Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

The Great Seal of the Choctaw Nation
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Interviewed by L.W. Wilson, at Muskogee, Oklahoma, October 28, 1937

Mrs. Avery was born February 25, 1861, in Alabama and she lived in Georgia until married when all of her folks moved to Temple, Texas, including herself. After living two years in Texas, they moved to the Indian Territory in about the year 1891 and she settled near the present towns of Davis and Keokuk Falls. Her father as J.B. Overton who was born in Georgia. Mrs. Avery states that she is of Choctaw descent and that all her relatives prior to her father and mother had moved to the Indian Territory years before. Some came o n the removal of the Choctaws in 1837 and 1838 and the others came soon after. Her parents accepted citizenship with the United States and by doing so were allowed to remain in Alabama. Neither she nor her parents ever received any money or allotments. Mrs. Avery married Mr. Nelson Avery and to them were born nine children as follows including place of birth:

John - Georgia
Elizabeth - Texas
Charlie - Texas
Frank - Oklahoma
Melvin - Oklahoma
Travis - Oklahoma
Bill - Oklahoma
Emmet - Oklahoma
Delia - Oklahoma

Mrs. Avery and her family was living in Texas when the first opening was made to white settlers in 1889. After this run of 1889, the government commissioners started to make agreements with various tribes for opening of surplus lands of each tribe. The surplus was that left after the government had allotted lands to the tribe, to be owned severally by the tribe. These openings were to be made under the homestead laws. Although they lived in Texas they kept in close touch with the runs in Oklahoma Territory and for this reason they moved from Texas to Oklahoma Territory to make the second run. Mrs. Avery states:

Openings in Oklahoma Territory

“We traveled in a wagon train from Temple, Texas, and crossed the Red River at Gainesville and o n to Ardmore and thence up the old Kickapoo Trail, settling near Shawnee Town where the Kickapoo Trail ran into the 1849 or California Road. As we passed through Ardmore, I noticed but two stores. A man named Zuckerman ran what he called a hardware store. The general merchandise store was owned by some Jews, Westheimer and Daupe. As we came up the trail, there was a store run by a man named Dillon. This store was located at the present town of Wynnewood. At Shawnee Town there was a log store with a puncheon floor. It was owned and operated by John Million. He handled a full line of general merchandise. The Sac & Fox, Iowa, Shawnee, and Pottawatomie lands were to be opened September 22, 1891. Much of these lands were hilly and covered with timber. Some of it, however, was good farming land. We camped in tents along the border of these lands along with hundreds of others. The time of those encamped was spend in getting ready to make the run and doing their individual camp work and visiting each other. They all became very neighborly and all seemed happy and the crowd as a whole was a good-natured o ne. All had high hopes of securing a good tract of land o n which they could build themselves a real home. Some of them wanted farm homes. Some expected to settle in town and had wagons laden with merchandise, hardware, tools and even with printing presses. The government sent soldiers to patrol the borders to keep anyone from entering before the day of the run. Most of the people never tried to enter but some did and they were driven back by the soldiers if they were found. As the day of 22 September, 1891 approached, everyone became more and more excited, and o n the morning of that day, camps were made secure for the women and children who remained in camp until the men folks could make the run, stake his claim and return for them. Horses were saddled and made ready as well as teams hitched to carts, buggies and wagons. along the borders were stationed the soldiers a mile apart and at o ne o’clock they shot their pistols and the race was o n for homes. Many funny things happened as they raced…terms ran off tearing up their harness and wagons and other conveyances scattering some all over the land. You could find cook stoves, bedding, bedsteads and wagon wheels scattered everyplace. When a man had driven his stakes he usually set out to find the corner stones to assist him in tracing the boundaries of his newly acquired surveyors. They were sacks of charcoal buried in the ground and o n top of the sack was placed a stone. When a cornerstone was found, a pole was stuck up with a rag o n it so it could be seen at a distance and by so doing it would asset others in locating corners. Well, Mr. Avery staked his claim, eighty acres, which was about sixty miles from Oklahoma City and sixteen miles from old Shawnee Town. After all the preliminaries and the place staked, Mr. Avery returned to our camp along the border for myself and children and we pulled camp and started for the claim to settle down. At our arrival o n this eighty acres, which was twenty acres timber and sixty acres tillable, we set up our tents in which we lived until we cold cut logs and build a log house. Our house had no floor, no windows, but we left o ne opening for the door. In our log house we put dead grass o n the ground and o n this hay we would sleep. We had a cook stove on which we did our cooking. As time passed we built a better log house with a fireplace, acquired some furniture, dug a well and was soon living comfortably. Other openings were made around us but non of our family participated. o ne scramble sufficed for all of us. They Cheyenne-Apache lands opened in 1892 after much discussion. Other openings came in rapidity. The Cherokee Strip opening, Kiowa, Comanche and Wichita. What was called the Big Pasture opening was different from other openings. It was a lottery. People registered and cards were placed in large boxes at El Reno and the names were drawn out, o ne after another until all the land was taken. The first number out got the choice of land and the next number second choice, and so on. The first man who filed for the land o n which Oklahoma City is located was Andy Sportsman and he lived in what they call Church Flats. There were other openings and I remember the Little Kickapoo Reservation was opened in 1895. I lived among the Kickapoos, who were considered the wildest of the wild Indians, barring none, for I have been among the Comanche’s, Kiowa, Osages, Sac & Fox and the Shawnees. All of these openings caused counties to be added to the Oklahoma Territory, with the exception of the Kickapoo Reservation for it was too small…these lands were added to other counties. Those run days were trying days; those were happy days, but of course, day of much hardship. The people at first had no laws but, at that, there was not much lawlessness. No schools for our children was certainly a hardship to them until Indian schools and subscription schools were started.”

Life on the Claim

“Our first log house with a dirt floor was warm in winter and was our refuge during the summer rains. In front around our cabin, we constructed an arbor and during warm weather we ate our meals and did our chatting evenings after work under this arbor. If the weather was chilly we would build log heaps and fire them and let the wind blow the heat through the arbor o n us. Our furniture was very crude…a table made of rough lumber and covered with oil cloth. A half dozen or so of old hickory bottom chairs and in some instances the children would roll up a cutoff log and use it to sit on. First we slept in the hay on the ground, but soon acquired three old wooden bedsteads. on the post which held up the roof of the arbor was hung an old mirror. The comb and brush was fastened to a string and tied to the post on which hung the mirror. A cut off log stood near by on which sat the water bucket full of water and a tin dipper together with an old tin wash pan in which we washed our faces. Our family washing was done down on the creek and the clothes hung to dry on nearby bushes. We had plenty of food. It was just food, not much variety, but wholesome and good. We bought our food at Shawnee Town. It was too late to start a crop at first and we just worked to get the best place to live so that we could be warm for the winter. We came into possession of two cows and naturally had plenty of milk and butter. Flour and corn meal were cheap and we weathered it through until spring. In the spring we planted beans, pumpkins, corn, peas and potatoes. We acquired two gilts’ and the next winter we had plenty of meat and lard. Wild game was of much help to use for rabbits, quail, wild turkey and squirrels were easily secured. The first winter my boys caught lots of coon and sold and traded the coon skins for other commodities at Shawnee Town. Fruit was scarce although there were some wild plums, blackberries, dew berries and persimmons. We planted different kinds of melons…sorghum and cantaloupes. We made a small supply of molasses and made preserves from melon rinds and when we could get sugar, we would try to can a few plums and berries. We canned in tin cans something like the present day can that contains syrup. The can was filled, the tin lid pressed in place and sealing was run around the lid to make it air tight. We soon built a nice frame cottage, barns and outbuilding; had horses, cattle, hogs, chickens and within a period of six years, had been repaid for the hardship endured and the long hours and days sacrificed to acquire same. It was but a memory of pleasure for years and is to me until the present day.”

Schools

“There were no schools to speak of. I remember one called ‘Sandy’. It was located ten miles east of Wynnewood. The teacher’s name was Warren. It was a subscription school. There was an Indian school at a place we call Arbeka. I do not think there is such a place today. The first schools were sometimes in log cabins, arbors, or rough board shanties. They were heated by fireplaces or a big wood stove. The schools under arbors were held during the warm months. Children came for miles to attend school. Those living only a mile or so would walk. Others came horseback, sometimes two, three riding one old gentle pony. Other came by horse and buggy. If there were two or three children coming from one family, their lunch was put up in a basket or shoe box and other carried pails that o nce had contained lard. There were no paper sacks or newspapers in which to wrap a lunch, nor any money to buy a real dinner pail. It was only a very short time until we had schools all through the country and in the towns of Wynnewood, Ardmore, Davis, Keokuk Falls and others. People laid much stress on schools and really got them. Good teachers were in demand, but many times the teachers were very poor. A teacher’s salary, of course, was not much and that was a reason why sometimes there were poor teachers. It seems o nly natural that as the teachers’ pay increased, better teachers were available. There was a University at Norman, a normal at Edmond and at Weatherford, and a preparatory school at Tonkawa. These schools sent us teachers but did our little kiddies no great good.”

Churches

“Church, at first, was held under arbors. They preached in English. Sunday School was held each Sunday and prayer meeting twice a week. All denominations were present throughout the land. Later, services were held in the school houses. Missionaries came among the Indians; Kickapoo, Seminoles, Shawnee, Sac & Fox and others. I remember two Indian preachers, o ne a Seminole named Seanne Justin, the other a Sac & Fox named Nie Johnson. Like the schools, it was o nly a very short time until churches of various denominations were built.”

Growth of Villages

From the store on the Kickapoo trail I saw the town of Wynnewood grow from two stores at Ardmore to the beautiful little city that [it] is today and when I first knew the capital city of Oklahoma City, there was but ton log store, the logs hewed square, with clapboard shingle roof and fireplace. It was the pride of the village for all the remainder of the village was tents and we called it Tent Town. The first lawsuit tried at Ardmore was that of a man and woman who hired a crazy boy to kill a man named Hall who lived at Davis. The court house was of plank construction. It had but two rooms.”

Marriages

“Among the wild Indians, there was no law governing marriages. o ne member of a clan of the tribe would take a member of another clan and through ceremonies of their own, they would live together. They didn’t call it marriages. The five tribes had certain ceremonies according to their tribal laws, which had to be carried out by which a couple became man and wife. If a white man married an Indian woman, he became a member of the tribe by adoption. Many whites and Indians were being married and strict laws were made regarding these marriages in all of the five tribes and in some instances the cost of a license was very high. I am more familiar with the Choctaws of the five tribes and remember a marriage license cost from $20 to $100.”

Indian Chiefs

“The last principal chief of the Choctaws was Greene McCurtain. History has all the principal chiefs, but I want to tell you of one chief of the wild Indians whom my whole family loved and cherished. We used to visit with him and he with us. He enjoyed our company and we, likewise, enjoyed his and that of his family. That is no other than Chief KEOKUK of the Sac & Fox. After Chief Keokuk, the town of Keokuk Falls was named.”

Stomp Dances

“I have attended stomp dances conducted by the Creeks, Seminoles, Chickasaws and Choctaws of the five civilized tribes and those of the Osages, Towards, Kickapoos, Shawnees, Comanche’s and the Kiowa of the wild Indians. In summing them all up, I would say that in every case it amounted to practically the same. Parts of these Dances were religious ceremonies and a time of feasting, others were dances of joy and happiness over what they had accomplished or over abundant crops.”

Life and Customs of the Kickapoo and Sac & Fox Indians

“To give you a picture of the Sac & Fox, Iowa, Shawnee and Pottawatomie Indians as well as the Kickapoos, allow me to first set the stage of these tribes. These tribes occupied lands ceded by the Creeks, the Pawnee tribe located farthest south in the Cherokee outlet and joining this tribe was the Sac & Fox, numbering about 600 whose original reservation was a half million acres. These Indians lived in tents or teepees and lived their old habits of life. Their great chief was Black Hawk. Just west of the Sac & Fox were 200,000 acres. These lands were the reservation of the Iowas and Kickapoos. The number of both tribes could not possibly have been more than two or three hundred. The Iowans were originally from the state of Iowa and the Kickapoos were closely related to the Sac & Fox. South of the Iowas and Kickapoos lived the Shawnees and the Pottawatomies, numbering about 700. The great Chief of the Shawnees was Tecumseh. The Pottawatomie and Shawnee built log houses and raised some corn and vegetables. These tribes of Indians, all five of them, were under the Sac & Fox Agency o n the Sac & Fox reservation. I lived among the Sac & Fox and Kickapoo Indians more than any other of the wild Indians. The Kickapoos had gone to Texas and Mexico during the Civil War and upon their return and at the time I was with them, they had degenerated from the strong, hale and hearty men and women as were their related Sac & Fox Agency had much trouble in handling them. Schools here and there were built and the parents would not make the children attend. The Sac & Fox became reconciled to their surroundings more readily than the Kickapoo and they ceased warring against the other tribes and the white people, but it seemed the Kickapoo could not settle down. They were always nervous and moved their homes (teepees) very often, not to hunt or fish, but more to try to keep the Agency from locating them without having to hunt them on the reservation. Myself and family were friends of the Kickapoos and the Sac & Fox as I have before mentioned. When we first staked our claim, the Kickapoos would encircle our tent and watch us from the brush and, when we built our places so we could see them, sneak around in the dark at night with the quietness of a mouse. They never molested us at any time and as the winter passed, my boys contacted some of them while hunting and they began to like each other. By the next spring they would venture up to our cabin and mostly through sign language they so confided in us as to invite us to their village and it was only a short time until we were neighbors. They would move around over the reservation but would return near us each year. Even while encamped away, the men would return to see my boys and hunt with them. We told them we were not white folks but Indian, Choctaw, and we were really both. The Kickapoos moved their belongings from place to place in wagons that had been given them by the government. The main body rode ponies until they came to their place of a new camp. At the new location they would set up their teepees, gather up wood and start living again. Their camp was always near a stream. Their manner of dress was, in most part, Indian dress, being slow to take on the dress like that of white men and us Choctaws. Their meals were cooked o n open fires, You would call these meals being cooked at a community fire because any number used the same fire. All of them slept on the ground. If the weather was warm, the men slept in the open. In the teepees, the women slept o n grass that they pulled up and let cure like hay. In the wintertime, log heaps were built in front of the teepees and the wind would blow the heat into the teepee. Men and women all slept together in the teepees during the cold weather and storms. Their bedding consisted of blankets and deer skins. Their food was mostly prairie chickens, squirrel, deer, wild fruit and berries and bread made from corn traded for at Shawnee Town. Later, they did start raising small patches of corn. The corn was ground or cracked in a mortar with a ram. The Kickapoos would not go to school and also seriously objected to missionaries being sent among them, desiring to follow out their own ideas about the different spirits that controlled their welfare and the universe. After much persuasion and months of patience, the missionaries at last induced them to attend church. An arbor was built and my family attended the first meeting when the whole tribe, about 300 Kickapoos, was made to come and listen. Trees were felled, the limbs were used to make the arbor. The logs were rolled in place for seats. Those Kickapoos would not listen to the preacher for some reason if he stood under the arbor and they would not sit on the logs. The preacher finally stood on a stump and the Indians laid on the ground with both hands under their chins while the preacher made his talk. The preacher’s name was Nie Johnson, a full blood Sac & Fox who preached to them in their own language. My family understood none of the sermon, but after the meeting Reverend Johnson came to us and told us in English from what part of the Bible he took his text and read it, as that was all he told them. The Kickapoos had stomp dances, all these dances were symbols of religion, of happiness, because of winning a battle with some other tribe or a dance before going to war. Different things occurred at each different dance, but vomiting, purging, eating and singing accompanied all of them, together with the rattling of tiny bells on the men’s trousers and shells on the women’s ankles. one night about sundown, we heard the Kickapoos over at the village going into a dance at an unexpected time and we went over to see what was the occasion. It was a war dance. on poles stuck in the ground hung scalps that they had taken at a previous battle. The men carried tomahawks of different fashions and wore their war paints. Around the fire they changed and stomped and pranced on the outer circle while the women toddled along inside, stomping and rattling thin shells. Off to one side were two fellows beating on tom-toms made of hide stretched over a hollow cut from a tree. on the sideline we stood as they all knew us, it did not interfere with their affair. But, rather they seemed to appreciate our presence, believe we were in sympathy with them. The reason (for the event) was because at some time, one of their number had been buried at a spot which they knew and a settler named Jameson, who acquired the land at the opening of the Kickapoo lands, was plowing over their dead. They were going to massacre him and his family…which they did that night. The Kickapoos used not to bury their dead. The corpse was sewn up in a canvas bag with hang leather and then hung in a tree. The government made them stop this practice and bury them in the ground as we do at present. The first coffin for a Kickapoo Indian on the reservation to be interred in the ground was made by my sons, John and Charlie Avery. The coffin was made of rough lumber. The whole tribe was at the funeral. After this first interment, it became their job to make coffins for each death among them for a long time. It was noticeable at these burials, that the Kickapoos who were the kin of the deceased had their hair short. I learned that as soon as o ne died, their kin immediately bathed and cut their hair short. To bathe was for the omission of sin and to cut their hair was a token of love.” Artelia Morgon Overton was born February 25, 1861 in Talladega, Alabama. Her mother was Sarah Catherine Barton. Her father was John Bibb Overton. She married Nathaniel Nelson Avery, September 27, 1883, in Atlanta, Georgia. She had 11 children from 1884 - 1904.

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