Thursday, April 29, 2010

Remembering The Creek Freedmen Shrine

In 1993 I had the opportunity to visit a gentleman I had heard about in a Black History Video about the Freedmen of Indian Territory.  An elder gentleman, descendant of Creek Freedmen was interested in representing his history and his own family ties to the Muskogee Creek Freedmen.

His name was Napoleon Davis of Taft Oklahoma.  He lived on his property in Taft and had for many years wanted to created a shrine honoring his ancestors, the Creek Freedmen.  In 1990 Mr. Davis was interviewed by a Washington DC journalist, who is also a Cherokee Freedmen.  In that particular documentary, the history of the people enslaved in Indian Territory was featured.  The documentary ended with the words of Mr. Davis who was at that time constructing his shrine to the Creek Freedmen.  His goal, he stated was to honor them and thereby perhaps representing something that his ancestors may have wanted to say, but could not say.

Two years later, on a visit to Oklahoma, I gave a presentation at the Rudisill Library in Tulsa Oklahoma.  A woman was there, who lived in Checotah, and I mentioned that I had heard about the shrine being built, and she immediately pointed out that Mr. Davis was her cousin.  She offered to take me there, which I shall be forever grateful. A few days later, we met at her home in Checotah, and off we went to Taft, to visit the site.

Approaching his property across the fields one can see the structure. Not until one gets to the site, can one see the marble walls that announce what the structure actually is.

A round almost cone shaped roots stands in the middle of the property with flag at the entrance.  As the driveway goes to the front of the building the actual shape can be seen.


As I walked toward the entrance after parking the wall and the words enscribed on them were clear.


A another marbel panel bears the names of members of his family engraved in each star.


A large portion of the wall remained blank, which he later explained would be the formal name of the site after a dedication that he hoped to someday have with state political figures to attend.


Mr. Davis greeted me in front of the shrine and graciously allowed me to take photos and explained the symbolism behind what he had done.  His goal was to honor the Creek Freedmen, and to honor them as African American people with strong ties to their land as Creek citizens.  He had a very strong feeling about the images that many persons of African Ancestry had, and how they are often depicted and perceived, and he wanted very much to have the site dedicated as an African American site.

The most remarkable aspect about the facility was the inside.  He wanted to honor the ancestors, and honoring them, he did!

On the inside, for what greeted any visitor to the sites were the names---several thousands names---of his ancestors and the people with whom his ancestors identified.  The Creek Freedmen.  The names of all of them were on the wall, on more than 120 laminated plaques and afixed to the wall of the site.  Thousands of
names of Creek Freedmen that were on the Final Dawes Rolls.  The pages were names that appeared on Campbell's Abstract.

Two Views Inside of the Creek Freedmen Shrine

Mr. Davis then sat down and spoke to me about his goals and how he hoped that others would appreciate what he had done.  His hope was to someday have an official opening and dedication ceremony at the site, and that others would travel to pay honor to the history of the Creek Freedmen.

I visited him again in 1994, and he was still hoping to launch an opening, but had not been supported by many in the local area.   Unfortunately, Mr. Napoleon Davis passed away from complications during a surgical procedure.  It has been now about 10 years since his death.  Though spoken about frequently, it is not known if there has been any activity expressed to continue what was begun by Mr. Davis, or to preserve what he built. 

The Shrine is located on the Davis estate in Taft Oklahoma.  Hopefully what was built will not fall into ruin.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Silas Jefferson, Creek Leader

Headstone found lying on the ground pushsed over. Taken at Bruner Cemetry also called Tuskegee, 8 miles west of Beggs in Creek County.

Silas Jefferson was a dynamic leader of the Muskogee Creek Nation, having served as leader, interpreter. Son of Jeffrey and Betsey McNac he emerged as a leader in the nation, serving several time in the House of Warriors. He represented Tuskegee Town (Taskigi Town) for many years.  When representatives of the Smithsonian collected data on the Muskogee people, he was a principal consultant.

According to scholar Gary Zellar, Silas Jefferson served as an advisor to Chief Locha Hacho and he was also close to Chief Isparhecher. He remained in tribal politics till 1906.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Remembering Sarah Rector, Creek Freedwoman

Birth Affidavit of Sarah Rector & Photo of Sarah as young girl

Her name was Sarah Rector.  She was a young black girl born in Indian Territory on March 3, 1902.  Her parents were Joseph and Rose Rector, all of  Taft, Indian Territory. Her story is similar to that of Danny Tucker another black child born in Indian Territory. He, like Sarah had a humble beginning, and he, like Sarah would make headlines for sudden wealth acquired by oil rich land.

Early in her young life, Sarah received a land allotment like all who were members of the Creek Nation.  Like thousands of blacks once held in bondage by  the Five slave-holding tribes, (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations) she and her family members received land allotments prior to Oklahoma statehood.  It was a general practice that Freedmen often receive land considered to be of less value for farming as did citizens declared as Indians By Blood, and Inter-Married Whites.  However, the story changed when oil was discovered on her land allotment, near Taft, Oklahoma.

Her wealth caused immediate alarm and all efforts were made to put the child Sarah under "guardianship" of whites whose lives became comfortable immediately.  Meanwhile Sarah still lived in humble surroundings. As white businessmen took control of her estate, efforts were also made to put her under control of officials at Tuskegee Institute.

Much attention was given to Sarah in the press.  In 1913, there was an effort to have her declared white, so that because of her millions she could ride in a first class car on the trains.

These two snippets of an article appeared in the Chicago Defender about her:

Source: Special to The Chicago Defender
The Chicago; Nov 15, 1913; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The Chicago Defender (1910 - 1975)

Sarah's life continued as she began to get offers of marriage from around the world, and efforts were made to move her to Tuskegee.

As the headlines about her continued worldwide many continued to strive to have access to her wealth.

Because of the attention of the black press, Sarah's life eventually took a better turn, when individuals stepped in "from the race" to intervene, and obtain a new home and better lifetstyle for her.  

Not much is written about her adolescence, but it is know that she did  attend Tuskegee Institute, and after she completed her studies there, she moved to Kansas City.  In 1922, she married Kenneth Campbell.  They were known to have many real estate holdings in the area. She and her husband purchased a home that still stands today in Kansas City Missouri.  The home is on 12th and Euclid in Kansas City.

She and her husband were known to entertain the many entertainers of the day from Duke Ellington to Count Basie.  Little is known about the latter days of her life, but there are persons who are working on a biography of her life.

Home of Sarah Rector

This Creek Freedman child, though her descendants are not allowed enrollment in the Creek Nation today, has a rich history from the lives of the Creek Freedmen.

Sarah's father Joe Rector was the son of John Rector, a Creek Freedman. John Rector's father Benjamin McQueen, was a slave of Reilly Grayson a Creek Indian.  John Rector's mother Mollie McQueen was a slave of Creek leader, Opothole Yahola.  Their history is a rich one. The son Joe was enrolled with them on the same card.

Not much is known about the remains of the estate of Sarah Rector, nor her land and mineral holdings in Oklahoma, but she has a rich history and is one in which her descendants should be proud.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Allotment Certificates Freedman & Others

Chickasaw Freedman Allotment Certificate

Many are not aware that the Dawes Enrollment process was created for the purposes of redistributing land within the five tribes, in personal allotments, so that remaining lands would be free for settlement by the new state of Oklahoma.

All five nations participated in the process and all whether, categorized as citizens by Blood, Freedmen, or Inter-married whites---all received land. 

Upon allocation of the personal allotments, certificates were issued, and one does occasionally see land allotment certificates for Freedmen.  I have three Freedmen allotment certificates in my own possession, in addition to others that I have found occasionally, and am displaying one of them here.  Many families lost lands in the years following statehood, some through taxes and many others lost the land through land grafters who were notorious in obtaining land from hundreds of people. 

In the Choctaw Nation, if you were a Freedman citizen, 40 acres were given to each, but if one was a citizen by blood a typical land allotment consisted of 60 acres or more.  This kind of discriminiation continued towards black citizens, for several decades in the new state of Oklahoma. Descendants of those who were Freedmen were quietly expelled when the tribe reorganized and removed the Freedmen when reorganization of the tribes took place in the late 1970s nad early 1980s.  This expulsion of Freedmen continues to this day. And although they eventually received land allotments the Chickasaw Nation continously denied rights and priveleges of citizenship to their Freedmen for 40 years.

Allotment Certificate of Inter-Married White

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: The Slaves of Cherokee Chief John Ross

From the 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedule

Closer Views

Column 2

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Harry Island, Creek Interpreter & Leader

Another grave marker lying flat on the ground. 

Harry Island was the noted Muscogee Creek leader who is buried in the neglected and ignored Old Agency Cemetery. Someday, hopefully descendants from this community will address this historic burial ground.

Harry Island served as one of the official U.S. Interpreters with the Muskogee Creek Nation. He was present during many official hearings during the 1860s and 70s in the years following the Civil War.

Harry Island was utilized most often by the nation, because of his fluency in both English and Muskogee. He had other African contemporaries who were also interpreters---Silas Jefferson, Robert Johnson, and John Meyers. During the hearings for the Loyal Creek Claims, Harry Island served as government interpreter for Louisa Tiger and others, who were refugees from the War, from the Muskogee Nation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Madness: A Complete Oklahoma History Includes Slavery

I am often dismayed when the story of slavery in  American history depicts the maps and how virtually every map shows slavery with no representation of the practice of the practice of slavery in the land that would later be known as Oklahoma.  The slavery states are clear---the boundary is drawn distinctincly around what later became today's Oklahoma.

But the ommission of slavery in Indian Territory, omits the stories of slaves, rebellions, runaways, and abolition.  And the ommission of slavery is an affront to those who descend from those who were enslaved.
The black slaves brought to Indian Territory as slaves---not brothers, friends, protected allies----they were slaves--they were bound, entrapped, human chattel, taken to Indian Territory as slaves of wealthy slave owning Indians---not often depicted when the stories of the Trail of Tears or Indian removal are known.

But this is part of my history.  And it, like all stories deserves to be told.

To understand  the story of 1200 slaves taken to Indian Territory, will help other understand the plight of Cherokee Freedmen today.

To understand the Cherokee Slave Revolt of 1842 will help others to understand the southern anti-black sentiments found in 5 slave holding tribes today.

To understand the involvement of 5 slave holding tribes and their support of the Southern Confederacy and their fighting with the South, will help others to understand why many will fight tooth and nail to keep evidence of slavery in their tribes today.

To understand the resistance that slaves made to try run to Freedom, will help others to understand why the 5 slaveholding drives just took a vote to get rid of the descendants of those slaves today.

To understand that some would rather see their slaves dead than free, will help others to understand the resistance within the tribes today to acknowledged this part of their past.

To understand the fact that slaves were not freed after the Civil War, helps others to understand why some claim that the Treaty of 1866 was forced upon them.  It was--- for it made them officially release their slaves from bondage!

To understand the struggles of Chickasaw Freedmen to get their nation to honor their signature to accord them citizenship, makes it easier to understand why those few black Chickasaws in the nation today receive hostile glares in Tishomingo today.

To understand how Choctaw Freedman elected leader Henry Cutchlow was never allowed to take his seat when elected to the tribal council in the 1890s, will help others to understand how today, no descendants of Choctaw Freedmen are allowed citizenship.  They were quietly removed from citizenship in 1983, and had no voice in that vote.

To understand how many African Creeks were active in tribal politics in the years after the Civil War, confuses those noting today how the Muscogee Creek Nation, also forbids Freedmen descendants in their tribe today.

To understand the politics of race---will help others understand, how Indian Freedmen were at one time citizens, and now, because they don't have the race of the people who enslaved them, are erased from the nation of their ancestors's birth and are now shielded by a protective blanket of sovereignty shielding the slave owner's children  from federal scruitinty.

To understand all of this history, is to understand the hsitory of Oklahoma---and it helps one to know that a complete history of Oklahoma, a complete history of each of the 5 slave holding tribes, just like a complete history of  America----includes slavery.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Life in an Oklahoma Town Reflected in Rare Textbooks

In 1938, the oil-gusher town of Drumright was similar to other southern towns. The small black population had been met with hostility over the years and found itself having to contend with many families both white and Indian from whom hostilities were met.  In some places Indians were accorded rights and priveleges as whites so many black families from the the states and others that were native to the region having been Freedmen or their descendants. Freedmen were slaves once held by Five Tribes of Indian Territory.

The families survived nevertheless and in 1938 with the assistance of educator Emma Akin, several textbooks were creatd as teaching aides to the black children in segregated Oklahoma.  Two of these books are in my own personal library and recently while sharing this informaion on another blog more questions arose for me.

Unlike Dick & Jane the fictional characters from whom several generations learned to read, several children in this rural community learned to read from Johnnie Mae and Floyd, and Clara Bell and Harold. And these were real children whose lives were depicted in real photos in the school reader.  Two of the books, Negro Boys & Girls and Gifts are shown here.  The children, some members of their families as well as the staff of the Dunbar and Wheatley Schools were reflected in these books.

What is found inside the books is a close up look at the community of children and adults in this small Oklahoma town. The books are a treasure and having two of the four books in my personal library, I thought I would share some of the images on this blog. The names of many who reflected in the books are as follows:

From Negro Boys & Girls
Teacher & Prinicipal: Gretchen P. Johnson, Primary Teacher, & Joe S. Johnson Principal
Children: Clara Bell Birt, Richard Birt, Clara Ever White, Floyd White, Harold Adams, Betty Jean Brown, Rosa Lee Gallaway, Annabelle Richardson, Geraldine Richardson
Parents: Mrs. James White, Mrs. Grechen P. Johnson, Mrs. Clara Brown, and Mr. C.C. McIntosh

It is not known if the parents of any of these children were Dawes Enrollees, but noting by the surnames there may have been a possibility.

From: Gifts
Dunbar School Staff: Mr. & Mrs. Joe S. Johnson
Jeanes Teacher Supervisor: Miss Willa Green, Creek County Oklahoma
Children: Clara Bell Birt, Harold Adams, floyd White, Johnnie Mae White, Willie C. Taylor twins Betty and Burnett

The books were published in 1938, and the photos were taken by "That Man Stone Company".

Could some of the children whose faces were used in the book, still be living today?
They would be in their late 70s today.  It would be wonderful to find some of them, and to learn more about the experience of these young children and how their lives unfolded in this segregated Oklahoma town.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Remembering Dillard Perry, Chickasaw

Dillard Perry was a Chickasaw Freedman by blood. He is the brother to Joe Perry and they were part of the famous "Joe & Dillard Perry Case."

Their father was Chickasaw and their mother was a Choctaw Freedwomen. Their Freedman grandmother originally enrolled them as Freedmen and their mother sued for their right to be enrolled as Chickasaw by blood. Their Chickasaw grandmother completely rejected them, (as did his other siblings), and they never had anything to do with these children, even admitting to her open disdain for them, as being the children of her son's Negro wife.

Their case became a landmark case that in fact had issues taken as far as Congress to deliberate their case. They won the right to be enrolled on the Chickasaw Rolls by blood, but as time passed over their years they were put on and off and on and then off the rolls again as citizens by blood, although these two young men were clearly half Chickasaw. If they won a hearing the tribe would appeal and they would be removed. They would appeal and would win the right to be on the roll again, but then the tribe would once again appeal and they would be removed.

Their case became the landmark case that also exemplified the strong biases against African-Chickasaws from their own nation. Dillard Perry is on the rolls on Chickasaw Freedmen Card Number 61, with a roll number#268.

In spite of this Chickasaw by blood and his history and the case that they won----the nation still keeps the descendants of their slaves at distance, sharing a similar fate as those who descend from the 4 other slave-holding tribes.
May he and their descendants never be forgotten.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More than 1 History Lesson on Dawes Card

This enrollment card from the Dawes Commission of Thomas Blackwater, shows that he was not only a person who had been enslaved in the Choctaw Nation, but that he was among many who resisted.  Even his enrollment card notes that he enrolled in the Union Army as a soldier.  The details in his pension file told even more about his escape from his Choctaw enslavers into Arkansas and enlisted when Federal forces arrived in nearby Ft. Smith.

The small notation on his card reveals an interesting detail pointing the careful researcher to obtain not just his Dawes Card & Dawes enrollment interview, but also his Civil War Pension file.

(This is the same Thomas Blackwater, whose headstone was featured recently.)

There were many man who were enslaved in Indian Territory in the Five slave-holding tribes, and the records about their service in the Union Army, and about their lives in the Territory can be explored in depth by pursuing their military history.  In many cases, rich family data can be located in the wonderful pension files of Union Army veterans. Military service records of the United States Colored Troops have been microfilmed and the military pension files are at the National Archives, and must be obtained from the National Archives in Washington DC directly.

(Assistance in obtaining pension files can be obtained by writing to

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Worldess Wednesday: Sugar George Gravesite, Creek Freedman Leader

Resting place of Sugar T. George, Creek Freedmen Leader
Old Agency Cemetery, Muskogee Oklahoma, abandoned and neglected burial site of Muskogee Creek Freedmen.

Hopefully someday descendants of leaders buried in this burial site will work to restore this historic place.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Thomas Blackwater

This is the headstone of Thomas Blackwater a Choctaw Freedman. (Choctaw Fr. Card #1469) *

* Note, the image of Thomas Blackwater was photographed by Tonia Holleman when she and Verdie Triplett visited the Brazil Cemetery.  The ownership of the image taken by Ms Holleman, was previously omitted and I regret this omission. (October 11, 2010)  

Born in the Choctaw Nation, this Blackwater managed to escape from his Choctaw slaveholder and made it into Arkansas where he eventually joined the Union Army to fight for his freedom.  He lived in Brazil in Skullyville County and is buried in the old Brazil Cemetery. His stone was pushed over and lying flat on the ground. By working with the local veteran's organization, it is hoped that a proper military stone will be placed in the cemetery where his body is buried.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Madness Monday: Avoiding Those Myths in the Family Story

Index to Guion Miller Rolls (Eastern Cherokee)

I often get emails from individuals asking for help in researching their families.  There are simliarities--there is the grandma with the hair so long that (fill in the blank) .  If you said "she could sit on it" you are right. 

There are other stories of someone whose mother or father was "full blood Indian", but the name of the full blood Indian ancestor is somehow "forgotten" or "unknown".  The reason is usually because "grandma didn't talk much about her life."

There are descriptions "high cheekbones", to some other kinds of marks or characteristics said to "prove" that someone in the family was Indian.

And there is the often cited Blackfoot story.  Many in various parts of the country will claim ties to Blackfoot/Blackfeet and will mix them up with other tribes as well, such as Blackfoot-Cherokee, or vice versa.  BUT----as genealogists--your job is to document your family history. The stories are interesting, but none of them prove ties to any group of Native American people. Genealogy should be conducted in a sound thorough manner, and contrary to popular belief, there ARE records to document the history of American Indian communities.

Addressing those myths---
1) Hair length and hair texture are not proof of Indian ancestry. Many people in Europe, Asia and the Americas have long hair, straight hair. Genealogy is about documentaion of one's history, and not about hair texture.

2) The ancestor is "full blood".  Again this is a term oddly used to designate some kind of "degree" of Indian blood, which began in late 19th century political undertakings when collecting data on people from Indian communities.  The fact that a "full blood" ancestor is so often never known by name, might suggest that the descendants may wish to document the family using a more reliable method of research and genealogical citation.  Ancestor's names can be found and in many cases, the missing "full blood" parent is right there in the records, sharing the same race as the rest of the family.

3) Those high cheekbones.  There are no cases of "low cheekbones".  Prominent cheekbones are also visible in many people from Eastern African (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea) who have no ties to native people in North or South America.

4) The Blackfoot factor.  This is often expressed by families from many parts of the country. Suggestion--learn the history of the place where your ancestors lived. The real names of indigenous people can be learned. To document your history--you need to know the history, of those who lived there. In the southeast US there are many Native American communities and many were captured in census records both 19th & 20th century.  There will be no Blackfoot/Blackfeet records found on records east of the Mississippi.  But if your family is tied to some of the many Indian communities they will be identified by the names by which they were known.  Call your ancestors what they were.

Now----WHERE can one find such records?

Here is a list of records that when your research takes you to the time period, you should employ them.

-Indian Census Rolls 1884-1940
-Special Indian Census 1900 & 1910
-Dawes Records 1898-1914 (Oklahoma ONLY!)
-Guion Miller Rolls (Eastern Cherokee)
-Mississippi Choctaw.

More information is found on the African-NativeAmerican website.

Confront those myths in your family history and conduct your research using sound genealogical methodology. Otherwise you will still be speaking about the Blackfoot grandmother with high cheekbones, sitting on her hair, and have no documents to illustrate this part of the history. 

Without documentation, what you have is a nice story. 
With documentation, you have your history.

Avoid those myths in your family history, and document them the right way!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Old Land Records

Old land records can provide glimpses into family history. This old plat map was folded up in a family Bible for many years.  It reflected some property pertaiing to Sallie Walton, my great grandmother.  Sallie was a Choctaw Freedmen, and this records bears the stamp of "Choctaw Nation" near the top.  Thankfully this artifact remained with family documents to provide further glimpses into her life in Indian Territory.