President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren have more in common than their liberal political ideology, Harvard Law pedigree, and Democratic Party affiliation. Both claim Cherokee ancestry, and neither can prove it.
Ms. Warren’s claims are current and well known, but President Obama’s claims were made back in 1995, when his memoir, Dreams from My Father, was published. On pages 12 and 13 of the 2004 paperback edition, the President unequivocally asserts his Cherokee ancestry:
If asked, Toot [Obama’s maternal grandmother, Madelyne Payne Dunham] would turn her head in profile to show off her beaked nose, which, along with a pair of jet-black eyes, was offered as proof of Cherokee blood.
But an old, sepia toned photograph on the bookshelf spoke most eloquently of their [grandparents Stanley and Madelyne Dunham’s] roots. It showed Toot’s grandparents, of Scottish and English stock, standing in front of a ramshackle homestead, unsmiling and dressed in coarse wool, their eyes squinting at the sun baked flinty life that stretched before them…in their eyes one could see truths that I would have to learn later as facts…that while one of my great-great grandfathers, Christopher Columbus Clark, had been a decorated Union soldier, his wife’s mother was rumored to have been a second cousin of Jefferson Davis…that although another distant ancestor had indeed been a full-blooded Cherokee, such lineage was a source of shame to Toot’s mother [Leona McCurry Payne] who blanched whenever someone mentioned the subject and hoped to carry the secret to her grave.
Unlike Ms. Warren, no one has ever alleged that President Obama may have secured employment due to his claim of Native American ancestry. Like Ms. Warren, however, the President puts forth his claim with emphatic certitude, although until now no one has sought to ask him to provide evidence to prove it.
Like Ms. Warren, the proof the President has offered to date does not go beyond “family lore”–though he, at least, has not yet offered the Pow Wow Chow cookbook as evidence of his Cherokee ancestry.
Unlike Ms. Warren, the President has a family member who, though strongly opposed to the President’s political philosophies, firmly believes the family lore of Cherokee heritage–though he quickly acknowledges that he, like the President, has no concrete evidence to support that belief.
Dr. Milton Wolf is a Kansas radiologist and a vocal critic of Obamacare.
Dr. Milton Wolf is a Kansas radiologist and President Obama’s second cousin, once removed
Wolf is also the author of the e-book First, Do No Harm, a columnist at the Washington Times, and has his own blog at The Wolf Files. Mr. Wolf and his immediate family met the President personally for the first time last year.
As to evidence of their shared Cherokee ancestry, Dr. Wolf acknowledges that it is based on nothing more than family lore. “Unfortunately, I don’t have in my possession any records to substantiate the family lore [of our Cherokee ancestry] or even know who does,” he said. “But I believe it to be true. One of my aunts has an old family photo album that contains at least one photo of a woman who is clearly Native American and purported to be family…I know that’s pretty thin but that is the extent of what I know. This much I know: I’ve never checked the Native American box on any school or job application. I believe in a merit-based society.””
Dr Wolf’s mother, Anna Margaret McCurry Wolf, was first cousin to President Obama’s maternal grandmother, “Toot” Madelyne Payne Dunham.
President Obama with his maternal grandmother, “Toot” Madelyne Payne Dunham, New York City, circa 1981-1982
Dr. Wolf’s grandfather, Franklin McCurry, was the brother of Leona McCurry Payne (1897-1968), Toot’s mother.
Leona McCurry Payne
Their closest common ancestors were the parents of Leona and Franklin–Thomas Creekmore McCurry,
Thomas Creekmore McCurry
born 1850 in Missouri, died 1939 in Peru, Kansas; and Margaret Bell Wright, born 1869 in Arkansas, and died in 1935 in Chautauqua County, Kansas. These two are President Obama’s great-great grandparents, and Milton Wolf’s great-grandparents.
The family lore about the children of Thomas Creekmore McCurry is consistent between the President and Dr. Wolf.
In Dreams, the President says: “Toot’s mother [Leona McCurry Payne]…blanched whenever someone mentioned the subject [of Cherokee ancestry] and hoped to carry the secret to her grave.” Wolf says that “my mother always told us that her father [Leona McCurry Payne’s brother, Franklin McCurry] didn’t like to talk about [his Cherokee ancestry] due to prejudice against Indians. She said that he had said that she and her siblings were of sufficient Indian heritage (I think 1/8, but maybe 1/16) that they could have had free college tuition and other government benefits, but he wouldn’t acknowledge it publicly–and neither should they.”
Following this line, if any one of Franklin McCurry’s grandparents were full-blooded Cherokee, Milton Wolf’s mother–as well as her first cousin, President Obama’s grandmother “Toot” Madelyne Payne Dunham–would be 1/8 Cherokee. If the ancestry traced back to any one of Franklin McCurry’s great-grandparents, Milton Wolf’s mother and “Toot” would be 1/16 Cherokee.
But, as we all know, family lore does not Cherokee ancestry make, and following the line back, neither Franklin McCurry’s parents, grandparents, nor great-grandparents were Cherokee, based on all available records.
Thomas Creekmore McCurry’s father, Harbin Wilburn McCurry, was born on March 11, 1823 in Indiana, and died in Center, Oklahoma Territory, on July 24, 1899. His mother, Elizabeth Edna Creekmore, was born March 23, 1827 in Illinois, and died in Ada, Oklahoma, on January 15, 1918. Available census records show both as white.
Harbin Wilburn McCurry’s father, Edward McCurry, was born around 1790 in Kentucky. His mother, Christina Wilson, was born in North Carolina on 1795. They were married on November 16, 1815, in Barren County, Kentucky. Available census records show both as white.
One amateur genealogist following this story noted that “other than a couple of people listed as born or living in North Carolina, I don’t see anyone [from among President Obama’s ancestors] living anywhere the Cherokees were living. And not all people who lived in North Carolina were Cherokees. When families are from the Southeast and have a family story if it pans out there is Indian blood, it isn’t always Cherokee, even if that is what the family was told.”
President Obama’s only North Carolina ancestor in the Thomas Creekmore McCurry line, Christina Wilson McCurry, who was born there in 1795, appears to be listed in all census records as white. If President Obama is able to offer any proof to support his claim of Cherokee ancestry, it is likely to come from Christina Wilson McCurry’s ancestors, but most amateur genealogists who have looked into this are skeptical such proof exists.
Unlike Ms. Warren, who has been questioned numerous times over the past several weeks, but has failed to provide any evidence for her Cherokee ancestry claims, there has been no prior focus on President Obama’s claims of Cherokee ancestry until now. Phone calls and emails to the White House for President Obama to provide evidence of his 1995 claim that one of his ancestors was “full-blooded Cherokee” remain unreturned.
It will be interesting to see if President Obama will adopt Elizabeth Warren’s strategy of stonewalling on questions of claimed Cherokee ancestry–or if he will forthrightly either offer proof, or admit that he cannot provide evidence to support his claim.
Michael Patrick Leahy is a Breitbart News contributor, Editor of Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, and author of Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.