His heritage was not important to him, nor was it a matter of interest in the 1950s when my mother was growing up. My grandfather’s family lived in Georgia, and my mom has a vague memory of visiting an aunt there. That’s all I know.
My grandmother was of Irish descent, and as you can see in this picture of them together, he looks very swarthy compared to her. In the picture of him wearing his military uniform, you can see his high cheekbones and broad nose, both of which are features of the Cherokee people.
Were they Cherokee? Was there an intermarriage somewhere that wasn’t recorded? Did they identify as white to avoid mistreatment and relocation? Did they accept citizenship in Georgia to secure their land and safety?
Or were they whites who settled on Cherokee lands?
These are questions to which I may never know the answer. But the idea of being descended from the Cherokee has influenced me and shaped my interest in Native peoples and their stories.
While writing DRIVEN BY THE PRAIRIE WIND, I visited Sequoyah’s cabin in Oklahoma, and it was recommended to me that I join the Cherokee Nation and market my book as “Cherokee Made.” This would have been a dream come true for me, as my interest in and identification with the Cherokee dates back to my early years.
However, in order to join the Western Band of Cherokee, I would need to provide the name of an ancestor who was listed on the Dawes Roll and who traveled west to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
My family remained in Georgia, but to join the Eastern Band of Cherokee I would need to provide the name of an ancestor on the Baker Roll from 1924 and meet blood quantum qualifications. Unfortunately, I cannot even find someone who indicated on their census record that they were Cherokee.
So, the question remains: am I descended from Cherokee stock?
I don’t know why my grandfather would have perpetuated the belief in my grandmother and mother if it didn’t have some basis in fact. Unfortunately, if it is true, it’s a story which has been lost to time.