Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black (Indian) History Month Freedmen in the Civil War

Graphic created by Terry Ligon © 2011

Many men fought for their family's emancipation from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations during the Civil War. When people think of the Civil War, rarely does Indian Territory or the Five Slave Holding Tribes become part of the conversation.

Names like Sugar George, Bynum Colbert and Mobile Boyd are unknown to most Civil War scholars but their contributions are just as important to the story of people willing to die for their freedom.

There are three main battles that occurred in Indian Territory that slaves played from the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations fought with heroism; their story is slowly coming to light.

Brazil Cemetery, Mobile BOYD Photo by Terry Ligon © 2011

Agency Cemetery, Sugar T. GEORGE

Indian Journal April 24, 1878 p5c2

It is important to understand how serving in the military shaped the future leaders in what would become Freedmen communities. Men like Sugar T. George became significant leaders in their community and nation. Regretfully the Five Slave Holding Tribes don't seem capable of including men like Sugar George, Bynum Colbert and Isaac Alexander in their history despite the significant role they played in their respective nation.

M1301 #1477 Bynum COLBERT
Military Index Card Bynum COLBERT

As segments of the United States population "celebrate" the 150th year since the beginning of the "War of Rebellion" we are reminded that many brave men enslaved by the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Nations fought for the freedom of themselves, members of their family and the rights of citizenship in the nation of their birth.

The men presented here represent many more who were compelled to fight for their freedom and illustrate how leaders would emerge from the oppressive yoke of slavery when given the opportunity. Let us celebrate them and remember to tell their story!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Burial Sites Tied by Blood, History and Culture

Approximately a year ago this month a conference was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma which brought together many descendants of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen.

One of the sessions during the conference was on the need to preserve the burial grounds of the former slaves and their descendants who lived in Indian Territory prior to becoming the state of Oklahoma.

One person who has worked tirelessly in preserving the cemeteries in the surrounding area of Fort Coffee is Verdie Triplett. Together with Mr. Triplett we put together a short video to illustrate the urgent need for Indian Territory Freedmen descendants to take responsibility to preserve the burial sites of their ancestors.

Personally it is my belief the so called Five Civilized Tribes have a responsibility in preserving these sites as well. Despite the manner in which segregated Dawes Rolls were constructed with people who had "Indian" fathers placed on freedmen rolls, those individuals in fact possessed Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and in some cases Seminole blood.

That being the case I would think the tribes are obligated to reclaim and preserve every identifiable cemetery for historical reasons that tie the burial sites to the tribes by blood, history and culture.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black (Indian) History Month: Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen Leaders

It has always been curious to me who the leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen community were and how they developed as leaders. Fortunately there are a few documents that illustrate their activities following emancipation from the two “nations” but I’m certain there is much more to learn.

1890 Chickasaw Nation Census

One document that I strongly feel gives us insight about the men and women who became proactive about their lives and the lives of their children was Senate Executive Document 82; 40th Congress, 2nd Session. One of the important aspects of this document has to do with the date, July 24, 1868.

This date is important because the leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen realized that the two year limit for the nations to adopt the former slaves and their descendants was drawing near and the freedmen had not been adopted as citizens in the nation of their birth.

Clearly in the beginning the majority of leaders were men and it will take a more comprehensive study of freedmen life and culture to discover the women who contributed to the political and economic welfare of the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen.

Much of my research is dedicated to discovering the “Voices of Indian Territory” so that their life and legacy is preserved while telling "THEIR STORY" with "THEIR WORDS."

Senate Executive Document 82 provides a window into the thoughts, efforts and desires of the men and women who only two years earlier had been enslaved; yet they were not considered worthy of citizenship in the land of their birth and they certainly were not citizens of the United States.

Senate Executive Document 82; 40th Congress, 2nd Session p4
Another important aspects of this remarkable document is the identification of numerous leaders who signed on to this petition as they voiced their concerns to the United States Congress. One of the surprising facts that this petition to Congress provides is the desire by a group of freedmen to accept their portion of the $300,000 and relocate somewhere outside of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. They were willing to relocate because the Choctaws, Chickasaws and the United States government all failed to secure the same treaty terms that were provided the Seminole, Cherokee and Creek freedmen.

Watson BROWN Choctaw Freedman card #1205

However it is no surprise the United States or the tribes failed to pay the former slaves this money. The Choctaw freedmen were allowed to languish for another twenty years in the Choctaw Nation without rights as citizens. The Chickasaw freedmen would endure forty years of denial as citizens in the nation of their birth when they finally became citizens of the United States in 1907.

Chickasaw Freedman card # 218
It would be remiss of me to discover this document with the names of the early leaders in the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen communities and not attempt to locate additional information on each of them, if possible!

Isom FLINT Choctaw Freedman card #1159

I was aware of at least four record groups that might shed some light on these men and give me an idea of who they were and how they came to be leaders in their community. The first record group was the Civil War Pension files, the second record group would be the 1885 Choctaw Freedmen census, the 1890 Chickasaw Nation Census and finally the Dawes Allotment records.

Isaac ALEXANDER Civil War Pension File Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

Unfortunately most of the men were deceased by the time of the Dawes Allotment process but I was able to locate a sizable number of records for some of these men. Among this early group of leaders were many men who served in the Unites States Colored Troops and fought for their freedom as well as their families back in Indian Territory.

Excerpt from Dawes Jacket Bynum COLBERT Choctaw Freedmen card #1477

Byington (Bynum) COLBERT, Isaac ALEXANDER stand out as men who served their country and their people as they courageously fought the Confederate forces in Indian Territory and the United States.

King BLUE, and Henry CRITTENDON would distinguish themselves as a leaders in their communities as they advocated for the education of freedmen children. Henry CRITTENDON was instrumental in establishing the Oakhill Academy Valiant.


Nathan COCHRAN, Bart FRANKLIN and Dick BRASHEARS were impressive leaders in their communities as well. It was the efforts of Dick BRASHEARS and James LADD that caused them to be charged with “intent to disturb the peace and tranquility of the United States in the month of November 1869.” gathering.

After being cleared of the charges BRASHEARS, LADD, J. KEARNEY and another Civil War hero Thomas BLACKWATER called for another meeting at Skullyville in January of 1870.

Damaged headstone Thomas BLACKWATER USCT
Photo by Terry Ligon © 2011
We owe a great deal to these brave men, without their strong shoulders we could not stand as tall today. We need to preserve their legacy by locating their resting places, and maintain them in the manner befitting their contribution to Black (Indian) History.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.

And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you, follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

Dedicated To You

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

My One and Only Love

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

Lush Life

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,

Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

They Say It's Wonderful

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;

For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

You Are Too Beautiful

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Excerpt from "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Black (Indian) History Month "Caesar BRUNER"

Caesar Bruner comes from what historian Kevin Mulroy calls “Seminole maroons.” Bruner is purported to have been born around 1828 in Florida and was part of the Seminole migration that eventually settled in Indian Territory.

The Bruner’s were a successful and wealthy livestock owning family within the Seminole Nation. One of Caesar’s relatives, Ben Bruner became the leader of the Jim Lane band of the Seminole tribe following the Civil War which later became known as the Bruner Band and subsequently Caesar Bruner became the band leader as he came to be the most known and respected of the Seminole leaders. To this day the Caesar Bruner Band exists in the Seminole Nation.

Caesar Bruner was among the many Seminole’s who were considered Loyalist and some enlisted in the Union Army. The Loyal Seminoles presented claims to the United States following the war for lost property and this is one of the reasons the Bruner’s maintained their wealth following the Civil War.

During the Civil War Freedmen in the Seminole Nation became an integral part of the nation and held positions as blacksmiths, religious leaders, interpreters, store owners, guides, politicians and many other important positions of responsibilities as citizens in their nation. Caesar Bruner was no exception. He was a store clerk, interpreter and religious leader. He also attended council meetings as a leading man within his nation.

The Caesar Bruner Band as were all freedmen within the Seminole Nation, were given “equal rights” in the nation following the War of Rebellion through Reconstruction and up to Oklahoma statehood. As a political entity within the Seminole Nation the Caesar Bruner Band and the Dosar Barkus Band maintained their role in representing their freedmen constituency within the Seminole Nation.

One of the critical decisions Caesar Bruner had to make during Reconstruction was the relocation of the people who lived in the Bruner Town settlement near Salt Creek to establish it at Turkey Creek. As stated earlier the Bruner’s engaged in raising livestock and the encroachment of nearby cattle rustler’s was the main cause of the relocation.

Around 1879 when Caesar Bruner moved his band to Turkey Creek he also assumed leadership of the Jim Lane Band and the band began to bear his name. As statehood approached in 1906, Caesar’s son Ucum Bruner replaced him as leader but the band retained the name and to this day it remains the Caesar Bruner Band of Seminole Indians.

Source: The Seminole Freedmen by Kevin Mulroy

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Documenting a Cemetery Part 2

When I reported on my efforts to document a local cemetery in my area I began with the goal of photographing and documenting approximately 1500 grave sites. The Union Cemetery in Brentwood, California according to one of the caretakers has enough plots for approximately six thousand burial sites. Fortunately for me, he indicates there are probably only 3500 of these plots with someone buried in them.

During one of my visits to the cemetery I noticed a member of the armed forces visiting and paying tribute to someone who obviously held a special attachment to him.

Clearly, I did not want to interfere with his time there but I am a photographer at heart and the moment was worthy of capturing.

It is apropos that I was able to capture this moment because one of the things that struck me about this cemetery was the large number of military headstones located on the property. Every branch of the military is represented from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

I've located practically a headstone for every military conflict except the Civil War. I don't know if that is a matter of California being so far from the conflict in southern states but the fact that headstones from World War I to Viet Nam are well represented. The cemetery is also a good reminder that there were women who fought in America's wars and their remains rest in Union Cemetery.

When I began this project I believe the total of grave sites and headstones already documented amounted to approximately one thousand six hundred and twenty four, but don't quote me! Since that time I've been able to document nine hundred and fifty five memorials and over one thousand and one hundred photographs for my contribution to the Find A Grave website

Hopefully with the numerous projects I've gotten myself involved in I'll be able to document the approximate 500 headstones that remain. If not, I will have made it possible for someone to complete this important work.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black (Indian) History Month Part 1

As we celebrate Black History Month I would like to take this occasion to illuminate the history of “black” people who were some of the “First Families” of Indian Territory.

To take it a step further, it is my opinion the full story of blacks in America the history of blacks in Indian Territory MUST be included. The story of black chattel slavery in Indian Territory MUST be included in the history America.

It is important we teach the history of Native Americans that comprised the so called Five Civilized Tribes; Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole Nations and their impact on "Black History Month!"

My contributions for this month will attempt to bring the voices of some forgotten people who toiled as slaves, celebrated their “emancipation” and in some cases lived long enough to tell about themselves and the life they lived among the "Five Slave Holding Tribes."

One of those former slaves who lived to tell about themselves and give some idea of their life before and after slavery was a woman named Margaret Ann WILSON nee ALEXANDER.

Born in July circa 1821 Margaret Ann WILSON was part of the forced removal of Chickasaw Indians from her birth home of Tuscumbia, Alabama. She is thought to have been the daughter of Alexander COLBERT who was a member of one of the largest and influential slave owning families among the Chickasaw tribe.

Margaret was the wife of Cornelius PICKENS who died sometime during the Civil War. It is not known if his death is a result of his involvement as a soldier in the war but his legacy lives on through the lives of his children and their descendants.

Margaret Ann was present at many of the changes that occurred to the Chickasaw tribe and since she was enslaved from the time of her birth, she did live to experience emancipation in 1866 and was present some thirty two years later when the Dawes Commission enrolled her and many of her children as Choctaw Freedmen in 1898.

This remarkable woman lived to give birth to ten children; eight of them were still living at the time of the 1900 census.

Margaret Ann was a witness to the Civil War in the Chickasaw Nation and saw Indian Territory slowly begin the transition to statehood at the turn of the century in 1900. Margaret was witness to the emergence of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen Associations in 1868 and saw one of her own son’s; William ALEXANDER become a leader in their community as he fought to secure the rights of citizenship and education for the formerly enslaved people of African and African-Native descent in the communities of Berwyn, Springer, Woodford, and Stonewall Indian Territory.

Margaret Ann WILSON’S life is testimony to the men and women who survived the horrible institution of slavery among the Chickasaws Indians. She endured being sold to a Choctaw Indian during the “War of Rebellion” and giving birth to a child she loved though the child’s father was a Chickasaw who was part of the family that held her in bondage and brought her to Indian Territory in the 1830’s.

We take pride in bringing attention to the life of Margaret Ann WILSON; she was a woman with a world of humanity whose legacy is the lives of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and the generations to come. They all should know about this great woman and recognize she was not just a slave but a woman of great substance.

Margaret Ann WILSON nee ALEXANDER Choctaw Freedwoman # 122 front

Margaret Ann WILSON nee ALEXANDER Choctaw Freedwoman # 122 rear

The children of Margaret Ann WILSON nee ALEXANDER became matriarchs and patriarchs of some very familiar families in the area surrounding Ardmore, Oklahoma. It is important for the descendants of these men and women to know their ancestor's and know their family is interrelated throughout Indian Territory and Oklahoma history.

Bettie LIGON nee LOVE Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 106 front

Bettie LIGON nee LOVE Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 106 rear

John WILSON Choctaw Freedman Card # 123 front

John WILSON Choctaw Freedman Card # 123 rear

Louisa MURRAY nee LOVE Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 115 front
Louisa MURRAY nee LOVE Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 115 front

William ALEXANDER Chickasaw Freedman et al Card # 1 front

William ALEXANDER Chickasaw Freedman et al Card # 1 rear

Isabella CLAY nee PICKENS Chickasaw Freedwoman et al Card# 483 front

Isabella CLAY nee PICKENS Chickasaw Freedwoman et al Card# 483 rear

Susan JACKSON nee PICKENS Chickasaw Freedwoman et Card# 475 front

Susan JACKSON nee PICKENS Chickasaw Freedwoman et Card# 475 rear

Salina HAWKINS nee PICKENS Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 488 front

Salina HAWKINS nee PICKENS Choctaw Freedwoman et al Card # 488 rear

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stand By That Which Has Been Decided!

If you have ever watched the US Senate Judicial Committee hearings when a president nominates a new justice for the Supreme Court, you will hear the term “Stare Decisis” (stä’-rā dĕ-sī-sĭs) come up during the process. Stare Decisis is a "principal that the precedent decisions are to be followed by the courts."

I was thinking about this doctrine as I reflected on the actions taken by the Cherokee Nation when their attorney general office announced they would appeal the decision of the Cherokee Nation District Court regarding the recent ruling that Cherokee Freedmen descendants were citizens of the nation based on the Treaty of 1866.

It appears the Cherokee Nation believes they have grounds to overturn the District Courts ruling, despite the initial Supreme Court decision. It is because of this I began looking at what the Congressional Record might have to say in this regard. What laws did Congress enact that could have an effect on the Treaty of 1866 and Cherokee Freedmen citizenship?

Granted there are many documents that could illustrate my point but one that appears to cover the issue thoroughly is House Report 844 (50th Congress, 1st Session) March 5, 1888.

This report dealt with the Cherokee Nation’s attempts to discriminate in the payment of $300,000 by ONLY paying “citizens by blood.” The council attempted to exclude three classes of citizens; the freedmen, adopted Shawnees and Delaware Indians who were all CITIZENS in the Cherokee Nation.

The House of Representatives created a bill (H.R. 5066) to accompany this report for the signature of the President of the United States that would establish the fact that Cherokee Freedmen, Shawnee and Delaware Indians ALL were citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Apparently in 1883 the Cherokee Chief understood the nation’s commitment to adhere to their legal treaty obligation to protect the rights of ALL citizens which included the former slaves and their descendants. It was the Cherokee legislature that sought to violate their responsibility of paying all the citizens their share of the $300,000.

It is important to see how connected the rights of freedmen were in conjunction with the Shawnee and Delaware Indians; they ALL were given citizenship rights as a result of the treaty of 1866. But then as now, it seems it is only the freedmen who had to mount a legal challenge to this corrupt and illegal action to deprive them all of their rights as Cherokee Citizens.

In this part of House Report 844 (50-1) it is extremely enlightening to see language that if enacted by the Cherokee legislature the Cherokee Nation would be in “violation of existing law.” It also pointed out accurately this violation amounted to discrimination! Apparently the contemporary leaders of the Cherokee Nation seem to think they are immune to the laws and power of Congress?

This particular passage is astounding when you think about it. The President of the United States is “authorized to correct such evil and adopt the means necessary to secure the impartial administration of justice…” The passage also indicates that “Congress has the power to grant the relief sought by claimants…” It would appear the Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court could have some unusual scrutiny regarding any decision that could deprive Cherokee Freedmen descendants of their “rights and privileges” as citizens?

Remember “Stare Decisis?” Here we have President Grover Cleveland issuing a message to the Senate and House of Representatives indicating his support of “securing” the rights of Cherokee Freedmen in 1886. Is the Cherokee Supreme Court prepared to ignore the principles of law that state the rights of Cherokee Freedmen obtained by a treaty can be violated by the unconstitutional and discriminatory act of denying them citizenship?

The rights of citizenship for Cherokee Freedmen should be unquestioned. The Nation through a VOLUNTARY ACT in 1863, (prior to the Treaty of 1866) by their council, abolished slavery AND granted the former slaves, free colored persons AND their descendants “ALL THE RIGHTS OF NATIVE CHEROKEES! AND, IF THEY ARE POSSESSED OF THOSE RIGHTS, IT IS A VIOLATION OF THE TREATY TO DENY THEM SUCH RIGHTS”

Clearly there is ample documentation that the rights of citizenship in the Cherokee Nation have been established for the Cherokee Freedmen and their descendants. Any actions by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court to overturn their past decision (Stare Decisis) of these rights would be in direct violation of the United States Constitution and Constitutional Law.