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Thanksgiving is just around the corner… T-minus FOUR DAYS!
In the United States, Thanksgiving is a time when we celebrate family, express gratitude for our blessings, and when we remember a time in our country’s founding history where the English Pilgrims allegedly joined hands with the Native Americans, and they thanked God for unity, freedom, and provision. At least, that’s the Thanksgiving story I heard about when I was a child.
Here is my Thanksgiving story…
Not a lot of people know this about me, but I’m a proud, card-carrying member of the Cherokee Nation. Ok… so I don’t exactly carry the card around with me everywhere I go, but I do keep it safely locked up in my little fire-proof safe at home. I have 1/32 degree of Indian blood from the Cherokee Tribe, and my maiden (Cherokee) name is “Muskrat.”
Muskrats are people, too.
I’ve always been proud of my last name. I don’t really recall being made fun of the name “Muskrat” growing up, but I have heard my share of snickers and inquiries: “like the animal?” Yes, like the animal. And yes, I’m very well-aware of the songs “Muskrat Love” and “Muskrat Ramble.”
For decades, our Muskrat family has had an annual Thanksgiving Family Reunion, and during my lifetime it has mostly revolved around the “head” group of seven siblings and their respective families. The oldest of the seven siblings is my paternal grandfather, James (Jim) Muskrat. He is pictured below, 2nd from the left on the top row in the first sibling picture (taken in 1945 with their mother, Elva Mouck Muskrat), and he is on the far right in the second sibling picture (taken in 2006).
Our family even had a reunion t-shirt made that reads, “Muskrats are people, too,” (you can see them in the second picture above). On the back, the shirt reads, “Proud to be a Muskrat.” And, sure enough, the shirts are proudly worn year after year.
One of my Muskrat “claims to fame” is my great-great aunt, Ruth Muskrat Bronson. She was a poet, educator, and Indian rights activist, and she served as the Executive Secretary of the National Congress of American Indians. She earned many recognitions and national awards, and she wrote several books, one of them titled, “Indians Are People, Too” (1944).
Here below she is pictured in 1923, where Ruth presented President Calvin Coolidge with a book titled, “The Red Man in the United States” (written by G.E.E. Linquist), on behalf of the advocacy group “The Committee of One Hundred,” a group of Native American leaders advocating for equal educational rights for Native Americans in the United States.
My mother’s family is special, too. She comes from a heritage of musicians, artists, poets, educators, and God-honoring families; all of which are values, characteristics, and passions that have been instilled in me, and for which I am extremely thankful.
Cherokees and Texas Rangers
My husband Danny’s family, through the help of his aunt, who is a genealogist, has also had the privilege of researching their family heritage. Danny’s paternal great-great-grandfather, Frank Edward Bihl Sr., was a Texas Ranger, or as they called them during his time, the “Texas Minute Men.”
He was charged with keeping the Texas frontier safe from outlaws, bandits, and Native American raids. Prior to the unjust and forced relocation of Native American tribes, Central West Texas was inhabited by Comanches, Lipans, Cherokees, Wacos, Caddoes, and Kickapoos. Some Native Americans, including Cherokees, even joined the ranks of the Texas Rangers. According to Texas Ranger archives, then Republic of Texas President Sam Houston authorized a company of “Cherokee Rangers” in 1836. (citation)
Frank Bihl is featured in a book called “The Death of a Texas Ranger,” and he was a reputable land-owner of the historic Fort McKavett in Menard Co., TX in Texas Hill Country. Fort McKavett was a pre- and post-Civil War military post and major supply depot during the mid to late 1800s. Many of the famous Buffalo Soldiers were stationed there too.
Frank Bihl was a well-educated and well-respected man who spoke multiple languages. He was an Interpreter for Civil and Government Affairs, and he also served as a “soldier guide” at Fort McKavett in 1866; he was only 16 years old. His language skills came in handy since the soldiers and civilian groundskeepers were comprised of many different nationalities and ethnicities, including Native Americans, immigrants, and Texans.
After the military abandoned the fort and it became available for civilian use, Frank bought three buildings and some stables, and he resided there with his family. His second wife, Annie Bihl, was the fort’s last living resident. She begrudgingly moved out in the 1970s (shotgun in hand) when the state of Texas decided to establish the property as a historical landmark and state park.
Frank and his first wife, Mary, are pictured above at Fort McKavett with some of their children. Frank and Mary were the first recorded marriage in Mason Co., Texas.
The fort was recently acclaimed by the Texas Historical Commission to be one of “the best preserved and most intact examples of a Texas Indian Wars military post.” The Commission also notes that General William T. Sherman, a famous Civil War General, once described the fort as, “the prettiest post in Texas.” (citation)
Members of the Bihl family travel to Fort McKavett and its neighboring county every year to clean up the cemeteries where Frank, Mary, Annie, and other family members are laid to rest.
Danny and I both appreciate our rich family heritage and are very thankful for the men and women who have come before us and who have paved the way for our own little family.
We both would like to believe that somewhere in our lineage, our families may have crossed paths with one another— there’s probably even a chance that they fought against each other— but God had a plan to bring this “Texas cowboy” and “Cherokee Muskrat” together in loving matrimony, 150 years later.
So that’s our story. That’s our heritage.
There’s more to it than that. We have a deeper heritage too. We are part of God’s family. We are God’s children, first and foremost.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1
It’s neat to learn about our human lineage and to learn where our ancestors came from, but our ancestry in God is most important of all, and we can look to the Bible to discover that faithful heritage, which forms our past, present, and future.
To the “family-less”:
What about those who feel like they have “no” family? What about the orphans who never know their biological parents and relatives? Or maybe there are people who feel deeply ashamed about their past, their family, and their heritage.
If you think you are family-less or if you feel estranged from your family today, let me assure you that you DO have a family.
YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD. Nothing can take that away from you.
God is our Heavenly Father, and He has a place for you at His table this Thanksgiving and every day.
Your ancestors, your beloved lineage of brothers and sisters in Christ, are Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Esther, Ruth, Hannah, David, and Paul, the list goes on. These are all Godly men and women who loved and feared the Lord, who helped shape the Bible through their faithful obedience, and whose stories live on in our hearts and minds today. These Godly men and women make up your family tree.
You have a family of God surrounding you today too. Church members. Other community members who love you. You are not alone.
If you do feel alone, I encourage you to reach out to God today. He’s right there by your side. He’s listening. He won’t turn you away, and He’ll embrace you with open arms.
Your past and your earthly family lineage doesn’t matter. They don’t define you— God does.
Have you been adopted by God yet? Have you asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, thereby forever entering you into God’s family— His kingdom?
My Thanksgiving prayer for you…
I pray that you are among family and friends this Thanksgiving. I pray that you know God as your Heavenly Father and Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. I pray that you feel LOVED, that you feel like you BELONG, and that God fills your emptiness.
If you are estranged from your family, for whatever reason, I pray that God gives you the strength and humility to seek (or give) forgiveness and the courage to reach out to your family this holiday season with His love and compassion.
I’m thankful for you. You are my people, too.
Your family member in Christ,
P.S. I’d love to hear from you! What ancestral “claim to fame” do you have? What do you love about your family tree? What are your favorite Thanksgiving family traditions? COMMENT below!
“Good, Good Father” (by Chris Tomlin) sung by Amy & Caleb Bihl
“You Are a Member of God’s Own Family” by Rick Warren
“God’s Family is the Church” by Rick Warren