Geraldine Robinson

Geraldine Robinson


ChickenBones: A Journal

for African-American & Multiethnic Literary & Artistic Themes





In 1868, Cow Tom goes [went] to Washington, D.C. to plead the case of the Creek

Freedmen and their entitlements (land, money). The Creek Indians had not decided

what to do with their recently freed slaves.



Jewell and Geraldine Robinson



The Black Indian Research Narrative of Geraldine Elliott Robinson

of St. Joseph, Missouri  (1922– ) 

Descendant (great-great granddaughter) of Cow Tom McFarland (1810-1874)

daughter of Rosetta Rentie Elliot (1895-1983) and  Henry Elliott (1884-1938)



My family story begins with my grandmother (Katie Island),  loving grandmother and a storytelling grandmother. And I’m sure some of you had a person like that in your life. They are a God send. She was in her 80s and I, 10 or 11 years old, in Oklahoma, in the 1930s, Depression time. She told me how they followed the Civil War soldiers at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, then now Oklahoma, for their survival. that she did not know her exact birthdate, said it was at pumpkin time. The day her mother died she was about 9 years old and on that same day they heard about the emancipation proclamation. So these bits and pieces served me very well and they festered in my mind for more than 50 years.

Through the years at family gatherings I asked questions, trying to find the continuity of our family heritage often to the chagrin of some. And yet I was hoping someone else would go about preserving our history. Too soon I neared my own retirement. Suddenly I realized I was at the end of my generation. What should I do? Who do I know? Lord, is it I?

I decided to send more than 46 SASE letters to first cousins. I received five responses. But those five were so strong–we decided to do the statistics of the immediate families. 

With this information, I next joined the Northwest Genealogical Society on Francis Street, St. Joseph Missouri. And I wish to thank members for their support and concerns as they assisted me through the project. I enjoyed the Special programs, informative guests, the workshops as they took us through the Census.

So I began with the 1910 Census (the 1920 was not out) and went backwards in time. I found my grandparents in Oklahoma, Okfuskee County–Morris and Katie (Cow Tom Island) Rentie and their large family. My mother is the youngest–named Kate. My older cousins tell me that is not her name. That grandfather had so many children he forgot. So we muse about this sometimes. She is known as Rosetta. The 1900 census is almost the same.

The 1898 census is very good

Look to the left–This is the Dawes Creek Freedmen Roll #______. [This is] Their identification in the Creek Tribe. Look to the right–This is some personal information. It tells me my grandmother was born free. Her grandfather bought his freedom. Moving up, my grandfather, he was a slave of a Creek Indian, Yargee. And our family story tells us he was taken to the border of Texas and Oklahoma during the Civil War. He was a teenager and they refugeed there for two years. I say two years because they raised two crops and then returned to Creek Territory, near Muskogee —Rentiesville, Taft, as well as, Tulsa, as we know it today. [Other African towns in Oklahoma]

Census of 1880–1870, I do not find. Oklahoma was not a state until 1907. So there is more research for me to do. During these Reconstruction years, I did find an 1860 census–my great great grandfather Cow Tom is a free person – with his children and grandchildren. My grandmother [Katie Island?] is on this list and she is six years old.

According to the 25th Congress, Third Session, my five times great grandmother’s name is Fia or Fai or Fy. She was a slave of an early Englishman, then sold to the Yamanese  Indians. The Yamanese an  off-shoot of the Seminoles, the Seminoles, a split from the Creeks.

History chronicles my family living free or almost free with the Seminoles. The early Brims, Oconees, King Philip, Cow Keeper and Boleck or Bowleg families. They were free or almost free for almost 100 years. Fifty of these years though, they were pushed down into the swamps of Florida. Settlers are wanting more land and planning to send the Indians west of the Mississippi River and accusing the Seminoles of harboring their runaways slaves. The men of the family and other slaves joined the Seminoles in resisting the plan. History chronicles my family living free or almost free with the Seminoles. The early Brims, Oconees, King Philip, Cow Keeper and Boleck or Bowleg families. They were free or almost free for almost 100 years. Fifty of these years though, they were pushed down into the swamps of Florida. 

From the left: John Jumper, Abraham, Billy Bowlegs Institute of Texan Cultures, Excerpt 72-173

Settlers are wanting more land and planning to send the Indians west of the Mississippi River and accusing the Seminoles of harboring their runaways slaves. The men of the family and other slaves joined the Seminoles in resisting the plan. 


They knew their circumstances if captured and they became nationally known leaders, soldiers, and interpreters. Some are Abrahoma, Alligator, Nero, Jimboy, Jumper, John Pasecheo, John Louis, Cudjoe, and more. Even my great great grand father Tom served as a very young person, and today I find he owes the government $7.97 for clothing and ammunition. So there is more research that should be done.

Bad treaties, camp burnings, lost of livelihood, two major Seminole Wars–they are defeated 1837. My family–some volunteered, some are captured–all gathered at Fort Jupiter.

Fort Jupiter is on the ocean-side of Florida. And the family is made ready to be removed to Fort Gibson Indian Territory.

Here my early family comes alive. I find names I had never known before. So I must confess to you I am the one who danced and cried at the National Archive, Kansas City, Missouri.

Dolly–my four times great grandmother, daughter of Fia described as light black and old–was born approximately 1787.

Ben Bruno (Bruner), maroon in Florida who served as Billy Bowlegs’s interpreter and counselor Institute of Texan Cultures, 73-10-11).

Pompey–her husband ten or twenty times older. Prince–their son–handsome. Peggy–daughter–light black, tall, and she has a daughter, Hagar–and Hagar has a suckling babe. Scillia–daughter–tall and black, and she has a daughter Bella and she has a son Tom. Tom is my great great grandfather, later to be known as Cow Tom. Members in the family–children, grandchildren, step children–thirty one or thirty-two persons.

They are now on their way to Tampa Bay Florida. They go around the horn of Florida and at Tampa bay–more than twenty ships–awaiting them. More relatives–

The next planned stop is at New Orleans, Louisiana. As they near the city, they realize there is trouble. Men are swarming the slave ships saying:- “These are our runaway slaves harbored by the Seminoles. We want them and their descendants. These are our legitimate slaves. Here are our papers.” 

Nevertheless, the family is taken to a stockade to New Orleans or Fort Pike and held for thirteen months. There Pompey dies.

I find letters between–and military agencies considering what should be done with this family group. they mention sending them to Africa–and forming a colony, if they are free. The case is finally litigated and deemed fraudulent. A Lt. Reynolds is told to supply a ship and hurriedly continue their journey to Fort Gibson. They must go through the State of Arkansas. Just as they are about two hundred miles from their destination, the waters are too low to proceed.

They consider continuing by land–but men are still following their ship. In fact, one man is aboard their ship harassing the chiefs about their slaves. They ask for protection from the Governor of Arkansas. He is provoked, felt this should have been solved in Florida and he was abiding by the case as it ended at New Orleans. I declare a miracle! because at this declaration the man departed to the Southeast. The group wait some days for the water to rise. they arrive at Fort Gibson Indian territory, May 1838.

Members of the family long separated, now united. They had not known their whereabouts these thirteen months. This was a shipment of old men, women, and children. Awaiting them were the sons, brothers, fathers. Oh what a day it was says author Joshua Giddings. A day of embracing and concerns. There was so much love among them.

The escorting soldiers witnessed the scene and saw them in a different way–not as savages, runaways, captives. the irony:– So different the affairs of just one generation ago.

Now their maintenance money is mow. Escorting, Lt. Reynolds issued his personal money to sustain them, and made a strong determination to see them established in their final home. Another miracle!

I do not have records after this time.

The family story tell me Cow Tom, now, is the slave of a Creek Indian, Yargee. And as I understand it, he is like a veterinarian  taking care of cattle. He was allowed to work for himself. But the Indians did not like to pay him in money. They paid him in cows. he took advantage of this situation and was able to buy his freedom. in have not found his manumissions papers.

In 1863, the family must flee their home. The Civil War battle is nearing them. This connects with my grandmother’s story. Today we are told my grandmother as a child, and her aunt (Melinda Jefferson) each drove a wagon–and a Lt. Phillips bellowed out to them, “Keep up with the Union soldiers,” as they and hundreds made their escape to Fort Gibson.

There Cow Tom was duly sworn in as Principal Chief of the Creek Refugees and was a paid interpreter.

In 1868, Cow Tom goes [went] to Washington, D.C. to plead the case of the Creek Freedmen and their entitlements (land, money). The Creek Indians had not decided what to do with their recently freed slaves. The Northern [Creek] Indians felt obligated to include them in their tribe–because they had promised them their freedom if they fought with them against the Removal.

The more Southern Creek Indians opposed the plan. So Cow Tom, my great great grand father; Harry Island, my great grandfather, and Ketch Barnett, a cousin, by wagon, go to Lawrence, Kansas. There, they board a train to Washington, D.C. and speak to Congress. They won their case. Harry Island is described as a shrewd interpreter. These three men made a difference in the Indian and Black History in Oklahoma. Entitlement of 160 acres.

I found a narration in the Oklahoma Chronicle about Cow Tom. U.S. agricultural, extension agents were touring the region, they found him [Cow Tom] a successful farmer and rancher. he had made a bumper crop with crude implements. He did grin his own grains. And they made their own cloth. There was a school and church nearby. The men enjoyed a wonderful meal and said they had a “keen” appetite. The home was adorned with homemade quilts on the beds and their comfortable home was jus 33 miles from their supply town.

In the Indian–Pioneer papers– We are told new  people are beginning to seek new homes in the territory. They came with few possessions. Cow Tom and wife Amy gave food and a cow and calf to these people as their start in the new frontier.

In 1869 Cow Tom files a lost claim due to the Civil War–a value of $38,000 plus, in Livestock, grain, household goods lost. he was reimbursed $19,000 plus

In 1874 Cow Tom dies. He is approximately 65 years old.

Cow Tom, my great great grandfather–the ex-slave, Florida and Alabama exile, interpreter, soldier, farmer, principal Chief, humanitarian. He paved the way for us. The homestead we still enjoy. The legacy we dream of . . 

Geraldine Elliott Robinson

[This is presented as] a tribute to my grandmother, Katie (Cow Tom Island) Rentie, who called me into her past and her heart sent love and so much strength for more then four generations, as she lived out her 95 years in Indian Territory.

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In 1988, I earnestly began to delve into my Afro-American family genealogy with the so-called name of my great, great grandfather, ‘Cow Tom,’ and the stories my grandmother told me in the mid-1930s. Presently, I am researching 1749-1797 in Florida. Cow Tom’s great grandmother is Fia or Fy. She was the slave of an early Englishman and later sold to the Yamansee Indians, an off shoot of the Seminole Indians. Some say Cow Tom’s name derived from the Cow keeper-King Philip family. Others say because her tended cows and it later became his successful occupation in Indian Territory, now Eastern Oklahoma.

I found my ancestors in Florida with the Seminole Indians. They were living free or almost free for nearly 100 years. After the Revolutionary War, the white settlers accused the Indians of harboring their runaway slaves. the Indians denied their claims. the push for more land expanded. Two Seminole wars ensued. After their defeat, plans for the removal of the Indians and their slaves to the west were made.

In 1836-1837, some of the family was captured or volunteered at Fort Jupiter, Florida. They were shipped to the fort at Tampa Bay. Next they were transferred to Fort Pike (New Orleans, La) and thirteen months in captivity. In the meantime, they were being pursued by fraudulent slave claims. When the case was finally closed they were  hurriedly shipped again by the U.S. soldiers and officers to their family home, Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.

Members of the families long separated were now united. fathers embraced their wives and children, whom they had not seen for more than a year. the officers and soldiers who witness this scene could not but feel interested in these people. Many of them whose ancestors had fled from oppression generations previously and who had for one-half century been subjected to constant persecution. (Exiles of Florida by Joshua Gibbings, 1858)

Cow Tom (Tom McFarland), 1810-1874, (wife Amy Cow Tom), came to Indian territory from Florida with Indians in 1832. Later he bought his freedom. As I understand it he was like a veterinarian  taking care of cattle. the Indians did not want to pay him money instead they paid him in cattle.

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Uncle Ned and Boston Thompson were given their surname when they enrolled in the first Cane Creek School. It seems Cow Tom did not like their father and would not let them use their paternal family name. So their white teacher McCann or McCain attached the Thompson name. 

As told by Bentford Brown to Geraldine Elliott Robinson.

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Grandmother, Katie Island Rentie’s mother, Maggie (Margaret) died when she [Katie] was about 10 years old. The day she died, they heard about Emancipation Day.

Katie Island Rentie followed the soldiers back and forth near Fort Gibson, for food and survival, during the Civil War. She did not know her birth date, but she always said it was around pumpkin time — as narrated by Katie Rentie to Geraldine Elliott Robinson. I was 10 or 12 yearsd old when she old me

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Cow Tom was with his family in 1835, but was not with his transportation family in Florida. He was with General Jessup in Florida in 1837. Was he captured ? I next find him in 1842–the slave of a Yargee, a Creek Indian–was he captured by the Creeks?

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Left: Father, Henry Elliott (1884-1938)

Right: Mother, Rosetta Rentie Elliot (1895-1983)

The parents of Geraldine Elliott Robinson


Photo left:

Silas Jefferson, Standing, far right

Photo right:

Silas Jefferson, sitting photographed prior to 1877


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Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”

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Christmas Eve marks the anniversary of one of the least known battles for freedom and self-determination fought in North America. In 1837, in what had become the state of Florida less than a generation earlier, the freedom fighters were members of the Seminole Nation, an alliance of African slave runaways and Native American Seminoles.They faced the strongest power in the Americas, the combined armed forces of the United States Army, Navy and Marines, whose goal was to crush the bi-racial alliance and return its African-American members to slavery. . . . This battle took place during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), which involved U.S. Naval and Marine units, at times half of the Army, and cost 1,500 military deaths and U.S. taxpayers $30 million [pre-Civil War dollars]. After his decimated army limped back to Fort Gardner, Zachary Taylor won promotion by claiming, “the Indians were driven in every direction.” Later, using his reputation as an “Indian fighter,” Taylor won election as the 12th President of the United States. The Seminole alliance at Lake Okeechobee delivered the Army’s worst defeat in decades of Florida warfare. However truth about the battle and the three wars long remain buried, hidden or distorted.— ConsortiumNews

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The White Masters of the World

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 11 May 2008




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