Monday, January 25, 2016

In Search of Diana Fletcher

Courtesy of University of Oklahoma, Western History Collection

We have all seen her image, a dark skinned woman in Kiowa attire. She is referred to as Diana Fletcher, and her image is found on many sites devoted to African-Native history. Her face has been seen on promotional posters, book covers, but the question remains: who was Diana Fletcher?

There is only one photographic image of her. The photo resides in the University of Oklahoma, Western History Collection, Photo lab. There is no biography of her, and no details about the origin of the photograph. However, many sites that celebrate African-Native history, culture and facts, use the photograph frequently.

However, the are several "biographies" about her, citing ancestral ties to Virginia, then Florida, then Seminole and lastly Kiowa. I have been curious about her history have wanted to know how much of her life could be documented. And the few articles that give her history---none of them contain any source citations.

Statements about her life are few and here are some of the statements that I often see about her:

1) Her father is said to have been born in Virginia and later a runaway slave.
2) He was said to have gone to Florida and married a Seminole woman.
3) Her mother was said to have died during the removal.
4) Diana was said to have attended Hampton Institute, Indian School
5) She was said to have been under pressure "from American society" to hide her Indian identity but she maintained her Black Indian identity.
6) She is said to have learned Indian crafts from a Kiowa stepmother.

There are many websites that promote her biography:

Sites that mention Diana Fletcher

ILoveAncestry.com provides a story of Diana Fletcher. On that site a small bio appears about Diana Fletcher, and the site makes a reference to statements that Diana was at one time a school teacher. She was said to have learned crafts from a Kiowa "step mother". She was said to have been separated from her father and that the Kiowa family adopted her. The site makes a reference to Carlisle Indian school, but does not provide definitive statement nor citation that Diana had studied there.

Women in History Ohio, provides a brief history with basically the same information. Dates of birth and death are unknown, as well place of death. However, note it is said that her mother died on the Trail of Tears, the removal to the west.

Alibi .com featured an article about an actual search to learn more about Diana. Yet, there was no success is locating anything about her either.

*Outlaw Women is a site that no longer exists but it was referenced in the article on Alibi. Apparently it was suggested that Diana attended Hampton, and resisted "pressures" to deny her Indian heritage, but she was able to maintain it. Again, no citation of sources was noted.

The fact is, most articles that feature her photo will then go into general history about the Five Civilized Tribes, and make broad statements about 19th century history. In spite of the fact that some sites make broad statements about education in Freedmen Schools, and suggest that she may have attended the Hampton Indian School, or Carlisle, and that she may have taught in Freedmen Schools of Indian Territory, there is no evidence to support these statements.

I have decided to look more closely at the data as presented. I have found some pieces of information that seem to be conflicting.

Conflicting information:
It is said that her mother died on the "Trail of Tears".  Yet it is also said that Diana was born in Indian Territory. If her mother died during the removal, then Diana's birth could not have occurred later in Indian Territory after Seminoles arrived. The site then goes on to say that she lived and was taught skills among the Kiowas, and it states that she she taught in "Black Indian schools" operated by the Five Civilized Tribes. It has to be understood that neighborhood schools in the Five Tribes were run by individual tribes, and many of these schools are fairly well documented.

Furthermore, It would be most irregular for a Kiowa woman to teach in a Freedman School, with little to no exposure to their culture, having been raised Kiowa. The Freedmen from the Five Tribes, lived within their own cultural context, and a Kiowa woman would have little cultural knowledge of the Five Tribes, in which the Indian Freedmen from the Territory lived.

To be specific, the Five Tribes from which the Freedmen come are Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw Creek and Seminole nations. The Kiowas are not among the tribes known as the Five Civilized Tribes. How would a Kiowa woman become a teacher in the schools mentioned? And in which school specifically did she teach?

From the Choctaw, Creek and Cherokee schools that I have studied in depth, they were staffed with trustees from the local community and most teachers came from the states.

Researching the Facts:Diana's tribal affiliation was said to be Kiowa, though her father was Seminole. Nothing states how or why her father did not become a part of the the Bruner or Barkus bands, which are part of the 14 bands that comprise the Seminole Nation, to this day. And during the years of removal, there is no surname of Fletcher that appears among the John Brown, or Jim Lane bands of Africans who relocated with the Seminoles in 1838.

The Kiowas themselves, originally from western Montana were removed from Montana to Colorado, and eventually ended up in what is now southwestern Oklahoma, where Diana is said to have lived. They arrived in the Oklahoma Territory (not Indian Territory) after the Civil War in 1867. So, the Kiowas did not arrive in the Territory until almost 30 years after the Seminoles arrived in Indian Territory. And this was 30 years after Diana would have been born.

 And if her mother died during the removal, the Kiowas arrived in Indian Territory, 30 or so years after Diana was born, thus making her a young adult when they arrived. And if her father married a Kiowa woman, it would have taken place after Kiowas came to the Territory after the civil war.

The Basic  Questions: 
Question: What are the other names affiliated with her?  Answer: No other names.
Question: What was her father's name?  Answer: His name has never been known.
Question: How was it known that he was a runaway and that he lived with Seminoles? Answer: No evidence.
Question: How is it known that he remarried, and that Diana had a stepmother? No evidence.
Question: Who was her stepmother? Answer: Name never given.
Question: How was it known that her step mother taught her crafts? Answer: No evidence
Question: And what crafts specifically did she learn? Answer: No evidence
Question: Again---when did her father meet the Kiowa stepmother? Not known.

Problems With the Story of Diana

1) It is said that Diana's father escaped from Virginia to Florida, and joined maroons in Florida and became part of the community of Seminoles. There is no knowledge of Diana's father's name. If he was Seminole, he would be documented, because like the other Five Tribes--there are ample records. But--the name of the man said to be a runaway slave from Virginia, has never surfaced. PROBLEM: If we assume that the surname was Fltecher, note that there was no name of "Fletcher" on the name of the early bands of Black Seminoles that were removed. This would include the Jim Lane Band, the John Brown Band, and the Pompey Payne Band, These bands later merged and became the two Freedman band that still exist today--the Cesar Bruner Band, and the Dosar Barkus Band.

2) Her mother is said to have died on the Removal--the Trail of Tears. PROBLEM: Various sites state that Diana was born in Indian Territory. If her mother died during the removal, then Diana would not have been born after the Seminoles arrived in the west. In other words she could not have been born after her mother had already died.

3) Her father remarried a Kiowa woman and Diana was raised and taught crafts by her Kiowa step-mother. There is nothing wrong with her father having re-married. However, the timing is essential here. PROBLEM: The Seminoles arrived in Indian Territory in 1838,  The Kiowas did not arrive in Indian Territory until after the Civil War in 1867. Assuming that Diana was born between 1838 and 1840, and the Kiowas did not arrive in Indian Territory almost 20 years later, Diana would have been a fully grown woman by the time the Kiowa mother would have arrived in the Territory

4) Diana was said to have been educated at the Carlisle Indian school on one site and on another site she was said to have attended the Hampton Indian School. PROBLEM:
Both schools were established in the late 1870s, almost 40 years after Diana was born. The typical student at the Indian Schools were young children to adolescent in age, and they were not individuals in their 30s and 40s.

So, What do the records reflect?

*There was no Seminole with the surname of Fletcher on the Dawes Rolls, nor was there a Fletcher to be found on the Black Seminole bands that preceded today's Bruner band and Barkus bands. (There are numerous records that reflect the names of the Black Seminole Bands)

*There is no teacher called Diana Fletcher reflected from faculty of any of the Freedmen Schools of the Five Tribes.


I have already written several articles of the Freedmen schools, on my blogs. In addition there are a few addidtional links that also describe the history of those schools.
-Choctaw Freedmen Schools
-Oak Hill Academy (for Choctaw Freedmen-Presbyterian run)
-Cherokee Colored High School (click for link to OHS article about the school.)

-Dawes Academy was in the Chickasaw nation, but not run by the tribe. (In fact the Chickasaw nation did not provide tribal supported schools for their former slaves and children.) This school was supported by Calvary Baptist Church an African American church in Berwyn Oklahoma.


Searching Official Records

In spite of statements that records are lost or don't exist--there are numerous records from the Kiowa nation that are quite abundant. The Oklahoma Historical Society, formed a partnership with Ancestry in 2014 to provide access to the records of multiple tribes that were microfilmed several decades ago. Now those images are available on Ancestry as well. Included among those records are several thousand pages of Records of the Kiowa Indians. I decided to search the records of the Kiowas for Diana Fletcher.



Screen shot of Search page of Oklahoma & Indian Territory Records
Source:Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Marriage, Citizenship and Census Records, 1841-1927 [database on-line].
Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Indian Marriage and Other Records, 1850–1920. Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


Among the Oklahoma digitized Indian records there are literally thousands of pages reflecting data of Kiowa Indians to research. The following image reveals the size of the collection of Kiowa Indians.

The numbers in red were added to show the size of the databases that pertain to Kiowa Indians. After searching this Ancestry collection, no Diana Fletcher was found.


Some Thoughts about Diana Fletcher

There is a possibility that there may have definitely been someone called Diana Fletcher who lived among Kiowas. However, the story that has evolved about her over the years could be a combination of real fact, mixed with conjecture. If the story about her mother is correct, then she may have been orphaned and raised by a step mother, but not a Kiowa woman. And this would have occurred before the Kiowas arrived in the Territory, therefore making the story of the step-mother quite unlikely.

It is possible that a woman called Diana could have chosen on her own to spend time with people who were Kiowa. However, it is possible that her exposure may have come during her adult years, not and not childhood years from a Kiowa "stepmother".

There is the possibility that a woman called Diana Fletcher had some contact with an Indian School in Oklahoma Territory, instead of Indian Territory.

There is the possibility that a woman called Diana Fletcher was "adopted" into the Kiowas, and welcomed into the community. But this may have occurred when she was much older, and not during years when she was a child, decades before the Kiowas were relocated to the Territory.

Unfortunately, so far, there are no documented facts about the beautiful woman in the photo. There is great temptation to invent her story, but some of the stories so far conflict with history and historical timelines. There is possibly the  "hope" that her story would ring true, was simply that--a hope for a romantic story to tell about the mysterious woman in the photo.  But as much as we may want to believe in the romance of being taken in, and cared for, and taught the traditions of an indigenous people, we cannot make it so.

Placing her in schools when she was already an adult, make the story of Diana a fragile story.
Putting her birth sometime after the death of her mother, also weaken the story of Diana.
And creating a relationship with all others whose names remain unknown, make her story more fictitious than fact.

What we do have however, is the evidence of the photo itself--a beautiful woman called Diana in Kiowa dress. She may have been an "adopted" person but my guess is that her "adoption" was later in life and not as a child.

Unfortunately, to "invent" her story with facts that can easily be chipped away, is simply not necessary.

Her photo alone speaks to a woman proudly standing, with confidence as she faced the camera.
Her photo speaks to her presence, and reflect her confidence and dignity, but the other statements about her presented as fact, make her story simply --- a story.

Whoever Diana was, simply her presence can be presented simply as we see her. A beautiful woman whose name can be called.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Historical Society Partnership Brings Forth New Records

Databases on Ancestry For Oklahoma & Indian Territory Research

In the fall of 2014 a special partnership between the Oklahoma Historical Society and Ancestry was announced. It was announced that some unique collections and holdings at OHS had been digitized by Ancestry, and they were now being made available to the public. One feature that many Oklahoma researchers learned right away were the images of the Dawes Cards, in the original color. This was a welcomed treat, because of the differences that the color images present.

However, it is clearly understood that one record set does not present the entire story and that there are many more records for those who have Indian Territory history as an interest. Thankfully the partnership has brought to life some amazing records previously unavailable outside of Oklahoma. These records are no in themselves "new". They are "new" in terms of their availability to the public more easily and are "new" to a wider audience.

Now, it is widely known by many that there are thousands of pages with images of records created decades before the Dawes Rolls, and for the tenacious researcher, they also should be examined in order to tell more of the ancestral story. These "new" records were made years before the Dawes Rolls, and the hold incredible information for researchers.


I have recently written two articles recently reflecting some of my own finds among these new records, and those articles can be read my Choctaw Freedmen Blog.

And since last fall's announcement, it has taken several months for me to analyze the actual content of the various databases and to note the differences between them. In addition, I have also found my own way of locating them quickly, and I am happy to share what I have been able to learn about them with my readers. 

The four databases listed above are massive, and each one holds a wealth of data, that I have outlined with screenshot images below.

Finding The Databases Quickly:

I have personally found, that the quickest way to get to them is to go outside of Ancestry to get back in. I make quick Google search with the following words: Ancestry, Oklahoma and Indian Territory.

By typing these words, this will bring all four of the databases to one page on the google search. See the following screen shot:



Google Search Results for New Oklahoma Collections on Ancestry


When on the Ancestry site, simply click on the desired collection and begin the search. It is important however to fully understand what each database holds, so I have inserted some screen shots from the site to illustrate the contents of the database.

1) Oklahoma and Indian Territory Indian Census and Rolls 1851-1959

When on Ancestry, when clicking on the "Browse" Button the holdings appear like the illustration from the screenshot below.


                  The following screenshot reflects is a list of all of the holdings found in that database.



2) Oklahoma and Indian Territory Dawes Census Card for Five Civilized Tribes 1898-1914


This is where the Dawes cards, often called Enrollment Cards can be found. NOTE---there is another category on Ancestry that says Enrollment cards, but it is really an INDEX to the Enrollment Cards, and not the cards themselves. To see the actual Dawes Card--this database is the proper index to find them.

The following screenshot reflects selections that consist of the following:




3) Oklahoma and Indian Territory Marriage, Citizenship and  Census Records 1841-1929

Included in these records:





4) Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets, for Five Civilized Tribes 1884-1934

The choices in this collection are seen in this screenshot image:



Hopefully this explanation of some of these new databases will assist many Indian Territory researchers in exploring their ancestral story. For many years, the focus has been exclusively on one set of records, but now as a result of the partnership and this recently digitized set of records, options are available for researchers, to explore families more easily and more efficiently.

In a future post, I shall present examples of the data to be found in some of the individual collections.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Creek Freedmen Reflected on "Omitted Rolls"




In 1989, the Federal Records Center in Ft. Worth Texas microfilmed some of the Creek Records recorded in the early 1890s, and among them were the three "colored" towns, North Fork Colored, Arkansas Colored, and Canadian Colored. Having found some of the town rolls made before the Dawes rolls were constructed, I thought I would share some of them here. The images shown below reflect the names of Creek Freedmen from the three "colored" towns who were omitted in an earlier census and thus I refer to them as "Omitted" Rolls

As genealogists it is critical that we know how important it is that we move beyond simply scanning a list for an ancestor's name. What sometimes happens is that if we find a long sought-for name, we are happy, make a coy and move on. If we don't find the ancestor, we often close the book never to examine it again. However--there are still stories that can be found when examining various census records that come from a single community. They should still be examined if there is a tie of any kind, and an interest in the ancestral story.

There are several questions to ask when we look at these earlier records:

Who was on the list?
Who was not?
How were they grouped?
Were there any name variations?
Could some have died before the next census was taken?

These are all questions to be asked.

Researching Indian Territory, as well as any other community requires the same kind of tenacity essential for genealogical research in general. And it is not uncommon for beginners to get lost only in the Dawes rolls search. This partly stems from the political nature of the roll and who was placed on rolls by blood, freedmen rolls, and so on. The political issues were real in the 1890s and are real today. And it is known that for some, the goal is only tribal enrollment and to thereby bypass the greater story. Hopefully it is understood that regardless of an ancestor's status, there is a larger backdrop--a story to tell about their lives, a story tell about where they lived, and a story that describes the way they lived and how. Looking at all available rolls and how they were enumerated can help.

In recent months, I found an interesting collection of lists when I learned that Ancestry had digitized some lesser known records from the Creek Nation. In the Creek Nation, the political divisions consisted of  "towns". Among the towns (which were political and not always geographic or  residential) were three "colored" towns. One was often asked what town they "belonged to" as opposed to where they lived.

Colored Towns on the Omitted Roll

Source: Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.


Arkansas Colored Town, Creek Nation

Source: Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas.



Source: (Same as above)


Source: (Same as above)


North Fork Town (Colored)



Canadian Town (Colored)




While looking at the various names that appear on this town roll, I recognize known Creek families. In addition, I see the surnames of families that one may associate with other tribes, such as Bruner, Manuel and others from the Seminole Nation.

Though these are small rolls and reflect a small portion, hopefully the images may assist a researcher whose ancestors may have not have been reflected on the Dawes Rolls, if they died between 1891 and the years of the Dawes collection.


In a future article, I shall present images of the "Omitted Pay Rolls of 1891",


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Are Civil War Era Ancestors Among Your Oklahoma Freedmen Ancestors?


A List of Civil War Events in Indian Territory
Created from The Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer


It is hoped that the primary goal of research is to find data to assist in telling the family story. Records from Indian Territory are full of useful data to assist with that goal, but I have noticed that very few researchers discuss Civil War era records. In so many cases, people find Dawes Rolls, and in some cases they will refer to an earlier roll such as Wallace Rolls or Kern Clifton or Dunn Rolls. But frequently records and events from the Civil War are not used as much as they can be.  The Civil War affected everyone, and that included Indian Territory in general, and the enslaved population in particular.  When the chance came as Union soldiers approached a community, the enslaved people found themselves in a new situation. The trajectory of their lives had changed forever, and for many it was the war that brought freedom to their door.

Those enslaved in Indian Territory, like those enslaved in southern states were affected in the same manner. When Union soldiers raided a community some slaves were freed and left those places of enslavement. Others took refuge such as the hundreds of Freedmen did, that settled around Ft. Gibson making it one of the furthest west contraband camps.

In addition there were several skirmishes and battles fought in Indian Territory. The image above was taken from pages 981-982 of the Compendium of the War of the Rebellion by Frederick Dyer.

The Five slave-holding tribes were involved in the Civil War with many confederate regiments, and from which there were only three Union regiments. The other part of the story seldom mentioned were that there were Black soldiers from the same tribes who served in the Union Army. The 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries consisted of mostly soldiers from the Cherokee and Creek Nations. Later these two units were designated as the 79th and 83rd US Colored Infantries, respectively. In addition to these soldiers were the less mentioned Black soldiers who served in the Indian Home Guards. (Men like Sugar George ended up later serving in their tribal government. Sugar George served as member of the House of Warriors and later the House of Kings, and he was also a member of the board of the Tullahassee Mission School, for Creek Freedmen.) But the strength of these men was demonstrated when they returned from the War as true Freedom fighters, Civil War veterans and leaders in their communities.

The image below reflects battles that were reflected in Indian territory, and neighboring Arkansas as well. Former slaves from the five tribes that held slaves were among the soldiers that fought in these battles. 

The Civil War service records capture much personal information on the individual soldiers themselves, and Freedmen descendants are encourage to study the Civil War in depth. There was a large encampment of Freedmen at Ft. Gibson during and after the war. In addition, former soldiers of the US colored Troops hold a wealth of genealogical data as well.

The soldiers came from all of the tribes. 

Amos Adair - a Cherokee slave, enlisted in the US Army in 1862.


Amos Adair served in the 79th US Colored Infantry. 

From the Choctaw Nation came Aaron Newberry who served in the 83rd US Colored Infantry.




Isaac Alexander was from the Chickasaw Nation, and also served in the 79th US Colored Infantry. He later became a leader among Chickasaw Freedmen.

Service card of Isaac Alexander, Chickasaw Freedmen. 


Solomon Renty was one of many Creek Soldiers who served in the US Colored Troops. He is believed to be a part of the Rentie family who later established  and settled in the town of Rentiesville.

Service card of Solomon Renty, 83rd US Colored Infantry


Billy Island was in the 79th US Colored Infantry. He first enlisted in the 1st Kansas Colored, and the unit was later changed to the 79th. Further research with Dawes Records revealed that Billy Island was a Seminole Freedmen and a member of the Barkus Band. His name was found on Seminole Freedman Card 621, and was revealed as the father to the children of Easter Island.



Clearly, former slaves from all of the Five Tribes, seized freedom when the opportunity came. The history of the units, the battles and skirmishes in which they fought, and the story of the Indian Territory Civil War events should all be incorporated into the family narrative.

Note that the Kansas Colored was the first black regiment to fight the enemy in the Civil War, as they were in the Battle of Island Mound, in Missouri as early as 1862. By learning more about the battle, one will learn more about the soldier in that unit. For every battle that can documented--there is an opportunity to tell more of the story of the Freedman ancestor's story. If they were there--that is part of their story and should be part of the Freedman family narrative.

Remember the Freedmen's Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, is commonly known as the Freedmen's Bureau. The Ft. Smith field office of the Bureau, served people in Indian Territory as well as former slaves in nearby Arkansas. Many people were left destitute after the war, and therefore needed food, clothing, and shelter. The Bureau was there to provide assistance to those in need. The document below reflects a list of people receiving rations. And surprisingly more whites and Cherokee citizens received rations than former slave from the Ft. Smith area.

Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen & Abandoned Lands, Ft. Smith Field Office
Record Group 105. National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 8

The Civil War era holds so much data for the Oklahoma Freedman researcher, and it is hoped that when you are ready to move beyond the Dawes Records, that military records as well as records reflecting the general population will assist you as you expand the story of the family's history.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Remembering the August "Freedom Celebrations" in Indian Territory

Little is spoken about the lives of those once enslaved in Indian Territory. However, it is from the details of the people that history can be found. The issue of slavery practiced in Indian Territory is often ignored by historians of Oklahoma, historians of the Five tribes where enslaved people lived, and unfortunately largely forgotten by the descendants of those enslaved as well.

Thankfully there are a few stories that were captured and the Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma has many of those long forgotten stories in the Indian Pioneer Papers. This is the month of August and for a period of at least 50 years after slavery ended in Indian Territory, the freed people, as well as their descendants celebrated their own release from bondage. These emancipation celebrations were widespread and freedmen from all of the five tribes. Well into the 20th century, such celebrations were known to be held in the month of August. With time, most celebrations were held around the 4th of August, in many Freedmen communities. Sadly, much of that tradition is now lost and today thousands of descendants are oblivious to the many yearly traditions honoring their ancestors and celebrating freedom.

As August quickly wanes it is important to note the words left by some who shared their memories of such celebrations. One of the field workers for the Indian Pioneer Papers project was Elizabeth Ross, who described Emancipation celebrations that occurred in the Cherokee Nation, and her notes are stored with the collection and are recorded here:

"Freedmen Celebration"

"During a number of years when the Cherokee government was in existence, it was a custom of the freedmen or former slaves  and their descendants to observe the 4th day of August as the anniversary of their emancipation. As a matter of historical fact, the Cherokee emancipation was issued in the month of February 1863. Just why the August date was selected is not clear, but many were of the belief that the fourth day of that month was the date upon which freedom became their possession.

At Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory the Four Mile Branch, east of Fort Gibson, and at other places, there were held during the years largely attended picnics, at which there was speaking, singing, and bountiful repasts. Noted speakers, prominent white men, Cherokee officials and others often attended the observances. Besides a great variety of other food products, barbecued beef, mutton and pork were provided in abundance, all being spread upon long tables in the shade of the trees, in the vicinity of a spring of water. One of the most largely attended anniversary picnics was that which was held at Tahlequah at the close of the seventies of the last century. A long line of horsemen was formed on the banks of a small stream nearly a mile south of the town, and then a procession headed by a ma*n with drawn sword beside whom rode another man carrying a United States flag rode back and through the main street of Tahlequah. The mounted men sang patriotic songs in far-reaching tones, and halted at the chosen place of meeting which was on level and shaded ground near the vicinity of the large spring at the north end of the main street. The spring was years later designated as the Seminary spring, the Cherokee National Female Seminary having been completed a short distance north of the spring in 1889.

The young persons in attendance indulged in games and older persons "reminisced" of bygone years. A large number of the old time negro people were then alive, some of them having been brought to Indian Territory from the "Old Nation" east of the Mississippi River, at the time of the great Cherokee removal in 1838-39.

At later dates the celebrations were held on the "May party Grounds"  on the (...words missing from image...) of Tahlequah. This was the spot upon which was held the annual 7th of May anniversary holiday which was observed by the National high schools in commemoration of the opening of the Seminaries at the beginning of the fifties of the nineteenth century. On what was probably the last emancipation celebration at this picnic ground, considerable trouble prevailed. There was a revolver firing and a horse was killed, and a man received a painful but not dangerous wound.

In later years the celebration was usually held in the Four Mile Branch locality, in which lived a number of Freedmen and their descendants. The very few older negroes now living recall having seen large and enthusiastic crowds at the annual observance in long past years.

Authority:  E. P. Parris, and Dennis Hendricks"
  * * * * *

In September of 1937, Billie Byrd was an interviewer in the Pioneer project as well. She spoke at length with Aaron Grayson who was a Creek Freedmen. He too spoke in depth about the celebrations in the territory. In addition to the Creeks, it appears that Seminoles also joined in the celebrations as well. The notes made by Billie Byrd from that interview are transcribed below:

"Celebrations
An Interview with Aaron Grayson, freedman
of Hitchita Town (Tulwa), Okemah Okla."

Billie Byrd Interviewer
Indian Pioneer History
9-10-37

There was an annual celebration held each year from the period from 1870 on up until the early part of 1900, which was held by negroes and freedmen. The white people observed Independence day on July 4th while the colored people observed the Emancipation day on August 4th. The observance of this Emancipation proclamation was mainly for and by negroes and freedmen, yet the Indians and whites were welcome to attend the celebrations.

There were always good times, because no one became drunk, quarrelsome or tried to pick a fight but only a feeling of good comradeship was felt by all who participated in the events. Of course the Lighthorsement and United States marshals were present to check any trouble and to keep peace and order. Many new acquaintances and lasting friendships were often made at these gatherings.

When a place was chosen where the celebrations were to be held, an American flag was set up and a cannon placed nearby which was fired at certain times. When the day of the celebration drew near, the best and the most highly spirited horses were taken care of by being well groomed and fed to have them in fine shape and rested up to ride that day. The saddles were all decorated with ornaments and fringes which were draped down on both sides of the horse. The rear part of the horse were (sic) mostly covered by heavy fringing and sometimes these fringes were decorated with German silver.

The Indian men who rode horses wore what seemed to be fancy costumes but they were the clothes that were being worn in everyday life. There was a coat which was made of fancy printed calico. These coats were not only worn during the celebration, but all the time. They were highly and fancy trimmed by very bright and vari-colored material, had a large cape collared and heavily trimmed. The sleeves just above the elbow length were further ornamented with colored ribbons that hung in streamers. The trouser legs were both gathered above the knees with ribbons and tied into a bow. If a ribbon was not used, the trouser leg was stiffly starched.

When the day of the great celebration arrived, the people did not come poking around one by one, but they came in a group or by bands, such as the Bruner band, Tokpafka band, etc. These people had assembled at one of the tribal towns from where they had come to the celebration as early as they could. They came on horses at a gallop, laughing and joking and yelling and were heard miles away before they finally came to the chosen place of the event.

When these groups reached the place of the celebration, the band would circle around the flag pole and the cannon was fired off, which was a sign for the people to take off to one side, for the other band to march around the flag pole and the cannon fired off again. There were always cheering words for one another of the participants and friendly greetings from friend to friend.

A queen was often chosen for the occasion by a majority vote of the people and there were always several girls running for this title. My sister was once elected queen. The queen was crowned with a crown made of silk material. The elected queen was given a divided riding skirt which had been made out of calico and the best decorated horse complete with saddle and other accessories was donated to the chosen queen to ride that day. The queen was free to ride anywhere she wished but there were two mounted attendants always at her side whose duties were to help the queen mount and dismount on and from her horse and in any way assist the queen even when a runaway occurred.

It was mostly the women who attended to the fixing the barbecue while the idle ones spent their time riding to and back to a certain place and in exchanging jokes, telling tales and other loud and boisterous fun.

When the refreshment hour rolled around it was then that the Indians showed why they were present because they had come for the eats mostly. At the close of the day, everyone felt that this was a day that had been well-spent in good fellowship. At the end of the day, different groups left for their homes with as much banter as they had gathered. 

These celebrations have been held in Wetumka, and Wewoka vicinity and the last even was held at Tuskegee, a country trading store north of Okemah........."

* * * * * 

Both of the interviews reflect a close and amicable relationship among the various populations found in both Cherokee, Creek Nations and from Grayson's interview it is clear that Seminoles also celebrated freedom in August as well. It is not clear if there were emancipation celebrations in Choctaw or Chickasaw Nations. Freedmen in the northernmost part of Choctaw country actually were geographically close to Cherokee communities, so it quite possible that Freedmen from Skullyville, Oak Lodge and other communities, would have attended the events in Tahlequah, or Ft. Gibson.

The celebrations of those years also reflect an amiable rapport between Freedmen and tribal leaders. Socially the Freedmen and those "by blood" were not strangers to each other. And most notably, the tribal leaders did not hold anti-Freedmen sentiments, or exhibit blatant racial disdain that has been evidenced in recent years with leaders espousing various concerns about the Indian-ness of tribal Freedmen. Linguistic calisthenics are often played today, with clear lessons that can be learned from their ancestors of a century ago.

Perhaps with time, Freedmen descendants and other Territory descendants of the various tribes will revive a time of celebration of fellowship and camaraderie. Both communities, share the same historical landscape, they share the same soil, and the share the same history from the same trail. There is much to be learned from the ancestors.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Freedmen's Bureau Served Indian Territory Also

The recent news about the indexing initiative launched by Family Search last week from Los Angeles has thousands of people looking at the Freedmen's Bureau records. The  Bureau, known officially as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, and it operated after the Civil War to bring about order to the lives of the millions of people affected by the War.

The newly freed slaves were among the largest populations served, thus the name, Freedmen's Bureau. But it should be noted that there were many white refugees left destitute by the war, who received rations. And the least of the known facts about the bureau, are the facts that citizens from the nearby Indian tribes were also served by the Freedmen's Bureau. Most of the Indians who are reflected in Bureau records are Cherokee Indians.

Source: National Archives Publication M1901 Roll 8, Ft. Smith Field Office


For this ration distribution list, most of the recipient appears in 1867. Though many of the recipients were Cherokee, a few Choctaw Indians also appeared at the bureau for assistance as well.


A recent article was shared on my other blog MyAncestor's Name reflecting all of the pages from the Ft. Smith field office, and reflects all of the people to whom rations were distributed at that time.

It should be pointed out that there were several Civil War battles fought in Indian Territory from Cabin Creek, to Honey Springs, and small skirmishes in other places, especially in the Cherokee Nation. The people living in the vicinity of these battles would have been equally as traumatized as citizens in other communities in the South. Many were left without shelter, and without food for some time, Therefore the presences of the western Arkansas field office in Ft. Smith served to bring relief and assistance to those also from Indian Territory.

These records reflect those times, and these records also hold to the keys to many unwritten chapters of Civil War history and its aftermath.

The records are now part of a major indexing initiative, in partnership with the Smithsonian, Family Search, and the Afro-American Genealogical and Historical Society.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cherokee Freedmen Voting, Since the 1800s

"I cast my first vote for chief of this Nation in August 1895, but the first vote that I cast was cast at the election of the Mayor of Tahlequah in the spring on 1895". ~ Ave Vann son of Clora and Joe Turk Vann.
          ~~~~    ~~~~    ~~~~~ 

An interesting post today was shared in social media from a recent article from the Cherokee Phoenix pertaining to the upcoming elections. A letter from the BIA acting Regional Director was written earlier in the month declining to approve LA-04-14, an act to amend the election code of the tribe. A recent phone call between Cherokee Nation representatives and the Department of the Interior addressed the intentions of the tribe to comply with an order from 2011. That particular order from September 2011 came from the United States District Court. 
According to the Phoenix article "That order was set to ensure all Freedmen voters would have the opportunity to participate in the election of the Principal Chief as well as give access to and have rights and benefits the same as all Cherokee Nation citizens." I personally found this to be especially interesting, because this week, while engaging in research for a client, from a Civil War Pension file from the 1890s I found a unexpected reference to a vote in the Cherokee Freedman, by the voter himself.

The case was that of a Civil War widow. Her name was Clora Vann, and her husband was one of the under-mentioned soldiers from the Civil War--black soldiers of the Indian Home Guards. There were several dozen men of African Descent who served in the Indian Home Guards. The soldier in this case was Joseph "Turk" Vann, who served in Company M of the 3rd Regiment of the Indian Home Guards.  He was also referred to as Joe Turkey, and Turk Vann, by many who knew him in his regiment.

Civil War General Index to Pensions 1864-1934, Washington, D.C.
National Archives and Records Administration  T288 546 rolls


After the former soldier's death in the 1890s his widow Clora Vann who lived in Tahlequah filed for a widow's pension. She was awarded her pension after she was able to establish proof that she was truly married to this Union Army veteran.

Among many pieces of "proof" were the testimonies and depositions made by the men who served with her husband, and who knew them to be husband and wife. The file was full of many references to his history, his ties to the well known wealthy Vann slaveholders,  and the other Vanns of Tahlequah. The file also makes many references to the soldier's name, as he was often known by a Cherokee Name as well as name "Turk" and "Turkey" in English.

But another item caught my eye from one of the witnesses. That came from her son, Ave, who also spoke on his mother's behalf.  A question arose about his age. To respond to the question of age he pointed out that he met the age requirement in the Cherokee Nation as a voter was 18 and that he was old enough to have cast a vote in recent elections.

From Widow's Pension file of Clora Vann,
widow of Joe Turk Vann, Company M, Indian Home Guards

Ave Vann's statement about casting his vote stood out and caught my attention, especially since the issue of the upcoming vote and the rights of Cherokee Freedmen is still an issue. (Interestingly the soldier Joe "Turk" Vann was the son of as well as the slave of one of the old Vanns of Tahlequah, including the family of the elder Ave Vann well known in the tribe at that time. And as the file reflected, his own son also bore the same name.)

It is often debated even today by many, in the nation that Cherokee Freedmen had no part in the nation, and never participated in the affairs of the nation, yet, here was a file of a man who served with one of the few Union regiments from Indian Territory. (Most Cherokee regiments were, in fact southern sympathizers and fought with the Confederates.) The son of the soldier in this case clearly pointed out his own participation in his nation as a citizen and as a voter. And as he pointed out that when he was of voting age his voting was never challenged by the Cherokee Nation. "I just handed in my ticket like the rest, and my name was put down on the list. 

As issues of the upcoming elections still address the rights of Freedmen, the pages of history reflect that the Freedmen were there, living under the laws, and participating in the electoral process.

Hopefully the historical presence of those once enslaved in the Cherokee Nation will be acknowledged, and will not be wiped out by malicious expulsion votes, nor maligned by the linguistic calisthenics thrown by some individuals labeling Cherokee Freedmen descendants as  "non-Indian Freedmen".  Carefully, they never referred to Freedmen descendants as called "non-Cherokee" Freedmen, because they can't dispute that in fact, that is what they truly were.
It is hoped that those of all of the respective nations from the pre-statehood Territory, with ties to the nations of their ancestors' birth, will all be recognized for their human presence, and contribution to the tribes, by their labor, their service and their lives.