Archived News

Arrest made in Big Cove cold case murder

Cherokee Justice Center Cherokee Justice Center

Nearly a decade after 26-year-old Marie Walkingstick Pheasant’s body was found in a burned-out vehicle in Cherokee’s Big Cove community, an arrest has been made for her murder.

Ernest Pheasant, 46, was arrested for the crime. He was also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, tampering with witnesses, domestic violence and tampering with evidence. All are felony charges.

Marie Pheasant’s body was found on Dec. 29, 2013. The mother of two young children, she was a “quiet, sweet, loving girl,” her niece Diane Wolfe told The Smoky Mountain News in a 2022 interview. Law enforcement had long suspected that there were people in the community who knew the identity of the guilty party but decided not to come forward. At the time of Ernest Pheasant’s arrest, a $50,000 reward had been issued for information leading to an arrest or conviction.  

“Ten years ago, our community was shaken by her tragic death, with her family and friends left with questions unanswered,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said in a Facebook post. “It is our sincerest hope that this development will help give her family closure and bring justice for Marie.”

The arrest was made by the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“I would like to thank the joint relationship of all agencies involved,” said Chief of Police Carla Neadeau. “This is a step towards closure for the family.”

Related Items

Pheasant’s death was a devastating tragedy to her family and community, but it was not an isolated incident. Rather, it was the symptom of a nationwide epidemic  of missing and murdered indigenous women. According to a 2016 National Institute of Justice Research Report,  more than four in five Native American women have experienced violence in their lifetime, over half have experienced sexual violence and the majority have been victims of physical violence at the hands of intimate partners. Native women are 1.7 times more likely than White women to have experienced violence in the past year. In some counties, they face murder rates more than 10 times the national average. 

“We must continue to amplify the stories of Indigenous women and girls who are impacted by violence and honor their memory and legacy, and we must continue to stand in solidarity and take action to end the violence against Indigenous women and girls,” Hicks said.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.