Honoring our Great-Grandmothers by Researching Their Stories: Eliza Ann Isenhour, Settler of Indian Territory
Can we tell the story of our great-grandmothers when few records naming them exist? What sources can we use to weave a narrative that will draw us closer to them as well as honor their contributions? My great, great-grandmother, Eliza Ann Isenhour died in Indian Territory at the age of 48. According to family stories, she was full-blooded Cherokee. I wanted to know more about this woman whose DNA I carry. Researching her story revealed a life spent on the western frontier, struggling to raise a family, like many other women of the late 1800s.
Knowing that I’d be presenting a lecture at the NGS Conference in May titled “Settlers of Indian Territory: Discovering Their Stories In This Unique Place and Time,” I chose Eliza Ann Isenhour as the subject for my latest RLP Study Group project. Following the RLP process, I was able to write a research report that not only dispelled the myth of Cherokee blood, but also explored her life in the Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. Here is the process I followed.
Setting the Objective
Eliza’s life spanned the period from 1850 to 1898 and included a migration from Arkansas to Texas to Indian Territory. I wanted to focus on the narrow part of Eliza’s life in the Chickasaw Nation so wrote my objective accordingly.
The objective of this research project is to discover the activities of Eliza Ann (Isenhour) Shults Meek in Indian Territory. Eliza was born March 1850 in Polk, Montgomery, Arkansas, and died 1898 in Elmore, Garvin, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). She married William Henderson Shults on 4 July 1871 in Bell County, Texas. After his death in 1884, Eliza married Jacob Meek on 26 July 1885 in Brown County, Texas.
Reviewing the sources on Eliza Ann reminded me of the research Nicole and I did when we were beginning genealogists. The first big discovery Nicole made was the 1860 census where Eliza Ann was part of the household of her step-father, Squire Blevins. The surname spelled “Icenhower” did not come up in the traditional searches and with some creative entries, Nicole found her. That opened the door to many more discoveries about Eliza Ann’s birth family and tied her to a well-researched line of Isenhour’s/Eisenhower’s.
Eliza died at the age of 48 and the records consistently gave her birth year as 1850 in Arkansas. Besides the census records of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, she is named in two marriage records: the 1871 marriage record with spouse, William Henderson Shults and her second marriage of 1885 to Jacob Meek. Personal letters to my dad from her children and grandchildren revealed a death date of 1898 in Indian Territory and that was the extent of my knowledge of her life.
Several questions were raised from the timeline analysis that I hoped research would answer? When did Eliza and Jacob Meek move to Indian Territory? Did she really have any Cherokee blood? Why did the family leave Texas and move north? What was the pull of Indian Territory?
Since the objective for the project was to research Eliza Ann’s activities in Indian Territory, it made sense to create a locality guide for that large jurisdiction. In doing so I discovered history, laws, repositories, and record collections that could yield good results. In particular, I discovered this information about tribal records and included it in my guide.
The records for each of the nations have been microfilmed and are available at the Oklahoma Historical Society. FamilySearch has digitized the microfilm and it can be viewed at a Family History Center. Use the Microfilm Guides for each record set to determine the appropriate microfilm to view. Included in the records are materials such as court cases and permits to non-citizens.
Oklahoma Historical Society, “Indian Archives Collection and More” https://www.okhistory.org/research/indianarchive.
Cherokee National Records Microfilm Guide https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/CherokeeMG.pdf
FamilySearch Digital Collection: Cherokee Nation Records
Chickasaw National Records Microfilm Guide https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/ChickasawMG.pdf
FamilySearch Digital Collection: Chickasaw Nation Records
Choctaw National Records Microfilm Guide https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/ChoctawMG.pdf
FamilySearch Digital Collection: Choctaw Nation Records
Creek National Records Microfilm Guide https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/CreekMG.pdf
FamilySearch Digital Collection: Creek Nation
Seminole National Records Microfilm Guide https://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/SeminoleMG.pdf
FamilySearch Digital Collection: Seminole Nation
With so many sources discovered in the locality research, I needed to prioritize a strategy. I hypothesized that researching the county history, newspapers, and Dawes Roll applications could reveal new information. Unfortunately, soon after creating my research plan, the Family History Centers and Library closed, so I was left with only online sources to search. With these new limitations, I moved those elements of my plan to the future research section of my project.
My basic plan included:
-County histories of Garvin County and Pontotoc County, Oklahoma
-1890 Census of Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory
-Newspapers of Indian Territory
-Court Records pertaining to the Dawes Rolls
Source Citations and Research Logs
As I followed my research plan, I logged the fascinating information found in the digitized county history of Garvin County, Oklahoma, about the years before statehood.
Land ownership – all land belonged to the Chickasaw tribe. who did not believe in land being assigned to individuals. Property was personal. “A man could farm all he could enclose with a fence or break with a plow.” Actual ownership of lots or sites in the town site did not come about until early in the 1900s.
The 1890 census found 396 people in town and the races were listed separately – equally divided between Indians and whites. women refused to state their ages and children were counted but not named.
My layered source citation reflected both the physical and the digital information for the book:
Pauls Valley Chamber of Commerce, From Bluestem to Golden Trend : A Pictorial History of Garvin County, Covering Both the Old and New, (Fort Worth : University Supply and Equipment Co., 1957); FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org/library/books/idurl/1/614794 : accessed 10 April 2020).
Writing the report about this period of Eliza’s life let me put everything into focus. I reviewed some of the early events of her life then discussed the new information I discovered about her time in Indian Territory. A link to the entire report is included at the end of this article, but the conclusion sums up the findings.
This research project sought to discover and document the life of Eliza Ann Isenhour in Indian Territory. Family stories stated she was full-blooded Cherokee and as in many family stories, there was an element of truth in that one.
Born in Arkansas in 1850, Eliza seemed to always live on the frontier. After her birth in Arkansas, her family moved to Texas where her father, Barnett Isenhour, died about 1855. Her mother married Squire Blevins and Eliza joined a large mixed household of Blevins and Isenhour children, residing in Johnson County, Texas, by 1860. The Blevins/Shults household moved again and were enumerated in 1870 in Coryell County, Texas. Eliza married William Henderson Shults on 4 July 1871 in Bell County, Texas, and when new land opened up further west in Brown County, moved to a new frontier.
William died in 1884 of an unfortunate accident and with several small children to care for, Eliza married Jacob Meek, her brother-in-law. Her sister, Sarah Isenhour Meek, had recently died, so the Shults/Meek families formed a new household.
With the land allotment act of 1887, white settlers began moving into Indian Territory. Eliza and Jacob Meek along with the Shults and Meek children moved north to the area that would become Garvin County, Oklahoma, by 1892. In 1896 Jacob Meek and his two sons, James and Calvin Meek, applied for and were granted citizenship in the Choctaw Nation by virtue of blood. Jacob stated he was ¼ Choctaw and his sons, 1/8 Choctaw. Eliza was listed as a non-citizen with no tribal bloodline, dispelling the myth of her Cherokee heritage.
The enrollment file for Jacob Meek revealed his arrival in the Chickasaw Nation by 1892 and his settlement in Elmore, a small community in the area. Eliza died in 1898 and was buried near Elmore. Her children all lived in Indian Territory for a time with some of them marrying there. They would have seen the great changes that came to the area as Indian Territory transitioned to the state of Oklahoma in 1907.
As with any project, there is more to be done in discovering Eliza Ann’s life, but now I have a better idea of her time in Indian Territory. And yes, the research proved that she was not full-blooded Cherokee. Instead, she married Jacob Meek, with 1/4 Choctaw blood and their son, Calvin, reported 1/8th Choctaw heritage. As with many family stories, there was indeed an element of truth.
Researching our female ancestors can and should be done. We can do that by researching the men in their lives as well as the history of the localities where they lived. We can honor their lives and sacrifices by telling their stories.
Read my report here: Eliza Ann Isenhour Research Report
Best of luck in all your genealogical endeavors!