Sunday, March 6, 2016

My great great grandmother was NOT an indian princess

I owe my genealogy addiction to my grandfather's grandmother. To be more direct, it was wanting to figure out more about her that led me down this path. My grandfather wasn't a man of many words, but throughout my childhood I heard tales of his Indian grandmother, Margaret Adams. I think after reading the letters of her daughter, and speaking to them, and various cousins, my grandfather took a lot of Margaret with him in his life.

Like so many of his generations, especially the Choctaws I have been able to speak with, Pop didn't talk much about his family, or growing up. The child of an alcoholic mother, his childhood lacked any stability with the lone exception of his grandmother. Though he felt much, he really didn't show it all that much. Social, he wasn't a big talker, he left that to my grandmother. He believed in hard work, and loved to share the rewards with his family.

Margaret Trahern Adams was the second child of Robert H. Trahern "Bully" and his wife Cornelia Gardner. When she was 11 her mother died, and I suspect that though she had an education, it ended shortly after her mother's death. She helped raise her younger siblings along with her sister Admona "Addie". Her father, along I suspect, with his two brothers, often was on the shady side of the law, bootlegging  into the Choctaw nation.

Though the Trahern's had been a prominent, Pop didn't appear to have ever heard stories of the family, but it is evident that Margaret didn't forget. Among the Choctaw there existed a tradition, if names were after family at all, they were after the mother's side of the family. Margaret named her first son Curtis Hall Adams, after her maternal grandmother, Sarah Hall. I suspect the H in her father's name was for Hall as well. James Arthur Adams, was named after her paternal grandfather, James Trahern, his middle name was his father's. Samuel Jefferson Adams I suspect was named for her maternal grandfather, Samuel Gardner, though I haven't been able to prove that.

Yes, Margaret knew who her family was. And likely, she knew that her grandfather had been a prominent Choctaw judge who served in the Choctaw government, as did her Uncle's James and Lysander Trahern. She may have even known that her grandfather had attended the Choctaw Academy. Or that her grandmother was a first cousin to Tandy Walker, a Choctaw Chief (called Governor) during the Civil War.  Or that her grandmother's brother Robert J. Hall had been one of the first Choctaws who went to college, and was killed along with two brothers by slaves in an uprising in 1861.

By the time Margaret was born the Civil War had broken the finances of her family. While never to the scale of his half sister Eliza Ann Flack, or his half cousin, Robert M. Jones, James N. Trahern was among the prominent Choctaw elite. The great nephew of Chief Pushmataha, he married a great niece of Chief Mushulatubbee. Like his half brothers Pierre and William Juzan, and his cousins, James L. McDonald, Robert M. Jones, David Mackey, and his wife's cousin Peter Pitchylnn, he was sent to Scott, Kentucky to attend the Choctaw Academy. He returned to the Choctaw nation and began life as a clerk in the court at Skullyville, eventually becoming the Judge. He was connected by blood and then marriage to some of the most prominent Choctaws of his time.

Even if Margaret knew all this, she wouldn't have spoken about it. That was not the way of the Choctaws of the Dawes roll. Like many of her fellow Choctaws, within 12 years Margaret's allotment had been lost, as had the allotments of her children, through actions and poor decisions made by her husband Jason. Even among those who had been at the top of Choctaw Society, the Dawes act broke apart the lives of so many of it's people. The battle to survive day to day, in a world of poverty, prejudice and obstacles left many Choctaws too poor to do anything but survive. Margaret's children left home in their early teens, told they  had to work to support the family, many of them felt if they had to work they would rather support themselves alone.

It didn't matter to Margaret who her family had been. What mattered was who her family was. Her children and grandchildren I know adored her. Stern, taciturn, a strict disciplinarian, it would be easy to look at her and say she wasn't what today we considered to be a loving mother. Yet when her daughter's went to visit their brother, she stayed up and stitched them new dresses out of sack cloth to wear. She lovingly made the funeral clothes and lined the coffin her husband had made when her two children died as infants. She took in three of her grandsons when her daughters weren't taking care of them. She may not have said a lot, but her love was always apparent.

It seems popular today to be able to claim Native American ancestry. So many claim to link themselves to more well known Native American's, with little more than innuendo and legends, with no paper trail. Too many claim to descend from an Indian princess, and then are disappointed when their DNA doesn't show it. And while I still have more I can always learn, after 15 years, I know a lot about my Choctaw relatives. Their stories sadden me, inspire me, and make me proud. There is no royalty in my heritage, but there was an elite class among the Choctaws, and I have the honor and privilege to descend from it. Yet, I suspect if you were to be able to ask Margaret today, she would huff, and say, she was no Indian Princess. She was Choctaw.


5 comments:

  1. You always fascinate me with your family stories and always highlighted with your insight and intelligence. This story, as the others, is a valuable contribution to the family's history.

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    1. That is my comment. Barbara Mieirs.

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  2. You always fascinate me with your family stories and always highlighted with your insight and intelligence. This story, as the others, is a valuable contribution to the family's history.

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  3. As a family historian myself, I too feel the Choctaw women in our past will show us the way to lead our lives. Keep writing! R.Johnston

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