Activist: Elizabeth Warren’s ‘White Squatter’ Ancestors Were ‘Complicit in Cherokee Dispossession’

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is silhouetted as she speaks
AP Photo/Jim Mone

A Native American activist and citizen of Cherokee Nation slammed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in a Huffington Post op-ed Friday, calling on her to “tell the truth” about her ancestors’ interactions with indigenous tribes — alleging that her maiden family, the Crawfords, were “white squatters” on Cherokee land.

Author Rebecca Nagle penned a post titled “Elizabeth Warren Has Spent Her Adult Life Repeating A Lie.” I Want Her To Tell The Truth.” Nagle said she was unmoved by the apology Warren issued at the Native American Presidential Forum Monday, where the Massachusetts senator admitted she made a “mistake” but did not elaborate on what the mistake was.

“Like anyone who’s been honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes,” Warren told the crowd. “I am sorry for harm I have caused.”

“I have listened and I have learned a lot, and I am grateful for the many conversations we have had together,” she added.

Yet this statement fell short, in Nagle’s eyes. “Many Native advocates, myself included, were not satisfied,” she responded. “Warren still has work to do, and demanding she do what’s left is beyond reasonable.”

“In all of her apologizing, Warren has never let go of her family story. After spending her entire adult life repeating a lie, I simply want Warren to tell the truth,” she continued, mentioning Warren’s great-great-great-grandfather – who allegedly participated in the Trail of Tears – as well as her other family members who purportedly participated in squatting on Cherokee land.

She wrote:

In 1836, Warren’s great-great-great-grandfather, a white man named William Marsh, enlisted himself in a Tennessee militia to fight in the “Cherokee War,” an occupation of Cherokee land in the lead-up to the Trail of Tears. Decades later, his grandson John Houston Crawford moved his family onto Indian Territory and squatted on Cherokee land in a move that, with no record of a permit, was almost certainly illegal.

The Crawfords were just some of the tens of thousands of white squatters who outnumber Cherokees on our own land. While Cherokee Nation beseeched Congress to enforce our treaty rights and kick them out, the squatters pushed Congress to divide up our treaty territory and create a path to white land ownership; the squatters won.

The Crawfords settled in the new state of Oklahoma. They lived among Indians, but it wasn’t always peaceful. In 1906, John Crawford shot a Creek man for hitting his son. According to The Boston Globe, his son, Rosco, would later tell stories about how “mean” the Indians were. But one of Crawford’s grandchildren, Pauline Reed, told a very different story. Not a story of living among Indians, a story of being Indian.

Pauline’s youngest child, Elizabeth, grew up with her mother’s version of the story. And though the family had no evidence or relationship to the tribe, Elizabeth Warren never questioned it, she wrote in her memoir. It was her family story, she would say. [emphasis added]

“Warren’s ancestors replaced the truth of their complicity in Cherokee dispossession with a tale of being Cherokee,” Nagle wrote, adding, “If that’s not wrong, if that’s not racist, I don’t know what is.”

Although Warren’s false claims of Native American heritage sparked the controversy, the issue is much bigger, Nagle says. Warren, she says, serves as a high-profile example of the greater issue, which is the “hundreds of thousands of white people claiming to be Cherokee and the broad social acceptance that emboldens them.”

“It threatens the future of my tribe… Today, Cherokees are once again outnumbered by outsiders, claiming not our land, but our identity,” she continued, adding that general apologies are not enough:

She simply needs to state she does not have a Cherokee ancestor and that she was wrong to claim one. Until then, Cherokee people will be left fighting the mountain of confusion she caused. And I am terrified we will lose.

Warren’s claims of Native American heritage came to a breaking point following the results of a DNA test, which revealed that Warren possessed between 1/64th and 1/1,024 Native American ancestry. Even so, the results suggested that her possible Native American ancestors stemmed from Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, further affirming that she possessed no ancestral roots to Cherokee Nation.

As Breitbart News reported in May 2012, another great-great-great grandfather of Elizabeth Warren, Jonathan Crawford “was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee–the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January, 1837”:

As Breitbart News extensively reported:

Jonathan Crawford, O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford’s husband and apparently Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, served in the East Tennessee Mounted Infantry Volunteer Militia commanded by Brigadier General R. G. Dunlap from late 1835 to late 1836. While under Dunlap’s command he was a member of Major William Lauderdale’s Battalion, and Captain Richard E. Waterhouse’s Company.

These were the troops responsible for removing Cherokee families from homes they had lived in for generations in the three states that the Cherokee Nations had considered their homelands for centuries: Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

While these involuntary home removals were not characterized by widespread violence, the newly displaced Cherokee mothers, fathers, and children found an oppressive and sometimes brutal welcome when they finally arrived at the hastily constructed containment areas. An estimated 4,000 Cherokees were warehoused in Ross’s Landing stockades for months awaiting supplies and additional armed guards the Federal Government believed necessary to relocate them on foot to Oklahoma.

Jonathan Crawford most likely did not join the regular Army troops who “escorted” these Cherokees along the Trail of Tears. He did, however, serve once more with Major William Lauderdale’s re-formed Batallion of Tennessee Mounted Infantry Volunteer Militia. This group fought the Seminole Indians in Florida during the Second Seminole War. Crawford arrived in Florida in November, 1837, and served there for six months until his unit was disbanded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the following May. (Note: It was not uncommon in those days for militia formed to serve for a limited period of time under specific commanders would reform later under the same commanders.)

Jonathan Crawford’s service as a Private in Captain Richard E. Waterhouse’s Company of Major William Lauderdale’s Battalion of Mounted Infantry in Brigadier General R. G. Dunlap’s East Tennessee Mounted Infantry Volunteers is confirmed by his appearance in the muster roll of the Brigade, taken around June of 1836. (Note that this transcription of the muster roll incorrectly lists the date as 1832.)

His service a year later (1837) in Major William Lauderdale’s Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Infantry (Five companies of volunteers, one of which was led by Captain Richard E. Waterhouse) is confirmed by his widow O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford’s 1851 pension application before the Bledsoe County, Tennessee commissioners

Meanwhile, William J. Crawford (Elizabeth Warren’s great-great grandfather who would, fifty-seven years later, falsely claim that his mother was Cherokee in that now-infamous 1894 Oklahoma Territory marriage license application) was born in Bledsoe County, Tennessee in 1837. This was just a few months after his father apparently helped remove thousands of Cherokees from their homes and a few months before his father went off to fight Seminole Indians in Florida.

Breitbart News is reviewing the veracity of Ms. Nagle’s claim that William Marsh, another of Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great grandfathers, was a member of the Tennessee Militia who participated in the roundup of Cherokees living in the state during the 1830s in advance of the Trail of Tears.


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