Monday, March 28, 2011

Freedom Celebrations in the Cherokee Nation

Flyer for Emancipation Celebrations in Oklahoma

For many years, throughout Indian Territory, a number of celebrations of Freedom took place.  Today they are often commemorated by Juneteenth celebrations, but among many of the  former slaves of Indian Territory--celebrations of freedom from bondage always took place in August, and especially around August 4th.

It is known that this was common especially among former slaves of Creek Indians, but this was also the case in the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Emancipation ceremonies were said have been elaborate and festive events.  Although many Cherokee slaves were released officially from bondage in 1863, they joined other former slaves of Indian tribes by celebrating August 4th as well.

Elizabeth Ross a field worker for the Indian Pioneer project, described the events in Cherokee Country:

Ross went on to describe a particularly memorable event in Tahlequah the capital of the Cherokee Nation. She describes events as they occurred in the latter part of the 1870s.


She pointed out how at that time, (the 1870s) there were still many former slave living who had come into the Territory during the years of the Removal (the Trail of Tears) being brought as slaves along with their Cherokee enslavers.

As time passed the Cherokee Freedman celebration took place more frequently even into the 20th century at Four Mile Branch.

Today Four Mile Branch is where an historic Cherokee Freedman church and cemetery are located. This site is most likely where the last of the Emancipation celebrations occurred.

In the summer of 2005 images were taken of this cemetery by
Tonia Holleman and Angela Walton-Raji

Looking Across Four Mile Branch Cemetery
Images captured in 2005 by Tonia Holleman & Angela Walton-Raji

Although the celebrations of freedom are now events of the past, but hopefully many who share this history will appreciate the value of honoring the ancestors both enslaved and free, both native and states-originated, and both Freedmen and "by blood".

All of the history belongs to all of the people and it is time to begin to tell those stories.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Minor & Newborn Dawes Freedmen Cards

Enrollment Card of Walton Family
Source: National Archives M1186, Choctaw Freedmen Card 777

When documenting the families from Indian Territory, it is important to "read the small print" or rather the notations that appear on the bottom of the primary family documents.

In the case of my Walton family, all of whom were enrolled as Choctaw Freedmen, a small notation was made on the bottom of the card regarding the children of Sallie Walton's daughter Louisa.  

Notation on card to see New Born Freedman Card #230

It is important  to understand how the records of the Choctaw Freedmen are actually classified.  The notation refers the reader to New Born Card #230. However, there is no New Born Freedman category.  The category among the Dawes Enrollment Cards is actually "Choctaw Minor Freedmen".

Sure enough, when looking into the Choctaw Minor Freedmen, Card #230 did reflect more information about the family.  Louisa the mother of the children, had married and three of her children were reflected on the same card.

Louisa Ingram Sanders' children were reflected on this enrollment card 
of Choctaw Freedman Minors

Since there was an enrollment card for the three children, I became curious and wondered if there was possibly an interview and detailed family file, and I decided to look closely in the M1301 records, and sure enough there was.  In fact there was a 32 page file on the family that accompanied the file.  Some pages were depositions, some were letters and others were critical vital records, such as birth affidavits.  

In this case, two birth affidavits were in the file, and these documents are significant, because they are vital records that were pre-statehood vital records.  Oklahoma would not enter the Union until 1907, but in the file were birth records of some of Louisa's children (and Sallie's grandchildren).

This birth record of John Sanders (Louisa's son) was created two years before statehood.
Source: National Archives, M1301 Choctaw Minor Freedmen #230

This birth record of Ethel Sanders was also in the file. Again this is the second pre-statehood 
birth record found in the Minor's packet

In addition to the birth affidavit a testimony by their father George Sanders was also made on behalf of his children.  
Page 1 of George Sanders' Testimony for his children

Page 2 of George Sanders Testimony

This was an exciting find, because the Sanders branch of the family are cousins and it was never known for years exactly how they were related.  Louisa, the mother of the children was the sister to my grandfather, Sam Walton on Dawes Freedman Card 777.    These cousins would visit us over the years, but it was not until following the notation on the Walton Card and pulling both the Sanders family card and their packet, was the relationship clear.

The lesson here is to follow all notations on the cards and to study them and see what additional data can be found.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Closer Look at Susan Colbert, Choctaw Freedwoman

Enrollment Card of Susan and Israel Colbert, Choctaw Freedmen

In early January, I wrote a piece about Susan Colbert's interview in the Indian Pioneer Papers, by Gomer Gower was an interesting one.

Her voice was not heard, it was summarized and the voice telling the story was the interviewer who wrote about her Cherokee father, and her being placed on the Freedman Roll, which according to the interviewer, was a wise decision, for the Choctaw population was "protected" from countless numbers of "bogus" claims that would have resulted had this woman of mixed ancestry been treated differently.

I found the interview curious not only because of the biases expressed by the interviewer, but the fact that the reader was not hearing her voice---only his narration of her life.  I decided therefore to took at some records created 30 years earlier---her Dawes Card. 

-From the interview, it was stated that her father was Bob Parrot a Cherokee Indian.
-But from the Dawes Card it is revealed that her father was Tom Parris, A Choctaw Indian.
Enrollment Card of Susan Colbert with husband Israel Colbert, and their children

Reverse side of Enrollment Card.  Susan's data appears on line 2. Note her father 
is identified as Choctaw, and not Cherokee.

-From the interview it was stated that she married Tom Smith a Choctaw citizen who was half Choctaw, half Negro.
-From the Dawes Card it is revealed that Tom Smith was a Cherokee citizen.

Thomas Smith, a husband from a previous marriage was not Choctaw, 
but noted as Cherokee on her Dawes Card.

-From the interview it was stated that their marriage was very brief due to his cavalier lifestyle and he left shortly after their marriage.
-From the Dawes Card it is revealed that Tom Smith was around at least long enough for them to have had three children, who do appear on the card with her.

The children of Susan and Tom Smith are reflected on the Dawes Enrollment Card. 

-From the interview it was stated that she married a Choctaw Indian, Israel Colbert.
-From the Dawes Card, it was revealed that she married Israel Colbert a man once enslaved by Sam Colbert. (Also both of his parents were enslaved by Choctaw Sam Colbert.) 

Fathers and  Father's Slave owners indicated.

Mothers and Mothers' Slave Owners indicated

The lesson learned from the case of Susan Colbert, is that we must rely on multiple sources of information to truly understand the story of an ancestor. With Susan Colbert, she was interviewed in the 1930s and for some reason, her words were not produced, but merely her story was presented in the 3rd person. However, when one looks at the records produced 30 years earlier, a different story emerges about Susan Colber, her life, her husbands and her identity.  She was not the daughter of a Cherokee, but the daughter of a Choctaw.  Her first husband was not half Choctaw, but he was a Cherokee citizen.  

Truly in order to explore the lives of one's ancestors, it is imperative that as many resources as possible are utilized to tell the story, and to tell it accurately.