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RECOGNITION OF THE CHEROKEE NATION OF MEXICO
by: Al Kinsall
Word coming in from Saltillo indicates that Coahuila Governor Enrique Martinez y Martinez has declared the Cherokee Nation of Mexico to be an authentic tribe in Northern Coahuila. The Governor’s Administrative assistant in the governor’s Office, Sergio Elias Castro, said the Governor is preparing to make the Recognition pronouncement Friday afternoon it ceremonies set to take place at 2:00 p.m. at the Palacio Estatal in the Coahuila capital. A 40 person entourage is slated to leave San Antonio Thursday at noon on the initial leg of the trip to Saltillo, stopping to pick up the Eagle Pass News Guide reporter and various other Piedras Negras representatives.
“We are obviously quite excited about the outcome of this months long effort,” said Doctor Charles Rogers of Brownsville Matamoros, himself a Cherokee Indian who has spearheaded both the successful Cherokee petition to the State government and the investigative research into the presence of the Cherokees both at Zaragoza and Muzquiz in the mid nineteenth century, following their ouster from East Texas in 1839 by the forces of Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar. The Charles Rogers charter bus is expected to arrive in Saltillo late Thursday and stay at the Camino Rea Motel in the State Capital. The Friday events are scheduled to begin at 1 pm at the Palacio Estatal. The group which includes crusty old Cherokee Chief Utsidishi Hicks of the Tahlequah Cherokees, will leave on the return trip to the United States Saturday morning. “We’ll make you an honorary citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico,” Rogers told this reporter who is also making the trip to gather additional documentation for the News Guide of the presence of the Cherokees in this part of the world. “We know now that there was a number of Cherokees from Northern Coahuila who were members of General Adrian Woell’s force which attacked San Antonio in mid-September of 1842.” Rogers also speculated that the Cherokees at Santa Rosa (Muzquiz) mingled to a certain extent with the Kickapoos living at Nacimiento, since a number of Cherokee words and phrases surface among the Kickapoo nation. “You have only just begun your research, Rogers promised,” we still have a lot to learn.
The tour bus full of Texas Cherokees and a few from Oklahoma as well missed the twisting, turning scary ride through the hills outside Saltillo, but their popping ears told them they had ascended into the higher elevation. Dr. Charles Rogers, ramrod for this expedition had received an answer from his August 1 petition to the Governor of Coahuila Enrique Martinez y Martinez for recognition as a native American nation of Mexico. The Mexican Congress had just recently passed the legislation permitting recognition of indigenous tribes, and Governor Martinez y Martinez, with the Matamoros physician’s petition in hand was the first in the Republic to act on it. “It’s been a long time coming,” one old Cherokee told the News Guide on the six hour trip from Piedras Negras to the state capital, “some 163 years.”
The Cherokees in this group were not looking for special favors, nor casino rights, nor land grants, but simple recognition for their presence in Coahuila, following their ouster from East Texas in 1839.
Those who have followed this odessy know that one group of expatriate Cherokees, among them Santiago Van and his family settled in the Muzquiz area in the Valle de Santa Rosa, while another made their way to the Hacienda Patinos southwest of present day Zaragoza, Coahuila where a Cherokee village was established. The continually unfolding saga also revealed that a group of some 40 Cherokees were serving in General Adrian Woell’s force which attacked San Antonio in September of 1842 and took the famous 52 San Antonians prisoner, among them “the father of Eagle Pass” John Twohig, and were later involved in the Battle of the Salado where a number of Cherokees from the Distrito de Rio Grande regiment were killed.
The entire Cherokee group, dressed in traditional tribal sashes and turbans some with ceremonial bows and arrows, climbed the worn stone steps of the Palacio to the second floor where they were to meet with the Governor in the historic Recognition ceremony in the Salon de Venustiano Carranza Cuatro Cienegas born Carranza’s portrait smiled benevolently down upon the proceedings. The President of the Coahuila College of Historic Research Professor Jesus Alfonso Perez Arreola gave the opening words of welcome end a brief history of the Cherokee community. Then the Director of Coahuila’s Consejo Editorial Professor Arturo Berruteo Gonzalez read the letter which Governor Martinez y Martinez had written to Doctor Charles Layton Rogers, the Traditional Chief of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico on August 22, after which the Governor signed the document and handed it to Doctor Rogers making the Recognition of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico and official act. The Governor then presented several gifts to the Cherokees among them a handsome bronze bust of an eagle which would make any Eagle fan green with envy. The Cherokees reciprocated with various symbolic gifts from the Cherokee customs, not the least of which was check for $10,000 to the DIF of Coahuila (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) which Chief David Hicks and Dr. Rogers presented to the Director General of the DIF Coahuila M.C. Enrique Martinez Morales, as former Piedras Negras citizen Don Santiago Elias Castro Escobedo, now Procurador Social y de Atencion Ciudadana, along with Zaragoza Presidente Municipal Jesus Rodriguez and the lightning rod of the entire effort Gloria and Epigmenio Rodriguez looked on.
A somewhat nervous Dr. Charles Rogers addressed the gathering expressing the gratitude of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico to the Mexican government “Thank God for the Republic of Mexico, the courage of hers daughters who serve by democratic process, her President Sr. Vicente Fox and the Governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.” The Governor’s address praised the Cherokees for preserving the traditions of hard work and upright living, and noted that Mexico hack always had an “open arms” policy toward those fleeing from oppression or injustice, and that Coahuila is a state which always respected the traditions of people, with a united society which works together in a harmonious development among different peoples. The cash donation to the DIF of Coahuila would be used for programs of social assistance for those who have the least. “We want to eliminate dirt floors in Coahuila,” he digressed, “for they are a most unhealthy environment in which to bring up a family.” The Governor promised to afford the means for needy families to install concrete floors in their homes, one of his favorite social projects. The Governor also exhorted the Cherokees to maintain their traditions in the coming years especially among certain members of society which have lost or are in danger of losing their values. After the ceremonies, the Governor’s coordinator for this occasion, asked this reporter if the Doctor could get her a Cherokee bow and arrow for a souvenir for the occasion, “but not right now.” Why not “right now?” She obviously did not know Doctor Charles Layton Rogers very well. We saw to it that she, indeed, went home with genuine Cherokee made ceremonial bow and arrow.
This band of Cherokees wants to put aside the confrontations and among their fellow Cherokees which have served only to alienate the groups. “Our work is just beginning,” Doctor Rogers told this reporter on the return trip to the border, “we still have a lot of digging into our historical past to take care of. Our great, noble and respected leader Sequoyah was certainly looking down on us today.”
They came in peace, these 40 members of the Cherokee nation to this lovely and historic 421 year old, mile high capital of Coahuila. They came with a mission, having waited some 163 years for this moment. To say that they were unaware of the historical significance of this meeting with Coahuila Governor Enrique Martinez y Martinez would be a gross misrepresentation of the reality. Each and every one of these members of the Cherokee Nation was vibrantly aware of the Recognition which the Governor of Coahuila was about to make on the Cherokee Nation of Mexico.
The tour bus brought the group from San Antonio through Eagle Pass Piedras Negras to take on three passengers, lightning rod Epigmenio Rodriguez and his lovely wife Gloria, both former residents of Hacienda Patinos southwest of San Fernando de Rosas present day Zaragoza and the Eagle Pass News Guide reporter to chronicle this event for posterity.
“The gratitude we Cherokees feel can best be described as that which is felt upon seeing the best of human aspirations being championed by courageous men whose time and ideals have come into being. Such new illumination occurring in this history of human darkness is indeed a phenomenon and the gratitude of those heretofore suspended in that darkness is profoundly heartfelt. Thank God for the Republic of Mexico the courage of her sons and daughters who serve by democratic process, her President Sr. Vicente Fox and the Governor of Coahuila, Sr. Enrique Martinez y Martinez.”
The sight of the historic and ornate old cathedral on the Plaza as we rolled to a stop in front of the Palacio Estatal brought audible gasps from most o those on the tour bus. A gaggle of television cameras and the inevitable paparazzi from Saltillo’s newspapers had a field day with the photo op of the colorful Cherokee regalia stepping off the bus in their colorful sashes, turbans, one wearing a mink fur hat, the symbol of a Cherokee trader, some with ceremonial bows and arrows, the ladies in traditional Cherokee dresses some with tasseled shawls, some with buckskin skirts with leggings to match. If anyone in the group remained unaware of the historical significance of the event which was about to take place, that was erased after climbing the centuries old stone steps to the second floor where we were ushered into the huge Salon Venustiano Carranza, early Revolutionary hero and native of Cuatro Cienegas, whose Presidential portrait smiled down upon the gathering.
Having been duly seated around the magnificent and richly stained oak table the polite and restrained Cherokees awaited the Governor’s arrival. After the formal welcome, the President of the Coahuila College of Research Wonso Arreola Perez, said “we are proud that in more than 400 years of existence we have permitted today the integration of a society full of for the coming of a better world, a society confident in its vigorous presence in the country. Coahuila in fact began this process of social integration in the XVI century, wherein groups of Europeans, Spaniards and Portuguese, from the very beginning the Tlaxcalan indigenous groups,” Referring to the nineteenth century border boundary war and the extermination of native tribes, he added “Coahuila opened the portals of peace and harmony in the face all this. Today we continue to be a society respectful of the beliefs of others,” he continued, referring to the Cherokee Nation of Mexico, “their way of life and of the work ethic with which this brings about this richness.” He concluded with a pledge: “This interchange of good will should open pathways to better understand our recent history on the frontera and together go forward with good designs in search of better opportunities.”
Chief D.L. Hicks then lit the peace pipe and offered it to Governor Martinez y Martinez. After a mutual exchange of gifts which included a check for 10,000 from the Cherokees to the DIF of Mexico, a handsome bronzed eagle bust from the Governor to the Tribe. Of long lasting historical significance was the Mexican Lance battle flag which was only recently recovered from a Mexican family living in Chicago which dates back to the Revolution of 1910 and has now been returned to Mexican soil. Another, of even greater impact, perhaps, was the breastplate of a fallen soldier of the Fourth Light Infantry which shows a “4 L” on it, was also returned to the Republic of Mexico in this ceremony. “The return of this breastplate is of particular significance to the historians at Saltillo,” Doctor Rogers said “because the Fourth Light Infantry was a Saltillo Division.” The historical impact of this gesture was not lost on this reporter, for the Mexican government still has the battle flag of the Texians at the Alamo. Some of the soil from Sequoyah’s home was also presented to the Governor as a gesture of unanimity. And for the Presidente of the Republic Vicente Fox, a deer hide necklace with arrowhead. At the outset of the military confrontations between the United States and Mexico, Federal U.S. Army Cavalry patrolled Coahuila arresting Cherokees and forcing their return to military reservations. But the majority of Cherokees followed the orders of the Great intellect Sequoyah (George Gist) which were “stay in Mexico” which he did and “he is buried in a secret tomb in Coahuila, This was his wish, this was his heart,” the Cherokee petition states. There had been much reverent mention of Sequoyah among these Cherokees at the Camino Real Motel headquarters as we prepared to embark for downtown Friday at noon.
The Cherokee in the mink fur hat, Bullard, Texas Postmaster Joe Gentry who serves as Council Member of the Cherokee Tribe of Texas told us “Without a doubt we have witnessed an historical event today by the Governor of Mexico recognizing the Cherokee Indians as being a part of Mexico’s history. I hope that this historical event will in turn show the State of Texas what in reality what we all know: that these Cherokees of Mexico migrated here from the State of Texas (around 1840).”
Chief Rogers’ little brother, Corpus Christi optician Joe Layton, whose daughter serenaded us with genuine Cherokee squeals at Zaragoza during our lunch when an errant Mexican yellowjacket got too close for comfort had a somewhat different slant on the occasion: “Coming to Mexico it is interesting to note how many colors of people there are even within our Cherokee group,” Layton told this reporter. “Everybody is a part of everything,” he mused philosophically. “The recognition the Mexican Government has extended to the Cherokee Nation of Mexico, made up of all these blonde hair, blue eyes, black hair and brown skin, red skin: we are all brothers. It was indeed an honor to see the Mexican warrior flag returned by the warrior Cherokees,” Layton said.
Young Charles Rogers Jr. of Brownsville Matamoros was eager to share his feelings: “I find it extremely important” the personable young son of Chief Charles Rogers told us, “because we should be prepared for the future. The Governor (of Coahuila) is extremely straight because he is aware of the children’s needs: children are the future.”
Brownsboro, Texas water well driller Ray Carlisle, also a Cherokee Council member, and one of the more outspoken members of the group allowed that “this is going to give us an opportunity to have the Smith County Commissioners recognize us as a tribe. They (we go) to the State of Texas in Austin. Because of this action today, the recognition by the Mexican Government, should get the State and then the Federal (U.S.) recognition. Eventually,” he pointed out, “we would like to construct a tribal center (for the Texas Cherokees).”
David Hicks, son of Chief “Pappy” Hicks of Arp, Texas, a vocational evaluator also a member of the Tribal Council of the Texas Cherokees said “Today was a very memorable day a long time coming 163 years. It is good to see our people, the Cherokees of both Texas and Mexico working together to begin again. I would also hope that this would help the indigenous people of Mexico to improve their condition.”
Our own Manuel Green Van’s ancestor Ray Vann formerly of Del Rio and now of San Antonio, is a master electrician and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico, whose wife is a science teacher in San Antonio was excited about the unfolding story of his family heritage: “Tracing back our heritage to Green Van which we have been searching for 15 years, we have accomplished this through Dr. Rogers and his historical research unit. When invited to sit at the main table today, my heart pounded and made me proud to be what I am, and very fortunate to have my wife with me to witness history being made. I am also very fortunate to know Epigmenio and Gloria, Rodriguez because they know their part of the history of the Cherokees, and have opened their homes and their hearts to us. It shows the typical loving concern of Mexico toward the Cherokees. I am also grateful for the ongoing research into the history of the Cherokees of Mexico and all our area to weave the present to the past,” Vann said.
Tahlequah, Oklahoma bowmaker Al Herrin, who is a publisher with a Ph.D., is a member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation, pointed out that “today the Tahlequah regime does not speak for all the Cherokees. There should be a way found for non enrolled Cherokees to obtain recognition. Today,” he said, speaking of the Reconocimiento ceremony somewhat triumphantly, “the Mexican Government has done this, and we (Cherokees) are all grateful.”
Doctor Rogers is especially proud of the May 8, 2001 insertion in the U.S. Congressional Record which lauds him and his family for their search for the grave of the famous Cherokee Sequoyah which John MacInhofe read into the Record “honoring Sequoyah for his contribution to the Cherokee people as well as to the Rogers family for their work to preserve the legacy of this Cherokee hero.”
Cherokee Recognition II
Back in mid March, when the group of Cherokees of Texas and some from Oklahoma made their first investigative trip to the Zaragoza area Hacienda, Patinos, bowmaker Al Herrin, member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation wrote his impressions of what he learned in his White Bear Newsletter “Three signs were revealed to me,” Herrin said, “that related to the Cherokees’ ongoing search for the lost grave of Sequoyah. The signs were white bear, a red bird, and a rattlesnake. I believe the appearance of those signs, along with other evidence, showed that the site we found is the grave of Sequoyah.”
“I was told that, on the coming trip ,” Herrin wrote in the newsletter, “I would see a sign that involved three things. I was not told the significance of the sign, but I hoped I would realize its` significance when I saw it.” On board the Mercedes bus wheeling down the narrow streets of Morelos and Zaragoza, Herrin says, he spotted the sign: “On the dashboard of the bus, right in front of our dolly driver, was a dolly little white bear. It’s head was attached to its body by a spring so that the head bounced and shook on the bumpy road, giving the appearance that it was having as much fun as I was. It was then that I realized that I was not to see a sign the involved three things, but instead, three signs,” Herrin explained. “The white bear, my Cherokee name, my Spirit Animal and my guide on my Spirit Path showed me that I was meant to be there at that time, in that place and going to the place where I was going. At that time, although I still did not fully understand my role, I knew that I was supposed to be on the trip.”
At the ranchito of Epigmenio and Gloria Rodriguez, having enjoyed the sumptuous outdoor repast and the mariachi band and the Mexican vaqueros rope tricks, the group huddled around mesquite fires to keep warm whet someone said “Look at the red bird.” Someone else said, “It’s a cardinal.” “I looked up from gazing into the flames,” Herrin says, “and saw the second sign. A beautiful scarlet tanager was sitting on the nearby wire fence, then flew down to the ground, then back onto the fence several times. ”I believe it’s a scarlet tanager,” I said, and someone else verified my identification end said it was unusual to see one in that area. But I did not tell the other; the significance of the red bird as a sign. The red bird signifies truth. Other birds are camouflaged and hide themselves. But the red bird stands out showing his true self for all to see, regardless of the risk. Whether bird or man, he that speaks the truth and does not practice deceit puts himself at risk” The sign of the red bird, Herrin explained, was related to the Epigmenio Rodriguez family. “We looked into their eyes and their hearts as they spoke and saw that their words were true. Epigmenio, Gloria and their three sons, were honest, open, spontaneous, gracious people who welcomed us into their home like lost relations.” Herrin says that he believes the Rodriguezes shared the secret of the cave with Dr. Rogers and his family “because of their trust in Charles and his family and their belief that the time has come for the Cherokee people to know the final resting place of the great Sequoyah.”
At the cave, “Charles went to the entrance first; knelt before it and thrust his Cherokee bow back into the cave. He rattled it against the walls and floor on both sides of the opening, figuring that any resident rattlesnakes would rattle so that we could hear them,” Herrin continued. “Satisfied that the way was clear, he crawled into the entrance and called for the rest of us to follow.”
Herein lies the part of that March adventure of which your faithful scribe was unaware. We were in the cave for almost an hour, saw the man made writings on the rock inside pointed out by young Charles, and exited the gave to allow the others to enter in. When they told me later about the snake I thought it was a good natured jest. But I now find from Herrin’s narrative that indeed, there had been a rattler inside the cave.
“I moved the light to the wall on the left side and far back in another crevice near the ceiling. I saw the third sign. I saw its eye first, shining faintly in the flashlight beam,” Herrin reveals, “then I made out the head and body of a rattlesnake.” I said, “I don’t want to spoil the mood of the moment, but I see a snake.” Chief Hicks, who was sitting just below the crevice asked me, “is it close to me?” “Right over your head,” I answered.
After a quick exit of the cave by the second group, Charles wanted Herrin to show him the snake. “I went back in and the snake had not moved. Strangely, I felt less apprehension than I had the first time in.”
Herrin’s newsletter ends with what the rattlesnake presence in the cave signified: “I will end with the message that the rattlesnake sent to me in the cave. She (sic) said, “Sequoyah is not here. He walks with the spirits of his people, living and dead, and with the spirits of all the people who seek knowledge and peace. His bones lie in this place and I guard them. Those who come here with a pure heart, I will allow to pass. But he who comes here to dishonor Sequoyah will surely die.””
CHIEF ROGERS’ LETTER TO COAHUILA GOVERNOR
All of which convinced the Cherokees of the March trip that the band of “the Lost Cherokee Tribe” had indeed come to Mexico as the Cherokee Advocate had indicated, and that Sequoyah had indeed died in Mexico. Thus the Petition of August 1, 2001 from the Cherokee nation of Mexico was born.
We of the Cherokee Nation of the Republic of Mexico petition you in the same spirit of union and harmony of purpose that our ancestors presented to your predecessors of the office of Governor of Coahuila Mexico in the early 1800s.
The Cherokee came to Coahuila after being victimized by the provincial rebels of Texas who confiscated their homes and land without the process of law and by military force.
The governor of Coahuila granted the Cherokee Amparo. Shortly thereafter two villages, each with a chief, were created in 1840; the 100 Cherokee men joined Mexican General Woll in the recovery of Tejas, taking San Antonio.
The recovery force passed through the patriotic town of Zaragoza Coahuila. Its citizens included Cherokee who joined the Mexican Force.
Sadly, many Mexicans had lost their lives joining them in combat and in death were 12 Cherokee men fighting for their new home and Mexico’s protection of their ethnic identity.
The majority of Cherokees followed the orders of the Great intellect “Sequoyah,” Mr. George Gist, which were “to stay in Mexico” which he did and he is buried in a secret tomb in Coahuila. This was his wish; this was his heart. Thus the Cherokees dispersed and hid on ranches, small Mexican villages and border cities.
We believe that Mexico, due to its strong progressive leaders of today, is once again in line to culturally and humanistically be the leader of this hemisphere and will in time show other nations the path to peace and prosperity.
We the Cherokee nation of Mexico ask respectfully in the spirit of brotherhood that we be recognized both presently and historically as an indigenous group of Coahuila, Mexico. We are honored to abide by the laws of the State of Coahuila and of the Constitution and Republic of Mexico.
May the Creator of all things continue to bless Mexico and the Mexican people.
On August 22 Dr. Rogers received the letter from the Governor informing him of the State of Coahuila’s willingness to recognize the Cherokees and on August 31, 2001, Governor Enrique Martinez y Martinez duly signed the document of Reconocimiento of the Cherokee Nation of Mexico in the State Capital at Saltillo with more than 40 Cherokees of Texas and Oklahoma present.
copyright © 2012 Cherokee Nation of Sequoyah
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