Who was Cherokee Mangus? She was born March 23, 1950, on her Grandfather’s farm in Wayne County, West Virginia. She was of Irish and Native American heritage.
|Vel “Cherokee” Mangus, artist, musician, songwriter, historian,
editor, publisher and a unique part of the
rich legacy of the Superstition Mountain Area.
As a young woman she excelled in art and music. Her teachers thought she was a natural born artist and musician. In high school her art teacher showcased all of her drawings at the main entrance and she was chosen as “Artist of the Month” receiving much publicity, especially in her high school newspaper.
She soon realized that there was little opportunity in Wayne County for her talent in art and music. Yes, she could have played in a “Hillbilly Band,” but she chose not to. Her dream was to go to Nashville with a successful song that would lead to a career in music.
One of Cherokee’s original quotes was, “You have to accept what life throws at you and shape it into a work of art.” She was very gifted, had confidence, and started her journey with imagination. She wrote a challenging poem: “Naive, I played by all the rules, thinking surely I can win. It was nature laughing at my back and time staring with a grin.” This was a quote from that poem.
She was born Vel Adkins and spent her childhood in Wayne County. After high school she moved to Ohio searching for a better opportunity in life. Later she met and married Howard Mangus, the father of her two daughters Marijane and Amee. Cherokee learned about military life when she moved to Ramstein, Germany with her husband. She once commented, “she was off the farm on a plane with a ‘hillbilly drawl’”. Returning to the United States in the late 1970s she decided to divorce her husband and after another failed marriage she ended up in Gilbert with her two daughters in 1983.
She eventually found a job as a caretaker on an old movie set near Apache Junction in 1985. This old movie set became a paradise for an artist like herself. She painted murals, portraits, signs, and while living on the property she began a campaign to preserve the old movie set. It was here she created a miniature scale model of the old movie set some four feet by eleven feet. This model was replica of a set Ronald Reagan, Jason Robards, Kenny Rogers, Elvis Presley, Audie Murphy and many other legendary stars had performed for the cameras on. These stars made the movie set legendary.
Cherokee’s dream was the model would stay in Apache Junction forever. She always believed the model was built for the fans of the Apache-land Movie Ranch. She eventually became caretaker and manager of Apacheland from 1985-1988. Her daughter Amee said she had a dream to create a museum and history society devoted the history and legacy of Apacheland in Gold Canyon or nearby.
Early in 1990 she decided to move to Nashville, Tennessee, and try her luck at Country-Western song writing and singing. She was never really successful with her song writing and singing in Nashville. However, she got involved with Native American dancers and for nine years promoted very successful shows at the Ryman Theater in Nashville. During her stay in Nashville she also edited and published a newspaper about Native Americans. Vel Cherokee Mangus moved back to Gilbert, Arizona in 2003.
Once again she spearheaded an effort to create an Apacheland Historical Society and museum devoted to the history of this movie ranch east of Apache Junction in the heart of Gold Canyon. Originally she started her historical society out of the Adobe Meeting Hall in Gold Canyon.
Her attempt to create a historical society and museum in Gold Canyon was not popular with the plans of Wayne Richardson’s Longhorn Ranch. Wayne’s partner was enraged by her efforts to form an Apacheland Historical Society in Gold Canyon.
Everything changed on Valentine’s Day 2004 when the famed Apacheland movie set burned to the ground except for five buildings. The so-called “Elvis Church” and the “Rifleman’s Barn” survived along with two or three other buildings at the front of the movie set lot.
Ed and Sue Birmingham made a deal with the Superstition Mountain Museum to donate the two buildings to them for preservation. I am certain Cherokee believed the surviving buildings would remain on the land of the legendary movie set. Of course, this didn’t happen and the remaining buildings were razed and Apacheland ceased to exist in Gold Canyon off of Don Donnelly Blvd.
The disagreement between some parties and Cherokee Mangus continued. It is apparent they tried to destroy her creditability and reputation. They were totally against her website of a virtual museum on Apacheland. I am certain I don’t have every detail of this disagreement precisely correct because it depends on whom you talk to.
Larry Hedrick and others assisted Cherokee on occasion with donations to maintain her website about Apacheland. Cherokee was always convinced an Apacheland museum needed to be founded and built in Gold Canyon. She never found enough support in Gold Canyon to help build that dream. Even I must agree a museum for Apacheland history should have evolved in Gold Canyon. However, I fully understand the revenue generating value of the Apacheland status for the Superstition Mountain Museum.
She worked closely with the Superstition Mountain Museum to help preserve Apacheland between 2010-2013. I interviewed Jim Swanson who played music at the museum and said he enjoyed working with Cherokee. She played in their three-piece band to entertain museum guests during the winter months. Jim said Cherokee was a very talented musician and vocalist.
Cherokee’s model set in the museum for many years before it was replaced with a small diorama. The pros and cons associated with this change saddened Cherokee because so much work had been put in the four by eight foot diorama she had loaned the museum.
There was nothing but good in Cherokee’s heart for others. However, if someone agitated her she could be verbally aggressive toward that person. Amee and Marijane, her daughters, both loved their mother and spoke highly of her and her desire to preserve history in the area.
One of Cherokee’s proudest accomplishments was being named to the “Rosa Parks Wall of Tolerance” for her work at the Ryman Theater in Nashville for the Native American Dance Theater. She was also very proud of the Apacheland scale model that sat in the Superstition Mountain Museum for several years. She was proud of the fact she and Larry Hedrick helped organize the museum’s first Apacheland Days that was so successful for the museum. Yes, in her own way Cherokee Mangus contribute to her community in many ways.
Cherokee continued to work on various preservation projects plus keep up with her job at the Unified School District bus barn. It was sometime in November, 2014, Cherokee’s daughter noticed something wrong with her mom. By the time her problem was diagnosed it was too late to help her. Vel “Cherokee” Mangus passed away on December 5, 2014, from a malignant brain tumor.