Qualla Boundary (Eastern Band Cherokee Indian Nurses)


Learn more about the history of nursing on the Qualla Boundary. (see also Swain and Cherokee Counties).


Nurse/Hospital CEO Casey Cooper has been esential in the transformation of Cherokee Health Care in the 2000s.


  • Nurse Lula Owl Gloyne was the first Eastern Band Cherokee Registered Nurse. In the 1920s, she served her tribe and community as a US Indian Health Service nurse providing home health and midwifery services. In the 1930s Gloyne was responsible for the founding of the first hospital for the Cherokee tribe.

  • Image result for lula owl gloyne

  • Pollitt, P.A. (2010)  Public Spirit. Minority Nurse.

  • Ernestine Walkingstick, R.N

    • Like most registered nurses, Ernestine Walkingstick had worked in several capacities before settling into the position of the Director of Community Health Nursing for the Cherokee Indian Reservation.  She was an ideal community health nurse. She knew the reservation well – she knew the families from the babies to the elderly. She was instrumental in establishing and assisting in the clinic for the Indian population in the Robbinsville area. She also initiated, coordinated and operated the eye clinics and ENT clinics at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.  She was a “nurse” in the purest sense – dedicated to the health and welfare of “her people.  Her volunteer activities were legendary. She raised countless dollars for the Cherokee Children’s Home and was an active member of the North American Indian Women’s Association, Eastern Band of Cherokee Community Foundation, Western North Carolina Community Development and the Qualla SAFE House.

  • Article about Nurse Helen Crossley who spent a few years during the Depression of the 1930s working with the Indian Health Service on the Qualla Boundary.
  • Article about "The health of the Cherokee" in the April, 1972 Health Bulletin, pages 8-11.


  • Mrs. Virginia  Rosebud Sneed Dixon, RN  is a Knoxville General Hospital school of Nurisng graduate and member of the EBCI tribe.  One oral history with her is found on our oral history page.  She was also a guest on the Nov 10, 2006 Native American Calling radio show - here is a blurb about that show
  • Friday, November 10 - Two Generations of Native Veterans:
    Veterans Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, is an important date in many Native households. When it comes to serving the United States, many Native Americans have answered the call. And some answered the call before they were recognized as U.S. Citizens. Whatever the service era, be it World War II, Korea, Vietnam or Afghanistan, Iraq or any time between, we honor our Native brothers and sisters on Veterans Day. Many tribes have established their own veteran’s memorials and cemeteries. Who are the veterans in your family? Guests are Virginia Sneed Dixon (Eastern Band of Cherokee) Army Nurse during World War II and Korea and Marty Antone (Oneida) served tours duty in Bosnia, Kososvo and Iraq.

Mrs. Dixon in WWII


Mrs. Virginia Sneed Dixon, R.N.:  Eastern Band Cherokee Indian Registered Nurse and military heroine

The only federally recognized Indian Tribe in Appalachia is the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.  R.J. Conley, in his 2005 book The Cherokee Nation: A History explains that after decades of hostilities, by 1900 the U.S. Government policy encouraged assimilation of Native Americans into traditional American life.  In this spirit, the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing while strictly excluding African Americans, welcomed several Eastern Band Cherokee Indian students in the 1930s and 1940s.  One was Virginia Rosebud Sneed Dixon.

Dixon was born on December 29, 1919, in Cherokee, N.C., the seventh of ten children of

Campbell and Mindy Bradley Sneed.  She recalled her childhood on the Qualla Boundary

… my father did any kind of job to raise the children … we didn’t even have electricity or any of the conveniences, so we had a big garden and canned, we had our own milk cows and chickens for eggs … I went to the Cherokee Boarding School and that was good for my father because he couldn’t afford to … clothe us all, buy us shoes every winter …

Dixon graduated from the Cherokee Indian School in 1938.  Knowing from a young age that she wanted to become a nurse, after completing high school she entered Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing graduating in 1941. As a patriot and newly minted Registered Nurse, Dixon volunteered to join the U.S. Army Nurse Corps becoming the first Cherokee nurse to serve overseas in WWII.

Her first post was in a psychiatric hospital in New York.  She worked there three years before requesting overseas duty. Dixon was assigned to a field hospital on the Burma Road in the mountains of China.  The Burma Road was built to bring supplies to China, to help the people resist the Japanese occupation.  In the same interview, Dixon remembered:

I got orders to go to a small hospital way up in the mountains of China.  And it took me two weeks or more to get there … I flew from New York … by Cassablanca and flew over to Karachi, India and stayed there two weeks … these planes from India would fly to China and you’d have to go way up above the Himalaya Mountains …  It took us several hours across the hump, where the mountains are just covered in snow … and the plane weren’t pressurized … when you got up to about 28,000 feet, the oxygen mask would drop down so you’d have to wear oxygen because it was that high.  And ice was freezing on the wings of the plane.  And we got to Kunming [China] and they said “We have so many planes circling you can’t land.  You have to go back”.  So back we went across that hump and landed … the next morning we went again, but we made it that day.   


Dixon’s service to our country continued in the Korean War.  She remembered her early days there:

 We were in this old North Korean hospital, but they had blown out the windows, no water, no electricity, no nothing … I worked during the day and then I was assigned at night on the surgical ward and it was hard work because we had all these casualties that were coming in. They would be in shock and we could never get them out of shock because we just didn't have heat … We stayed there … from sometime in November till December [1950] and then when the Chinese invaded, we were told one afternoon “Get the nurses out! The Chinese are invading and we don't want them to capture any of the females.”


After a brief respite working in a U.S. military hospital in Japan, Dixon volunteered for a dangerous assignment working for the 8063rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital near Korea’s demilitarized zone.  She provided emergency care for soldiers with brain and spinal cord injuries until they could be transported to a hospital.

After she returned stateside in 1952, she married and began her family.  Dixon’s life story demonstrates the best of America.  A young Cherokee Indian nurse from the Appalachian Mountains volunteered to go half way around the globe to help promote democracy around the world.


Conley, R.J. (2005). The Cherokee Nation: A History. University of New Mexico Press.

Oral History Interview with Virginia Sneed Dixon conducted by Laurel Sanders, November 12,

           2012 found at http://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/sites/nursinghistory.appstate.edu/files/Virginia_Sneed_Dixon.pdf


Mrs. Trudy Fann graduted from Knoxvillle General Hospital School of Nursing in 1945 and spent most of her career at the VA hospital in Johnson City, TN.

Wartime, VA nurse Trudy Fann reflects on full life


By Jeff Keeling

Trudy Fann smiles as she tells a story from her childhood.

Trudy Fann smiles as she tells a story from her childhood. Photo by Jeff Keeling

From attending a two-room schoolhouse on the Cherokee Indian Reservation to World War II nursing duty on the Pacific Coast and a post-war career at Johnson City’s VA hospital while raising five children, Trudy Fann has made plenty of memories.

“I have had a real interesting life,” Fann, who turns 93 Friday, said understatedly in the cozy den of her Johnson City home last week.

Fann, who has lived in Johnson City for most of the past 70 years, has a story that starts in Birdtown, N.C., a community at the mouth of Adams Creek, where it joins the Ocunaluftee River on the reservation. Though she’s just 1/32 Cherokee, Fann was raised with six siblings by her father as a tribe member, General Washington Bradley, a non-Indian, and Julia McCoy Bradley.

“G.W.,” as her father was known, farmed 78 acres, with all the children helping out with canning and growing much of their food in a large garden.

There was no indoor plumbing, and light came from kerosene lamps, Fann remembers.

“It was all we knew. At the two-room elementary school in Birdtown they had indoor plumbing, and I worried the teacher to death to take a shower. He finally said, ‘well, go on.’”

img057correctedFann completed late elementary and high school at the main school in Cherokee – she still votes in tribal elections – and finished with strong enough academics to go to Bacone College, a Baptist-operated school for Native Americans in Muskogee Okla.

“My parents didn’t have the money for me to come home for Christmas, so I stayed there in the dormitory with the house mother,” Fann said.

Then came the day that will live in infamy, and the U.S. suddenly found itself in the thick of World War II. “That’s when every girl in my class decided to become a nurse,” Fann said. She spent her first summer after college working in her uncle’s craft shop on the reservation and also got a part-time job as an aide at Cherokee’s Indian hospital.

img059Then it was on to Knox General Hospital to start the cadet nurse training program. “The street uniform for cadet nurses was gray, with little red epaulettes on the shoulders. They treated us like officers.”

Fann and her classmates spent more than two years training in Knoxville, but as she said, “the war was heavy.” So in 1944, with Verda Lee Kesterson and classmates Charlene White, Fann headed west for her last six months of training. It would be on the job.

“I had chosen the Navy, and we rode a troop train all the way across the country to Oak Knoll Navy Hospital in Oakland,” Fann said. “They had big open wards, and there were about 8,000 patients. It was hard to see some of what these boys had been through, but they were excited that it was close to being over with. We treated more Marines than sailors, because they were closer to the combat usually.”

That pent up tension burst out after V-J Day. It was understandable but a little intense for a young lady. “I remember going downtown and it was just bedlam. They just wrecked San Francisco. If you was with a fella they’d leave you alone, and I remember this little sailor said, ‘do you need help,’ and I said, ‘can you take me to the bus?’ They grounded us nurses at the hospital for three days.”

Trudy Fann on her honeymoon.

Trudy Fann on her honeymoon.

Trudy Bradley headed back home, but not for long. She got an RN job in Oak Ridge, and then an old Knox General roommate, Norma Olivares, invited her to Johnson City where she met Ray Fann. “It was a blind date. He had just gotten out of the Navy.”

Before long, Bradley was engaged. Her friends gave her a big wedding, something that wasn’t common on the reservation. “A friend of mine had a wedding gown that she loaned me. I did buy the veil.”

The Fanns settled into life in Johnson City, with Ray working for Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Trudy putting in three decades at the VA, much of it on Ward 14.

“I worked on surgical service. I enjoyed it. I really, really did. You have to like a place to stay that long.”

The Fanns raised Sam, Becky, Ben, Tim and Julie, first on Locust Street, and then in a larger home in Cherokee Hills. Fann has 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Ray passed away in 1993.

Ray Fann on the couple’s honeymoon.

Ray Fann on the couple’s honeymoon.

After retirement, Fann spent a year in Odessa, in the Ukraine, just after the fall of communism, with Mission to the World out of Atlanta.

“They wanted somebody to help put God back in their country, they’d been out of it for so long,” she said. “We were teaching morals and ethics using the Bible in public schools. I kept thinking somebody was going to tell us we couldn’t do that.”

Fann has enjoyed China painting, and still crochets, something her mother taught her and her sisters. She gets a bit of money from the Cherokee casino revenues, and votes for chief and for the tribal representative from Birdtown.

Fann is a faithful member and attender at Westminster Presbyterian Church, and answers quickly when asked if she has a favorite scripture verse: “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (John 5:11-12)


  • 1947 photographs of the baby contest at the Qualla Boundary with Mrs. Hicks the public health nurse for Swain County.
Mary Ann Lambert Luff, RN

Mary Lambert Luff, 97, of the Cherokee community entered Heaven on March 27, 2013 and a celebration began! She was a life-long resident of the Cherokee area in Swain County, NC. Mary was the daughter of the late Hugh Noland Lambert and former Rosa Lee Smith Lambert. She was also stepdaughter to the late Ava Lauren Hall Lambert and was preceded in death by her husband Mr. Eugene H. Luff of Orange County California.

Mary was schooled in Chilocco, trained as a nurse in Knoxville, TN and served two years in France as a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army Nursing Corps. Upon returning from the war, she was a nurse in the Veterans Hospital at Long Beach, California. In the early ’50′s she was a merchant with her own business in Cherokee and later built the Wikki-up Motel in Soco Valley where she worked until she elected to retire to a private life in 1983. She was also a life-long member of the American Legion, Steve Young deer Post #143 in Cherokee, NC. She was a member of the Wilmont Baptist Church and dedicated her life to the Lord.

Mary is survived by her brothers Richard, Roy and John and by her sisters Betty, Peggy and Sarah. Mary had no children but numerous nephews and nieces to tell her story.

Along with her parents and husband Mary was preceded in death by her eight brothers, Herbert, Jarrett, Paul, Arthur, Albert, Hugh, Jr., Jesse and Frederic and one sister, Virginia Lambert Sweet.

Mary’s home was always open to her siblings and their families acting as a touchpoint from them as they maintained contact with Cherokee and their Cherokee people. Mary was a caregiver and a woman who “told it like is”. May she rejoice as she is reunited with her family.

Following Mary’s request and promises made she had a graveside service within 24 hours of her death. The services were held at Campground Cemetery off of US 441 S. between Whittier and Cherokee, NC on March 28, 2013 at 5:30PM. The Rev. Johnny Ray Davis officiated.

Long House Funeral Home followed Mary’s wishes.


Frela Dean Owl Beck

Autobiographical sketch from Nurse Frela Beck:

Part 1:  Frela Dean Owl Beck, RN, BSN from Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, 1961

Member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

I was the youngest daughter of Gladys Dena (Berry) and Frel McDonald Owl.  My parents met as teachers at the Pierre, SD Indian Boarding School.  My father became the Principal Educational Field Agent and ultimately Indian Agent (Superintendent) on various Indian Reservations.  So, I grew up on Indian Reservations, always wanted to be a nurse and realized it was a way to continue living and working among Indians -the only world I knew at the time.  I was advised by the public health nurse to get into a program that offered a BSN as it was a "coming requirement"

Michigan State, in 1957, did not have its own clinical facilities, so we traveled to various facilities for our clinical rotations.  I did my public health experience with eh Detroit Visiting Nursing Association (culture shock)!  We were discouraged from getting married during our college experience, so when family was assembling for my graduation in July 1961, I married George S. Beck and received my pin all on the same day.

I began working as a hospital staff nurse the next week and have been so appreciative of the education I received and the opportunities it presented over my lifetime.  We have moved to relatively small communities because of George’s work, and I have had experiences, usually part-time as our family grew, with staff nursing, home health, teaching, nursing home supervision and administration.  The latter, administration in a community college, was by “accident” or perhaps “Divine Guidance”.  I was asked to help write an application for a Practical Nurse Program at Kirkland Community College, Roscommon, Michigan.  That was not difficult because of very clear application guidelines; then there were meetings, tours and a starting date.  Since I had my BS degree I became the director of the program – totally unplanned and unforeseen by me.  After four very busy fulfilling years, and because of my parents needs in their retirement, our family moved to Cherokee, NC.  So, after almost 20 years, finally I was back among “my Indian people” – for whom I always envisioned serving.  A position as the Follow-Through School Nurse was available and I enjoyed that for the 9 years left on that program, and then I journeyed around the Reservation (Qualla Boundary) visiting homes as a Community Health Nurse.  (instead of on horseback with a black bag, as I had envisioned as a youngster, I had a four-wheel drive vehicle as my traveling companion.)  After retiring, I continued working at the weekly Eye Clinic for 20 plus years.  Nursing has been a wonderful career choice.  Our Owl family has many nurses in it.  We appreciate the many job opportunities it offers, and especially we enjoy people and look for was to be of service to others.

Part 2:  Me-a “Professional Nurse”  My thoughts

I am a retired Registered Nurse with a B.S. (Bachelor of Science) Degree in Nursing.  I graduated from Michigan State University in 1961, after 5 school years of college. At the time there were 3 ways of being an RN and I chose this route because I thought I would be a nurse on an Indian reservation somewhere in the US Public Health Service and it was going to require nurses to have a bachelor’s degree.  Our Dean of the Nursing Program was very selective as to the students who were admitted to “her” program and I apparently had the qualifications for which she was looking.

Background:  my father was a U.S. government administrator (“Superintendent”) on various Indian Reservations as I grew up.  He and my mother were “sticklers” for following the rules and being examples or role models for those around us.  He had made a giant leap into the “white” society and was privileges to have attended reputable schools.  My parents emphasized being truthful, doing what you said you could do, respecting all people regardless of their status, and they especially drill into us the importance of having and maintaining a “good” reputation, respecting elders and being involved int eh community as a volunteer.  Id Dad brought a pen home from the Office, he made certain it went back to the Office.  If we used the telephone, we were to be polite, state our name and our business and get off the telephone so others could use it (party line).

I was sent off the Reservation in Idaho to a boarding school in Massachusetts when I was 15.  My parents felt it was preparation for college, for life in general an I would learn at a young age to be responsible on several levels (personal care, studies, get along with others of different backgrounds, etc.).  I was determined to not disappoint them, so I developed into a “good student” academically and generally matured quickly.  The boarding school experience required all of the students to fulfill responsibilities (cleaning, preparing meals, etc.) and was a great “leveler”;  it didn’t matter if you came off a reservation, were a missionary’s child from African or a high society, wealthy person – the same commitment was expected of you.

My family had a strong spiritual/faith element.  We attended whatever church was available in the community and this was an is very important to me.  I have always felt that our Creator God is watching over me, caring and loving.  It has been mostly a comfortable relationship, but also has often kept me from making “mistakes/mis-steps” in my life’s journey.  It has also influenced my regard/caring/respect for others.  I try to look for the best in people and bring out their best by encouraging/commending them.  When necessary, I have been able to disagree, admonish or try to lead others in another direction by using tact, diplomacy, privacy ad other helping another to “save face”, which I learned largely from my Dad, who was a master at this.

Nursing has been a wonderful career.  It has many different avenues in caring for people -young, elderly, healthy, physically/mentally ill.  It requires truly caring, following instructions, being intuitive, knowing one’s limitations, when to share/keep private information and most importantly teamwork.

 Article about Frrela Beck and her family:  Asheville Citizen Times  12-15-1994