Calvin Watson Submitted by: Debbie Watson, granddaughter
Choctaw Makes new home in Pacific Northwest
Calvin Watson was called Papa by both his children and his
grandchildren. He passed away before about half of his grandchildren had any memory of him, but his children and his older grandchildren have related such strong memories of Papa through the years, that even though some of his grandchildren do not remember him Papa has become a kind of persona to all of us, which has given us a feeling that not only did we all know Papa but that he is a significant part of all of us. He was a soft-spoken man who did not have an assertive nature. He was generally quiet and was somewhat reserved by nature. Mama’s personality lent itself more easily to colorful description than did Papa’s, and one could say that her fiery personality even overshadowed Papa’s. But Papa is a link for many of us, historically, as well as emotionally. A young man at the turn of the century, he was the last of the old generations, for he could speak Choctaw, and the first of the new generations, part white, part Choctaw, living in a place which had not become Choctaw until the nineteenth century, but which was rapidly becoming Caucasian with the advent of the twentieth century. Few of Papa’s grandchildren remember Oklahoma, but Papa and Mama and the others could not leave Oklahoma behind completely, which often made them wonder if they had truly left it behind at all. The Trail of Tears, the state of Oklahoma, the Choctaw Nation, and the legacy of an orphaned teen of mixed blood, have created the foundation for the lives of all of us who have called Idaho home for such a long time, but who know our roots and the connection we share began far from here in a place that is somehow both strangely familiar and foreign. Papa was born May 10, 1884 in Indian Territory at Watson, in present day Oklahoma. He was one of the youngest of five children born to Joe and Rose Ann Norman Watson. Joe and Rose Ann’s other children were Tom, Melvina, Elmira, and Martha Amanda, known as Minnie. Joe’s father was a Choctaw living in Mississippi when he was removed and forced to walk the Trail of Tears, along with the rest of the Choctaws and the other Muskogean nations in the region, into what was known to European Americans as the Indian Territory. It is not known where Joe’s father lived after he reached Indian Territory. A family history speaks nearly as briefly of Joe as of his father. It simply states that Joe settled in Watson. It is generally agreed, however, that Joe was born in Indian Territory, rather than in Mississippi. Whether or not the town of Watson was named after either Joe or his father, whose first name has slipped from the family history, but whose surname was Watson, is not certain. It seems likely that this is the case, however, since Joe’s appearance in present day southeastern Oklahoma, as well as his father’s, probably would have preceded any settlement by European Americans by several decades. Apparently, the name had been chosen by the time Joe settled there, which was sometime in the mid nineteenth century. Joe died in Watson in 1898, as did Rose Ann, two years earlier, in 1896. The ages of Joe and Rose Ann at the time of their deaths in not known, but at the time of Joe’s death, Papa was only fourteen years old. It is generally agreed that Minnie, or Amanda as she is referred to by younger generations, was younger than Papa, but her age is not known. Papa and Amanda lived with their sister, Elmira and her husband, Dave, for a while, and then went to live with a family named Trotter, who also lived in Watson. It is interesting to note that Papa’s Aunt Amanda, a sister to his father, Joe, was the mother of Dave Whale, who married Papa’s sister. Elmira. Apparently, it was not uncommon for someone to marry their first cousin at that time, especially in the southern regions of this country. The Indian Territory was sparsely settled at the turn of the century, and like many settlements in the western regions of the country, who lacked many of the advantages and conveniences of the more populated and progressive eastern cities and towns, life in southeastern Oklahoma was difficult. Scattered families and communities of European and Native Americans, and a racial mixture of these people, often accentuated their diversity, rather than their commonality, thus, union between and among these people progressed at an even slower pace than elsewhere in the rapidly growing United States. Papa attended school at Watson and finished his education around the turn of he century. He could speak Choctaw well enough to translate for the government agents, who came to the area around Watson to converse with the Choctaws who did not speak English. Both my older sister and my older brother remember that when they were small, in the latter part of the forties and the early fifties, Papa would take them for walks and tell them what the names of some of the things of nature are in Choctaw, such as a tree, a rock, a bird, or a flower. Since they do not speak the language, my sister and brother have forgotten the words, but they have not forgotten the experience and what Papa was trying to teach them. Papa enrolled in the Choctaw Nation, along with Amanda, in September of 1902, the month and year that the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations ratified the land allotment act, which was approved by the Congress of the United States on July 1, 1906. Since he was not a full blood Choctaw, however, he could sell his land. A satisfactory living wage was difficult to obtain in the new state of Oklahoma, and like many others of mixed blood, Papa sold most of his land early in the new century. The region was rich in oil and newly formed oil companies were eager to get it. However, few members of the Muskogean Nations got as rich from the land as did the oil companies. Shortly after the turn of the century, the month and year are unavailable, Papa married a woman named Clara Carter. He and Clara had one daughter, Myrtle, but the marriage did not last long. Papa met my grandmother, Adeline Toon in Watson. She was born in Tuskahoma in 1895. They were married on November 13, 1913 at Cove, Arkansas. He was 27. She was 18. Papa and Mama lived together for about ten years in Watson. During that time, he worked at Blake’s General Store, as a clerk, and their two eldest children were born, Helen Marjorie, on September 28, 1914, and Alta Dale, on May 31, 1918. Sometime prior to the birth of their third child, a son, Warren Ancle, on August 24, 1922, Calvin and Addie began their management of the hotel at Smithville. Another son was born, Wallace Bertram on October 23, 1924. A family history reveals that Papa’s brother, Tom had become an Indian judge. Tom’s interest in governmental employment, as well as Papa’s previous occupation as a translator for the government, undoubtedly encouraged him to seek an appointment as Justice of the Peace in Smithville. During this time, another daughter was born, Norma Jean, known as Jean, on September 10, 1931. The Depression caused a great deal of economic hardship in southeastern Oklahoma. An area of the country which had not progressed far beyond a nineteenth century way of life was stymied once again. The drought, the accompanying crop failures, and the lack of employment, caused many people to leave Oklahoma for other places farther west. By the latter nineteen thirties, Papa’s and Mama’s two oldest girls, Helen and Alta, had married, and one granddaughter, Joan (pronounced Jo Ann), had been born to Helen and her husband, Raymond Robison. Helen and Raymond would have one more child, a daughter, Sandra. Alta’s husband, Dallas Harris, along with his brother, Ivan, decided to make the move to Idaho. The Harris brothers went into the timber business establishing the Harris Brothers Lumber Company and later, Producers Lumber Company of Boise, Idaho. Alta and Dallas had four children, Felicia, Gary, Millie, and Randy. My dad Warren worked as a truck driver and met my mother, Beulah, through a mutual friend, who had moved from Smithville, Oklahoma to Jasper, Tennessee. They were married in 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Warren went into the army and served in the South Pacific during World War II. When the war ended, he returned to Tennessee. My oldest sister, Wanda, was three years old and a son, Warren Jr. would be born before my parents moved to the historic gold mining town of Idaho City, Idaho. As Joan was growing up in Smithville, Pap’s gentleness was making an impression on her. While Joan and Papa were walking one day, they stumbled onto a snake. Joan ran from Papa and screamed, “Kill it!” “All right,” he said. When he returned, he told Joan he had killed it, but she says, “I know he didn’t kill that snake!” Papa seemed also to have a need to feel rooted and generally declined to join other family members on short trips away from home. “Somebody’s got to watch the place, “ his son, Warren, my dad, remembers him saying. Papa was also kind and patient, especially with his grandchildren. I would have been between the ages of five and seven sometimes between 1957 and 1959 when I remember being with Papa for the first and only time. My family came to visit Mama and Papa. Papa was lying in bed, for his health was deteriorating. I loved the big platform rocker that set in the corner of the room and Mama had told me I could rock in it as much as I wanted, when Papa was awake. I do not remember Papa speaking much to me, if at all, when I was in the room with him. He didn’t even seem to pay any attention to me. On one occasion though, when Papa was awake, I remember him speaking to me. I was rocking in the chair. It was warm and quiet and the only sound was that of the rocking chair. I was comfortable and enjoying the quiet. Suddenly, Papa said, “you like that rocking chair?” I remember his accompanying tender smile. I nodded shyly. Also remember how melodic his voice sounded. It lulled me and I felt a calm come over me. I have thought of that moment many times in the years since. I did not know my grandpa and he did not know me, but perhaps in that solitary and brief moment, he learned everything that was really important about me and I learned everything that was really important about him. In 1946, Papa and Mama made the move to Idaho City, along with Wallace and Jean, and Helen, Raymond, and Joan. Papa worked for the Harris brothers as a night watchman at their mill and in the late forties Papa became the coroner for Boise County, which was based in Idaho City. The harsh winters that Papa and Mama found in the Idaho Mountains were unsettling to them. It is not uncommon for snow levels to reach ten feet and even higher anywhere in the Rocky Mountains. By 1949, my parents, Warren and Beulah moved to Lebanon, Oregon, located in the lush and fertile Willamette Valley, the destination of the pioneers who made the overland trek on the infamous Oregon Trail. Before my parents returned to Idaho in 1960, they had two additional children, Debbie, my sister, Joan and myself. In search of a milder climate, Papa and Mama bought the unfinished house next door to my parents’ house. My dad and Jean’s husband, Bill Walker, whom Jean married in Lebanon, Oregon in the early fifties, finished the house. Jean and Bill had four boys, Steve, Mike, Kelly, and Eddie. Papa and Mama lived in the house in Lebanon for about a year. Wallace did not make the move to Oregon. He remained in Idaho City and married Lavon Finch there in 1948. They had two children, Bonnie and Ron. Papa and Mama visited Idaho City several times while they lived in Lebanon but on one such visit, Papa fell and broke his hip. Papa and Mama did not return to Lebanon. My parents rented Papa and Mama’s house there until it was sold in the late fifties. After Papa broke his hip, his health began to decline. He developed heart problems, but the treatment of heart ailments was not as sophisticated in the fifties as it is today. Papa and Mama moved one more time, to an apartment in Boise. Papa entered what was known then as Boise Lutheran Sunset Home in Boise, Idaho and died there on January 11, 1960. He was buried at Cloverdale Cemetery in Boise, Idaho. Papa’s life was neither extraordinary nor adventuresome. His accomplishments were neither grand nor noble. But he did something that was difficult for Papa to do after living in one place the better part of his life. He left a place which not only had been a life long home for him but also a place that had been a home to his parents, and even his grandparents. It is my understanding that there are a number of Choctaw living in Idaho, now, but in the nineteen forties, I do not think that was the case. Maybe in a symbolic way, and in a way which does not attempt to diminish the tremendous feat of the Choctaw ancestors, the Trail of Tears extends all the way to Idaho, and even beyond. Papa made it all the way to Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, a remarkable undertaking for a man who as an orphan and as a young man unaccustomed to travel preferred to remain close to home. He saw stark and dramatic country in the Northwest and helped to establish a new home for his family in Idaho’s Boise Valley and its west central mountains. Papa had five children and sixteen known grandchildren, several of who have returned to Oklahoma and to neighboring states to visit, and even to attend college. Mama died in 1982 and Jean, in 1994. Papa left us a great legacy, the heritage of the Choctaw Nation, his life in Oklahoma, and the lives of his parents and grandparents in Oklahoma, which has given us all a strong sense of both identity and union, and connected us decisively with a definite time and place in history.