NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art ~ Poems & Stories



Ted Wilburn

From my youth, and for most of my sixty-five years, I have known of my Cherokee bloodline. I was born in the post depression year 1933. Growing up in a less than well-to-do community of South Memphis, Tennessee was not especially enjoyable. My granddaddy E. A. Wilburn, and dadís sister, Nancy, lived with us from my earliest remembrance until after I was about twenty years of age. On an average of about once a year my folks moved from one neighborhood to another, mostly in less than one square mile. As a child I couldnít understand why we moved so often. Looking back on our circumstances I think I now understand. The Indian traits were prevalent in my dad and his sister, especially her. Even then I didnít realize our often moves had anything to do with our Cherokee background. I remember a day when I was about fifteen that I asked my dad, granddaddy, and my aunt if we were Indians. They all confirmed that grandmother, Julia Ann Wilburn, was Cherokee. Itís never been popular among white people to have Indian blood ñ if they knew you had it ñ and we were never popular in the neighborhoods where we lived.

That was fifty or more years ago. During the last ten years my daughter, Terri, and I have been searching library census records for some mention of any of my family being listed as Indian, all to no avail. What we have been able to learn is that record keeping was sloppy at best. We also learned that not all Indians were counted in Indian rolls, and that many Indians counted in the U.S. Census rolls were listed as white if they lived with white people and black if they lived with black people.

One important family relic I have is my 1853 bible with our genealogy records. They, written by my family more than a century ago, show my Page, Martindale, and Wilburn family members. These records too are somewhat sloppy, but they span one hundred seventy-one years. The earliest birth record is that of James Martindale, born 27 November 1827. His wife, Julia Ann Page Martindale (my g-grandmother) was born 3 July 1831. Obviously the dates which are earlier than the date of the bible were either written from memory or copied from some other source. We were able to find Julia Page listed in the 1850 Lauderdale County, Alabama U.S. census record living with Josiah and Nancy Page, my g-g-grandparents, both of whom are identified as white and being illiterate. I feel certain that Josiah and Nancy were both Cherokee living as settlers, because (1) they were illiterate, and (2) my family told me they were Cherokee. Their daughter, the above-mentioned Julia Page (my g-grandmother) married the above-mentioned James Martindale (my g-grandfather) 18 November 1852, the year before this bible was issued. The marriage record shows Juliaís maiden name was Page. Julia Page Martindale was Cherokee according to my dad and his dad and sister who lived with us, and James Martindale, her husband, was white.

Julia Ann Martindale (my grandmother) was born to James and Julia Page Martindale 27 September 1865. The picture I have of her taken in 1935 by my mother, Madeline B. Wilburn, shows that she was Indian as my dad, his dad, and dadís sister told me. My bible records also show that James and Julia Martindale had other children, one of whom was Nancy Jane Martindale.

The conclusive proof I have of my Cherokee bloodline is an artifact I found tucked away between the leaves of my bible. It is a paper cutout of a hand of Nancy Jane Martindale, my grandmotherís sister which was cut from lined paper like a census form. This paper hand cutout is extremely decorated on both sides to give a right and left hand appearance. I have been aware of its presence since my mother (who outlived my dad by thirty years) handed my dadís family bible down to me about ten years ago. Only recently I began to suspect that the decorations were more than just to make it look pretty. Nancy Jane Martindale was born 27 July 1867, two years after Julia Ann Martindale, one hundred thirty-one years ago. So this paper hand cutout is about one hundred twenty-five years old.

Careful examination of Nancyís "hands" shows it was not cut with scissors, but with a very sharp knife or perhaps a straight razor. There are long slits in the palm area with a basket weave design worked into them. Itís also adorned with rings, hearts, fingernails and a double-segmented line design across the right hand side at the wrist that looks like a fence or sidewalk, or railroad tracks. Apparently it was my g-grandmother, Julia Page Martindale, who made the cutout and applied the Cherokee symbols, and James Martindale, my g-grandfather who wrote Nancy Jane Martindale on the cutout. With my new IBM Aptiva computer and Internet service I started surfing the Indian web-sites for someone who could interpret what the decorations mean.

The first word of encouragement I received was from Dr. Steve Fabian, a professor of anthropology at North Central College in Naperville, IL. Dr. Fabian was very complimentary regarding my daughterís Indian related poetry at Tara Prindleís Native Tech web-site as it went well with a Native Americans class he was teaching. (http://www.nativeweb.org

The next word of encouragement came from Mr. Samuel Johnson, a Cherokee who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. Mr. Johnson sent me the following message:

"The patterns on the hands are definitely of a type used by the Cherokee People of long ago. However, these were also used by Huron, Iroquois and Delaware. All of the peoples I mentioned interrelated with the Cherokee regularly. Our name for ourselves is Una Yuwiyu.

To the hands. I believe that these are actually copies of something, maybe gloves, which were sent to Nancy. These bear the symbols commonly used by Cherokee Medicine People we called "Didahawowesgi" which means "Curer of them he/she". The person sending this gift is a half-blood. The mother is Cherokee and the father is probably white.

The left hand side of things is the father's side and the right hand is the mother's. This is further seen by the differences in the background colors. The giver of the gift wanted to do so during her lifetime as the fingertips are shown on both hands. Her husband is also still alive at the time these were started. The father is a minister of some sort and also a healer. The "ring" with the whiter space usually means a spirit man. Since he is white he was maybe a missionary. The dark band could show him as a healer also. The mother is what we'd call a midwife. The dark ring on the little finger shows that.

The symbol on the wrist of the right glove that looks like a railroad or fence is commonly used for a person who had walked the Trail of Tears. Apparently your ancestor or someone in her immediate family did this. Whoever made this is showing that the father had been married twice. These are what the 2 hearts on the left hand mean.

The mother had only been married once at the time these were done.

The person who made this had either three brothers and sisters or three sons and daughters. These are shown by the numbers of hearts on each hand. The four "hills" on the wrist of the left hand baffle me a bit. I believe that these are a prophecy symbol of some kind. The way they are done causes me to believe that whoever made them felt that their descendants would live as white for at least 4 generations.

I printed the picture and will see what others think about that.

All of my interpretations are based upon my being taught to "read skin" by my Cherokee grandfather."

In a subsequent memo Mr. Johnson made the following comments:

"If I left you with the impression that I was checking with the elders for additional information then I apologize. I was only asking them if my readings were correct and they agreed with me on them.

My family is from the Scraper area in northeast Oklahoma. This is a part of what we call the old Going-Snake area or district. My family moved to Dallas during the relocation times in the 50's. I have lived in this area since then other than when I was in the army and going to college.

I am a registered member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. There are 3 other groups today who call themselves Cherokee. Our word for ourselves is Una Yuwiya meaning something like Principal People. We call all other people Una Yuwuya meaning "others". The other Cherokee groups are the United Keetowah Band, also in Oklahoma, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in North Carolina, and the Northern Cherokee Nation of Missouri and Arkansas. The last is a state recognized band which I believe will be federally recognized in the near future.

I am not a full blood, my Certificate of Degree of Indian blood, CDIB, says that I am 5/16. My grandfather was a full blood and my mother's quantum is shown as 5/8. I actually have more than that as I also have some Creek, Choctaw and Chitimacha lines which are more remote.

I am NOT a member of any of these other tribes but know some of my relatives among them."

I am elated to have confirmation that my Cherokee bloodline is undeniable. My great-grandparents, James and Julia Ann Page Martindale, preserved it for me in symbolic form and in English on the paper hand cutout of their daughter, Nancy Jane Martindale, who was my great aunt and sister to my grandmother, Julia Ann Martindale Wilburn. This record of my Cherokee heritage has been preserved for me between the pages of my family bible for a period of approximately one hundred twenty-five years along with the birth and marriage records of my relatives. .

Recently on the Internet I found information concerning government agents in charge of taking the Indian censuses who fraudulently slipped their names and the names of their family members and friends into the records for the purpose of obtaining land. Those records are the official records where one must find a family member listed to qualify for tribal recognition. White men who had little interest in the Indians they were enrolling, (except for grabbing their land) produced those records. Considering that my Cherokee ancestors were illiterate and could not spell their names for the census takers, it must have been easy for them to write in their own names instead of the Indians standing before them. That being the case there are probably descendants of those vipers who spoke with forked tongues that meet the government standard for tribal recognition who have no Indian blood at all. Even though at the present time I havenít yet located a blood member on an Indian roll to qualify for tribal recognition, I have a more sure record of my Cherokee heritage than any library record could provide. Information, for which I had long sought in public libraries and never found, was at my fingertips. It is recorded in two languages, Cherokee symbols and English in Nancyís "Hand." ñ My Cherokee Rosetta Stone.

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