User:BobC/No Indian Princesses

This is a message I wrote in 2008 in response to an inquiry on a genealogy message board looking for their elusive "Indian Princess" ancestor.

No Indian Princesses!

I have just recently discovered my distant Cherokee ancestry and in my research have also discovered that there is no such thing as an “Indian Princess” among the Native Americans. Orrin Lewis, a present-day Cherokee Indian, has an excellent narrative on-line that rebuffs this myth in an educational and informative manner. On his outstanding cultural website he summarizes five probable explanations for the popularity of this Indian Princess myth.[1]

1. "Princess" may be a very poor translation for the daughter of a chief.
2. "Princess" may have actually referred to an important female politician, such as a female peace chief or Beloved Woman.
3. "Princess" was a popular term of endearment early in the 20th century.
4. Your white ancestor may just have told his family his wife was a Cherokee princess to alleviate racial tensions.
5. Or, your ancestor may not have been American Indian at all, but rather a bi-racial blending of two parents of African & European ancestry.

While your great grandmother may or may not have been a "real" Indian, the "princess" part was probably added to the family story about her at some point, regardless of her actual ancestry. Like in my own family’s lore of my father’s ancestry, our “Indian Princess Great-Grandmother” was actually five generations removed and connected to the parents of Nancy Ward, who was also referred to by whites of European ancestry incorrectly as a “princess,”[2] when her actual title was “Ghi-gau” or Beloved Woman,[3] granddaughter of Chief Moytoy.

So please drop the princess story from your genealogical queries. Being told about Indian princesses will always seem silly to Native Americans. Cherokees, and other Indians, who might be able to help you are not going to take you seriously if you approach them with such an unrealistic story. If you find your ancestor really was the daughter of a chief, then refer to her as such. If you find she was a bi-racial descendant of African and European ancestors, then that too is important and valuable information and can lead to many further clues than limiting yourself to what may be an American Indian myth.

Hope this helps. Good luck in your research.

  1. Lewis, Orrin. "Why Your Great-Grandmother Wasn't A Cherokee Princess."; accessed by BobC on 26 Jul 2008.
  2. On Nancy Ward's gravesite near the town of Benton, Polk County, Tennessee, a site which was unmarked until 1923, the Chattanooga chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolugion erected a stone pyramid and installed a plaque on it to commemorate her life. It reads, "In memory of Nancy Ward, princess and phophetess of the Cherokee Nation, the Pocahontas of Tennessee, the constant friend of the American Pioneer. Born 1738 - Died 1822." SmithDRay's Nancy Ward Page;; accessed by BobC on 13 April 2009.
  3. Nancy Ward, born Nan'yehi, married a Cherokee man named Tsula, or Kingfisher, a great warrior, while in her early teens. Nan'yehi was at his side in battle, helping prepare his firearms and rallying Cherokee warriors when their spirits flagged. In 1755, the Cherokees fought the Creeks at the Battle of Taliwa. During the fighting, Kingfisher was killed. Nan'yehi, about 18 years old at this time, took up her slain husband's gun and, singing a war song, led the Cherokees in a rout of the enemy. Out of her loss was born a decisive victory for her people and a title of honor for her: Ghighua, or "Beloved Woman." Neenah Amaru. "Nancy Ward Cherokee Tribal Leader,"; accessed by BobC on 13 April 2009.

Link to the Cherokee Heritage Project Page