feel so welcomed in their homeland. This dedication is given with great love, and pride, and with the everlasting remembrance of her North American Indian Brothers and Sisters.

The Cherokee Nation A.D. 1984

Herbert M. Williams, President   Little Bird on the Shoulder

Clarence Tompkins Smith, Ambassador  Falling Sky

Dale Matthews, Governor Two Eagles