Monday, June 13, 2011

Fortune Hunters, the Guion Miller Roll, and the Birth of the Wannabe.

This is the introduction to a new series I am starting on this blog. Because the "Cherokee Myth Phenomenon" and wannabes are such a peculiar thing to us Cherokees, we often discuss it privately among ourselves. We try to understand why someone with no proof whatsoever of Cherokee ancestry would claim to be Cherokee simply based on something they have heard or something they believe. We wonder why people believe they are Cherokee when there is nothing but a family story to base that belief on. We wonder what it is about us that seems so special that many people want to be one of us. We wonder why all the family stories ever started in the first place. When in history, did these families who were always listed as white and never listed in the Cherokee records or on any Cherokee rolls suddenly decide to declare themselves Cherokee? What happened and what was the motivation for these families or people to start saying they were Cherokee?

After a lot of hours of research on some of these families, one thing repeatedly comes up over and over - a rejected Guion Miller application. Families who had never been considered Cherokee before were suddenly making a claim of being Cherokee on these applications. It is extremely common for people today to base their entire claim of Cherokee ancestry on a rejected, I repeat, rejected, application. It doesn't matter that there is never other documentation to support the idea that the family was actually Cherokee. Because someone in their ancestry decided to apply for the Guion Miller Roll, people grab onto a rejected claim of Cherokee blood and cling to it as if their life depended on it. Though these applications often offer a lot of genealogical information, they don't necessarily offer any proof of Cherokee ancestry and to use them as such is in no way, shape or form, the practice of good genealogy.

What was the Guion Miller Roll? It is a list that includes the names of ALL the people who applied for compensation arising from the judgment of the United States Court of Claims on May 28, 1906, for the Eastern Cherokee tribe.There were 45,857 applications filed for about 900,000 claimants. 30,254 of those claimants were entitled to share in the funds. This means nearly 2/3 of all claimants were NOT entitled and therefore rejected. It would be impossible for that many people to actually be Cherokee yet never have been found on any Cherokee record before then. Obviously some of the people who filed an application simply were not Cherokee.

A common assumption of those who descend from people who were rejected on the Miller Roll is that their ancestors were Cherokee, but they just couldn't prove it at that time. After reviewing many, many, many of these applications, I don't believe that assumption to be correct. Newspapers were full of announcements that the Cherokees and/or Cherokee heirs would be receiving money anywhere from $5,000,000 to $11,000,000. Many times it was not made clear this was money for nearly the entire tribe but instead gave the impression that it was for specific families. Any time people were making a claim for money, we must be wary of anything they said. For a chance at that amount of money, I believe most  people would have said just about anything to try to prove their claim.

There are people who applied for the Miller Roll who had never heard they were Cherokee before the money or land topic came up. They were suddenly informed by someone that they were Cherokee or related to a specific family and should apply. There were families who had heard they were Indian or "kin" to them, so they applied even though they had never heard what tribe of Indians they might be "kin" to. There were people who were notified by "claim agents" and lawyers that they were entitled to lots of money so they applied. There were people who were told they would be receiving both land and money, so they applied. There were people who applied because they thought they were enrolling in the Eastern Cherokee tribe and then would be entitled to land and money. There were even people who believed it was only their specific ancestor the money was for so they thought they were coming into a vast fortune by applying.

Estate fraud has been found in non-Indian genealogy for years and I think many of these Guion Miller claims fall into the same category. Many of the rejected non-Cherokee claimants, for one reason or another, filed a claim believing they were going to come into money. Maybe they did it out of greed, or maybe they were misled in one way or another into believing they had a valid claim, but either way, I think they were basically fortune hunters who were filing a claim thinking they had a chance to gain either money or land or both. Though many claimed they had always lived and/or passed as white just like their parents, grandparents and so on, they still were willing to claim to be Cherokee thinking it would benefit them. It was at this time, I think wannabeism took a strong hold over the non-Cherokee population in the United States and I think it has done nothing but grow since then. Over the next few weeks, or months, or years, however long it takes to show all the documentation and evidence that supports the reasons I believe this, I will be writing on why I believe the rejected applications are a very poor source to use to support a claim of Cherokee ancestry and why I think those rejected applications have led to the hoard of wannabes that exist today.

Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.

The Granddaughter

***Note - The term "Cherokee Myth Phenomenon" does not belong to me. It is a term that was originally used by a friend of mine and I use it when it fits the subject I am writing about, but that term belongs to him, not me.***

copyright 2011, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB


  1. Great article! Totally agree with your statements about "wannabeism" but believe it applies to any Indian peoples not just Cherokees. I've several lines that swear there is an Indian ancestor and have yet to come up with even a rejected Guion Miller application. What could be the cause of this "wishful thinking"? I've no idea!
    Looking forward to further articles on this subject. I for one am glad someone has taken it on. =^)

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  3. I meant to say in my comment above: "While this could mean they were not Cherokee and that they wanted a "piece of the pie," it also could mean that they were actually Cherokee and just could not meet the requirements."



  4. I'm amazed, with the majority of Americans having every type of blood ancestor in them, that they couldn't possibly have indian blood also. This takes sterotyping to a whole new level.

  5. It isn't stereotyping when it is true. Perhaps you should read about the Crane Eater saga and see what a fraudulent and rejected Eastern Cherokee/Guion Miller Roll application leads to. The white Keith family is very well documented as white. They were not related to the Cherokee man, Crane Eater, but they sure claimed to be when they thought there might be money involved. This same thing happened over and over and over during the ECA process.

    No one said Americans don't have Indian ancestry. But I have repeatedly said if one has Cherokee ancestry, it can be proven. If one can't prove Cherokee ancestry through documentation, then they simply weren't Cherokee. We have too many records and if a family isn't found in them somewhere, then they weren't Cherokee.

  6. The Guion Miller Roll has proven very interesting. As with a lot of Southerners, I grew up with the Cherokee ancestor thing. My 5X GGF Hogeney Motes is supposed to be this Cherokee Ancestor. His daughter Annie married a "white" man name William Chastain. So anyway, William's grandson(son of Elijah and my 2X GGF) Thomas J. Chastain applied on the Guion Miller Roll. However, I found a document showing that he was never officially approved. So should I assume that the family story was false? My mother swears by the story and I told her so did Elizabeth Warren and look at what happened. Any advice? I hate to do that to my Mama, but I know that it's not what you know, it's what you can prove.

    1. I'm related to the Chastain family. Very interesting family and descendants of ancestors from Bourges, France.


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