I'm diggin' up bones, I'm diggin' up bones.....Exhuming things that's better left alone..........
When digging around, we are bound to unearth something. Sometimes that something is what we were looking for and other times, maybe something better left alone. The case of the Van family who claims to descend from John Vann, son of John Shepard Vann and Elizabeth Pack Fields Coody Vann, is one such example. What someone seems to have done is dug around, found a Cherokee man with a similar name as their ancestor and then replaced their ancestor with that Cherokee man and invented a story and lineage that links them to the Cherokee Nation. The problem with this lineage is that, though invented, it is spreading across the internet like wildfire, and many people accept it as true.
The claim - Though there are a few variations, the basic premise of the story is that Elizabeth died during the Civil War and John Shepard Vann then married a white woman who made the younger John do "squaw's work." It is claimed because John had to do women's work, the other children laughed and made fun of him, so at the age of eight, he ran away, never having contact with his family again.
Fast forward to 1879 - The claim is the younger John married a woman named Sarah Matilda Himes or Hines (the spelling varies from tree to tree), produced children in the 1880s and died in 1899 in Texas.
Though the descendants of Sarah Matilda Hines/Himes claim her husband was the Cherokee John Vann, who was the son of John S. Vann and Elizabeth Pack Fields, and that the Cherokee John Vann was the father of her children, this CANNOT be true. Sarah's oldest living child, a son, was born about 1886. There were several others born after him. The Cherokee John Vann died in 1879, therefore, he was dead approximately seven years before the birth of Sarah's oldest living child. It is not possible that he was the father of that child or any child that followed.
The evidence that the Cherokee John Vann died in 1879 is readily available because his death caused quite a commotion at the time. He was killed in Muskogee during a time when there was a lot of conflict between the affluent Cherokee mixed bloods and the Creek freedmen who lived on opposite sides of the boundary between the Cherokee and Creek Nations. His death was so well documented, even a novice genealogist should have been able to find evidence of it.
John's half sister, Ella F. Robinson, reported in her Eastern Cherokee application that he died without descent.
John's nephew, John C. Robinson, son of Ella, said in a WPA interview for the Indian-Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma that his uncle, Johnnie Vann, was killed in a meat market in Muskogee.
Though those two pieces of information should make one question the claim of the Sarah M. Hines/Himes descendants, since Ella C. Robinson says her brother died without descent, no date is listed for his death, therefore, most genealogists would continue to dig for more documentation. Hopefully, they would turn up the last bit of information to clear up any doubt. It is found in a letter Elizabeth Pack Fields Coody Vann wrote to the chief of the Cherokee Nation after the death of her son.
That letter shows that the entire story told by the descendants of Sarah M. Hines/Himes cannot be true. First, it shows the mother of John Vann did not die during the Civil War, since she is living 15 years after it ended. Secondly, it shows John Vann did not run away and have no further contact with his family. They knew where he was and what he was doing and were more than aware of the facts surrounding his death. And lastly, it gives the date, August 2, 1879, as the date of death of John Vann.Cherokee NationCanadian District, Aug. 25th 1879
Hon. Charles ThompsonChief Cherokee Nation
On the 2nd day of Aug AD 1879 a band of armed Freedmen consisting of William Peters, Joe Barnett, Ben Barnett and Mose Redmouth citizens of the Muskoke Nation and Clem Kanady a citizen of the United States came into the town of Muskoke in Muskoke District Muskoke Nation shot and killed my son John Vann. A number of shots were fired at him by different persons. It seems to have been a shot from a gun in the hands of Joe Barnett which killed himUnder the Internations law between the Cherokee and Muskoke Nations the crime is to be tried by the laws of said Muskoke Nation. I am a Cherokee subject to the laws an claim the protection of my nation and as of you as the chief Executive officer to demand of the authorities of the Muskoke nation a fair and just trial that the murderer or murderers be punished and if it is the duty of the Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation to attend to and prosecute the case that he be directed to proceed at onceI will furnish the names of witnesses whenever they are wanted
Very RespectfullyYour obt. Svt.Elizabeth P Vann
The Vann family was affluent and well documented. It is difficult to believe such a glaring error could be made in their lineage, but unfortunately, one was. This case reveals many issues we have in Cherokee genealogy and what is accepted by some as true. It touches on some things that may shock people. Stay tuned for the next installment in the series, Destroying the Field - The Ramifications, to see how people digging up the bones of a Cherokee and claiming him as their own when he is not is very much an example of exhuming things that are better left alone.
Those are my thoughts for today.
Thanks for reading.
**A special Thank You to my research partner who went to the library and got a copy of the Elizabeth P. Vann letter for this post.**
--Eastern Cherokee Applications - Fold3
--University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections, Indian Pioneer Collection,
Volume 77, Interview with John C. Robinson
--Elizabeth P. Vann letter - Cherokee Nation Papers (CNP) Roll 38, Box 110, Folder 3759
copyright 2012, Polly's Granddaughter - TCBTweet