Warren’s brothers, Don, John, and David Herring, also issued a joint statement supporting their sister. “The people attacking Betsy and our family don’t know much about either. We grew up listening to our mother and grandmother and other relatives talk about our family’s Cherokee and Delaware heritage. They’ve passed away now, but they’d be angry if they were around today listening to all this.”
On the plains of Oklahoma, where many of the nation’s tribes were forcibly relocated in the mid-19th century, the American Indian has long been a dominant cultural force. The very name Oklahoma is derived from the Choctaw word for “red people.” Oklahoma has the second-largest population of American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the United States, with 8.6 percent of its people claiming such heritage in 2010, according to the US Census Bureau. But many local historians believe the number is more likely double that given the widespread mingling of the Native American and Caucasian populations.
As a teenager, Warren’s grandmother, Bethanie “Hannie” Crawford, drove a horse-drawn wagon in 1888 from her native Missouri to the Indian territory that would eventually become Oklahoma, drawn by the prospect of land and opportunity. Several of her then four siblings came with her and several more would be born in the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory, in the following years, according to the US Census of 1900. The Crawford sisters married the Reed brothers on the same June day in 1893, according to their marriage records. Laura and Everett had one son, Charles Reed, who was born in 1906, the year before Oklahoma became a state. He fathered one daughter, Ina Mapes.
Both the Reeds and the Crawfords are identified as “white” on federal Census forms in the early 20th century that rely upon self-identification. While that may have been a simple statement of fact, they may also have been trying to obscure their ethnicity. At the time, the federal government was attempting to break up reservations by granting land allotments to individual Native Americans, pressing them to assimilate into white society and leave their tribal ways behind. The goal, as one officer bluntly put it, was to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Those who could pass for white — or convince the census taker that they were — sometimes did.
“If someone was not white, they were a little bit less of a citizen,” said Matt Reed, the curator of the American Indian Collections at the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City, whose mother was a Pawnee Indian. “If you had darker skin, you were a lesser human. So, if your skin was light enough to pass as not being Indian, then you just passed as white and your life was a lot better off. A lot more people did that than you might think.”
Born and raised in Arizona, Ina Mapes visited her grandmother and other Reed relatives in Okmulgee, Okla., every summer. Her grandmother, by then widowed, often talked about her son’s Indian blood, which she said he inherited from his father, Everett Reed. While Laura Reed was proud of her son’s heritage, Mapes said, her own mother was distinctly not. Both of the older women would independently harangue young Ina on the topic, in part of their ongoing dispute. A lawyer consumed by his practice, Charlie Reed did not weigh in on the matter.
“I was torn between those two women because they did not get along,” said Mapes. “It was two women fighting over this man and his being an Indian.”
Elizabeth Warren said her mother also clashed with her in-laws over the subject of her heritage. Her parents, Donald Herring and Pauline Reed, both of Wetumka, Okla., loved each other very much, Warren said, “but his mother and father did not want him to marry someone who was part Delaware and part Cherokee. And so they eloped. His parents would not let them get married. That is how they put it.”
Herring, 21, and Reed, 19, were married in January 1932 by the minister of what was then the Methodist Episcopal South Church in Holdenville, Okla., according to their county marriage certificate. There is no recording of their marriage in the log book of the church, which is about 20 miles from their residence in Wetumka. The church’s historian, Karen Anderson, suspects the minister acted as a justice of the peace and married the couple in the parsonage.
Days later, the local newspaper, The Wetumka Gazette, ran a notice of their marriage, pointing out that the union of “two of Wetumka’s most popular young people came as a surprise to many of their friends when they returned from Holdenville late Saturday afternoon and announced their marriage.”Continued...