Thomas, Lotta

Lotta Thomas

I am Lotta Thomas, now West and I am one half Choctaw and one of the original enrollees. My birth date is March 2, 1906. I am the daughter of Sweeney Thomas and Myrtle Culwell Thomas. Papa married a white woman. Mama was fifteen years old and Papa was nineteen years old when they married. Papa’s parents were Loman Thomas and Sikey Baker Thomas. I have always thought if I’d had a son I would have named him Loman. Papa and Mama lost two children in infancy and raised three girls and six boys to adulthood. I am the oldest child and the only child of my family to be enrolled.

Two of my brothers served in World War II and my baby brother served in the Korean Conflict. Now, I only have one sister and one brother left. Papa farmed and Mama made a garden and had her cows and didn’t trust anyone else to do the milking. She always had plenty of milk and butter for the family and to share with the neighbors. All the family worked in the fields. Cotton was the cash crop and Papa took it by wagon to Spiro to sell, as the market was better there than at the gin in Bokoshe. My allotment was located north of Bokoshe and we lived on my place a number of years in a two-room house with a lean to across the back for the kitchen. We used a fireplace for heat. Big meals were cooked on a wood burning cook stove and the family all sat down together to eat. A bench seated several boys and there was always room for company.

We did not have a long walk to school as it was only a quarter mile away but old Bokoshe School sat on one of the steepest hills in the county.We attended church regularly at the Old Bokoshe Baptist Church one and a half miles away and we usually walked this distance. We girls drove a horse and buggy when we wanted to travel far, like to Flower Hill and to Cashier to attend singing conventions. I used to sing alto in a quanet. Quite often the well-known Alben Brumley was present at these conventions. We made our own entertainment, as did most families in those days. Mama and Papa played games with us at night. I can’t remember all but some of them were Fox and Geese, Hull Gull, and Blind Fold. We popped corn quite frequently, fudge was a treat and we had homemade ice cream a few times in the summer and of course, snow ice cream in the winter. Our family was quite large but we lived as well as most families in our community. I don’t know how, but Grandpa and Grandma Thomas always had money and Papa was a favored child. Sometimes we got per capita payments also. We three girls were the oldest and I remember Papa buying us new coats trimmed in fur. I still think we looked as good as we thought we did in those coats.

I was the last of my sisters to get my hair “bobbed”. Papa was probably madder at me than ever before or after. You’d have thought it was the ruination of the generation. Only he and I had gone to town that day and I went to the barbershop. It was a long, silent ride home in that horse drawn buggy for he took one look at my “bobbed” hair and never spoke a word, I didn’t dare to either. Papa had an older brother named Isaac who traveled far and wide to play stickball, the Choctaw sport at that time. Uncle Isaac would come in worn out, bruised, and battered for quite often these games turned in to gang fights. Papa was quite athletic too. He always won foot races at Booster Days in Bokoshe. He ran barefooted and was able to beat younger men even when he became middle aged. Cash prize was a five dollar gold piece. One of the stories Papa liked to tell went like this: ” I roamed the woods alone when I was little and would find and drive a bull for a long ways to get it close to another bull so I could watch them fight. Sometimes these fights would last half a day before one bull would give up and leave, but you’ve never seen a fight until you get two stallions together. I’ve done this too and then climb a tree to watch, for you needed a place of safety. They would bawl, which is a sound like no other. They would paw each other and bite and be all torn, cut and bloody. Sometimes I couldn’t come out of the tree until dark. “Papa could tell this story so realistically that I can still see in my imagination a little Indian boy sitting up in a tree looking down on two bloody spotted horses, standing on hind legs, wild eyed, breathing heavily and near exhaustion-yet ready to go for the kill if one wouldn’t give up.

Grandpa was a Presbyterian preacher, preaching from a Choctaw Bible, could read and write English and could also speak English rather fluently. He had beautiful handwriting and I don’t know where he received his education. He always had a little sculli and was quite generous with it. Once he got about two hundred dollars in per capita payment and not believing in banks he buried it in a fruit jar on the creek bank. A few days later a big rain came and washed out the creek bank and Grandpa’s jar of money was gone. Grandpa couldn’t sleep nor eat and Grandma was mad. Papa was amused but did help hunt it and he was the one who found it in a huge drift about a mile down creek. We lived on my Grandma Thomas’ place near McCurtain in my early childhood. My Grandma Thomas was the greatest woman I ever knew; to me she was “the last of the Choctaw”. She spoke only Choctaw. Her ways were the Choctaw ways and she never conformed to the white man’s ways. Their values were not hers. In the summer time she went to town barefoot. Because she was comfortable this way even though she had shoes at home had she cared to wear them. My Grandma always had time for the grandkids and we all loved her dearly. Grandma was short, not too plump and always wore floor length dresses with full skirts. She’d sewn these dresses by hand with tiny stitches though she wore no glasses; a bandana was always tied about her head with the knot at the back. She knew every sound in the woods. One night, I remember when I was very young going with her over across the creek to check her rail fence for there was a wild fire out and getting close. On our way back we heard this animal sound and I was scared. She calmed me and told me it was a rabbit. In later years I knew it was a panther. I think she did not know the meaning of fear.

Grandma was the worker in the family and was never idle. She had numerous gardens scattered about in small clearings. She also gathered wild fruits, roots and nuts that grew so abundantly in this valley-the valley that is still known today as Thomas Hollow. Bags of dried corn, strings of peppers and dried pumpkin rings filled the rafters in her kitchen and porch for the winters were long and hard. They raised hogs that ran wild in the valley and killed lots of small game. Grandma was well known for her knowledge of medicinal herbs. Papa liked to drink and he liked to fight. He met his match in Poteau one time with a Mississippi Choctaw. He was badly beaten and battered but was able to make it home to Bokoshe traveling by foot, furtively through the backwoods so as not to be seen. He arrived home feverish almost unrecognizable for his head was swollen almost twice its normal size. He told one of the boys to get on “Ol” Dan” and go get Grandma, knowing that she could help him. When she got there, she headed straight for the woods, gathered what she needed and doctored Papa through the night. By morning the swelling was almost gone.

Grandpa and Grandma had lots of company and were always ready to take someone into their home who was down on their luck, feed and take care of them until they were ready to hit the trail again. I think when they needed more room they just built another little house. They had four little houses in a row. One was for cooking, one was a kind of sitting room and the other two were for sleeping. In later years Mama and Papa and my brothers moved back up on Grandma’s place and the boys attended the rural school called Liberty and high school at McCurtain. We three girls were married by this time.

Grandpa Thomas died in 1928. A hit and run driver killed Papa in 1933, leaving Mama and six boys at home. Grandma Thomas died in the spring of 1934 having outlived all twelve of her children. I married Ted West and we left the McCurtain area in 1937. We located on a part of Grandma’s allotted land in the Boggy Community north of Red Oak, Oklahoma. These were the days of open range and we raised cattle and four daughters there. I was much like my Grandma as I enjoyed fishing, preserving foods, raising a huge garden and gathering wild fruits. I rode horseback into the mountains for wild grapes and huckleberries. Unlike Grandma I rode astride and she rode sidesaddle. Grandma helped at the birthing of most of her grandchildren without the aid of a doctor. I can recall more than twenty babies that I helped deliver, however only once did the doctor not get there in time. Most women had their babies at home in those years as I did mine. When my husband passed on it was hard for me to move to town as I had to give up many of the old ways but I am still a CHOCTAW. I still have my four daughters, many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. I have so many to worry about it keeps me happy!