The Cole and Bowman Families of Harlan Co., Ky.

The Cole family of Harlan Co., Ky. carries strong oral history of Native heritage.  The following extracted information provides some documentation for their oral history.  The full article can be found at.

by Holly Fee-Timm
[originally published 3 June 1987
Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher]

There are two local families with documentary evidence supporting their claims to Indian blood. These are the Cole and Bowman families. The Coles are listed in census records for 1860 Lee County, Va., and for 1870 Harlan as being Indian. The state and counties of birth given for the Cole family of 1860 implies they moved around frequently. The head of the household, John Cole, was born about 1799 in Lincoln Co., North Carolina. His daughter Eliza was born in Scott Co., Va., and daughter Elisabeth, in Knox Co., Ky. Eliza’s two children, Jacob and Elmira were born in Lee Co., Va. 

Next door to John’s household is another Eliza Cole, born about 1834 in Lee Co., Va., with two daughters – Jane born in Claiborne Co., Tenn., and Elisabeth born in Lee Co., Va. All of these Coles and a Jefferson Cole living in the same neighborhood were listed as Indians. Elsewhere in Lee County was a John M. Cole, 20, also of Indian blood. 

In 1870, the younger Eliza Cole, her two children mentioned above and three more children, Robert, Mary Jane and Mollie were listed in Harlan County. All were indicated as being Indian. It must be noted that the degree of Indian blood is not listed in census and even a small fraction could be cause for such a listing. 

Jacob Cole married Kizzie Eldridge, another family with a strong tradition of Indian blood. Mary Jane Cole married William Brittain, son of James and Jane Ely Brittain. The Coles were closely connected with another area family with proven Indian blood, the Bowmans. Hawkins Bowman was born about 1790 in North Carolina. In 1838, in Lee Co., Va., he married Nancy Barbour. 

In 1879, his widow applied for a pension on his military service. She stated that he had served in the Tennessee Infantry in the War of 1812 under Captain Jesse Cole. She described him as being of dark complexion, commonly called part Indian and that he was about five-feet nine inches tall. They had at least seven children: George, Mary who married Hiram Fugate, Lucinda, John, Nancy, Thomas who married Mary Moore, and Elijah. In the 1860 census of Harlan County, Hawk Bowman is listed as a blacksmith. In the 1870 Harlan, the family is listed as Indian.”


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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27 Responses to The Cole and Bowman Families of Harlan Co., Ky.

  1. Yvonne says:

    Roberta, it seems as though you’re all in my tree :). I have Alice Cole and Margaret Bowman related to my 4th Ggrandfather, Crane Eater. We’ve also noticed the “dark” complexion comment on service records.

    Alice Cole (1733 – 1772)
    Temperance Cross (1750 – 1830)
    Daughter of Alice
    Michael Looney (1751 – 1839)
    Husband of Temperance
    Margaret “Peggy” Eleanor Moore (1735 – )
    Mother of Michael
    Jemimah Denton (1777 – 1863)
    Daughter of Margaret “Peggy” Eleanor
    John James “Ten Shilling Bell” Chastain (1743 – 1805)
    Husband of Jemimah
    Pierre Louis Chastain (1707 – 1756)
    Father of John James “Ten Shilling Bell”
    James Rev Chastain (1740 – 1819)
    Son of Pierre Louis
    Abraham Chastain (1767 – 1841)
    Son of James Rev
    Obediah James Chastain (1790 – )
    Son of Abraham
    Obediah Chastain (1821 – 1856)
    Son of Obediah James
    Mary Ann Keith (1829 – 1902)
    Wife of Obediah
    Crane Eater” Oolekayaskee”
    father of Mary Ann

    Margaret Bowman (1837 – 1909)
    Nathaniel Wright “Old Nate” Jarrett (1825 – 1886)
    Husband of Margaret
    William Buckner Jarrett (1799 – 1883)
    Father of Nathaniel Wright “Old Nate”
    Nathaniel Wright Jarrett (1825 – 1886)
    Son of William Buckner
    John F Jarrett (1860 – 1943)
    Son of Nathaniel Wright
    John Jarrett (1891 – )
    Son of John F
    Mary E Moore (1896 – 1966)
    Wife of John
    Alfred R Moore (1866 – 1902)
    Father of Mary E
    Francis Fannie K. Moore (1886 – 1957)
    Daughter of Alfred R
    William Downey Downing? Holmes (1883 – 1952)
    Husband of Francis Fannie K.
    Mary Jane Keith (1857 – 1912)
    Mother of William Downey Downing?
    David Andrew “Lanie Heat” Keith (1825 – 1906)
    Father of Mary Jane
    Crane Eater “Oolekayaskee”
    father of David Andrew “Lanie Heat”

    • DeAnn says:

      Hi Yvonne, hope you are still available after a few years. you posted “william downey/downing” and i wonder if you would like to connect? i am not sure if we are related, but “william” is a common downey name in my family. my gr grandfather charles downey (“downing” he used also) was born in harlan, ky. we also have a strong “native” story, but not sure if it’s coming from the downey’s or not… we have bakers, sampson, stewart, smith, jones and other related relatives from Clay and Knox, KY.

  2. Emily Wells says:

    I stumbled across this website, and I am very interested in learning more. My great great grandfather is actually Hawk Bowman and I have only been able to trace back my heritage to him. I would love to help your research if I can and possibly learn more about my background. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Emily. I’d welcome any records that you find that indicate your ancestors were native. I’m looking for records created at the time they lived, not family lore type records. I’m glad you found the site helpful.

    • Dorothy Prem says:

      Emily, hopefully you still follow this site. Hawk was my ggg grandfather, through his youngest son, Elijah Bowman. What is your family line to him? Were you ever able to find any further documentation?

  3. Amanda Bowman says:

    I’m currently trying to find the heritage of my dads family. I’ve been told that our blood lines leads native heritage and my mother and father both practiced Cherokee belief as it was past down to the booth of them from both if their families. I can’t find any info on ancwstory websites as incan not afford a subscription. My maiden name is Bowman and my grandpa was from Kentucky, but I’m not sure where in the staye as he passed when my dad was young. His name was Jesse Bowman. We did visit Harlan countyna lot growing up, and traveled then are a of pineville during memorial DA but I was too young to remember any information about my families buried there. Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for posting this.

  4. Amie Tennant says:

    Dear Friends – I am a professional research genealogist and it just so happens that my uncles are direct male descendants of John Cole. John married Eliza Bowman, Hawkins Bowman’s daughter. Some people have mixed up the family lines (and for good reason). It is thought by some that Eliza Cole (born in about 1834 in Lee County) was John’s wife. She is not. She is his eldest daughter. His second wife, Eliza Bowman was born in 1842 in Scott County, Virginia and yes, she is SIGNIFICANTLY younger. John Cole and Eliza Bowman Cole’s first son was Jacob. Jacob is my my 2nd Great Grandfather. Jacob first married Kizzie Eldridge and they had two children (John who died in infancy and Elizabeth who was born in 1880 and lived to at least 18 years old). There is documentation of Elizabeth’s existance in only one place that I know of…paperwork that Jacob filled out to claim his status as a Cherokee. In it he listed her as a daughter.
    Jacob married Margaret ____ second. Their first son was George Washington, know as “Little Wash” to the family. I have a picture of him, he was my great grandpa. Wash Cole married Donia Hensley and they had 3 children that survived infancy. Robert Cole born 1911 in Harlan was my grandfather. Donia died in the flu epidemic of 1918 and Wash married his cousin, Mary Cole.
    I have just purchased a DNA test for my Uncle Willard (son of Robert) to take in hopes that it will clear up at least partly the great debate of who John Cole really was (ethnically). I am happy to share my documented findings with anyone who wishes to have a copy. Please feel free to contact me via email at

    • Terra McDavid says:

      I have found Jacob’s grave.

      • amiertennant says:

        Really? Wow! Where? And do u have a picture of it or a document? So excited!

      • Terra McDavid says:

        Have been doing a little cemetery clean up. I grew up down below where he is buried. His 2nd wife Margaret Mitchell is buried next to him. Love how well his lineage is documented. His Indian heritage something to be treasured. How can I get your email to send pics?
        Very crude hand carved stone with his particulars on one side and Margarets on the back.

      • amiertennant says:

        Terra..I can’t thank you enough. I have been searching for his burial location for so long. My email is Notice the name is A M I E…not Annie…sometimes people see two “n”s instead of the m. I would love to have a picture of Margaret’s stone too if you have the time. Is baby John buried nearby? Actually, Margaret had 6 children die…John was Kizzie’s baby but he died when Jacob was married to Margaret. Also, can u tell me the address or location of where the cemetery is located? Again…I just can’t thank you enough!!

    • James Robert Bowman says:

      Anime, you said that your uncles were direct descendants of hawk bowman. Hawk Bowman is my great great great grandfather. My name is James Robert Bowman. My cousin send me this link I always wanted to know my Cherokee bloodline and from my cousin and I’ve gathered it was great but if you have any other information on our families i would like to know more. THANKS

  5. Leona Cole Barnes says:

    My name is leona cole barnes my grand father was wash cole married to Lorenda clouse
    I would very much like to hear from you

    • Amie Tennant says:

      Dear Leona!! Are you my Uncle Tom’s sister Leona Cole born to my grandpa Wash (Little Wash) and Mary Cole??

      I have just received the DNA test results for my Uncle Willard. If you are the Leona I think you are, then perhaps you know Uncle Willard. I was very, very, very surprised to find that there is 0% Native American, but there is 5% African and 93% European.

      I have contacted another genetics specialist friend of mine to go over the results. This is my speculation: John Jack Cole AND Hawkins Bowman were both black and white…probably each a 1/2 or even 1/4. They could each pass as “Indian” and so they decided to do so. It was far better to be an Indian in those years than be taken as Black and moved into the slave states.

      I have a census record from 1840 that has John on it and next to his name is “Free”. He and the children are tally marked in the “free people of color” section, but the wife is in the white section.

      If you send me an email directly to I would be happy to send over some digital images of the documents I have collected over the years, pictures and any other documents.

      Oh I do hope you write back soon….I am dying to find out “who” you are!

      My name is Amie Bowser Tennant, daughter of Art Bowser and Gay Cole. Gay is the daughter of Robert Cole and Goldie Witt. Gay was their youngest daughter (born with a twin brother named Ray).

      Have a great evening!

      • Lorraine Heddes says:

        Any information about my Great-Grandmother Mary Jane Cole and her older brother
        John Cole, both born in the mid and late 1800s would be appreciated. I was told that
        my great-grandmother was “Black Dutch”, tongue in cheek and was either Cherokee
        or Blackfoot, but no one really know for sure. Please respond to if you have information. I know that Mary Jane Cole married
        an Irishman by the name of William James Bandy. Mary died in the TB sanitarium in
        Southern Illinois in the early sixties.
        Be blessed!

      • Leona Cole Barnes says:

        Hi Amie
        sorry I lost this website and just now found it again I am the sister of Thomas cole born to Mary and Wash cole I had 3 brothers Thomas, Clyde and Homer one sister Jeannette
        I tried to e-mail you but it wouldn’t go through but you can e-mail me at I would love to get the info. you have
        Leona cole barnes

      • DeAnn says:

        Hi Amie. My aunt and uncle just did their DNA (We have Downey(Downing)/Sampson/Baker/Jones, etc. from Clay, Harlan, (etc) KY). My Aunt came back “0” native american but her brother (same parents) came back with Native American. Both had some african and others like italian… I hope to get my dad’s done also to compare. So I just wonder if there is an explanation about how 2 siblings show up different heritages?

  6. Pat says:

    Does anyone have any info on America Nease married to Jacob (Jake)nease. I was told she was Cherokee but that’s all I know. They lived in Breathitt and Perry County Ky.

  7. Deb says:

    I was randomly searching the web to see if any descendants of John Cole who married Cuzzie Anderson had done a DNA test. Results would be better if more of his direct male descendants could be tested. If I’m reading this right, John Cole is not native American on his paternal side. I wonder if it is possible for the native part to be on his maternal side. Also wondering if there are any direct descent females from Cuzzie who could have their mitochondrial DNA tested. Would be interesting to see results.

    • Rhonda Howe says:

      John Cole and Cuzzie Anderson have also come up in my blood line. Have you found any additional information? I’m wanting to get DNA done, but not sure which one is best.

      • BETTY K COLE says:

        My Cole children and grands were always told they were indian but the DNA does not show any at all. My daughter is very upset that her children dont show any DNA of any tribe. They look indian but?

      • Deb says:

        You know, we all inherit different amounts of DNA from our ancestors. I was trying to explain it to my mom and an aunt and uncle. I was trying to tell them that I and all my siblings would need to get tested and compare our DNA amounts. I said all of them (my mom) and her siblings still alive would need to get tested ad compare DNA results. They were asking me why and the only way I can explain it is we all inherit different amounts of DNA that gets passed down. It affects eye color, hair color, skin color, etc. I may have gotten those genes passed to me but maybe my sister with the dark hair and dark skin got more passed to her. So basically, from what I understand even though one family may not have inherited a Native American type gene there might be cousins, aunts, or uncles who may have, The only way we will know if there is actually a Native American connection with the Cole side is when all the different people have been tested. The only thing I know for sure is they seemed to really think they were Native American and I really think there is some kind of connection there although how far back, how much, ad which ancestor, I don’t know, Culturally, they really identified with Native American,

  8. Tery Kempf says:

    I am a descendant to(ggg-grandma) Minervia Ann Cole who married John W Cooley – I am not able to find anything on her while living with parents- I was told her father was Jerdon Cole.. could be spelled many ways. Minervia b. 1827 TN d. 1888 Ark… – my moms and I both have NA from DNA test. This Cole name ring any bells? Thanks

  9. Lorraine Krueger says:

    Do you now if Mary Jane Cole remarried a man named William James Bandy. I can not locate my family tree in the European Coles and was told that we were Native American, not sure if I could be Cherokee,Choctaw or Blackfeet? Very confused about it all. My gg-Mother had children, Jerry Bandy,Edna,Paul and Pauline (twins that died around 1 yr. old) and had a relative Patricia Luster and her husband Pete Luster who lived in Kentucky with their 3 or 4 children. Any help would be appreciated very much. I am up in years and trying to leave our blood line information for my children before I die. Blessings to you for any help at all in my search.

  10. ruth e. mcclellan says:

    my grandmother is Clara Blanche Cole, looking for her father Jacob Cole. i have taken a DNA with 23 and me. my name is Ruth E. Bibb McClellan.

  11. Sean Morrissey says:

    William Brittain was my 2nd cousin 4x removed. He was the s/o James, s/o George (brother of Parks Brittain), s/o Nathaniel. I always wondered if Any sons of Parks Brittain married Native American women.

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