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Love & Scandal in Early Oklahoma

2  cartoon hillbillies with shotguns from Loonie Tunes

I had the good fortune this week to come across some exciting newspaper stories of scandal, murders, gun fights, knife fights, and resulting family intrigues while researching a Cherokee family in Oklahoma. Researching family history in Indian Territory is quite challenging, but there are some resources that no other social group has. Pull up a chair, and let's look at the Poorboy family and their stories together!

President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830 offering territory out west in exchange for the Cherokee people’s homeland after gold was discovered in Georgia in 1828. In 1835, those Cherokee that had not left their lands east of the Mississippi were forced to walk to Oklahoma in the horrific "Trail of Tears." A Poorboy family is included on the Trail of Tears List of The Cherokee Registry.

Let's start with the patriarch of our Poorboy family. Eli Poorboy was born in 1834 in Georgia according to his Confederacy enlistment papers. He lost a finger during the war per his son Thomas Poorboy's WPA story. He is enumerated as a single man on the Drennen Roll of Indian allotments in Tahlequah, OK in 1852. After the war he married a woman of (reported) Scotts-Irish descent named Fatima "Timey" Blagg. Together they had three sons, Napoleon, Israel, and Thomas Dean Poorboy between 1867 and 1873.

Before Oklahoma became a state in 1907, record keeping was started, but was not mandatory until 1917. This was wild territory with few lawmen and very few marriage officiants, so many people began cohabitating while waiting for an official to come through. Marriages and divorces were easy come, easy go.

Middle son, Israel, had a lot of easy come and easy go marriages. Peach Ellenor Fagan was his first wife. They were briefly married and they had one son, George Washington Columbus Poorboy, born in Kansas in 1889.

Israel appears on the Cherokee census of 1893 as married to a "Louisa" but then takes out a marriage license in September 1894 to wed Sallie Tryphena "Phenie" Hartness. Ok, here comes a juicy part!

As I researched Phenie Hartness' family, I came across this fantastic article from the Atlanta Constitution of July 3, 1886 at

newspaper clipping about murders

Are these Hartness brothers related to Phenie? The article goes on to say that Roll Whitmore had recently gotten married but that "Previous to this marriage he had led astray the 15 year old daughter of Marion Hartness, a neighboring farmer the result of which was a child, born three months ago." It goes on to say that the new wife wanted to raise her husband's child and the newlyweds took custody.

Miss Hartness wanted to see her baby, but then refused to give it back to the Whitmore family after her visitation. The Whitmore brothers armed themselves with shotguns and knives, and attempted to enter the Hartness cabin. Harvey & Ed Hartness "met them with a volley from their shotguns" and Washington Whitmore fell dead. Roll Whitmore was "in the act of stabbing Ed Hartness, when Harvey Hartness" shot him. Ed was dead, and Harvey was "under bonds for appearance in court if he should recover." Wow!

Can you guess who the 15 year old was that was led astray and "ruined?" It was Phenie Hartness, who was to marry Israel Poorboy eight years later in 1894 in Oklahoma! Phenie and Israel Poorboy had one son, Jeff, together as seen on the Dawes Rolls of 1907.

concertina wire on a chain link prison fence

Sadly, Israel began to run afoul of the law in 1895, first for an offense cited only as "liquor," and then more seriously in 1898, he was sent to prison for 20 years for rape of a 15 year old. He appears on a Columbus, Ohio State Prison census. How is Phenie fairing, you might well ask? She shows up on the 1900 census as "Sarah," for which Sallie is a common nickname, but now she has four children, and Jeff, her child with Israel, born in 1898 is the youngest. Who the heck are Maud A. (1885), Bessie L. (1889), and Jesse (1892)"Poorboy?" They all show a birthplace of Indian Territory, OK.

Maud was the "illegitimate" baby born to Phenie after having been led astray by Rollin Whitmore, who was killed in 1886 according to the newspaper. But guess what? Turns out NOBODY died in that horrible "tragedy" in 1886. Rollin lived until 1946 and is buried in North Carolina. His first wife died in 1892, he remarried another woman in 1893. Phenie had 2 more children and named them Whitmore? Phenie's Hartness brothers went on to lead long lives s well.

Cartoon boy and dog entering time machine
Mr. Peabody and Sherman his boy enter the Wayback Machine ca. 1960 to witness another time & place in history. ©Jay Ward Productions.

Meanwhile, let's step into the Wayback Machine (dating myself again) to see what is going on with Peach Fagan, Israel's first wife. Her Dawes Packet (found on Ancestry) wherein she is establishing her rights as a Cherokee tribe member reveals that her mother was Indian, her father was not.

In 1900, Peach is married to a J.L. ("Louis") Puckett, she thinks since 1893. Her first husband was a man named John Carter, but she guesses he is dead. "He went away and I got a letter stating that he was dead." We know that 2nd husband, Israel, is in prison in 1900, and she states that she was told that when he went to prison they were then automatically divorced, and that nothing had to be filed. Peach was successfully enrolled as a Cherokee Tribe member (1/16th Indian blood) with George (Israel's son, 3/16th Indian blood), and her two children with Puckett (1/32nd indian Blood).

Israel Poorboy is out of prison before his 20 year sentence expires as he appears on the 1910 census as remarried in 1906 to a woman named "Massie" and there are two new children surnamed "Poorboy" in their household, ages four and two. No marriage or birth records have been found for these individuals.

In the 1920 US Census, we find our man, Israel, now living in Muskogee, OK. Can you guess who he's living with now? Phenie! Again! She and their son Jeff are there with him, as well as Peach's son George Washington Columbus Poorboy, and his wife Elsie May and their two sons, Clifford Lee, and Albert A. Poorboy.

The Kansas Census of 1925 finds our couple, Israel and Phenie, living in Montgomery, Cherokee County, with son Jeff, and with Phenie's daughter Maud (Whitworth) and her husband Harry Massey.

Genealogy detective looking for clues

So, what have we learned this week, my friends? Always double check your sources! The Hartness brothers and the Whitmore brothers did not kill each other in 1886, but there was no retraction of that widely circulated news story. Incidentally, there was another story I found about Israel's son, George, being beaten to death by an insanely jealous rival for a woman's affections. However, we know George went on to marry three times himself, and had 4 children long after his supposed death. There was only one George Poorboy in the Indian Territory at the time of this article.

I learned a lot about the Dawes Rolls and the Cherokee people. If your Indian ancestors did not register for the Dawes Rolls and prove their lineage in 1907, you will not be admitted as a citizen. You must have certified copies of birth certificates and death certificates for all of your ancestors to prove you are a descendent; obituaries, censuses, etc. won't do. DNA won't prove your eligibility to be a citizen either!

painting of Cherokee elder woman
Cherokee Matriarch painting by Virginia Glass Simmons

Did you know that the Cherokee were matrilineal? The Cherokee society is based on 7 different clans. Women were considered the head of household, with the home and children belonging to her should she separate from her husband. Of course, that has changed to standard US property laws now. What grandma said went, she had the last word on any important decisions.

Cherokee women were permitted to marry European traders, surveyors, soldiers, or even freedmen (former slaves). It was unusual, but not rare, to see a Cherokee man marry a white women as, unless she was adopted as a citizen, their children were not considered Cherokee. They were often adopted into the tribe and treated as full citizens (barring becoming Chief). Their children were also accepted as full Cherokee citizens, and treated as such, until later on when "blood quantum" was adopted, when you had to be a direct descendent of a Cherokee on the Dawes Rolls of 1907 and at least 1/16th Indian by blood.

I hope my experience with this family has also shown you that this is a fascinating pursuit, full of mysteries and surprises! I am grateful to the Poorboy descendants for this opportunity, and incredibly thankful that their last name was NOT Smith or Johnson. :-)

What are you working on? Drop me a line and let me know!

Best regards,

Leslie Ryan

No compensation is received for any links or referrals herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

Links of interest

For more information about the Cherokee:

Link to matriarch painting:

"Hillbilly Hare" from Loonie Tunes film licensing info:


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