Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Cherokee Freedmen Win Battle In Federal Court

".....When the Cherokee people wrote into their constitution in 1866 “all native born Cherokees, all Indians and whites legally members of the nation by adoption, and all freedmen,” “shall be taken and be deemed to be citizens of the Cherokee Nation,” they fixed the status of the freedman and raised him to the same rank of citizenship which they themselves enjoyed. Thenceforth he was to be equal with themselves under the constitution, governed by the same laws, enjoying the same rights, possessed of the same immunities, and entitled to the same protection. If the common property was to be retained for the general welfare, he was to share equally in its benefits; if it was to be sold and its proceeds divided, the constitution made it as much his as theirs."

And so goes the ruling made August 30, 2017 in favor of the Cherokee Freedmen.

For many this ruling is a surprise---Cherokee Freedmen, descendants of the formerly enslaved people held in bondage, have been struggling for the greater part of the past century for their rights to remain citizens in the tribe of their birth, and the tribe of their ancestors. Over the years there have been continuous efforts for the Five Slaveholding Tribes, to cleanse their nation of the presence of descendants of  their slaves.

In the Cherokee Nation, during the tenure of the first female Principal Chief, Wilma Mankiller, the Freedmen began a decades long saga fighting for their rights to remain citizens, after having been kicked out of the nation. Some who had been a citizen for their entire life showed up to vote to suddenly be told that they were no longer citizens.

This happened in 1983, when Rev Robert Nero, an elderly man showed up to vote in a Cherokee election. He had voted in other years including the previous election in 1979. He was told that he could not vote because he did not have "Cherokee blood".

For many with roots in the deep south, this is similar to many African American citizens who were prevented from voting, because their "grandfathers" had not voted. For others this treatment was not different from the challenges made to other blacks by giving them exams that were not passable, again to prevent their voting and sharing in the rights as citizens.

In 1984, Rev Nero and others filed a class action lawsuit challenged this new policy. They stated that their treatment by the tribe had been "humiliating, embarrassing, and degrading." The tribe argued that the Federal court had no jurisdiction in the case, as it impinged on tribal sovereignty. That case went on and ruled in favor of the tribe. The Appeals court ruled that the case was a tribal issue and allowed the lower court ruling to stand. That ruling occurred in 1989--5 years after the case was initiated.

This began a saga again and that would emerge, would challenged next time when Bernice Rogers Riggs, a descendant of slaves one held by the family of noted humorist Will Rogers, challenged the issue. Her case was somewhat different, because she challenged the issue in Cherokee Court and not Federal Court.  At that time I was contacted by one of the attorneys representing her to be a witness in her case. That was in the summer of 1998, in the capitol of the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah.

Mrs. Riggs sued Lela Ummerteskee the tribal registrar, over her having been denied citizenship in 1996. She had documented her family ties to the nation, but she was denied enrollment because her ancestors were placed on the Freedman Roll

This long standing policy of forbidding enrollment of those whose ancestors were on the Freedmen Roll, has been a long standing policy, deemed acceptable by many for years. The policy of allowing those who are caucasion with 1/1000th degree of Indian blood, based on a flawed roll that intentionally ommitted any blood degree of any kind on Freedmen, has been an on going issue. Basically those who ancestors were enslaved by those who marched alongside their slave holders on the same Trail of Tears, have basically been told repeatedly that their blood didn't count. Yet---Freedmen descendants can prove that they descend directly from their ancestors on the Dawes Rolls. This is the same roll that will admit those who descend from Inter-married whites, whose degree of Indian ancestry is minuscule, and if a DNA test were issued, they would have little to no Indian DNA showing. But DNA is not an admissible element for citizenship. Admission is based on having ancestry of a certain portion of the Dawes Roll.

Over the years, more individuals became aware of their own ties to the Five slaveholding tribes. In 1991, I discovered my ancestors on the roll of Choctaw Freedmen. I learned that my own great grandmother whom I had known when I was child, had been born enslaved in the Choctaw Nation. I found her enrollment card and was stunned when I saw my own family and beside their names a column headed by the words "slave of" followed by the name of the slave holding family.

Two years later I wrote a book about researching the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, published by Heritage Books. Astonishingly this was the first book ever written as a genealogy guide for the thousands of Freedmen descendants. I began to meet others from around the country, who had roots in Oklahoma, and who could also document their history to that of the Freedmen. I began to study the history of slavery in the Five Tribes and was learning an incredible history never taught and still not taught in Oklahoma schools. The history ommitted, is that slavery occurred in the land that became Oklahoma.

I also learned about the fact that Freedmen had been kicked out of the tribe, and that the nation had basically looked away, while people with documented ties, were not allowed citizenship in the nation which was part of their own family history. I also learned the policy was one where those with ancestors on the rolls of "Blood" and "Inter-married whites" are admitted into the tribe, and those with ancestors on the rolls of "Freedmen" were not allowed. I learned also that they have been excluded steadily for the past 3 decades.

However, the last decade has brought about more challenges with some changes. In 2001, Marilyn Vann sued the nation once again after she was denied enrollment, because her father and grandparents were on the Freedman Roll. Ms. Vann and others challenged the ruling and this time, others became aware of this new challenge, and began to show their support. The Freedmen were admitted by the Treaty of 1866. Among the new supporters of the treaty were the Delawares who were adopted by the same Treaty. They showed support of the Cherokee Freedmen.

Three years later, in 2004 Lucy Allen, another Cherokee Freedman descendant filed a case in Cherokee court, claiming that the exclusion of Freedman was unconstitutional. It should be pointed out that the first line in the Cherokee Constitution states that "The law of the United States is the law of the land". The Appeals council ruled in favor of Lucy Allen's case, thus opening the doors of many Freedmen descendants to then apply for citizenship.

Then a ruling was made in 2006 overturning the earlier ruling against the Freedmen. This began a back and forth issue of allowing the Freedmen to enroll, followed by Cherokee Chief Chad Smith calling for a vote to expel the Freedmen. Only 3% of the eligible voters participated in the vote, which came out as a vote of expulsion. The tribe officially claimed that over 70% voted to expel the Freedmen, though it was 70% of the 3% who had voted.

In 2012 a case was filed in 2012 with the Cherokee Nation claiming that it was not required to admit the former slaves as citizens. There was a counter suit and it was decided to combine the cases since both cases involved the exact same parties. In May of 2013 a hearing was held in Federal Court in Washington DC. I attended that hearing and had a chance to observe as attorney Jon Velie argued on their behalf.

Today, August 30th a ruling by Thomas F.Hogan, senior United States District Judge. He ruled that Cherokee Freedmen have rights guaranteed to them as full citizens, as the treaty promised. The treaty he referred to was the Treaty of 1866.

It will never be known why it has taken years for this case to be settled. There was hope that the ruling would have been much earlier, but at last a ruling has been made. It is not known how other tribes will act in light of this ruling. The language of the treaty is clear. Hopefully with this ruling, I can only hope that others will now start to pursue their history and genealogy with vigor and enthusiasm. The nation has come to terms with the unequal treatment of one part of the nation in light of the trial and of the analysis.

Perhaps the tenacity of the Freedmen beginning with Rev. Nero and their unwillingness to disappear quietly was something that was never expected. It is stated that the tribe spent millions of dollars trying to remove the descendants of their slaves from the nation. Based on race and color, although many descendants could actually prove that they too had Indian blood, the fact that the Freedmen never quit the battle was never expected. Principal Chief Chad Smith who vehemently sought to purge the Freedmen from the nation, is no longer in office, and the Freedmen whom he wanted removed, have now won their case, once again, and as in previous cases, it was decided upon the merit. The Cherokee Freedmen were citizens and are citizens of the nation.

There are more than 20,000 genealogy files pertaining to the Freedmen that are genealogically rich and historically significant records.

The numbers of Freedmen descendants from all five tribes is significant, especially if one looks at the numbers from 1906 when the Dawes Rolls were still being developed:

Cherokee Freedmen 3982
Choctaw Freedmen 5254
Chickasaw Freedmen 4995
Creek Freedmen 5585
Seminole Freedmen  857 (+93 children born later)
 Total number of Freedmen from Indian Territory: 20,766.
 My hope is that others will step further to examine their history more intensely.

Meanwhile, the work and tenacity of the Cherokee Freedmen, with leader Marilyn Vann are to be recognized. Their courage to address racially based treatment of them over the years has been observed by all, and their battles have caught the attention of historians and scholars throughout the nation. 

They have been peaceful and maintained their dignity over the years as efforts were made from tribal leaders to attorneys to lobbyists, to discredit them, and their plight. Hopefully this will bring to an end the saga begun in 1894 when Rev. Robert Nero challenged those who had once enslaved his parents and grandparents. 

Our job now, is to assist others as they seek to tell their story. The Oklahoma Freedmen have an incredible story to tell!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Clara Cujoe & Family - Seminole Freedmen

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

Enrollment Card, Seminole Freedman  Card #820

This Cudjo family from Wewoka is a family that can be considered one that is blended, as the mother and children are Seminoles and the father was Creek. In the case of Clara Cudjo and her children, she appeared in front of the Dawes Commission, to enroll herself, her daughter Peggie and her three step children, Bettie, Peter, Jack and Morris. Her husband was Paro Cudjo, who was a citizen of the Creek Nation. Clara was a member of the Dosar Barkus band of Seminoles. The family lived in Wewoka, Indian Territory at the time she appeared.

(same as above)

Unfortunately, many of the Seminole interviews, like the Creek Interviews are missing. Some are not labeled correctly, and others are simply missing and detailed files do not exist for many of the corresponding enrollment Dawes Cards. There was a file that contained one mere document pertaining to Clara Cudjo. That one page however is significant, because it points out that Clara Cudjo apparently died before the rolls were closed.

Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1884-1934
Document accessed on Ancestry.
National Archives Publication M1301

(same as above)

Nancy Davis was a sister of Clara Cudjo, and she appeared in order to make application on behalf of her sister Clara, now deceased. Clara's data of death was said to have been October 10, 1900.

(same as above)

Another interview was also a part of the file, with Paro Cudjo, Clara's husband. Although she was identified as deceased, he was allowed to still appear and make a claim for the land that she was entitled to, had she lived. On that document, traditional questions pertaining to the status of the land, improvements upon the land and the nature of the parcel of land.

It is not known if the fact that there were two applications for Clara's land created conflict or not, or whether rights were given to the husband by default. The remaining documents reflect the presence of the husband in the file, and nothing additional was known of Nancy's application. However, for research purposes, it was useful to know that there was a sister and the family has another name to follow and study, to expand the family narrative.

Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1884-1934

(same as above)

Another questions arises pertaining to the family. What can be learned about Paro Cudjo himself? A search on two databases did not reveal the name of Paro Cudjo. I wondered if he was related to Paro Bruner, but they were not the same families. And Clara's card as well as the land record state that he was a Creek citizen. I also checked the name written as C-u-d-j-o-e, but no Paro Cudjoe there, either. It is not clear who ended up with the land from the documents, and it is not clear who Paro Cudjoe the father actually was. No enrollment card for Paro Cudjo exists, but clearly, the record does reflect his being Clara's husband and father of the children in the household.

With no enrollment card for Paro Cudjo, one might assume that he administered the estate for his deceased wife and that was the end of the story. However, some additional records pertaining to Clara's estate and her husbands status as administrator were found. Among the probate records of Oklahoma some additional records were located. The file was much larger than expected and 18 more pages about Clara's property were located among probate records located on Ancestry.
On one record, Paro revealed that he had lived on the land since Clara's death and that some improvements were made over the time. He pointed out that he had not rented the land to anyone, but he and the family had resided there.

But surprisingly there was a challenge to Paro Cudjo having been pointed as Administrator of her estate. It is not clear as to why there was a challenge, but it is clear that a challenge to his administrative status was made. It was recommended that Paro Cudjo not be allowed to continue as administrator of the estate of Clara and her children. The letter appears to be one from a company requesting that the bond be canceled pertaining to the status of Paro Cudjo as administrator. The company was requesting to be removed from any liability pertaining to the claim. It is not clear whether or not this was a technicality or if there was another issue at hand.

Was this an effort to capture the land? It is known that many citizens of the Five lost their land due to many challenges put them in the early 1900s. It is not known if this was the case, or if the Paro kept the land for some time.

However, in 1910 census three years after statehood, Paro, was living in the township of Lincoln, in Seminole County, with daughter Peggie, and second wife Flora. His name was also found on some of the lesser known town rolls from the Creek Nation, but it is not clear why there does not appear to be an enrollment card for Paro Cudjo.


The possibility may be that he could had access to more land by holding on to his Seminole wife and children's assets and as a Creek he may have received only one allotment for himself if he were to enroll alone.

He was clearly present and appeared on the Arkansas Colored Town roll several times in the 1890s, and he was with his family in another Township several years later.

Hopefully the family thrived and continued their life within Seminole Country, and hopefully the short life of Clara Cudjo will be remembered well by her descendants.
* * * * * * * * * *

This is the 25th article in a 52 article series devoted to sharing histories nad stories 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 theses posts are part on an on-going project to document 52 families in 52 weeks. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Life and Times of Hagar Myers and Family, Creek Freedmen

Though found among the many records of the Creek Freedmen, The Myers family of Muskogee is deeply rooted in the Creek Nation. For John Myers, unlike many classified as Creek Freedmen, his own roots are not planted among that of the enslaved. He was born free as were his parents Harris(sic) and G.A.G. Myers.  For wife Hagar, she was was born enslaved by Sukey Kernal, as was her mother Diana.

The family resided in the Muskogee area, and they belonged to North Fork Town. Both had also previously been placed on the Dunn Roll. Her father belonged to Arkansas town, and her mother belonged also to North Fork town. A previous name of family was Hardage as noted on the back side of the enrollment card. (see images that follow)

In September of 1898, they appeared in front of the Dawes commission in application as Creek citizens. Though free and never enslaved, John and his mother Harriet, also born free, were placed on the rolls of Freedmen, of the Creek Nation. Harriet, John's mother was still living at the time and was placed on the same card.

Harriet was 70 years old at the time and her parents were identified on the card. Her father was John (Jno) Cooney who died during the Civil War, and Harriet's mother's name was Dorcas Hardage. It is noted on the card that Jno Cooney was deceased, as was her mother Dorcas. It is also noted that Dorcas was at one time enslaved by Siah Hardridge.

Creek Freedman Card #1057, Field Car #1083
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

(Reverse side of card)

National Archives Publication M1301 U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes,
[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.

(same as above)

(same as above)

With all of the challenges pertaining to the Creek Nation and their many missing records, including the application jackets with interviews there are often other resources to explore and with the case of Hagar Meyers, she was considered by some to be a woman whose history should not be forgotten.

The history of Hagar Myers that is not reflected in the documents above were captured in an interview conducted in the 1930, where Hagar was mentioned. According to Scott Waldo McIntosh, who was interviewed in the 1930s as part of the Indian Pioneer Project, an amazing description of Hagar Myers is found. According to McIntosh, Hagar Myers, a Creek freed woman, was possibly the one person responsible for bringing peace during the Green Peach War.

University of Oklahoma, Western History Collection
Indian Pioneer Papers, Interview with Scott Waldo McIntosh

It appears that during the time of the conflict there was a need to get a message to Isparecher (Spieche) that soldiers were being dispatched from Fort Gibson. This is where Hagar's story emerges.

(same as above)

(same as above)

This story is found in the interview with Scott Waldo McIntosh, who was  one of the sons of William McIntosh. He gave his interview to the Indian Pioneer Project in the 1930s and he had been a witness to many of the events that had occurred, in the 19th and early 20th century among the Creeks. The interview, found in its entirety in the Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma numbers more than 20 pages. He spoke of many things in his narrative, including the contribution to peace made by this simple woman of courage and conviction.

(same as above)

Most interestingly, McIntosh also called for Hagar to be honored and remembered for her bravery and at the time of her death for her to have a special marker and for her grave site to be remember what she died that brought about some of the peace to the area.

This part in Hagar's life is notable and is hopefully one to be remembered by many who are students and scholars of Creek history and that of the Green Peach War.

According to the Oklahoma Death index, Hagar Myers died on January 1, 1941. Little is known of her burial site, but it is hoped that the history and legacy  of this Creek woman, will always be remembered. It is also hoped that the entire Myers family history rooted in both free people as well as in those enslaved by Creeks will be honored and remembered in future years.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is the 24th article in a 52 article series devoted to sharing histories nad stories 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 theses posts are part on an on-going project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Joe & Dillard Perry Chickasaw Freedmen & Chickasaws by Blood

One of the more intriguing stories of identity, race, and heritage comes from the story of two brothers, born in Indian Territory. Their story on the surface appears to be a simple one where an elder in the family registered her grandsons with the Dawes Commission. She had been enslaved in the Chickasaw Nation and was doing what many people did during the years of the Dawes enrollment process. She registered her family. The saga Joe and Dillard began when they were first enrolled and place on the rolls of Chickasaw Freedmen.

However, what emerged was a story that mirrored that of many others in Indian Territory. The two Perrys had a mother of African Ancestry, and their father was native American--Chickasaw Indian. The story is unique because the parents of the two young men had a true relationship and had planned to raise their family together.

In 1892, Charlie became ill and died, thus leaving Eliza with her two boys to raise alone. Having an extended family that was quite large, Eliza received support from her mother Harriet, and it was Harriet the matriarch who appeared and enrolled the children. They were enrolled along with a large clan of other family members on Chickasaw Freedman Card #61.

On the front of the card, one can clearly see the names of the two grandchildren whose cases would later be challenged. Joe and Dillard have roll number 267 and 268. Because of the controversy, one can also note that an asterisk was placed near their numbers.

Chickasaw Freedman Card Number #61
The National Archives at Ft. Worth, Ft. Worth Texas  1898-1914,
NAI Number: 251747, Record Group Title: 
Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75

Reverse side of card

This is clearly a very large family and much rich genealogical data is found on the card, reflecting the spouses and children of those represented when the grandmother enrolled them. On the top card above the names of Joe and Dillard, is the name of their mother Eliza. Eliza would later be the one to request that her sons be placed on the Chickasaw roll by blood.

Close Up of Data on Card

The back side of the card also revealed the name of the Joe and Dillard's father Charley Perry, who was, by that time, deceased.

Close up on reverse side of card

Before looking at the application jacket, this case is one in which much is revealed in the various details found on the card itself. Some of the notations added after the initial interview are noted in red and they reflect various actions pertaining to the two young boys and how the commission acted upon them.

The back of the card contains more data about changes in their status. It should be noted that they originally began the process in 1898, when the grandmother appeared to enroll all of her children and grandchildren. Then the mother Eliza began a suit, because her husband was Chickasaw, by blood and she wanted them to be recognized as such. A decision was made in 1906 (see note below) to cancel their status as freedmen and transfer them to the rolls by blood.

An important footnote is written in red on the bottom of the front side of the card, directing the reader to a change in status for Joe and Dillard Perry, cancelling their status as Freedmen.
(same as above)

When they were transferred to the blood roll a card was completed for them as Chickasaws by blood. And as one can clearly see from the blood card---it was quickly canceled.

(same as above)

And one can tell by the notations on the front of the card how their case evolved. And the large stamp of course reveals a later decision as well.

(Notations on card - close up)

(Additional Notes on back)

From both the card "by blood" and the "Freedman" card it is clear that this was a complicated case. But then so much more about the case emerged when reading the application jacket. The details about Eliza, her marriage to Charley Perry, and the subsequent cold treatment by his relatives toward her are also reflected.

Several pages from the series of interviews are presented here. What emerges is the fact that Charles and Eliza had a relationship and had begun living together. But marriage between an Indian and one of African ancestry was forbidden by law and threat of punishment. As it turns out, Charlie and Eliza were arrested for cohabiting and were taken to Texas. Their crime? She was black and he was a Chickasaw Indian. It was pointed out during one of the interviews that she was also one quarter or one eighth Indian, however, the presence of African blood in her veins somehow in the eyes of the Chickasaw community and policy put a "stain" on the public perception of the couple and their right to have lived as husband and wife. Their marriage made their act of having a relationship with each other, a crime.

They had two children Joe and Dillard, and some of the witnesses from the Perry family said only that they had "heard" that there were two children, but had never met them. It was later stated that Charlie and Eliza married while in Texas, but another official objected, finding it inconceivable that a "negress" and an Indian would be allowed to marry while in Texas.

National Archives Microfilm Publication Number M1301
Application packets Chickasaw Freedman #61 U.S., Native American Applications for Enrollment in Five Civilized Tribes, 
1898-1914[database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2013.

The questioning began addressing the family background of Charlie Perry, and whether the witnesses had knowledge of the two boys Joe and Dillard being his sons. In addition, several people, including relatives all mention that Charlie would go away and live someplace else, for a while, but would only return to they Chickasaw family for short visits. 

(same as above)

A series of questions were addressed to the witnesses about not only the two young boys being the sons of Charlie Perry, but also several were asked about the mother and whether Charles was mentioned as being married to Eliza.

(same as above)

The grandmother Harriet also took the stand and spoke about her knowledge of the case of Charlie and Eliza. Harriet was the grandmother who went and registered the family from the beginning of the Dawes Enrollment Process.

(same as above)

(same as above)

(same as above)

(same as above)

Eventually after much discussion occurred about the status of Eliza and Charlie Perry's marriage, Eliza herself finally took the stand to speak.

(same as above)

When Charlie became ill, he was at the home of his Chickasaw Family. Eliza did go and visit him while he was ill, but clearly did not stay long for she was not really welcomed while there. Charlie died, and Eliza faced the future years without her husband, and began to negotiate life with her two children.

As stated, their Freedman grandmother originally enrolled them, but Eliza mentioned in her interview that she should consider suing on behalf of her sons, so she did file a lawsuit for the right of her sons to be enrolled as Chickasaw by blood. Their father Charlie, who was now deceased, was, in fact, a Chickasaw Indian. But the children were not accepted by their Chickasaw relatives and they were, in fact rejected by their Chickasaw grandmother, who admitted that she never knew them. There was deliberate avoidance of contact with the bi-racial children of their Chickasaw father, by his family.

What emerged was a story of challenges, and counter-challenges to be thrown in the face of the Perry children, despised for their African blood, and ignored although they carried the blood of their Indian fathers. So the children were enrolled as Freedmen, then cancelled as Freedmen, then enrolled as Chickasaws by blood, then cancelled as Chickasaws by blood, and re-enrolled as Chickasaw Freedmen. Theirs is a noteworthy cases, and it was not a unique case--there were others involving Choctaw as well as Chickasaw Freedmen. The case of Bettie Ligon also addressed the status of a woman who was originally as a Choctaw Freedman and her efforts to be enrolled as Chickasaws by Blood. That was the well known landmark case Equity Case 7071.

The story is a complex one, and in a future piece I shall focus on the genealogy of the larger family of Perrys, Taylors, Johnson, Bruners and other who comprised the structure of this one blended family of cultures, tribes, races and bloodlines. Truly, it can be said that the case of Joe and Dillard Perry continues to be a complex one for genealogists and students of Indian policy, law and sociology.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is the 23rd  article in a 52 article series devoted to sharing histories nad stories 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 theses posts are part on an on-going project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.