Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Julia Hershey and Family - Creek Freedmen

Researching families from the Creek Nation is not without its difficulties. This is particularly when one finds that so many of the interviews of families are simply missing. They were misplaced, and never microfilmed and now lost to time. Therefore when one finds some remarkable stories in the application jackets that were preserved they should be share as they provide so many insights in the lives of people in the 19th century in Indian Territory.

Such is the case of Julia Hershey (Hersche) from Muskogee. She appeared in front of the Dawes Commission in September 1898. Data from her enrollment card is simply and one might think that hers was an uncomplicated case.

She was 54 years of age when she applied for enrollment as a Creek Freedman. On Field Card #1222 her name is found along with that of her son John Pyles who was 18. Was a member of Arkansas Town and had been enslaved by Lookin Barnett. Some notations on the front of the card indicate that she had been placed on earlier rolls over many years.

Creek Freedman Card #1222
The National Archives at Ft. Worth, Ft. Worth Texas 1868-1914
NAI Number: 251747
Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75

On the reverse side of the card the names of her parents are found. Her father was Alex Barnett and her mother was Rosa Barnett who had died during the years of the Civil War. Lish Pyles was her son's father, and he was not a citizen of the Creek Nation. 

(same as above)

The Application Jacket

To say that the data contained in her application jacket was plentiful does not say enough. There is information about her as an applicant, but the 33 pages contained in the jacket go far beyond the ordinary that one typically sees. Personal data about her life was there. But in addition, one can read about the process that people went through, the various  people that they met and even some of the witnesses on her behalf reflect the relationships that people had with others from beyond their family circle and even their community. Many had formed relationships and friendships with those from other tribes as well.

Personal Data about the applicant.
Initially personal data about Julia and her life was extracted. Her mother was Rosa Black who had married Alex Barnett. It also turns out that at one time Julia also used the name Pyles, which was the surname of Rosa's husband. Julia had already said that her son's father was Lish Pyles, but the question was asked if her son's surname was taken after her mother's husband which she replied, "yes".

There was also an interest in the surname Black and that sometimes the name Blackdirt was used. This would be asked again later.

National Archives Publication M1301
Applications for Enrollment
(Also accessed from, Native American Collection, Choctaw Freedmen)

The next witness on her behalf was a Cherokee woman whose name was Nannie Murray. Nanny Murray was asked about her knowledge of Julian and the family and she pointed out that she knew that Julia's mother was enslaved by Granny Black. (The reference to Granny Black also appears in the first interview above.) She was then asked to confirm the relationship of Julia to Granny Black the slave holder. Nannie pointed out that she never was at the home of Granny Black, but her own grandmother used to visit Granny Black and Granny Black used to visit them. She learned from those visits in her childhood that Granny Black owned her mother "Rhody" and that Rhody had three children.

(same as above)

Again there were questions about the tie of Julia to the Blacks and Nannie confirmed that Granny Black used to make references to "her colored folks" frequently. She was then asked if she knew Charlotte Blackdirt, which she said at first she did not know. But then she replied that she knew that Charlotte had married a Lewis, but was not sure if Granny Black had owned Charlotte. When asked why she referred to her as "Aunt Charlotte" she pointed out that many people of color referred to other in that way.

(same as above)

Arkansas Town Officials Testify for Julia

Willie McIntosh was the next witness. It turns out that he had an official role in his town as he served as Secretary for the Arkansas Colored Town. He was present when citizens came to draw the various payments over the years and verified that he knew her. He also asked if he knew a Julia who was part of the Derishaw family, which he did not. He verified that he knew that Julia drew the money and was asked more than one time how he was certain of it. He was then presented with a document and asked if it was in his hand-writing. He pointed out that it was not done by his hand, but it was copied from his own book. There then seemed to be satisfaction enough that Julia was qualified for enrollment.
(same as above)

A year later, Julia appeared again in front of the commission. She was asked about her parents. Alex was Barnett was enslaved by Larkin (Lookin) Barnet and her mother was enslaved by Granny Black. Her mother died before the war ended, although it was not mentioned where.

(Same as above)

Julia then tells the story of her life during and after the war. She was taken south to Texas, but after peace was declared and the treaties signed, she traveled with a group of scantily clad Indians back to Fort Gibson. She remained there for a while before making her way to the Old Agency in Muskogee.
(Same as above)

The questions continued and Julia was then asked to tell other parts of her story, describing when she married Lish Pyles, and where she moved. She mentioned several places that she had lived and the details were more detailed than one would usually find. Others who knew her were called. and the reader gets a glimpse not only of Julia's life, but of life after the Civil War for many former slaves.

As a reader one can see the movement of people across the country side, some to Fort Gibson, and others to other settlements. Some were in search of family and others in search of a way to make their life. Julia described how she had moved from Fort Gibson to Muskogee, and how many times she appeared for payments to Creeks. She also described having her name put on the Dunn Roll. Following that were multiple pages about her receiving various payments over the years. Various payments from "Bread money" and other payments made over the years. She was grilled continuously about who distributed the funds to her, and where. Then witnesses were called to verify that she was truly the same Julia. These questions continued for pages in the file.

The Town King Testifies

One of the more fascinating interviews in Julia's file came from Gabriel Jamison was called. He was the town king for Arkansas Colored Town. The line of questioning was focused on Julia's name on the Arkansas  Colored Town roll. When asked if her name was there and how it was done, he decided to describe the entire process of creating the town roll. His description provides for the reader a clear insight into exactly how things happened from inside of this Creek town.
(Same as above)

Many pages were devoted to why Julia's name was left off several rolls from the  $29 payment roll to the "Omitted" Roll. and for those whose ancestors went through the process it will be worthwhile to explore each and every page of this lengthy file.

Oddly, as detailed as the file was, the ending to the case was abrupt. Julia was recalled again, and was asked about the exact age of her son, and why some data conflicted with other data. She pointed out that at times her mind would come and go and she was not sure. She was then directed to present any additional testimony on June 12th for her next interview. And thus the file ended.

(Same as above)

The abrupt ending of the file does not diminish the file, nor the case. In fact the rich data contained on those pages far outweigh the seemingly short ending. Julia Hershey was clearly a woman of the Creek Nation and clearly her case was eventually approved and not rejected. She left behind an amazing narrative describing her life from the end of the war, her travels back to Fort Gibson and her life over the years. As the nation changed, her status changed, and she was a witness to the many changes within Indian Territory.

She got her land as did her son. This Creek woman whose education was limited survived. From her file, we see part of her life described before emancipation. We see the early days of freedom as her life was changed. We also see the years spent as circumstances required movement sometimes for word and other times to find something better. Her relationship with the tribe is apparent, and the relationship of former slaves to the land and the community was strong. From this simple woman's files, so much can be learned. May her Creek descendants come to read, embrace and grow from her story.

(The entire file of Julia Hershey can be found in Application Jacket #1222, in microfilm collection M1301 at the National Archives. It can also be accessed online at Ancestry.)

 This is the 49th article in a 52-article series devoted to sharing histories of families once held as enslaved people in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. The focus is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts are part of an ongoing project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

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