Monday, October 6, 2014

The Cherokee Question- Richard Thomas Hager's MCR claim

Before I discuss the questions that arise from Richard Thomas Hager's Mississippi Choctaw claim, I would first like to state that according to my grandfather, his grandmother always told him his father, Claude Hager was Cherokee. Now to keep this in context, you have to understand that his grandmother was a Dawes enrolled Choctaw, and while his Aunts and mother would dress up as "indian princesses" and make light of their Native American heritage, his grandmother who raised him did not. Because of this, it is difficult to believe she would have lied. She was the real deal, and there is truly no reason to think that she would have told him this about his father, or his grandfather for that matter if she didn't believe it was true. However, I am about to be a negative Nancy and tell you that the following information is pure rubbish.

Richard Thomas Hager applied under the Dawes act as a Choctaw. His MCR file is 7334. It is a confusing file in that he changes his testimony throughout the testimonies, first that his grandmother Mary "Polly" was the daughter of John Jones, and then he goes on to say that both Steely Hager and Polly were Choctaw. In one of those bizarre coincidences, the John Jones he claims to be his great grandfather is the second husband of my ancestor. While there is much we don't know of his family, there is enough that I do know that in my mind proves that John Jones the man in question is no relation whatsoever of the Hager family.

First, John Jones Sr. was a white man who lived among the Choctaw from the 1770's until his death in Sumter County, Alabama which occurred sometime after 1838. John Jones Sr and his brother Samuel Jones, and possibly a relative William Jones lived in the area of Jones Bluff. From his letters, referring to the death of Samuel Jones Sr., it is my belief that Robert M Jones is the grandson of John Jones Sr. From dawes testimonies and land claim files, we know some of his relatives, and none of them were Hagers. Second, Steely Hager and his family have a trail of residences within Tennessee. First found in 1820 in Wilson, where Steely and his wife Mary "Polly" Whitley were married in 1819. They are then found in Lincoln County, TN in 1830 through about 1834. In 1840 the family is found in Weakley county, TN. In the 1840's the children of Steely and Mary marry in Lauderdale County, TN, and from 1850 on they are found there, in Arkansas or in Texas.

The areas they reside in in 1820 are closest to the residences of the Cherokee nation, which coincides with the information my grandfather was told by his grandmother. So if in fact the Hager's were indian, they couldn't be Choctaw. All of the residence information in the MCR file is erroneous. The Hager's never lived in Mississippi, nor has any record ever been found for the Steely family in Alabama. Sterling A. Hager, who resides in Lincoln County, TN with Steely, and is felt to be his brother, resides in Alabama in Limestone County, but he is not even a part of this testimony.

For me the value of the testimony in the MCR file is the confirmation that Dan Hager was his Uncle, as he is my ancestor, and that Dan was the son of Steely Hager and his wife Mary "Polly". The testimonies in support of the file, aren't in it, though they may be found possibly in court records of Little River County, Arkansas. These testifiers, Caswell Griffith and John Layne may have testimony that is illuminating to any possible native history in the family, but until we find them, we simply have to disregard the bulk of what Richard Thomas Hager has to say.

That is not to say that I am implying Richard Thomas Hager set out to defraud the government in his claim. The truth of how lawyers signed up prospective applicants, and pretty much went forward with the claims is discussed in Congressional testimony on the Mississippi Choctaws. The truth is that they advertised and engaged in recruitment of applicants, promising them money, land and also promising other unsuspecting Americans shares in the speculation of these claims. This process wasn't unique to the Choctaw and the Dawes enrollment. The same thing happened with the enrollment of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. If one wants to educate themselves on the fraud practiced by these kind of firms, you can read about it in this book or this one. I am sorry, but it's been a few years since I read that, and I will leave it up to the readers to find the testimonies within the books.

As much as I dislike the negativity Native American community has for those searching for their "native roots", the disdain they have, and the ridicule at it being popular, I understand it in part. I get so many "relatives" who claim to be connected to my family from claims just like the one of Richard Thomas Hager. Most often the original testimonies were vague and provided no solid information linking them to the Native Americans other than an oral history. Some families have continued to pursue the claims, but again, even if they have an affidavit from the 1930's, it is still "I am native because I say so" without solid proof.

That is not to say that none of these folks had any Cherokee or other native ancestry. It brings to mind something Thomas Woodward wrote in his letters. His grandfather Howard disproved of his father because his father's grandmother had been an Indian. Given his birth, we are talking about someone in the very early 18th century, and it is possible that the Indian that Richard Thomas Hager spoke of was a few generations before Mary "Polly".

The only way we can confirm native ancestry at this point, will be through DNA. Unfortunately though, at this juncture, the only ones from the Hager family that I know of are useless to us. My Mom, myself, or any of my cousins from my grandfather have native DNA from the Choctaw side, and there is no way to determine, even if the amounts "appear" to be greater, if it is in fact from another source. The three Hager's we match to have Mexican American lineage, which on 23andme will show also as Native American ancestry. So again, we can't separate the results, except to say that none of the shared mutual DNA from my Mom and these cousins are on a segment of the DNA that 23andme designates as native American.

We have plenty of other's who can test. My mother's cousin through her half Uncle Spencer Hager, as long as we could determine he had no other families with the same rumors, (we can't though what I have done on his mother's side suggests none). Other descendants of Margaret Rena Hager, Mary Magdeline Hager, Sterling Alexander Hager or Samuel Thomas Hager. A YDNA test, or at least the haplogroup from 23andme would help us determine if we are indeed related to the North Carolina Hagers as well. And we can search for those missing testimonies in support of Richard Thomas Hager's claim.

I will discuss who I think Mary "Polly" is in my next blog.

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