Cherokee Census Rolls
a followup

© 1996 Ralph Jenkins

Still with respect to all, and still with a desire not to argue, but to clarify some of the issues involved in defining Cherokee identity, I offer this followup on some technical aspects of the various rolls of the Eastern Cherokee.

From John R. Finger, The Eastern Band Of Cherokees 1819-1900, Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1984:

Finger describes the Mullay Roll, taken to fulfill the provisions of the Indian Appropriations Act of 1848, as "the most important of the many payment rolls the federal government made of the Eastern Cherokees because most of the subsequent ones were based on it." (p. 49) The coverage of the Mullay Roll was expressly limited by the federal government because its purpose was not to enumerate all Cherokee, or even all Cherokee in North Carolina, but only those who were eligible for certain payments [emphasis mine - jwj]. The Indian Appropriations Actof 1848 "stipulated that those Cherokee who had been living in North Carolina when the Treat of New Echota had been ratified, and who had not removed West of received money for such a move, were entitled to $53.33 each for any future emigration to the Cherokee Nation ....The man appointed to take the Cherokee Census under the 1848 act was John C. Mullay....As he prepared to leave...he received detailed instructions from Indian Commissioner William C. Medill. He was not to include on the census any Indian born after May 23, 1836 (when the Treaty of New Echota was ratified), nor any white who had intermarried with a Cherokee after that date. He was to include the living heirs of those who qualified but had died since 1836."

Mullay's list may even have included some names of ineligibles (the category I described before as "documented but false"), because of the political climate in which the census was taken. William Thomas, because of his political connections and promise of patronage, was to receive a percentage of the interest money due to enrolled Cherokee; as Finger notes, it was to Thomas's and Mullay's benefit to include as many names as possible, and Mullay agreed in confidence to add some names sent by Thomas after Mullay's first trip through the state. The first roll contained 1517 names. But even that list was incomplete: "On his second trip Mullay noted that many Cherokees from Georgia and Tennessee had moved into North Carolina and that others had returned from the Cherokee Nation. NONE OF THESE WAS ELIGIBLE FOR INCLUSION ON HIS ROLL (emphasis mine). By far the most illustrious of the returnees was the redoubtable warrior Junaluska, now an old man determined that when he died his bones would mingle with those of his ancestors." (p. 49)

Anomalies in the legal status of the Cherokees led to the decision to take another census in 1851, of all Cherokees residing in North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama; this was to be taken by David W. Siler, who, as Finger notes, "became an unwilling party to a squabble within the Indian Office. Johnson Rogers...accused Siler and his interpreter, George W. Hayes, of being in collusion with Thomas; they were supposedly adding names of ineligibles to the rolls while ignoring the names of others who deserved inclusion. Siler's roll, submitted in October, listed 1,961 eligible cherokees as well as information on many more on whom the Indian Office would decide. The final number adjudged eligible was 2,133. ALMOST IMMEDIATELY A NUMBER OF CHEROKEES, WOULD-BE CHEROKEES, AND CHEROKEE AGENTS JOINED ROGERS IN PROTESTING THAT SILER HAD OMITTED THEM OR THEIR CLIENTS." (p. 52, emphasis mine)

After political maneuvering and mutual accusations of fraud stemming from the competition between Rogers and Thomas, both of whom wished to extract money from the census process, "disappointed claimants hectored the Indian Office with demands for inclusion on the Siler Roll, while officials steadfastly insisted that the roll was final and payments had been completed....Alfred Chapman made a second trip to North Carolina but was not happy wandering about the mountains tracking down Cherokee recipients, vowing 'Nothing under Heaven would ever induce me to come to this country again.' Even after the new round of disbursements, there were some claimants who insisted they had been overlooked." (p. 54)

These comments suggest that, even if politics and greed had been absent from the census process, it would be an act of faith rather than reason to take the various rolls as both exhaustive and accurate in all details. Like any other census, even taken under optimal conditions, these must include ineligibles and omit eligibles. Add to these problems the strong likelihood that many Cherokees, remembering the consequences of the census of 1835, and distrusting any assurances, would have refused to participate.

And a brief note on the 1835 census for those who may not have seen it yet: like the various federal censuses taken before 1850, it lists by name only the head of household. All other members of the household appear as numbers in the several age and gender categories. Further, the names of heads of households are frequently uninformative. They fall into four groups: Anglicized full names, Anglicized first names only ("Sally"), translated Cherokee names ("Deer in the Water," "Let Me Hit Him"), and transliterated but untranslated Cherokee names. Of the 16,542 Indians, 1,592 slaves, and 201 intermarried whites, the great majority appear only as coded numbers. Which of us can with certainty say that another researcher's ancestor was NOT in the 1835 roll?

These rolls, indispensable and irreplaceable, clearly serve a useful purpose, as does a telephone directory. But if we seek truth, rather than simplicity, we have to recognize that some people have unlisted numbers, and some, by choice, have no telephone at all.

Ralph Jenkins

Originally posted to INDIAN-ROOTS Mon 25 Nov 1996, reprinted here by permission of Ralph Jenkins.

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Page created Mon Dec 2 1996 by Jerry Wright Jordan.