Saturday, May 26, 2012


Indian Ancestry?

I've become interested in the controversy over whether Massachusetts senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee Indian blood. Warren has said, "These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw."

According to family lore, my great great grandfather, Robert E. Gilleland (1832-1912), was married twice, to sisters. This is confirmed by a contemporary source, The History of Cass and Bates Counties, Missouri (St. Joseph, Mo.: National Historical Co., 1883), p. 645:
Mr. Gilleland was married, August 22, 1854, to Miss Elizabeth A. Wagner, a native of Pike County, Illinois. She was born February 18, 1839, and died March 5, 1857, leaving one child, Eliza J. (now the wife of William Cox, who resides in California). Mr. G. was married again, August 15, 1858, to Miss Emily M. Wagner, a sister of his first wife. She was also born in Pike County, November 24, 1842. They have had eleven children, six of whom are now living: Francis E., Elmer B., William T., Oscar E., Effie M. and Ida A.
My father told me that Elizabeth and Emily Wagner were American Indians. This tradition of Indian ancestry survives among other descendants of Robert E. Gilleland. Distant cousins, whom I have never met in person, have written to me and repeated the story.

But, besides family tradition, there seems to be no evidence that Emily M. Wagner really was an American Indian. The 1870, 1880, and 1900 U.S. Census records, which included race among the data collected, all list Emily M. Gilleland, wife of Robert E. Gilleland, as white. I have no photographs of Emily M. Wagner, but thanks to a distant cousin, here is a photograph of Robert E. Gilleland:

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