This is the only photograph my family has of my great-great-great grandfather, Bluford West Starr. Apart from this picture, which has been passed down in our family through his son, we don’t know a lot about him. The original version of the photograph we have shows more of his profile, which some well-intentioned ancestor of mine attempted to scratch out because he appears to be holding a revolver against his chest. He was born in Indian Territory in the 1820s. According to my grandmother, Bluford’s father Thomas Starr was close to his cousin, Bluford West, which might explain his name.

As an adult, Bluford married a fellow Cherokee (and fellow Nanyehi/Nancy Ward descendant) named Margaret Ann McDaniel with whom he had several children, including my great great grandfather, Bluford West “Blue” Starr, Jr. He died a few months after their son was born and his wife joined him in death a few years later, leaving Blue Jr. in the care of his aunt, Nancy Jane Chambers née Starr.

As the son of Thomas Starr, Bluford was kin to many of the more well-known Starr Family members.

Bluford’s uncle James signed the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded Cherokee territory for land in Indian Territory.

Another uncle, Ezekiel, was a judge and politician who was a member of a Cherokee Nation delegation to Washington, DC to request assistance from the federal government during the course of an internal conflict between Cherokee factions. He died during one of these trips and he’s buried next to Bluford’s namesake, Bluford West, in the Congressional Cemetery here in Washington, DC along with a dozen other Cherokees. I’ve lived in DC for the past six years and only found out a couple of years ago that I had family buried here!

His first cousin, Tom Starr, was a prominent outlaw and fighter whose son, Sam Starr, married Myra Maybelle Shirley (Belle Starr) and whose grandson, Henry Starr, claimed to have robbed more banks “than any man in America.”

Growing up, his picture was featured prominently in our home in South Texas and I always made sure to look at it as I walked in and out of our family room each day. Though the details and memories of his life have been lost with the deaths of those who knew him, I am still comforted by his sure, steady gaze and thankful for the life he lived so that his descendants, like me, have the opportunity to live our own lives and leave our own mark on this world.

-by Richard Starr Colley