spread out over their world like a tree beside a stream to give
shelter and protection for so many. As a girl she was educated in the
Catholic schools set up to serve the American Indian youth. Those
teachings were recorded in the hearts and minds of the people as they
remembered and told of one or another encounter they had with her. She
quietly wrote checks for salaries to the men who worked for them. They
had families and these wages provided for their wives and children
during the heat of economic depression in their worlds. Checks were
made out to Leon, Dean’s brother, for his first family’s child-support.
Forty dollars a month seems like nothing today, but in 1936 it was like
a fortune. Dean had extended family whose children had to have
clothing, school supplies and sometimes even food. She and Dean made
wide swings through the Osage carrying full sacks of supplies to give
The beauty and grace of
her world existed for many years so that her life was almost legendary.
Bits and pieces even show up today in Ponca City and can only be
recognized by those who knew Bertha.
She was a gentle task
master, who seemed to know how to give a person their freedom to
develop whatever hidden talent they might have. Her record and book
keeping reach out years later to give the family a knowledge of a
great-grandparent through the lovely handwriting of Bertha’s in a
Bible telling of the man and his wife, with dates where they were
married as well as where they were born. The information had to
be dictated to her by Joe himself. Which one of them thought to do
such a thing? Maybe it was a joint-collaboration, but the clear,
clean handwriting was decidedly Bertha’s.
Arnold, Leon’s oldest
son, often shuffled along on the road toward his Uncle’s place next
door to the Joneses.. Bill Shoenholz, the uncle, was German during
a time when the war made things rough for these people. Mostly
they shrugged adversity off and went peacefully about their
business of working their land. Bertha tended her garden, which was
bordered by that road where Arnold walked. Arnold didn’t know or
remember the child support in his old age. He did remember Bertha
taking time to visit with him.
“Bertha was a gentle,
kind lady. She seemed to enjoy visiting with me,” Arnold once
Leon was ever
indebted to her and made up for her charity toward his children by
keeping the ranch running smoothly. Having a fine home for his
second family was only one of the benefits, Bertha provided.
Cold winter winds
whipped around the house. Something about the way the eves were
extended from the roof caught that wind and played it like an
instrument. The music wasn’t pleasant though. It howled, moaned and
seemed to be an entity, who was weeping. Bertha now was learning
what so many of the Native people endured. Diabetes began to make
her life miserable. She suffered even more as her teeth and gums
became infected, so badly, that she had to have all of them
pulled. The cold of the uninsulated house, and her pain caused her
to sit, starring in space, while she suffered.
“Let’s go to the
agency and see if we can’t get money for you to go to Mayo Clinic,
Bertha?” Dean spoke with her.
She was in pain,
sick, and didn’t want to move, but she agreed to go.
Driving over the
prairie on roads of gravel was enough, but now Bertha had to go
before the Osage Superintendent to plead her case. Even though she
was a fine book keeper and knew exactly how much money she had, the
superintendent was appointed by the Federal Government to dole her
money out to her. She and Dean were ushered into the man’s office.
He rested behind a great desk. His demeanor was nonchalant and a
bit removed from the present situation as if he knew, already, what
he would have to do.
Bertha opened the
conversation with her words to request monetary aid. “I’ve been
going to these doctors around here and gradually, I feel I’m wasting
my time. Diabetes is of control. I need to go to the Mayo Clinic.
I want help, counseling, anything to help me get well.” Bertha was
actually begging for some relief.
The man swung around
in his chair until he was facing a window overlooking the landscape
where the offices were perched atop Kihekah Hill. He gazed out
without speaking until Bertha was becoming impatient. She wasn’t in
any shape to play cat and mouse with this man.
Finally, he swung his
chair back around and looked levelly at Bertha.
“You don’t have any
money in your account. Very little, in fact. Barely enough to get
you through until your next payment.” His statement was matter of
fact, to the point and seemed to be final.
Bertha was always the
one in control, with never a slip to loose her temper, but now it
was as she had lost all her ability to reason.
“Who do you think you
are? Who do you think I am? No, don’t answer that, I know who you
think I am. You think I’m some stupid someone who knows nothing
about my affairs. You men come in here, high and mighty, and with
an opinion of my people. We know it, you don’t fool us with your
simpering, sweet smelling words. You are a liar. A bald faced
liar! Where is my money? What have you done with it?” Bertha was
all the things her Chieftain ancestors had been. There was no fear
with her now. She arose from her chair like a giant bear, in one
step reached for the heavy desk and jerked it up until it was in the
air. Articles on top slid off. Dean was quick and beside her. He
wrapped his arms around her and had his face and mouth right up
close to her ear.
“Bertha, Bertha!” He
spoke quietly and with love. “My dear, you cannot do this. You
cannot. Let the sorry, little outfit, go.”
The angry woman allowed
herself to come to her senses and dropped the desk with a heavy thud.
The superintendent was so frightened he was all but running backward to
get away from the enraged woman.
Dean stayed with her. He
walked close beside her, very close, all the while, quietly speaking
“We’ll find a way, my
love. Don’t worry. We’ll find a way. There are cattle we can sell or
something. Come on, let’s get away from here.”
He led his wife to their
car, as quickly as he could, and seated her in front. From the time it
took him to get around the car and to the driver’s side Bertha had
opened the glove compartment and grabbed a pistol he kept there.
Dean was a man, smaller
than Bertha, but quick and strong. He struggled with her until he
retrieved the gun.
“We’ve got to get away
from here. You must settle down.”
They drove around and
about the town, in and out. All the while, he was trying to calm the
distraught woman. Finally, after Dean was sure she was quiet he
suggested they do some shopping for groceries. This was always a
project, because Bertha loved to keep the pantry stocked for any
company, or for the hired hands.
As he drove home with his
wife, he worried that maybe the superintendent was looking down from
the windows of his office, higher up, and had seen Bertha with the
pistol. Dean made up his mind that he would do anything possible to
bring his wife back to health. He truly regarded her as a strong
person whose roots reached deep and wide. She was his playmate when
they were children, the wife who had bravely fought through their
disappointments with lost children, and his companion. He wasn’t going
to let her go without a fight.