White Perception of Indians
© 1996 Ralph Jenkins

Here is some material I assembled in my attempt to understand better why some families with Indian ancestry, particularly mixed-marriage (white and Cherokee, for example) might choose to live publicly as white, while retaining the memory of the origins within the family. I have arranged it as a chronology, focusing on the public perception of Indians by whites. Maybe it will be useful to other researchers with similar concerns; this historical context may explain the help to value of discretion in the post-Civil War period.

1869 Lee's Creek township, western Arkansas, north of Fort Smith, just outside the boundary of the Cherokee Nation. William Jefferson STOKES, veteran of the 11th Missouri Cavalry, who spent the war guarding wagon trains along the supply trail from Devall's Bluff Depot in Arkansas through Ft. Smith, Ft. Gibson, Ft. Larned, Ft. Dodge, to Ft.Union in Arizona, and back, against attack by the Cherokee and Kiowa, marries Elizabeth CONDRY, half-blood Cherokee, in Van Buren, AR. Her family is Confederate; one of her relatives is a veteran of Stand Watie's 1st Cherokee Cavalry; others were 12th TN Cav, 35th AR Inf, and dozens of other CSA units.. Family tensions cause them to move to a more neutral place.

Sometime between the 1870 census and August, 1874, they move to Texas. They follow a dangerous path taken by others. R. L. LANE, of Company C in Joseph SHELBY's command, returned to Lawrence County, Arkansas to find the slaves freed, his stock gone, his farm destroyed. He sold the remnants of his farm and set out in 1867 for Denton County, Texas with two other families. In 1866 Bianca BABB's mother was killed by Indians in Wise County; she was captured and lived several years with the Comanches: Wise Co. Hist. In July, 1867, the Lane party passed through Denton by way of Rhome in Wise County. On July 15, 100 Comanches attacked their camp at the MATTHEWS house 4 miles west of Springtown; their horses and mules were driven off. (Wise County History: A Link With The Past, Vol. 1, ed. Rosalie Gregg, Wise County Historical Survey Committee, Nortex Press, 1975, pp. 362-63).

Wise County, in 1870, is sparsely populated. The statistical summary of the 1870 census showed 273 families totalling 1451 inhabitants. Of these 738 were white males, 662 white females. There were 34 colored males, 17 colored females. Six men and one woman were foreign-born. Of the whole population, one was blind, one insane, one deaf and dumb; two were idiots. In that census year, there were 8 marriages, 18 births; 38 widows, 12 widowers. Eight people reported a father of foreign birth, 14 a mother of foreign birth. A total of 106 attended school during that year. Of the population over age 10, 154 could not read; 180 could not write. There were 298 males of age 21 and upward.

Wise County, more peaceful than wartime Arkansas, is nevertheless not a safe place for white residents; part of the range once grazed by the great herds of buffalo, only 40 miles below the Red River, directly south of Anadarko, it lies in the corridor leading from the Indian Nation to Central Texas, and is regularly visited by the remnants of the Kiowa and Comanche, whose range once extended as far south as Austin. On Sept. 20, 1865, a boy, Jim BALL, was captured by Kiowa and carried into Jack County; according to a report made June 23, 1870, to the Hon. James, P. NEWCOMB, Secretary of State, his father paid $450 for the release of his son. In Oct., 1868, 200 Indians, probably Kiowa, raided through Wise County. Near Flat Rock, seven miles north of Decatur, on Catlett Creek, they killed Mrs. VICK. (Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 181). On Oct. 30, 1868, Sevier FORTENBERRY was killed and scalped in adjoining Denton County. (p. 170)

July 12, 1870. Near Odessa (now Newark) in Wise County, Nicholas DAWSON is killed by Kiowa or Comanche. His wife, Mary Dawson, part Cherokee and descendant of Indian Chief Judge BROWNLOW, was said to be able to sense the presence of Indians; in the Court of Claims, Dec. 1893, she files Indian Depredations claim No. 9960 against the U.S., the Comanche, and the Kiowa, claiming her husband was robbed of $250 in gold coins. (Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 265-66).

Jan. 24, 1871. A Comanche or Kiowa raiding party ambush a wagon train along the Butterfield Trail between Weatherford and Fort Griffin, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. (T. R. Fehrenbach, Comanches: The Destruction Of A People, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1974, p. 502)

Spring, 1871. A. L. LANE, son of R. L. Lane, is on a freighting trip to Jefferson with ox teams; they carry cotton on the way out, supplies for Fort Richardson near Jacksboro on the way back. At Salt Creek Prairie, east of Graham, they are ambushed by 160 Kiowa led by Santana, Santauk, and Big Tree. All but two teamsters are killed, the wagons burned, and the mules driven off. (Wise County History, Vol. 1, pp. 362-63).

April, 1872. A wagon train is attacked by Comanche in Crockett County. Sixteen freighters are killed. (Fehrenbach, p. 514)

June 10, 1873. A detachment of cavalry bring 100 Comanche back to Fort Sill from Texas; they had to detour around Jacksboro to avoid an angry mob of white settlers who threatened the Indians. (William T. Hagan, United States-Comanche Relations: The Reservation Years, New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1976, p. 94)

1874. Mrs. HUFF and her two daughters are killed by Indians; they are buried in a wagon bed in one grave in Briar Branch Cemetery, east of Alvord. (Wise County History, Vol. 1, p. 17)

Aug. 17, 1874. William STOKES takes title to a grant of 160 acres at what will become Bethel, outside Decatur, in Wise County, Texas. (Abstract Of Land Titles Of Texas, Comprising The Titled, Patented, And Located Lands In Texas. Vol. II, Galveston: Shaw & Blaylock, 1878. p. 687, abstract no. 775.)

Jan. 18, 1875. Zora Bell STOKES is born to Elizabeth and William Stokes in San Marcos, Texas. Shortly after, the family moves to Bethel. Two of Elizabeth's sisters, Mary Jane ("Molly") and Paulina ("Pliny") and their husbands move with them. The group first builds a strong two-story log house for Pliny as a refuge for the community against possible Indian attacks. That done, they build houses for other families.

June, 1875. Quanah PARKER, half-blood chief of the Comanche, resigned to defeat, brings what Comanche he can into the reservation at Fort Sill. Later that year, they are given permission to leave the reservation for one last buffalo hunt, escorted by cavalry. They ride out onto the plains for days. No buffalo; only white skulls scattered profusely over the prairie, left by sportsmen and commerical killers. They camp and wait for the north wind to drive before it the falling leaves and the great herds. No buffalo come. They grow hungry. Even the calvalry feel their longing. Snow. They wait in tepees, children cold, hungry, ill. At last beef is delivered in Government wagons. They return to the reservation, never to hunt again as a tribe. (Fehrenbach, pp. 550-53)

Dec. 15, 1879. William Jefferson STOKES, Jr. is born in Bethel.

About 1880. WOVOKA, a Paiute visionary, inspires the Plains tribes to a religious revival. The Ghost Dance is seen by the Plains Indians as a way to bring back their dead and the old way of life; to many whites, it threatens a renewal of armed resistance.

June 30, 1880. In the 1880 Wise County census, William STOKES is enumerated in Precinct 1, as family 101, p. 88. He reports himself as a white male, age 36, married, a farmer, born in Tennessee; his father, he reports, was born in South Carolina, his mother in North Carolina. Elizabeth is reported as a white female, age 30 (she is actually 33), his wife, who keeps house; she was born in Tennessee, as were both her father and her mother. Their daughter Mary is reported as age 10, born in Arkansas. Their daughter Bell is reported as age 5, born in Texas. Son William is reported as age 2, born in Texas.

Dec. 15, 1882. Charlie STOKES is born at Bethel. The twins Eugene and Ethel (my grandmother) are born June 2, 1886; Nell is born June 2, 1888.

Decatur becomes home to many other Union veterans. In the 1890 special census of Union veterans of the War of the Rebellion, these are listed in Precinct 1.

This does not include the names from Alvord and other post offices on other pages of the census.

Readers of the local weekly paper, the "WISE COUNTY MESSENGER" are regularly given stories that keep alive the perception of Indians as alien, violent, unpredictable:

Sept. 15, 1888. "There is positively no truth in the published report that 100 whites have been massacred by Indians in Denver. There was a fight between a band of southern Utes and a band of Piutes in Paradox Valley several days ago, in which several Indians are reported to have been killed. Particulars of the fight have not yet been received here."

Sept. 29, 1888. "Late advices from the northwest dateline Ottawa report great suffering and many deaths from starvation among the Indians of the northwest territories. From the Peace River district several cases of cannabalism are reported where, to save their own lives, the heads of families have killed and eaten their own children."

Sept. 22, 1888. "Armed Indians Flocking Into Tishomingo: Advices from the Indian Territory are to the effect that the trouble between the Chickasaw factions over the gubernatorial election has not been settled, and today war seems more imminent than ever. . . .it is thought that the government will be called on." Another story is headlined "Sitting Bull is Furious." Another: "Indian War Imminent: the quarrels of the Sioux, Crows, Piegans and Gros Ventres have recently become violent, and a bloody war in which four tribes are to take part seems imminent. . . . Gen. RUGER received a telegram announcing that a war party of Sioux Indians had left Poplar river, Montana agency, for a raid on the red men of the Crow agency. The general at once issued orders to troop D, first cavalry. . . to move from Fort Custer to Bull mountain station, Montana, for the purpose of watching the crossings on Yellowstone. . . ." Another: "ROMBAUGH murdered by Nez Perces."

Nov. 24, 1888. "Apaches Pardoned: Kid and his band of Apaches, sentenced about a year ago to Alcatross by military cout for mutiny at San Carlos, and who left the reservation and killed Diel and Mike GRACE, have been returned to the reservation under pardon. Much feeling is manifested by citizens, as the proof of their crime was conclusive. . . ."

Dec. 1, 1888. "The Chickasaw Troubles: Parties from the Chickasaw Nation. . . report everything quiet at the capital. Gov. GUY had summoned his forces to be at the capital on Saturday last to take forcible possession. . . the contemplated onslaught upon the capital was abandoned. . .Last night Gov. Guy received a telegram from the interior department at Washington instructing him to be at Tishomingo, the Chickasaw capital, on the 22d instant, at which time United States sodiers would be there to inaugurate him governor."

1890. Word spreads through the Bethel Community that a group of Comanche have taken the warpath. The fortified house built for Pliny SPENCER is chosen as the easiest to defend. Families gather and organize for the expected attack. Women and children go to the second floor; the women spread pallets of quilts and quiet the children, who sleep restlessly. The men and older boys station themselves at every window, with loaded rifles. Ethel STOKES (my grandmother), about four years old, is awakened late at night by the excited whispers of the women; she toddles to the window to see a line of horsemen, in single file, crossing the crest of a hill, outlined by the full moon, the Comanche moon. (Wise County History, Vol. 1, pp. 395-396)

About Christmas, 1890. The Lakota Ghost Dancers are massacred by Federal troops as they flee their encampment at Wounded Knee.

March 15, 1892. Glen STOKES, last child of William Jefferson and Elizabeth, is born at Bethel.

Autumn, 1903. William and Elizabeth sell their farm at Bethel for $800 and move to 600 W. Walnut St., Decatur, to retirement. Coming around the corner of the house one day after Sunday dinner, my mother finds William Jefferson and her father Christian John SCHWARK, a second-generation German from Ohio, leaning their cane chairs back against the wall, in the sun, talking; she hears William Jefferson: "You know Maw Elizabeth Condrey is part Indian. Glad she weren't no Kiowa pronounced Ky-o-way; they were meaner'n hell!"

Ralph Jenkins

Originally posted to INDIAN-ROOTS Fri 22 Nov 1996, reprinted here by permission of Ralph Jenkins.

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