Tag Archives: ancestry

Worlds Collide in One Man’s Heritage

One wonderful result of writing books is hearing from people who read them. Recently I heard from Jim Terry who was reading my collection of stories about 19th century murders in Washington County, Arkansas – Murder in the County. He wanted to know why a murder involving one of his ancestors wasn’t in the book. Once he gave me more information, it became clear that the murder involved members of the Cherokee tribe. That’s why it wasn’t in my book.

During those early years of Washington County, a steady traffic of bad actors flowed back and forth across the Arkansas-Indian Territory border. Cherokee lawmen attempting to make arrests in Indian Territory had no jurisdiction if the outlaw stood on the Arkansas side of the line. Similarly, federal marshals authorized out of Fort Smith were the only whites who had any jurisdiction in Indian Territory. Local lawmen like the Washington County sheriff couldn’t arrest anyone on Indian land. This made Evansville, Cane Hill, and other Washington County border towns hot spots for outlaw activity.

Jim’s ancestry includes a Cherokee outlaw named Isaac Gann, brother to a woman in Jim’s direct lineage. Not only that, Jim is directly descended from Susannah Harnage, an adopted child of the Harnage family, one of Washington County’s earliest settlers who was subsequently murdered. There’s an irony here and an interesting little story.

The earliest days of our county were fraught with the crisis of the Cherokee people, a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family, formerly holding the whole mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River. By the turn of the 19th century, increasing pressure by white settlers led to efforts by the federal government to force their move. Despite winning a case in the U. S. Supreme Court confirming they held an inalienable right to their lands, the Cherokee were forced to leave by President Andrew Jackson.

Previous to their removal, Cherokee had adopted much of the cultural amenities of the whites and intermarried with European settlers. This was the case of Ambrose Harnage, later a Washington County resident in the area near Cane Hill. Harnage, an ambitious, educated Englishman with clear leadership skills, married a Cherokee woman and built a large dwelling that served as a residence, public inn, and tavern. Located on the north Georgia federal road, the inn was built around 1805 and was designated a federal post office in 1819, earning the location its name of Harnageville.

After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Harnage and others faced increasing pressure to abandon their property. He and other white men who had intermarried with Cherokee women negotiated for the best possible terms and made the move to new land in what is now Oklahoma. Upon their departure, Georgia passed a law to establish Cherokee County where Harnage’s tavern was chosen as a meeting place to conduct the business of court and county government.

In 1815, another white man, William H. Hendricks, had built his homestead near the Harnage home and married a full-blood Cherokee woman named Sokinny. She and her brother Youngdeer were orphaned at an early age and Sokinny was later adopted by the Harnage family where she was given the name Susannah Harnage. Whether this is the same Harnage family as Ambrose is not proven.

In 1832, William and Susannah/Sokinny Hendricks and the Ambrose Harnage family moved west, part of the first wave of Cherokee accepting the government’s offer to relocate in exchange for logistical and financial assistance for the move. Typically, extended families and neighbors moved to new territories as a group suggesting a close connection between the Ambrose Harnage family and Susannah/Sokinny.  After 1836, the Cherokee who had initially refused the removal order (Indian Removal Act of 1830) were forced west on the so-called Trail of Tears.

Also among Jim Terry’s ancestors was a woman named Ruth Gambold Gann, sister to Isaac Gann and two other siblings. Thanks to Jim’s research into his heritage, the rest of this odd irony comes to light.

In June 1847, twenty-year-old Isaac Ferguson Gann mustered in as private to Captain Enyart’s Company, Arkansas Mounted Infantry, at Fort Smith.  Military service provided a small monthly stipend as well as regular meals, and was the fallback option for many young men without other opportunities. His military records include one from January 12, 1848, that states “deserted from camp near Mier, Mexico, taking holsters and pistols belonging to the government.” Also, the muster roll for June 23, 1848, at Camargo, Mexico, lists him as “deserted.”

Thereafter, Isaac became an outlaw, partnering with a man named Ellis “Creek” Starr. They were active in the Cherokee Nation and Washington County, Arkansas.

Creek was among several members of the Starr clan, a Cherokee family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory. If the “Starr” name sounds familiar, it’s because by the late 1800s, the family name had become famous for its association with Belle Starr, originally Maybelle Shirley.

In 1880 [after the death of her first husband Jim Reed], she [married] a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. Belle’s illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.

In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves, charged with horse theft and tried before “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas; the prosecutor was United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. Belle proved to be a model prisoner and during her time in jail she won the respect of the prison matron, while Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor.

In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West. Both men were killed, while Belle’s life as an outlaw queen—and what had been the happiest relationship of her life—abruptly ended with her husband’s death.[1]

Jim Reed and Belle at their marriage 1866

Belle’s first husband Jim Reed was killed in Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reed was friends with the Starrs which was how Belle became acquainted with them. After Belle’s murder in 1889, her daughter Rosie “Pearl” Reed-Starr built a tidy little home at Winslow where she sojourned in between stints at operating her houses of ill repute in Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Long before the heyday of Belle or Pearl Starr, Ellis “Creek” Starr alongside Isaac Gann pursued their own outlaw ways. An 1848 write-up in the Cherokee Advocate, Tahlequah, provides more insight into the efforts of the Cherokee Nation to address such criminal gangs:

We learn that a meeting composed of the persons engaged in the recent killing in Flint District, and a numbers of others, was held at the Court House of said district, some days since, for the purpose of adopting certain measures in relation to that affair.

A series of resolutions, commendatory of what has already been done, and urging the importance of freeing the country of the following persons, to wit: — Thos. Starr, Jas. Starr, Creek Starr, Wm. Starr, Ezekiel Rider, Shadrach Cordery, Isaac Gann, and Tre-gi-ske and Ult-tees-kee, were passed.

Writs have been taken out for the above-named persons. Several companies were organized to cooperate with the whites. These companies are actively engaged in scouting the country. We learn that a deputation was sent down, on last Tuesday, to advise the Executive upon the late proceedings, also with a reply to his protest. A second meeting has been held since this interview with the Executive, and we learn that the whole matter will soon be laid before the public.

From the evidence before us, we are under the necessity of disapproving, heartily, a part of the proceedings of our fellow citizens. Ellis Starr, Wash Starr, and John Rider, it is true, were once engaged openly in the most fiendish deeds that ever characterized any set of men, but by the treaty of 1846, though out-laws, they were pardoned—and by that act were again placed upon an equality with other citizens. And if they have since been guilty of misdemeanor, the law should be pushed against them, — and if, after the most ample opportunity has been afforded to test its efficacy, it should prove inadequate, then, though extremely humiliating to a regularly organized Government, the people may take upon themselves the management of affairs.

We learn that one of the companies above named surprised Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, the supposed murderers of the woman who was killed near Evansville [Washington County, Arkansas] on the 27th ult., at a dance in Washington Cove [probably a misprint of Washington County], Ark., some days since. Gann was killed in the attempt to arrest him. Creek Starr was made prisoner. On the return of the party with him, to the Nation, he made his escape—was fired upon, but supposed, only slightly wounded.[2]

Another source, the Van Buren newspaper Arkansas Intelligencer, reports on this murder in their June 12, 1848, edition.

Foul Murder – Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, half-blood Cherokees, killed a Cherokee woman near Evansville, on the 27th. Gann is a deserter from Capt. Enyart’s company of volunteers, now in Mexico.

This was the murder not included in my book.

This is where the murder of Ambrose Harnage joins the story.  Evidently with a history of seeing himself as a liaison between the Cherokee nation and whites, Harnage gave incriminating evidence against men accused of participating in the notorious 1839 Wright family murders at Cane Hill where a nighttime assault killed the father and several children and burned the family cabin to the ground. Initially, these murders were blamed on Indians. But Harnage overheard conversations between white neighbors that he reported to a committee investigating the murders. Several white men some believed innocent were subsequently hanged.

Whether Harnage’s report led to his murder is not known. No one saw his murder and all “evidence” was based on supposition leading to the accusation of a Cherokee named John Work for the crime. Many loose ends about Work’s supposed guilt for Harnage’s murder remain unresolved.

Harnage was also a close friend to Major John Ridge, a Cherokee leader who had signed the federal agreement to remove to new lands in Indian Territory, thereby earning the enmity of those in the tribe who didn’t agree with the removal act. In June 1839, Ridge spent the night at Harnage’s home before traveling south along the Line Road. En route, Ridge was assassinated.

Harnage’s friendship and influence on Ridge may have earned him a death warrant among the Cherokee. In the investigation of Harnage’s murder, which occurred in 1841, one line of inquiry yielded possible evidence of Gann’s involvement.

[John] Work wished to kill Dr. F. and John [George Ambrose] Harnage and leave the country. In watching the movements of Dr. F., he learned that he fed a lot of hogs near a thicket once every day about the same hour. He told Jake to steal the doctor’s fine mare and a bridle and saddle and to bring them to him a certain night, that he would kill the Dr. the next day and leave the country, leaving Harnage to Mat Feating or Isaac Gann.[3]

Major John Ridge

Whether it was Gann or the man ultimately arrested for the offense, John Work, who killed Harnage, the point is the peculiar heritage of Jim Terry. In his person, he juxtaposes the lineages of Gann and the adopted daughter of Harnage.

Was Ambrose Harnage’s murder a result of his close involvement with the Cherokee chief John Ridge or revenge for the Wright family murder hangings? Was Gann his killer?

Because Gann and Starr’s murder of the Cherokee woman fell under tribal jurisdiction, the records never appear in Washington County archives. No one can say how many other similar murders there might have been. This is just one of many stories whose tangled details have forever vanished with the passage of time. My thanks to Jim Terry for bringing this particular episode to light.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Starr

[2] Cherokee Advocate, June 19, 1848.

[3] “A Man Named John Work,” Murder in the County. Denele Campbell 2017. 77

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A Gathering of the Tribe

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The Family of Sylvia and Tom. Left to right, front: Una, Sylvia, Thurston, Tom, and Sula. Back: Joy, Carmyn, Graydon, Tomazine, Douglas, and Durward.

Great strength comes from family tradition. I’ve seen it once again for myself, a gathering of elders I’ve known all my life. In the days and hours leading up to this October reunion, trepidation warred with exhilaration in the prospect of seeing my kin again. Three days past my last contact, I am only now able to let the anxiety fall away.

toma

Tomazine, oldest of the girls and third oldest of Sylvia’s children. Mother of seven who adopted four more orphaned children. Gardener, artist, advocate for common sense and women’s liberation.

Why anxiety? The clan was the community, at least for many of us older ones, and gathered each summer for a week of Rook tournaments, debates on myriad subjects, talent shows, and general mayhem. These people were my judges as well as my mentors, the audience for baby pranks and elementary accomplishments. Like my forty first cousins, of which I was the fifth oldest, I was subjected to quizzes and scrutiny on everything from the ruffles in my skirt to the cleverness of my retort.

A person would think that by the age of sixty-seven, I would have grown past the traumas and dramas of childhood. But no, like the genes we share, interactions with the pantheon of my mother’s family remain a strong influence. I should be glad of the genes—of my Grandmother Sylvia’s nine children, six remain among the living. The oldest recently celebrated her 96th birthday. The youngest, feted at this recent gathering for his 80th, remains—like all of them—in remarkably good health.

carm

My mother Carmyn, mother of five, gardener extraordinaire. College graduate, family historian. Early advocate for environmental protection and organic food.

Matriarch to her own tribe of five offspring, my mother was the middle child of nine born to an even sterner matriarch in Sylvia. Herself the oldest of nine, Sylvia followed a lineage of strong women who simultaneously chafed at the yoke of traditional wifedom while, at least in theory, subscribed to the religious role of subservient ‘helpmate.’ Sylvia’s mother Zeulia raised nine in a marriage with a man never far from his Bible but nonetheless willing to watch his aging wife wade out into mid-winter snow to gather firewood. Zeulia’s mother Armina enjoyed a few years of happy marriage to Jeptha Futrell and the arrival of two sons (one of whom, Junius Marion Futrell, became a governor of Arkansas) before losing Jeptha to pneumonia and remarrying during Arkansas’ devastating aftermath of the Civil War. Armina’s mother Frances Massey, as the fabled family account goes, grew up in the lap of southern luxury at her father’s plantation only to elope at age thirteen with the property’s caretaker Jimmy Eubanks. Their first child, born when she was fourteen, was said to have a head the size of a teacup and yet grew to robust male adulthood.

joy

Joy, fourth youngest, mother of four. College graduate, school teacher, gardener, comforting presence.

By the mid-1840s, Jimmy and Frances crossed the Mississippi River on a barge and set up housekeeping in the northeast wilds of the new state of Arkansas. Subsequent generations married and lived in similar barebones circumstances in the farmlands near Crowley’s Ridge. After the Civil War, some of the family settled in Texas, and by the time my mother was born in 1923, entire households pulled up stakes each season to pick cotton in Texas before returning to “God’s Country” for the winter.

At the time Sylvia gave birth to her first child, her mother Zeulia was still producing children of her own. Both generations lived together at times in dog-trot houses on Ozark dirt farms, scraping up a livelihood from gardens, milk cows, and free range chickens and hogs. Despite their often desperate economic conditions, the families pursued education. Of my cousins, several hold graduate degrees and many more undergraduate degrees, while others have become successful entrepreneurs, engineers, and educators.

una

Una, mother of eight and third youngest of Sylvia’s children. College graduate, world traveler, genealogical researcher, firecracker in general.

We are told that our genes carry not only the codes for our biology, but also the encoded experiences of our ancestors. I’m left to wonder if my tendencies toward worry derive at least in part from the epigenetic traces of the Civil War and the Great Depression. Is my desire for solitude and rural landscapes the result not only of my own life but even more from the generations of ancestry that found safety and sustenance in the land?

As far back as genealogical research has taken us, efforts largely spearheaded by one of my aunts, the family follows a long tradition of yeoman farmers. Perhaps we were serfs not too many centuries ago, tuned to the change of seasons and the requirement to please a rich master. Our histories find sparse mention of cities and their trappings. We care more about the weather than women’s clubs, more for landscapes than local politics. Yet we do care, passionately, about our freedoms and the direction of the nation despite the fact that we divide fairly evenly between conservative and liberal.

sula

Sula, second youngest and mother of four. Avid Razorback fan, gardener, loving wife. Current holder of the Rook championship trophy.

Of the forty cousins, only fourteen made an appearance at this gathering. Only six or seven lingered for more than one evening. My oldest, now turning forty, waded in and was welcomed as were a few other grandchildren. My mother and two of her five siblings live in this area. Three others, two from Texas and one from New Mexico, stayed for six days, variously taking naps, visiting graves and old homesteads, and arguing over Rook scores. Wrenched to see them come and equally wrenched to see them go, I have since stared out my office window to contemplate the emotions set in play by the event.

The cousins who did attend agreed not to let our next meetings occur only at funerals. Inevitably, the funerals will come, not just for our aunts and uncle, but for us. There’s the strange comfort of time and conversation with those we’ve known all our lives, even though as adults we have little in common, hardly know each other at all. There are our children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren of which we are barely cognizant, yet each of them remain connected in these threads that grow ever thinner as the generations expand.

Thus is the history of all man’s tribes.

thurston

Thurston, youngest of the clan. Father of five, loving husband, modern day farmer and Razorback fan.

As children, my cousins and I not only played together at the annual family reunions but also at reunions of Sylvia’s siblings. We learned the names and faces of great aunts and second cousins, many of them still firmly entrenched in the lands of northeast Arkansas. The rest of us have remained as near as northwest Arkansas or as far as Georgia, California, and all points in between. There’s a mathematical impossibility to any attempt to acquaint the offspring of the forty cousins, or even to gather the forty cousins in one place.

Whether knowledge of one’s ancestry holds any relevance may be debated from various points of view. Whether I want to have these ties or not, I can’t imagine life without them. The huge array of people linked to me through family offers an oddly reassuring backdrop to any of my peculiar interests and life patterns. I’m no longer a child intimidated by their observation or awed by their arguments. They care about me as I care about them, not because we’ve done anything in particular to earn the caring, but simply because we are connected by inheritance.

We’re still a tribe.