The Nemaha People

We covered the Nemaha Reservation earlier, so today, I’d like to talk about the actual records of the allottees.

The alottee record was produced in 1860 when the government was preparing to issue individual allotments to the half-breed people provided for in the Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1830, which set aside a tract of land for the mixed-race, or Métis descendants of French-Canadian trappers and women of the Oto, Iowa, and Omaha, as well as the Yankton and Santee Sioux tribes.

In total, in 1860 there were about 397 total allottees.  I say about because a few of these people may be listed twice, as they have aliases listed.  For example, a person named Handorum Sharkeppie is also called Canona.

Of these 397 people, a total of 32, or a little over 10%, still carried entirely Native names.  By entirely Native, I mean there was no sign of European hybridization.  Their names were written as Ah-ha-a-me and Ah-pay-we-he, for example.  These names are not transcribed in the Native names project, because descendants could not find them by these earlier names.   Initially I was surprised by the number of people, who were not full-blood, that had Native names.  But then as I thought about it, I realized that, according to the documentation, these children were the results of liaisons between white men and Native women, so it would have been the mothers who were responsible for naming the children – hence – some entirely Native names.

Some names are clearly transitional.  Eliza, daughter of No Heart is a transitional name, as is No Heart.  Both of these names have been transcribed as they are beginning the transition to a European based name.  For example, we have a Josette No Knife.  That surname likely began with a person known as No Knife, and originally, that name would have been recorded in the Indian language.  We see that with the surname Rocco.  We have one person just listed as Rocco, then a second listed as Elizabeth Sister Rocco.  One person is named Stralah.  We don’t know if that was a European name or a name that originated as a Native name.  However, on the list, it is an unhyphenated single name, so it is transcribed into the Native Names project.  The name Whitecould has transitioned from a personal name to a surname with three people carrying that surname.  White Horse isn’t a surname yet, as it is still a single given name.

With some people, the alias is simply a different surname.  For example, the entire O Pelt family is also listed as Ritter, except for one Ritter who is not an O Pelt.  But their first names are the same, so we know the surname, for whatever reason, was not stable.  It could have been used interchangeably.  However, with the person, Alvard Story, alias Silvinie Robedoux, we have no idea why this person has two entirely different names.  The first name doesn’t match.

Of the 365 people who do not have Native names, meaning who have European names, we find 122 different surnames.  On the average, there are 2.99 people with each surname, but that doesn’t hold when you look at the distribution.  The really good news is that most of these names are actually quite unusual.  For example, we have Barrada with 8 people, Benoist with 7 and Deroin with 18.  Of course, to even that out, there are several who have only one person with that surname.  For example, Digyer, Bono and Beans, just to name a few.

Another interesting aspect is that for the most part, if the documentation is correct and these people descend from European fathers and Native mothers, the Y-line DNA test would reveal their European heritage.  On the other hand, if one were to test people who descended from these original couples through all females, the mitochondrial DNA results should indicate a Native ancestor, unless of course there had been an adoption in the line.  Native tribes were notorious adopters of people from other tribes, former slaves and white captives.

To the best of my knowledge, only one photo survives of these Nemaha Half-Breeds, and that is Joseph Deroin, pictured above.  In the 1840s, Joseph Deroin, a ‘Half-Breed’ himself, began operating a trading post along the Missouri River. The trading post eventually became a small settlement known to whites as ‘St. Deroin’ which had a population of 300 in 1900 but was gone by 1912 as a result of repeated flooding.  Today, no trace exists.

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Ioway, Missouria, Omaha, Otoe, Sioux. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Nemaha People

  1. Pingback: Averages, TIP Calculator and One Size Fits All | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  2. Kimberly Cole says:

    Hello. I just saw this post. I am a descendant of Mary Bono, the name you listed above.

  3. Greg Baumann says:

    I am a descendant of the Freels. Oliver and Margaret (Mary Pricilla Jane Freel)

  4. Russ Marr says:

    Someone one once told me that “Omaha” is a grammatical contraction for the “Old Maha” people and “Nemaha” is a contraction for the “New Maha” people. This supposedly came about to differentiate between the two groups. Sounds feasible but I’ve never found anything to substantiate that theory.

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