An academy for Freedmen

Oak Hill Industrial School in 1905 was established for freed people, formerly enslaved by the Choctaws, near today’s Valliant in Indian Territory.

Per the 1866 treaties signed after the Civil War, the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations were supposed to provide education to the people it had formerly enslaved. The Chickasaw Nation never did this, but the Choctaw Nation’s historic affiliation with Presbyterian missionaries garnered collaborations to build schools to serve African American youths. Along the old road between Ultima Thule and Doaksville near the Red River (today’s Valliant, McCurtain County, Oklahoma) Oak Hill Industrial Academy was established in 1869 with funding by the Presbyterian Church for the education of freed people in the Choctaw Nation. The first terms as a real boarding school occurred nearly two decades later, in 1886, after the Choctaw Nation enrolled freed people as citizens in 1880 and African Americans demanded schools of their own as they were denied access to the academies at Spencerville, Armstrong, and Wheelock.

Initially, Oak Hill students met in the old log cabin of Robin Clark, a Choctaw Freedman, where studies focused on religious instruction and basic literacy (Clark’s log cabin had been initially built by Chief Leflore in the 1850s). Gradually, buildings and land were donated to the school by native black teachers.

This 1901 USGS map shows Oak Hill Academy, a prominent feature east of Fort Towson along the old military road.

The Presbytery recruited Anglo teachers, many from Pennsylvania, to expand instruction in academics. The main focus continued to be on mechanical education in farming and home economics. While this sounds practical, it was also a paternalistic denial of African American advancement. Though in his 1914 book about the academy, Robert Elliot Flickinger recognized discrimination and mistreatment of African Americans, he also wrote that one of the school’s goals was to “prevent sloth.”

Oak Hill Industrial Academy became a self-sufficient farming complex in which the crops, honey, and milk raised by the students helped to sustain the institution. In 1912, the school was re-named to “The Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School” to honor the wife of a donor from Indiana. As one of very few high schools for African American students in southeastern Oklahoma, the Oak Hill Industrial Academy/ Alice Lee Elliot Memorial School closed in 1936 when the Choctaw Nation moved to a public but nonetheless segregated school system.

Today, a historical marker at Valliant cemetery commemorates the academy, but there are no physical reminders of the school left on the surface.

Read more about Oak Hill Academy in this very informative blog post: http://african-nativeamerican.blogspot.com/2011/02/remembering-oak-hill-academy-for.html

Students pose in front of Oak Hill buildings. The large buildings in the front served as dormitories and classrooms. On the left sits the academy chapel. Between the chapel and dormitory is a two story, log cabin; perhaps this is Robin Clark’s cabin, a Choctaw Freedman who used his home (the home of former chief LeFlore) as a make-shift school when Oak Hill was first opened as a school for freed people.

Questions this blog post might generate:

Choctaw Freedmen donated buildings and taught the first classes at Oak Hill. However, when the Presbyterian Church begins to manage the school, white teachers were recruited from far away (and most lasted only a year) and hired instead. What happened to the black teachers? Why did the church do this?

How does the state purpose of the school —to prevent sloth —reflect racism?

Why did the Choctaws segregate black students from native students? White students, with special permission, could attend academies like Armstrong and Wheelock, but not black students.

Camp no longer

Camp Augur LOC

Map of the Comanche and Apache nation in Oklahoma Territory in 1889, noting the location of “Old Camp Augur” on the Red River.

Camp Augur in today’s Tillman County, Oklahoma was founded in 1871 to protect the tribes impacted by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. The camp never became a permanent post. Its role was to ensure that the peaceful bands of the Comanches and Apaches stayed safe from hostile Texans, and that peaceful Texans were safe from hostile Comanche and Apache bands.

Much of the hostility perpetrated by Texans stemmed from land squatting – meaning, Texans entered Oklahoma Territory and tried to stake rights on lands that were designated for the Wichita, Kiowa, Comanche and Apache reservations. These actions became especially egregious in the mid 1880s, after the last of the tribe’s war bands were defeated in the Red River Wars in 1875. The “hostilities” by the bands included unauthorized hunting; it was considered illegal for Indians to hunt bison or even to own a gun.

Named after General Christopher Columbus Augur (1821-1898) while he served as the commandant of the Department of Texas during the Reconstruction Period, the camp closed by the late 1880s because by then, non-natives continued to encroach on the lands and enjoyed U.S. congressional backing. Congress authorized that over 2 million acres of reservation land be set aside for land sales (aka “land rushes”). The Kiowa tribe sued because in doing so, Congress had violated the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. In 1903, the Supreme Court sided with the non-natives in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock… writing that the U.S. Congress had the power to “abrogate provisions of any Indian treaty.”

Monumental historical impacts and far-reaching consequences can be discerned just by reading maps.

Published in: on May 11, 2020 at 3:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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Town, erased

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Beautiful tombstone of Ella Colbert, Wife of Holmes Colbert (1869 to 1896), Willis Cemetery, Marshall County, Oklahoma. Due to the imagery, I wonder if she died in childbirth?

The Willis Cemetery sits just off US 377 north of Lake Texoma in Marshall County, Oklahoma. This is the only remain of the former town of Willis. Willis is an old town; it was first settled by a Chickasaw family in the 1840s, where they operated a ferry crossing the Red River. By the 1920s, the town of Willis was fairly large, with eight stores and a preacher who had a side business as a casket maker (an entrepreneurial chap!).

In the mid-1940s, the Dension Dam was built to provide water and hydro-electric power to southern Oklahoma and northern Texas. Because of the many rivers that fed the Red from Oklahoma, Oklahomans lost three times as much land as the Texans did. The community of Willis lost its ferry, its downtown… pretty much everything that made the town, a town.

1905 map snip of Marshall County with Willis OK LOC

Willis is written in all caps in this 1905 map of the territory, indicating its relative prominence. Notice that two ferries operated in close proximity to each other by Willis, Marshall County, Oklahoma. (Library of Congress)

1948 OK highway map official OK DOT

A 1948 Oklahoma highway department map doesn’t even show Willis, Marshall County, Oklahoma anymore – its vital link between Oklahoma and Texas was erased by the lake.

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Hand carved tombstone in the Willis Cemetery (Marshall County, Oklahoma) reads: Rachal Junetia Looney / Borned Nov 19, 1925/ Died Sept 12, 1930.

Published in: on February 25, 2020 at 2:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reclamation

Inside the old cemeteries where American dead reside, nature is taking back what was culled from her.

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A tree eats a decorative iron fence at the Pioneer Cemetery, aka the Methodist Episcopal Cemetery, in Clarksville, Red River County, Texas. This was the town’s first graveyard from 1834 to 1897 before a new one was deeded. Both blacks and whites are buried here.

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The main cemetery in Mansfield, De Soto Parish, Louisiana is still in use, but two centuries of random neglect take their toll. Civil War dead from the Battle of Mansfield are buried here, along with town leaders, church elders, and paupers. The cemetery is divided into military, black, and white sections. Another iron gate has been consumed by a tree – beware the future lumberjack who decides to fell it.

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The ancient cemetery in Natchitoches, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, sits at the former site of the original French & Natchitoches trading post. Many of the early burials were not marked well, so very few French burials remain. After the Louisiana Purchase and the establishment of a Diocese, the town’s Catholic dead were buried away from this cemetery, as Americans (mostly Protestant) began to use it – hence its current name, American Cemetery. Both Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers are buried here, but sadly, no one’s going to know who’s buried under this crepe myrtle tree, as it has almost completely swallowed the headstone.

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Hand-carved tombstones are my favorites, as they connect to the grief of those left behind better than any elaborate statuary can. In the Spencerville Cemetery in Spencerville, Choctaw County, Oklahoma, Ms. Lusie’s stone is being gradually relocated by a tree root. Spencerville was the site of the Academy for Choctaw Boys, founded in 1850. Those who died at the Spencerville Academy are not buried in this cemetery.

James Cemetery Bryan County

Sometimes, it’s not nature, but man-made nature that reclaims a boneyard. The remains of the people buried at James Cemetery in Bryan County, Oklahoma, were relocated in 1942 to make way for the Denison Dam and Reservoir, now Lake Texoma. The removed bodies were re-interred at the Yarborough Cemetery. The James Cemetery was located near Cartwright (Bryan County, Oklahoma).

 

Published in: on November 4, 2019 at 11:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recipes and Memories

Polly Colbert

Lucinda Davis, a person enslaved by the Creeks and a resident of former Indian Territory, was interviewed and photographed by the Federal Writers Project in the late 1930s.

Polly Colbert was 83 when the Federal Writers Project interviewed her. Her story and dozens of others have been compiled in several volumes of “Born in Slavery” (1936-1939) that can be found in the Library of Congress.

While the Federal Writer’s Project was initially created to provide paid employment to teachers and journalists during the Great Depression, the work they compiled has become some of the best cultural documentation of American people and their histories.

Polly was enslaved by Holmes and Betsey Colbert along the Red River in Bryan County, Indian Territory. Her narrative reveals long-forgotten recipes she learned as a girl enslaved to Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Following a few of the recipes; they have been transcribed by me as they’ve been written by the interviewer, who apparently tried to recreate accents in written form. There is on-going debate if transcriptions like this are professional. The entire interview can be read on the Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/resource/mesn.130/?sp=37

(Please note that the interview includes archaic and harsh words that are now considered unacceptable).

“We cooked all sorts of Indian dishes: Tom-fuller, pashofa, hickory-nut grot, Tom-budha, … corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes. We made hominy out’n de whole grains. Tom-fuller was made from beating corn and tasted sort of like hominy. We would take corn and beat it in a wooden mortar wid a wooden pestle. We would husk it by fanning it and we den put it on to cook in a big pot. While it was cooking we’d pick out a lot of hickory-nuts, tie ’em up in a cloth and beat ’ema little and drop ‘e in and cook for a long time. We called dis dish hickory-nut grot. When we made pashofa we beat de corn and cook for a little while and den we add fresh pork and cook until the meat was done. Tom-budha was green corn and fresh meat cooked together and seasoned wid tongue or pepper-grass.”

The photograph is of Lucinda Davis, who grew up as an enslaved person in the Creek tribe and for most of her life, only spoke Creek. She called hickory-nut grot by its Creek name, sofki: “… you pound up de corn real fine, den pour in de water and dreen it off to git all de little skin from off’n de grain. Den you let de grits soak and bile it and let it stand. Sometime you put in some pounded hickory nut meats.”

While the transcription and interview may not meet standards for today, the information contained therein is incredibly valuable.

Mad Man Road

Eagletown mad man road

Eagletown’s downtown, McCurtain County, Oklahoma.

Eagletown may be the oldest town in the southeastern part of the state. It may not look like much, but around the 1820s, this town was the first place the Choctaws came to during the initial removals from Mississippi to Indian Territory. To them, Eagletown is known as Osi Tamaha.

There was always a mystery to me surrounding a name of a street in town – Mad Man Road. Who was this person, I’d wonder. Well, RRH readers solved the puzzle on Facebook (I love crowd-sourcing questions): The road was named after the CB handle of a long-time resident and all-around well-known guy.

Here are some of the comments:

Debbie Roan Ticknor: We lived next to him my whole life, we across the pasture and through the thicket… We rode our horses to his house many day for goat roping. He and daddy we’re very good friends. Always felt like one big family.

Marty Willis: Mad man is one of the all time best guys I know. Known him since i was a lil kid…

Dianne Wilkes: A special man in my heart

Patsye Farmer:  I wish you could have visited with my dad, Vernon Luttrell. His family moved to Eagletown in 1908 when he was 3. His dad immediately established a store that sold everything from food to clothes and other things, he had a sawmill, grist mill, planer mill it was all close to the present post office. The school was also there, on the north side of hwy 70. His dad was murdered in front of his store. My dad was sitting in his lap, my grandfather had fired him two days before, he came to the store the next day making threats, my grandfather had gone to Idabel. On Jan 10 he came back on horseback, daddy’s dad put him down and told him to go in the store. He was shot between the eyes. I have the newspaper story, called Crime and Punishment 1910. Eagletown originally was in the area where our house is only north. It moved to where most later residents remember when they put in the railroad, and tie yard, I have picture and newspaper clippings if I can ever get them in the Memories. The Luttrell’s maintained stores in Eagletown until after Uncle Vic died. Daddy.Uncle Vic and Ma Luttrell later had a store about where Homer Coleman lived, and Daddy had one on the curve across from the highway. daddy spent much of his youth in a store, meeting and talking to people. He had a sharp mind and memory for all things Eagletown

Tres Dunn: I have always thought a lot of him.. only place that you can get a cb peaked and tuned and then eat a home cooked meal before you leave. Bunch of good memories, still have one of his connexs in my Toyota.

Dicky Dunn: I’ve hunted,bought CBs, and visited with Mad Man. Friends with his daughters, grandsons. Also had the privilege to coach one grandson, Kolten. Fine family!!

I LOVE these comments from readers. Mad Man was a guy who was a true blue gem.

1902 map

1902 USGS map with Eagletown – notice there was the original and then a westerly Eagletown.

Roosevelt schoolin’

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The well-built little school in Roosevelt, built by the Works Progress Administration, had two entrances – one for girls, and one for boys.

In Roosevelt (Kiowa County, OK) sits this disused building that appears to have been erected by the WPA. Since the WPA lent labor to public works, and this place was last used as a pub (now closed), I asked Red River Historian readers on the Facebook page if anyone knew what the building’s original purpose was. Mijo Chard explained that it was the Douglass Seperate School (school designated for African American children), and Mijo even shared some documents with Red River Historian!

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Completed in 1938!

 

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I got a kick out of the signs on the door: “No longer a public bar. Closed. Keep out. Unless you’re a hot stripper.” RRH Reader Judy Hilliard Dean wrote: “After the school closed it was opened as a bar by Rube McGee. It was called Rube’s Night Spit. They kept the curtains on the stage closed because there was always gambling going on.
Don’t ask me how I know- lol.”

 

Report card 2 mijo chard

Mijo Chard shared a report card from 1947.

Employees for cafeteria mijo chard

A memo for the cafeteria workers at the Douglass School, date unknown. This was shared by Mijo Chard.

 

Works in progress

Hugo 2

There is nothing nicer than finding that a WPA built stadium is still in use, like the sturdy, stone arena in Hugo, Choctaw County, Oklahoma. And there is nothing more frustrating than finding its WPA plaque obscured by electrical boxes.

The WPA is the Works Progress Administration, an agency founded and funded by the New Deal in 1935. The WPA provided work for thousands of Americans in disparate fields – construction of public buildings, interviewing people about their life histories, staging theater plays, providing child care, recording music, creating public service announcements, publishing state travel guides, developing museums, painting murals on public buildings… the list goes on and on.

It’s strange to say, but of all governmental agencies, the WPA is by far my favorite. Though it was not necessarily intended to be a repository of American culture, it certainly turned out to be the most effective documenter and preserver of what makes the United States so darn American-y.

Hugo

Fair Park

Fair Park (Dallas, TX) sports a mural that is, truly, out of this world – it’s the first depiction of space travel in American mural art. Carlo Ciampaglia painted this in 1936 for the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Fancy digs, once

Grand Hotel ohs

The Grand Central Hotel (first class, no less!) in Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma was an imposing building at the turn of the century – it sported three chimneys and a balcony.

 

Clark fire

The Clark Fire Insurance Map of 1900 for Terral depicts two hotels, both along Apache Street at the intersection of Second Street. Their outlines are not the same as the hotel pictured, however, and one is labeled as the “Cottage Hotel.” (Clark Fire Maps, OHS).

Both hotels are long gone.

Google

 

A Google maps image of Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma shows the same intersection – where two hotels once stood. Please note that the concrete foundations are the foundations from former service stations, not the hotels. Today’s travelers will not find overnight accommodations in Terral at all.

Published in: on March 13, 2019 at 2:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Humphreys’ History

The school in Humphreys closed in 1961 and is now used for storage for cotton farmers

The former elementary school in Humprheys, Jackson County, OK is a bit on the sunny side.

Even though Jackson County (Oklahoma) is home to the air force base at Altus, it is full of ghost towns. Many of them lost population during the Great Depression, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century when the communities lost their schools (to me, the loss of a school is the hallmark of a ghost town).

I visited Humphreys in southeastern Jackson County and took a picture of its school, which closed in 1961. This was the “new” elementary school, at least for a while. Three teacherages (teacher homes) sat across the street, but they have been razed. I got a lot of my information from two extremely knowledgeable and pleasant people, Bill and Louise Snodgrass, who came out to talk to me. Mr. Snodgrass attended school in Humphreys. He was born not far from the Red River in a half dug-out. Ms. Snodgrass was the former county clerk of Jackson County!

There is nothing better than hitting the road with a vague destination in mind. You’ll never know what – or especially who! – you’ll find.

Bill and Ms Louise Snodgrass of Humphreys M. Snodgrass was the county clerk of Jackson County for nine years

Bill and Louise Snodgrass from Humphreys shared A LOT of history with me. Lovely people whom I’m so honored to get to know, even in passing!