Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Dave Roberts, Creek Freedman Businessman of Muskogee

 An interesting obituary recently share by history enthusiast and collector Rex Campbell of Oklahoma City recently caught my attention. It was a simple article about a man who had passed away in September of 1918. The deceased man was Dave Roberts, and he was simply described as a "Wealthy Negro" who had passed away.

Muskogee Times-Democrat
September 23, 1915, p 4
(Accessed from

So who was this "wealthy Negro?" The notice of his death indicated that he possessed much real estate in downtown Muskogee, so with great curiosity I became interested in more details about his life. The gentelman Mr. Rex Campbell, who recently discovered some ledgers reflecting six years of death records from Muskogee County, was able to shine more light on this man. He also found another about Mr. Dave Roberts, and again noting that he was a man of means. In addition, this article written the following day in the Muskogee Daily Phoenix, and this article appeared on the front page of the newspaper.

Muskogee Daily Phoenix, September 24, 1915 p. 1
(Accessed from

Could more be learned about Mr. Roberts, and his life? Living in Muskogee, at first it was not certain if he was a latecomer to Muskogee from another state, or whether he was a "native" meaning that he was born there in the Creek nation. However the article indicatedUn that he was born "in the Concharty Mountains, long before there was a Muskogee."

Uncertain about the exact location of the Concharty Mountain a reference to the area was found in an image owned by the Oklahoma State University and it was in an old periodical from 1922 called the Nation's Highways.

Courtesy of Oklahoma State University Digital Collections
Cyrus S. Avery Collections
The Nation's Highways, March 1922

Locating the Concharty Mountain on a modern map indicated that this area is located in what was the old Creek Nation. With this information, is most unlikely that Roberts migrated to the area, if he was born in a rural mountain area of the Creek Nation. So the next most likely question was whether or not he may have been a Creek Freedman.

Well sure enough there was a Dave Roberts, who was on the Dawes Roll. He was married and had several children at hte time they enrolled. He and his chilren were placed on the Dawes Roll as Creek Freedmen. And at the time of enrollment he was living in Muskogee as indicated on documents such as his Dawes enrollment card.

National Archive Publication M1186 Creek Freedman Card #300 Oklahoma and Indian Territory, U.S., Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

From both front and back of the enrollment card it is noted that both Dave Roberts and his mother Silla had been enslaved at one time by Chief Opotholeyahola, a prominent man in the Muscogee Creek Nation.  His wife at the time of enrollment, was Jenni, who was not a citizen of the nation. His first wife Eliza Yargee, and mother of his first son Elliott was deceased. All of the Roberts family listed on the card, belonged to Canadian Town, one of the Freedmen Tribal towns in the Creek Nation.

(back side of card #300)

Unfortunately, the Application Jacket for Dave Roberts is missing as many of the Creek Freedmen files are, and were therefore never microfilmed. However, so much more can be learned about Dave Roberts in the Land Allotment files as well as in the Federal Census. But it is also important to note that Dave appeared in front of the Dawes Commission in 1898 as indicated in the lower right hand corner of the Dawes Card. 

(notation from enrollment card)

And he resided in the Muskogee area at the time of enrollment as evidenced by the data in the upper left hand corner of the same card.  

Notation from enrollment card

His residence in Muskogee is confirmed also by the Federal Census of 1900 and 1910. It is noted that as early as 1900, Dave and wife Jennie and their children all lived on North Side Boulevard, and that David Roberts is already a "landlord".

1900 Federal Census, Indian Territory, Creek Nation
(accessed from Ancestry)

By 1901, Dave Roberts was already selcting land allotments for his family members, as he has already done so for himself by that time. Although his application jacket is missing, his land allotment file is intact and one can read his testimony as he selected allotments for his children. His son Clayton was one of his children for whom his testimony is reflected.

Exerpt from Allotment file of Dave Roberts for Clayton Roberts
Department of the Interior. Office of Indian Affairs. Five Civilized Tribes Agency. 
Applications for Allotment, compiled 1899–1907. 
Textual records. Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 
Record Group 75. The National Archives at Fort Worth, Texas.

Since Dave Roberts had already gone through the land selection process earlier, he realized quite early that he was at an advantage, now being a land owner. Some of the land being selected for his children were in Township 15N, and Range 18E. A platmap points to some of the land Davis was selecting. The small portion shaded in black represents some of the Roberts alloted land.

Upon an analysis of the Land Allotment maps provided by the Nationl Archives website, the exact portions alloted to some of the Roberts family is reflected in Township 15 N, and Range 18E.

Allotment Map, National Archives
Township 15 North, Range 18 East of the Indian Meridian, Indian Territory

Zooming in, on the same map one can see some of the land alloted to two of Dave Roberts family members. 

(closeup of prior image)

And zooming out on the same map it is clear that the lands were just north of  Muskogee, not far from the Arkansas River. Today that area is all part of greater Muskogee.

(same image zooming out)

As Roberts witnessed the vast number of people who were pouring into Indian Territory and in  particular into Muskogee, he soon realized that instead of cultivating the land as space to farm, he could now divide some of that family land into smaller parcels of land from which new arrivals could settle, and for whom he would become a landlord renting out those parcels of land as small lots to them. Those new arrivals were to become part of the growing city of Muskogee.

It is not clear how many tenants Dave Roberts ended up having, however, he was able to amass a good amount of wealth from the rented properties that he owned. Or as it was said in his day, they were "well to do."

With his financial success, Dave Roberts had a major concern about his family, and that concern was about his son Clayton Roberts. Clayton was his third child, and he had become quite concerned that his son was becoming influenced by less industrious people in the area. Having warned the son about staying away from gamblers and land grafters, Dave feared that son Clayton might lose his land to land grafters. As a result, he made a very bold move. In 1909, when his son was now a young teenager, he was disappointed that the boy did not have a job, nor exhibit an interest in more industrious activities. The boy did not work, and the father feared that son Clayton would come under the influence of land sharks who frequented the Muskogee area where they lived. 

Dave Roberts made an unusual appeal to local Muskogee Police Sergeant, Morrison, "Put him in jail and keep him there," he is quoted to have said. "Keep him away from these vampires who are trying to cheat him out of his land."

Muskogee County Democrat
16 September 1909  p 5

Not much more is known about Dave Roberts in the years that followed, but tragedy did strick the faimly in 1914 when son Clayton died, and a year later when Dave Roberts himself also died.

The story of Dave Roberts is not often mentioned today. He was a Creek Freedman with a vision, and who made his mark on the city of Muskogee where he lived, and hopefully his story will be remembered. He is buried at Harding Memorial Cemetery, in Muskogee Oklahoma. Thanks to the lost records that were recently found, we can now call his name. May he never be forgotten.

Headstone for Dave Roberts,
Harding Memorial Cemetery, Muskogee, Oklahoma
Courtesy of Orange Rex

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Reflections on the Senate Hearing & Meeting With Descendants of Oklahoma Freedmen


Women (left to right): LeEtta Osborn Simpson (Seminole); Rhonda Grayson (Muscogee); Sharon Linzy Scott (Muscogee), Marilyn Vann (Cherokee), Rosie Khalid (Cherokee); Angela Walton-Raji (Choctaw)
(This group met in Senator Schatz's office after the Senate Hearing)

On July 27th, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs met in Washington DC to listen to input from the five slave-holding tribes. These tribes are the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss issues pertaining to the descendants of Freedmen--the African people once held in bondage in those nations. I was fortunate to be able to attend this hearing.

Upon arrival at the Hart Senate building, Freedmen descendants gathered in front of the building before shortly before 2:00 pm when doors were opened. For them, it was an opportunity to meet descendants from other tribal nations, for the first time. Interactions were congenial, friendly, among the small group of descendants some of whom were meeting in person for the first time. 

Before the committee convened, all in attendance gathered in front of the Hart building. There was little interaction between tribal representatives among themselves, and the gathering in front of the building was extremely quiet. But for Freedmen representatives all five tribes were present, and this was only the second time since 1866, that Freedmen descendants from all five nations were present in Washington for a hearing pertaining to their status within their own respective nations. The first time was in 2021 when descendants gathered for a hearing in the House of Representatives.

No others were present at the Senate building, except the Freedmen descendants and invited speakers.

Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muscogee chatting before hearing
Lto R: Doris Burris Williamson, Terry Ligon, Sharon Linzy-Scott, Calvin Osborne

Muscogee Creek Freedmen Band members before hearing

Choctaw/Chickasaw and Muscogee
descendants sharing info. 
Terry Ligon, and Calvin Osborne

Tribal officials soon arrived, generally keeping apart from others. Some arrived wearing traditional native necklaces and generally awaited the opening of the doors to the Hart building, near the entrance. Most were quiet and not much inter-tribal interaction or talking among each other before entering the Hart building.

Tribal officials gather outside the Senate buidling

                                                                                     Before the Senate hearing

Once the doors opened, the small group of about a dozen of us were directed to the room for the senate hearing once we were cleared and names of invited guests were confirmed. The hearing room contained  some large television monitors so that those of us seated behind the speakers could actually see their faces as they spoke.

Freedmen descendants sat behind listening to the spesakers. Only one spoke with honesty and heartfelt sincerity about their history and historical mis-treatment of Freedmen and then offered a sincere apology to descendants. That was Cherokee Chief Hoskins who also mingled freely with Freedmen before and after the hearing. 

The hearing began with Congresswoman Maxine Waters addressing the Senate Committee. She was then followed by others representing the BIA, and the various tribes. The only speaker on behalf of the Freedmen was Marilyn Vann long time Freedman advocate, and now an enrolled Cherokee citizen.

Maxine Waters addressing the Senate Committee

                                                        Panelists listen to Congresswoman Waters address.

Other speakers spoke about blood--ignoring that they also prevented Freedmen who were connected  by blood to them, from being placed on the blood rolls. One after another they spoke, some never answering the questions asked, and others simply clinging to their security blanket of "sovereignty" as sssomething to hide their race-based biases behind.

Only one voice was heard speaking on behalf of the disenfranchised Freedment descendants. Ms. Marilyn Vann spoke and was the lone voice speaking for Freedmen descendants. Ms.Vann is now an enrolled Cherokee citizen, so technically no voices of disenfraned Freedmen were heard, while tribal officials sent attorneys, ambassadors, and even BIA officials who uphold tribal policies and who also spoke against any concept of Freedmen equal treatment.

Marilyn Vann, Cherokee citizen addressed the committee

Several of the Freedmen took vigorous notes during the hearing as the panelists spoke.

                                                       Note taking during the hearing.

After the hearing only a few of the tribal speakers conversed or had dialogue who with Freedmen descendants, and most of them quickly left after the hearing. Later, a smaller group of 9 Freedmen descendants (pictured at the top) from all of the Five Tribes met with Senator Schatz in his office for a brief discussion about moving ahead.

Atty. Demario Solomon-Simmons discussing Freedmen issues with Muscogee Ambassador 

Reflections After the Hearing

Moving ahead, today, 156 years after the treaties were signed by each tribe,  the descendants of the Freedmen are still seeking justice. Why? Because four federally recognized tribes prevent them from having basic rights coming from their own family ties to them. These nations claim to be "sovereign" nations, while they refuse to offer services to all who are part of them.

Freedmen descendants are those  whose ancestors lived with them, were enslaved by them, remained with them when later freed, abided by the same laws created by them, and were part of them. However, today---the descendants of only those who have a certain "blood" are allowed to be a part. Sadly that blood policy also means that if you have a blood tie to a slave, then you are less than they and are to be shunned and forced to remain so--forcing people to carry a "stain" of slavery--a status they never sought.

In Oklahoma today in these nations, educational doors are opened for children, summer camps prevail, STEM educational training abounds, and scholarships and educational grants, are offered, and so much more. There are health benefits for the elderly, housing assistance for those in need, mental health assistance for those also in need, all of which are funded by US Federal dollars.---but the black children have no such access, nor do the elderly black people, many of whom are related to their lighter-skinned enrolled tribal members. Those light to white skinned members are welcomed into the nation, and live with these enriching benefits because they are allowed to have association with the tribe of their ancestors. But the Freedmen cannot have association with the tribe of their ancestors---some of whom are the same as enrolled members. That is the irony and the bittersweet aftermath of American slavery and Indian tribal practice of black chattel slavery.

 Today the struggle continues. It is noted that when post Civil-Rights years-- in the 1970s and 1980s these former slave-holding tribes had now embraced the the same "old-south" racist feelings to black citizens, and with the aid of friends and colleagues who had become federal BIA workers. They simply changed their constitutions and quietly removed descendants of slaves from eligibility.

Since then, these same tribes  have been able to execute racist policies in the name of  "sovereignty" and have been able to ride on national sympathy as victims of the Trail of Tears, bringing in millions of tourist dollars and wealth from casino monies. Their wealth is enhanced by federal funds, and now these slave-holding tribes have become wealthy, large employers, and "good neighbors" to Oklahomans, as long as the neighbors are not Freedmen descended people. 

The resilience of the Freedmen from the past is found in the resilience of their descendants today. The fight for equal opportunity continues to fight for the same opportunities that are their birthright. Freedmen never imposed themselves upon tribes it was the tribes that imposed their laws and culture upon them. Today thousands of Freedmen descendants still have a strong identity to the same tribes--simply because that is what they are. 

Descendants seek to live full lives complete with the same opportunities that their fellow neighbors, friends and even kin have. This struggle continues because "it is the right thing to do."

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Sadly, it IS about RACE and not about Blood


From Terry Ligon's blog: Bettie's List

Last week's Senate Hearing about the Reconstruction Treaties of 1866, was most revealing, including the official statements by the speakers who made the effort to defend their stand on why they do not provide full citizenship to the descendants of the people who were enslaved in their nation, in their space, and in their families.

On his blog, Terry Ligon shared a poignant article from 1910 about the pushback against Freedmen wishing to be transferred to the rolls by blood, because they had Indian fathers. He included quotes from the article including one critical statement: 

 "The negroes must remain negroes. They can not be transformed into Indians."  

That is clearly a statement about race, and no matter what today's spin from Durant says---it has to be stated---this is ALL  about race.

One can only wonder if that is the reason why Chief  Batton, who reached out to the Freedmen a year ago, chose not to attend the hearing this year. Tribal lawyers have advised people in the nation to not enage with Freedmen who reach out and who make calls in response to his open letter.  Yet, no descendants of Freedmen are enemies of the Nation from which they claim identity. So why is engagement now not possible?

As stated before, there appears to be a fear that somehow the presence of fear of people of African descent in significant numbers will somehow lessen their "appearance" as an Indian Tribe. Yet---both Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that signed the same treaty together claim to be sovereign nations.

It should be pointed out that one characteristic that all sovereign nations have--is that they exist as a political structure of multiple people from numerous families, clans, and communities who share something in common----history, space, longevity, language, and continuous contact. Freedmen had that and those still in Oklahoma still have that. 

In addition-----the treaties of 1866 do NOT use the word "blood". But today, and every day since 1983, when the constitution was quietly changed----the use of the word "blood" swas inserted into the tribal discourse, which is a word that stirs up emotion and creates a false illusion that somehow families being threatened or put in danger. And furthermore the continuous insistance of blood being the bottom line, suggests to the public and that tribal sovereignty is being threatened by decendants of former African slaves in their midst.

This continuous "this-is-about-blood cry," and thefear of African Choctaws, is quite similar to such statements that were often made by the "gentle" southern people of the old racist south that truly believed that being in the mere space of people with brown and black skin did them physical harm. This in their minds  justified laws posed against them, and acts of violence agains them without punishment.

Is this what the sentiments are in the Choctaw Nation? Truly? Is the fear of Freedmen descendants the security blanket that justifies in your mind the act of preventing them from being in your space---but they have always been in your space?

To the Honorable Chief Batton, and Mr. Burrage: What actual threat do Freedmen descendants in your space pose to the nation?

*What harm did those who were freed from bondage do to the nation that they claimed as theirs also?

*When people "by blood" were given 8 times more land than the Freedmen, how did their disadvantage placed upon the Freedmen threaten the sovereignty of the Choctaw Nation?

*When 254 different families followed the steps of Bettie Ligon and Joe & Dillard Perry seeking to be placed on the blood rollm how were the Choctaw people harmed and how did these Freed people threaten the nation or its sovereignty?

*When people were identified as Choctaw Freedmen and not freedmen people of any other of the 274 Federally recognized tribes----how  can you look at their descendants in the eye, and declare openly that they are not among a popultion of Choctaw people?  They were once Choctaw slaves, and then Choctaw Freedmen, so how can one say that they were not Choctaw people? What is in this race based  that can makes you comfortable in doing this? 

*Is THIS how a sovereign nation conducts itself?

* What is the real threat to the sovereignty of the Choctaw Nation?

There is no threat to sovereignty, BUT---the real threat is public sympathy towards the nation. The threat is that the image of an oppressed people forced from their homeland to an unfamiliar land will be tarnished.

However, this universal sympathy is tainted somewhat when the history is told of an oppressed people, dragged enslaved people of another race with them. The sympathy is lessed, when others learn how teh nation has a continuing policy of keeping distance from the descendants of the freed people.

And furthermore, public sympathy is affected when the stories of not only enslavement of people of another race, but the choice to fight for the south in the Civil War.

But note Note that when the Civil War ended, and the United made former slaves citizens---there was NEVER a clause in the 14th amendment that they had to have the blood of white people to become American citizens. Yet----today the Choctaw Nation states that descendants of enslaved Africans, to become citizens, must contain the blood of the tribe that enslaved them.

African slaves arrived in the Territory with Choctaws, on the same forced migration. They worked as enslaved laborers for generations in the Choctaw Nation with no pay since they were human chattel. After Freedom came, the Choctaw Freedmen waited a full 19 years before the act to give them citizenship occurred, although the treaty said they would give citizenship within two years.  

It must be said:
-The United States became a better nation when slavery was abolished.
-The United States became an even better nation when the 1964 Civil Rights act was passed erasing Jim Crow. 
-The Cherokee Nation became a better nation when it was decided to embrace the decision of 2017.
-The Cherokee Nation has become a better nation with almost 12,000 Cherokee people once disenfranchised Freedmen descendants have been admitted.

To bring about change going forward, here are some suggestions:

-A simple admission that these policies are all about race is an honest beginning. 

-Allowing Chief Batton to continue to explore the initiative that he state in his Open Letter of 2021 is a beginning.

-The establishment of opportunities of contact between Freedmen and tribal council members is a beginning.

We are not the enemy. We live our lives with a strong identity as a Choctaw population in spite of what is said.

The opportunity to make the Choctaw Nation an even greater nation awaits. Today it is simply a Federally recognized tribe that is choosing to stand behind a blanket of fear, and calling it "sovereignty". This does not make the Choctaw Nation as strong as it can be. Embracing race-based policies that alienate people in your space, who have a documented historic tie to you, does not make you sovereign and it does not make you strong. 

It weakens you and places you in the same space of the old segregationists of the Old South during the Jim Crow era. They were not honorable people. They lived in senseless fear of people whom they had also oppressed. Those states are now better since those policies are gone. They are not perfect, but they are so much better than they were.

At last week's hearing Cherokee Chief Hoskins was comfortable as he mixed and interacted with Freedmen from all of the Five Tribes before and after the hearing. No such comfort or interaction came from representatives of Choctaw or Chickasaw Nations. They kept their distance, interacting only with those with whom they were comfortable---those who were not black. 

Sometimes simply addressing those issues and facts that give you fear, can also make you free and allow you to move freely in all spaces where you find yourself.

Today's policies are about Race.

Simple admission of this fact can allow the blanket of fear to unwrap itself from around you, and allow you the freedom to return the handshake that is still extended to you.

We are among the Choctaw Proud.


Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Hearing on Capitol Hill


Senator Schatz Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs

July 27th 2022 was a landmark date. For the first time in history a hearing on the status of Freedmen of the Five slave-holding tribes, occurred to address the neglicence of both tribal officials and Congress in issues pertaining to those once enslaved.

Focus of the hearing:  
Oversight Hearing on 1866 Reconstruction Treaties Between United States and Oklahoma Tribes.

The hearing was chaired by Senator Brian Schatz (D. Hawaii) and in attendance were descendants of Freedmen from all five tribes, whose ancestors were once enslaved in those nations. The tribes sent their own representatives to testify on their behalf. Representatives from the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Nations were all present. Each represenataive was given 5 minutes to present an official statement. Only one speaker on behalf of Freedman was included.

The first panel consisted of only one presenter--Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who had long recognized the issues affecting descendants of Freedmen, many of whom now live in her district in California. 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaks to Senate Committee

The second panel consisted of multiple speakers from the Five Tribes, in addition to a representative from the Department of the Interior, Bryan Newland, and the sole speaker from Freedmen, Marilyn Vann an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association. 

The audience consisted of Freedmen from all five tribes, many of whom met and gathered prior to the hearing outside of the Hart Building on Capitol Hill and who met for the first time. The hearing was historic because Freedmen who have ancestors documented ties to each tribe were present for the first time in Washington to attend an event addressing their issues.

Dorris Burris Williamson and Terry Ligon

Attendees Gathering Before Hearing

Creek Freedmen in Discussion Before Session

Panel 2 Listening as Congresswoman Waters speaks

It did appear that there was a strong interest expressed by the committee as they listened to the presenters. In addition some of the questions asked by the committee members were left unanswerable because the issues such as the size of the Freedmen descendant popultation have never been studied.

Senator Lankford of Oklahoma Listened intently to presenters

Partial view of Panel 2

Another view of Panel as seen by audience

Speakers from the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma

Speaker Representing the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

Speaker Representing the Muscogee (Creek) Nation

Speaker Represnting the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma

Speaker Representing the Oklahoma Freedmen 

The hearing began shortly after 2:30 pm and lasted until about 4pm. Some evaded questions directed to them and others answered questions when directly asked. The outstanding voice pertaining to the treaty and its history came from Principal Chief Chuck Hoskins of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. who addressed the past as well as the present. Since the ruling in 2017 that confirmed the status of the Freedmen in the Cherokee Nation, Hoskins pointed out that close to 12,000 descendants of Freedmen have been admitted to citizenship in the nation and he was quoted as saying that they are a better nation because of it.

There will clearly be multiple disussions in many forums and platforms over the next few weeks. It is hoped that the hearing will be a new beginning in the movement to create awareness of the history of the Oklahoma Freedmen, and many more of the stories that pertain to their presence on the soil of Oklahoma will emerge.

Monday, July 18, 2022


Meeting Congresswoman Maxine Waters after Hearing ing on Capitol Hill

How ironic that last year July 28th a hearing occurred on Capitol Hill. Many descendants of Freedmen descendants from all Five tribes attende in support of language in the NAHASDA bill to include text pertaining to the Freedmen of the Five Tribes. We did have an opportunity to meet various members of Congress, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and others, in suppor of language mentioning the Freedmen in the NAHASDA bill.

And now---a year later on July 27th of 2022 a hearing THIS TIME ,exclusively ABOUT the Freedmen will occur in front of the Senate's Commission on Indian Affairs. No one from the community of disenfranchised Freedmen have a voice at the table.
The speaker for the Freedmen will be Marilyn Vann, President of the Descendants of Freedmen Association. She is also an enrolled Cherokee citizen. She will have 5 minutes to speak.
The chiefs will also have 5 minutes---but collectively as a group--- in total, they have 25 minutes to speakm while the speaker on behalf of disdenfranchised Freedmen will have only 5 minutes.
It shall be interesting to see how things will unfold next week on Capitol Hill. Myself, along with a few others will be present and observing the hearing, for the second year in a row a meeting ABOUT us, but EXCLUDING us.
We can only hope that something of itnerest and benefit, will emerge from this event.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Celebrating Freedom in Indian Territory


For many years in the late 1800s Freed people from the Five Tribes celebrated freedom throughout the summer months. Many Indian tribal Freedmen, in the eastern most part of the Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, started celebrating Freedom the same time their neighbors did in nearby Arkansas. Some in the southern part of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations started celebrating Freedom the same time their neighbors did in nearby north Texas.  

However, the most interesting part of the Freedom story is reflected in the fact that throughout many parts of Indian Territory, a celebration of Freedom actually occurred for many years on August 4th. Several references to the August 4th celebrations were mentioned by former slaves when interviewed in the1930s and their intervviews were captured in the Indian Pioneer Papers. The day was celebrated for many years and believed by many to be the day that Freedmen came to their families, but so far, the actual choice of August 4th still is unexplained. Nevertheless, Freedom was embraced and honored and celebrated by those once enslaved and freed from bondage. 

In the 1930s Elizabeth Ross, a field worker for the Indian Pioneer project, spoke with several former slaves about the celebrations they frequented during their lifetime. She spoke with two individuals who provided her with rich information, E. P. Harris and Dennis Hendricks. Here are some excerpts from her article about Freedom celebrations. (1)

 Cherokee Nation

"During a number of years when Cherokee government was in existence, it was a custom of the Freedmen or former slaves of Cherokees and their descendants to observe August 4th as the anniversary of their emancipation. As a matter of historical fact, the Cherokee emancipation was issued in the month of February 1863. Just why the August date was selected is not clear, but no doubt many were of the belief that the fourth day of that month was the date up which freedom became their possession."

In the Cherokee Nation, large outdoor picnics unfolded in Talequah, Fort Gibson and other large Freedmen settlements, consisting of speakers, singing events, and of course large amounts of food for the celebrations. Many of the invited speakers were local leaders, of all background, whites, tribal leaders, and well known preachers.

One of the larger events was observed in Tahlequah in the late 1870s where a long line of horsemen formed part of an impressive parade. Ross describes the event:

"A long line of horsemen formed on the banks of a small stream nearly a mile south of the town, and then a procession headed by a man with drawn sword, beside whom rode another man carrying a United States flag, rode back and through the main street of Tahlequah." 

Years later celebrations were occurred on the "May Party Grounds" the same spot where the 7th of May anniversaty celebrations occurred. Years later, large events were also noted in communities like Four Mile Branch in Fort Gibson.

Creek Nation:
Aaron Grayson was interviewed in the 1930s and described the celebrations that he recalled from the 1870s till the early 20th century. (2)

"There was an annual celebration held each year from the period from 1870 on up until the early part of 1900, which was held by negroes and freedmen. The white people observed Independence day on July 4th, while the colored people observed the Emancipation Day on August 4th. The observance of this Emancipation proclamation was mainly for and by negroes and freedmen, yet the Indians and whites were welcome to attend the celebrations.

There were always good times, because no one became drunk, quarrelsome or tried to pick a fight, but only a feeling of good comradeship was felt by all who participated in the events. Of course the Lighthorsemen and the United States marshals were present to check any trouble and to keep peace and order. Many new acquaintances and lasting friendships were often made at these gatherings.

..."When the day of the big celebration arrived, the people did not come poking around one by one but they came in groups or by bands, such as the Bruner band, the Topkafka band, etc. These people had assembled at one of the tribal towns from where they had come to the celebration as early as they could. They came on horses at a gallop, laughing joking and  yelling and were heard miles away before they finally came to the chosen place of the event."

Aaron Grayson goes on to describe how the various bands arrived and the cannons would be fired as they arrived and marched in circles around the flag pole signaling their arrival. The food was prepared by the women which was a massive barbecue feast. All in attendance, native Creeks, whites as well as Freedmen and state negroes who all shared in the massive amounts of food. Grayson also described events such as selection of the day's queen, and his descriptions of the clothing worn by many of the horsemen was quite colorful. Many of these events were held at Wetumka and Wewoka, and the last major event occurring in Tuskegee town.

Choctaw Nation

In August of 1938. Sallie Henderson Moss was interviewed by James Russell Gray of the Pioneer project. She desribed her life in the Skullyville district near Brazil Station, in the Choctaw Nation. In her interview, she recalled the celebrations of emancipation in August. (3)

"The colored people used to have picnics on the 4th of August. They would have big barbecues with lemondade, stick candy and everything. They were celebrating the freeing of the slaves. The Choctaws freed their slaves, you know on August 4th. They would kill hogs and beeves, and have dances and general good times"

Sometimes the colored people would take sacks full of herbs called "devil's shoestring" and put the stuff in the creek the way the Indians taught them to. This devil's shoestring made the fish drunk and the fish floated to the top of the water and could be caught. We would have fish fries for our picnics."

The stories about the celebration of emancipation is an interesting one, particularly because so many embraced August 4th as the day to commemorate freedom, although freedom was actually not uniformly in August. Each of the tribes eventually abolished slavery officially when the treaties of 1866 were signed. However, it should also be remembered that many found freedom much earlier than that time.

Many had become free during the Civil War when some had joined various regiments of the union army. And sadly, at the same time, in some parts of the Chickasaw Nation many did not enjoy freedom until at least two years after the war, as there was much resistance in parts of the Chickasaw Nation to allowing their enslaved people to taste freedom.

Nevertheless, now that there is a legal holiday where descendants of the enslaved perhaps some of the long forgotten traditions will emerge again. To think that there has never been before now, any effort to celebrate freedom from slavery is quite incredible. We must celebrate our freedom, like the people of Galveston. Freedom is a basic right of all people, and truly we must find ourselves among those celebrants. Our own ancestors truly knew the value of being free to make one's own choices in life. Whether it it June 19th or August 4th or all days in between---we must embrace the joy of Juneteenth and how at some point in the lives of our ancestors--the trajectory of their lives changed when Freedom came.

H a p p y  J u n e t e e n t h ! ! ! 


1 Digital Collections, University of Oklahoma, Western History Collections, Indian Pioneer Collections, Elizabeth Ross, Volume 109,  Interview ID 6764 Freedom Celebrations

2 Ibid  Volume 35, Interview ID 7458 Aaron Grayson

3 Ibid Volume 65 Interview ID 13620 Sallie Henderson Moss

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The Interesting Case of Moses Whitmire, Cherokee Freedman Trustee

When studying articles from the 19th century Indian Territory, anyone with an interest in Freedman history will note that numreous articles in the press appeared about the former slaves and the many struggles that they encountered. Some articles were about struggles for citizenship and equal rights and others made interesting references to schools and institutions established by and for Freedmen.
And one interesting case arose pertaining to funds set aside for Freedmen emerged in the Five Tribes, and one of them was the case of Moses Whitmire trustee for the Freedmen of the Cherokee Nation.

A special commission was appointed to represent the nation in a major suit known as Cherokee Nation v. Moses Whitmire, a case which began to cause much discussion in the late 1890s. The case involved not only specifically the rights of Cherokee Freedmen, but specifically the issue pertaining to funds that were to be set aside for Cherokee Freedmen.

The issue was that of $400,000 to be provided for freedmen, and from 4% to 10% to go to two attorneys from St. Louis---Robert H. Kern, and J. Milton Turner. Whitmire was an elderly man had been appointed as trustee for the freedmen, but soon charges were brought up against him about the funds and a mishandling of funds, and allegations that he had promised a larger amount of the money to the attorneys and allegations arose about mishandling of funds. Whitmire refuted this, and made his own statement. He pointed out that he was unable to read or write and that a document that he was said to have signed was not read or understood fully by him. An article from the St. Louis Globe Democrat carried his statement in a piece about the matter.

Ten years later the issue was still being discussed. by that time, Moses Whitmire had died but an interesting summary of the case appeared in a publication from Nowata, C.N.

Two years later the issue had reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and a brief article from the Chicago Tribune describes how the issue was handled.

The Moses Whitmire case is a rare instance of a case from Indian Territory pertaining to Freedmen, appearing in the US Supreme Court. A few years earlier Equity 7071 involving Chickasaw Freedmen was to have been argued in front of the Supreme Court, but the attorney never filed the brief and thus, it was never heard. The Whitmire case appears to be one of the few cases that appeared, even if only briefly in the nation's highest court.

The plight of Freedmen from all of the tribes was one that was disputed and argued repeatedly in the post Civil War years,  and it appears that the case of Moses Whitmire was no exception. It is also clear that victories were few if ever won during those trying years before statehood.

And for Moses Whitmore the man, very little is known. In his younger years he was enslaved by Cherokee George Whitmire. By the time of the Dawes Commission, he was 70 years old, and he was most likely one who also came to the Territory during the Removal period. His mother's name was Peggy, also enslaved by Whitmire, and his father's name is not known. He resided in Hayden, in the Cooweescoowee District of the Cherokee Nation. As an elder his being selected as a trustee it is clear that with his being given such a position, he may have demonstrated other aspects of being a leader or man of influence among Freedmen.

 Not much is known about the descendants of Moses Whitmire and after over a century is it not known if they are aware of their ancestor's quest and position as a trustee for Cherokee Freedmen. Hopefully more will be known about Mr. Whitmire, the man, and of his quest to represent his community.

Cherokee Freedman Card #972 Oklahoma and Indian Territory, U.S., Dawes Census Cards for Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914 [database on-line]. 
Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

Original data: 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