This woman is not related to me but lived with some of my family from my Mom’s side for at least 35 years or longer, so the story goes. Her name was Lydia Gundia and the story goes that she was a Cherokee Indian and was on the Trail of Tears and fell sick or injured along the wayside near Wayne County, Illinois when the Indians, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole were being taken to present day Oklahoma in the 1830’s. Again according to different family stories, the family of Philip and Matilda Henson who lived nearby found her and nursed her back to health. She was so grateful for their help that she stayed with the family and helped with household chores and around the farm, until the day she died and according to her tombstone it was after the harvest in 1866. The stories I have heard always said she was an old Indian woman when they found her, but if the 1850 census is correct she would have only been in her early to mid-30’s depending on exactly what year she was found and if the age in 1850 is close to being correct.
Lydia is listed on the 1850 census with Philip and Matilda Henson and their family. According to the 1850 census she was 48 years old born in Tennessee and is listed as a mulatto and living in the home of Philip Henson and his wife Matilda McKinney. Since she is listed on the census records that would almost have to mean that she was free if she were really mulatto. However, Indians were oft times also listed as mulatto, so there is really no way to know for certain other than the old family stories.
So far I have not been able to locate Lydia or Matilda on the 1860 census and I know both of them did not die until after 1860. My 5th great-granduncle, Philip Henson took off and left his family with some young woman sometime after April 25, 1855 and was never heard from again. Philip would have been at least 65 when he left. The story goes on to say that he went to Missouri it was thought. The family placed a tombstone for Philip at the Henson Family Graveyard and put the date of April 25, 1855 as his death date, but this date, according to the family stories is the day he left with THAT WOMAN!!!! J
Where the Trail of Tears crossed along Southern Illinois is a bit further south than from where Lydia was supposedly found by the Henson’s near Wayne County. Illinois. I did a map quest for directions and we are looking at about a 90 miles’ difference from the trail route across Southern Illinois up to Wayne County. So was Lydia really on the Trail of Tears? Had she escaped and worked her way north and then got sick, or was she just an Indian from that area or even an escaped slave who passed herself as an Indian so she wouldn’t have to be sent back? These question will probably never be answered with any degree of certainty.
Lydia is buried close to the woman she helped for over 30 years, Matilda McKinney Henson in the Family Graveyard in Wayne County, Illinois. The following stones have been placed to mark Lydia’s burial place.
Just a little history about what is known as the Trail of Tears follows along with a map and was found on www.wikipedi.org. “In 1831, the Choctaw became the first Nation to be removed, and their removal served as the model for all future relocations. After two wars, many Seminoles were removed in 1832. The Creek removal followed in 1834, the Chickasaw in 1837, and lastly the Cherokee in 1838. (If Lydia really was Cherokee then she must have come through during 1838/1839.) In the winter of 1838 the Cherokee began the 1,000-mile march with scant clothing and most on foot without shoes or moccasins. The march began in Red Clay, Tennessee the location of the last Eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation. Because of the diseases, the Indians were not allowed to go into any towns or villages along the way; many times this meant traveling much farther to go around them.
After crossing Tennessee and Kentucky, they arrived at the Ohio River across from Golconda in Southern Illinois about the third of December 1838. Here the starving Indians were charged a dollar a head (equal to $22.22 today) to cross the river on "Berry's Ferry" which typically charged twelve cents, equal to $2.67 today. They were not allowed passage until the ferry had serviced all others wishing to cross and were forced to take shelter under "Mantle Rock," a shelter bluff on the Kentucky side, until "Berry had nothing better to do". Many died huddled together at Mantle Rock waiting to cross. Several Cherokee were murdered by locals.
As they crossed Southern Illinois, on December 26, Martin Davis, Commissary Agent for Moses Daniel's detachment, wrote: "There is the coldest weather in Illinois I ever experienced anywhere. The streams are all frozen over something like 8 or 12 inches thick. We are compelled to cut through the ice to get water for ourselves and animals. It snows here every two or three days at the farthest. We are now camped in Mississippi [River] swamp 4 miles from the river, and there is no possible chance of crossing the river for the numerous quantity of ice that comes floating down the river every day. We have only traveled 65 miles on the last month, including the time spent at this place, which has been about three weeks. It is unknown when we shall cross the river...." It eventually took almost three months to cross the 60 miles on land between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The trek through Southern Illinois is where the Cherokee suffered most of their deaths. “
Unfortunately, other than the old family stories I don’t know much else about Lydia. Her tombstone has the dates 1805-1866. She apparently died after the harvest at least that is what it says on her tombstone, so she apparently died in the fall of 1866. Matilda McKinney Henson followed just a few months later on February 21, 1867. The following is a picture I found online that says it is of Matilda McKinney Henson (Mangel-Shepherd Family Tree on Ancestry.com) and also a picture of her marker. I wish there was a picture of Lydia too.
From the family stories that have been told and from the markers that have been placed for Lydia, she must have been very well thought of, a friend indeed. People can be cruel no matter their color, black, red, or white, we just need to be good to everyone and do not let color get in the way. The world would be such a better place if everyone got along, like it seems that Lydia and Matilda did.