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Cherokee Trail or Black Hawk War

Family Legend

Chief Blackhawk and  son Whirling ThunderLike many American families, one of our common apocryphal legacies was that we were told our heritage was part Cherokee. I took this to be true for a long portion of my life, but after gaining an interest in genealogy and the passing of older generations, this family legend has come into both a fuzzy dubious connection and a sharper focus. I still fully believe the Native American part and believe I have some evidence to support it, but it’s the Cherokee part that doesn’t quite seem to fit the facts. At some point the Cherokee turned into Cherokee or Choctaw.

I believe this is the result of the fact that my paternal grandfather was born in Indian Territory (eastern Oklahoma). This is the region where the Cherokee and Choctaw migrated on the Trail of Tears following the Indian removal act of 1830, passed under President Andrew Jackson. Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole tribes were systematically forced to leave the southeast and head west, first to what is now Arkansas and then to Oklahoma. The Cherokee were the last to be forced out in 1838. In the family records the ancestor who would have been the Indian connection was my grandfather’s grandmother.

But looking into genealogical and historical records, though my grandfather was born in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, his parents had moved there from Illinois where his mother was born. My great grandfather was recorded in census records as working in conjunction with the building of railroads, and at the time of my grandfather’s birth, a spur of what became the Frisco Railroad was being built to Afton.

The ancestor who would have been the “full blooded” Indian to whom we traced our native ancestry was according to records, born in early 1833 in Ohio. The Trail of Tears of the Cherokee was in 1835-38, and did not reach as far north as southern Ohio. Further complicating and throwing doubt on the whole Indian heritage story was the discovery in fairly reliable genealogy records that my great-great grandmother, the individual who would have been the Indian, had a family heritage in official records as being “white” with parentage going back generations into Maryland. Adding to this, throughout the rest of her life, she reported herself in census records as being white. The whole Cherokee ancestry myth seemed to be on the brink of falling to pieces. Except for a piece of evidence recently found and some other facts which intriguingly add to the picture and the mystery.

Family Photo From 1900 Turn iof the CenturyA cousin had turned up a box of photographs and other records from grandmother’s shoebox vault. A family photograph of my grandfather as a boy taken with his brothers and sisters, mother and father in a full family portrait. The photograph offers two tantalizing questions. The fact of the photograph itself. Aside from the notations of the first names of the family members, there is no notation of the time or place or occasion of its being taken. However, my grandfather was born in 1887 and appears in the photograph (second from the left) to be about 12. This would place the photograph right around 1900, leading to the conclusion that it is indeed exactly 1900. That to mark the turn-of-the-century, it was thought to go out and take a formal family portrait to commemorate the historical moment.

The other tantalizing and evidential nature of the photograph is the faces of the family. Among them, there is a distinct and clear difference of a racial mix. The father in the picture is purely European and a Germanic (that family branch was German going back several generations), while the mother bears a mix herself, and becomes even clearer in the mix of the children, especially the younger children on the left. The older children were from an earlier marriage. So, with visual evidence, the idea of a Native American genetic connection seems quite clear. But why doesn’t the documentary evidence support it? I have a theory which may or may not bear out, that either an indian child was taken into the family, without acknowleging that she was native, there was an illegitmate child accepted into the family, or the ancestry would have to go father back to another generation removed. Two tantalizing theories...

Black Hawk War

In 1832, the western Illinois territory where German immigrants had migrated from Pennsylvania, (West) Virginia and Ohio, was wracked by the Blackhawk War. A tribe of Sauk and Kickapoo Indians from an area is what is now Iowa (Sauk Indian History), crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois following a leader named Chief Black Hawk (pictured above with his son Whirling Thunder), hoping to peacefully reclaim lands ceded in an 1804 Treaty. The “war” was really a series of skirmishes, attacks and reprisals, taking place through western Illinois into Wisconsin. The Black Hawk War in most noted historically in the military service of future United States President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln commanded a regiment of militia volunteers, though he never participated in any actual conflict.

The Black Hawk War was, in the scheme of history, a fairly minor conflict, but with wide ranging consequences. Other figures who played a military role went on to became major figures in the Civil War and American History: Winfield Scott, Jefferson Davis and future U.S. President Zachary Taylor. The conflict of the war with its reported “massacres” also fueled the already underway Indian Removal Program under Andrew Jackson, leading inevitably to the “Trail of Tears” and other removal devastations.

Ohio Seneca-Shawnee Removal

In 1831, the Seneca and Pawnee Indians of central Ohio signed one of the first Indian removal treaties after the 1830 Indian Removal Act. The Senaca agreed to move west from Ohio across the Mississippi River. They began to leave in 1832 from Lewiston, along with the others from near Sandusky Ohio. This was very close to Richland County were the German family had been. They settled west of the Neosho River in southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma (Indian Territory), joining Cherokees who had settled earler. The family was in Illinois when my great grandmother was born. but later moved to the Neosho area. Were they joining relatives?

Another clue, as yet unresolved, has my grandfather’s grandmother listed in census records for over 50 years, moving from Illinois to southeast Kansas, in an area where the Seneca settled, and said at the time to be populated with Osage Indians and Cherokee and reported many “Euro-Americans with Osage or Cherokee wives”. Perhaps this historical reference refers to my great-great-grandparents. Or perhaps not.

If the theory that my maternal great-great grandmother was an orphan, taken in as an infant by a German immigrant family is close, they would have given her a European name, brought her up as a daughter and would have told census takers and anyone else who asked that she was white, melting into the American tapestry, but still felt a connection to the Native heritage as well.


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