How to find facts versus fiction
My great grandfather's history was sketchy and I am trying to fill in the blanks. There are a couple of versions passed down through a very bitter family, and as best I have been able to figure it out, here is what I THINK may be valid, but I keep running into walls so would love help in sifting through the mess and figuring all this out:
Jefferson (Madison) Burkett
Born: 1863 Little Rock, Pulaski Co, Arkansas
First Marriage: December 30, 1889, to Minnie Aschew (born 1871 Her father was Henry C. Aschew. Her mother was Sarah (last unknown)) in Woodruff, AK.
They started having babies right away and had at least three sons within three years or so. Then, so the story goes, he came home one day to find a man sitting on his front porch so he pulled out a gun and killed the man. His mother (now this part is probably embellished greatly) gave him a horse and told him to run away. He did.
He then changed his middle name to Jefferson Davis Smith and rode to Louisiana where he found work laying rails for the railroad (possibly Southern Pacific).
He met and Jessie Shipley met and married in Louisiana. They lived in a box car that was moved from siding to siding as the railroad progressed west and had eight children (first was my grandmother born 1895) also in rapid fire succession. Eventually, they settled in Houston, Texas where he got a job as a trolly conductor.
When their youngest son was 3 years old the family got a visit from two or three now very grown-up sons from Arkansas looking for their father. This news was naturally disastrous to (very Catholic) Jessie and her children, all of whom had been born as "Smith" and now had to go have their names changed to Burkett. Jessie had the marriage annulled by the church because Jeff had never bothered to divorce Minnie and bigamy didn't sit well with the church or with Jessie.
Jeff then married for a third time in Houston and had twin girls. He died in Houston around 1945 or perhaps a couple of years later.
How can I find out if he was indeed Cherokee, who his sons were by his first wife, and how to trace his ancestry back up the tree? So much of his story to Jessie was fabricated because he was (or SAID he was) wanted for murder back in Arkansas, but I don't know how to find out whether even that was true or not.
Any help would be greatly appreciated!