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Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, A Road Trip Adventure, Part 9Along with a female family member and our children, I was headed to Missouri for a family reunion. It seemed fitting that an exploration of my national heritage should dovetail into the celebration of my personal heritage. The reunion was of my mother's relatives, but I hoped to solve a mystery on my father's side of the family when I stopped at the tribal seat of the Sac and Fox nation of Missouri. My grandfather, whom I’d never known, came from the Iowa branch of this tribe, also known as the Meskwaki, which means ‘people of the red earth.’ I wasn’t sure I could find out anything about ‘Eddie’ (the only name I had for my grandfather), but I wanted to try.
The road led through farm lands from the Sod House Museum in Nebraska to Reserve, Kansas, headquarters of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Nebraska and Kansas. The unprepossessing town boasted a small museum. This seemed the logical place to inquire about my grandfather. A local man held the door for my family group as we entered the museum. He listened without apology while I explained to the woman behind the counter the circumstances surrounding my father’s birth. He introduced himself and his interest seemed friendly, so I didn’t mind.
I explained that my Scottish grandmother, Minnie, fell in love with a Meskwaki man at the tender age of sixteen. Her straight-laced father refused to allow his daughter to marry an Indian. Eddie and Minnie decided to force the issue by conceiving a child. This did not work out as they planned. Minnie was sent off to live with an aunt in Springfield, Missouri. She later told my father that her brothers had tarred and feathered Eddie and run him out of town on a rail. During my teen years, Dad confided to me that when my grandfather realized he would never marry the woman he loved, he committed suicide. When I mentioned this story to other family members years later, none of them had heard it.
By then, there was no one to ask for clarity. Grandma had guarded her secrets, even from her son. She died when my father was fourteen. Now Dad was gone too. Mom couldn’t verify what my father had told me. My grandmother’s family held the ‘filthy Indian’ who had ruined her in a contempt that, unfortunately, extended to my father. He’d once looked up his aunt. She’d ordered him off the porch and warned him never to return. I’ve come to believe that Dad wasn’t sure he knew the truth about his father. He died without ever solving that mystery, despite making several trips to the reservation in Iowa.
|I've always thought that my father, Carl Thomas Weise (named for his step-father), resembled Chief Black Hawk of the Sac tribe in the image on the right from George Catlin [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Back to my visit to the museum. The Sac and Fox tribe is actually two interconnected tribes combined into one. The close relationships this would seem to indicate may be why I thought the southern tribe would know about members of the northern branch, two states away. The woman in the museum (whose name I’ve since forgotten) told me gently that they didn’t. Apparently, many people contact the museum trying to prove a genealogical connection to the tribe. I was just one more. Considering the prejudice my father encountered in his lifetime, it’s ironic that having Native American ancestry is now glamorous. The woman explained that most of the claims of Sac-Fox ancestry she fielded didn’t pan out, and researching them added to her workload. She hastened to add that my story had the ring of truth. Given the sparse information I was able to give her, she probably couldn’t find out anything to help, but she gave me her contact information. The man who had listened silently pressed me to buy a sweatshirt emblazoned with the tribe’s logo. This seemed important to him, and my throat clogged when I understood his intent. He wanted to give me a shred of the heritage I’d lost.
|The logo that graces my sweatshirt comes from the flag of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Nebraska and Kansas.
I purchased one of the tribal sweatshirts before leaving town. Whenever I wear it, I remember the small kindnesses given to me that day. Whether the tribe ever acknowledges me no longer matters. I've adopted them.
Cheyenne Sunrise releases February 1, 2018.
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About Janalyn Voigt
My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from "The Wizard of Oz," "Robinson Crusoe" and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I "wrote" in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my storytelling ability and influenced me to become a writer.
I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.