Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Trail of Tears, Stick People, and the Whitetop Laurel Band


My Native American Connection


The Sizemore family had thought themselves to be of Cherokee blood for generations. There is no doubt that there is Cherokee blood in the line.
We know that George Sizemore (b. abt 1751 d. 1820) married Elizabeth “Annie” Hart about 1772 in Surry County, Va. And that Annie was a Cherokee squaw whose Indian name was Aruna. This, according to ECA # 10133 by Frank Sizemore of Pineville, Wyoming Co. Va.
But the most important event for this belief of Cherokee heritage happened during the “Removal” – the Trail of Tears. 

As the young American nation was growing and expanding ever westward, there were more and more conflicts with the original inhabitants of that land. The tribes that lived on those lands took exception to the white settlers encroaching onto the hunting grounds they had used for untold generations.
This lead to “The Indian Wars” which was actually a series of wars between several tribes of Native Americans and the new settlers. These conflicts span a period from the Jamestown Massacre in 1622 to the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota in 1890.

The Indians were pushed further west and their numbers dwindled because of war, European diseases and in some cases, starvation. Several tribes (or remnants of tribes) would join with other larger groups for survival and thus, became mixed among themselves. It was common during this time to have a tribe that was made up of members of two, three or even more different tribes. 

In 1830 Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act” which called for the “forcible removal” of the Cherokee nation (and others) from their lands east of the Mississippi River to reservations in Oklahoma. During this forced march in 1838 an estimated 4,000 of the 15,000 Cherokees died. (National Park Service, Department of the Interior)
This is where our family history once again intersects with national history. Because it was during the Trail of Tears that some of the Cherokee escaped and were taken in by a family of Indians who had already assimilated into the local white population by the name of … you guessed it … Sizemore.

High in the Appalachian Mountains, as the story goes; the Sizemore family would stack huge piles of sticks in which to hide these escapees. This gave rise to the name “stick people” which the group was called for many years.
Consequently, this group of ‘stick people’ intermarried into the Sizemore family for generations until it was hard to distinguish between the mixed blood - or Melungeon - Sizemores and the Cherokee.
Then in 1907 the government was ordered to pay out funds to the Cherokee nation. Suddenly, it became very important to be an official Cherokee and over 2000 applications were made to the Cherokee nation by members of the Sizemore family. All of them were denied  for various reasons. 

The same decree [U.S. Court of Claims, April 29, 1907] also provided that the fund was to be distributed to all Eastern and Western Cherokee Indians who were alive on May 28, 1906, who could establish the fact that at the time of the treaties they were members of the Eastern Cherokee Tribe or were descendants of such persons, and that they had not been affiliated with any tribe of Indians other than the Eastern Cherokee or the Cherokee Nation. (Catalogue, 2009)

After the denial of their applications for membership in the Cherokee nation, the Sizemore family decided to band together to form the Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokee led by Chief Blevins.

Testimony of Whitetop Chief William H. Blevins:

          "The word 'Chief' in my application, means that I am Chief of the
 White Top Band of Cherokee Indians, an organization of the principal Cherokee Indians living about White Top, and was perfected about ten 
years ago. We organized so as to demand our rights in a body. We thought we had not been getting them before. In 1896, we wanted to go to the Indian Territory, and organized for that purpose. When the band was first organized there were about 2,175, I believe. They were all Sizemore descendants. No 
one else was allowed to become a member if it was known…” (Powell, 2002)

*Note: This was originally produced in The Metis Heritage of the Sizemore Family by Jason Adams

Next: Mixed blood, Melungeon, or Metis?

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