Sunday, April 27, 2014

Choctaw Family Research - The Case of Hepsy Williams

National Archives Publication Number M1186
Choctaw Freedman Card #56

While researching Dawes Commission records, I was looking at random cards and was appreciating how much data can be gleaned from one card. The case of Hepsey Williams was a good example.

Hepsey Williams appeared in front of the Dawes Commission on September 16, 1898. At the time she and her family lived in Chickasaw country as many Choctaws did, and they resided in the community of Hennepin. Today that area is a small community in southern Garvin County Oklahoma.

On her card it is also noted that she was born enslaved and was once enslaved by Sam Colbert. On the reverse side one learns the names of Hepsy's parents--Voyage and Edie James. Her parents had different slave holders. Molsey Colbert was Voyage James' slave holder and Sam Colbert had enslaved her mother Edie. And information about the father of Hepsy's children also appears on the same side of the card.

Reverse side of enrollment card for Hepsy Williams
(Choctaw Freedman Card #56)

Notice that Hepsy's father Voyage James was deceased at the time Hepsy appeared in front of the commission, however, her mother Edie was still alive. So a card can be found with Edie's name upon it.

National Archives Publication #1186
Edie James Choctaw Freedman Card #51

Edie was an elderly lady of 70 who appeared for herself and a small grandson, Rennie Oliver. She had been a slave of Choctaw Sam Colbert. Hepsy did not mention her father, but noted that her mother's name was Dilsey. Most likely her mother Dilsey was born in Mississippi, before removal. This is one of the cases in which the names of slaves of Choctaws (and other tribes) who were enslaved before removal appear.

The community is usually noted on the front of the card in the upper left hand corner of the Dawes Enrollment Cards, and Hepsy's card was no exception. Their residence in the Chickasaw Nation was indicated, and their closest post office was the town of Hennepin.

 She is married to John Williams who is not a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. She was applying only for herself and her children.

Names found upon enrollment card of Hepsy Williams, Choctaw Freedwoman.

On her Dawes Card, some extremely useful data appears at the bottom of the card. These notes are usually additional information added after the applicant's first appearance in 1898, but still before the rolls closed. One can also tell because each time additional information was provided, there was a difference in the penmanship. In addition, the data pertained to two of Hepsy's children, her son Joe and her daughter Gertie.

Notation at bottom of enrollment card for Hepsy Williams

The first notation pertains to a child that Joe had after he had married. That child was enrolled as a Chickasaw Freedmen and is on Chickasaw Freedman card number 159. The second note was that of a child later born to Gertie after her marriage, and that data could be found on Choctaw Freedman card number 149.

National Archives Publication Number M1186
Chickasaw Freedman Card #159

On this first card it it noted that the child's name was Mabelle Farris, and the parents were Joe Farris, (Hepsy's son) and Annie Farris who was by that time, which was 1906, Joe's wife. 

It also cannot go unnoticed that the child was being enrolled as a Chickasaw Freedman and not Choctaw. That is because the Annie the mother was herself a Chickasaw Freedman. Also it can be seen that at first the application was denied and the card was stamped "Refused" but two months later it was approved and Mabelle was eventually added to the rolls as a Minor Chickasaw Freedman.

The second critical notation was that Gertie had married after that initial application in 1898, and she was now the wife of Thomas Nolan. She had a child who was later enrolled as a Choctaw Freedman on the Freedman New Born cards. 

National Archives Publication #M1186
Choctaw Freedman New Born #145

 It is immediately noticed that the children as well as Gertie herself carried the last name Knowles and not Nolan as indicated on the enrollment card for Hepsy and her children. But the name Nolan is cross referenced on the card and there is no indication that there were two different people.

Interestingly there was no interview under oath in the file, however, a marriage certificate reflecting Gertie's marriage was filed in the record. And clearly her marriage was to Thomas Nolan. 

National Archives Publication #M1301, Choctaw Freedman 56
Marriage Certificate of Gertie Ferris to Thomas Nolan

More information can be obtained by opening the files of the grandchildren of Hepsy Williams, and will be reflected in a follow up piece, but clearly when researching Choctaw Freedmen, there are many notes and notations that will appear in the records that will point the researcher to richer information about the family's history.

And thankfully neither Hepsy, nor her parents Voyage and Edie James, nor her children and grandchildren will be forgotten for theirs is a rich history and legacy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Henry Battiest - Choctaw Life Told In Pioneer Interview

1st page of Pioneer Interview with Henry Battiest.

Source: Interview with Henry Battiest, Indian Pioneer Papers, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.

Henry Battiest was the son of Choctaw citizen Jack Battiest, and a Cherokee Freedwoman Jane Battiest. He spent his entire life in the southern part of the Choctaw Nation, and lived in a quiet Choctaw Freedman community known as Beaver Dam are. The closest town was Antlers.

In the 1930s he was interviewed by the Indian Pioneer project and he described his life in the 1880s and early 1900s in Choctaw Country. He received a 40 acres allotment and shared aspects of his life around Choctaws, few whites and of course the Freedmen in the community.

His interview describes life in small communities and he described their daily life, farming life, the social atmosphere between people of color and others, as well as traditions such as the funeral "cries". In addition, other traditions from farm life to tribal life were described by Battiest.

The rich data he shared can open the door to one's research, and in this case, life in Choctaw country among those considered "black" should be read in proper historical context from which they came.

The rest of the interview continues: 

Henry Battiest was born after the Civil War, but his parents Jack and Jane had been enslaved in Indian Territory. Though described as having an Indian father, his father Jack was once enslaved by the Grigg's of the Choctaw Nation and his mother Jane was a slave of the Lowerys of the Cherokee Nation. It is not known why she was not a Cherokee Freedman. 

Dawes Card of Henry Battiest
NARA Publication M1186 - Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes
Choctaw Freedmen Card No 1542

His sister Mary was also enrolled as a Choctaw Freedman.
Dawes Card of Mary Battiest, sister to Henry

Source: NARA Publication M1186 - Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes
Choctaw Freedmen Card No 1543

The interviews of Henry and Jane Battiest addressed more of their parents' status of having been enslaved than their being citizens of the nation. 

The Pioneer Interview of Henry Battiest, which is part of the Western History Collection,  gives testament to the fact that all resources should be explored when making the effort to tell the family history. In this case, the Battiest's were more than a family once enslaved. They lived upon the land and lived among those who shared the same historical landscape.