Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forty Acres and a Mule!

“I’ve spent much of my life searching for the stories of the African American peoples; I’ve always wanted to tell their story” Henry Louis Gates

As I watched Episode 3 of “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” I was reminded of the Naked Gun movie and the scene where explosions are going off, cars are being demolished and all kinds of havoc are going on when the main character of the movie parts the crowd and deadpans, “move along people there’s nothing to see here.” If you have ancestors that lived in Indian Territory, watching this program would be like the Naked Gun, no reason to watch, just move along, nothing to see…

Having said all of that, there was considerable attention given to the proposition of former slaves owning their own land and an emphasis was placed on the Sea Islands for their farming of the  a special blend of cotton and the fact that these blacks had the opportunity to grow this cotton on their own land.

I find it increasingly difficult to say good things about Dr. Gates and his so called “searching for stories of the African American people.” Episode three dealt with the issue of General Field Order # 15 issued by General William Tecumseh Sherman granting the proverbial forty acres and a mule to the emancipated slaves.

Map of Indian Territory Located at Fort Smith, Arkansas Museum
If the producers had taken the time to research the history of “The African American peoples” they would have EASILY discovered thousands of former slaves working land of their own and a treaty that granted these former slaves anywhere from forty to one hundred and sixty acres of land for every man, woman and child that was enslaved or a descendant of a former slave in the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek or Seminole Nations.

Following the Civil War the Five Slave Holding Tribes agreed to treaties in 1866 that emancipated their slaves; adopt them into the nation of their last slave owner as a citizen and provide them with land to become self sufficient.For the thousands of African Americans formerly enslaved in Indian Territory, they would have the ability to farm land that “state Negroes” could only dream about.  

The idea that a complete and thorough history of “African American peoples” is being presented with this program has been increasingly disappointing. Evidently, the idea of former slaves owning and farming their own land and developing all black towns while facing long odds and southern hostility did not occur for the former slaves of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians.

I have to ask the question why?

The struggle for civil rights among the Indian Territory freedmen is extensively documented in government record after government record from the Congressional Record to the Supreme Court; again, why is this history being excluded as part of African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross?
House Executive Document 207 42nd Congress, 3rd Session

If the producers and Professor Gates were dedicated to presenting the “stories of the African American peoples” he most certainly should have been aware of the rich stories about survival, protest and political intrigue that existed in Indian Territory following the Civil War. The Five Slave Holding Tribes fought on the side of the confederacy to protect their institution of chattel slavery.  Yet there was not one word concerning this history and the African Americans in Indian Territory affected by the war and it’s aftermath.

For the record, there is no way Dr. Gates can claim ignorance to this part of “African American history. In another made for television program he produced; Dr. Gates presented the genealogy of actor DonCheadle who is, in fact a Chickasaw Freedmen descendant. During the course of his presentation to Cheadle, Gates was quick to point out the one person who had some connection to Native Americans had no discernible “Indian blood” in his DNA; rightfully so, but to dismiss this history as a vital part of African American history is without a doubt problematic and incomplete.

Chickasaw Freedmen Dawes Card#729 Mary Kemp ancestor of Don Cheadle's
At this point I have absolutely no confidence the history of African Americans and their descendants who survived slavery among the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians will be presented in this six part program; African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. As I look at this last night was a perfect opportunity to present the history of Native Americans involvement in the Civil War and the land acquired by thousands of African Americans because despite General Field Order #15, these were probably the only former slaves that received at least forty acres. How the program missed that is beyond belief.
Land Allotment Land Description for Mary Kemp Ancestor of Don Cheadle
Mound Bayou was touted as an example of what former slaves could do when allowed to live alone in an all black town providing for their family's. It is remarkable not a word was mentioned about the multitude of "all black towns" in Indian Territory. 

When you look at the history of all black towns in Indian Territory and later the state of Oklahoma, you see towns from Bailey to Wybark with many of the citizens there former slaves and their descendants along with former slaves of the United States settling in during reconstruction to establish a place where they could worship, raise a family and provide the necessities of life to survive and prosper. Why there hasn't been any mention of these African Americans is a mystery to me; especially since Professor Gates has prior exposure to this very history.

The freedmen of Indian Territory who were enslaved by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians rebelled during their enslavement and some found their way to military locations where the Union Army was stationed to volunteer to fight to secure their freedmen as United States Colored Troops. These men came back to the Territory to become some of the leading men in the territory to continue their struggle for equal rights, citizenship and a share of the land that a few short years earlier they had been enslaved. 

Senate Document 82 40th Congress, 2nd Session p5

There were many men who survived the Civil War in one capacity or another when the war was over these former slaves manifested the leadership skills necessary to serve their community during the struggle to equal rights as citizens in the nations of their birth.They became interpreters, lawmen, farmers, and civic leaders their efforts should be recognized as contributions to the history of African Americans.A few of them survived and lived to be allotted land by the Dawes Commission circa 1898-1914.

Bynum (Byington) Colbert, Franklin Bartlett, Richard (Dick) Stevenson, Stephen Colbert, Nathan Cochran, Smith Brown, Isom Flint, Richard (Dick) Brashears, Watson Brown, King Blue and Isaac Alexander all lived to teach and train a younger generation of leaders like Charles Cohee during the difficult transition from enslavement to citizenship. 

Civil War pension file Isaac Alexander Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji

Bynum Colbert Index to Civil War Pension file Courtesy of Angela Walton-Raji
Charles Cohee photo courtesy of Evelyn Norwood

If forty acres of land is the benchmark for progress it was in full effect in Indian Territory. 
The transition from slave to freedman was seen in full effect in Indian Territory. 
The ups and downs of Reconstruction was seen in full effect in Indian Territory. 
Dealing with lynching and Jim Crow was seen in full effect in Indian Territory.

What does it take to recognize this history of African Americans on the other side of the Mississippi River? 

What is the problem with recognizing the history of the African Americans just north of the Red River?

Indian Territory Freedmen and their descendants could borrow a phrase from Harriett Tubman, "Ain't I African American?"

This blog post is part of a collaboration of posts being shared by a group of bloggers who are part of the African American Genealogy Blogging Circle. We are sharing our own personal family stories, as the series air on PBS. 

The Bloggers are:
Nicka Sewell Smith (Who is Nicka Smith)                               

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Timelines Cross Many Rivers

Slavery is not a shame on me!” Vincent Brown Ph.D

I am struck by the use of timelines to tell the story of "African American history" and how they can illustrate so many points along the “Many Rivers” we have crossed. The first time I was made aware of timelines was a presentation given at the genealogical society I have been a member since it’s founding; African American Genealogical Society of Northern California.

Don’t ask me who gave the presentation and I apologize to the woman that did, however her lesson was not lost on me. As I continue to view the program “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” it is apparent the producers and historians are utilizing this technique to tell the complex history of blacks in America.

What has puzzled me (to some extent) is not what is being offered as historical events along this timeline but what I would consider a history that is just as interesting and vital in telling a more complete story of African Americans and their history on the American continent.

Episode two opened on the timeline of 1781 with the story of ElizabethFreeman aka Mum Bett, a woman who filed suit for her freedom because she believed she too was entitle to the “pursuit of happiness” as was expressed around the dinner table she served.

The timeline was used again to illustrate the point in time when in 1786 Richard Allen purchased his freedom and moved to Philadelphia where he would eventually found the African Methodist Episcopal Church. As the program pointed out, the church he attended previously segregated the congregation and reminded Allen that freedom did not mean “equal.”

The date on the timeline of 1800 illustrated a couple of things that are of great significance; the introduction of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney and the establishment of Natchez, Mississippi as the second largest slave market in the United States at the time at Forks of the Road, MS.

These timelines were particularly interesting to me because in a very brief passing moment I heard the narrator mention the “Indian Removal” I’m sorry; the Native American removal during this period of time and was perplexed why this was used as a footnote to African American history.

In the state of Mississippi, next door to Alabama, just south of and west of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and good old Florida the “Native American” removal, the brainchild of no other than the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, (you know him, of the Declaration of Independence;  fame “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

Somehow this timeline of events did not warrant including with it, the history of antebellum slavery among those same “Native Americans” who would be “removed” to Indian Territory circa 1830-40’s and would carry with them possibly Africans and African descendant people purchased at Forks in the Road Mississippi is incredible. I would suggest this history belongs on the same timeline of African Americans in the United States.

NARA Record Group 75 M234 Roll 148, frame 134

This nonchalant mentioning of the Indian removal dismisses thousands of people who descend from men and women who were brought west from places like the Carolina's, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, who had a long history of being enslaved by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians. I am at a lost as to how this continues to be no more than a footnote in African American history?

It is ironic; these people of African descent literally had to cross the largest river (Mississippi) in the country to get to Indian Territory and they would in time create some of the wealthiest “Indians” in the country based on slave labor.  

Episode two mentioned the second middle passage was the buying and selling of slaves to the Deep South; I guess when it came to Indian Territory they could technically say it wasn't “the deep south.” But even today Oklahoma (formerly Indian Territory) is referred to as “Little Dixie" and I'm sure in the upcoming episode on the Civil War the fact the Five Slave Holding Tribes fought on the side of the confederacy.

It seems to me that if the origins of the Five Slave Holding Tribes began in places like Mississippi (Choctaw), Alabama (Chickasaw), Georgia (Creek), Carolina’s (Cherokee) and Florida (Seminole) then the slaves held in bondage among these “tribes” warrant more than a footnote? Clearly before the Five Slave Holding Tribes were being removed during the 1830's and 40's they were residing in a place where the institution of slavery was rampant and they were willing participant and all we heard was "the removal of Native Americans?"

Prior to the Civil War, the 1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule was produced with the enumeration of slaves in Indian Territory. The one time I saw any indication of the fact that slaves were held in bondage during this program was the map illustrating the spread of "King Cotton" from the Atlantic coast and the deep south through what was Indian Territory (for those who are not aware, it’s that unique shaped state just about Texas.) IF the producers of this show knew that much, they seem to be remiss in the telling of this story; YET! I'm holding out hope that this oversight is corrected before we reach episode six….

The emigration roll of 1842 compared to the 1860 Arkansas Slave Schedule illustrates just how Jackson Kemp increased his wealth in eighteen years. There were other wealthy Native Americans who derived their wealth from enslaving people of African descent; including but not limited to the Love and Colbert families in the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. "Rich Joe" Vann in the Cherokee nation was rich because of slavery and this was repeated throughout the five tribes but you wouldn't know that by watching African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.

As we can see, according to the same timeline utilized in Episode Two of African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, there is another story of enslaved people of African descent living seemingly in a parallel universe; suffering the abuses, dehumanization and degradation that exist throughout the American continent. Unfortunately it appears their story has been lost on the producers of this documentary and that is disturbing considering the number of black voices with doctorates providing historical commentary.

I would humbly suggest the producers may have overlooked scholars who have published volumes on the history of Indian Territory and the institution of slavery. I would begin with Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr. author of several books on Indian Territory and arguably the dean of historians on this subject.

Another excellent source of Indian Territory history would be my friend Dr. Jesse T. Schreier (yes, I’m biased but his work is worthy of reading.) Dr. Claudio Saunt has been teaching and writing about Creek freedmen and the Creek Nation history for quite some time and he deserves recognition as someone with valuable insight into African Americans enslaved by Native Americans.

There were many experts utilized that write about African American women’s interest during slavery and there are many women who can provide insights into the experience about the women of Indian Territory. Dr. Celia E. Naylor, has been writing on Cherokee Freedmen for years and recently I was delighted to engage in an online radio broadcast that showcased the work of Dr. Barbara Krauthamer; Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South.

I first met Dr. Tiya Miles in 2000 at a conference she was instrumental in organizing called “Eating From the Same Pot” at Dartmouth University. Dr. Miles was named as a MacArthur Genius Award recipient in 2012 and I’m sure capable of providing some critical information concerning the history of African Americans who were enslaved by Cherokee Indians.

Perhaps it’s “time” to present ALL  African American History?

Throughout the series, the African American genealogists and family historians listed below will weigh in on each week’s episode through the lens of their experiences as researchers, the stories of their ancestors, and the implications of the moments of African American history presented on family history research. 

Here’s the list of esteemed writers:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Crossing Rivers in Indian Territory

As I anticipate the airing of the six part series “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” I do so with the anticipation of someone looking to have his history included in the patchwork quilt that is African American history. Like so many people of “African descent” we have a need to be included in this story of America so we can understand just how we fit in.

Our patchwork includes so many influences that the title of the series leaves a lot for interpretation and I hope to put my insights into the history of the thousands of people who lived among the Five Slave Holding Tribes also known as Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole.

I suspect the story of Priscilla resonated with so many viewers who also perform genealogical research; especially people of “African descent.” The idea of locating and identifying the ancestor that stepped off that slave ship is a monumental task but I would respectfully ask my readers to take a look at the blog by my friend and colleague Nicka Smith, “Finding Your Priscillas.”

As I viewed this poignant story of a young girl put on a slave ship, brought to America and toiled on the Ball Plantation I was reminded of a story of a young girl forced to walk the so called “Trail of Tears” with her Creek Indian enslaver.

Mollie was said to be about 12 years old when she was separated from her mother Betsy and father Lewis; when she separated from her parents and arrived in America under hostile circumstances.

Mollie appears to have been living with her parents circa 1826-27 with their white slave holder in Alabama when she learned that she was going to be sold. After hearing the news Mollie ran away into the woods only to be found and brought back. When her owner decided she was too young to breed he sold Mollie to a Creek Indian who brought her to Indian Territory.

Mollie was later bought by Jim Perryman another Creek; he married her off “to one of his boys and when she didn't have a baby he sold her to another Creek Indian by the name of Mose Perryman.  What makes this story so remarkable it was told by Mollie’s daughter, Mary Grayson in 1937, as part of the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA.)

The confluences of these two stories are both another patch in the quilt of African American history because these women lived long enough to tell their story and have it recorded for all time. We have a responsibility as Dr. Gates has stated; to tell the larger story of African Americans and their struggles from enslavement to present day.

Mollie Perryman and Mary Grayson literally and figuratively crossed many rivers to survive and tell their story. Priscilla, Mollie and Mary were strong women who defied all the odds to live and tell their stories; it is our responsibility to see Indian Territory Freedmen included as part of the story of all African Americans.

Talk about crossing rivers, Mollie was sold on more than one occasion because she did not bear children for her enslavers, when she did, that child lived to tell the story of this remarkable survivor... 

For more observations on the television series African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross the following is a list of members contributing members of the African American Genealogy and History Blogging Circle:

*Melvin J. Collier, Blogger and Author of two books on his family history. His blog is: Roots Revealed.
*Vicki Daviss Mitchell, Genealogist and Blogger. Her blog is: Mariah's Zephyr.
*George Geder, Activist and award winning blogger. His writings will appear on Medium.
*Terry Ligon, Genealogist and videographer Chickasaw Freedman researcher. His blog is Black And Red Journal.
*Drusilla Pair - Genealogist, University administrator and blogger. Her blog is Find Your Folks.
*Nicka Smith - Genealogist, Photographer, and Blogger. Her site is Who Is Nicka Smith?
*Angela Walton-Raji, Author, Genealogist, Blogger and Podcaster. The blog is My Ancestor's Name.

Join us as we embark upon the same genealogical journey together.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

African-Americans, Many Rivers to Cross

In the lead up to the airing of the PBS airing of “African-Americans, Many Rivers to Cross” presented by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., there has been a lot of publicity generated for the show. In an article published October 21, 2013 the views concerning the reason for the show are given by professor Gates.

As someone who mainly researches the history and genealogy of African-Americans who were enslaved by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Indians I’m always sensitive to programs like this and whether the history I research will ever be a part of the discussion. It is with great anticipation I await the first show with hopes there be more than a passing reference to the extensive history of Indian Territory slaves and their contributions to the African-American history.

In the article Dr. Gates is quoted as saying “Slavery-the supreme hypocrisy” was always an essential ingredient of the American experiment. White America always drew heavily on the labor, culture and traditions of blacks while denying them due credit in exchange, not to mention their human rights.”

There is merit in this statement but it like so much African-American history fails to include the hypocrisy of Native Americans, specifically the “Five Slave Holding Tribes.” The article in the first sentence declares how the wounds of slavery “still afflict the country today” I would argue this should include the wounds inflicted on the descendants of Indian Territory Freedmen.

The horrific “profitable practice of slavery and the brutal inhumanity of Jim Crow” did not stop at the borders of Indian Territory. The slaves of the Five Slave Holding Tribes that were emancipated in 1866 also suffered from Jim Crow, race wars and lynching’s yet very little of this history seems to be included in “African-American” history. The contributions to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole especially seems to be lost to history when programs of this nature are produced and it is about time the history of Indian Territory Freedmen be included.

As I watch this series it is my greatest hope that the story of slavery among the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations is incorporated in the story.  The “amnesia about slavery” that Dr. Gates discusses I would argue should also include the amnesia in Indian Country.  If Dr. Gates and the producers of African-Americans-Many Rivers to Cross are “interested in recognizing and discovering oft-neglected pieces of the American puzzle” I humbly submit he need look no further than Indian Territory or what is now the state of Oklahoma.

As a member of the African-American Genealogy & History Blogging Circle I will be writing more about my opinions and observations of Dr. Gates' program with hopes of providing an insight that may not be presented in the program. 

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Matter of Birth ~ The SEXTON-RIDDLE Family

Earlier this year I submitted a proposal for a research fellowship to the National Archives in Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas. My project involved completing the database of information concerning every complainant on Equity Case 7071, Bettie Ligon vs the Choctaw Nation, the Chickasaw Nation and the Unites States Department of the Interior April 13, 1907. The records in the Joe and Dillard Perry files contain valuable information concerning the basis for hundreds of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen who were seeking to be transferred from the freedmen roll to the Choctaw and/or Chickasaw “Citizen by Blood” Rolls.

Unfortunately the selection committee felt there was a more deserving proposal and so I continue to mine the records I can in an effort to complete a project that I’ve been working on for years. One of the pieces to that project is the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen Community Extraction component.

It may be that like most people the members of the committee did not see researching the history of the Indian Territory Freedmen had historical value; however the Sexton-Riddle family history is one of those cases that provide a clear picture of how important this research can be to historians especially tribal historians of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. The descendants of James and Mary Sexton as well as Jack Riddle and Ho-ke-mar are vital to the correct history of these two nations and I’m afraid some of their descendants may not be aware of their connection to the Choctaw nation.

James Sexton

While working on the Chickasaw and Choctaw Freedmen Community Extraction project I came across another interesting discovery that again questions the definition of who is an Indian. I was logging in information from Choctaw Freedman card number 770; James SEXTON.

Like most things Freedman you have to drill down at times to get to the heart of the information available so you can “correctly” identify the various lines of family that make up Indian Territory Freedmen genealogy. For me I am always looking for those families that may have a connection to the lawsuit known as Equity Case 7071 or “Bettie’s List” for the purpose of constructing a complete database on the individuals involved.

At first blush it is clear James Sexton died and had his allotment cancelled by the Dawes Commission. However it was the handwritten notations about his wife and children that caught my eye and prompted me to dig further into this man and his family, despite him not being enrolled or having received a land allotment.

Figure 1 M1186 # 770 front, Choctaw Freedmen

The wording on the card is clear but if you didn’t pick up on it right away you would miss the fact that this was a Choctaw Freedman married to a woman on the Choctaw by blood roll and his children were enumerated on card number 2830. Naturally it is my duty to locate that card and see who these people were.

On the surface it would appear this family has nothing to do with Bettie’s List because the woman and her children on Choctaw by Blood card 2830 were more than likely uncontested citizens of the Choctaw nation despite their father being listed as a freedman. This clearly indicated James Sexton’s children were Choctaw Indian but as “mixed” African-Choctaw and with a mother who was Choctaw I wanted to see how they compared and contrasted with the mixed African-Natives on Bettie’s list. The only difference was a matter of birth.

The people on Bettie’s List had an Indian father and a mother who was considered to be of African descent. Genealogically speaking all the children on both lists were mixed and possessed Indian blood but because of the circumstances of birth, one was recognized as an Indian, the other was considered a freedman. Those on the freedmen rolls were judged not  to have any Indian blood and were not recognized as “citizens by blood.” What makes this case more interesting, James Sexton had he lived would have more than likely been a complainant on Equity Case 7071.

Figure 2 M1186 # 770 rear, Choctaw Freedmen

James Sexton’s father; Gibson Sexton was listed as a Choctaw citizen while his mother Rachael Pursley was enslaved by a woman named Phoebe Pulcher. James typifies thousands of people who lived in two worlds while being relegated to one when it came to their rights as a matter of birth. This is the type of information I am on the lookout for and at first I knew I couldn’t add James to the list of people involved in Equity Case 7071 because of his death but I did want to know more about his wife and children.

How did they view themselves, as Choctaw? Did his children see themselves as people of African descent? What about James’ widow, did she instill the culture and traditions of Choctaw in her children or were they reared as black children? What was the community of Enterprise like and how did this family navigate the two or arguably three worlds of politics and race that was Indian Territory at the turn of the century?

Before I moved on to the wife of James Sexton I needed to look at his Dawes Packet (M1301) just to see if there was some information that could be helpful. Like so many of the freedmen files his packet was merely a summary of his oral testimony and despite his father being listed on the card as a Choctaw citizen; by name, it was not included in the summary. However, there was an interesting short discussion about his wife.
Figure 3 M1301 # 770 page 4, James Sexton Choctaw Freedmen 

The commissioner interviewing James was aware that Choctaw Freedmen were citizens of the nation so his question was probably probing to see if James’ wife was a “state Negro.” James’ response was matter of fact and in the affirmative regarding Mary’s citizenship; it was the next question that gives some indication to the inherent bias the system and people hired to enroll freedmen had towards people of African or African-Native descent.

The commissioner assumed that Mary was a Choctaw Freedwoman and citizen of the nation but James firmly disabused him of the idea that his wife was enslaved as he told the interviewer Mary’s mother was a “full blood Choctaw.” Clearly it was time to take a look at Mary’s card and see what was in her record.

Mary’s card is so full of genealogical information I am amazed at what appears on this card. Newborns, colored fathers, and who knew, Mary’s father was alive and to my amazement had a Dawes card of his own!!!

Figure 4 M1186 # 2830 Choctaw "by Blood”

Again there was nothing remarkable contained in the interview packet of Mary Sexton no mention of her mother, nothing on her father but fortunately the record reflects both individuals and as luck would have it, there is a record on her father Jackson “Jack” Riddle.

In this family we see Mary and her mother maintained relationships with men of African or African-Native descent, clearly Mary’s mother was defying the laws and customs of the tribe with her actions when she intermarried and had children with Jackson Riddle, or is there more to the story?

Looking at documents like these makes you wonder just what the leaders of the tribes were thinking when they tried to legislate peoples lives? The decisions they made regarding who they would marry seemed to be quite flexible despite the prohibition on intermarriage between an Indian and anyone of African descent.

By prohibiting the intermarriage of a “citizen by blood with anyone of the Negro race” as they wrote in law, they made it a crime for these relationships to exist, yet we see again and again, the people violated the law. This also begs the question as to why the tribes and Dawes Commission classified the children of intermarried Indian men with women of African descent as illegitimate when they legislated to prohibit their marrying.

I am beginning to believe and see through the record there may be more African-Natives who have a legitimate claim of citizenship than people in the tribes care to acknowledge…Jackson Riddle Choctaw freedmen card number 1146 is pivotal in telling this story. I can track him from 1898 when he enrolled for his land allotment through a couple of marriages up to the 1930 census. 

Figure 5 M1186 # 1146 front Choctaw Freedmen 

Figure 6 M1186 # 1146 rear Choctaw Freedmen
In the next issue of "A Matter of Birth", part two; The Riddle of Jack Riddle

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Negro Drowns in Salt Branch

For many years now I have wondered about the truthfulness of a story my father told me concerning the death of his father.

The oral history began by my father telling me how his father and his father's sister did not get along that well. Mitchell and Gladys had issues that lasted a lifetime. Gladys is said to have offered five dollars to a friend to kill her brother Mitchell, must have been a serious issue to say the least.

In this particular case my grandfather Mitchell evidently took great pleasure in teasing Gladys’ husband “Alf” Anderson about his artificial leg.  It appears “Alf” was not one to suffer fools and told Mitch, “if you don’t stop, I’m gonna shoot you in the ass.”

Mitchell was said to be arrogant and decided he would pull down his pants, turn around and moon Alf! I guess somebody forgot to tell Mitch to watch his back and Alf loaded Mitch's butt  with buckshot.

The story continues that Mitch was taken to a sanitarium owned by a man named Andy Hardy so he could recuperate. It turns out that this man Hardy may have had a less than stellar reputation and was believed to have murdered his first wife as the story was told by my father. 

I have to point out that a lot of what my father told me happened according to him prior to 1933 when was about eight to ten years of age.  With a lot of the stories my father told tended to be second, third and possibly fourth hand hearsay.

Here is where the plot thickens! Mitchell had a friend by the name of Riley Jackson (who may have something to do with some shady quit claim land deals with Mitch, but that’s another story) who says he actually witnessed Andy Hardy murder his first wife “down in the bottom where he was doing some hunting one day. “

Evidently Riley Jackson was aware of Andy Hardy’s reputation and feared him; he was afraid to testify about what he knew in court. Riley told Mitchell what he knew while Mitch was being cared for in Hardy’s sanitarium because of the buckshot he got from his brother in-law.

Mitchell Ligon b. 1893 d. 1933
According to my father’s story a one hundred dollar reward for information about the murder was being offered.  Mitch was determined to get the reward so decided he would testify in court against Andy Hardy while still in a stretcher from Hardy's sanitarium.  Mitch now fearing for his life, hastily left the sanitarium when Hardy threaten to kill him.

Mitchell was known to be a pretty good horse trainer and had a horse named Wilson he trained from a yearling. Mitch trained Wilson to swim across creeks while he rode him or held on to his saddle as the horse swam across from one side to the other. 

Wilson was also known to be able to find his way home because Mitch was known to carry bootleg alcohol for sale and sometimes he would be intoxicated. One of the places that my grandfather regularly crossed with his horse Wilson was in my father’s words known as “Sawbranch.” 

This is basically the story my father told me years ago; I took notes and filed it away with hopes of one day finding some material that could corroborate this family oral history. I had many questions and thought that if I had the ability to travel back to Ardmore I would search for a court record that might provide information about the murder case involving Andy Hardy. I also held out hope that I could locate a court transcript that would have the testimony of my grandfather. Since he died in 1933 I wanted to know something about his manner of speech, attitude or just a trace of some truth to this story.

Was Mitch actually shot by his brother-in-law?

Did he actually testify in this murder trial?

Was there any truth to my father’s belief his father died with a bullet in his back?

Did Andy Hardy making good on his threat to one day kill my grandfather?

Just last week I was having another online discussion with my friend and researcher Alcina Lofties about a newspaper article she located concerning the murder of my father’s half brother Luther Ligon, also the son of Mitchell. The story reminded me of this story about the Hardy murder case and I happened to mention it to Alcina. 

Certificate of Death Mitchell Ligon

I have learned over the years that newspapers can be a goldmine of information when you are looking for information about the communities where your ancestors lived. It was a matter of hours when I got an email from Alcina with newspaper tear sheets that provided some essential corroboration of my father’s oral history.

My cousin Clayton found our grandfather’s certificate of death that listed his cause of death as an “accidental drowning riding horse in a swollen stream.”

Although it would contradict my father’s belief that his father was shot in the back it seems to give a little credence to the story of Mitchell using his horse to cross a stream.

The newspaper clipping Alcina sent me was another reminder that we have to interview elders extensively about their knowledge of family history. My father’s oral history has now demonstrated at least three times the stories he heard as a child had a great deal of truth to them and he would be elated to see the new piece of evidence that corroborates another significant family story.

The headlines read, “Negro Drowns in Salt Branch, Mitchell Ligon Loses Life Attempting to Ford Flooded Stream.” I now have some convincing evidence on the death of my grandfather at the age of forty in 1933. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought his death would be material for a newspaper but once I began reading the article some significant information about his death and more importantly his life emerged.

Daily Ardmoreite May 1933
One of the first things that stuck out is how I may have misunderstood what my father said or he was mistaken in were exactly his father died.

Clearly there was a grain of truth in his story despite the difference in whether his father died in “Saw Branch” or as the paper article stated, Salt Branch.

The fact that the two words are so similar I have to again believe that much of the oral history I was told years ago may have a lot of truth in it and this article is just another document in our overall family history that illustrates the paper trail people leave that we as researchers only have to look for, or in this case have a friend looking out for you!

As I dissect the article and try to square it with the information my father provided as he told the story it is remarkable how much can be gleaned from the newspaper article about my grandfather.

The article provides a relative time frame for the death of my grandfather after an “all-night” search after locating his body the next morning around nine o’clock.

The article mentions how my grandfather’s horse (Wilson) made it back to his farm “muddy and extremely fatigued” which “alarmed relatives” who “immediately began” a search.

It is not clear from these statements when the horse returned to the farm but it does demonstrate, again, the truth in my father’s story when he said his father’s horse was so well trained he could find his way back home, this time without my grandfather. It would appear the horse made it across the creek but his rider did not and the article explains why in the next paragraph.

Mitchell’s body was found a “mile from the crossing” and he was wearing “heavy workclothes and rubber boots” and was attributed to his inability to cross as he was accustomed to do with his horse that was trained to make the swim.

Why the authorities surmised Mitch was “believed to have been washed from his horse about 3 o’clock” is not clear and if there is a record of the investigation into his death, perhaps it might provide that answer.

I have to believe that if this crossing is as “much used” as is indicated in the article, Mitch understood the danger and if he was confident in his horse making the crossing I have to think he was smart enough to know his clothing and shoes would have been a detriment to any attempt to cross or he has done it time and again with the same clothing and boots?

It is also clear the incident happened during the day and in the next paragraph more answers and question arise about the incident.

There was an investigation and inquest into the death of my grandfather which in my mind means there may be a record or two that may provide additional information about the drowning and who was questioned about Mitchell Ligon’s death.

Perhaps the sheriff left a record of the investigation he conducted and it is lying somewhere in Carter County Courthouse waiting to be found.

I am not sure what record an inquest held at Ragsdale Mortuary would have been, I suspect it was the autopsy?

It is curious they mentioned a watch and a twenty dollar bill was found on his person as if that was sufficient to disprove foul play.

It is the last statement in the article that makes me recall what my father said about his father testifying about a murder and why the inquest and investigation was conducted. Mitchell was “the state’s star witness in the investigation into the death of Mrs. A. J. Hardy.”

Since the “drowning occurred in 1933 this means the “investigation” into the death of Mrs. A.J. Hardy happened in 1931. Is there a record of that investigation somewhere in Carter County’s Courthouse?

The article said “investigation” not a trial, does this mean Hardy was never charged with murdering his wife?

As the “star witness” what information did Mitchell provide and did his death actually result from an “accidental drowning” in a creek that he and others used frequently as implied in the article?

I don’t have any answers to these questions but I am grateful to have some corroboration of my father’s oral history. When I take into account the story he told me about his “Indian” grandmother, and the death of his brother Luther ALL  of which have shown to contain more truth than fiction, I am quite sure there is more information concerning my family history to learn and it demonstrates the power of capturing oral history.