The early Episcopal Church meetings

in the time frame 1848 up to about 1940 were held in homes on the Qualla Indian Boundary (also known as the Eastern Cherokee Reservation). There were also meetings in the Council House, the school dormitory, and any other space available.

In the early 1940’s, under the leadership of Dr. Rufus A. Morgan,

a small, dedicated group (realizing the need for a permanent place to worship) purchased approval for use of the present property from Lula Gloyne with confirmation from the Tribal Council and the Government Agency. On March 27, 1945, a formal petition to Bishop Robert E. Gribbin asked for the privilege of being organized as a mission under the name of St. Francis of Assisi. Under the leadership of “Moses of the Mountains,” the group was able to build the present church edifice and nearby Parish House (which has been used for many activities). The church was consecrated by Bishop M. George Henry on All Saints Eve (October 31, 1948).

Since that time, the members of the parish, though few in number, have always maintained a very active part in the affairs of both the Boundary and the surrounding region. For many years, we were the only Episcopal Church between Sylva, NC and Murphy, NC. The area from which St. Francis has drawn parishioners is both large and varied.

The church may be seen from the bridge over the Oconoluftee River

in the town of Cherokee. When you climb slowly up the hill and absorb the magnificent view of river and mountains — the atmosphere of worship — you will not be surprised that “Moses of the Mountains” suggested “St. Francis of Assisi” as the name for the mission. When you learn that construction of the church was delayed for a while for the sake of nesting birds, and that workmen refused to cut a tree until the birds in another nest could grow to the point of flying away, you will be quite convinced that the name could be no other.

Here is a quote from Rev. Morgan (Moses of the Mountains),

“The procuring of the land for the church reflects something of the system under which these first Americans live. The land is held by the Eastern Band of the Cherokees. The use of the land is allocated to the individuals for the use of families. When we had selected the site which we wanted, the use of which was in the hands of one of our members, Mrs. Gloyne, it was necessary to get the approval of the Tribal Council, and of the Government Agency. This system, so far as the Cherokees are concerned, goes back to the earliest contacts with the white men. It was a capital offense for an individual to alienate any other tribal land.”

The design and supervision of construction of the church building was a gift from Mr. Ross Caldwell. The construction and furnishings of the church were done largely by the congregation. B. Ensley did the stonework. Blake Sneed and others did the carpentry. The altar cross was made by The Venerable James T. Kennedy. Much of the cabinet work, together with the carvings that make the place outstanding, were done by Goingback Chiltoskey, noted Cherokee Indian woodcarver and husband of the longtime Episcopal leader, Mrs. Mary Ulmer Chiltoskey.


Goingback Chiltoskey


Mary Chiltoskey

(who also helped her husband with the altar). “G.B.” made the large altar, the altar rails, the credence table, the hymn and prayer book racks, the curtain rods and rings for hangings behind the altar, also the cover for the baptismal font which is made of native North Carolina marble quarried in Cherokee County. Mary died in October of 2000, and GB died very shortly after that.

The Parish House, originally built as a Rectory, has been used for many activities. At one time it was rented to Unto These Hills, it has been leased by the Cherokee Family Services, and is now used by us for Sunday coffee hours.