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Sustaining the Cherokee Family

Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Rose Stremlau

Publication Year: 2011

The passage of the Dawes Act in 1887 inaugurated what is generally known as the allotment era of U.S.-Indian relations; through the Dawes Act, the federal government sought to assimilate Native Americans by dissolving tribal governments and championing a program of systematized land allotment, in which communal tribal lands were subdivided into privately owned tracts. The destructive results of allotment and related assimilation policies have been increasingly well documented, but the close examination of Native Americans' lived experience of allotment is a newer phenomenon. In this manuscript, Stremlau offers the first detailed study of how turn-of-the-century Oklahoma Cherokee families experienced and adapted to--and adapted for their own purposes--allotment policies. Using ethnohistorical methods that blend historical and anthropological approaches, and drawing on a variety of primary sources that include written documents and contemporary oral histories from two Cherokee communities in Oklahoma, Stremlau argues that Cherokee families' organization, values, and behavior allowed them to adapt to private land ownership and incorporate the new system successfully into existing domestic and community-based economies. Though traditional matrilineal family structures were greatly challenged by allotment, Stremlau finds that the persistence of family bonds allowed Cherokee communities to retain a collective focus and resist aspects of federal assimilation policy in a time of great social upheaval.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. xi-xiii

The staffs at the following libraries and archives guided me while I researched this project: the Hampton University Archives in Hampton, Virginia; the Oklahoma History Society in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; the Western History Collection at Oklahoma University in ...

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pp. 1-20

In the early months of 1920, Nannie Wolfe lost the farm in Chewey, Adair County, Oklahoma, that had been her home for thirty-four years. She was then sixty-eight years old. Nannie had done nothing wrong; the decisions leading to this outcome were not hers. This process began in 1905 ...

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pp. 21-39

The story of the Cherokee people begins with a family undergoing tremendous change. In the version of “Origin of Corn” that ethnologist James Mooney learned while researching among the Eastern Band of Cherokees during the late nineteenth century, the central characters are ...

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CHAPTER TWO. Belonging

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pp. 40-68

In the early 1880s, two boys approached a farmhouse on the Niescoop Prairie in Goingsnake District. They were brothers whose family had been traveling for days and was camped at nearby Tyner Creek. Exhausted and low on supplies, the parents sent their sons to a neighboring farm to buy ...

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pp. 69-104

In 1896, Samuel Houston Mayes wrote an impassioned letter in which he described his countrymen as the quintessence of virtuous, modern manhood. He used evocative words with strong connotations to convey his pride: these men were “sober,” “industrious,” and “independent.” He ...

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pp. 105-126

In 1902, as summer aged into autumn, Simon Walkingstick scoured the rugged terrain of Goingsnake District for Cherokees who had not enrolled with the Dawes Commission. This was no easy task. Residents of this area clustered their farms in valleys shielded by ridges. For millennia, water ...

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pp. 127-148

Rosanna Mounce was flustered. The Dawes commissioners were asking questions about her former lovers and ex-husbands, and they expected her to answer them in this public place, the enrollment office. It was the fall of 1902. Having sent her current husband, Joe, to speak on her ...

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CHAPTER SIX. Transforming

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pp. 149-179

In early November 1902, Birch Anderson claimed allotments for himself, his wife, Lizzie, and their infant daughter, Willie Mae. Birch’s selections exemplify how familial relationships shaped the ways that Cherokees picked the land that they would own as individuals. Rather than ...

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pp. 180-214

In 1910, Stan and Tinna Gibson bought forty acres of land from Dennis and Bertha Sixkiller for $485. Over the next few years, the Gibsons built a three-room house and a barn, dug a well, tilled fields, and put up a fence. In short, they made a home. In 1915, a field clerk working out of the office for ...

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pp. 215-239

Between 1967 and 1972, J. W. Tyner crisscrossed northeastern Oklahoma documenting Cherokee life after allotment as part of the American Indian Oral History Project, commonly known as the Doris Duke Collection after the foundation that sponsored this massive ...

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pp. 241-244

The community of Chewey and the Cherokee families who lived in the area survived allotment. When anthropologist Albert L. Wahrhaftig conducted his research there during the 1960s, Chewey remained a stable community that still exhibited communitarian ethics.1 In the decades ...

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pp. 245-247

After what seemed like a hundred turns down country roads—my queasy stomach feeling every one of them—we arrived at the edge of a field. The scene reminded me of the county fair that I loved as a girl when I would visit my grandma back in the small farm town in Illinois that my dad ...

Appendix: Note on Sources

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pp. 249-251


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pp. 253-299


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pp. 301-311


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pp. 313-320

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602745
E-ISBN-10: 1469602741
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834992
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834998

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 759000839
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sustaining the Cherokee Family

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma -- Social conditions.
  • Cherokee Indians -- Kinship.
  • Allotment of land -- Government policy -- Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma.
  • United States -- Social policy.
  • Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma -- History.
  • Cherokee Indians -- Cultural assimilation.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Cherokee Indians -- Land tenure.
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