Friday, April 10, 2015

"Cherokee Rose", Explores Life on a Cherokee Slave Holding Plantation


Cherokee Rose by Tiya Miles

Cherokee Rose is a book that caught my attention, because it is an area in which many African Americans feel is part of their history.  

The author is MacArthur fellow Tiya Miles  and in this book she looks at descendants of people with connections to Cherokee and Creek Indians. I made an oral review of this book on my weekly podcast on April 3. However, it is also imperative that I bring this book to the attention of readers here, as well.

The author bases the story of Cherokee Rose, loosely on the history of the Chief Vann House, in Georgia. But she brings it to light in the lives of three women of color who all have ties to the Georgia plantation. One of them, lives in modern day Oklahoma, is active in a Freedmen's descendant's group, and is in fact, a Creek descendant of African Creek leader, Cow Tom.

My personal interest in this book, is based on my own family history  with one group of my ancestors who were Choctaw Freedmen who were once slaves in the Choctaw Nation. I will say that reading this book is was a special treat, because on the pages one can get a rare and seldom told story of life on a Cherokee Indian slave-holding estate. The James Hold plantation in the book, is a fictionalized version of the real James Vann estate. 

The Cherokee slave holding family, upon whom the story is loosely based was the Vann family, connected to Chief James Vann, a wealthy Cherokee slave holder. The three main characters are all versions of people whom we may feel that we already have known or have met. They are prototypes of women living today, one of the characters, a woman of means and education, another who has ties from the Muscogee Creek Nation and who is an active member of her Muscogee Creek community, and another--a writer seeking a valid story to tell. All of the characters found a strong interest in the estate, and what unfolds is an interesting tie that each of them has to the historic household, and estate. One even sees characters who are somehow self appointed "keepers of the flame" with their plans for the future of the estate. All are somehow familiar, yet still strangers.

The book wanders between places in time, from the present day to the plantation era, through the words of the people of the past. And as the subtitle describes it, it a story of "Gardens and Ghosts" and the reader will find him/herself seeing the grounds, and the greenery from herbs to the lovely Cherokee roses also upon those grounds. And those of us with close ties to Oklahoma will appreciate so much from the seeing the carefully chosen names of the characters to the roles that each of them in the story have in relation to the past.

As a reader, I recognized versions of  people that I have met over the years. including those who perceive a tie that they cannot document. I appreciated seeing the researcher, the preservationist, and the genealogist who eagerly sought their history on AfriGeneas, and others who have only family lore to guide them. Tiya Miles carefully brings in those with historical family lore and brings those persons in direct confrontation with the reality of events of the past. It was carefully constructed. I can only say that I saw persons that I have seen from "Dartmouth to Durant" and places beyond. This book describes so many of the various  "types" of souls who wander the trails of the African-Native experience, and one will walk away from the book understanding how some stories are often misunderstood, but yet still so important to truthfully tell.

Though fiction, this story has a thoroughly documented basis upon which this narrative is told. Author Tiya Miles won a MacArthur fellowship because of her ground-breaking work on exploring the lives of the African experience as slaves in Indian communities. The story is so well written and I can only say those with ties to Oklahoma, or parts of the south and south east need to read Cherokee Rose. I personally have to thank Dr. Tiya Miles for writing this story. 

Now for those who are interested in the historical background of the Chief Vann historic house and estate, read her work The House on Diamond Hillwhich will provide this story. And those who study Indian Territory and its history, rarely see this story told, and even more rare is the story told about life of the enslaved even before removal.

In a general sense as a descendant from enslaved people both from Indian Territory, and also of the  American South, I note that few stories ever go beyond  those tales of horror and of cruelty.  Well now someone has effectively done that. The past is there, but so are the descendants, the survivors.

Thankfully, there are new scholars who are looking into this history and I personally await the fruits of their labor. I hope to read the stories from Tahlequah to Idabel--because there are the scholars among us, who have this area as specialty, as a home, and as an academic focus.

A wider audience not only wants to hear and to read more, we need to have these stories, and Cherokee Rose is the beginning.

I urge you to obtain a copy of the book, as I think it is a critical one to have in your library.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Resources for Cherokee Freedmen Family History

The newly digitized in color images have been a pleasure to explore ever since they were announced when Ancestry partnered to bring more Oklahoma records to subscribers. Among the many new records now digitized, are some excellent resources for family history. Cherokee Freedmen, like descendants of other tribal Freedmen will be particularly thrilled to find the original color images of Dawes Cards.

Cherokee Freedman Card #850  National Archives Publication M1186 (Front Side of Card)

Back side of card

Source for Both Images: Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1186, 93 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75; National Archives, Washington, D.C. [Note Ancestry has color images of original Dawes Cards.]

I am happy to point out  that there are additional resources for family history research for Cherokee Freedmen. Some reside on subscription sites while others reside on free sites. As many of these resources as possible should be used to construct the family history. Most are described for you here.

The Wallace Roll
This roll was conducted between 1890 and 1896, and it was compiled by John Wallace, who was a Special Agent. The roll was later rejected by the tribe and was not used for enrollment when the Dawes Commission began several years later. However, the roll still exists and it resides on the National Arhives website in its entirety. 

Image of a page from the Wallace Roll

Source: Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999, 
Wallace Roll of Cherokee Freedmen in Indian Territory 1890-1896

Researchers can access the entire Wallace Roll HERE, where it resides on the National Archives website.

A Break for the 1890 Census
Most genealogists are aware of the lack of records reflecting the 1890 census year. Oklahoma researchers, and Indian Territory researchers in particular have many records to explore reflecting the years between 1890 and 1900 that this missing census year is not an issue for genealogists with Oklahoma ancestors. Ancestry has captured many of these records as well as other free sites, and they should all be explored. The better news is that the collections now available include hundreds of pages of census that even preceded the Dawes Rolls and the Wallace Rolls. 

Cherokee Census of 1896
In this particular census, Cherokee Freedmen were enumerated at the end of each district section. In the image below the "Adopted" Freedmen appear in the Tahlequah District, on final pages after the Cherokees "by blood" were enumerated. (This comes from the National Archives in Ft. Worth and has the reference number of 7RA-19). Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas. Group 7RA-19 Cherokee 1896 Census

1893 Cherokee Census
Many researchers are not aware that in 1893 another census was conducted in the Cherokee Nation. And like later records they also had pages reflecting Freedmen in each of the Districts of the Nation. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT,  USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas. Group 7RA-54 Cherokee 1893 Census

In some cases notes were made in the "remarks" column to explain a bit of additional data about the family enumerated.

(Notes made about family enumerated on census page.)

The 1890 Cherokee Census 
During this census year an enumeration of residents was also conducted in Indian Territory.  There are 6 reels of microfilm for this record set, and all are digitized on Ancestry. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Within this short collection are six different census schedules. 

Schedule 1 consists of those considered Cherokee Citizens, This schedule included Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation
Schedule 2 consists of children identified as orphans, and 
Schedule 3 consists of those considered "non-citizens."
Schedule 4 consists of those not classified as citizens but who claimed citizenship.
Schedule 5 consists of those who were considered "intruders" upon Cherokee land.
Schedule 6 consists of non-citizens who lived on Cherokee land with permission.

Sample page from Schedule 1: This page reflects Cherokee Freedmen. It clearly states their entitlement to citizenship.

1890 Cherokee Nation Census 1890 Schedule 1
This second image reflects a closer view of the names listed on the document.
(Closer view of same image)
Source for both images: Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.
Brief look a schedule 6

Many persons who were considered to be non-citizens were also captured in the census of 1890, on Schedule 6. The heading clearly indicated their non-Cherokee status. This particular census year is interesting, because one should note that in the year before, in 1889 the first Oklahoma Land Rush occurred. As a result many non-Cherokees were present even in the Cherokee Nation itself and were simply enumerated as "American"  and in latter pages as "white" under the column for "Race or Nationality" 
Page from 1890 census showing Non-Cherokee residents

Cherokee Freedmen were not listed on this non-Cherokee census schedule.

It is helpful when using census records of any source to pay close attention the instructions that census takers were given. The descriptions for each of the schedules for this 1890 Cherokee Nation census are spelled out clearly.

Full description of 1890 Cherokee Nation Census schedules.

Source: Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Indian Censuses and Rolls, 1851-1959 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Land Allotment Applications
A final suggestion for Indian Territory research is to look at the records for Freedmen Land allotment applications. These are fully digitized images and they reflect the actual location of the original land allotment of the family members that were approved on the Dawes Rolls. All of these pages which number over a million, are located on the Family Search website and can be accessed free of charge.

Earlier Cherokee Freedmen Records
There is a unique set of records covering a wide span of years, which are strictly Cherokee Freedmen Records.  The records like most of these images come from the Federal Record Center in Ft. Worth Texas. This is the set of records known as Cherokee Freedmen Rolls and Indexes 1867-1897. 

Within that collection, one will find the 1880 Cherokee Freedmen Census.


Original data: Selected Tribal Records. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Fort Worth, Texas. Group 7RA-51 Cherokee 1880 Freedmen Census

Hopefully these sample documents will provide more information for Cherokee Freedmen historical researchers seeking to learn more of the people in the Freedmen communities and who they were, and how they lived. Using these records will assist many historians, and genealogists, and they will thereby aid in telling the story more effectively for generations to come.