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.

2 comments:

Cat Vann said...

Very thoughtful, balanced and well-researched.

Thomas Jordan said...

Angela: To borrow a phrase, you may not be the best that ever lived, but you are the best in the world. Love the methodology. You are a blessing. I look forward to meeting you and/or hearing you in person. God Bless.