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


  1. Terry, this is a fascinating story. Thanks for sharing it so clearly and so accurately! -Jesse Schreier

  2. Remember the Slave Rebellion, these are American Indians which had been enslaved. Then the creation of a patriarchial society based on blood quantums by white males and females in Oklahoma.