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Date posted:  December 12, 2022

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in North Tulsa occurred less than a generation after the cessation of the tribal governments with Oklahoma statehood in 1907. It is likely that the Freedmen and their families of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Muscogee Nations would have been the majority of those impacted. The area impacted was located in the previous Cherokee and Muscogee Nations.  Looking at the 1920 U. S. Census for the Greenwood District and without doing a detailed analysis, it appears that only about ten to fifteen percent of the residents were in this category. This was based on looking at the adults who were listed as being born in Oklahoma as well as their parents.1

But, first, some background on slavery in these Native nations and particularly the Cherokee Nation.  

Cherokees took captives in wars with other tribes.  Generally, captives were killed in retaliation for those Cherokees who had been killed in the battle.  The Cherokees operated under “Clan Law.”  There were seven Cherokee clans. Each person belonged to the clan of their mother.  If a Cherokee was killed by another Cherokee, even by accident, then someone from the killer’s clan must be killed to keep balance within the clans. While it was generally the person who did the killing it could be someone close to him such as his brother, but it always had to be someone from his clan. Since the other tribe had killed Cherokee warriors in battle then the captives must be put to death to keep things in balance. Sometimes, however, the captive was enslaved by the captor. While the person was enslaved either temporarily or sometimes for life, most of the time they were eventually “adopted” by a clan and, thus, became a Cherokee citizen.

Early in the eighteenth century, white traders began living in the Cherokee towns. Many of them took Cherokee wives even though they may have had a white wife back in the white settlements. Of course, their children by the Native wife were Cherokee since they belonged to the clan of their mother. These traders introduced Black enslaved people into the Cherokee Nation.  Some of the enslaved people came directly from Africa. There are early nineteenth-century accounts of several enslaved people in the Cherokee Nation who are recorded as being from Africa. The Cherokees then began to take the same attitude toward enslavement as white traders and other white plantation owners.2

There is, however, an interesting court case in the Cherokee Supreme Court in the 1830’s. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, a white trader named Sam Dent married a Cherokee woman of the Deer Clan. He severely beat and killed her.  Knowing that he would be put to death under the clan law for her murder, he escaped back to the white settlements. There he purchased an African-American slave named Molly, who he brought back into the Cherokee Nation and offered her to the Deer Clan as a replacement for his murdered wife.  The Deer Clan accepted her and thus she became a member of the Deer Clan. In the early 1830’s a white woman came to the Cherokee Nation and claimed Molly and her sons, Isaac and Edward Tucker, as her property. She claimed that Sam Dent had sold Molly to her father and that she was entitled to Molly and her issue as her property.  The Cherokee Supreme Court refused to recognize her claim. They stated that Molly had been adopted into the Deer Clan and, therefore, she and her children were Cherokee citizens. There are many Cherokee citizens to this day that are descended from Molly.3

There was no hesitation on the part of the Supreme Court to recognize the citizenship of Molly, in spite of a Cherokee law being passed earlier which stated:
New Town, Cherokee Nation, November 11th, 1824.
Resolved by the National Committee and Council, That intermarriage between negro slaves and indians, or whites shall not be lawful, and any person or persons, permitting and approbating his, her or their negro slaves, to intermarry with Indians or whites, be she or they, so offending, shall pay a fine of fifty dollars, one half for the benefit of the Cherokee Nation; and
Be it further resolved, That any male Indian or white man marrying a negro woman slave, he or they shall be punished with fifty-nine stripes on the bare back, and any Indian or white woman, marrying a negro man slave, shall be punished with twenty-five stripes on her or their bare back.4

At this time the majority of the Cherokees lived in the Southeast, although a few Cherokees had begun to emigrate west of the Mississippi River in the late eighteenth century.  Several others emigrated during the early nineteenth century. By 1835 approximately 3,000 Cherokees lived west of the Mississippi.  A census was taken of those Cherokees in the East which showed that there were 16,542 Cherokees, 1,592 enslaved people, and 201 white intermarriages. Just under 9% of the population were enslaved.5

Great pressure was being put on the Cherokee Nation for the ceding of all their lands in the East and their removal to the west of the Mississippi. The white people wanted the farms and plantations of the Cherokees. A handful of Cherokees who had no authority to do so signed a treaty in late December of 1835 ceding all their lands in the East. This fraudulent treaty was approved by the U. S. Senate and signed by President Andrew Jackson on May 23, 1836. This treaty resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokees to the west on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”  Their slaves were removed with them.

The Cherokees rebuilt their Nation and prospered on their new lands until the U. S. Civil War. When all federal troops were removed from Indian Territory in 1861, the Chickasaws, Choctaws, and a portion of the Muscogee (Creek) Nations signed treaties with the Confederacy.  The Cherokees attempted to remain neutral but with no support from the federal government they were eventually forced to sign a treaty with the Confederacy.  However, when federal troops returned to Indian Territory in 1862, the Principal Chief, John Ross, with most of his followers welcomed them. Time will not allow to go into details about the Civil War in Indian Territory but suffice it to say that the majority of the Cherokees then joined the Indian Home Guards and fought with the federal troops. The Cherokee Tribal Council approved an Emancipation Proclamation in February of 1863 freeing all enslaved people within the Nation to become effective on 25 June 1863.6 This was well before the legal abolition of slavery by the U. S. with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment on 6 December 1865.

Most of the Cherokee families who sided with the Union refuged in Kansas in 1862 and 1863. Following the Cherokee Emancipation Proclamation many if not most enslaved people also refuged in Kansas. Some, however, had been taken south by their owners before this into the Choctaw Nation and even into Texas.

Each of the Five Civilized Tribes was forced to sign a new treaty with the U. S. in 1866. These treaties–with the exception of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Treaty–provided that any formerly enslaved people of these Nations were to be granted the same rights as citizens of those tribes. The Cherokee Treaty was proclaimed on August 11, 1866.7 It provided that any formerly enslaved person must return to the Cherokee Nation within six months from that date to be eligible for citizenship. This date of February 11, 1867, became very important in establishing citizenship. The Freedmen frequently had to prove that they were back in the Nation particularly when the Final Rolls of the Dawes Commission for the allotment of land were made in the early 1900’s.

This brings us back to the 1920 U. S. Census for Greenwood District to look at one of the Freedmen families of the Cherokee Nation. Looking closely at Figure 1 above of the 1920 U.S. Census, one sees that the wife, Rachel Wickliff, shows that she and both parents were born in Oklahoma. The same information is also shown for her mother, Mary Hogg, and her brother, Andrew Webber. Note that their address was 122 N. Hartford in Tulsa, the next block east from Greenwood. The 100 block of Greenwood was where many of the main businesses were located. It is not known how this family fared during the massacre but they did survive as Louis and Rachel Wickliffe and their children are found in the 1930 U. S. Census living on N. Madison Street in the Magnolia Addition.8 Mary Ann Webber Hogg, however, died on September 29, 1921 just less than four months after the massacre and was buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa.9 It is not known whether her death was a result of the massacre or from other causes. This is the cemetery where many of the victims of the massacre were buried.10

Using this information from the U. S. Census, they can also be located on the Cherokee Freedmen Roll. The census cards for the enrollment of Freedmen on The Final Roll of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in the Indian Territory gives a great deal of information about the individuals. In addition to their name, age, sex, address, and location on earlier rolls, it gives the names of their parents as well as the parents’ enslavers. The census card for Mary Webber shows her father to be Andy Webber with his enslaver being Robert Webber.  It also shows her mother to be Rachel Lasley with her enslaver being Johnson Whitmire.  There are other notations on the census card such as the one that states “No. 1 [Mary A. Webber] married in March 1908 to Maryland Hogg.” Other records, including Tulsa city directories, list his name as Marion Hogg. The census card for Mary Ann’s father, Andrew Webber, shows his father to be Robbin [Robert] Webber, who is also shown as his owner.11

In addition to these records, there is also Dawes Testimony with the enrollment records that offer a great deal of information. There are 86 pages of testimony for Mary A. Webber.  It begins with naming those individuals whom she wishes to enroll. Most of the testimony, however, deals with when her family returned from Kansas. There is frequently conflicting testimony as to when they returned as the applicant had witnesses testifying for them and the Cherokee Nation, who sometimes opposed the enrollment of Freedmen that they believed to be ineligible, had their own witnesses.  The Dawes Testimony for her father, Andrew Webber, has 45 pages of testimony.12

There are several testimonies that were given in other applications whose family returned at the same time. There is also testimony from other members of her family.  These can be used to piece together her entire family – brothers, sisters, aunts, & uncles.  Additionally, their locations on earlier rolls are identified. The Wallace Roll lists Mary A. Webber on page 187.13  

The 1860 Slave Schedule for Robert Webber found in Indian Lands West of Arkansas, Flint District, Cherokee Nation shows that he had enslaved 7 males and 13 females with 3 slave houses. One of those male children would have been Andrew Webber. A similar entry may be found for Johnson Whitmire in Going Snake District, Cherokee Nation, that shows he enslaved 7 males and 14 females with 4 slave houses. One of the female children would have been the mother of Mary Webber. Unfortunately, these slave schedules do not give the names of enslaved people.14

The map of Going Snake and Flint Districts has dots showing the location of the Whitmire and Webber plantations. They were approximately six miles apart.15

Johnson and George W. Whitmire were the sons of Charlotte Downing and Stephen Whitmire. Both died when their sons were in their youth and John Downing, Charlotte’s brother, became their guardian. Charlotte was Cherokee and Stephen was white.16

These two Whitmire brothers emigrated west of the Mississippi river with their uncle John Downing.  In a letter from the Superintendent of Cherokee Emigration, Benjamin F. Currey, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs written on March 22, 1832, he states: “In bringing the family of John Downing with the heirs of Charlotte Downing and their negro property to this place it was considered necessary to have a Guard and through the petition of Genl. Coffee a detachment of the Georgia Guards were directed to accompany us to this point.”17 In the Emigrations Rolls, there were 28 enslaved people along with John Downing and the Whitmire sons who were both listed as under 10 years of age.18

George Downing, half Cherokee, left his daughter, Charlotte Downing, 15 enslaved people in his will filed in Hall County, Georgia, in 1818. His will gives the names of each of these people. George Downing was the son of a British trader, John Downing, and his Cherokee wife.

Remember when it was stated earlier, that African-American slaves were introduced into the Cherokee Nation by the traders who lived among them? Interestingly, the Charleston-Gazette in South Carolina recorded in April of 1760 the killing of John Downing by the Cherokees. The Cherokees were at war with the British and sought to kill all white men living within their Nation. When John Downing was captured, his mixed-blood son, George, was with him. John had his hands and feet cut off and was burned at the stake.  John’s Cherokee wife and her three sons and daughter continued to operate the trading post and prospered. They also owned numerous slaves.

This article gives readers an indication of what information can be found on the families of those Freedmen of the Five Tribes who became victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, as well as the types of questions we can pose to find out more. The Eddie Faye Gates Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, with its rich oral histories, and the records cited here may be used to further our knowledge of those impacted and investigate more deeply the interwoven stories of Greenwood, Freedmen, and the Five Tribes.

Selected Bibliography of Books Relating to Slavery and Freedmen among the Cherokees

Halliburton, R. Jr., Red over Black - Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians, Westport, Connecticut:  Greenwood Press, 1977.

Littlefield, Daniel F. Jr., The Cherokee Freedmen from Emancipation to American Citizenship, Westport, Connecticut:  Greenwood Press, 1978.

May, Katja, African Americans and Native Americans in the Creek and Cherokee Nations, 1830s to 1920s, New York & London:  Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.

Minges, Patrick N., Slavery in the Cherokee Nation, The Keetoowah Society and the Defining of a People 1855-1867, New York & London:  Routledge, 2003.

Naylor, Celia E., African Cherokees in Indian Territory from Chattel to Citizens, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Perdue, Theda, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society 1540-1866, Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1979. 

Sturm, Circe, Blood Politics - Race, Culture, and Identity in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, Berkley, Los Angeles, London:  University of California Press, 2002.


11920 U. S. Census, Oklahoma, Tulsa County, Supervisor’s District No. 1, Enumeration District No. 256, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C.  This low percentage is verified in the interviews of Race Massacre survivors where almost all of them or their parents were from outside Oklahoma (See interviews in the Eddie Faye Gates Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma).

2See selected Bibliography of Books Relating to Slavery and Freedmen among the Cherokees following this article.

3Cherokee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee, Box 3, Folder 10, Cherokee Supreme Court Docket, 1829.

4Laws of the Cherokee Nation Adopted by the Council at Various Period, (Tahlequah, C. N.:  Cherokee Advocate Office, 1852), November 11th, 1824, 38.

51835 Cherokee Census, (Park Hill, OK:  The Trail of Tears Association, Oklahoma Chapter, 2002), Introduction.

6“Cherokee Emancipation Proclamation,” Archives Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Cherokee Volume 248, (February 18-19, 1863).  Principal Chief John Ross also reports this to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: see Letter from Chief John Ross to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William P. Dole. 4026.1380-.1. John Ross Papers. April 2, 1863. Tulsa: Gilcrease Museum, (02/23/2018).

7Charles J. Kappler, Laws and Treaties, Vol. II, Indian Treaties, 1778-1883, (Washington:  Government Printing Office, 1904), 942-950.

81930 U. S. Census, Oklahoma, Tulsa County, Precinct 8, Magnolia Addition, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C.

9Find a Grave, database and images, memorial page for Mary Hogg (20 Oct 1867–29 Sep 1921), Find a Grave Memorial ID 67449574, citing Oaklawn Cemetery, Tulsa, Tulsa County, Oklahoma, USA; Maintained by Mary Ryder (contributor 46557663), (accessed 12 December 2022).

10Eddie Faye Gates discusses this in her Video 5327.1692, Eddie Faye Gates Collection, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

11Cherokee Enrollment Records, Dawes Commission, National Archives and Records Service, Fort Worth Branch, Fort Worth, Texas, Cherokee Freedmen Census Cards Nos. 1427 and 1428.  In 1994, Eddie Faye Gates interviews Joseph Willard Vann and he discusses his father, William Vann, assisting many of the Freedmen in the Lenapah area to enroll on the Dawes Roll so that they could get their allotment.  See video 5327.1823, Eddie Faye Gates Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

12Ibid., Cherokee Freedmen Dawes Testimony Nos. 1427 and 1428.  Note that the Dawes Testimony and Census Card use the same number for enrollment.

13Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C., Preliminary Inventory Item 583, Wallace Rolls 1890.

141860 U. S. Census, Slave Schedules, Indian Lands West of Arkansas, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D. C.

15Emmet Starr, History of the Cherokee Indians and Their Legends and Folklore, (Oklahoma City:  The Warden Company, 1921), Frontispiece Map of the Cherokee Nation.

16Ibid., pp. 335-336.

17Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs 1824-1881, National Archives Microfilm Publication M234, (Washington, D. C.:  National Archives and Records Administration, 1942), Roll 113, Cherokee Emigration 1828-1836, Currey to Herring, March 22, 1832.

18Jack D. Baker, Transcriber, Cherokee Emigration Rolls 1817-1835, (Oklahoma City:  Baker Publishing Co., 1977), pp. 29, 42.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant CAGML-247978-OMLS-20. The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.