Cherokee Freedmen, Dawes Rolls and How (Almost) Anyone Can Help, Part 3

These notes are for our YouTube video, which is set to premiere on November 9, 2023.

Reviewing enrollment applications is fascinating, even if you don’t have any connection to the person’s life. We decided to compare the enrollment packets of Julia Ann Bee and Rachel Ward as a mini case study comparing the experiences of two women who grew up on the same land, breathed the same air, and routinely experienced the churning clatter of the mill. They had equal rights to Cherokee citizenship in 1901, yet faced wildly different burdens of proof as the Dawes Commission performed their work. 

Julia Ann was Polly Beck’s daughter with Stephen Hildebrand. By the time of the commission, both of her parents were dead and she was an adult only a little older than we are today. The image we have that’s reportedly of her is an interesting mix of photograph and hand-drawn embellishments. 

To view Julia Ann’s record yourself, you can visit: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/44770213

You can download the files from that site as a .jpg, then use a free software like irfanview (https://www.irfanview.com/) to view and manipulate them if needed. Don’t be discouraged if the scans look fuzzy at first: they become more crisp when you view them as download files. For example, page 2 of Julia Ann’s file is flipped in the scan and needs to be flipped back to be easily read. 

Julia Ann’s record is fairly standard for a Cherokee citizenship application without any complications or unusual questions, despite reflecting a long childbearing career with several husbands and…not-husbands. The Commissioners were able to find her name on previous census lists, and noted the name changes she made over four marriages. They didn’t closely question the paternity of her children, apparently relying on her testimony alone, supported by previous census records, to include her kids as citizens. They didn’t ask exact dates of marriages, or seek any proof from officiants. 

Her children are listed as:

Charles Wofford, 25 years old: his father was Dan Woffard

Mattie Dial, 14 years old: her father was Martin Dial, who Julia Ann never married. 

Willora C. J. Bee, 11 years old. 

Her name is very hard to read in the handwritten form, but family oral history is very clear on how she spelled her name and it’s correct on the typed transcript. Julia Ann reported Willora’s father as just “Bee” and stated they were married. 

Mary Bee, 6 years old. The commissioners appear to assume, as we do, that Mary and Willora have the same father. 

Some further asides about Julia Ann that aren’t in this record:

Who was Rachel Ward?

In comparison to Julia, we have a lot more documentation about Rachel Ward because she was interviewed in the WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives and the Dawes Commission interrogated her much more about her life. In the book edited by Lindsay Baker and Julie P. Baker (ISBN: 0-8061-2859-3), she was interviewed at age 91 and her name was given as Rochelle Allred Ward. Living in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, she included recollections about the Hildebrand mill in her narrative, which is how we found her. 

If you want to read the full 1930’s testimonies yourself, they are posted at 

Her testimony describes her parents’ love story and how they navigated the desires of their enslavers to allow them to marry and build a life together. Further, she describes how her father changed his last name to Beck after her mother, Lottie, convinced Joe Beck to buy him from a woman named Sarah Eaton. From this testimony, we get a sense of her large family: Her parents had at least seven children aside from Rachel: Sabra, Celia, Milton, Louie, Sam, Nelson, and Dennis. 

Her Dawes enrollment packet is relatively slim compared to the other Freedmen’s applications I have reviewed, but it’s a lot longer than Julia Ann’s at 15 pages. I’ve only looked at about 20 Freedmen’s records, but by and large they seem to be more than 8 pages, while many of the non-Freedmen’s records are very brief. I really hope someone spends some time analyzing these files, because they’re very rich. Ironically, the more the Commission gave someone a hard time, the more information we now have about them. 

Children who enrolled with their mother are included on the front of her card with their father noted on the back. The card wasn’t completed in a single snapshot of time like a census: children were added as they were born if they were born during the Commission’s work. The ages given are the age they were when they were enrolled.

Rachel lists herself as Cherokee “by adoption” in some documents, which may be how people were framing Freedman enrollment at that time. 

To view this record yourself, visit: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/44908876

Person first named: Rachel Ward, 38 years old, female

Dawes enrollment number 775.

  • Her father was James Beck, died before 1880, enrolled in Tahlequah, Owner: Joe Beck
  • Her mother was Lottie Beck, died before 1880, enrolled in Tahlequah, Owner: Joe Beck

Her children: 

776. William Aldrich, 19 years old, male 

  • Father: Amos Aldrich, “Non Citizen”
  • Birthdate: March 19, 1882

777. Jesse Aldrich, 16 years old, male

  • Father: Amos Aldrich, “Non Citizen”

778. Lewis Aldrich, 15 years old, male

  • Father: Amos Aldrich, “Non Citizen”

779. Cora Ward, 4 years old, female 

  • Father: Nelson Ward, “Non Citizen” (on the card it says he’s “non Citizen” but in her 1901 testimony she says he’s a Cherokee citizen ‘by adoption’, but also a US citizen) 
  • Birthdate: April 30, 1897
  • Midwife: Dina Walker. 

780. Dan Vann, 10 months old, male
– Father: Jim Vann, Freedman/ adoption

Note: the application for enrollment is specific that Rachel is “not the wife of Jim Vann” and her name is noted as Rachel Ward (it looks like the clerk had to do some scraping to get Ward out of the Vann he originally wrote). 

  • Birthdate: September 22, 1901
  • Midwife: Florence Narr (Naw?)

In her 1930’s testimony to the WPA, Rachel mentions having thirteen children, but names only Amos, Susie, Jess, Will, Frank, Lottie, and Cora. 

We have more details about her children and their fathers than we get out of Polly’s record because the Commission more aggressively questioned her personal history. 

Who was Joe Beck? 

To be clear: we think the Joe Beck who enslaved Rachel, her family, and several other families was probably the father of Julia Ann’s first husband (Jesse Surry Eaton Beck, Sut Beck, Blacksoot, or “Black Sut”). Based on some of Julia Ann’s claims recorded in 1906, Joe Beck was Polly’s brother. As Rachel reported, “all over this country was Beck families.” 

We are fairly sure that the “mistress” that Rachel mentions was Joe’s wife, Cynthia Downing Beck, who “died before she could get back [to Fort Gibson] the next spring.” 

Final thoughts on Rachel:

We encourage you to read Rachel’s testimonies for yourself for her own words, rather than listen to us quoting her. She paints a relatively rosy picture of life enslaved at the farm surrounding the mill and of Cynthia specifically, possibly out of concern that otherwise her testimony wouldn’t be recorded. On a positive note, her words ring with pride on her family’s skilled labor and relationship-building.

Leave a Reply