Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rare 1868 Census Document from Choctaw Nation Found

The Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma contains much useful data on Indian Territory. While looking at many of their digitized images, an unusual census record caught my attention. This was one of a census record taken in Cedar County, reflecting the population in 1868.  This is rare, particularly as it reflects a Choctaw community during the Reconstruction era.    I am sharing the few pages of that 1868 census here, for all researchers.

The Source of data comes from the Native American Manuscript Collection.  It was found in the Choctaw Nation Papers . Within that collection, in Box 49 Folder Number 9 this census tabulation can be found.  The document is approximately 19 pages long and the last two pages reflect the Choctaw Freedmen and the 1 white family enumerated as well.

A look at the first page reveals how detailed the information was that was collected of those considered to be fully Indian:

Page 1

Information collected on males was detailed breaking down data on the age categories of each male:

Male Heading on 1868 Census Form

Information collected on females was less detailed:

Female Heading on 1868 Census Form

Data collected on the Freedmen--their former slaves were the least detailed:
Heading Found on Freedman Page of 1868 Census Form 

Since the 1868 Freedman page was small and only consisted of 1 full page it is shown in its entirety here.

1868 Cedar County Census - Choctaw Freedmen

The value of Freedmen was clearly reflected in the manner in which data was collected. Age categories did not matter and both genders were grouped together. In addition, many of these former slaves were not listed with surnames. This was a mere two years out of slavery. (Remember slavery was not abolished in Indian Territory until 1866, not 1865.) Quite possibly these former slaves were still being addressed with single names, and possibly some had not begun to use surnames. However this list does represent one of the very first times that the names former Choctaw slaves were written down in family groups---not as property but as adults with families. Though small, this could possibly  be the earliest listing of Choctaw slaves known to exist

There was a small page reflecting a white family also on the same document:

Like the Choctaw families more data was included on the males and females 
than were collected on the former Choctaw slaves.

All documents and all pages can be found on the site of the Native American Manuscript Collection and the Choctaw Nation Papers, at the University of Oklahoma.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Their Struggles Continued for Decades

Letter written by Chickasaw Freedmen to Washington DC asking about rights denied to Chickasaw Freedmen. This was written 4 decades after slavery ended in the Chickasaw Nation.

These letters tell so many stories.

Last summer while on a number of trips to the National Archives at College Park MD, I began to read and copy a number of heartfelt letters written by Freedmen of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, expressing their plight.  With the Chickasaw Freedmen in particular, they were an abandoned people---released from bondage reluctantly by their Chickasaw slave holders.  Like the other tribes, the Chickasaws also signed a treaty in 1866, officially ended slavery in the nation, and the treaty stated that these former slaves were to be assisted in their new life, with citizenship and the rights and privileges that came with citizenship.

Some of the five slave holding tribes complied, but the Chickasaw Nation fought it continually up to Oklahoma statehood, in 1907.  Today the Chickasaw Nation,  (like their Cherokee neighbors) is a wealthy tribe--one of the wealthiest in the nation, in fact.  Of course the descendants of those slaves have no rights, and now that more than a century has passed of statehood, and today, the stories of Chickasaw Freedmen appear only now on the faded pages in forgotten boxes at the National Archives.  But---the stories that they tell!

In the letter above, Ellis Williams wrote a simple letter asking if it was true that he and his people in Chickasaw country had truly been denied their rights.

He wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior in 1903, and asked,

"I whis(sic) to know is it a fact that the Indians beet(sic) us out of our freedman writs(sic) or not..
How painfully sad this is, particularly as the former Chickasaw slaves and their families were a people without a country until statehood, when Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907.  But immediately one of the Oklahoma statesman, who is is taid had Chickasaw ties, had strong disdain for freedmen initiated the first law passed by the state, making separation of the races legal. Thus, the "coach law" was passed legalizing Jim Crow accommodations on public transportation. (The Oklahoma did not repeal this law until 1965.)

I became curious as to who Ellis Williams was and looked up his Chickasaw Freedman Enrollment Card.

Enrollment Card of Ellis Williams Chickasaw Freedman

The 2nd side of his card was also revealing.

Reverse side of Dawes Card for Ellis Williams

Information about Ellis and his history is present reflecting that he was a slave of Chickasaw Sophia Keeel
On the front of the card is also the name of his wife, Viney. On the reverse side, her history is interesting.  She was said to have been a slave of the Eastmans. Betsy Eastman was her slave owner.  (Betsey, it was revealed in the application jacket was a Chickasaw woman whose husband was an inter-married white citizen.)

Although not much is known of Ellis Johnson the man, his file is rich with data (which I shall put in another blog post)  

However the status of the family was part of the greater saga of Freedmen hoping to have issues settled in their nation, along with the land allotments that they were to have received. 

His letter above speaks to the frustration that must have been felt during those years of alienation and neglect by both the US government that never enforced the adoption of the Chickasaw slaves. That denial of rights is still upheld to this day.