Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Old Muskogee Newspaper Reveals Indian Freedmen Population. Greater Need for Study Emerges

Source of article: Muskogee Cimeter, Muskogee, I.T., January 4, 1906 p. 2

How many Freedmen from the Five Civilized Tribers were there?  A few hundred? A thousand?
Officially, 91, 637 members of the Five Tribes were enrolled. So how many were Freedmen from the various nations?

Well, while looking at old newspapers an article in a 1906 edition of the Muskogee Cimeter, one of the many Black newspapers of the day, a question I am often asked, was answered.

During the years when the Dawes Commission was winding down the process of enrolling all of the citizens for the Five Civilized Tribes, thousands of families had gone through the enrollment process.  As the rolls were about to close in 1906 prior to statehood, a thorough assessment was made of the population within each tribe. (The process would actually continue until 1914 when minor children who were born after the initial process began would be later added and then all would close.)

However, when many people speak of the Dawes Rolls it is not fully known what the actual numbers of people were, including the Freedmen of the Five tribes.

While looking at old newspapers online an article in a 1906 edition of the Muskogee Cimeter, one of the many Black newspapers of the day, the actual numbers were presented.

Officially, 91, 637 members of the Five Tribes were enrolled.

Source: Same as listed above

Source: Same as above

Indian Freedmen Population in 1906:

Cherokee Freedmen 3982
Choctaw Freedmen 5254
Chickasaw Freedmen 4995
Creek Freedmen 5585
Seminole Freedmen 857 (+ 93 children born later)
Total number of Freedmen from Indian Territory:  20,766

An opportunity for scholars

Twenty thousand people! The number of Freedmen from Indian Territory is an impressive number and clearly this is a population that deserves to studied from every academic perspective. Historians have at least made efforts to document the history in the past 50 years. But academicians  have much work that can be done within their discipline.

Sociologists can study how the Freedmen of these Five Indian Tribes fared and how eventually their status and recognition would change as the decades of the 20th century passed.

Psychologists can pursue issues of identity and self definition by analyzing the many oral histories and working with those who embrace this identity today.

Anthropologists have yet to begin to study the cultural norms and language, a burial practices of Freedmen and how they have changed over time.

Archeaologists have much to explore---to find the remnants of the slave dwellings of Robert Jones, wealthy Choctaw who had over 500 slaves and who is known to have been the largest Indian slave holder.

 The schools built by and for Freedmen are mere memories. From Tushka Lusa, to Oak Hill Academy, to Dawes Academy, to the Cherokee Colored High School, to the Tullahassee Mission School--all are gone and the locations of most of these schools are now forgotten. There is much to do from the academic community and hopefully the lives of 20,000 people, all citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes, will stimulate the interest of scholars from the Dubois Institute, to the Smithsonian.  

Legal scholars have many avenues to explore, for each tribe had their own relationship with their Freedmen. Some were inclusive and some were continually exclusive and distant.

But all deserve to be studied.

Many of us were proud of the work of scholar and friend Tiya Miles who receieved a Macarthur Award for her work on Cherokee and the African Cherokee experience. And she is part of a small group of scholars who have explored the history of Freedmen, but we need more. Most of the activity involving exploration of Oklahoma Freedmen history revolves around the efforts of a handful of researchers and community preservationists. Such much more needs to be done and hopefully more scholars will respond to the call for more study and research.


Fannie Bates said...

Growing up in the Choctaw Nation, it has been my pleasure to know a large number of folks who are descended from the freedmen. I have found them to be some of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met.

Renate Yarborough Sanders said...

Great work, as always, Angela. I'm sure you (and others) will find the answers to the (still) unanswered questions!