Lawrence County woman has rich cultural heritage

Sitting beside a creek near Kinlock Falls, Fran Bush looks much like her African American/Native American ancestors who lived and worked the land nearby. Fran is a family historian who collects and preserves ancestral information for her family.

Little did she know when she was just a small child following her grandmother in the old ways of healing and making salves and ointments from things gathered near the Bankhead Forest and the woods around their home in Mount Hope, that she would one day be the family historian and keeper of the old ways. She also visited a place in Lawrence County called Kimo with her mother, to gather herbs. Some of her family still live in that area.

Fran Bush was born in February of 1963, in Lawrence County to Henry Lee and May Olivia Robinson Bush. But it was from her maternal great-grandmother Lillie Mae Tucker Hubbard, that Fran would be given a shoebox of photographs carefully preserved by her great-grandmother. She didn’t realize it then, but she had been bestowed with the keys to unlock her past, and that of her ancestors, black, white and Native American.

The photos gave her access to others in her extended family and it was through them at first, when she was young, that she listened and took notes, then recorded their memories and their word-of-mouth accounts of historical events. Later as technology improved and her investigative skills grew, she would visit archives, libraries and contact distant relatives through Ancestry.com. She often made videos with her telephone and archived these interviews carefully, comparing and cross-referencing them against others she has on file.

Now, she has a library of her own, and a pictorial and written history that connects the dots from one ancestor to another and from one generation to another. She used census records to follow leads that would almost always open another door in her quest. Finally, she came across a retired Alabama A&M professor, Dr. Mary Ann Sanford Brown, who turned out to be related to her, and when the two put their information together, a whole world of documentation about their past opened up for them like a Pandora’s Box.

Fran, the oldest of four siblings, graduated from Mount Hope High School in 1981. Like most of her neighbors, both black and white, the Bush family grew most of what they ate, they kept livestock, and worked in the fields, and lived what was always considered a normal life for farm folks. But another part of her background came from even further back than her black ancestry. She carried coursing through her veins an ancient kinship with Native Americans who claimed land that covered most of what we call Alabama and Georgia today.

According to al.com, it is believed that the Creek culture began as a way to guard against other larger conquering Indian tribes of the region. One of the Five Civilized Tribes, they formed the Creek Confederacy with other Muscogean speaking tribes, the Alabama, Hitchiti, and Coushatta.

In the history of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the Creeks, along with other southeastern tribes such as the Choctaws and Cherokees, are descended from the peoples of the Mississippian period (circa AD 800-1500). In the 16th century, the arrival of European settlers brought epidemics, violence and unrest to the southeast United States, resulting in a scattering of the region’s indigenous peoples.

In the 17th century, these diverse populations joined together and established settlements along the central Chattahoochee River, the lower Tallapoosa River and the central Coosa River in what is now east-central Alabama. For the next two centuries, these areas were the heart of what became the Creek Nation, and these new towns (“etvlwv” in the Muskogee language of the Creeks) became the centers of Creek political and ceremonial life. At that time these people pronounced the word Alabama as Alibamu, (pronounced “Ali-bam-u”).

Fran’s mother, May Olivia, was the great-great-granddaughter of Ginsey Hubbard (1834-1886) who was a full-blooded Muskogee Creek. Ginsey was always a free person of Indian heritage, although there is evidence to indicate that she identified herself as black rather than Indian to protect herself from being relocated with the other Native Americans who were being rounded up and moved to Oklahoma and places west. According to Fran, Ginsey’s birth records are confusing, as are many from that day and age. “One of the records says she was born in Alabama, but another says, Virginia,” said Fran recently. She has acquired records showing that Ginsey married William Hubbard, the first child of Lottie, a slave owned by David Hubbard, a wealthy merchant and politician in this area of North Alabama. Hubbard built a plantation at a place called Kinlock in what is now known as the Bankhead Forest.

Fran has records found at the Lawrence County Archives indicating that David Hubbard purchased Lottie at the age of 15, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, along with two other people from a man by the name of Pounders. The amount is illegible. There was never a record of William’s purchase and it is thought that he was born at the Kinlock plantation.

Lottie’s daughter in law, the Creek Ginsey’s granddaughter, Evelyna Hubbard Robinson, taught school at Oakville in Lawrence County. One of her young students in a picture dated circa 1917-18, was young Jesse Owens. The photo is one of Fran’s prize possessions.

Fran also studied her father’s side of the family. In doing so she discovered a man who is said to be half-Blackfoot Indian, meaning that she could possibly have Native American ancestry on both sides of her family. She has a treasured photo of this man, whose name was Gus Cammon. Her father’s sister, Annie Lois Robinson (also known as “Coodie”) who still lives in Mount Hope was another relative who taught Fran the use of various herbs and plants.  Fran uses these home remedies like plantain, for bee stings and spider bites. “If you are in a place where you have no access to medical attention, until you can get help, you can chew the plantain, wet it with saliva, then put it on the affected area,” said Fran. “You can also use it in salads.”

“My mom always made sure that we knew who we were and where we came from,” said Fran. “It was important to her that we have this knowledge and pass it along.”

Growing up in Mount Hope, Fran could see the top of the mountain called the Bankhead National Forest from her front yard. Local history has it that many Indians escaped to this area to keep from traveling the ‘Trail of Tears.’

Fran recalls staying with her grandparents a lot and learning how to work and cook from her grandmother. They gathered eggs from a small chicken house, and killed chickens and scalded their feathers off before cutting them up and cooking them on an electric stove. “One of my great aunts, Annie Tucker McCullough, lived in Russellville and cooked on a wood stove,” recalled Fran. “That was the best food!”

Back then, all farm children were required to work. Most had their own chores, some hauled water from the well, others chopped wood or coal from a pile delivered at the beginning of fall from the coal man, who dumped a big pile of large pieces of coal somewhere on a farmer’s property. The large pieces, being too big for the coal stove, were then chopped by the older children and hauled to the house. Cleaning out the stove was another chore.

“We all drank sulfur water from the well using the same dipper,” recalled Fran. “No one ever got any diseases or viruses, either!”

Most farm families (the author’s own, included), had outhouses. This was before indoor plumbing and it was a long, dark trip to the outhouse at night in the winter. But all people were used to living like this and no one thought anything about it back then.

From sitting beside the fireplace on winter nights Fran heard other stories about her ancestors as older folks reminisced. Her Creek ancestry would become her passion later in life. “I learned a lot from various archives and from historical records, but I would rather sit at the feet of those elders and hear it from them.”

She also spent months wading through copious microfilm reels sent from the Tennessee State Archives to the Decatur Library. “I found many records and those relationships which were mostly derived from emails and phone calls, eventually became the reason we decided to bring all of these people, or as many as possible, to a reunion in 2016.” The plans for this momentous occasion would take two years to finalize.

She studied more and more, finding little tidbits of information here, and landslides of it in other places. One of the most surprising discoveries she made was the connection between David Hubbard and her ancestor, William, to whom he left 160 acres of land at Kinlock.

Another shocking and interesting piece of information was the fact that Henry, William and Ginsey’s son, shot Ganium Brooks during a shootout on April 12, 1884. That shootout was a fight between the infamous Aunt Jenny Brook’s boys and the Hubbards started over the theft of a horse by Gainum’s brother, Henry Brooks.

The biggest shock in her searches was the fact that although it was told that Henry Hubbard was shot and killed during the fight, Fran found proof otherwise.

From those people and from records gleaned from the archives in Columbus, Ms. for her Bush family records, and for her Hubbard ancestors, in Decatur, Moulton, Russellville and Florence, she learned more about the lives of the Creeks. The early Creeks had an economy based on farming, hunting and fishing. Common crops were maize (corn), beans and squash – the “Three Sisters” – known to flourish if planted in close proximity to each other. The Creeks lived in simple log cabins with earthen floors and stick and mud chimneys, and they used a fireplace or outdoor fire pit for cooking. Somewhat isolated, they were resourceful and self-sufficient, living according to the rhythm of the land. Fran can recall her great-grandparents cooking in this covered pit method. “They would dig a deep hole and put simmering coals in the bottom, then cover with sand or soil, then corn shucks, and then place a dressed-out hog over the shucks and cover with spices and vegetables, then more corn shucks and cover the whole thing. It cooked that way for sometimes 24 hours. It was so good and you could smell it cooking the whole time!”

She was raised to be industrious, the daughter of a farming family in Mount Hope. This is the life Fran recalls as a child. Often while sitting on the porch shelling peas or just listening to the grown-ups, she would hear them talking about different things the Indians used for medicines, poultices and tonics for various illnesses and injuries. They were often too far away to reach a doctor in time to get help and the knowledge they had which had come mostly from their Indian mothers and grandmothers is still used in medicine today. Ginseng was one such indigenous plant that was a common in making tonics and various salves. Mint, poke salad, dandelion greens and wild onions were also used in medicines and for seasoning foods and teas.

 The Creek Nation grew steadily over the years and into the early 19th Century. It is estimated that the population in the 1680s was 9,000, rising to 20,000 during the Revolutionary War and to approximately 22,000 by 1830.

Fran learned of the ‘gift’ that some of her ancestors were said to have, the gift of healing and telling the future. Many people will recall hearing of, or having visited her cousin, Lawson Hubbard, who has located many a missing item, or foretold an event long before it happened to the person having their fortune told. It is said that on Sundays there were cars and pickup trucks lining both sides of the road filled with people coming to hear of lost relics or people who were missing. Lawson’s sons carried on the tradition in Russellville.

When she was around 40 years old, Fran had the opportunity to visit Charlotte, S.C. to learn more about slave history. She was immediately drawn to the shoreline villages of the Gullah people who are African Americans living in the lowcountry region of the U.S. states of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. The Gullah people and their language are also called Geechee, which may be derived from the name of the Ogeechee River near Savannah. They are now a very highly sought source of information about the old ways of growing plants, cooking, making baskets and other crafts that their ancestors brought with them from Africa. “They often dress in traditional dress and they sell their crafts along the wharf where the slaves were sold,” said Fran. “The atmosphere there is palatable with the spirit of those people who were sold on the auction block.”

She also visited Kinlock Falls, the place where the old Hubbard plantation once stood. “The Haleyville librarian was a fountain of information,” said Fran. “For the reunion we chartered a bus and took people there to see where their ancestors lived and worked the land. William and Ginsey lay there in unmarked graves, their spirits gave me notice and I fell to my feet on their graves, so strong was the connection,” said Fran. Her gift is an intuitive one, she can often feel and see things that others can’t.

All of this history of her people is incorporated into Fran’s family history, as well. “I show my granddaughter, May Olivia Tyratou Jackson, called, May May, age 12, the pictures lining my hallway and tell her that she has a great responsibility to remember these people, to tell others about them, and to preserve their history,” said Fran. “It’s been fun to show her distinguishing characteristics, like the cut of someone’s chin, their distinctive lips or the slant of their eyes, and see her realize that hers are the same, or that mine are the same.”

She has also made it a point to teach May May the fading art of planting, harvesting and preserving food. She can sew some and is a straight A student, a member of the student council, and plays the trombone at West Morgan Middle School.  

A few years ago Fran and May May, started participating in local powwows, along with cousins Chris and Curtis Hubbard and other relatives who enjoy attending powwow’s in the area, like the one at the Oakville Indian Mounds. She made the young girl a traditional dress used in dancing ceremonies. A friend made Fran a patchwork dress, one of a collection of Indian attire. She also has a buckskin dress with fringe, in which she looks like a beautiful Indian princess of olden days.

“It is important to me that May May know who she is and that someone else doesn’t tell her who her ancestors are,” Fran pointed out. “How many people do you think can look at the face of her fifth great-grandmother?”

Each morning when Fran gets up she remembers to humbly thank her ancestors for their part in her life, and she recites an old Indian prayer that goes like this:

Blessed is the earth because my people lay beneath it;

Blessed is the rain because it moistened their faces;

And blessed is the wind because it carries their spirit.

People like Fran Bush, who make it a point to preserve their history make it possible for future generations to have some idea of what their ancestors lived through, how they lived off the land, how they survived hardships that today’s generations will never know, but must learn from, are to be commended for their dedication in making the effort to collect this valuable information. Thank you, Fran, for giving us a glimpse into the lives of your people, and for your patience in helping us to understand.

(2) comments

PRO1stAmendment

Wonderful article!

Fran

Thank you!

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