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Elvis’s great-great-grandmother, Morning White Dove (1800-1835), was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian. She married William Mansell, a settler from West Tennessee, in 1818. William’s father, Richard Mansell, had been a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Mansell is a French name, its literal translation is the man from Le Mans. The Mansells emigrated from Norman France to Scotland and then to Ireland. In the 18th century the family arrived in the American colonies. The “white” appellation in Morning Dove’s name refers to her status as a friendly Indian. The early American settlers called the Pacific Indians “white”, while “red” was the designation for Indians at war or those who sided with the British in the Revolutionary War. It was common for male settlers in the west to marry “white” Indians, as there was a shortage of women on the American frontier.

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Like many young men from the American Southwest, William Mansell fought with Andrew Jackson in the Indian Wars of the early 19th century. He fought with Old Hickory in Alabama, at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and later in Florida as well. Returning to Tennessee from the Indian Wars, William Mansell married Morning White Dove. Elaine Dundy says of the marriage that William Mansell acquired ‘an ancient indigenous knowledge of the American terrain; of forests and parties; crops and hunting; weather protection; of knowledge of medicine, healing plants and something in which the Indians were experts: the setting of broken bones”. Adding to the Elvis lineage were the ruddy Indian complexion and the fine line of the Morning White Dove cheeks.

Like many other settlers, the newlyweds immigrated to Alabama from Tennessee to claim land won in the Indian Wars. The Mansells settled in Marion County in northeast Alabama, near the Mississippi border. 

Morning White Dove and William Mansell prospered in Alabama. Their land was fertile and they built a solid house near the town of Hamilton. They had three children, the eldest of whom was John Mansell, born in 1828, and Elvis’s great-great-grandfather.

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John Mansell squandered the legacy of the family farm. In 1880 he abdicated at Oxford, Mississippi, and changed his name to Colonel Lee Mansell. His sons left Hamilton to seek their fortunes in the town of Saltillo, Mississippi, near Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis Presley. The third of John Mansell’s sons, White Mansell, became the family patriarch with John Mansell’s removal to Oxford. White Mansell was Elvis’s great-grandfather.

 White Mansell married Martha Tackett, a neighbor from Saltillo. It is worth noting the religion, Jewish, of Martha’s mother, Nancy Tackett. It was unusual to find a Jewish settler in Mississippi during this time. All accounts point to White Mansell as a hard-working, honest provider to a clan increasingly beleaguered by economic factors beyond their control. The Civil War fractured the economy and the soul of the South. Cotton, the backbone of the South, was subject to financial depressions such as the Panic of 1890.

Gladys Presley's Parents - Bob and Doll Smith - Wedding Day September 19, 1903

.After the devastation of the Civil War, like many other Southern families, the Mansells were stretched to breaking point. They sold their land and became sharecroppers. The prosperity of the South, along with the family’s fortunes, had plummeted. However, the life of a sharecropper was not always bleak. They had music and dance and the comfort of religion. Tenant farmers, sharecroppers, were often invited to the owner’s home on Saturday nights for dances and parties. On Sundays there were picnics on the ground after church. Although there was little hope of escaping poverty, it was community life with some joy. 

Now enter Doll Mansell (1876-1935), the mother of Gladys Presley and grandmother of Elvis, of whom Elaine Dundy said this. ‘And the gayest of all the girls at these gatherings, the recognized beauty, was the slender, exquisite, tubercular, porcelain, spoiled third daughter of White Mansell… Doll.’ She was a delicate beauty and the apple of her father’s eye. She did not marry until she was 27, and then to her first cousin, Robert Smith

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Bob Smith (1873-1931) was the son of White Mansell’s sister, Ann.

 Ann Mansell was a striking woman of dignity and stature, a commanding presence until her death at eighty-six. Bob Smith and Doll Mansell, Elvis Presley’s maternal grandparents, were first cousins. This was a genetic enhancement, a duplication, of the family lineage. First cousin marriage, with its intensities and potential for dysfunction, was common in the isolated communities of the agrarian South. Like Doll, Bob Smith was very handsome, his Indian blood evident in a noble forehead, good bone structure, smooth features, and dark, deep-set eyes. His black hair was dark as coal. Doll would be bedridden with tuberculosis throughout the marriage. Like his uncle and father-in-law, White Mansell, Bob Smith worked long and hard as a sharecropper and occasionally a moonshine man to support his invalid wife and eight children. The noose of poverty was tightened on the family and on Elvis’s mother, Gladys Love Smith (1912-1958), who was born on April 25, 1912.

In 1931, when Gladys was 19 years old, her father, Bob Smith, died. It was completely sudden and unexpected. Everyone hoped that the sick ‘Doll’ would die first. As per his request, he was buried in an unmarked grave.

 So, Gladys didn’t have a strong role model in a mother, and Vernon didn’t have a strong bond with his father. Both events would strongly impact the life of Elvis Presley. (Luis Dieguez)

Elvis Presley in Flaming Star

Source: Elvis Family History 

chantel rondeau 

Elvis Presley: Native American lineage

 Posted on March 8, 2011

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