Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation

Synopsis

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the federal government sought to forcibly assimilate Native Americans into American society through systematized land allotment. In Sustaining the Cherokee Family, Rose Stremlau illuminates the impact of this policy on the Cherokee Nation, particularly within individual families and communities in modern-day northeastern Oklahoma.

Emphasizing Cherokee agency, Stremlau reveals that Cherokee families' organization, cultural values, and social and economic practices allowed them to adapt to private land ownership by incorporating elements of the new system into existing domestic and community-based economies. Drawing on evidence from a range of sources, including Cherokee and United States censuses, federal and tribal records, local newspapers, maps, county probate records, family histories, and contemporary oral histories, Stremlau demonstrates that Cherokee management of land perpetuated the values and behaviors associated with their sense of kinship, therefore uniting extended families. And, although the loss of access to land and communal resources slowly impoverished the region, it reinforced the Cherokees' interdependence. Stremlau argues that the persistence of extended family bonds allowed indigenous communities to retain a collective focus and resist aspects of federal assimilation policy during a period of great social upheaval.

Excerpt

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 when the Dawes Commission allotted the farm that she shared with her husband, Tom, to him because they believed adult men to be the rightful heads-of-households, a notion common among Anglo-Americans but inconsistent with gender roles among Cherokees. They assigned her land to the northeast in what became the boundary between Delaware and Cherokee Counties. Like others categorized as “full bloods,” the Wolf es’ homestead was tax exempt, but that protection ended with the death of its legal owner. On June 7, 1914, Lewis Sourjohn, a twenty-five-year-old Cherokee man visiting his maternal relatives in the area, killed Tom Wolfe. Sourjohn subsequently pled guilty to manslaughter in the first degree and was sentenced to ten years in McAlester, the Oklahoma penitentiary.

At first, Nannie stayed in the home she had made with Tom for twentyeight years, even though her husband’s son from a prior marriage, John Wolfe, had inherited half of it and was actively searching for a buyer for the farm. Sam Chewey, her grown son from a previous relationship, lived with her. They had twenty acres under cultivation. When Sam joined the American Expeditionary Force and was stationed in France during World War I, Nannie kept up the farm. John may have helped her with the heavy labor; he certainly remained familiar with the condition of the homestead on which he had grown to adulthood while he was trying to sell it. After the armistice, Sam returned home and presumably would have resumed working on his family’s farm, but by then, John had found a buyer for his father’s allotment. John and his wife, Dora, were . . .

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