Sunday, March 06, 2005

How a French Aristocrat Gave His Surname to a Cherokee Cowboy (Maybe) (Part II)

Granddaddy Jim was born in Cotulla, Texas, down by the Rio Grande. As a young man, he went west to the Marathon area and got a job as a cowboy on a ranch, which in those days was a not a glamourous job at all. He held several different ranch jobs out there before he married Aunt Jennie in 1896 and sort of settled down, working as a clerk in one of the general stores, since he was literate and numerate and honest. Later on, though, when he was in his thirties, he joined up with the newly-established Mounted Border Patrol, which wasn't founded until 1904. Their main job, then as now, was catching illegal immigrants while using no violence unless attacked. During the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and spiraled on with dizzying complexity, bandit gangs raiding across the river became common--these guys were mostly livestock rustlers--, and Jim was in more than one gunfight; his partner was shot dead beside him in one of these skirmishes.

Jim always said that he was part Indian, and everyone believed him, it's been family lore for decades that we're part-Cherokee, but we never had any real evidence. Jim didn't have too much to say about his family, and the story is that he left home young because his father mistreated him. Jim's father was named James Preston Shoemake, and he was born in 1826 in Jackson County, Alabama, which was Cherokee territory then. James Preston moved west, away from his family, down to the Rio Grande area sometime before 1860, since in that year he married a woman named Sarah Louisa Tomlin in Texas. We don't know anything about her family. James Preston died sometime after 1896 in Cotulla, Texas. James Preston had two brothers, William H. and John Wesley Shoemake (the name John Wesley indicates they were already Methodists, which the family has been since time immemorial), among other siblings, and he had two first cousins named Lula B. and Mary E. Shoemake.

I'm going to quickly jump back a generation. James Preston's father was John A. Shoemake, who might have been born around 1803, perhaps in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. John A. married a woman named Elizabeth, whom we know nothing about, in about 1824, and he was out in Jackson County, Alabama, part of the Cherokee lands, at that time. He died in a village called Crowtown in that region in 1855. Now, John A. had at least two other sons, James Preston's brothers William H. and John W., and William had two daughters, Lula and Mary. Here's where it gets interesting.

There is a document called the Dawes Roll, compiled in I believe 1893 in the Indian Territory, what is today Oklahoma, that lists all the members of the Cherokee Nation who were entitled to certain federal government rights. William H. Shoemake is number 32130 on the Dawes Roll, Lula B. is 32131, Mary E. is 32132, and John W. is 32133. James Preston would therefore have qualified, too, but he was down in Cotulla rather than in Oklahoma with everybody else. Why he chose to go to Texas while the rest of his relatives all went to Oklahoma, I do not know. What I do know is that all the Jackson County, Alabama, Shoemakes left there or died there before the 1850s.

Let's go back to John A. Shoemake, father of William, John, and James Preston. John A. was the son of Anna Thorn (or Anna Bone) and an unknown man, and he was probably born in 1803. We don't know whether Anna was married to the man or not; this is why we're not sure what her original surname was. But Anna, possibly recently widowed or possibly with an illegitimate child on her hands, married a man named John Shoemake, called "Balljack", sometime in the decade of 1800. Balljack adopted John A. as his stepson and gave him his surname. To repeat: Balljack was not John A.'s biological father, but Anna was his biological mother. This means that Anna is as far back as we can trace the bloodline, because Balljack and his ancestors are not related to my family by blood.

OK. Let's go through it again. My grandmother, Bonnie Shoemake (1910-1988), was the daughter of James Lafayette "Granddaddy Jim" Shoemake (1874-1960), who was the son of James Preston Shoemake (1826-1896?), who was the son of John A. Shoemake (1803?-1855?), who was the son of Anna Thorn or Anna Bone and the stepson of John "Balljack" Shoemake.

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