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

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Oklahoma Freedmen History Month 2022 Unfolds


February has arrived and there are numerous expressions and celebrations of "Black History Month" that are unfolding throughout the nation.  For genealogists of African descent of course every month is a celebration of "black history."

However, from the perspective of Oklahoma history, and "Black history" the story of Freedmen---those once enslaved on Oklahoma soil, and their descendants---the story is missing. Yet, before the Civil Rights era in Oklahoma, before the Tulsa Massacre of 1921, and before the emerging of the "black towns of the early 20th century, people of African descent were well documented and present on the soil of Indian Territory. Brought first as enslaved people, then later classified as "Freedmen" these survivors created communities, built schools, established churches and contributed to the history and culture of their time. 

Therefore it is time to honor our Freedmen ancestors and to celebrate Freedmen History Month. This can be done in multiple ways. Here are a few methods of celebrating Freedman History Month.

Methods of Celebrating Freedman History
-Share photos of your Okla. Freedman Ancestor in your social media groups.
-Write an article about your favorite Freedman Ancestor
-Share images of you Freedman Ancestral town or community.
-Take photos of important landmarks in your Freedman town
-Start a weekly blog about your Freedman community.
-Document on film your visit to the Freedman family burial ground.
-Interview a Freedman elder descendant about their life and share that interview.
-Explore some newspapers sites to find stories of the Freedman community.
-Tell a story that you have heard about your Freedman family.
-Take pictures of the old homestead where your family once lived.

Create Your Own Celebration Schedule
You can honor your history any way you wish.

Daily Option:

-You may wish to post a photo every day of your freedman family.
-If you are a writer or blogger, commit to writing a piece every day--short or long--about your history, or family or community
-If your Freedman ancestor was a crafter, share an image each day of their work---quilts, clothing, woodworking masonry work, art.

Weekly Option:
-Select one Freedman ancestor each week and devote the week about him/her. 
-Interview one elder each week to collect some additional information about the family.
-Speak to anyone in the community who can talk about the old school where Freedmen attended.
-Share one family artifact each week.

Step Outside the Box---Get Creative
-Musical Talent? Write a song about the Freedman History (Ode to an Ancestor)
-Write a story featuring the Freedman ancestor as central character.
-Draw or paint rendering a Freedman ancestor or the whole family, at their work (farming, teaching, preaching, building, etc.)
-Broadcast your passion for Freedman history: Create or host a blog radio show, or create a Freedman Youtube channel.
-Create a journal! Historical Journals can be once a year, or quarterly, or monthly! Create one. -Collaborate with others and become proactive with a unique project! (A mural, or an anthology of stories about the community, or assemble a team to create a montly or yearly journal about the Freedmen ancestors.

You are only limited by your own imagination!

Honor the ancestors during Freedman History Month! It could lead to new ventures in new arenas! Such an undertaking could bring about changes in your own life.