Saturday, December 16, 2017

Watson Brown and Family, Choctaw Freedmen

As rich as the documents are from the Dawes file, many times the researcher is encouraged to examine other record sets to obtain details about the lives of the enrollees. Such is the case with Watson Brown of the town of Tushkahoma in the Choctaw Nation.

The Enrollment Card
From the enrollment card, the name of Watson Brown is found on Choctaw Freedman card #1205. His name was previously put on a Chickasaw Card, but then it was transferred later to that of Choctaw Freedmen. He was applying for himself, and his children, John, Aaron, George, Aggie, and Green. He had at one time been enslaved by Choctaw James Brown.

Choctaw Freedman Card #1205
The National Archives at Ft. Worth, Ft. Worth Texas 1868-1914
NAI Number: 251747,  Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75

(Source: Same as above)

His wife Jane was the mother of all of the children, but she was not a Choctaw citizens, and thus was not applying for enrollment. Unfortunately, perhaps because of his age, the identity of his parents was not captured. That is unfortunate because Watson Brown was already 70 at the time, and the names of his parents would have been wonderful to include with the records and to go back further in time.
By noting his age, it is clear that he was born shortly before removal of the Choctaws to the west.

The Application Jacket

Watson Brown was an elder by the time the Dawes Commission came around, and his file was processed without complication. His application jacket contained one of the limited "summaries" that were put in the file to replace the actual interview, so few of his words were actually captured. But thankfully his enrollment was without controversy.

National Archives Publication M1301, Applications for Enrollment
(Also accessed from, Native American Collection, Choctaw Freedmen)

A few other memos were in the file, including one that reflected the death of one of the children Aggie, who passed away in 1904.
(same as above)

The Allotment Jacket
Watson Brown was able to select his own land allotment. The children by the time land allotment was made, had become adults and they were able to select their own land.

One will assume that was merely someone once enslaved in Indian Territory and he lived a quiet life bringing no attention to himself over the years. However, with Watson Brown the value of incorporating other records and examining seemingly unrelated record sets, is noticed.

Early Days of Freedom

The years after the Civil War were difficult years and for the newly freed slaves life in the Territory was a challenge. Their former slave holders especially in the area where Brown lived were southern sympathizers in the war, and had even formed units to fight for the south. As a result of Choctaws as well as Chickasaws and their southern sympathies the presence of newly freed people once held enslaved filled them with much resentment. Some of the men of African descent who had left during the war and returned home now as free men found that there was great resistance for their return. Many were threatened with physical harm upon return. As a result these men sought assistance from the US military and penned a letter requesting assistance. Watson Brown was one of the men, and the letter penned was sent to the Freedmen's Bureau, filed office in Fort Smith Arkansas. His name appeared among those who made the appeal for help.

Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands for the State of Arkansas, Fort Smith Field Office, Miscellaneous Letters.

The letter was a sobering one as they chose to plead their dire situation. Their families were still being held in bondage in October of 1865. Part of the letter is reflected in the image that follows. Here is a transcription of that excerpt:

"But to our sad disappointment, the war is now apparently ceased and a general peace among the white and red man is agreed, upon and generally adhered to, by those two races, and yet our dear  ones are still held and tyrannized ever in a most cruel manner, by their former masters. Since the right of property in our race h as been abolished by the US Government the masters have become brutal in their treatment of our color....

(same as above)

The signers of the letter were: Buck Bushyhead, Watson Brown, Grundy Thompson, Wilson Thompson, Isaac Kemp, Andrew Chief Watkins, Ben Colbert, Randolph Gardner, Jerry Kemp, Henry Kemp and John Fisher.

It is not known if all of the men eventually got to reunite with their loved ones, but clearly Watson Brown would get to do so, and he got to also live a long life as a free man. His name later appears in documents as an interpreter, and it has been said that he was fluent in Choctaw as well as English.

He participated in the affairs of the nation for many years, and his name appeared on the 1885 official census of Choctaw Freedmen as well as the 1896 Roll. 

Original Source: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas.
Choctaw Freedmen Roll of 1885 Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959[database on-line].
Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Thankfully a few documents bear the name of Watson Brown beyond the Dawes Rolls. From a heartfelt letter written in 1865, to the Dawes Rolls and beyond, his is a legacy that was extensive. It can only be hoped that the Brown family continues his quest for life and freedom, and that the name Watson Brown will be remembered.

This is the 42nd article in a 52-article series devoted to sharing histories of families once held as enslaved people in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. The focus is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts are part of an ongoing project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

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