The discovery of a tiny set of letters hand-engraved on a vintage U.S. silver dollar, and detective work by a sharp-eyed coin specialist, has opened a window into a uniquely American tragedy – the “Trail of Tears” 1830-1850, when Native Americans of the Cherokee nation and other tribes were forcibly relocated from their fertile ancestral homelands to barren tracts of land west of the Mississippi.
Jeff Rill, numismatist and auctioneer with Lancaster PA-based CNG, was cataloguing the well-worn dollar when he noticed what looked like old graffiti on both sides of the coin. “I carefully examined the graffiti, recording each letter singly, and then looked at what it spelled out,” Rill said.
The graffiti on the obverse read “Lucinda Walker” in neat, careful script. Curious, Rill began researching known individuals of that name from the early 1800s, when a coin such as this would have been in circulation.
He discovered that there was someone of this same name in the historical record – a woman whose bloodline included both Native Americans and American settlers of European stock. This Lucinda Walker, born Lucinda Taylor, was the daughter Chief Richard Fox Taylor of the Cherokee Nation and his wife, Susan Taylor, of European ancestry.
Lucinda was born circa 1834 in the Old Cherokee Nation. She married a cousin, John Osborn Walker circa 1854. According to the Eastern Cherokee application of her only child, daughter Emily, born 19 November 1855, the family lived in the Tahlequah District (family #259 on the Cherokee Drennan Roll) where Lucinda died in 1859 at the age of 25. Her cause of death at so early an age is not recorded.
“While the graffiti on the obverse makes this an interesting possibility of the person’s identity, the graffiti on the reverse makes this identification more compelling,” Rill said.
On the reverse, below the wings of the eagle, are the letters “N” and “Mc.” The half-sister of Lucinda’s father was Nellie McDaniel, who married a white settler, James McDaniel. “To have the names and initials of two closely-related people who lived in the proper era on the dollar, I believe, securely ties this coin to Lucinda Walker of the Cherokee Nation,” Rill said.
How the coin came to be engraved with these two names cannot be known for certain, but Rill had a plausible theory: “It is possible that Lucinda’s father’s half-sister had this silver dollar personalized and engraved with her married name as a wedding present upon Lucinda’s marriage,” he said. “A silver dollar at that time would have been a considerable amount of money, roughly $35 in today’s value, and so would have been a proper gift.” Also, U.S. draped bust silver dollars, minted 1795-1803, were quite rare and collectible even in the early 1800s.
Lucinda Taylor would have been about 4 years old when her father, Chief Richard Fox Taylor, served as a “conductor” in the removal of the Cherokee Nation from their home in the Mississippi Valley to the Oklahoma territory in the spring through winter of 1838. “Conductors” were tribal leaders chosen to lead roughly 1,000-person detachments of Cherokees on the 770-mile journey, which took more than 100 days to complete. Though born Cherokee, Taylor had served as a volunteer guide in the U.S. military under Captain Gideon Morgan in 1814-1815 Creek War. He later served as Cherokee delegate to Washington D.C. and was elected Assistant Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, serving from 1851-1853.
The “Trail of Tears” was a two-decade process, starting with President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, by which more than 60,000 Native Americans of five different nations were forcibly removed from their homelands in the rich Mississippi Valley to far more barren lands hundreds of miles to the west. “Little Lucinda would certainly have been part of that episode, and it is difficult at this remove to think about what hardships she and her family might have endured, even though her father, Chief Taylor, was favored by the U.S. government.”
The coin is part of a larger consignment from the Hendin Family Collection, assembled over decades by Aaron Hendin, MD (1918-1990), father of David Hendin, himself a collector of ancient coins and author of the popular Guide To Biblical Coins series of numismatic books.
The “Lucinda Walker Silver Dollar” is offered in CNG Electronic Auction 520, which closes on Wednesday, 20th July 2022.
For more information about the auction house, visit the CNG website.
To learn more about the tragic history of the Cherokee Nation, read this article on The First Gold Coins of the United States.
In 2022, the USA dedicated an issue of the American Women Quarters Program to the first woman elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller.