Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Matter of Birth~The Jackson Riddle, Riddle

In the book “Who was Who Among the Southern Indians, a genealogical notebook, 1698-1907” by Don Martini, he has a biography of a man named Jack Riddle that is clearly a description of the man listed on Choctaw Freedman card number 1146. The only footnote provided by Martini is the one pertaining to Choctaw Nation Case # 4855.
Don Martini, Who Was Who Among the Southern Indians, a genealogical notebook 1698-1907
There was a Choctaw Indian by the name of Jack Riddle who owned slaves yet it is not definitive this is that man. All three of the children mentioned in this biography left information that helps identify a Jack Riddle including a daughter Mary who is not mentioned in this biography. On Mary Riddle Sexton it is clear her father, Jack Riddle was described as a “Colored” man on her Choctaw by blood card# 2830

It remains a mystery at least to me why Martini listed a Choctaw Freedman among the Who was Who Among the Southern Indians? Perhaps he is one of those rare black men who owned slaves? If he did, it didn't prevent him from being placed on the list of Choctaw citizens known as freedmen.

Some of the questions about Jackson Riddle begin to be addressed once you take a look at the oral testimony in his Dawes packet. From this information a clearer picture of this man begins to emerge based on the information provided by those people that had a relationship with Riddle. The very first that stands out about Jackson Riddle was his language, the man needed an interpreter during his interview with a Dawes Commissioner.
M1301 Riddle, Jackson CHOF#1146 p2
The fact that Jackson Riddle apparently spoke only Choctaw would indicate his close ties to the culture of the Choctaw Nation and how indoctrinated he was in that culture. This should be viewed as an indicator on why so many former slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes chose to remain in Indian Territory following their “emancipation.”

The interview continues and more information that provides insight into the complex relationships between Choctaws and their former slaves. Remember this man is probably in his fifties therefore he lived through slavery and was eventually married to a Choctaw by Blood woman who gave birth to his children. If we view some of the documents and laws of the nation, his marriage should have been illegal and the tribal authorities should have enforced this law to prohibit such a relationship.

M1186 Riddle, Jackson CHOF#1146 p3
Well it would appear that not only did Jackson Riddle marry a Choctaw by Blood woman, when his first wife died; he proceeded to marry her daughter. I would argue this was again something that was acceptable by the standards and customs of the day and did not raise an eyebrow.

Something that should not be overlooked is the man interpreting this testimony for Jackson Riddle describes himself as a Choctaw as we shall see later, provided corroborating testimony for Riddle.

M1186 Riddle, Jackson CHOF#1146 p4
In many respects it is unusual to see a citizen by blood provide testimony for a freedman; having said that this might provide a basis for Don Martini’s assessment that Jackson Riddle was listed among the Who Was Who in the Choctaw Nation?

One of the things that stood out in this interview was the commissioner inquiring about the reputation of Jackson Riddle and how the community perceived him as a freedman. Without seeing all who lived in the area where Riddle and his family resided the idea that he was living among other freedmen is not clear. The fact that there were no other freedmen offering testimony for Riddle may also indicate he lived among other Choctaw citizens by blood.

A third witness provides more information about Jackson Riddle and his standing within the community he lived as a Choctaw Freedmen of mixed parentage and married to a woman of Choctaw blood.

The community in which Riddle lived was known as Quinton in Sans Bois County, Indian Territory. Simpson Colbert a Choctaw citizen by blood states Jack Riddle “is entitled to all the rights and privileges of such freedmen.” This is a statement I have rarely seen especially coming from a citizen on the blood roll, yet Colbert offers further information that provides some very interesting insight about the life of Jack Riddle.

The testimony of Simpson Colbert establishes without a doubt the citizenship of Jackson Riddle and that of every other Choctaw freedmen when he testifies, “”Jack Riddle has lived here continuously in the Choctaw Nation since his freedom; that he has voted at all elections and has exercised all the rights exercised by freedmen…”

M1186 Riddle, Jackson CHOF#1146 p7
It is unfortunate that in today’s contemporary Choctaw Nation the “rights and privileges” of the descendants of the freedmen have been allowed to be taken away on the pretext that citizenship is based on having the blood of someone on the Dawes Choctaw by blood roll when that was never the case.

One thing does begin to stand out in this particular instance; Jack Riddles was held in high regards by his neighbors and those Choctaw who knew him despite his status as a former slave. They also respected the rights of his children but as Choctaw by blood but in total, they were all considered citizens of the Choctaw Nation.

1900 United States Census Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory Township 7 North, Range 18 South
This riddle of who Jack Riddle was has one more twist in the story that may provide some justification for Don Martini including this Choctaw Freedman in his book about the significant people of Indian Territory and especially the Choctaw Nation.

The Dawes Commission received a letter supporting the application for Jack Riddle’s name being included on the roll as a Choctaw Freedman of good standing from the Principle Chief of the Choctaw Nation, Greenwood “Green” McCurtain. I would imagine for the Principle Chief to intervene on behalf of a freedman was extraordinary and here we have today people in the tribes who continue to deny the inclusion of freedmen descendants; clearly, times have changed.

Who knows, maybe it is because of all the stigma attached to being a descendant of a slave that the people of the Five Slave Holding Tribes continue to distance themselves from their history and their moral duty to adhere to the Treaty of 1866.

1900 United States Census, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory Township 8 North, Range 20 South
Perhaps it is a matter of more than one hundred years passing without those in the nation having the courage to seek out their true kin that was ostracized from them because of prejudices from the past that saw more virtue in white skin than black skin?

One thing is certain, there are many descendants of Jackson Riddle who have a seat at the table within the Choctaw Nation and there are more who deserve to be seated with them who are being denied the “rights and privileges” as freedmen descendants!

It is only a matter of birth that has determined these so called differences have become the deciding factor in a drama that has been playing out for more than one hundred and fifty years since the Civil War.

I continually ask myself if there are any citizens in the five tribes that have the courage to speak out against this "Continuing Wrong?"

I continually ask if those African-Natives in the five tribes have the courage to speak to their leaders about their cousins being continually ostracized from their ancestor's nation of birth?

I continually ask if there is any moral courage among the leaders of the five tribes to address this issue of citizenship that deprives them from distancing the tribe from it's insidious past!

M1186 Riddle, Jackson CHOF#1146 p 9

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