Thursday, September 12, 2013

Series: The First Freedmen Enrollees - Cherokee Freedmen on the Dawes Rolls

Cherokee Freedmen Card #1
NARA Publication M1186 Record Group 75 Roll 23
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When the process of enrollment for citizens of the Five Civilized Tribes began, persons who were leaders or perceived leaders within various communities were often among the very first enrollees. Although various persons are studying the various Five slave holding tribes individually by tribe, the events that affected their slaves should also be studied.

In the case of the Freedmen, some had once been enslaved by wealthy and prominent leaders of the tribe. As those once enslaved by tribal leaders they maintained some status withing the local community where they lived as well. In many such cases the Dawes enrollment was a simple and smooth process. However, in the case of the Ross family of the Cherokee Freedmen first family, what should have been a simple case, it quickly became complicated, especially to get a female child called Elnora enrolled.

In the case of the first Cherokee Freedmen to enroll, John H. Ross, was on Card #1 and he had a roll number of #1.

The application of the Ross family was first made in May of 1900. John H. Ross the head of the household was the son of Stephen Ross, a former slave of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross. 

Principal Chief John Ross
Slave holder of the Family of John H. Ross.

John H. Ross' mother's name was Emily Humphrey who was still living at that time. This family of Ross Freedmen, lived in Tahlequah. The mother Emily had been enslaved by John Riley, another citizens of the Cherokee Nation. 

John H. Ross, was also submitting an application on behalf of his son, John Ross Jr. His daughter by a previous marriage was later added to the card.

The Dawes Application packet reveals more information about the family.

Cherokee Freedmen Application Jacket #1
NARA Publication M1301 Record Group 75 Roll 285
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Second page of John Ross Interview

Note that a year later in 1901, Emily Humphries, the mother of John H. Ross appeared in front of the Dawes Commission to enroll her granddaughter Elnora. Elnora was also a daughter of John H. Ross. The child Elnora's mother had died several years before and was living with the grandmother. However, since she was a daughter to John H. Ross Elnora was added to his Enrollment Card, and entered as Cherokee Freedman Roll #3.

The case became a bit more complicated when in 1902, John H. Ross appeared to enroll an Elnora Ross. There was much curiosity as to whether Elnora was a child of Peggie or Dora (who had died earlier) or whether they were the same. Several questions were addressed to John about the child (or children) Elnora.  It was later revealed that there were indeed two children called Elnora. 

However, several years later, in 1906 Emily Humphries the grandmother was still living and was still working to get her granddaughter Elnora enrolled. Her son John H. Ross had died and Emily was the caretaker of the child Elnora. The file also contained a death record for son John H. Ross. This is a pre-statehood record of John H. Ross's death.

 Pre-statehood death record for John H. Ross, Cherokee Freedman #1

Cherokee Freedmen Application Jacket #1
NARA Publication M1301 Record Group 75 Roll 26
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Eventually the issue pertaining to the child Elnora was resolved and she was added as Cherokee Freedman #3 on her father's card.

The case of the Ross family being enrolled first, most likely stemmed from the fact that John H. Ross was a son of one of the most prominent families in the Cherokee Nation. Whatever status that the Ross family had--the case was not an open and shut enrollment case. The status of the child Elnora made the case complicated.

After Elnora's enrollment case was resolved, the issue of land was later complicated by the fact that lands allotted for John Ross Jr. and sister Elnora were impeded as non-citizens had already begun settling on the land. It is not clear if they were truly "intruders" but land assigned to them were disputed for some time. Guardians were appointed for the two minor children, but the record does not indicate clearly whether the two Ross children ever received their allotments. Many cases of guardians were reported in the years after statehood, where Freedmen and Indians by blood lost land to guardians, and land grafters and swindlers. Hopefully the Ross's did get some of the lands allotted to them, but the allotment files did not present a clear resolution of the outcome of their case.

Nevertheless, this glimpse into the legal process as it affected the first Cherokee Freedmen from Card #1 is an interesting one, and the tenacious researcher will want to study to see how many slaves the Ross's had. Chief John Ross's dozens of slaves are reflected in the 1860 Slave Schedule. The researcher will want to learn more about slavery in the Cherokee Nation, and to learn how they thrived.

Much will be learned by also following the life of Emily Humpries, the grandmother who also came with the Cherokees on the Trail on Tears as one of their slaves. Her life story will open more doors for the family in the future. She is enrolled on Freedman Card #235. As one who came from"the old country"   researcher will learn more by studying as much as possible about slaves who also came on the forced migration with their Indian masters. Forced westward against their will for a second time, her is a unique story to tell.

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