Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Non-Story About Christmas

I've been having trouble coming up with a Christmas story to write about. It's not that my mother didn't talk about Christmas, and I have plenty of Christmas memories myself, but no particular story comes to mind.  

I think that my dilemma is that life is not really made up of stories. In order to have a story, you have to have a sequence of events that leads up to a climax. There has to be continuity, and drama, and the story needs to make a point: something that illustrates a quality of the people involved, but life is not like that, not really.  

Our lives are more like a stream of random events that we react to in various ways. Our "stories" really have no beginnings or ends, except for birth and death, and I expect even those events are kind of arbitrary. The way we react to the events of our lives reflects or shapes our personalities, depending on how you look at it, and we are all a complicated combination of everything we've experienced, and learned up to this or some point in our lives.  

Stories are something we make up. We pick out episodes in our or in other's lives that we think are significant or entertaining. I love stories. I love telling them and I love hearing them, but they don't always reflect my real life, or the lives of the characters in my stories.  

I talk to one of my cousins a lot about our family, and he reacts to the stories I write, and we don't always agree on my spin. For instance, I loved and idolized my Uncle Tom when I was little, and I enjoy telling stories about him that illustrate what a remarkable person he was. I have stories about how he helped take care of another cousin of ours, Lahoma - the "First Chickasaw Princess," after her mother's divorce (See post of Oct. 5, 2011); how he played a trick on one of his coworkers on a construction crew and how his victim got even by getting the other guys to hold Tom down while they shaved his head; how he was a Golden Gloves champion; how he tried to teach me how to box, and so on.  

After reading a long bio I wrote about Uncle Tom, my cousin pointed out to me that he was really irresponsible, egotistical, and he had a volatile temper. I can't really deny those facts, but it doesn't change my opinion of Uncle Tom, and I continue to spin my stories about him to reflect my admiration.  

We also have an aunt about whom our opinions differ. In her case my cousin liked her, and I didn't. Well actually I liked her until my mother told me that she was cruel to her stepson, and I have several stories about her that illustrate how selfish and mean she was. My cousin, on the other hand says that our aunt was nice to him and he refuses to change his opinion of her because of my stories. He says that they merely reflect my opinion, and my mother's. 

On the other hand, sometimes there is no story. There's no dramatic event that you can build a story around to express your feelings. Again I'll refer back to my cousin. I've been trying to collect stories about my mother's brothers and sisters that represent their personalities and how they related to each other, so I asked for his help in coming up with stories about his mother, my Aunt Oteka. Other than supplying a few extra details for stories I already knew, the only thing he contributed was a description. He said that his mother was "sweet." 

On that we are in total agreement. Aunt Oteka was sweet. She made me feel good just to be around her. She was a kind and caring wife and mother. She was funny, and thoughtful. She was active in her community. She volunteered at the hospital and the church. She many friends. As my mother used to say, "Everybody loved Oteka."   

That brings me back to Christmas. Aunt Oteka loved Christmas. She loved the decorations, the presents, the music. She loved having her family around her, and while I still can't make a story out of it, I think Aunt Oteka's love for Christmas does illustrate who she was, and what she meant to me.  

I'm going to let you read a letter Aunt Oteka wrote to me in 1963 telling me about her Christmas. She had recently been in a serious auto accident that year and had been in a coma for over a month. She came out of it with the same enthusiasm, the same sweetness as before: 

Dear Robin:

I got to talk to Sam this afternoon - that's always good but I must admit the only disappointment on the call was not getting to talk with you & HRH Kaliterio too.

(Sam was a nickname Aunt Oteka gave my mother while she was helping take care of her after the accident. HRH stands for "Her Royal Highness." My mother, Wenonah, and Aunt Kaliteyo started putting HRH in front of their names after watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. "Kaliterio" is just a silly way of saying Aunt Kaliteyo's name. Aunt Oteka and her husband Thurman lived in Odessa, Texas, and her two sisters, my mother Wenonah and Aunt Kaliteyo, lived in Oklahoma City. Oteka's son Steve and I were away at College at the time.) 

I called on purpose on Sun. so we could all have a good session. Anyway I sent my Howdy personally and I'll just try and complete one letter and ask you to accept another apology for me being as late as usual. 

Everyone, I think, is ready for Xmas but me and this old Santa Claus is about to have a nervous breakdown because she can't go Xmas shopping, can't think of anything to send someone to town for & can't even decorate the house. The Dr. says I must be patient that this will take time. I think I've given it plenty of time already & having to spend most of my time in bed when I'd rather be enjoying the Xmas season is just plain disgusting! 

I have something simply wonderful to tell you! About 6:30 tonight in come the Grigsbys, the Moffits, the Momans, Handleys and Brownings - all of them were singing Jingle Bells, wishing me a Merry Xmas & bringing me such a beautiful package. They made me open it before Xmas. I did and it was the AM - FM radio I have wanted for so long. They all of course telling me I could have all the Xmas music now, etc. Robin, this is a group of my friends that we have all been together during the Xmas season every year. This year they didn't have their annual Xmas bridge party because they would have had to replace Thurman & I to have the 3 foursomes it takes & they told me they absolutely refused to replace me ever! I have really wanted an FM so I could always have beautiful music thru the day and especially this year I have missed the Xmas music - I admit all this but I sincerely want to say that I have the most wonderful family & the most wonderful friends in the whole world! It means so very much to me, it's very hard to describe and to express how I feel but the card they brought me expresses the way I feel about my friends, beautifully. I want all of you to hear the card & be happy about it with me so here goes - 

"Once in a while a friend is found who proves right from the start,
To be the special kind of friend who really warms the heart.
Once in a while a friendship's made that's really lasting, too,
And that's the kind of friendship I have known since I met you!" 

I just can hardly describe all of this - They plugged in my radio, the first thing I heard was an orchestra doing the Messiah, but we all heard at my front door, another Xmas song - sure enough there was a big group out there, singing for me! I knew most of them, some were Scouts that I'd known from Tenderfoot to Eagle. The bunch were from St. Paul's. They sang about 5 or 6 long songs & it was so very cold out there I couldn't see how or why they would. I had gotten up when I heard them and made it to the front door so I could see them. They threw me kisses & waved. Thurman went out & took pictures of the group so I could keep it. You just can't imagine how very happy I am tonite Robin & always will be because of the many wonderful things that have happened. I have so very many wonderful friends and I am so very grateful -  

Mon. AM:

HRH Kaliterio called last nite - sure was good getting to tell her about my wonderful day. I missed not getting to talk to you again but you will have sweet little Molly's pictures I hope by Xmas. I'll close so the postman can at least start this on its way. Sure hope all of you have a very Merry Xmas! 

Lots of love,

I had driven down to see Aunt Oteka on Thanksgiving with Aunt Kaliteyo and we took Molly my new puppy along. Here's a picture of Aunt Oteka playing with Molly.  

Aunt Oteka, 1963

PS: I guess this turned into a story after all, but I will stick to my thesis. There wasn't any single event that made Aunt Oteka special. It was every day of her life!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Paul Room

                                              Eskridge Hotel Museum
                                             Wynnewood, Oklahoma

I just got back from another trip to Oklahoma. We got some work done on my mother Wenonah's house; we visited with my daughter and her family, and I got a chance to take another look at the Paul Room of the Wynnewood Historical Society Museum. My daughter Therese and her husband Kevin met us there.  

About twenty years ago my mother donated some of my grandmother's things to the Wynnewood museum, furniture, art work, clothing, books. It took me a long while to get into the building which isn't regularly open. Wynnewood is a small town, and it isn't near the interstate, so I don't suppose there are enough visitors to make it worthwhile to keep the museum open. The museum is located in the old Eskridge Hotel, just a half a block from the town's only stop light at the intersection of Kerr and McGee streets, honoring the founders of the Kerr-McGee oil company, which operates a refinery nearby.  

My mother chose Wynnewood for her donation because it is near where her grandfather, J. T. Rosser, first settled when he came to Indian Territory in 1888. Grandmother was only eleven. She told the story later about their trip to Indian Territory: 

I came to the Indian Territory with my father and mother. We were moving from Mississippi to the Indian Territory in wagons, working horses and oxen in 1889. I was eleven years old. I remember people telling my father that he would have to be on the lookout for horse thieves. We had some trouble while crossing Arkansas, but after we crossed into the Indian Territory we never were bothered by anyone. My father would buy feed from the Indians and they were the most accommodating people I ever met. We came through Muskogee but there wasn't much of a town there then. At that time there were but few roads and at times it looked as if it would be impossible to go any farther. After several months of traveling over rough country we located at Pauls Valley. My father traded the ox team, a tent and a few horses to Mr. John Burks for a lease that had a two room log house on it. This lease had never been worked but there was a plowed furrow around it. My father and brother began putting this prairie land in cultivation. There was open range at that time, and you could have all the hogs and cattle you wanted to own, but you had to have your brand and mark on them. 

SB 18, P 14. Interview with Mrs. Victoria M. Paul, September 14, 1937.

                                        Mrs. Victoria M. Rosser Paul

Grandpa, as my mother called her grandfather, left Cedartown Georgia in 1866 after the Civil War, and took his family west. At first it was only he and Emily, my great grandmother, and their daughter Cora. Eight other children were born along the way, a son Thomas and four girls: Kittie, Lillie, Victoria and Ada. A son and daughter, Luther and Eula, were lost to illness. Over about a twenty year period Grandpa worked his way across Mississippi, and Arkansas, settling for a few months or years in one place and then moving on to another. Grandmother was born in Pittsborough County Mississippi in 1877. Grandpa was actually headed for Texas to join his brother Ed, but he never made it. The land in Indian Territory was so fertile, and the Indians so hospitable that he decided to stay.

Grandpa's farm was actually closer to Cherokee town than it was to Wynnewood. Cherokee Town, which no longer exists, was named for a temporary camp of Cherokees making on their way from Texas to join their brothers in Indian Territory in about 1840. After he arrived, Grandpa hired a teacher and built a school for his girls and other nearby children, but later Grandmother went to a subscription school in Pauls Valley where she met Billie Paul, whom she would later marry. When her mother died in 1893 Grandmother and her younger sister Ada moved in with their older sister Cora who was married and living in Wynnewood. Cora was the proprietor of a millinery (hat) shop there.  

The Rosser girls were taught to be ladies, in spite of their frontier upbringing. They studied needlework, gardening, music - Grandmother played the melodian - and they learned to prepare fancy fruit and flower arrangements, and pastries. Grandmother didn't learn painting and charcoal drawing until about 1918, right after the start of WWI, when she was married and living in Oklahoma City during one of my grandfather's business ventures. My mother Wenonah was five at that time. Grandmother studied with a Mrs. Sheets there, the wife of a prominent physician. She did several oils and charcoals which hung in her house when I was little. I have a charcoal drawing she did then of a bust of a cherub sitting next to a vase full of brushes.  

                                               Charcoal by V.M. Paul

When I finally got to see the museum I realized that it contained several of Grandmother's oil paintings, as well as a big charcoal drawing of a lion which always hung over the mantel of her fireplace. There was also a large brass figure of a lion sitting on the mantel. I don’t' know what happened to that. The lions were appropriate because Grandmother's living room furniture had lions' heads and paws on its backs and legs.

                         Sofa from Grandmother's Living Room Furniture

                                         Charcoal by V.M. Paul

                                                       Still Life
                                        Oil Painting by V.M. Paul

The museum has Grandmother's rocking chair which dates back to her marriage in 1898, a bed and a quilt, a beautiful old dress made with eyelet crochet, family pictures, and books. There was damage to the room 10 or 15 years ago when the roof caved in, and many of the original contents have been damaged or misplaced, but I was pleased to see that Grandmother's art work had survived.

Eyelet Embroidery Dress

                                         Grandmother's Rocking Chair

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Custodians

I'm going to try to describe to you how the federal government managed the transition of the Five Civilized Tribes from self government to U.S. citizenship using the Chickasaw and Choctaw as an example. The reason for this is that the amount of information about the abuses committed is so great as to be overwhelming. Actually the Chickasaw and Choctaw came through the transition better than the other tribes because they were wealthier and more integrated into the white community, but the abuses the Chickasaw and Choctaw fullbloods and freedmen suffered were just as great as those of the other tribes. 

Most of this information comes from the book, And Still the Waters Run, by Angie Debo.  

I've described before how the governments of the Five Civilized Tribes were abolished in 1898 by the Curtis Act, how their land was surveyed and divided into allotments by the Dawes Commission, and how the tribes fought the process each step of the way by passing resolutions, by sending their leaders to Washington to speak against it, by holding elections voting to uphold their own system, and finally by refusing to cooperate in the process altogether. (See Post of October 19, 2011, Allotment) 

In the end, the US Government took the Indians' land in the name of progress, or "Manifest Destiny," responding to the greed of the millions of white settlers. Theodore Roosevelt was President during the process, from 1901 - 1908, the same man who hunted with Quanah Parker and claimed friendship with the Indians. He wrote in his book Winning the West that in the underdeveloped regions of America and the world the land should pass out of the hands of the red, black, and yellow races, and that "the rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him.@ 

Actually that sounds like a description Andrew Jackson's 'accomplishments.' Theodore Roosevelt was more subtle, but his object was the same and his results were just as tragic for Native Americans.  

The allotment agreements with the Five Civilized tribes were not completed until 1902. They differ in detail but basically they provided for the Indian governments to end in 1906, except for a powerless chief to be appointed by the President. Tribal lands were to be divided equally among the tribal members except for mineral and timber land. The Chickasaws and Choctaws elected to sell their mineral and timber property because they didn't trust the government to administer it, whereas the Cherokees and Creeks kept theirs.

As I've alluded to before there was a problem with the tribal rolls themselves. When the Dawes Commission would visit a community, many tribal members, opposed to the whole process, simply refused to come in to register. On the other hand many whites pretended tribal citizenship in order to acquire free land. The Chickasaws and Choctaws eventually were given the right to question fraudulent claims and they won most of their cases saving $16 mil, but that didn't help the poor full blood who stood by his principles and refused to cooperate. 

The next problem was with the land survey and assessment. First, mineral and timber land was set aside to be sold later. Then townsites, government buildings, schools, and cemeteries were identified and set aside to be excluded from allotment. The rest of the land was given a score of 1 through 4, depending on its value for farming, and a dollar assessment. The townsites were also assessed. The assessments were meant to be more a comparative measure, and were only a small fraction of the actual commercial value. This became a problem later, when the unallotted land was sold, and the Indians were paid according to the assessed value, cheating them out of millions of dollars.

The size of the allotments were based on the size of each nation. The Chickasaws and Choctaws got the most, 320 acres of "average" land, which would mean 160 acres of the most fertile land up to 4165 acres of the poorest land. The Seminole, on the other hand got 125 acres, the Cherokee 110 acres and the Creek 160 acres. After the inclusion of children born after the rolls were compiled, the Creek and Cherokee tribes ran out of land, so not everyone on the rolls got an allotment. The Commission then decided to provide a cash payment instead, to come out of tribal funds, of course. Even so the Creeks had to sue for the money.  

The Allotments were divided into a homestead and a "surplus." The location of the homestead was chosen by the Indian, and was 160 acres in size for the Chickasaw / Choctaw. The balance of the allotment, which might be located many miles away, was called the surplus. The allotments were originally inalienable and tax free for 21 years, but the white people wanted to get access to the land and they wanted the tax money to run the new state government, so the Five Civilized Tribes Act was passed in 1906, making the surplus both alienable and taxable except for the Indians of 3/4 or more Indian blood. Even this was challenged in the Supreme Court, under the pretense of protecting the Indians' "rights," but the Court upheld this last protection for the full bloods.  

After the Dawes Commission finished its work of creating rolls and dividing the land, Theodore Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior, Ethan Allen Hitchcock, became the custodian over the citizens of the Indian Nations. He did so through his inspector, J. George Wright, and Indian agent, Dana H. Kelsey, without any representation by the Indians themselves. They operated the Union Agency, a large department employing hundreds of people, mostly political appointees from outside the territory. This federal agency collected tribal revenues, and royalties from the Chickasaw and Choctaw coal and asphalt mines. They ran the tribal schools, platted and sold town sites, and managed undivided property, and they made recommendations - usually followed - to the President and to Congress about questions regarding Indians. All the expenses of the agency were paid for by money from the tribal funds.     

One of these federal employees, John Benedict, was appointed superintendent over the Indian schools. The Five Civilized Tribes had always been generous in providing education for their children. When Benedict took over most of the Indian children were literate and studying academic subjects. Benedict decided that the Indians should be taught trades only. He hired white teachers to replace the Indian ones, and forbade the children to speak their language. His goal was actually to build schools for white children, using tribal funds. Soon the Indian children dropped out of school.  

In spite of Benedict's 'lofty goals,' he was distracted from his responsibilities by financial interests. Somehow during his four years of access to tribal funds, he managed to become a wealthy man, and he started his own bank. An investigation revealed that the "Indian" schools were in a deplorable condition, and Benedict was fired, although he probably no longer needed the job. The Indian schools were then taken over by the new state of Oklahoma.    

During this time the platting of town sites was taking place, and the sale of these town lots brought in about $5 mil, all of which was supposed to be distributed to tribal members. Also the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribe actually had more land than they thought was needed for allotments, so they asked that the land be sold and the proceeds returned to the tribe. This was in addition to the coal and asphalt land that the Chickasaws and Choctaws had unwisely asked the government to sell and distribute. Of course the Union agency had also taken over the Chickasaw and Choctaw trust funds and they were collecting all the various fees and royalties which continued to be collected in the Indians' name until statehood. 

Where did all that money go?  

Well, a lot of it was spent by the Union Agency on "expenses." The Choctaw Chief, Green McCurtain, asked for an accounting of the Agency's expenses, but his request was vetoed by the President.  In 1909 Congress asked for an accounting of the expenses of the Agency. I don’t have a total, but according to Debo's book the records contained statements like "funds decreased by $693,061," or "$346,364." When Congress requested more specifics, "Expenditures of various amounts are simply listed chronologically, as a child might keep account of how he spent his allowance," with no receipts listing the person receiving the money and no explanation of the purpose. Since the Curtis act had authorized the President to spend the money "for any purpose deemed by him to be for the best interests of the tribe," there were no grounds to judge the transactions illegal.

At one time there was an investigation of the employees of the Dawes Commission and every single employee was found to have dealings in Indian real estate, but no one was prosecuted. No one was even fired.  

When the federal government made no move to distribute the tribal funds as required by law, the Chickasaws and Choctaws took them to court and won. They were given per capita payments of $40 in 1904, and $35 in 1906, payments they had to sue for, using up even more of their tribal funds. According to the census of 1907 there were 23000 Chickasaws and Choctaws, so at $ 75 apiece, they received about $1.7 mil. I don't have an estimate of the value of the Chickasaw / Choctaw estate, but at one point the Agency suggested that the State of Oklahoma buy their extra land for $10 mil which they argued was a bargain, and that was only a small part of the Indians' property.   

As you study the history of how the Indian Nations were engulfed by the wave of white settlers and ultimately destroyed, the various accounts make it sound like the Native Americans were so hopelessly primitive that there was no way to save them, but history is always skewed toward the point of view of the victors, even when written sympathetically. Actually the Indians were better educated than the white settlers who came to steal their land, and before the federal government stripped them of their power, the tribal governments were struggling to deal with the situation in their own way. When the "Progressives" represented by my great grandfather, Sam Paul, gained power among the Chickasaws, the fullbloods took it away, not by force but by peaceful political action. The violence that occurred didn't really determine the political outcome. The Indians were already learning how to adapt.    

Because of their long established custom of communal living, and the strength of the bonds of family and clan, the Indians, more so the fullblood portions of the tribes, valued honesty, generosity, and loyalty over wealth and personal possessions. When they were suddenly thrown into a society motivated by greed, many couldn't protect themselves. They became easy victims to the avarice of the white man.  

If the great Indian Nations had been given time to work out their relation with the white man on their own, perhaps things would be different. But even now the values and traditions of our ancestors survive, and I believe they are in many ways more civilized than those of our conquerors. As more tribal governments win sovereignty, perhaps we can yet have a beneficial influence on society.