Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The First Chickasaw Princess




    Lahoma Willingham Crowned Chickasaw Princess

                 by Governor Floyd Maytubby, 1942


Every year about this time I get an urge to write a letter to the editor of the Chickasaw Times, because every year about this time the Times publishes a special edition about the candidates for Chickasaw Princess, and there's always an article about how the first Princess was appointed in 1963. But I know differently.

Way back in 1943 my cousin Lahoma Willingham was appointed Chickasaw Princess. She was twelve years old that year. For several years she appeared at Native American and other civic functions around the state representing the Chickasaw Nation. She attended the Indian Exposition at Anadarko as Chickasaw Princess as late as 1948.

                       Taken from American Indian Exposition Program, 1948


Lahoma was a talented dancer. She performed before the India-Okla Club, an organization of Indian leaders in 1940, even before she was appointed Princess, dancing on the same program with Yvonne Chouteau, the famous Shawnee ballerina, and she later went on to become a professional dancer. Lahoma was not only talented and strikingly beautiful though, she was a sweet, thoughtful person, and that is why she was appointed Princess. This is her story: 

Back in November of 1941 the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese air force in what was probably the worst defeat in American Naval History. The attack struck fear in the hearts of Americans, just as the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001 did to our generation, probably more so. The attack on Pearl Harbor was especially devastating to my mother and father because my Uncle Everett was on the crew of the Battleship Oklahoma which was sunk during the attack.  

At the time of the bombing my Cousin Lahoma and her mother, my Aunt Kaliteyo, lived just a few blocks from my parents' apartment in Oklahoma City. Lahoma was 10 years old at the time, and she attended Harding Junior High School. Every day after school she would come by and visit my mother and father - I hadn't been born yet. "Lahoma was always cheerful," my mother told me. "She would come by every day and try to give us hope that Everett had survived."


                                        Lahoma and Aunt Kaliteyo, 1942


Christmas came soon after Pearl Harbor, but my parents were too worried to think of celebrating. One day little Lahoma came in and said, "You need some Christmas decorations," and she went right out to the five and dime store and spent her savings on some tinsel and ornaments to decorate my parents' little apartment.

It was January before my Uncle Everett was able to get word to the family that he had survived the attack. My parents thanked God that he was still alive, and they thanked Lahoma for helping them get through the weeks of suspense.

My mother, J. Wenonah Paul Gunning, wanted to do something special for "Little L" as she called Lahoma, so she called our cousin, Floyd Maytubby, then the Chickasaw Governor, and asked him to consider appointing Lahoma Chickasaw Princess. He did, and she was crowned at the American Indian Exposition at Anadarko, in 1943.

My cousin Lahoma died tragically in 1966, leaving behind her husband Jules Fritt, her two sons Michael and Paul Fritt, and her mother Kaliteyo Willingham. I'm not really sure that Lahoma was the first of the Chickasaw Princesses, but I think her story should be included in their legacy.


                                                  Lahoma Willingham in 1945





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