, Muskogee, OK

October 15, 2011

Vivia’s story more legend than fact

By Jonita Mullins

—  At the center of the Fort Gibson National Cemetery there is an Officer’s Circle. Each grave in this circle of honor has an interesting story to tell. But few are as fascinating as the legend of Vivia.

The first marker for Vivia’s grave was a simple sandstone monument inscribed with only one word — “Vivia.”

There was no last name, no date of birth or death, and no memorial words. A later marker was inscribed with the name, Vivia Thomas, and her date of death as Jan. 7, 1870. But no documentation in cemetery records gives any information about Vivia. The cryptic nature of her first marker was probably the reason an interesting legend grew around this mysterious grave.

According to the legend that has been passed down for more than 140 years, Vivia was a wealthy, headstrong young woman from a prominent Boston family. Just after the Civil War, Vivia met a young Army officer at a lavish social event in Boston. The two young people courted for several months and then announced their engagement.

But just before the wedding, the young man fled Boston, leaving only a note for the jilted and furious Vivia. She learned from the Army where he was to be stationed, and she followed him to Fort Gibson in Indian Territory. Since travel at that time was arduous and often dangerous, especially for a young woman, Vivia cut her long hair and dressed as a boy while making her way to Indian Territory. Finding her disguise successful, she arrived at Fort Gibson with a plan.

Continuing her masquerade, Vivia enlisted into the Army at Fort Gibson. Somehow, she was able to avoid detection while she watched her former fiancé and plotted her revenge. She discovered that he was courting a young Cherokee woman who lived near the fort, and on more than one occasion she followed him, learning his route on these evening trysts.

Finally, her fury reached its climax and with her Army-issued rifle she lay in wait for him as he returned to the fort after an evening with his new love. As he approached her in the dark, Vivia shot him off his horse and left him bleeding in the road. His body was discovered the following day, but Vivia — or young Private Thomas — was never suspected in his murder. The unfaithful officer was buried in the fort cemetery.

But Vivia found that revenge was not sweet. She was engulfed in a great remorse for what she had done. She confessed to a priest, but her guilt was now as great as her former fury. Now her evenings were spent weeping over the young man’s grave, praying for forgiveness. And that was where she was found after a cold January night, frozen to death.

Now, her true identity was discovered and the old priest told her story. The commanding officer of the fort allowed her burial in the Officer’s Circle. And that led to the next chapter of the legend — some say Vivia’s ghost, dressed in uniform, haunts the cemetery and often can be seen crying at a grave in the moonlight.

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