Rachel (Roberson) Horne

Rachel Roberson has consumed a lot of my genealogical research time. She is supposed to have been Indian, or perhaps part Indian. I’ve wanted to find some answers but now years of research have given me so much information it seems almost impossible to say anything helpful.

She was Rachel (Roberson) Horne (1847-1944), my grandmother’s grandmother. More exactly, my father’s mother’s father’s mother. Traditions in different branches of the family tell me she smoked a corncob pipe, and she taught beading and basket weaving to her daughters and granddaughters. Rachel’s sympathies were with the South during the Civil War (“She was one of the onriest Rebels there was”).

My genealogy correspondents seem to be aware William Horne’s wife was Indian, but none of them have had any further information except to attribute his nomadic life and extreme poverty to her influence.

The 1850 and 1860 censuses show Rachel as the daughter of Rufus and Elizabeth (Lomax) Roberson. She is said to have had a brother Thomas Skidmore Roberson, as well as an unnamed sister who married a Lakota man. That marriage is implied to have been the origin of the connection between our family and the family of Pete Catches.

There is a curious tradition that Rachel was sold by her parents. It’s not clear whether she is supposed to have been sold to the Robersons by her Indian parents, or she is supposed to have been sold by the Robersons to Wiliam Horne as a wife.

Rachel is shown on censuses as the only child of Rufus and Elizabeth Roberson. This might support the tradition she was adopted but DNA triangulation seems to show she was probably their biological daughter. Her descendants have autosomal matches with descendants of Rufus Roberson’s brothers Benjamin and Craig.

I’ve found no evidence of the brother or sister Rachel is said to have had, except a magazine clipping of a picture of a Lakota boy in traditional dress on which my father wrote, “This is the grandson of Rachel Horn’s sister.” The clipping seems to be from a 1960s or 70s magazine such as Life or Look. I’m relatively certain the boy pictured is Pete Catches, Jr.


Were They Pawnee?

According to a tradition current among some of my cousins, my great great grandmother Rachel (Roberson) Horne (1847-1944) was Pawnee. I don’t think so. Nothing else points in that direction.

I asked my grandmother Evelyn (Horn) Miller one year at Powwow about our Indian ancestry. She said she had always assumed they were Pawnee. A few years later she told her daughter Fern she had lately changed her mind. She now believed they were Cherokee because they owned slaves, which is something the Cherokees did.

I think the idea Rachel was Pawnee was probably just an assumption based on geography. Rachel’s parents lived in Atchison County, Missouri, just across the Missouri River from the Nemaha Half Breed Reservation (established 1830, dissolved 1860), as well as from land ceded by the Pawnee in 1833. Rachel’s family settled in this area in 1839.


Bush Cemetery

Some of my Horn and Roberson ancestors were buried in Bush Cemetery in Rock Port, Missouri. There’s nothing remarkable about that. It’s no different from the hundreds of little cemeteries across America where my ancestors are buried. Some of them maintained, some not.

What makes this one special is that there’s a guy who is making it his project to clean up the cemetery. Matt Barnes. He’s trimming trees, identifying graves, coordinating volunteers, and organizing weekend cleanup projects.

I’m impressed as hell. There’s not a chance I’m going to get enough time off to go out to Kansas City and help out. I have to live vicariously, following his Bush Cemetery page on Facebook and enjoying the emails I get when he finds something he thinks will interest me.

The world should be like this.

Not Exactly Cherokee

White Americans love to say they’re part Cherokee. Experts say identifying as Cherokee gives people a feeling of being native to America, but that doesn’t explain how they get the idea. There are a lot of theories here, as you might expect.

RF Tree Genealogy suggests many of these people have Melungeon ancestry. The Melungeons were mixed race communities in the area around Cumberland Gap and East Tennessee. Their ancestry, going back to Colonial Virginia, was a mix of White, Black, and Indian.

Their swarthy complexions led them to develop defensive explanations. To explain their skin color, they said they were Black Dutch, Portuguese, Turks, Moors, or Indians–anything that would give them cover for being part African.

Melungeon descendants in East Tennessee intermarried with backwoods Scots Irish in the years before the American Revolution. Among the Scots Irish, a darker complexion was often explained by having a “Cherokee grandmother.”

The Melungeons were in the wrong area to have had Cherokee ancestry. The geography and migration patterns don’t work. But the Cherokees were one of the Five Civilized Tribes so Cherokee ancestry was accepted as being more respectable than other tribes.

We end up with a modern world where many people who claim to be part Cherokee aren’t really, although they probably do have distant Indian and African ancestry in Colonial Tidewater Virginia. Ironically, they have even more ancestry among the Scots Irish, the frontiersmen and Indian fighters who as a group were the most aggressive about taking Indian land.


Pay to Play Indian

Did you know there was a time when you could pay to be Indian? I’m not sure about the reliability of this information but it has become a common meme about pretend Indians (“pretendians”). 

It may be fashionable to play Indian now, but it was also trendy 125 years ago when people paid $5 apiece for falsified documents declaring them Native on the Dawes Rolls.

The Dawes Rolls were designed to be a definitive citizenship list for the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole). When the rolls became final the lands held by the tribes were to be divided among tribal citizens. Become an Indian, get some land.

‘What we had was simply white people claiming to be Indian,’ [Gregory Smithers] said. ‘They were early wannabes, just like we have today. Five-dollar Indian is just another term for that.’


The Melungeons are a tri-racial group, descended from Europeans, Africans, and Indians. Although the term Melungeon refers to a specific group, it has become a generic label for many similar groups: the Carmel Indians of southern Ohio, the Brown People of Kentucky, the Guineas of West Virginia, the We-Sorts of Maryland, the Nanticoke-Moors of Delaware, the Cubans and Portuguese of North Carolina, the Brass Ankles of South Carolina, and the Creoles and Redbones of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The earliest dictionary definition says a Melungeon is “One of a very dark people living in the Mountains of Tennessee” (Funk & Wagnells, 1893). A slightly later definition called them “a dark people of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina with a discernible mix of ‘white, Indian and black blood'” (Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia, 1906). The name probably derives from the French word mélange, a mixture.

The Melungeons lived originally in Appalachia, primarily in the Cumberland Plateau of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Roberta Estes says, “The Melungeons were a group of individuals found primarily in Hawkins and Hancock Counties of Tennessee and in the far southern portion of Lee County, Virginia which borders Hawkins and Hancock counties in Tennessee. At one time isolated geographically on and near Newman’s Ridge and socially due to their dark countenance, they were known to their neighbors as Melungeons, a term applied as an epithet or in a pejorative manner.” (Estes, 2012)

The ethnic mixing that resulted in the Melungeons began in 17th century Virginia at a time when African servants were not yet considered to be chattel slaves, but were indentured servants who were freed when the period of indenture expired. Typically, the European ancestors of the Melungeons were marginalized colonists in Virginia, whose ancestors came from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany. The African ancestors of the Melungeons were Bantu Africans — the Kimbundu-speaking people from Angola and Kikongo-speaking people from the historic Kongo region along Africa’s lower west coast.

This mixed group began to form separate communities when the first anti-African laws began to restrict their freedoms about 1660. Their descendants were pushed to the margins of society and many of them eventually gravitated to the mountains of southern Appalachia where they mixed with Indians, chiefly the Cherokee and Choctaw.

Because of racism in the American South, the Melungeons historically denied their mixed ancestry and attempted to explain their color by various stories. Some claimed to be descendants of Turks and Moors liberated from the Spanish by Sir Walter Drake and dumped at Roanoke Island, North Carolina in 1586. Some said they were descended from Portuguese sailors shipwrecked or abandoned by the Spanish before the English arrived in Virginia and discovered in the Appalachian Mountains by the English in 1654. Some looked to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Lost Colony or to the DeSoto Expedition. Others looked further back and claimed to be descendants of settlers from ancient Carthage, of the Lost Tribes of Israel, of Old World Gypsies, or of the mythical Welsh Indians.

A DNA study by Roberta Estes, et al. in 2013 showed “the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin” (Estes, 2012; Loller, 2021). FamilySearch criticizes the study on various grounds.

In 2013 I warned, “A lot of nonsense has been written about the Melungeons, with infighting among groups who advocate competing theories. Sources must be used with extreme caution.” That’s just as true today.


More Information

Revised Sept. 26, 2021.


“Virtutis Gloria Merces”

Robertson of Kindace Tartan
Robertson of Kindace Tartan

Coat of Arms

Robertson of Struan: Gules three wolves’ heads erased Argent armed and langued Azure. Crest: A dexter arm holding a regal crown all Proper. Supporters: Dexter, a serpent; Sinister, a dove, the heads of each encircled with rays. Compartment: A wild man chained. Motto: Virtutis Gloria Merces. Slogan: Garg’n uair dhuisgear. Badges: Dluth Fhraoch (Fine-leaved Heath), An Raineach mhor (Bracken).

My Line

James Roberson (c1785-1835) lived at the Watauga Settlement in Tennessee before 1805, then settled at Cumberland Gap in Lee County before 1820. He owned land on both sides of the Powell River, and operated an inn there. James died in 1835. His widow and children left Virginia. According to tradition, they went first to Georgia, then to Oklahoma. However, I find no record of them until they reached the Platte Purchase in northwestern Missouri in 1839.

During the Civil War, public opinion in Missouri was violently split between the Union and the Confederacy. Northwestern Missouri saw much guerrilla activity on behalf of the Confederacy. James’ son Rufus Morgan Roberson was a slave owner and Confederate sympathizer, yet after the Civil War (1868) his daughter Rachel Jane Roberson married Union veteran William John Horne. Their descendants went west to Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington.

Lineal Genealogy

  1. Robert de Atholl of Struan (c1485-?), 8th Laird of Glenerochie, and 1st feudal Baron of Struan. He married Margaret Stewart (c1487-?), daughter of John, Earl of Atholl, and Eleanor Sinclair. [re-check this]
  2. Alexander Robertson of Struan (c1480-c1506), 9th Laird of Struan (formerly Glenerochie), and 2nd feudal Baron of Struan. He married Isobel Stewart (c1483-?), daughter of John, Earl of Atholl, and Eleanor Sinclair. [re-check this]
  3. John Robertson of Muirton (c1500-c1540), 1st Laird of Muirton. He married Margaret Crichton (c1498-bef 1546), daughter of Sir James Crichton of Crichton, and Katherine Borthwick.
  4. Gilbert Robertson of Muirton (c1520-aft 1570), 2nd Laird of Muirton. He married Jonet Reid (c1515-?), sister of Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney.
  5. David Robertson of Muirton (c1540-aft 1600), 3rd Laird of Muirton.
  6. William Robertson of Muirton (c1560-1599), 4th Laird of Muirton. He married Isobel Petrie (c1565-?).
  7. Thomas Robertson (c1592-1686), a merchant and Baillie of Edinburgh. He married Jean Jeffrey (c1598-?).
  8. Rev. William Robertson (c1622-?), a minister in Edinburgh. He married Katherine Kirkwood (c1650-aft 1700).


  1. Thomas Roberson (c1658-1692), a planter in Henrico County, Virginia. He married Elizabeth Alder (c1666-1691). I’m skeptical about his supposed parentage.
  2. John Robertson (c1670-1720), a planter in Henrico County, Virginia. He married Mavell Alsop East (c1676-?).
  3. Jacob Robinson (c1694-1774), a planter in Caswell County, North Carolina. He married Martha Headen (1702-1755).


  1. William Robinson (c1733-bef 1804), of Claiborne County, Tennessee. He married Charity Kennedy (c1740-c1848). There is some dispute about his parentage.


  1. James Roberson (c1775-1835), a farmer in Lee County, Virginia. He married Catharina Helvey (1781-1851), daughter of Henry and Susanna (Gale) Helvey. His parentage is uncertain.
  2. Rufus Morgan Roberson (c1811-1897), a farmer in Holt County, Missouri. He married Elizabeth A. Lomax (1814-1895), daughter of Asahel and Betty Jane (?) Lomax.
  3. Rachel Jane Roberson (1847-1944). She married William Steven Horne (c1832-1896).

See Also

More Information

Updated September 26, 2021.