Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Expanding the Entire Genealogical Experience

It is always a pleasure to meet other Oklahoma Freedmen researchers, while traveling. Recently while attending the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank California, it was wonderful to meet some new researchers who also have roots in Indian Territory, and to Freedman communities.

We had some wonderful conversations, including a desire to see more activity from the Genealogy DNA community, more in active social media, and a greater presence in national genealogical events.

I was also thrilled and honored to see a fellow speaker at the conference who also is a Cherokee Freedman descendant as well--Nicka Sewell-Smith, a direct descendant of Ike Rogers. (Her ancestor is the noted US Deputy Marshall, and she has direct ties also to Clement Vann Rogers, from the Cherokee Nation.)

In the course of several discussions, two issues stand out about the need for more genealogists to emerge from the community and to become actively engaged in the genealogical community in general.

1) That engagement goes beyond looking at Indian Territory, but also looking at those communities when possible, that were part of our ancestors' life before removal. Emigration rolls, prior to removal can give some fascinating insights about the lives of our ancestors in the earlier part of the 19th century and should be explored.

2) If some of your ancestors were not I.T. Freedmen, but the families also included "state " people, it is important to note that all histories are important, all ancestors make us who we are, and all lines deserve equal attention in the genealogical journey. Of particular interest for those whose ancestors were enslaved in the states, are the records of the Freedmen's Bureau. This record set has recently been indexed by Family Search, and offers many options for research. It should also be pointed out that the Bureau also served Indian Territory. (A full article appeared on the African-Native Genealogy Blog, about the Bureau and its service to Indians, Blacks and whites.)

Sample record from the western Arkansas 
Freedmen's Bureau serving people from Indian Territory as well as Arkansas.
Source: National Archives Publication M1901, Roll 8, Ft. Smith Field Office

3) There are other aspects of our work, including preservation. Historical landmarks have disappeared on many levels and there needs to be far more effort from I.T. Freedman descendants to work to preserve cemeteries, such as Old Agency Cemetery, and to seek and identify other neglected burial grounds, and become engaged in efforts to preserve them. (A future article will focus on the neglect of historical burial sites such as the Creek Freedman burial ground in Muskogee with Town Kings and Warriors graves buried under toppled six foot markers.) In addition--contribution of burial sites to sites like Find-A-Grave, and Billion Graves, needs to be part of more than one or two concerned people. We need to understand the contribution of burials to the larger genealogical community.

4) Join the larger genealogy community, both online, and in person. The activity of engagement extends beyond websites--but there is a live-online community. Google Hangouts, Periscope, Vokle, Snap-chat, are among a few of the options and communication platforms now available online. Recently on Google Hangouts we had a great discussion about records from Indian Territory. The new platforms from technology are there--and as I.T. Freedmen descendants we need to utilize them, and become a part of the well-connected genealogy community.

MAAGI - The Teaching Institute

5) Hopefully in the future, there will be more I.T. Freedmen visibility on the national level at conferences, webinars, and institutes. In the past several years, the Samford Genealogical institute featured a track on the Five Civilized Tribes. Participants even came from around the country, including speakers from the Oklahoma Historical Society. However, few, if any I.T. Freedman descendants have attended the institute. The Midwest African American Genealogy Institute, now going into its 4th year which has also had Freedman descendants among the speakers. Yet, few with Oklahoma roots have attended to expand their genealogical skills.  It was great however, to meet some I.T. Freedman descendants at the recent Southern California Genealogy Jamboree! Some were speakers and several were attendees. (Two Choctaw Freedman descendants and one Cherokee Freedman descendant were among the faculty.)

6) Wider social media presence can be extremely useful for I.T. Freedman descendants. There are several Freedmen groups already on Facebook. But just as there is room for multiple groups to thrive on multiple platforms, there is plenty of room for more interaction as well. On Facebook, there are 3 groups that have some visibility and focus on Freedmen: Black and Red Journal, Oklahoma & Indian Territory Reader, Cherokee Freedmen Descendants. There is also an interesting group devoted to Muskogee  African American History and Art.

Three history-focused groups on Facebook

In addition to the groups above a smaller group is also on Facebook devoted to the litigants of Equity Case 7071, headed by Bettie Ligon. That group is known as Bettie's List.

The opportunities for live contact online has surfaced, and thanks to Nicka Smith, a Cherokee Freedman descendant who is well versed in technology--a recent Google Hangout series has emerged, and most recently there was a hangout discussing Indian Territory records. This series is sponsored by Black Pro Gen, a group of African American professional genealogists who meet regularly online to discuss techniques and research strategies with each other and to share their insights and tips with each other and with the live audience.

Black Pro Gen meets on Google Hangout platform 
and a recent hangout was featured on Vokle platform.

7) As was mentioned in an early post this month there is an enormous body of genealogists connecting through DNA testing! The autosomal tests are a great way to connect with lost cousins, and to solve family history mysteries. A few have undertaken DNA testing and there is a possibility of some groups forming for DNA studies with the purpose of allowing others to connect and solve genealogy brick walls. Companies such as 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA are allowing researchers to expand in multiple generations! Join that community of thousands to make new family connections. The DNA community is one of the largest segments of the genealogy community and you are encouraged to join it.

Clearly there is a very wide genealogical audience, and one that has plenty of room for more descendants of Freedmen to join. The energy is high and the interaction is dynamic and stimulating! Let's exapnd our network and connect!

There is a new generation of millenials and Generation X'ers who are new to the community, and they too are seeking their history. Many of them have roots that are part of our history as well! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where are the Freedman DNA Testers?

I have just returned from the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree (one of the big 3 genealogy conferences), where I was honored to be a speaker. 

While there, I met a woman who is a Choctaw Freedman descendant and we had an interesting discussion about DNA autosomal tests. Autosomal tests are the tests that reflect ethnic percentages, because they look at the distribution of all 23 chromosomes, as well as the X chromsome (female inherited traits). 

(Note---our discussion was NOT a discussion about Indian blood. This was not a focus, nor was there discussion about trying to enroll in a tribe.)

Our focus was about family, family history, and finding lost relatives. We also discussed the many DNA study projects where genealogists who have done autosomal testing, and whether or not many or any descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen have been using DNA to solve genealogical questions.

In the genealogy community DNA is discussed online in many arenas and researchers are sharing their data and methods of interpretation with each other widely. Also family historians are getting research questions answered and news strategies of how to navigate the world of DNA and Genealogy in various groups online.

For those who are unaware, there are thousands of people who take autosomal tests, the most popular tests being AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and FamilyTreeDNA. These three tests reflect not only ethnic percentages in one's lineage, but also assist genealogists with locating relatives, close and distant. Many have been able to find cousins previously unknown who descend from a common grandparent, or great grandparent, or even great great grandparent.

The goal for many is to reconstruct families that were affected by slavery. With African Americans whose ancestors descend from Indian tribal Freedmen, there was also been much separation of families in the past, due to buying and selling of slaved people, efforts during the Civil War to keep the enslaved from escaping to Freedom such as Texas. Later there was the post Civil War migration, and there is also the 20th century period of the Great Migration. As a result, many people from Oklahoma and Indian Territory, have relatives scattered throughout the country and the family network was torn or scattered over the years.

As a genealogist with a strong interest in the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, I have seen that many families from Indian Territory often married to Freedmen from other tribes. So one may have an ancestor who was a Choctaw Freedman, but one parent was a Creek, or Cherokee, or Chickasaw Freedman. With time, the descending family took on identity of one of the parents, and within a few years, after migration to the north or  the far west, the identity and family connections faded.

But--autosomal DNA testing is now helping genealogists find those missing cousins, and many projects have emerged in the genealogy community to study various groups, and many are being conducted by the researchers themselves.

The young lady with whom I spoke is a Choctaw Freedman descendant, and has a strong interest in such a project. I shared her thoughts with another person, Nicka Smith--a Cherokee Freedman descendant (and direct descendant of Ike Rogers) who was also a presenter at the Jamboree. As a result, she actually made an inquiry with one of the autosomal companies, at the conference that welcomes DNA community projects.

The response from FamilyTree DNA was that projects of all kinds are welcome among those who have tested with their company. This is a notation from one of the companies:

I also want to point out that there are several DNA communities in social media where African American researchers are engaging, and finding new family members all the time. Others are getting help with their DNA results and are helping others in not only interpreting their data, but also in helping them with the next strategy to unlock more family history. The activity is dynamic, but I have noticed that it is rare to see descendants with ties to Oklahoma and/or Indian Territory, and even fewer with ties to the Indian tribal Freedmen.

Several questions have arisen for me:
1) How many descendants of Freedman from Oklahoma have taken autosomal DNA tests? (NOTE---the tests conducted by African Ancestry several  years ago was NOT an autosomal test.) The tests would be with  23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, and AncestryDNA.

2) With which company have you tested?

3) Have you uploaded your data to Gedmatch?  (If one has already tested with those companies, then one can submit their raw data (a few computer clicks away) to a site called Gedmatch, that allows people to share their data with those who have tested from different companies to find missing cousins. This service is available for free.)

One of the features offered by the DNA autosomal tests that provide ethnic percentages of one's background. However, it should also be noted that these tests cannot be used for anyone seeking enrollment in a federally recognized tribe. The benefit is for the participant's personal interest in their own genetic makeup and history.

I took an autosomal test with 23andMe and received the following data from the test. (see image below.)

4) If there are some who have tested with those companies, would there be an interest in joining a DNA study to connect with other "lost cousins"?

How much are the tests?
For those who are new to autosomal testing, it should be pointed out that these tests are not cheap, but occasionally around holidays, the companies will offer a sale where the test kit can be purchased with a good discount. Some families have made the DNA testing effort a joint family effort with various members donating to the family's own DNA project.

Who should be tested?
If you are considering going into the DNA aspect of family history then you want to consider who should submit the DNA sample. 1) I recommend that you start with yourself, but if funds permit, then 2) Then test a parent or grandparent. That will allow you later to determine where a DNA match is coming from and on which side of the family a "new cousin" is located.

Join the Wider Community
Consider joining the larger community of researchers, genealogists and DNA participants. Not only are they taking the tests to learn more of their personal history but their interaction with others is a d dynamic experience.

I hope that more Freedmen Descendants will be a part of a fascinating community.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

In The Press: Loans to Creek Freedmen Farmers

Ad from Muskogee Cimeter, September 22, 1904, page 4
Original image from Oklahoma Historical Society.
Link from Library of Congress, Chronicling America

An interesting advertisement was noticed in the Muskogee Cimeter that appeared regularly in that publication in the early part of the 20th century. The ad ran in the classified section of this African American newspaper that operated in Muskogee.

The advertisement appeared before Oklahoma statehood, which occurred in 1907, and it ran while the well known Dawes Commission was still operating. This commission was created to interview citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes, and to determine who was eligible among the citizens of each tribe, for land allotments. The allotment process operated officially between 1898-1914, with the last several years focusing on adding children who were born after 1906 and who were to be added before the rolls closed.

Among the many people eligible for allotments of land, were Creek Freedmen, in addition to the Indian Tribal Freedmen from other former slave holding tribes as well. The allotment of land gave different amounts of land to the citizens of the nations, with some tribes treating Freedmen differently as was also common in many places in the southern part of the United States. With Creek Freedmen however, it is generally noted that Creek Freedmen receive 160 acres as did others designated as citizens of the nation.

What caught my attention was that an Abstract company based in Muskogee, placed an advertisement in a black newspaper about their services and that farm loans were available specifically for them. It was noticed that Creek Freedmen were mentioned specifically among those who may have been eligible for loans, if they were already farming on their land.

Now it is well known that in the years after statehood, many citizens of the various tribes lost  their land due to actions from land grafters, and others questionable parties offering "assistance" to the new land owners. Within a short time those land owners would later find that they had signed away their own title to their land, unintentionally. It is not known who many were, and how many companies or single individuals were part of the effort to seize land from tribal citizens.

Historians, W. David Baird, and Daniel Glover, addressed the issue of the loss of land in Creek country. Their work, Oklahoma: A History, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, pointed out that the presence of land sharks and land grafters was a problem during those years. In the years while the Dawes process was unfolding, there were people in place offering services to Indian tribal citizens and often within a short time, people had unknowingly signed away their rights to their own land.

Image from Online E-book Link
Oklahoma: A History by W. David Baird, and Daniel Glover.

Studying the advertisement made many questions come to my mind.
Were loans made to unsuspecting land owners?
Were the terms of the loans made among some that may have allowed the leasing of lands?
Were some of the loans made including a clause of transfer of ownership to the lenders in some way?

The fact that Creek Freedmen were invited to apply for loans through a company whose purpose was determining land titles makes one ask questions. Allotments made to citizens of the tribes should have been clear from the beginning, and the need for an abstract company does seem unusual.

There are no quick answers to these questions, and there is nothing to indicate clearly what happened and how many transactions were ever made with Freedmen or other citizens of the Creek Nation. Very little is known about the company making loans to Creek Freedmen as reflected in the advertisement shown above. It is noted however, that this was an abstract company and not a bank or savings and loan, or a recognized financial institution.

So why does the ad appear in this publication pointing out that Creek Freedmen were particularly eligible for loans? Possibly because the newspaper's readership may have consisted of a large number of Creek Freedmen who were new land owners in Muskogee, Summit, Taft, Okmulgee and other parts of the Creek Nation. And possibly the readers were among those who were now living and working upon their allotted lands.

The company cited in the above ad was called the Midland Abstract Company, and it was operated by James L. Lombard, Chas. H. Lombard, and D. G. Wilson. A search from the 1910 and 1900 census years did not reflect these men, so it is not known how long the company may have existed. It is hoped that the company was a legitimate one serving the community. And hopefully their services offered by Midland Abstract Company were the standard services made by traditional abstract companies, and that individuals who sought loans, did not lose their land.

(This article is part of a series of articles devoted on this blog to Indian Territory Freedmen. Many newspapers throughout the regions frequently carried stories about the Indian Tribal Freedmen (their formerly enslaved families and descendants of those families). These publications can be useful tools for researchers seeking more of the greater story. This is a companion series to Gems from the Black Press, found on another blog, My Ancestor's Name.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Estate Record in Cherokee Nation Bequeathing Slaves

Estate record of John Sanders, of Cherokee Nation, 17 April, 1847
OHS Microfilm: CHN 38  Digitized by Ancestry - Original Title: Old Marriage Record - Flint District, 
Image 214 of 717


(Transcription of two paragraphs from above image):

"To Charles Sanders, my son, one Negro Man by the name of Alfred, and his wife Tilda. My farm lying on Salisaw Creek, known as the farm, whereon I have formerly lived, and one yoke of oxen, one wagon, all my stock of hogs, and also one half of my stock of cattle."

"To my daughter Elizabeth, I give her one half of my stock of cattle, and I give unto my daughter Pagy, one Negro girl Lucy."


While examining the thousands of pages from the Cherokee Nation that were digitized 2 years ago, I was surprised to come upon some estate record. This set of records comes from an Oklahoma Historical Society microfilm, CHN 38 and is entitled Old Marriage Records Flint District. However, it was a surprise to see that within this small set of records a ledger that begins with a last will of a Charles Sanders leaving his children enslaved people as part of their inheritance.

A majority of the records entered into the ledger were dated after the Civil War, but this document from 1847 is rare for many reasons. First, it is uncommon to find estate records from pre-Civil War Indian Territory. The county system and court-house repositories from that time period do not exist and if there are probate records of any kind from the Territory, they may be private collections and are not in the public domain.

Secondly, to find a document prior to the Civil War from Indian Territory reflecting ownership of slaves by anyone living in the Territory is rare. Slavery as an institution practiced on the western frontier is not widely studied and rarely taught. Slavery in the Cherokee Nation, and likewise in the other tribes where slaves were held in bondage, is not included in the historical narrative of the tribes themselves, so it is truly remarkable that such a document survived, and that such a document was microfilmed.

Thirdly, the discourse of slavery in the Territory and has yet to unfold. Some of it has become known to a larger audience when descendants of the enslaved have sought to have their rights as citizens recognized. Similar to that in the deep south, true historical scholarship on American slavery unfolded as the occurrence of a struggle for rights of oppressed African Americans increased. Perhaps as the struggles of oppressed people increase, so too one sees an increase in the history of the same population.

Several years ago I studied runaway slave ads in Indian Territory press, and have found some in the Choctaw Intelligencer, as well as early issues of the Cherokee Phoenix & Indian Advocate. The discussion of slavery brings about discomfort for many. But discomfort among those of the dominant culture is also the discomfort that brings about change. It is that discomfort that makes people examine their own values, and pre-conceived notions about people whom they have never sought to know, and often later learn that there are more similarities than differences.

In the earlier days of the "current" movement from the Freedmen community, many would whisper that Freedmen were descendants of "slaves" as if that in itself put the shame upon those who never enslaved themselves--and many would use the term as if the ancestors of the Freedmen, had committed the crime of their enslavement themselves. The fact being of course that many (not all) of the ancestors of the dominant culture were the actual perpetrators of the heinous act of enslavement of others.

But---with more exposure, and voice from the oppressed, comes the courage to look at the history with a different eye. Not an eye of discomfort and distance, and disdain, but with an eye of comfort--with oneself and one's ability to see oneself, and to see the humanity of those once oppressed as part of the human family.

Partial list of the slaves of John Ross, from 1860 Slave Schedule
"Lands West of Arkansas" 1860 Slave Schedule, Tahlequah District p. 26
Image can be accessed on Internet Archive (Image 863 of 865)

And that gives one freedom to study the history objectively and not to hide it. That gives all of the tribes to mention the practice of slavery among their historical leaders, from Ross, to Pitchlynn, to Love, to Bowleggs, to McIntosh. To tell the story of American history without mentioning slavery is to put a gaping gash of omission on that historical narrative which leaves it flawed. To tell the story of Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminoles, without the story of slavery is to put a gash of omission on that historical narrative as well.

Hopefully more documents will emerge to tell some of that story. The purpose of studying them, is not to accuse, but to learn more about the human family of which we are all a part.

(Entire image. For citation, see above)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

African American Families from the Mississippi Choctaw Files

National Archives Publication M1186, Enrollment Cards
Mississippi Choctaw Rejected MCR 1112
Color Image Source: Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2014.

The rejected files of the Mississipi Choctaw (MCR files) reflect rich data for family history and those with ties to Mississippi, and who have heard that there are family ties to Choctaws, and to Choctaw communities, will find that this record set could yield some amazing data.

Do not be dismayed that this information comes from a record set marked "Rejected". There are many reasons why an ancestor's history could be found among these records. Some of the reasons are cultural, some political, some historical and some social. All of the reasons were used with the MCR files, and vary from one file to another. But it should be understood that these records were created by persons in the late 1800s, and early 1900s who stated that they had Choctaw family ties, and many of them provided remarkable family information. Regardless of the reason for the final outcome of the case the status of the family record among the MCR files should not prevent the family researcher from exploring the files.

In the case above, the application was for Frank Nicholas, and his children Rosaline and Frank Jr. They lived in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

The Dawes Commission interview went into great detail about the family background and sought to determine how the Choctaw blood was part of the family history.

National Archives Publication M1301 MCR 1112
Applications for Enrollment of the Commission to the
Five Civilized Tribes 1898-1914
Image Source:

In this case the detail extracted from the applicant went into detail about the source of the Choctaw ancestry. The applicant was examined as to whether claim was being made under Article 14 of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit. This line of questioning was common among most cases in the MCR category. In this case the applicant repeated what had been told to him most of his life about his own ancestry.
Source: Same as above

Source: Same as above

The application jacket for this family was closely connected to additional files, it is imperative that all of the files are combined to glean thorough information about the family. From the same files for Frank Nicholas, references are made to additional family members who also submitted applications.

Source: Same as above

After analyzing the cases of the additional relatives it was decided that there was not sufficient evidence to prove the Choctaw connection, since there was no attempt in earlier  years to be enrolled as Choctaw citizens.

In spite of this decision--it is also clear that an unexpected gem awaits the researcher. In the course of the many interview questions, careful notes were taken on the case and this was one of the cases where a hand drawn, multiple generation pedigree chart was included. For any researcher this is a real treasure to find. Because of the complex questions asked, additional names of relatives and they were included in the Frank family file.
Multiple generation pedigree chart in file
Source: Same as above

It should also be pointed out that there are over 35 pages in the family file. These pages along with the files for the additional family members are extremely valuable in piecing together the family narrative.

Regarding the family tie to the Choctaws, there may have truly been one, with the evident mixed race ancestry of the family, but because the cultural ties had long been cut, this particular family was not officially identified by the Dawes commission, and was thus placed among the MCR files. Thankfully, the family data will still direct the researcher to the family members, and from that information, more of the family story can be told.

***** ***** *****
Additional Files Related to Frank Family

All files shown above are from National Archives Publication M1186 and all persons mentioned on the above enrollment cards have ties to the same family as Frank Nicholas. There are accompanying application jackets (M1301) and all will hold some unique facts that will be useful to the researcher.

It is strongly recommended that persons of Mississippi ancestral ties explore these records. The images of the enrollment cards reside on Fold3, as well as Ancestry, with the Ancestry images presented in color. (The application jackets NARA publication M1301, are only in black and white on each site.)

There are more than 7000 MCR files and a first examination of the MCR files indicate that over 2000 of them reflect African-American families stating family ties to Choctaws of Mississippi.

Monday, February 15, 2016

In the Press: Creek Freedmen in the Dawes Era

(This is part of a series of articles that I shall devote on this blog, to Indian Territory Freedmen. Many newspapers throughout the region frequently carried stories about Indian tribal Freedmen, and these publications can be useful tools for researchers seeking more of the greater story.This is also a companion series to Gems from the Black Press found on another blog, My Ancestor's Name.)

Source: Daily Ardmorite, August 23, 1898, p1
  • The Daily Ardmoreite. (Ardmore, Okla.), 28 Aug. 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Accessed HERE.
Both 19th and 20th century newspapers reflect much local history and I continue to use them as tools to tell more of the story. Sometimes the story can also be reflected in the press from the local territory. In 1898, the daily paper from Ardmore Oklahoma known as The Daily Ardmoreite, contained an article about Creek Freedmen. In this particular article, references to the earlier Dunn Roll of 1867, are made, noting the growth of the population of Creek Freedmen from the time of freedom to the time of the Dawes Commission.

(Source: Same as above)

Interestingly the article also makes a reference to the education of Freedmen in the Creek Nation. The "orphans home" that was mentioned was actually Evangel Mission, which today is the home of the Five Civilized Tribes Museum. The school was a Baptist Mission, and was established in 1883. (Note that in 2011 I wrote a detailed article about this school on the blog.)

Evangel Mission

Throughout the years, especially during the era of the Dawes Commission, articles about Indian tribal Freedmen appeared in the press. In 1904 an article from The Muskogee Cimeter described the last "rush" for Creek Freedmen to get on the rolls.
The Muskogee Cimeter, August 25, 1904 p. 1
The Muskogee cimeter. (Muskogee, Indian Territory, Okla.), 25 Aug. 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Image Accessed HERE.

(A Closer View of article)

Interestingly is the mention of the hopefully enrollees coming from great distances. What caught my attention was the mention of two Creek Freedmen (unnamed) who were know to have emigrated to West Africa. Interestingly there is a story of a community of Creek Freedmen who departed from an area not far from what is now IXL, Oklahoma

News in Other States 

Many publications in the Territory as well as in the United States frequently addressed the acquisition of land. From Missouri, an interesting article can be found in 1904 as well, and this article addressed the fact that many lands of Creeks were being swindled away from the land owners. The St. Louis Republic reported that more than 150,000 acres had been sold away from the original allottees.

St. Louis Republic, May 8, 1904 p 1
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress
Image Accessed HERE.

Though not directly genealogical in nature, articles from late 19th century and early 20th century can reflect many events and can assist researchers in enhancing the family story. By sharing the challenges that Dawes enrolled ancestors faced both during and after alltments, a better version of the family story can be told.

It is hoped that these articles will encourage many others to explore the many digitized newspapers and will find more

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 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 Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Marriage, Citizenship and Census Records, 1841-1927 [database on-line].
Provo, UT, USA: 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.