To the memory of my Father,
Lee Otis J
Upon coming onto the age of seventy years of
age a whole new world has opened up to me through only the making of
notes and writing parts and parcels of my life. This year of 2004 is the
time for the retirement of the baby boomers. Hopefully my frail efforts
will encourage many of those to share their stories, too. These are what
makes the spice of life and can bring us all together in an appreciation
of one another's individual experiences.
There has been a wonderful sifting work
going on in my life since the publishing of my first book, How To Keep
Up With The Joneses. I walk away from that with truer friends and family
than I ever had. Those who supported me and were proud of my
accomplishments have given me a greater appreciation for these special
people in my life.
Introduction: Story of my
father, Lee Otis Jones
Lee Otis Jones, my father, lived the early
beginnings and through the era when the middle part of the nation had to
catch up with the east and west coast's strong, accomplishments. In the
span of time when Lee was born, 1902. In 1986 when he died, the state of
Oklahoma was up with and equal to the rest of the nation. There was a
difference in the achievements because everything was done in a shorter
length of years, in Lee's case, 84 years. The telling of Lee's story is
of interest because he went from the early oil boom days to and through
the history making days of presidents: Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson,
Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower,
Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan. Once when a nurse
asked him who was president while she was trying to see if he was aware
of the world around him. He said, “Ray-Gun” as he grinned and pointed
his finger at her he said, “and don't you forget it.”
The young nurse looked around wide eyed
with a puzzled look on her face. He kept his sense of humor through all
the good times and hard times in which he lived and maybe this is the
secret to living a good life.
Passion and the Strike
Yonka Pins and
Story, The Last Sun
Gramma Collins of the Hunters,
Called Lee a
Work and More Work
Land and Family
After the Arrow
Good-Byes, Whistles and
and Lee in Stride
Children in the
Lee's Passion and
the Strike Axtc \l1 "Lee's Passion and the Strike Ax
The story of Lee Otis
Jones, my father.
The sandy, murky, water of the Arkansas
River flowing past Ralston, Oklahoma in 1908 was at the edge of my
father Lee's family's home. A hastily built cabin of logs was their
residence but it was their shelter which was nestled in the heavy timber
along the river. The little family had run from the dust bowl of western
Oklahoma. They had experienced agonies from the trip across blowing
sands with short food supplies, tired horses and weakened wagon but that
was over now. This household was ready to stand against the cold blowing
winds of winter. At a place that dropped away from the bare prairie
lands this location offered protection from the gales of relentless
winds. Bell, Lee's mother, was determined to settle here and have her
sons take advantage of the education and country like school in town.
The retreat for them was alive with rich green surroundings which was a
breath of fresh air away from the hot, dry, harsh lands from where they
had just traveled.
Bell's table was where her second son, Lee,
was having his breakfast and it was a rough, handmade piece of furniture
built by his father, Joe, who was an accomplished carpenter as well, had
to do everything with haste to meet the challenges of the impending
freezing temperatures soon to be upon them. The serviceable table Bell
had covered with a white Damask tablecloth which denied the existence of
any unfinished look. Yeast rolls were folded in a napkin inside a basket
and Lee could smell their delicious aroma. The ingredient to make this
rise was made from potatoes and eternally bubbled at the back of Bell's
wood stove. Scrambled eggs from their chicken's nests, chitlins rendered
from the hogs, and milk from the fresh cow with a calf were part of
Lee's breakfast. Dennis, Lee's older brother was already walking and on
his way toward the school in town. Joe was skilled in the frontier ways
of bartering and trading and he was able to put a homestead together
effortlessly. His own grandfather, William Jones, had already taught the
family these practices after he settled Oklahoma as an Indian Agent for
the Federal Government before statehood. Bell worked diligently to make
a pleasant life style within this house having coarse, log walls.
Covering the irregular boards of the table top with a white cloth was
only one of her ways she had of dealing with the uncivilized conditions.
She had grown up with pioneering parents in Arkansas and it was as easy
for her to create a genteel world from rough surroundings as it was to
create soft, beautiful dresses on the sewing machine. It all was second
nature for her.
“You best catch Fancy when you finish your
meal,” Bell admonished Lee. “You know how difficult she can be.”
Fancy was the vexatious, little donkey Lee
rode to school. From experience he did know how stubborn she could be.
This morning was no different. The boy of six plodded through the dry
grass of the pasture after her. If he ran toward her, the beast picked
up her ears. With wide walleyes, the donkey immediately danced to the
side, turned, kicked up her heels to run at a full tilt to a far corner
of the pasture. After repeating these actions many times she finally
stood munching a mouthful of grass while the boy slowly, ever so
carefully, walked toward her to slip the bridle over her ears. No one
had taught Lee to hide the bridle behind his back so she couldn't see
“Oh well. I'm tired of this game, anyway,”
she seemed to be saying. The animals demeanor was one of a child with an
“Fancy!” Lee was exasperated. “You have made
me late for school again.”
“Mother, I don't want to go to school tardy,
again,” Lee pleaded with Bell.
“You certainly will go to school. Your
teacher understands about unruly donkeys. I'm sure she deals with enough
of those every day.”
Lee picked up his lunch pail that was a grey
galvanized tin bucket with a handle of heavy wire Joe had attached to
it. Even though he slowly and carefully pushed the heavy kitchen door
open, it still sent up complaining, squeaking sounds as if the hinges
were rebelling against holding the large hewn pieces of lumber.
At this approaching early mid-morning the
boy often would be halfway to his destination when the donkey in its
willful way bucked him off. The last leg of his trip necessarily had to
be walked, which made Lee even more tardy. Three years of the same
routine past. Fancy didn't change her ways but Bell was maintaining a
stand in her needs to see her son educated even though the donkey wanted
to have its freedom. After all, Lee had learned to read and write.
The other battle was more troubling and not
as easy to conquer. The severe test of having to live through his asthma
was upon the boy. The disease was more than a discomfort at times. Often
it was the ultimate test. When an attack hit, it didn't matter if he was
at home or at school. Fighting for the basic need to breath contorted
his face. His glazed eyes seemed to be desperately focused while his
mind was willing him to live. Of course, Bell fought for her son's life
with determination. The teacher's feelings were different. She was a
teacher not a nurse. If asthma came upon the boy at school, the trauma
was often beyond the youthful teacher's ability to work through. Other
students who were well and there for her instructions had to be
considered. Sometimes, a half day would be lost to the terror of the
thought that the boy was not going to be able to draw another breath.
This morning saw him going through the same
paces with the stubborn donkey. Again, halfway to school, the donkey
tossed the boy, books, lunch-pail and all, off its back. Lee picked
himself up, gathering his books and the contents of his lunch pail. He
sat down beside the road to eat the sandwich of homemade bread, butter
and mint jelly. Something in the mint always seemed to clear his
breathing a bit. It worked to hold off an asthma attack he thought. The
large mullein-leaf in the bottom of the pail he took in his hands. Lee
crushed the leaf to release its oils. This he rubbed this about on his
shirt. The sticky little burr-like fibers he kept off his skin. He felt
relief as the dreaded asthma held back and did not come upon him at this
moment. Lee stood up, brushed off his pants and, instead of walking in
the direction of the school, he turned back toward his home.
The boy standing in the kitchen door
presented a sad site to his mother.
“I'm not going back!” Lee declared.
Bell studied him closely in the way she was
known to do before answering him.
“You don't have to go back, Son. You have
learned to read and write. I will teach you here at home from now on.”
This she did. Lee became a student of the
land around him. He could name every plant, tree, shrub or vine. He knew
their uses, whether for healing, weaving, carving, tanning of leather
and so much more. He was a student all through his life. The elements
taught him through their mysteries involving science. The Osages around
taught him their wisdom. His education was so wide there would never be
an end to what he knew and practiced. These were part of the reasons the
man's mind seemed at peace and at one with the grounds of the world
The family's respect for a creator made him
a student of the scriptures, as well. His understanding was a marvelous
thing. So many mysteries he understood and shared with whoever would
listen, not to convert, but like Christ to truly teach and share the
wisdom of the Son's Father. Without traditional church going he was not
burdened with set repetitive ceremony. His mind was free to be in unity
with a higher power he called his Maker.
In a way, the dilatory little
beast-of-burden named Fancy, gave to Lee's family a gift even though the
animal had no thoughts of anything so great. Fancy's only wish was to
simply be free.
Dad and the
Cattle Calltc \l1 "Dad and the Cattle Call
“Woooo, wooo, ow wooo ooo e you, wooo, wooo,
e, yup te dooo, singin' the cattle call.” A handsome, black-haired-man
sang as he rode his white horse. He was impeccably dressed in a dark
suit and white shirt. Hair, smooth and uncommonly neat emphasized those
sharp good looks. Night shadows caused Lee to feel the evening was
mysterious and exciting. The man's song rang through and about the spans
of the heavy metal bridge as he rode over the river on his way to
Ralston. Lee felt everything about him was fine and pleasant.
Ralston was in its hay day in 1912. It was
said that there were thirty-six establishments for adult entertainment
in every shape and style from elegant to nothing more than a tent. Many
people used the bridge at the edge of the family property. This evening
was no different from the others. The boy, Lee, was required to be in
his bed early, but this didn't stop him from hearing the people as they
crossed into the little town. Sometimes he would hear a wagon load of
people who were talking and laughing. At times, a wild, spirited horse
would be ridden at break-neck speeds which made the bridge echo with the
sounds of the horse's hooves. Everyone had one purpose and that was to
go into town for an evening of recreation.
Through the crack in the door the child
could see his mother sewing at her treadle machine. The coal oil lamp
gave her all the light she had. He could see her slender feet in tiny
shoes pushing up and down on the pedal. Across one side of the machine
were the strips of bright colored silk which were sewn into the
beautiful regalia shirts for the Osage men. The scraps of brightly
colored fabric would be saved for putting together a crazy quilt.
Embroidery around the edges of each piece made the work special and was
always a precious gift for some dark haired Native baby.
Rustling sound of the leaves on the corn
stalks came through the window and lulled the boy to sleep. He was
awakened abruptly. Lee heard an unsettled team of horses in the front
yard. Jingling harnesses told him the horses were not easy. They were
dutifully standing at their place because they were well bred and
trained but Lee could tell they were seemingly not knowing which way to
A woman screamed. The long, piercing cry was
startling and repeated as though something was causing her pain. Her
voice could be heard between the cries. She was speaking Osage. She
would stop only long enough to loudly beg, “Mr. Jones! Mr. Jones!”
Bell, Lee's mother, was quick! She bent over
the coal oil lamp, and with one puff of her breath into the top of the
glass globe; blew it out. In the darkness the boy could hear his father,
Joe, moving swiftly through the front door. Sound, more than sight,
informed the boy of what was happening.
The Osage woman was now inside the cabin.
She cowered at Bell's feet sobbing in her own language. “He will kill
me, he will kill me.”
“Sh-sh-sh. You are going to be safe. Don't
cry.” Lee heard his mother comfort the woman.
Joe was a small man but that did not mean he
wasn't an able protector. His quick action and strength in his torso and
legs from hard work and horseback riding gave him an edge. As a man
tried to follow the woman into the cabin Joe was upon him. Rather than
shoot his gun he used the stock of the shotgun like a club. In a short
time the intruder was racing to get to his wagon and team of horses to
Lee's Dad returned to the cabin and he was
busily striking a kitchen match to light the lamp. When the light struck
the woman's face Lee could see she had been beaten.
“It makes me so gall durn furious when a
white man takes one of these Indian women and then abuses her like this.
Get a pan of cold water and try to do something with her face, Bell.”
“Mr. Jones! Mr. Jones! Save Mary, Save
Mary!” The quaking woman knew she had a close call. In her broken
English she was trying to thank Joe.
In an instant the peaceful scene around the
boy had been shattered. This was just the beginnings of the terrors to
come into Osage County. The money from their oil wells brought newer,
almost unsolvable problems to them.
The man, who earlier rode his white horse
and sang his beautiful cattle call, became one of the most heinous
criminals in the history of Oklahoma. Lee often wondered when he was
older how such a thing could happen. He was puzzled as to how such a
handsome man, who seemed to be so refined, could do some of the things
he did. This man was Bill Hale–the same Bill Hale who was tried and
found guilty as the mastermind of nefarious crimes against Whites as
well as Indians. In fact, those crimes were planned in a small house not
far from Ralston on the road to Hominy, Oklahoma. If Lee were living
today, he would have a great pleasure to see civilization has moved
forward in that the house is now a museum. It may be a bit haunted, but,
nevertheless; It is a museum. Whitehair Museum is hidden from the road
half way between Fairfax and Hominy.
Pins and Catfishtc \l1 " Buckbrush, Yonka Pins and Catfish
Lee and Dennis, his brother, loved to fish
the river. Today they were carrying their catch back to the cabin. The
catfish they caught was big. They had to run a heavy, long stick through
its gills so both could carry the weight of the oversized catch. It was
difficult for the young boys to hold the fish off the ground because it
was a good length longer than they were tall. The boys were only a
little over four feet tall.
Mary, their Mother's new friend, was having
a cup of coffee with Bell, when the two boys came dragging the big fish
into the kitchen.
“Look! Look! Mom! Look at the fish we
caught!” The boys were proud and excited.
“How did you get him out of the water?” Bell
couldn't believe the boys were strong enough to pull the fish ashore.
“Dad helped us, but we were the ones to
catch him.” The boy's pride was all tied up in the mysteries surrounding
an event like this. What it is about catching a big fish that brings
such delight can only be understood by the fisherman himself.
The Jones family was impoverished. Their
circumstances and possessions were few. However, Bell always managed to
keep a camera available. Little did she know she was actually recording
history. On the other hand, it's possible she did know. Her mother was
doing the same thing as she saved all sorts of newspaper clippings,
receipts, letters and other things involved with everyday living. The
little snapshot of the boys holding the giant fish out of the Arkansas
river is still in the family one hundred years later. These were the
only things Lee saved, the old photographs of Osages and their own
Mary, in her own language, was directing the
boys to bring the fish outside. She helped them build a fire. Over this
smoking fire a rack made of strong sticks was then constructed. After
cleaning the fish, the Indian woman, sliced strips of fillets from its
sides. These she hung over the rack, close to the smoking embers of the
fire. This was the way her people preserved food. There was no such
thing as refrigeration at the time. A large amount of meat like this
could feed the family for many meals if it was dried so it could be
stored between herbs and leaves. Mary was repaying the family for their
protection and shelter.
As soon as the fish was secured on the rack,
Mary motioned for the boys to follow her. She led them through the
timber to an open place where a small pond held great numbers of water
lily plants. Mary picked up large branches and with her signing told the
boys to do as she was doing. She whacked the water vigorously all about
the pond where the plants grew. The boys followed her lead even without
knowing the reason for what they were doing.
Mary used her hand to make a gesture of back
and forth slithering.
“She's telling us about the snakes,” Lee
The young Indian girl waded out into the
middle of the pond after she had twisted and hitched her skirts above
her legs. She turned, smiled and waved to the boys to follow her.
“What is she doing?” Lee was fascinated.
“Whatever it is, she wants us to do it too.”
The boys were busy pulling off their shoes
and rolling up pant legs.
Mary felt around in the mud with her toes.
She reached down into the water to pull out a long water lily root. The
fibrous strand she pulled up had a bulbous tuber on it. She snapped this
off and threw it to the banks at the edge of the pond. Mary and the boys
gathered a sizable amount of the Yonka Pins. When the girl was satisfied
with her collection she took the hem of her skirt and lifted it to
create a kind of pocket for holding and carrying the bulbs home.
While they were walking toward the cabin,
Mary pointed to the low Buckbrush growing on the ground. “Tomorrow. Need
Years later, Lee gathered Buckbrush roots.
He collected and cleaned them of their outside shell. The smooth roots
were white and pliable. The man, who was now a father, showed his kids
how to weave the roots in and out, over and under, larger sticks. While
they did this Lee told the children about Mary of the Osages, who knew
these things which were a wonderment to him.
“Dad? How did Gramma Bell cook those Yonka
Pins?” The children were curious to know.
“She sliced them to about half an inch
thick. They have holes in them like Swiss cheese. The roots are simply
boiled with meat. I always thought the Yonka Pins tasted like beans.
Yum. Makes me hungry to think about them.”
Aunt Judetc \l1 "Lee's Aunt Jude
Jude was Lee's favorite Aunt, sister to
Joseph, his father. It was true she was tiny---only four feet tall. That
didn't make any difference. The woman was extremely small in body but
large as life with her strong spirit. She rode as well as any man and
she did it with a side saddle. These were the days in the early
twentieth century when women did not wear pants. The side saddle allowed
them to wear the full skirts while they rode. Of course, Jude not only
rode but she trained and groomed unbroken horses.
Jude and her brother stood visiting while
they looked at one of the horses. The animal was a quarter horse. These
were known for their agility and quick movements. Joe preferred the
thoroughbred, but Jude was happier with the short legged, smaller
horses. Their temperament suited her own manner.
“This is the spookiest, little mare, I've
seen in a long time,” Joe told his sister.
Jude defended the pony. “He's quick under me
though. I don't have to worry about him. He moves when I ask him to
“That quick way always worries me. Anything
can spook him.” Joe was still nervous about his sister riding the
Jude sensed her brother's concern. “You
don't have to worry about me. I can handle him,” she reassured him.
“I suppose you can.” Joe smiled because he
knew his sister was, indeed, as much as a horsewoman as any of the men
in their family. He was thinking of his younger brother, Little Dee, who
was quite a well known jockey. Jude was about his size. If she had not
been a woman, she would have surely been able to do the same thing.
“Lee has been after me to let him ride,”
Jude informed told him of his son's wish to begin to learn. “Are you
okay with that?”
“I don't suppose, there would be any way I
could stop him? I know it's bound to be in his blood. No, I won't try to
Jude began to work with both the boys, Lee
and Dennis, until they became easy with the equestrian secrets she
possessed. The two learned to loop a rope over the horse's neck gently,
smoothly and accurately. If they were clumsy when they first started it
wasn't long until both were using their hands as gracefully as a ballet
dancer. An onlooker couldn't help but enjoy this way of beautiful motion
without abrupt movements. Jude's nephews began to easily manage and
handle the horses. She taught them to be free from severity or violence
with animals. It was like poetry in motion to watch them. Their natural
personalities, which were kindly and considerate, their aunt brought to
Bell was uneasy about this new part of her
son's lives. She expressed her concern to Joe. “I'm not so sure about
the boys spending so much time with Jude. I know she is your sister, but
I'm just a little afraid of how she lives. You would think four children
and a husband would have settled her down.”
“She's all right.” Joe was fond of his
little sister. Nothing she could do would be wrong as far as he was
“It isn't just the horse back riding. It is
more than that. I believe she's made acquaintances with some unsavory
folk.” Bell had her standards as far as how she felt a woman should
“Aw, Bell! She lives a hard life. Pickin'
cotton with those kids and her husband. Cookin', cleanin', trying to git
them to church with very little money for Sunday clothes. You can't deny
her this one pleasure. She loves the animals and she is good with the
boys, too. As far as association, she knows what she is doin'. An Osage
family, with new oil money has hired her to work in their home. She
don't have a choice. Money is tight. You know that. They seem to be fond
of her and she likes them, as well.
Bell understood, this part of Joe's
reasoning. The sewing she did for the Osage people made her aware how
hard they all had to work just to get by.
Joe enjoyed thinking about Jude working for
her Osage family. They lived in a fine home which was bought and paid
for. A new car was a fresh experience for them. Because no one in
the family could drive, Jude was given the job of chauffeur. She loved
driving the flashy sports car which was an open air vehicle built like
the early day styles resembling a horse drawn carriage. Jude thought it
was close to riding a horse drawn carriage.
The home of the Osage family where she
worked was a wonderful place to be. Merchants had brought the most
elegant, expensive furnishings into the town of Fairfax. The Big Hill
Furniture store was loaded with nothing but the best quality. Large
overstuffed chairs and sofas, rich fine wood bedroom furnishings, the
latest appliances of the day---all were there for the Osage families to
purchase. For the dealer it was a way to make money but it was an honest
endeavor. No cheap, flimsy, garish merchandise was available. Anything
there would be a valuable possession.
This is how the house was furnished where
Jude worked and the environment was pleasant with elegant, rich
furnishings. Her employers were generous, easy to please, and kind to
her. She enjoyed working for them. With her income from the job the
industrious little woman was actually able to buy a pretty dress and
shoes for her girls' Sunday church attendance. The boys she clothed with
modern outfits. Lee and Dennis were her favorite nephews and she bought
them new clothing. Everything seemed to be getting better for Jude and
The tiny woman was now scurrying across the
long living room where she had been dusting. With the dust rag still in
her hand, she dashed to answer the phone. The message she received was
from someone she knew. He certainly was aware of what was happening in
the community. Her folks had called him less than a desirable associate,
but she didn't worry about that. He was always honest with her.
“You'd better get a hold of the sheriff.
Thet bunch is on their way over there. They are going to blow you all to
smithereens!” It was a loud voice that could be heard over the phone.
“I'll hang up and call him.” Jude knew this
“You cain't call 'em. He's over at Andy's.
They ain't got a phone. You'll have to try to get over there.” With that
last statement the man hung up the telephone.
Jude was out of the house and into the car
in an instant. Andy lived on a road not far from where she was working.
She knew she could get to the sheriff. As the car careened over the
dusty roads, she suddenly saw another car approaching her. It was coming
straight at her, threatening a head on collision. She jerked the
steering wheel hard to the side. The car hit the sandy shoulder of the
road and rolled. Jude was able to jump out of the car, but when she did
the men in the other car were upon her. One of the men jerked a pistol
out of his coat. With one shot he brought the woman to the ground where
she lay until her sister-in-law, Bell, and her youngest nephew, Lee,
arrived. The lawmen had Bell's attention, but Lee ran to the side of his
beloved aunt who was on the ground.
“Son, I want you to look at this.” With that
statement she pulled her blouse back so he could see the bloody gunshot.
“Don't ever tell anything to anybody. My little one's? They'll get my
children and husband next.” Jude swore Lee to silence and he maintained
that until just before he died. He wept tears as he told it some 76
The home of the Osage family where Jude
worked was dynamited with the
family in it. That was the beginning of the terrible murders of the
Jude died and was buried. It was never
reported that she had been shot and killed by the same people who
dynamited the home.
Lee's Story, The
Last Sun Dancetc \l1 "Lee's Story, The Last Sun Dance
“Joe, I don't know whether you should drag
these boys out there into deep timber to watch the Sun Dance.” Bell knew
the ceremony had been banned in 1904 by the Federal government. The
ritual of self-mutilation was not part of the Christian teachings, they
“It won't hurt nothing. It will be somethin'
they can tell their children.” Joe and his sons were the last of the few
white men who were invited to the very sacred event which was held only
once a year. This makes me wonder about Joe's bloodline, too. The Osage
are very true to their own laws regarding not having any other tribe or
nationality present at secret societies.
“You had better take some of this
Citronella. The mosquitoes will carry you all away if you don't.” Bell
always kept a bottle of the smelly natural repellant handy.
“Aw, Mama! Do we have to? I hate that
stuff,” Lee and Dennis were both complaining.
“Yes, you must have it. I don't care whether
you like the smell or not. It works. You don't need bites that might get
infected.” Bell didn't back down from her decision for the boys to
protect themselves from the little blood sucking menace.
All the lowlands around Ralston had heavy
undergrowth. The land was rich from the alluvial deposits of the
Arkansas River which was wonderful if anyone wanted a garden. These were
the good living conditions that had saved them from the dust bowl
drought. Oklahomans migrated en masse to California, but Joe and his
family came to this rich green place instead. The drawback was that
during rainy seasons any standing water was a breeding place for the
blood sucking, mosquitoes. It wasn't the little insect that gave Bell
misgivings tonight. It was the fact that she knew the federal government
wasn't going to allow this Sundance ceremony to continue. Whatever means
the federals had to use is what they would do to eventually
completely stop this part of the Osage's religion. She felt it was risky
for Joe and her children to be at this possibly last Sundance.
“There will be smudges burning,” Joe told
Bell as he tried to calm her feelings.
“I hope they don't burn any poison ivy in
them.” Bell wasn't going to be so easily placated.
“Oh for heaven's sake, Bell. You know better
than that. The Indians would never be that careless.” Joe spoke to his
wife with only a little impatience.
Joe and his boys followed the road which was
close to the river all the way to Fairfax. The next little settlement of
Grey Horse was their destination.
Whether it was the trauma of watching the
primitive ceremony or whether he was just too young to recall the event
it didn't remain clear in Lee's memory. When he was older, about the
only thing he could remember was how the skin below the collar bone was
pulled up and slashed. In this cut they inserted and threaded a sharp
stick holding a wet, rawhide strand that was tied with a knot. If it
took as many as four days for the dancer to pull the rawhide through the
skin it was always done. The thong had been tied to a pole standing in
the center of the arena. The weight of the man's body leaning back away
from the center stake as he danced around it was how he pulled the strip
of rawhide through his skin.
Historians and anthropologists have written
explanations for the ritual. They believed it was a symbol of re-birth
to the Native American. The self-sacrifice of one's only possession,
their body, was all they had to give to their God. This could be true
because there were ancient ritualistic sacrifices to the ancient God of
Baal reaching back to the fertile crescent when extreme suffering was a
ritual having to do with those who were burned in a fire. These things
were practiced as a fear tactic so the priest of ancient times could
keep their people in submission. Fear is a terrible tool and this was
what Lee probably was seeing acted out for the first time.
The next morning found Lee clinging to his
mother while she worked in her kitchen.
“I didn't like that Sundance,” Lee spoke in
a low tone to Bell.
“You aren't on your own in that. I really
don't like it,” the mother agreed with her son, but she was curious.
“What did they do?”
Lee was too much of a child to understand
the difficult worship involved with the custom. All he could see were
the very stark, realities of the ceremony. Later he would read in his
voracious way about ancient religions. Although he never came to an
agreement with it, there was more of an understanding about why they
worshiped as they did. At the moment, as a child, he had no intellectual
hold on the activities of the Osages as they practiced this ancient
traditions. This was a practice of the Ponca and the Sioux as well.
“There were these rawhide thongs they ran
through that skin on their chest. It seemed like they were in a trance.
When the thongs finally pulled through the skin the dancer dropped right
where they were. Other people had to come, pick them up and carry them
off. It gave me chills and it scared me.” There was no cognizance on
Lee's part for the meaning or reason of it. Bell had already taught him,
Christ was the final sacrifice.
Cheyenne Moontc \l1 "Cheyenne Moon
Bell, was of the Collins family. They had
challenged adversity for years. In fact, one of the Collins was in the
Revolutionary War. The children were informed of their Scot and Irish
blood. They claimed Michael Collins of Ireland and even named their
children “Michael.” Circumstances never stopped them from making a
joyful life. This Collin's way and culture had to be what brought Lee
through the hard times of early day difficulties. The family fought for
each other in such quiet ways even a close observer would have to be
alert to see the things they did to protect one another. They made
supreme sacrifice too, but they were living offerings of actions.
Suffering through the toil of learning to play instruments was done with
not a look behind. After all, what else could lighten the loved one's
grief of aching, hurting lives, like dancing. What if their fingers were
calloused from the strings of the instrument, it was all for the needed
breaks and pleasure of their loved ones. Any child who was bent to a
talent was encouraged in a way to make them understand what they were
doing was altogether important and needed.
Years later one of the Collinses joked about Steinbeck's
Grapes of Wrath. “In California they did have grapes. We didn't even
have grapes.” And then the room would ring with laughter. Someone else
might say, “Grapes? What are grapes?” More laughter would follow.
Lee, at the moment, wasn't feeling like he
could cope with the latest woes to come upon the family. Bell's sister
and her family had run from around Ft. Worth, Texas. They were
hard-working, but things were not going that well economically where
they had been living. They had other problems, too. Their total family
moved after Bell told them about the verdant, rich grounds along the
Arkansas River. Winter was not a good time to move but they had no
choice. The children needed food and medical care; They needed a warm
place to stay. The cabin was so small that there was only room for a
few, or many, if they were packed in tight. Some of the children had to
be in bed because of their sickness. Lee felt so cramped and miserable
he could only find relief by getting out of the tight space.
His Collins blood must have dictated to him
because he was able to find a way to escape. The sand banks of the river
offered a place of refuge for him. With a shovel he dug back into the
sand to create a snug retreat. He was careful not to dig too far back or
make the space deep. He didn't want to create a trap for himself should
it crumble. A short distance in the front of his tight little shelter he
built a small fire. With a book, warmth and daylight, he had all the
comforts of home. When he tired of reading he put on his ice skates and
followed the long stretches of frozen river. The tributary was on the
edge of many of the Osage homes. It was at this time he learned so much
about their culture. Lee had no prejudice; after all, his own
grandfather, Nathaniel Stewart Collins, was dark with Indian blood.
Jesse Lee Collins, Nathan's father, was said to wear braids. His
education was so rich and he was truly blessed, in spite of the
challenges his family was having to live through.
The evening's were when the elders told
stories about what was and what had happened in their life.
“We always hated to see a full moon. I'm
telling you it was a bad time when that old Cheyenne moon came around.”
“Why did you call it a Cheyenne Moon?” Lee
was ever curious.
“Well, Son, let me tell you about that.” Lee
knew another story was forth coming.
“That old-moon? It wuz the brightest when
them Cheyenne made their raids. The moonlight made it possible for them
to see where the livestock wuz or anything else they wanted. A night
like that and the Hobson men all got together with rifles. They run them
Cheyenne into a canyon. There wuz a heavy, frog stranglin' rain, thet
come up. Thet water come up so fast them Cheyenne had to git out of the
flash flood. As they come out, the Hobsons picked them off, one at a
time. I don't know how many they got. Well, you know after that they
warn't no stoppin' them Indians. They hated us. Thet is why ever time a
full moon came up we all knew it would be a desperate sit che ation, and
thet is why we called it a Cheyenne Moon.”
The boy had time to reflect on the story. He
thought about his friends, who were Osages. He wondered why there was
such a difference in the way this man, his relative, felt about the
Cheyenne and how Lee's opinion of the Osage was so unlike his. This may
have been the first inkling the boy had of racial questions and the ill
handling of it.
“I'll have to ask Mary about this,” Lee
silently thought to himself before he dropped off to sleep.
There never were questions asked though.
They had too many things to do. In the winter they ice skated up and
down the miles of the frozen river, he read everything he could find
even to the newspapers, and Lee helped his mother with her quilt making
or other craft projects. In the summer there was horseback riding, his
music, helping with chores and running the timber with his American
Indian friends. This gave him no time to even think about a Cheyenne
Lee's Gramma Collins of the
Hunters, Brewerstc \l1 "Lee's Gramma Collins of the Hunters, Brewers
“Lee Otis! Lee Otis!” Gramma Elizabeth Ann
Collins called to the grandson who was forever the dreamer, often busy
with his own pursuits.
“Yew git yerself in here, and I mean at this
very minute. I'm tired foolin' aroun' waitin' on yew. Yer Grandsir
brought in these possum grapes and yew are ah gonna hep me with 'em,”
Gramma Collins was born in Kentucky and she spoke with an Elizabethan
dialect. She was a stern taskmaster of a lady. Some of her grandchildren
loved her and said she was such a gentle person, while others feared her
and said she had caused them to get many a whippin'. Lee was one of her
favorites and she doted on him. The wine making secrets she was about to
pass down to him from the Brewer family would prove to be a source of
much discussion and apprehension between family branches as they stood
back to observe what Lee could do with his brewing skills.
Gramma Collins did not die until 1926, and
at that time Lee was twenty-four years old. He had been gifted with a
great amount of the knowledge his grandmother, Elizabeth possessed which
she had, no doubt, learned from the Hunters and the Brewers. Those
families reached back into the ancient cultures of the European. Their
secrets for living were endless.
“Now Lee!” Gramma had a talent of
sandwiching her strong Christian beliefs in between her teaching of the
more secular things. “This is a secret of wine makin' passed on down
from the Brewers. They are the Brewers of Kentucky. It is a grand old
history they have. Providing spirits for those who are heavy at heart
are-ah gift from thet man upstairs. He is The Man, and he is The One.”
Some today quarrel with that belief regarding gender, but at the time it
wasn't up for discussion.
Years later, when Lee spoke of “The Man,”
his children knew without question that he meant “The Man Upstairs.”
“Yew must take an oath of sobriety tah do
this. I think yew are the one tah do it. Yew cain't be a drunk and work
with the spirits.”
So on and on it went. Elderberries growing
wild were picked and turned into the most delectable wine. Of course,
there was watermelon wine, dandelion wine, and even grape wine. When
Lee's daughter, many years later showed the same talent, her husband
stopped her because he said “we are having too many friends all of a
Gramma Collins knew of the hard liquors too.
This was where Lee learned to build a “still” much as the hill people of
Kentucky did. Distilling alcohol to drink was not a problem for Lee. He
learned to precisely watch for the correct bead, clarity and proof.
There was never prohibition with the Jones family, but in actuality; It
was the Collin's people who gave them this gift.
Many a kitchen sweat with dancing and
moderate imbibing of the spirits held back the somber, grey days of the
depression. Their belief allowed them the joy of liquor. However, the
rule was moderation. The best way to cut off association was to one time
overindulge. This would, for sure, stop any future invitations one might
have as far as being allowed to come to the next social. No one wanted
to be left out so everyone obeyed the unwritten rule. Those were the
days when an event might be planned every six months. It took money
saved to buy the sugar, arrange for the country band to play, and any
other plans to be made for entertaining great numbers of people. No one
worried about economic lows while they were enjoying themselves around
the tables of their friend's kitchens. Within the privacy of their own
family, the music-making never stopped. It was a way of life and they
didn't need the spirits for these family gatherings.
The old family Bible Elizabeth Ann read so
often fell open to her favorite places when in the hands of her great
granddaughter so many years later.
“I wonder why Gramma Elizabeth Ann pressed
these particular flowers between the pages of this Bible?” Her
granddaughter asked one of Elizabeth's aging relatives.
“Those were saved in the Bible after Gramma
had taken them from the casket of someone she knew. They were from a
funeral. I suppose she knew each and every flower and from whose casket
she had picked it.”
“How sad.” Her great granddaughter felt a
sudden tie to the woman she knew only through stories. There were verses
in the Bible marked and here was a prophetic reading made for each
grandchild's future. One verse told how, “Lee will cause great changes
in high places with mighty men.”
“Well, our Dad Lee did that. In so many ways
he made us think,” but how did Gramma Elizabeth know that? There was
probably no mystery involved. Any grandmother can advise about how well
they know their grandchildren's personalities.
Around Joetc \l1 "War Raged Around Joe
In 1914 Lee was twelve years old. His
brother Dennis was born in 1900. Dennis always liked to say he was the
same age as the 20th century. Lee was two years younger than
This was the year for World War One when war
raged at international levels. Local, lesser battles dealing with
mundane things around them made it necessary for the Collinses, Joneses,
and Hobsons to live a cautious life. The efforts for unsavory elements
in their wish to capture Osage oil money was much more real than the
World War for their families. Most people were willing to simply enjoy
the fruits of a better economic environment, but there were those who
wanted the whole pie.
(See clipping Bellzona, Lee Mother saved):
One night the rinkity tink notes of the
player piano in the Blue Moon Tavern at Ralston called to Joe. Unlike
the Collinses who maintained their sobriety and strong Christian ethic,
the defeated man, had succumbed at this point in his life to the
spirits. When he and Bell lost the sweetest of the children, little
Inis, something in his will to live was shattered. The dark, womb-like
taverns gave him more comfort than the bright lights of the miserable
world in which he now lived. Too much sorrow and suffering were resting
on his shoulders. There was the sister in Bartlesville who died a
terrible death; her daughter, Effie, died six months later, Joe's
grandfather, grandmother, Uncle Seborn, sister Jude, and numerous
cousins were lost to the Indian-White cold war, and, now, the beautiful
little Inis was gone. She was as blond and beautiful as a Celtic
princess. Her blue eyes had slowly faded and closed while he and his
wife held her. Bell had written letters to her daughter, Gertrude,
telling of how she didn't think she could watch the child slowly die.
Measles had weakened Inis and she could never recover.
Joe sat drinking his way to being
anaesthetized and separate from his grief while in the bars catering to
some of the Osage people. We have to wonder, what was his tie with the
Osages. Did he remember the time his father battled the ranchers
intruding into the circle of the Osage encampment, or was it something
more? Why did he own land in the very midst of their allotments? Why
were they so protective of his family? Was all this the reason he was
more comfortable with the Osage than with anyone else.
Tonight in the dimly lit bar he was watching
the two men who were with Grace Snake Hide. She was a beautiful young
Osage woman who was a recipient of oil royalties. Joe knew of the
circumstances around her. He was well aware these men had been hired by
her family as bodyguards for the young unmarried woman. For all
appearances they were simply accompanying her and nothing else.
Click on picture to enlarge.
“Ah'm gonna git me one of them rich Osage
women.” A drunken young man sat at the bar next to Joe and babbled. “Did
jah see thet good lookin' one over thar?”
“I wouldn't mess with her,” Joe tried to
warn the man.
“Hell, why not? She's rich and she ain't bad
lookin' neither.” The liquor had given the man false bravery.
As the foolish young man swaggered over to
where the woman and the two men were sitting, Joe left his place at the
bar. It was too close to the circle of where the up-coming action might
“Hey Squaw!” the drunk rudely called out to
the young Indian woman.
Her companions didn't move one extra muscle
other than the almost unnoticed movement of one of the men's right hand
which lifted the long barrel of a six-shooter and pointed it at the
approaching drunk man. The gun was strapped to his hip under the long
coat. His steel-blue eyes narrowed down to a slit and they were on the
drunk. The body guard stood up.
“Three feet is close enough, not one step
closer.” The larger of the two men cautioned. The drunken man stopped.
This stumbling person was suddenly sober as
he threw both hands up in front of him. He waved them back and forth and
backed slowly away.
“I'm fine. Don't want any trouble.” He was
suddenly polite and contrite.
Back at the bar the man asked Joe, “Why
didn't you tell me about them?”
“I tried to warn you,” Joe told him. “He'd
have killed you and told God you died. They are her body guards. Most
people around here know that. Her family hired them both to protect
Years at Ralstontc \l1 "Five More Years at Ralston
The years from age twelve and to the age of
seventeen were very hard times for Lee. Joe's drinking got worse, and
Bell left him. She traveled to a small town out of Ft. Worth where her
sister, Margaret, nicknamed Bog, was married to James Griffith.
The cabin was not a home for Lee anymore.
Without his mother, the place was only a building and nothing more than
a roof for shelter from the rain. The wood cook stove stood now with no
comforting fire most of the time. Presently though, Lee did have a small
fire going in the stove. Here is where he cooked the solitary piece of
meat Joe had brought from town. He didn't know how to make gravy so he
just poured the skillet full of water for a kind of meat juice sauce. He
had scavenged a few of his leftover hardtack biscuits for the table. The
meat juice would soften up the dry bread.
Lee knew where Dennis was and he had to go
tell him they had something to eat. The two boys were coming back to the
cabin when Lee caught sight of an older boy coming out of the door of
“Shore wuz a delicious chop.” The boy
grinned and wiped the back of his hand across his face.
All that Dennis and Lee had left to eat were
the bits of hard tack and the meat juice gravy. The blatant way the boy
had stolen their food enraged Lee. They had no mother, their father was
drunk most of the time, and they had nothing to eat. It was an insult
for the boy who was mature enough to know better than to have done what
he did. It may have been a hard discipline, this having to deal with
such a circumstance, but something about the adrenaline pumping anger
through Lee's veins allowed the boy to come to grips with his loneliness
at the moment.
The two boys learned to survive, somehow.
They learned the names of the Osage families who were camped in and
around their cabin. There were the Tishawallas, NeWallas, Chessawallas,
of course, the Snakehides, who later became Berry through the Catholic's
school giving them an English surname. Big Eagle, Saucy Chief,
Hun-Kah-Mahn Kah, Sacred Eagle, Saucy Calf, Big Heart and so many more
names were holding mystical meaning.
The tall, green, summer corn had wide leaves
that were turning and bending gently in the breeze of a cool night along
the river. Joe had managed to get a crop into the ground. Now as the
boys listened to their father riding back over the bridge, alone, they
became instantly alert. He was coming through the door of the cabin in a
“Where are my good for nothin', no 'count
boys?” The drunken Joe was a Jeckle and Hyde personality. Easy going,
little talk, hard working when he was sober but when drunk he was
something different. Bell was no longer there to torment so he was
looking for his boys.
“We've got to git out of here, Lee.” Dennis
was the older of the two and often the decision maker. “We kin make it
out the back door,” the big brother was again the protector.
Hiding in the cornfield was not something
they had just now learned to do. They had to so often of late it had
become a regular happening. “What are we going to do when the cornfield
dries up?” Lee wondered.
“We'll think of that when the time comes.”
Dennis kept his voice low.
The boys woke when the rays of the sun
flickered through broad leaves of the corn onto their faces.
“What are we ah goin' tah do, Dennis?” Lee
was depending on his brother who was only two years older than he.
“I think we'll go in tah town to see if
Ain't (aunt) 'Leeth will give us somethin' tah eat.” Dennis couldn't
think of anything else to say. “Maybe there will be a letter from Mother
at the Post office.”
Sure enough, their Aunt Aletha cooked
breakfast for them. While they were eating she mentioned there might be
a letter from their mother at the Post office.
“We thought about that,” Dennis, who was the
conversationalist, told his aunt.
There was a letter in one of the little
metal boxes lined up on one wall. Upon spinning the combination to the
right and then the left, allowed them to open their private box. The
letter was addressed to their father, Joseph Hubbard Jones.
“I really would like to know what is in thet
letter,” Lee told Dennis.
“No. No, I don't reckin' we better get Dad
all stirred up again. We'll just take it home. He's probably sober by
now.” Dennis knew they couldn't drift around town for much longer. It
was all right in the daytime but night would soon be upon them. The
streets would be filling up with the incoming visitors intent on a good
time in whatever way they chose whether gambling, drinking, partying or
lolling about with some of the ladies of the night who would show up,
too. Town wasn't where the wanted to be after dark. They would just have
to hope that Joe was all right by now.
Their father was sitting at the kitchen
table. He had been up long enough to make himself a pot of coffee. Joe
was lost and forlorn in his own thoughts as he sat slumped in the chair
with one hand wrapped around a cup of coffee.
When the boys put the letter from their
mother in front of him, he sat looking at it for a while. With slow
reluctance Joe opened it and then read it. After he finished, the man
carefully folded the paper up and put it back in its envelope. The
formerly hard, seemingly unfeeling, man put his fists to his eyes and
Of course, this behavior was more
frightening to the boys than his drunkenness.
“Dad! Dad! What is wrong? Is something wrong
Joe put his head down on the table and with
his one hand stroked and smoothed the hair at the back of his head. His
grief was so complete.
“No. Boys, I am thankful to tell you, your
mother has agreed to come back to us if I will just quit the drinkin'.
And that is exactly what I plan to do.”
Lee told about how his father had not drawn
a sober breath in so many years but just as he had continually been
drinking, the man now stopped. He never slipped, not once. How he was
able to kick the habit, cold turkey, as the saying goes, was never told.
He just did it.
“Your Mother wants me to come get her. It's
a fur (far) piece on down to Ft. Worth but you boys will be all right.
You'll have your mother home again if you can wait a while longer.”
Joe brought Bell home from Texas. The scars
of their heartbreak were always with them, but somehow they were able to
work through everything to rebuild their marriage.
Bellzona, and her family of Collinses, were
incredibly strong. So many times they had to pick up and start all over
again. They were champions and always managed to continue their onward
struggle to walk toward a destiny and a goal. They loved children,
animals, all sorts of people and they loved life itself. With this
habitually gifted manner they were able to go forward with the journey
through life and living. They never held Joe in contempt for his
drinking, in fact, not one of them ever mentioned it at all.
“Joe could sure play the fiddle. He loved to
play, “Redwing,” one of the Collinses might make a comment and recall
something good about Joe, Lee's Dad.
Lee a Geniustc \l1 "They Called Lee a Genius
Lee and Dennis, the two brothers, had
bonded. They shouldered the challenges of the highs and lows in their
lives together. Now they were at the age when they could work side by
side as a team for the Osages, who were investing in well bred horses
and needed trainers as well as riders for their fine animals.
“Respect good horse flesh, Son,” Joe
instructed his boy. “Don't climb up on a good-looking animal while you
are looking like a bum.”
Bell, Lee's mother, was always there with
the camera to record her clean, well-dressed sons, not only on the backs
of prize race horses, but also in the new cars of the Osage people. The
camera recorded other positive activities. It was all
a record of family history.
The dreaded asthma Lee had begun to outgrow.
However, their living in the lowlands along the river where mosquitoes
were an eternal pest brought malaria upon him. Throughout his life he
was plagued with chills when he had something as common as a cold.
Riding horses was taxing but not as much as some of the other heavy
menial jobs he might have tried to do. Race horses were plentiful at
this place and time. A gambling society of the era loved the thrill of
betting on the horses. For that matter, greyhound dogs were raced, as
well. It was the fad. The Indians had the money and the time to invest
and they were able to hire people to train and groom the animals. This
is where Lee and Dennis through Joe were able to come into many a job.
The skill they had learned from their Aunt Jude's tutoring made them
sought after for work. Their slight weight and small build was desirable
for riding and training the swift race horses. This activity, rather
than hampering him because of the asthma, helped him to become more
physically involved with a sport and healthier, as well.
Whatever spooked the horse while Lee had him
on the track was never discovered. Like any accident there was nothing
that could be explained.
Why did the horse lose his direction, jump
the railing on the edge, and
speed off into the stone left by builders of
a nearby structure? The horse could have veered off in any direction
other than where the rock was dumped. None of that mattered though, Lee
was injured, and severely. For months he lay in a coma. When he came out
of it, he had amnesia. Lee didn't remember where he was, who he was, or
the people around him.
Bellzona and his Grandmother Elizabeth Ann
spent many a day working with the teenage boy. His Grandfather,
Nathaniel Stewart Collins, Elizabeth's husband, also spent most of his
time reading and talking to the boy while Lee was in a coma and after he
Elizabeth Ann sang the hymns recorded in her
little hymn book that was as old as when her family had to flee from
See picture: (click on picture to enlarge)
The prayers Elizabeth sent up to her maker
were with tears in her eyes.
Although she had a large family who all
enjoyed her visits with them, she put these down on her list and spent
most of the time with Lee. Elizabeth was now studying the Bible with a
renewed interest. The little copies of the Golden Age magazine she read
to Lee over and over until they became as worn as any loved book.
All the activity on her part to see her
Grandson alive and well, paid off. Lee's health was finally restored.
The things he accomplished after he recovered were unbelievable. They
called him a genius.
Beginning for Leetc \l1 "A New Beginning for Lee
Lee was seventeen when his brother, Dennis,
married Bertha Big Eagle, a neighbor girl, who was of one Nation, Osage.
The children all grew up playing together. All the adversity of living
at that time had bound them together with strong ties of loyalty.
Batting back and forth practice of protection with the Joneses and the
Osages made the ball in the court of the Jones family once and then the
next time under the tribe's control. At the time of the marriage Bertha
was simply enjoying an extended relationship which was now a union
between Native American and ancient European cultures. Lee was certainly
comfortable as the younger brother-in-law.
Dennis and Bertha's first reckless attempt
at marriage was officially overlooked by Bertha's Osage family as they
arranged to have a traditional Osage marriage.
Seventeen years old, full of the joy of
youth and now walking into a new, significant way of life caused Lee to
have no more changes in his attitude than if he had been at a Sunday
school picnic. What was he doing while the family was busy with building
a ranch home? Lee learned to drive the new cars his brother was able to
buy and became the paid chauffeur for any Osage family who needed his
service but, on the other hand, while his family was at their economic
high's Lee was still running with his Osage friends. The only difference
was that he now could afford to keep up with them, financially. His
brushes with death, the hard, early day living and inculcated respect
for life allowed him to go more slowly and carefully. If there were
others who were dare devils and risk takers it had nothing to do with
his conduct. He never again rode the race horses for pleasure or work.
There wasn't any desire to play the rough and tumble games of the rodeo
either. Maturity had been hard won at the earliest age and he was all
right with it.
Music was the love of the Collins family.
Lee dabbled with playing different instruments. He loved the mandolin,
the banjo, the guitar and he played the violin with the studied style of
an old Cajun, or anyone who held the bow with a graceful, relaxed
position and only touched the strings with it . The only difference was
that in his earlier attempts to play he did not have the money to buy
these instruments. Bertha showered him with anything his heart
desired and at this time it was what he needed to follow along with the
music of his Uncle Bill Collins, Bell's brother, who was a old time,
blue grass. champion fiddle player.
Dennis was busy following the direction and habits of the
old southern Georgia family with his gregarious socializing when he
joined this or that organization. Lee, on the other hand, was still
absorbed with his reading. No one knew the facts he was learning as far
as science was concerned. If he quietly, seemed to be, literally eating
a book as he read, who noticed? They didn't know he was reading about
electricity, hydrogen, hydraulic lifts, the strength of a vacuum,
magnetism, and so many more intriguing scientific principles. After all,
Bell held the name of Bellzona, an Italian scientist who had invented
the hydraulic lifts for the Nile river. Maybe Lee possessed those genes,
The location of the ranch house was his
selection. He told years later he had read that water was usually in a
reservoir under a hill even in dry, arid, prairie lands.
“Here she is!” Joe was holding the peach
tree branch with all the strength his bulging arm muscles would allow.
“Bring me a marker! This is the spot to dig.”
Witching water was something Joe had done
for many people all over the state.
He was able to find water for folks all
through Western Oklahoma. The windmills turning for their precious, cold
fluid were a tribute to Joe's record for how many wells he did witch.
This wasn't going to be as easy a task like
in the sandy lands. Here on the prairie it wasn't that far below ground
where the limestone rock was resting in layers. The layers they dug into
were deep and nothing could penetrate them. No one around had wells on
their place with drinkable water. They might get to the upper run off
but it was gypsum, salt tasting. That is, not until Lee Otis Jones.
“They're using nitro-glycerin and dynamite
to shoot the oil wells,” Lee casually commented.
“Hell! Man! You can't use nitro. I won't
allow it.” Joe was only beginning to see the scientific thoughts of his
son surfacing and it frightened him.
“Dynamite then?” Lee was asking. “It has a long fuse.”
So it happened with Lee going down into the hole each time
and using just the right amount of dynamite. Sometimes the blow of rocks
would catch the lower rungs of the ladder before he could get it out of
the hole and it was weakened in this way. As he scrambled back up the
ladder, the last few times, he could feel the shakiness of the rungs.
Lee was greatly relieved when the cool, clear water, bubbled up out of
the deep narrow hole. Water was what allowed the family to live well.
This was again a new beginning for them. The choice location was free
and far away from the sorrows visited on them while they lived close to
Whiz Bangtc \l1 "Whiz Bang
If Ralston had a flamboyant life style it was nothing
compared to the town of Whiz Bang. This town was located only a short
distance out of Shidler, which was about seventeen miles from where the
Joneses were settling. Whiz Bang was the slang term for a mixture of
Heroin and Cocaine.
The sheriff of Osage County, even with deputies, didn't want
to take on the cleaning up of the crime ridden town. No one wanted the
job. The ranchers and people moving into the grass lands were hard
pressed to build a community fit for their children. They wanted
excellent schools, decent neighborhoods and good government. Joe's young
sons did not have his experience. In his family, he alone had to meet
with the ranchers. He was one of the local people who volunteered to
serve with the Texas Rangers. These Rangers, who would be asked to come
into the town, were the giants of law enforcement at the time,
literally. Joe looked almost to have a delicate frame. His hands were
small and fine boned and all he had in the way of physical prowess was
not strength in physical ways, but it was his indomitable spirit that
served him. Over and over this was to be the only thing to carry him
through the life threatening encounters he had with hardened criminals
while he worked for the Texas Rangers. Numbers of men had moved into
Osage County as opportunists for capturing the easy, oil money and they
were a determined bunch. Once these men set their head to whatever
scheme they had it was decidedly difficult to turn them away from that.
Joe's family, Dennis, Lee and Bell stood back to watch as
one after another of the threatening, hard core, criminals were removed
from the town of Whiz Bang. The terror was so great little was
disclosed, even years later, as far as Joe's part in the clean-up. Even
as his sons related these things it was apparent the emotional scars
were still there.
“Dad was so short he had to jump up to swing
at someone's chin,” Lee told.
“We lived through such anxiety every night Dad went down to
Whiz Bang. He had a Colt 45 strapped to his side, a six-shooter in a
shoulder holster and a little lady's derringer in his vest pocket,”
Bell never spoke of the events, not once. The only way it
could be known she was aware of all the circumstances was when she
warned the granddaughters, who were making Joe's bed, to be careful not
to remove the pillows because, “Grampa's Colt 45 is under one of them.”
The town of Whiz Bang was stripped of all
the gangsters and low life. Nothing would eventually remain. The town is
no longer in existence with not a building or resident. The clean town
of Shidler close by, became the central location for schools, shopping,
doctor's office's, and even at one time, a small hospital.
A picture, seen years later, showed Joe
standing in the back row with two Texas Rangers. One was on each side of
him. Three lawmen were on the front row. Joe must have been standing on
a box. A granddaughter recognized this because of his sheepish grin
probably over his false height which put him up as tall as the Rangers.
and Schoolstc \l1 "Marriage, Churches and Schools
German Immigrants, ranchers, bankers,
druggists, mechanics, grocery store owners, and everyone else who were
contributors to a stable society were moving into the grasslands. There
were all the organizations, churches and schools, waiting to settle the
Osage after the cleaning up of Whiz Bang. It was now possible to become
established and serve people who wished to raise their families under
one or another umbrella. Those already established around the Jones-Big
Eagle land, were the German immigrants. The Lutheran faith is what they
followed. Directly across the road from one corner of the Jones place
the immigrants built a small place of worship. It was a church to remind
someone of the old hymn, “There's a church in the valley by the
wildwood, no place is so dear to my heart.” On Sunday's those folks
faithfully attended services at the sparkling white little building that
stood out there in its place. A minister sometimes came from Arkansas
City, Kansas and a local girl of the Roper family played the organ.
These people were like their European
ancestors, who were determined, hard working, and dedicated to family,
but they were very stern and sometimes strong disciplinarians. The
younger one's, of course, were intimidated by their elder's severe
countenances, especially during services. As soon as the teens broke
through the church house doors after their worship, they were free and
light hearted. Especially the girls were glad to be out of the dark
confining rooms into the sunlight and freshness of the prairie away from
the stern looks of their elders.
It was Sunday, but the ranchers were like
farmers when it came to doing the work at an opportune time. Of course,
the Sabbath was a different time for the Joneses, anyway. Hay was ready
to be baled and nothing stopped them from their dedication to feeding
the nation especially in times of war. It was on one of these mornings
Lee caught sight of the beautiful, tall and fair, German girl leaving
With the way of love and passion this young
man didn't ask questions about the girl's faith, race, or family. She
was beautiful, fun loving and the girl was Lee's age. Nothing compared
to the sloe eyed, dreamy looks of this clear skinned, blond girl who
looked like a Fifth Avenue model with long legs and slim, trim physical
Lee straddled a well mannered attractive
mare as he rode over the hayfield to supervise workers. It was quite a
chance meeting; The first time he caught sight of Emma. She too had an
interest in the good looking young man who was flashing around the
meadow wearing his Stetson hat while riding a well-groomed horse. The
Schoenholtz family knew all about the Joneses. They may have been a
close-knit group of people but they weren't blind. Joe had earned
respect for his role in the work he did at Whiz Bang. Not only had he
been involved with that but he toiled with the road crews to build
passable routes for travel over the long stretches of prairie. There
weren't dozers and other heavy equipment for moving earth and rocks,
either. The workers had to manually lift rocks and boulders to cut roads
through the hills. Horse drawn wagons, pick axes, shovels and dynamite
were what they used.
The skill the Joneses had with horses came
from a family who lived at a finer time in the southern state of
Georgia. Those were the times before the civil war when plantations
required a rider on a horse to care for the land and to direct the
Bell's family of the Brewers had managed
massive lands in Missouri inherited from a great land grant. The records
show an unbelievable number of acres under their control. The dust bowl
had hampered Joe's forward progress only temporarily. The rough
circumstances around Ralston they had survived, and now, again were at a
place where they could peacefully continue with good works just as the
Hunters and Brewers had done when they began to recover from the Civil
War. If the Joneses had fought for the South and the Brewers for the
North this didn't seem to be a conflict but in actuality there were
small riffs, too insignificant to be noticed and mostly ignored by one
or the other family. Such things as a Brewer, who was a photographer,
recording Jude's family in the cotton field wasn't exactly to meet the
Jones's approval. Certainly Jude, from her expression, isn't much in
agreement with the pose either but these were small things and the
families did overcome and overlook them.
The next Sunday Lee was more aware of the
German girl's church attendance. He made it a point to be in the
location at the corner of the meadow close to where he knew the girl
would make an appearance.
“Good Marnin' Mam! Fine day!” Lee was
making an attempt to get acquainted.
“Oh it is. Just gorgeous. Are yah gonna'
get your hay all into the barn?” Emma looked up to the handsome young
man on his horse.”
“Oh yeah. Yep. We are ah gonna get 'er in
all right. The Lord's been smilin' down on us and we're makin' hay while
the sun shines.” Lee clucked to the horse, tapped him gently with his
spurs, waved to the girl and with a big grin was off an gone.
“I'm gonna court that pretty little German
gal.” Lee told his mother.
“Who?” Bell was interested.
“She's that Shoenholtz gal. I'm tellin' you,
she's as purty as a picture. She's got the blondest hair I think I've
ever seen. Why, I think it must be spun gold. I nevah seen anyone as
elegant. She's so sweet talkin' it plain puts the Cherubs to shame.”
Bell didn't interfere. Joe was okay with the
situation, but Dennis didn't want the arrangement at all. This time
there was no forcing his will on Lee. No one could discourage Lee from
seeing the beautiful Emma Schoenholtz.
“That young Jones is going to put his older
brother to shame, one of these days. That boy knows what he is doing.”
Emma's Dad was heard to say in the thickest of German accents he spoke.
Picture of church:
and Emmatc \l1 "Lee and Emma
Lee and Emma were married. They had two sons
and then they were divorced. This part of Lee's life is like a dark
shadowy page. No one ever talked about the marriage, or what caused the
break-up. It was almost as if the marriage had never happened.
Accounts by Lee's second wife, Velma, give a
picture of what might have gone wrong. The difference in Lee's two wives
was that the second wife was educated at Chilocco. While there she
served as an officer in the military school. She wasn't the daughter of
immigrants. Lee's second wife was Native American of a different tribe.
She was Ponca, who were actually always on the edge of being natural
enemies to the Osage. Dennis's wife, Bertha, who was Osage, recently
made wealthy by the oil royalties, had a pleasant personality, but there
were those in her family who did not. Bertha's mother didn't speak
English. She could be overbearing and this had nothing to do with being
Osage. It was just the way she was as a person. Members of her own
tribe, years later, told.
“They called you kids off-brand
because you weren't Osage,” Velma, Lee's second wife, smirked.
“They were the off-brands, and I told them
so. We Ponca's are pure.” This was an insult implying the Osage had,
indeed, married the French trappers. It was true but unfair, too, since
the Ponca's had done the same thing.
Today all that sounds silly and petty, but
one has to remember these women were just a step away from the heavy
culture of their own tribes. How could Emma, Lee's first wife, possibly
cope with a situation like this? If Bertha's Osage family called Emma's
children “off-brand,” she would have simply gathered them up in her arms
and walked across the pastures back to the warmth and love of her own
German people. She could do-battle with no one. The world conditions at
that time did not allow it. The Germans were strangers on a strange
shore. If they kept to their business, worked hard stayed out of
trouble, their families might be able to survive.
“Just because Bertha had all that money,
Dennis tried to treat us like servants.” Velma complained. “Do this for
Warren, do that. Cook his meals, and give him the biggest and best piece
of meat. See to it that Ura May's clothes are ironed and don't make her
ask for them.” Velma didn't mind telling everyone around her how she was
mistreated. For her whole life she never forgot. She only lived there
for a short time with Lee but she never remembered ever having to work
as hard or having to live under such wretched conditions even in the
midst of luxury and beautiful surroundings. In her mind, the really bad
living, she went through later was nothing in comparison. Velma, while
in servitude, had been accepted for herself but when it came to the
possibility her children were to be in this position, Velma, now the
mother rebelled. They were after all of the same blood as the Joneses
why should they become to be treated in a lesser way? This was Velma's
At any rate, Lee and Emma were divorced. The
judge ordered Lee pay forty dollars a month for child support. Dennis
willingly paid this for him at first. It was as if the older brother was
glad to see the breakup of the marriage. Any way of keeping what he
considered to be a nuisance out of his wife's, his children's way, was
worth the money paid. Emma was pushed out not because there was anything
wrong with her. She was firm and as good as the strong Lutheran people
who raised and nurtured her. Lee's family did not appreciate the value
of what her contribution to them might have been, and Lee was quietly
angry over this.
It didn't matter that he had put all his
mental and physical energies into making the ranch home comfortable. Lee
hand wired the houses, Dennis's and his own modest tenant house, so he
could bring electricity to those who were living so far out from a town.
He hand-carved the blades for the wind mill out of two by sixes. This
primitive design, which caught the wind from the air and turned it into
electricity to be stored in car batteries, was ingenious. Water was
pumped from the well with the help of this electricity. A piped supply
of water ran underground to each building. The chicken house, dairy
barn, tenant houses and, of course, the main house all had water running
to them. Electricity made life pleasant and endurable. The family even
had small radios. There were electric irons and an early day washing
Lee was never a drinker. His experience with
his own father's habits with this wouldn't allow him to do so. He
mourned the loss of his first family in a different way. The man simply
Bell picked up Lee's plate from the table.
The cloth napkin had been thrown over the top of it so that the uneaten
remains could not be seen.
“What am I going to do with him? Does he
think I don't know what is under that napkin?”
Lee's trousers were draped over her sewing machine. Bell was
eternally a seamstress. If there had been thousands of dollars heaped
into her lap, every day, it wouldn't have stopped her from enjoying this
part of her life. It was where she went daily after she had finished the
chores in her house.
“Yeah? Oh yes! I'll take up your trousers
for you, even though it wasn't me who run off your family. It's a heck
of a note, I'm havin' to pay. Why am I havin' to look at it when it wuz
that other bunch who did it?” Bell muttered to herself about the sorrow
her favorite son was experiencing. Bell had a way of seeing through any
sitcheation (situation). “Oh yeah! I'll have em' done directly. It
won't do a bit a good though with you not eatin' I'll jest have tahdo it
all over, again.”
As Lee's face became gaunt and haggard, Bell
continued to worry. The dimples in his cheeks were now simply slashes on
an emaciated countenance. His clothes hung on him. Instead of the cocky
Stetson hat he now began to slick his hair back into what was called a
pompadour style which was popular for the day. But, it only accentuated
the lines of his thin face.
“Dennis!” Bell minced no words with her sons
when she was upset. “Lee, is killin' himself slowly. We have got to do
something or he is going to die. He's grievin' over his family.”
“Yeah. I know. I've bought a place over at
Ponca. I guess we'll just have to close this place down and leave it to
the hands and Dad. There's work at Ponca he can do, and I reckin it
might be the thing to bring him back.”
Wrong or right, the decision was made.
Dennis was convinced. His involvement with politics and this or that
organization, he felt was leading to the best course. Little did he know
the miserable consequences to come upon his own family. In looking back,
Dennis probably should have used the money to try to hold Lee's marriage
together instead of not honoring that sacred marriage arrangement.
Forty dollars a month at that time around
the late 1920's was a lot of money to pay for child support. Dennis
probably felt his conscience was clear. As it turns out, no amount of
money could substitute for the institutions God himself created when he
himself said, “I hate a divorcing.” The repercussions on the whole
family would be written in sorrow for many years.
City, 1935tc \l1 "Ponca City, 1935
“Wall concern yer ole' hide, if it ain't Lee
Otis Jones. Man, I'd a nevah recognized you at all. Danged if yew don't
look jist like a city slicker.” The rangy old cowboy was lightly jesting
with Lee. That rough old-timer, was hanging around the city streets of
Ponca City as cowboys and Indians did back then in the year of 1935.
“Yeah, well.” Lee smiled his slow smile.
The hands around the ranch all liked the boy who was now a man because,
for no other reason, he liked them.
“What ever are yew a doin' all duded up,
anyhow?” There was no one who could carry a man high, as the
expression goes, like the wily old men who worked on the ranches. These
old timers could joke in a strong way.
“Aw they got me working up there at Monkey
Wards (Montgomery Wards).
I ain't nothin' but a glorified salesman but
they want me in a suit. How's jah like my new hat?” Lee was referring to
his businessman's, popular, hat style.
“Do yew want to know the truth, or should I
jest lie about it?” The cowboy had his head turned down to one side and
was grinning while looking up at Lee, askance.
Both men laughed out loud at how ridiculous
their conversation had become.
“Now yew jist go ahead and tell old Bert
what is goin' on? I thought yew had it made up thur on yur bud's ranch.”
“Well Bert, it's like this, you know? That
divorce and ever thang!”
Of course old Bert knew about the divorce
but he didn't know how badly it had affected Lee.
“Sure is a dirty shame, you're a loosin'
your boys, too.”
“It's a hard pill to swoller but I'm doin'
better. We're paying forty dollars in child support a month so they
should all be well cared for.”
“Forty dollars? Why man, thet's a fortune
these days.” The elder man was shocked.
“I don't mind.” Lee kept his eyes on the
sidewalk. His emotions and feeling were still quite tender. “Her old man
is buying up land all over and around him. I bet he give ten cents an
acre for some of it. Ther're good people. They'll see to it mahboys are
raised. It was the way Lee had of coping with the inevitable.
“I'm seein' this Indian girl now,” Lee
slyly mentioned. “She's a beauty but in a different way from Emma.” Lee
shared a bit of personal information with this old sage of the range
knowing it would spread like the prairie wildfires they both at one time
“Yew ain't hookin' up with no city gal?”
The cow man wanted to know.
“Oh no! Oh no! She was raised on a farm out
toward Tonkawa. This gal knows more about country livin' than both of
us. Jest becuz she dresses like a million dollars and is beautiful
beyond belief don't mean she ain't smart.”
“Well, don't get yourself all tied down
again.” Lee's old friend was genuinely interested in the younger man.
“Ah, she won't have an old lost cause like
me and I'd be willin' to bet on it. She's the granddaughter of a French
trader, Pasqual Pensoneau. He had a trading post at Kansas City. His
store was under John Jacob Astor. Pensoneau's folks were lawyers and
such in St. Louis but he left them flat. Married up with a woman named,
Shikiinah. She was the full blood daughter of a Kickapoo chief.”
“ Right now, Velma is workin' for thet
Miller bunch,” Lee added.
“You mean, the 101 ranch?” The older man
was now interested.
“Oh yeah,” Lee affirmed.
The old cowboy hunkered down before he
again carried on the conversation.
“Jeez, what air ye ah tellin' me? What in
the world does she do fer them?” The man knew, as everyone was aware of
the goings on of the 101 ranch.
The One Hundred One ranch was owned by the
Miller brothers. They had created a place along the Salt Fork River that
was in actuality a small town rather than a ranch, even though, this is
what they called it. The old white mansion of their living space
presided over one hundred and one acres along the rich alluvial soil of
the Salt Fork river bed. Here is where they planted orchards, fields of
grain such as corn and wheat, and barley for making liquor and much
more. The melons out of the field became legendary in the memories of
the people. Apples were picked and carried to their own store by the
Their store had everything a country person
might need from articles of clothing to kitchen utensils. This is where
the Miller brothers kept an office which was to the south of the
At the back, in behind the mansion African
Americans, Black folks, then called Coloreds, lived in small cabins.
They were not slaves, but.... it was their strength and hospitality to
any who were suffering that contributed to the establishment. This
seemed to be an unnoticed small things, but was one of the greatest
healers of some of the social ills to happen, which truly, comes about
in any group of people.
Velma worked in the store at the riverside
and the store the 101 had in town. She was also the babysitter, Nanny,
for the children of one of the brothers. He and his wife were divorced
and Velma had to help care for his children. Velma was recently out of
the Indian boarding school, Chilocco. The military type discipline at
that time was complete with the young woman. Her grooming was
impeccable. The clothing caste off by some of the Miller women was still
finer in style than any to be purchased in the Ponca City area. Much of
it had been brought from the cities where the women shopped. These
things only added to the fine bone structure of the woman's face and
hands. She was, indeed, outstanding. If there had not have been the
blood inherited from one of the chief's of the Ponca, she would have
been caught up by a wealthy Anglo-Saxon man of the area. Too bad, at
that time, people of substance....did not marry into the families
of the Native American--that is, unless... they were an Osage allottee
with oil royalties.
Velma was blessed with a quick wit and was
unchallenged by the veneer of the upper class. As she often
strolled down the Ponca City streets on her way to work, the badger she
led on a leash made all the cowboys and anyone else on the sidewalk take
a wide berth away from Velma and the Miller children, who she held with
her other hand.
“They sold my badger to someone in the
south. I didn't mind, he was getting tired of being caged up and was
getting mean. It was just a matter of time before he bit someone. The
man who bought him had a zoo and promised to give him ample room to
roam.” Velma spoke about the animal to her children years later.
and Managestc \l1 "Dennis Manipulates and Manages
A tidbit of gossipy information about
someone could be compared to a wild fire in a rage, running over the
prairie with unstoppable force. It spread, leaped, threw sparks into the
air and the thing explodes. The fire seems to have its own fuel.
Whispered talk would be the oxygen for this. There was such an energy to
the traveling babble it actually took little time to make a full circle
and back around to someone who was involved. This is what had happened
when Lee allowed the matter of his seeing Velma to be known.
“What in the Devil is he trying to do!”
Dennis was pacing the floor covered with expensive Axminster rugs at the
ranch. Dennis, Bertha, Bell, and Joe all acted like a board of directors
trying to make a decision about some imminent disaster to the company.
Dennis's empire looked to be stable but in actuality it was not. He and
his Osage wife owned three townhouses in Foraker, a vacation home in
Brownsville, Texas, a cabin in Colorado, and a home in Ponca City. All
these properties required upkeep. The ranch was a thousand acres, all
together with leased properties included and that was not enough land to
make a profit from beef. If they were going to survive, Lee would have
to marry back into the Osages and money.
“I don't know what's all the fuss.” Bertha
was the one who should have been worried but she wasn't. “I like her
(meaning Velma),” Bertha commented with short, to the point,
“We just got him out of one mess, now he is
getting himself into another one?” Dennis definitely was not happy.
Joe was his ordinary, non-committal self.
In his mind he had been through too much to worry about such a trivial
Bell, on the other hand, had a real problem
with what was happening. She was attuned to the long-term consequences
of marriages that were too liberal. Their culture allowed a union with
the Indian women if they had great wealth, otherwise it wasn't
encouraged. It was strange she feared for Lee's future, when it would be
Dennis and Bertha's lives to have the heaviest despair.
Dennis was trying to manage Lee's life. One
after another Osage and Kay County organization was introduced. Dennis
was easily manipulated by the town people who felt that salvation was
tied up with being in the brotherhood of one or another group. In some
way or another, Lee slithered out of all of them. The depth of study
Elizabeth brought her grandson would not allow him to become involved.
Attending a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan was the last straw for Lee.
After that, there was no amount of cajoling, bribing, or anything else
that would make him take part in any of these organizations. His brother
had to give up on that part of his manipulations
The wealthy women ushered through Lee's
life were like expensive chocolate candies. He didn't so much as touch
the tops of them to see if they were what he wanted. It didn't matter if
the trappings were rich and the taste was sweet. He had fallen
hopelessly, completely in love with Velma. If the Queen of Sheba had
been paraded before him, he wouldn't have seen her. The rich trappings
of Dennis's friends couldn't catch his brother's eye.
“Who was that fancy gal who thought she was
the cat's meow in the car with you and your brother?” Velma was more
than aware of what was being done.
“Aw, just some ole' flame Dennis had along
with him.” Lee wasn't going to talk about his brother's maneverings.
It was a game for the two of them, a
cat-and-mouse kind of sport. Dennis couldn't do enough to deter the
lovers, even though he was having troubles with his own marriage and
should have been putting his game playing to the good of his own wife's
“Why are you here in Ponca City?” Mertie,
Bertha's sister wanted to know. “There is nothing here for you. I can't
imagine how you could leave your beautiful ranch home in the Osage to
come fool around over here.”
Mertie was the fun-loving sister. She had a
way of playing at life. There wasn't anything she did not consider to be
a joke. At this moment she was rummaging around in Bertha's closet. The
stylish clothes Dennis had insisted Bertha buy Mertie now threw around
the room. One by one she had to try them and then go into sultry,
husky-throated impersonations of Greta Garbo. She flounced around the
room in tailored bathrobes, flimsy negligees, or in a long, flowing
blanket to imitate a queen's cape. All the antics had Bertha in stitches
Bertha's sister placed two chairs in order
to imitate the front and back seat of a car.
“Come on, kids! Come on. Hurry up. You are
going to Mizzzz Juuudy's. Come on now. Are you all in this car?” Mertie
was driving an imaginary car with and unseen steering wheel. She glanced
to the back seat. “Huh-oh! Two of 'em I left. Oh well. I don't know
where their father is anyway.”
Mertie poked fun at the life style of the
wealthy women of the Anglo race.
Bertha was laughing so hard she had tears
streaming down her face.
Picture of Mertie (click on to enlarge)
Her sister's performance did give Bertha an
opportunity to think.
“You know? Dennis?” Bertha spoke to her
husband, “I think it is time for us to go back to the ranch.”
“Aren't you happy here?” Dennis asked her.
“No, I'm not. And, another thing, I've been
visiting with Lee's girlfriend, Velma Pensoneau. I like her. She takes
care of the Miller's kids. Surely she would be a good person with Warren
and Ura May. I think we'll take her home. She's willing to work for us
and would be a good friend for me too.”
Dennis indulged Bertha and this is how
Velma came to work for the Joneses.
Bertha now the one to be manipulating her favorite brother-in-laws life?
She without question must have known about the attraction Velma held for
Out at Poncatc \l1 "Closing Out at Ponca
For some strange reason, the atmosphere of
gambling and corruption the family had lived through at the end of the
Ralston bridge created different personalities in the brothers. Lee
hated the sleezy, underhanded dealings of bars, gambling, and
alcoholism. Dennis on the other hand was fascinated with it. Early years
at Ralston made an indelible print on his mind. This segment of their
story takes place in the 1930's during Prohibition in Oklahoma when
liquor was illegally available via a bootlegger but was not always fit
It was at this time a couple of amateur
chemists developed what they thought was a non‑toxic drink. They settled
on a complicated chemical plasticizer also known as jake. Jake's
drinkability was thought to be non‑toxic. Actually, jake is a potent
Jake rapidly acted as a toxin, typically
causing paralysis and/or death in humans, affecting the spinal cord
especially. This type of paralysis is now referred to as delayed
neuropathy. Neuropathy is a disease of the peripheral nervous system.
Large numbers of jake drinkers began to lose
the use of their feet and sometimes their hands. Some recovered full or
partial use, but for most, the damage was permanent.
Others could walk, but the muscles
controlling their feet did not work. They walked by throwing legs high
in the air and flopping their feet onto the ground. This very peculiar
gait became known as the jake walk and those afflicted were known to
have jake leg.
The first cases were observed in early
It was very rapidly appreciated that jake
was involved. Within a few months, the contaminant was identified and
the contaminated jake was recovered, but it was too late for many
victims. The total number of victims was never determined, but is
frequently quoted as 30,000 to 50,000.
Because of the jake leg scare, people who
had money and wanted to drink beer while they ate their Bar B Q
sandwiches had to find someone they could trust to serve them. Dennis
catered to this clientele by bringing to them what was called Near Beer.
It was a non-alcoholic drink that tasted like beer. Dennis demonstrated
how a bottle of stronger spirits was carried inside the waiter's coat
pocket. With an easy motion he could tip the bottle and add a stronger
drink to his patron's mug of Near Beer.
Dennis and Lee's café' was located directly
in front of the hospital and it was called, The Pig Stand. This is not
to be confused with the one farther up Fourteenth Street. That one was
beside the old Airline theater when it was at the very edge of the town
on Fourteenth Street, years later, around 1950. That drive-in theater is
now located at the corner of Waverly and Highland Avenues. Young people
were not encouraged as costumers at The Pig, Dennis and Lee's original
café before it became The Blue Moon. A bottle of Coke was priced at one
dollar. This was too much money for a kid to spend at the time. These
prices along with the location which was at the edge of town, then, did
eliminate the patronage of young people.
Reservations and pricey menus, along with a
cool welcome, discouraged youthful unwanted patrons from coming into the
brother's eating establishment. It was easy to keep the young people out
of a place where they knew they should not be. The owners didn't want or
need their business because of the possible ramifications involved with
their parents. Drinking in a public place was illegal. To allow youth to
be there was close to pushing the breaking of the law and possibly
inviting trouble. Wealthy patrons supporting the business didn't want to
be bothered with kids, while they were drinking their Near Beer laced
with stronger spirits.
Dennis was able to sell this café to his
cook, Thad Tucker, who moved it to the end of Fourteenth Street and
South Avenue at the edge of what was then called, Dixie. The café was
named, “The Blue Moon instead of The Pig,” after the same establishment
in early day Ralston, no doubt. Lee built a unique Bar B Q outdoor oven
for the new owner. This invention caused the smoke to pass over the meat
twice creating a wonderful flavor for the Bar B Q. Later, The Blue Moon
was moved across the highway to where it is located now and is called
Chick and Milly's Blue Moon. Bar-B-Q ribs, delicious fried chicken, and
Bar-B-Q sandwiches are at the top on the menu. Other than Dick and
Runt's Bar-B-Q which was downtown no one served beer with meals. People
in town, who were descendants only a generation away, from the old
pioneers certainly felt pampered to have a beer with their meal. Thad
had no trouble making a success of his place. At one time a room where
couples could dance was provided. The dim lighting created an intimate
mood where young married couples and older folks as well enjoyed a night
Picture of Dennis, Lee, Bell and Joe in
Velma Marrytc \l1 "Lee and Velma Marry
Velma was eleven years younger than Lee when
they started dating. For the first time in his life he was being allowed
to have a carefree, fun loving, good time. Basketball games, stage
shows, beach parties, dances, picture shows, church socials were all
attended. Whether Velma was playing basketball, on the beach, or at a
church social her beauty has been remembered by some who are living
today in 2005. One woman recently said, “There wasn't a more beautiful
woman than Velma, not in Osage or Kay County. Lee and Velma were soon
engaged and all Velma's friend's accepted Lee. He enjoyed the same tight
friendship with those that liked her even though he was eleven years
Basketball was the greatest sport as far as
Velma was concerned. She played for the Osages and her friends played
for the Poncas.
“Darn you,” Hazel Crye, a loving friend, who
was a Ponca girl, told her. “You helped those Osages beat us.”
“Well, its all in fun, anyway,” Velma said.
She and Hazel would then hug each other while they laughed about what
went on during their game.
Women's basketball was changing. The two
girls kept their eyes on women's rules which were being dropped in favor
of playing with men's rules being used by the All‑American Red Heads of
Missouri, 1934. It was the most successful women’s barnstorming team
ever. They only played men’s teams with men’s rules. The team was
featured in popular magazines and on television. They continued to play
up through the mid‑seventies. Of course, Velma and Hazel liked the idea.
This new way of playing suited the strength of these two young Native
“It's a lot more fun playing with men's
rules, don't you think?” Velma asked
“Oh, it is. We can play all over the court.
I love it,” Hazel agreed.
Delta State University, located in
Mississippi about half way between Memphis and Jackson at Cleveland, had
dropped the sport in 1932, because it was deemed too strenuous for
women. Protests that involved the burning of uniforms went unnoticed at
the time. However, as time passed women were allowed to play by men's
Hazel was dating Eugene Hobson, Lee's
cousin. She and Eugene were both very shy and quiet,” Velma told later,
“this was probably the reason the two didn't get together in marriage.”
“We are going to have a wedding reception
for you two when you get married,” Joe Colby told Lee and Velma.
“We'll have it at the Hardy place. Their
home is big enough for all of us.” Joe was personable and had a way with
people. Everyone liked him and this partially assured a good attendance
with a large crowd for their reception.
Velma called the Methodist minister's wife
to ask her husband, Reverend Baker, to solemnize their vows.
“Yes, of course.” The lady was the schedule
keeper for her husband of the cloth.
“There is one problem. On the day you ask
for him, he has to be in Oklahoma City. If you don't mind waiting until
he comes back, late in the evening, there will be no difficulty with him
performing the ceremony.” The minister's wife was trying to work a time
out for her husband to unite the two in marriage.
Velma had played basketball at the court of
the, then new, Mission. The woman knew her well and liked her as a
person. She was more than willing to see Velma and Lee properly married.
The custom of “Indian way” marriage was still practiced quite a lot.
Essentially, the couple simply moved into the home of a relative. It was
what today might be called living together but with the
difference being these Native's union was considered as permanent as the
mating of wolves would be. Of course, the Christian people didn't
approve of living together, certainly not. They were always glad
to see Native American people ready to take vows under the directions of
“Well, Lee,” Velma told her groom to be,
“looks like we will just have to have the reception first and the
marriage afterwards.” They were not disappointed with the number of
guests. Even though Velma danced late into the evening, she still looked
fresh and vibrant in her soft linen suit chosen for her wedding day. The
color was a muted, creamy yellow and the perfect complement for her
shining, long, blue-black hair she always twisted up into a neat bun at
the back of her neck.
Joe, the perfect dance partner, waltzed
Velma around the large living room at the Hardy home. Lee wasn't a good
dancer, so now, Velma was enjoying the pleasure of gliding across the
floor with her old friend.
“You know you broke my heart when you
decided to marry Lee Jones,” Joe Colby told her.
“Oh come on, Joe! I know better than that,”
Velma joked with him.
There was a soft spot in his heart for her
though. Years later a simple favor he did for her children saved one of
their lives. Quickly and quietly, he solved a tough problem with not a
minute's hesitation on his part. The Bible states, “The greatest of
these is love.” Joe's actions proved this teaching. This was after Lee's
death when Joe stepped up, willingly to make a decision for Velma.
The minister at the White Eagle Mission did
not return from Oklahoma City until late, almost eleven o'clock at
night, but they waited patiently for him while visiting with his wife.
The woman had guests and they decided to retire. The couple had no other
choice but to wait patiently for his return. When the minister did get
home his wife had to awaken the guests to act as witnesses. Lee was
Velma's choice and she married him in the large mission on the Ponca
“There we were,” Velma told her friend
Hazel, “there we were getting married with the minister's in-laws acting
as our witnesses. The man had on his long nightshirt. He had a stocking
cap with a long tassel hanging off the side of his head. I had to keep
from looking at him for fear I would laugh as we took our wedding vows.”
This was the beginning of a marriage to last for fifty years. Through
all their ups and downs Velma always kept a steady stream of friends and
family coming through their home as well as her sense of humor. This was
only one of the reason's Lee held her foremost in his life.
Chilocco School where Velma learned to play
Home Againtc \l1 "Home Again, Home Again
Nothing was as glorious as the expanse
above, the clean air around or the quiet progression of days. Their
Osage ranch out of Foraker and Grainola on the prairie where the Joneses
lived was always a haven and a place for respite from one or another
time they were seeking direction in their lives.
Dennis bought The Strike Axe place. This was
how he was able to satisfy Joe and Bell, for the money they spent
building his ranch house and the outbuildings. It was their own money
from the mortgage on their Ralston land that allowed Dennis to do the
building on the ranch place. Joe grumbled about the loss of his river
side land until up until the time he died. The purchase of the adjoining
ranch for Lee and his family gave the younger brother reason to work
both ranches, and at the same time allowed Dennis to pay his debt to his
parents. At the time it was the thing to do but it was a forgotten
obligation after Bell and Joe's death. The Strike Ax was never legally
put into Lee's name. This opened the way for Dennis's grown children to
oppose Lee and Velma's possession of it. One of the children made the
comment, “Well, why don't they go to Velma's land?” She wasn't aware
that by cutting her Uncle Lee out she was destroying everything. No one
could bring the place to pay for itself like Lee could. The stress of
trying to do so brought each one to a place where they would leave. Each
year, without Lee's dedication support and care the place slowly and
gradually fell into ruins.
The beauty of the terrain had been an
inspiration to Lee. He improved the place where he stood, just as
generations of Joneses had done in the states of Arkansas, Georgia and,
in fact, all over the south. Gentle touches to the environment with
thought out improvements created beautiful living spaces.
“I've been studying that spring coming out
of the rocks up there on the rise.” Lee always visited with Velma in the
mornings over coffee.
“I think it would be a simple matter to
drive a long pipe into those rocks after I've burrowed out a hole
underground. If that water can collect in a space below, and drain into
that opening it would funnel the water out into a miniature reservoir
for the cattle. A small watering hole is what I want. I've been reading
about such a thing in Genesis chapter 29.” At the moment Velma was his
student. She always honored his teachings even though, sometimes, they
might go against her more simple, earlier Christian teachings from her
Catholic stepfather. The way Lee thought was in agreement to a great
extent with her Native American teachings though, and she could
understand her husband's use of common sense.
Lee went about these small projects one at a
time. On this one, without too much work, he had a pipe driven back into
the rocks on the ground. Instead of the waters of spring spreading out
over the rocks, it was now channeled into the pipe. Fresh water
constantly poured from it and the cattle had one more place to go for
clean, cool, fresh water.
The gift to see years ahead was left to him
by his grandmother Elizabeth Ann who could do this. Just as he had
designed the Bar B Q pit to be used for so many decades ahead and, gave
his friends of another race an income even during hard times, so now, he
was doing with his projects on the range.
If Lee seemed to be working alone, way out
in the middle of the prairie, it didn't bother him. The man lived by the
teachings Elizabeth pointed out and they were his salvation.
“Revenge is a most wasteful emotion,” Lee
told his children. It was his pleasure to quote the scripture,
“'Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.”
“On no! Don't do that! That is 'venge,” Lee
would sometimes admonish when his children were plotting minor,
childlike schemes against each other. It was the way he said it with an
ominous growl that made the thought so unpleasant.
“I want to set up the storage room off the
screened-in back porch for a small laboratory,” Lee mentioned to his
wife. The lovely old ranch house of the Strike Axe was built for a
ranching family with a tack room immediately off the back
screened-in-porch. It was not in the main walkway of the rooms and had
privacy probably from a need to hide the cluttered look of unmanageable
leather straps and gear for horses. It was a perfect place for Lee to
set up his work shop because a long bench across one side was already in
place. This might have been where the rancher repaired the bridles,
saddles, or small equipment he needed but Lee had another use for the
secluded little area.
“The room isn't being used for anything. I
have no idea what it is even doing there. What is its purpose? It isn't
even joined to the house, except by the back porch.” Velma, in her
innocence, had not the slightest idea of what her husband wanted to do.
This was where Lee established his small
laboratory. Here he built a carburetor designed to run on hydrogen.
Velma knew nothing about hydrogen. That is until--- KERR WHOMMM. The
explosion ripped the door off the little room and sent Lee sprawling out
of it. As he was picking himself up off the floor his wife came rushing
out the back door.
“LEE! Are you all right?” Velma was wringing
her hands and crying.
“Aw Honey! Don't worry. I'm okay. Just a
The two had not been married long enough for
Velma to hit the ceiling, as she did in later years when one of
his inventions went awry.
Lee installed the carburetor in his Dad's
car and Joe drove it for the longest time without wondering why he never
had to put gas into the car. When he did discover the carburetor he
wasn't as accepting of Lee's gadget as Velma had been.
After all, Joe had watched Lee grow up and
he knew all about what could happen.
“Yeah, you're blessed, dad burned right.
Lord, you blessed me with two sons. Lord! You blessed me with two
idiots.” Joe was not happy a bit that he had been driving a car without
gas, while using a carburetor fueled with explosive hydrogen.
Bertha and Leetc \l1 "Bertha and Lee
The coming together of the Ranch
Home for Dennis and Bertha was an effort to involve all the family.
Louis Shonela, Bertha's Uncle, gifted her with a heavy oak roll top desk
as well as a bedroom suite. This furniture was costly and elegant for
the time. The story was that Louis had seventeen oil royalties. The
total of $ 4000.00 times 17 is $68,000.00 every three months. That was a
great sum of money when depression times had brought the price of
everything to rock bottom. The fact being, the old man was wealthy
beyond words. Bertha was his favorite niece and he was generous with
her. Their other furnishing were purchased from The Big Hill Trading
store at Fairfax, Oklahoma. Receipts showed $1500.00 spent. Bertha's
allotment alone was $4000.00 a quarter. This was an unbelievable amount
Dennis and Bertha were in the money. Lee on
the other hand was not. He had a growing family with no income other
than whatever work he was able to pick up. Something in Lee's
personality never caused him to be envious or greedy for another's
wealth. As long as his wife and his children had shelter, food and
clothing he was content. His mind was ultimately always on his own work
and inventions. There seemed to be a muse resting on his shoulders
whispering to him about how he could provide for generations ahead.
Taking nothing and making the most beautiful handwork gave their home on
the prairie decor and beauty. Lee had the genes of the men of Wales
through the Jones line. Their crafts sustained them during the most
difficult of times. This was coupled with his teaching funneled down by
the Native American ancestor who took craft work seriously. He liked to
quote the scripture that said, “The house having purchased hand made
work will have a blessing.”
Bertha appreciated his efforts and as long
as she lived his life was easier.
Some look at the miles of rolling prairie
lands and see nothing but an expanse of grass and wind. Lee looked over
the land and saw its gift for life. The protein rich, grass produced
beef. Newer inventions like the hay bailer made the blue stem, tall
grass, easier to harvest. There was a problem though. The rocks on the
land ripped the metal bailer to pieces. The owners could not run a
machine over the rocky ridges without sooner or later destroying their
The ranch was already running, powered by
Lee's inventions, with the wind generator. It didn't matter that the
blades were hard earned, by Lee's hand carving them, or if only car
batteries stored the electricity. They turned and rotated to cut through
the swift winds on the higher elevation of their ranch home. These
blades were erected above the well house roof and they cheerily whipped
around and around to work for the electricity that made life so much
easier in every way. Washing machines, electric irons, radio, record
player, and the all important well house pump for the water flowing
through pipes all over the property all ran on wind power. You would
have thought that the successes of some of his projects might have
encouraged more confidence in what the man was trying to accomplish but
it didn't. They took his work completely for granted and didn't believe
there would be a need to respect his loyalty and love for his own and
Dennis's family, as well. At the moment Lee wouldn't have believed his
management would be scorned so he continued with his endeavors.
“I want to make eighty acres of meadow out
of the land around Dennis's place. I can't do it on The Strike Axe.
There are too many rocks on this place. I can't get any help. Dad and
Dennis think I've lost my mind.”
“Why take the rocks up?” Velma was
interested and at the time wanted what Lee wanted.
“I believe, more hay could be baled from the
meadow, if a bailer could get into the field. As it is, we only skim
over portions of it. The rocks tear up the metal bailer. This ranch is
too small to waste any space at all,” Lee explained to Velma.
Lee began his lonely chore. He used a pry
pole for the larger rocks, pulling them up into the back of the truck
with a Come Along. Once he piled too many into the back of the
little pick-up and bent the axel on the vehicle. This became of topic of
discussion and criticism. While he was waiting for repairs, Lee kept
busy on the eighty acres around Dennis's ranch house. Wheelbarrow after
wheelbarrow, on foot, he carried rocks to a location between the hay
barn and the dairy barn where he was placing them up for a wall, one
hundred feet long and approximately eight feet tall.
Prairie wind over the plains always seemed
worse in the winter, but Lee worked through it. Long underwear, layers
of socks under his rubber boots and heavy flannel shirts allowed him to
endure the adversity of the penetrating frigid winds. Some might call
this type of energy, obsession. but the project for Lee was just that, a
job he targeted with a deadline for a finish. If he could work through
the winter and early spring the endeavor would be finished in time for
the next hay cutting in summer.
Meanwhile, The Watkins products man made his
rounds to the lonely outposts called ranches of Osage County. Spices,
vanilla, salt, rolled ham, pots and pans, and other nonperishable items
were a part of his traveling store. Once in a while he would trade small
livestock for his wares. His trips were made in the spring, summer and
fall. A horse pulling his wagon managed the long roads. Time wasn't a
great friend or enemy. Sooner or later for him the horizon at a distance
would be marked with the view of someone's spread. When he came around
Velma purchased the white, effective liniment Lee was now rubbing on his
sore muscles and sciatic injury from lifting the great numbers of rock
he used to build the wall.
“Son, I never thought your one-hundred-foot
stone wall would give any benefits to this place at all. How wrong I
was. We made it through the whole hay bailing without one breakdown.”
“Yeah.....well.” Lee had a bunch of the tall
grass in his hand he had cut off with his pocket knife. He took the long
stems and slapped them against his leg. Looking off into the distance
with eyes squinched like the outdoor men were likely to do his mind was
already off and looking toward another project.
Picture of the stone wall:
Livestocktc \l1 "Velma's Livestock
The winding road up through the prairie to
Cedar Vale, Kansas, was a veritable vision with sprinkles of wild
flowers in among the Tallgrass. Occasionally, a deer could be seen as it
flashed a white tail and quickly loped away. Lee and Velma were on their
way to the small town where they could purchase the chicks she wanted. A
feed store on main-street presented merchandise in an old-fashioned way
with little attempt made to decorate. Board floors were unfinished with
no attempt to make them attractive either. There was a distinctive,
pleasant was smell associated with these country stores coming from
sacks of chicken feed and cake for the cows that had been stacked at the
back of the store. Some of these bags were made of soft cotton material
and had been stamped with decorative designs. This was what held the
feed but most women used them to make under garments for their children.
Velma loved to tell the story about two
women who got into a fight in downtown Ponca City. In the foray of their
rolling around on the ground their under garments became visible. The
stamp of FLOUR XXX on their backsides was a statement of how they came
to own their handmade underwear.
On this particular day, when they first
walked into the store, Velma saw the owner had the baby chicks placed in
cages in the middle of the store. The owner of the store was disabled in
that he could not walk other than haltingly with canes. Lee visited with
him while the man complained about work he needed done. The man told Lee
he couldn't afford to hire anyone to do the small jobs such as: stacking
feed sacks, patching the roof from the rain, sorting heavier merchandise
and a few other chores. While they visited, Lee went about taking care
of whatever the man couldn't manage. The feed store owner was so
grateful for Lee's work he offered to pay him in baby chicks. This was
the beginning of Velma's chicken ranch. She also used the old brooder
left at the Strike Ax by former residents to hatch a number of her baby
chicks. Her neighbor taught her how to set the hens so they had fluffly
little, yellow balls of feathers running around and under them. With the
feed store chicks, brooder chicks, and the ones from the old hens, Velma
had around four hundred in all. The old mother hens clucking to her baby
chicks while they ran from any potential danger to back under her wings
and feathers formed a picture of love and tenderness the children
enjoyed even though they were only two and four years old. A sudden rain
storm could cause the baby chicks to run for cover. The hen in the
middle of the chicken yard, protecting her chicks from pouring rain,
compelled Velma more than once to go out into the downpour so she could
gather them all up in a basket to carry them inside.
Lee taught her to use the shotgun so she
could fire away at the chicken hawks before they had a chance to make
away with the old hens. All went well until she shot at an old Tom cat
who was stealing her chicks. Velma's husband saw fit to scold her for
that. Of course, Velma had a mind of her own.
“Those chicks are how I'm going to feed my
babies. Do you think I'm going to allow an old Tom cat to deprive my
children of food?” Velma was convinced of her righteousness in the
Lee couldn't quarrel with her reasoning on
that. He did begin setting traps for the cats though. They were
worthwhile in the barn at Dennis's place and he simply let them out
where they would lurk among the bales of hay to catch mice. Their
kittens then grew up in the barn and the children were cautioned against
trying to tame them.” Wild cats are valuable as mousers, but not as
pets,” Lee advised them.
Careful about the cycle of life, Lee was
prone to see that balance was maintained.
Don't kill the spiders. Spiders eat flies.
Don't kill the coyotes; Coyotes eat rats. Carry off the snakes; Snakes
eat mice,” Lee was constantly teaching the children.
Why he gave his consent for Velma to blast
away with the gun at the chicken hawks was the question. Possibly
because he knew she couldn't hit them anyway. The roar of the blast was
enough to scare the birds away. Lee practiced ecology when no one even
knew what the word meant and certainly never used the science.
Born into the bloodline of the Hunter
family, Lee had no trouble with killing game for the table. His sure
shot marksmanship he practiced while hunting. The lockers at Shidler
were always well stocked with wild game along with the beef, sheep and
pork. This capture they took from hunting was never wasted. Although
there were many who wished to come into the land for hunting, this was
never allowed. Hunting for pleasure and as a sport was something Lee did
not encourage. “If they can afford high-priced riffles and expensive
vehicles to get out here then they can buy their food at the market,”
was Lee's philosophy. Fishing? Now that was another story.
with Grieftc \l1 "Dealing with Grief
Sixty-seven years after Bertha's death the
records are still sealed. Suicide was the official determination as it
was for great numbers of deaths in the Osage tribe. We find it difficult
to believe, today, that so many committed suicide.
What caused Bertha's death wasn't the issue.
The worst problem was what it did to the family. They limped along for
years merely going through the motions of trying to finish what they had
started. The joy of living had been taken away from them due to the
tragedy, suicide or what was unthinkable and that was the possibility of
murder. No one ‑‑ the family, the community, individuals ‑‑ ever
mentioned this specific tragedy. It was as if Bertha had never lived and
her memory was blotted out even by her own children. The family never
spoke of her. They never remembered aloud small things she had done.
Only one woman, Mrs. Heath, years later told a small story about Bertha.
“She was a lovely woman who was quiet and
dignified. Her children were her whole reason for living. When you saw
her, she always had one of them on her lap. Her patience and love for
them were so obvious and outstanding.” As the woman told the story it
was if she wanted to keep looking over her shoulder to see if someone
was listening. Did Dennis's power and control still haunt the place to
make them afraid to discuss anything about what might have happened or
was it their own suspicions of what really did take place.
Velma kept Warren, who was around eight
years old, after Bertha's death. He was a beautiful child with big brown
eyes, black hair and Bertha's gentle personality. The boy once had
shingles which Velma tried continually to soothe with cool bathing and
lotion. His quiet sobs through the nights wore on Velma, his aunt by
marriage, as she lay in the master bedroom of the Strike Axe place. She
often held him in her arms until he drifted off to sleep. The moonlight
coming through the window cast a shadow of the old iron bed on the wall
and, when Warren was afraid, Lee placed a blanket over it to cover the
rails of the bed so he could see no dim reminders of anything.
“Uncle Lee, I miss my Mama,” Warren
“She's only sleeping, Son. You will see her
in the resurrection. She will be well, laughing and happy again. We must
be patient and wait for that time.”
Ura May, Warren's fourteen-year-old sister,
seemed more accepting of her mother's death. It wouldn't be until years
later that her buried grief surfaced, causing her deep mental health
The children's actions were like a heavy
stone wheel grinding slowly to roll over their grief. Of course, if
counseling at the time was available, this could have helped with some
of the problems around their mother's death. In 1938, no such avenue for
coping existed. Lee, Velma, Joe and Bell could only try diversions for
the children and Dennis, as well. This seemed to bring them through the
worst of times. If it was just a band-aid to cover over a festering
sore, no one at the time worried about that. They just needed to get
through the worst of the anguish at the moment.
Years later Dennis talked with only one
person of his love for Bertha. He told his niece so many small habits
and ways she had. It was as if the woman suddenly came alive through the
“Bertha stuck by me through all of it. She
didn't let anyone break us up. Her folks didn't want us married. She
didn't care. We lost all those children and she still supported me
through my grief when I know she must have been hurting as much as I
was. I lost everything when I lost her.” Dennis spoke of his deceased
wife as if she had died only the day before, even though it was now some
twenty years later. “We brought a big straw sombrero back from the
Valley and I used to love to see her put it on, when she walked down to
her garden to work. She loved that garden. She told me she used to visit
with Arnold, Lee's oldest boy, sometimes, when he came walking past.
Once a week, regardless of anything, one day was cleaning day. All the
furniture was moved and everything was cleaned until the house was
spotless. It used to drive people up the wall if they should come in at
the middle of her cleaning day when a lot of the furniture could be out
on the front porch so that it looked like we were moving. She never paid
any attention to anyone's complaints about the upheaval of the household
but just continued on with her dusting, mopping, and thorough removal of
all dirt, real or imagined.” It seemed to give Dennis pleasure to
remember his wife in this way.
Lee went on with his work at the ranch with
a renewed passion. He was working against time to accomplish what he had
set out to do. He knew Dennis enjoyed and loved people so now he was
doing the little things necessary to bring visitors to the lonely place
so far out on the prairie. The performing of these tasks was now a
necessity for keeping Dennis busy and happier. There were early warnings
to tell of future medical histories to be diagnosed.
“I'm working on the watershed today,” Lee
informed Velma of his whereabouts.
“Are you getting anything done with that?”
Velma sincerely wanted to know.
“Oh, yes! By next year it will be ready for
the town folk to have a place to fish. There probably won't be any fish
in it, but they can, at least, drown a worm.”
Lee did finish the watershed. The flat,
eight by nine feet boulders he pulled to the middle of the stream with
his Farmal tractor and this created a low water bridge. bridge.
A crossing-place was built in this way.
Arranging these large flat rocks brought a dam to the place which held
back enough water to provide a watershed. It wasn't a complete stoppage
of the water, though, because there was a spilling of water, over the
rocks to make a small waterfall. The sound of the flowing stream over
the rocks was like beautiful music to the ear. It became a wonderful,
serene place for fishing. Warren spent many days there with his
Grandsir, Joe. Blackbirds trilling their calls, rippling water, and wide
blue skies were the medicine to help the boy heal from his mother's
death. Lee kept people interested in coming to the place.
“Come on out, fish in my water hole. Come
on up to the house, we'll break open a keg of nails!” Lee's friendly
invitation did bring so many people to the far out place on the prairie
even if they seldom came on up to the house. They were there and if
anyone wanted to visit with someone for a while it was nice to have a
living soul around and about to share pleasant companionship. The
strange thing was that Dennis had little interest in anyone like this.
If they did come to the house he was friendly and treated them well but
as far as going out to where they were, he never did. It was his son and
father that enjoyed the place the most.
“Grandsir?” Warren questioned Joe, “do you
think Mama is in heaven?” Dennis's son was availing himself of the
fishing hole with his grandfather and he was pensive as he patiently
waited for a bite on his hook.
“Your mother is asleep, Son. When old
Gabriel toots his horn she will rise up from where she rests. Her body
will be young, new and perfect. There won't be no trouble and pain then,
and everything on this earth will be new just as the scriptures tell us;
“There will be new heavens and a new earth where no one will do us
harm.” Joe comforted his grandson with what he knew of his wife's
Today at the little cemetery out of Foraker,
close to the Tall Grass prairie preserve Warren rests close to his
mother. He too, was murdered with a gun when he was a young man. All
these evil crimes to come upon that Osage family only made Lee more
determined to hold to these promises he often quoted from the
scriptures. “The lion will lie down with the lamb and a little child
will lead them.”
It was all, an ointment to sooth the pain of
grief. Joe and Lee, as well, knew what it was to be a child and have to
accept the death of their loved ones.
Ax Livingtc \l1 "Strike Ax Living
As sure as the sun rises over the hills
turning the bluffs first to azure blue, continuing through lavender and
then mottled shades of green, so were the days at the ranch filled with
regular routines. Lee was always an early riser. The quiet of the Strike
Ax kitchen before the children were up allowed Velma and her husband to
enjoy a cup of coffee together before he had to be out of the house to
While Lee was going about his business
caring for the livestock by feeding and watering them, Velma always
worked to have a large breakfast. After Bertha's death Dennis became a
more frequent visitor for meals. Velma loved to cook.
Her big country breakfasts were legendary:
hot home made biscuits, gravy, fried chicken, ham or bacon, fried eggs,
all went well with hot coffee. These were the good times.
Lee and Dennis took early morning quiet as
an opportunity to visit and plan the upcoming events of the day.
“What time is that Hereford bull going to
arrive?” Lee asked Dennis about the animal to come from Chilocco School.
It was a holder of fine genes for his heifers and he was looking forward
to using the animal for breeding purposes.
“They didn't say,” Dennis told Lee. “I think
those kids at the school have teased him. He seemed to me to be
dangerous. I would keep the kids away from the barn lot.”
“Oh certainly,” Velma told him. “I wouldn't
take any chances on that.”
Velma grew up on a farm which was quite
different from a ranch. There were, in fact, many things she didn't know
about raising beef. However, she was quick and always ready to get
involved. She did know about animals because her step father owned herds
of horses as well as pigs. She and her brothers never tired of riding
the horses. When her children were older, she loved to tell stories
about one or another of them. They all had names, different
personalities and different confirmations. She especially loved Old
Tom who was an old work horse with long legs and a determined
personality. It was great fun, she said, to race with the kid's ponies
when they came from school in the evenings. Old Tom couldn't stand for
the other ponies to get ahead of him and he always kept his nose out in
front of the others. And then Velma would chuckle at the memory of the
The rattling of the trailer coming down the
long road toward The Strike Ax, caught their attention. The usual dusty
tail up behind a car was missing because the driver had to be careful of
the expensive animal in his care.
“I think our animal is here,” Lee told them
while he was looking out the south window. The pick-up pulling the
trailer was now slowing for the rough road. The person driving it bumped
along as if the driver had been up and down this trail many times. Velma
could be busy with a dust cloth for days when drivers weren't this
The children were excited. You would have
thought the delivery of the bull was some festive occasion or joyful
event. Kids living so far out in those days had few departures from
mundane chores and bland routine. They considered this visitor arriving
with the animal something special and exciting. Velma warned them not to
go past the yard's fence. They had no desire to get any closer when they
saw the bull bang the sides of the trailer by shifting his weight this
way and that. “Would he be able to break out of it?” The children were
all eyes. While they watched, Lee and two other men worked to get the
bull out of the trailer. As soon as he was out, the massive muscular
animal ran at the fence between the barn lot and the road. Heavy Black
Locust posts for the barnyard were thicker and bigger than the regular
ones. Barb wire was strung closer together and higher up. The
muscled-up-animal still was not able to budge the wall-like enclosure
and he didn't try again. He may not have liked the sharp barbs along the
wire which could puncture and tear through the hide of man or beast.
“See! Remember what I told you?” You Kids!
Stay away from the fence around the barnyard. Don't even get close to
that fence.” Velma repeated but didn't have to tell them more than once.
They had been accustomed to the gentle, slow-moving cattle their father
raised. This was something new and frightening.
“Did Lee get his bull?” Bell quizzed Velma.
“Oh yes, he has everything all fixed up now.
That bull is a mean old thing. The kids are scared of him.”
“I hope they are holding to the bloodline?”
“Sure enough. He's a heifer bull all right.
Lee said the kids at Chilocco had probably teased him and made him
mean.” Velma was naive in her misunderstanding of the word Hereford and
heifer. It was a joke on her for quite a while and she enjoyed telling
it, too. Sometimes for a laugh, she would ask Lee, “How's the heifer
bull doing?” Or “When will we need for them to pick up the heifer bull?”
The children were getting an education in
the procreation of mammals. The stage was set for their respect for this
part of living. Dignity and acceptance of the natural order were taught
without being spelled out in a classroom.
There was another fundamental in the
rancher's higher values to come to the fore with their ethics and good
conduct and that was regarding racial matters. Not even ranch hands were
excused from having acceptable behavior on these traditions of the Jones
Family. The worker had to immediately quit the premises if he couldn't
conform. They taught these values easily without any hard preaching.
Colleen, Lee's eldest daughter, owned a
small doll with African racial features. The little girl dearly loved
what she felt was a beautiful doll. The bright red dress her toy wore
complimented so perfectly the baby's dark skin and black hair. The
four-year-old girl carried it about with her most of the time. She was
playing with it now at the window seat in Dennis's house while Bell and
Velma worked. All her dolls were dutifully lined up on the bench behind
“You got a nigah baby?” One of the younger
hands, who didn't follow instructions for not coming into the house,
muttered as he walked past her. He turned his head to look down at the
child and had a sneaky, sly grin as he spoke.
“It was an insult. Colleen was only four
years old, but the way the man's face was ugly with a grimace and a leer
made the child know he was up-to no good. Velma had already instructed
her in a firm way not to have any association with the prison labor
hired to help on the ranch or with any of the hands for that matter.
There was no place for children in and around where men were working.
Immediately, Colleen went to her Mother to tell what the man had said.
Velma was out the back door in an instant. Colleen stood at the long row
of windows on the back porch and watched Velma as she was talking to
Colleen didn't see Lee reprimand the
culprit, but she did see his pick-up truck running down the road as he
sped away from the ranch house. The dust kicked up in a rooster tail
behind him told he was in a hurry to leave. The incident was never
mentioned. No preaching of what was proper or improper was addressed.
The right and wrong of a person's action had a quick and quiet
consequence. The message was conveyed not only to the child, but for
anyone else who was around. The man was fired for his racial
misbehavior, and why not? The prisoners were trustees with a place in
town and were always watched. Evidently this man felt he was a step
above them and could over-step his bounds. The people for whom his was
now working, after all, were Native Americans with dark skin, and they
were paying his wages. He was either foolish or thought he could
practice such misbehavior as far as a child was concerned and that no
one would know it.
In retrospect, could this have been the
unseen mystery in the death of Bertha? Was there a hidden anger and wish
for revenge from higher places because of Dennis and Lee's association
with their cook and now the person who owned The Blue Moon? The hatred
of the day is mostly forgotten in our modern society. None wish to
remember how miserable the time was for some. If someone wishes to
explain, folks today can't grasp the total fear and authority these
forces had on individuals. This branch of the Joneses, in opposition to
that mind set, demanded respect for all men. Dennis was heard to quote,
many times, the words of Chief Standing Bear, “If I should cut myself
would we not both bleed the same color?.” Lee and Dennis quoted this
years before most people were aware of the man who said it ‑‑ Standing
Bear, Chief of the Poncas.
Picture (click on to enlarge): Velma in
center, Lee in flannel shirt to her right. Their children Michael and
Donna Colleen in front. Dennis is the man with gloves in his hand:
Work, Work and
More Work tc \l1 "Work, Work and More Work
The movie business stylized ranch life and
its version was far removed from reality. Reality consisted of:
vaccinations, branding, dehorning, medicating against parasites, and
castration of steers. In later years, cattle were marked with ear tags,
but during Lee and Dennis's time the herd was branded with a hot iron
either an L for Lee or a D for Dennis. The marks were made with heavy
Picture, cowboy's tack:
“Baaaahhhhap!” Warren vocalized as he played
at branding his dog with a stick.
Mike and Colleen stood watching while he
slipped the rope off the dog's neck. The play was a way for them to
accept these painful cries of the calves as they were branded with the
hot iron. Warren once looped the lariat over Colleens head and left a
rope burn on her neck. This was the last time she was allowed to play
the rough tumble games with her brother and cousin. Mike became Warren's
constant companion. If Colleen felt a little slighted, she didn't mind
too much. Velma always had something different for her to do. For an
adult it was work, but for a child it was learning and fun.
Lee stretched one of Velma's home made quilt
tops between two wooden boards. One side of the quilt was wound around a
two-by-four and held there with what was called a C-Clamp.
The other end was on another board and
clamped as well. The quilt was stretched across the middle of a support
such as a table, desk, or tall sawhorses. Here is a picture of a
ready-made quilt rack:
The women, extended family, and any neighbor
who could be enlisted to work on sewing the thread designs were invited.
The stitching on the quilts would hold the top, batting, and bottom of
the quilt together. This was a pleasant time which saw the women all
sitting around the quilt, working, but enjoying a day out away from
their own chores while they chatted about this or that happening in
their lives. Maybe it was like a form of group therapy long before that
world knew of such a thing. Colleen was only a child but she was allowed
to do what she could on the quilt top. Gramma Bell was trying to teach
her to use a thimble. The little metal cap like tool to fit over her
finger was small enough and should have been easy for learning to use
it, but it wasn't. Usually she just left it off.
All Abouttc \l1 "Fear All About
Fear must have been what partially pushed
the Jones family along. Anxiety over death, superstition surrounding
death, and grief drove them. Agitation was always with them because they
knew and realized danger was always imminent. Just as they had been
forced out of their home by the raging wall of dust storms, so now they
were facing another unconquerable enemy. It was this living at the edge
of tragedy which was always too close that made them continually prepare
for the eventuality of it. Ralston had been a living hell with its
pervasive casino atmosphere. Early day gangs traveled though the town.
Lee even remembered the Dalton gang coming through once. They came for
gambling and recreation but some of the people who visited were criminal
and it was a frightening daily experience. No sooner had they moved into
this new ranch home with hope and promise and an expectation for
peaceful living, when they had a different set of circumstances dropped
on them. The only way the family coped was with constant positive
Each person was working through their grief
from Bertha's death in a different way. Velma and Bell worked together
to try to keep up with just the necessities of life but then some joyful
activities had to come about, also. This is what they were doing with
the planning of a fall social in the year of 1941. The children didn't
know what was happening but they watched every unfolding preparation
with great interest.
Sweet elderberry wine was something Lee knew
how to make. He had a large barrel of it in the cellar just waiting for
a big gathering of people. How long ago the wine was made or the length
of time it had been stored was anyone's guess. The cool, dark cellar was
a place which always had, at least three feet of water on the floor.
This discouraged anyone from entering. The huge wooden barrel could have
been just there for storage. No one would have known of it holding the
rich, ruby red, elderberry wine. Elderberry wine in moderation is
recommended by the herbalist as a way to keep the human system healthy.
The Collins family would have known about this.
Now that the time for them to entertain
friends was approaching, Lee began drawing the wine out of the huge
wooden barrel he had on its side in the cool storm shelter. One corner
of the kitchen was organized for bottling wine. The tall dark bottles
were being filled and corked. A machine with a long lever-like handle to
push the corks into the bottle made this possible.
“I want to drink some pop, Daddy?” Colleen
“You can have just a taste. This isn't pop.
It's called wine, a drink for grown-ups. Children can't be allowed to
drink this.” Lee was always indulgent with the children but wasn't about
to let them have the wine.
Colleen looked over to where her brother was
sitting on the floor. He had the dipper out of the bucket of wine and
held it in both hands. He was drinking the wine just like water.
“Daddy. Brother is drinking the wine,”
Colleen alerted her father.
“Say now! Son? Say now! You can't have any
more of that.” Lee reached down and gently pulled the dipper out of the
two-year-old's hands. The wine was delicious. If there was a kick with
alcohol the taste didn't give a clue. This was all the two year old knew
“Work in preparation for arriving guests had
been done. Shiny new cars were now arriving and one of the hands parked
the cars, parallel facing both sides of the long entrance. There were no
rocks on this meadow now, so the automobiles were not at risk of ruining
a tire or hitting high center. Other men were busy rolling up the
expensive Axminster rugs, carrying out the heavy furniture, and the
dining room furniture. This would leave the large living room and dining
room open to create a very nice dance floor.
The front rock porch was used as a stage for
the country western band who had driven from some distant place in order
to entertain this sizable group of people. Most of the visitors were
executives from Conoco Oil Company at Ponca City, Oklahoma.
The next morning the family had to turn the
place back into a home. “When are we going to get tired of carrying this
furniture back in by ourselves?” Dennis asked Lee.
“I don't know, I really don't.” Lee wasn't
the one who was suffering the fight
live, now. It was his brother, and his brother's family who had the
heaviness of grief, and loss upon them. As it turned out, other events
would step into their world. The outback regions of the U.S. were no
longer immune to the terrors to come upon the nation.
Japanese warplanes attack U.S. naval base in
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; 2300 Americans are killed, December 7, 1941. U.S.
Franklin D. Roosevelt declares a state of
war against Japan, Dec. 8, 1941.
The element of fear was upon the nation.
There wasn't any question about that.
else would President Roosevelt make the speech saying, “We have nothing
to fear but fear itself”?
Lee's Land and Family
Managementtc \l1 "Lee's Land and Family Management
Lee used the stone wall as a windbreak and
a feed lot for his growing herd of Herefords. The meadow provided, in an
ample way. Of course, the man was always coming up with ways to make
everything more productive. He was known to lace the bales of prairie
hay with a smattering of sorghum molasses. This was a prelude to sweet
feed. The cattle loved it and munched the dry fibrous, foliage with
relish as though it was delicious salad. Everything Lee did was
innovative as far as methods for cattle ranching were concerned. No one
at that time pampered a herd like he did. Range cattle they were called
and for everyone else that is what they were. They foraged across the
wide prairie for themselves. Other ranchers took the risk of the cattle,
calving in the open with the possible result of losing a calf. Lee kept
his heifers close in where they were given extra nutritional feedings
and were protected from predators. The stone wall he so laboriously
created gave the new born calves a greater survival rate.
Clickity, click, click, clickity, click,
click went the sound of the electric fence. Lee had even installed it on
his larger pastures. This was a new thing and proved to be a very good
deterrent to rogues bent on making a nuisance of themselves by breaking
out of the pastures. Most ranchers didn't want to be bothered with the
need to constantly monitor the electricity. Lee's fence ran on
batteries. The battery box was mounted immediately outside the front
door, so it was an easy matter to keep a constant vigil on the
operation. This was just one of the fascinating things going on in the
world of the adults around the children. It was as if they felt the
security of knowing their parents had control of their world. Of course,
the regular barb-wire was kept in place.
“You're cuttin' 'er too short, Velda!” Lee
called to Velma as she drove the Farmal tractor which was pulling the
machine that was baling the hay. Lee called to her from the baler she
was pulling behind the tractor, the one he was riding. Too late! The
short turn she made broke the connection between the tractor and the
baler. Velma was holding Mike as she drove the tractor and was pregnant
with her third child. Lee didn't want her to ride the baler for fear she
was more at risk and was safer on the tractor seat. The small family was
struggling to get the hay into the barn before they lost the fine warm
“We'll have to shut ever thang down here. No
way we can finish up tonight. I'll have to go to town for parts.” By the
grace of powers above, the weather held, and they were able to get the
hay into the barn. The livestock would have one more winter's feeding.
This was the yearly struggle which they faced one season at a time.
May winds were now whipping about the Strike
Ax a year later. Often prairie gales were very cool even in early summer
at night. Velma was home from the hospital with her third child. The
birth was difficult and had not gone well. Even though the woman was
young and healthy she had barely survived. The petite woman was so thin
and wan her own mother-in-law, Bell, almost did not recognize her.
“My, oh, my! You are as pale as a ghost,”
“I'll be all right now that it is over.”
Velma wasn't okay though. Her hands were thin and listless. It seemed to
be an effort for her to even walk. She had sagging shoulders as if she
had suddenly become an old woman. The vivacious girl, who was always up
and dressed early, now was lethargic in soft satin robes.
The donning of feminine, pastel colors
seemed to take her away from the coarse life that was hers here on the
“Lee, you must get some help for her,” Bell
advised her son.
“I don't know who. There is no one who will
come this far out. The Strike Ax is hard enough for us to endure. No one
in their right mind would come stay, willingly.” Lee was without a
solution for the first time.
“My cousin, Fannie! She will come. We both
grew up in a house like this. Mother's family of the Little Cooks are
strong. Just send someone for her. Uncle David will send her if Mother
asks him.” Velma was sure of the loyalty from that branch of the family.
Once when, she was but a child, the whole family had come to her
Sure enough, Velma's cousin came to help
her. Something about the girl being there was like medicine for Velma.
She was young, the children liked her and if the stark, cold interior of
the Strike Ax bothered her it certainly wasn't evident. Fannie kept the
kitchen stove stoked with wood while she cooked the meals. As a person,
it was true, Fannie was very young but her lighthearted way and Native
American personality was what Velma needed. In a little while, with
Fannie's help, Velma began to regain her strength and health.
They knew the girl wouldn't stay. She wasn't
any more satisfied in this far out land of the Osage than Velma was.
Their tribal customs and traditions along with great extended families
were too strong in their hearts and minds to accept the nothingness of
far out lands like this. When cousin Fannie had to leave to return to
her home, everyone missed her. The family ties had just been introduced
to these children of Velma's. Joe and Bell were their strong hold but
the couple was not youthful and happy like this person. It was truly an
experience they all enjoyed; this brief introduction to someone from
their mother's background. Even Lee's face was more relaxed and his old,
smiling way was coming back.
“I'll come visit,” Fannie reassured them, in
her matter-of-fact way. It was a comfort to the children. Throughout the
woman's lifetime her steady personality was always welcome when they had
an opportunity to have her company.
Like Thistc \l1 "It Was Like This
Mrs. Bargess lived on the ranch to the south
of the Strike Ax. Her husband leased the old NeWalla allotment. This
lady could only be described as the rosy‑cheeked matron in a story book.
She was plump. The front of her cotton house dress, always covered with
a ruffled apron, remained daily, as a kind of uniform. And why not? The
woman was always in the kitchen. There wasn't anything, in the way of
food, she didn't know how to prepare. Around Christmas was the best time
to visit. Sometimes a roll of date nut cookies, apple strudel, or hot
cinnamon rolls with a glass of cold fresh milk was pure delight. She
introduced the children to buttermilk. Bits of yellow churned butter in
the milk with a bit of salt sprinkled on top made it unforgettable The
ranching-farm lady was the dedicated mistress to her world and all about
her was orderly. The tiny house where she lived was actually like a
cocoon and might as well have been only there as an entryway to
something else. They could go through the portal as if it was a doorway
to where uncommon secrets of Mrs. Bargess' management of her
When the children were alone with the woman,
while their mother worked outdoors, Mrs. Bargess took time to play games
with them. Her favorite was, “I spy.” As she played the game over and
over, at the children's request, little did they know, she was
developing their observation powers. Some tiny object she had hidden in
plain sight was found many times, from her instructions.
“You're getting warmer, you're closer, you
are so close it will jump on you if you aren't careful!” When they then
spotted the tiny object it was a great thrill to think it had been there
all along. The thought was that an object could be directly in front of
them but because they had not really looked closely it had become
invisible. It was a kind of awakening for them and they were all at once
suspicious that there was more to the world than they had previously
Mr. Bargess, was a veteran of the prairie.
He was not a young man and had survived by using every proven method of
lore, craft and inherited wisdom he had. While they all sat around the
table enjoying the sumptuous noon meal Mrs Bargess had prepared, the
“Lee, while you are helping me, there is one
more chore I need to get done. I noticed the blackbirds are beginning to
come in over the Kaffer crop. You know they will strip that field in a
short time if I don't' get out and blast away with birdshot in my
The younger man knew what Mr. Bargess wanted
but he gave no explanation to his family. Velma was busy bundling them
up against the ever present wind. They patiently stood in the cab of
their pick up truck watching the adults. Lee and Mr. Bargess was using
bird shot to fire into the thick clouds of blackbirds, who were thieves
of the necessary grain, which should have been meant for Mrs. Bargess's
chickens. As the little birds fell and flopped about on the ground it
was the children and the women's responsibility to pick them up. They
stuffed the tiny bits of black feathered birds into the sacks. Colleen
was a child and was being taught to be obedient. However, there was
something about this activity she did not want to accept. The later
cleaning of the birds was even harder. No one worried about mites,
disease or anything else, certainly, at her tender age she did not. This
was just a beginning of the girl's understanding about what had to be
done to live. If the birds were tasty in a blackbird pie later there was
still something in her mind to rebel against the thought. She wasn't
wise enough to understand how much went into the keeping of chickens for
meat and eggs. The nursery rhyme, four and twenty blackbirds baked in a
pie had more meaning after this experience.
Mostly, children were not allowed to get in
the way of the working adults. Occasionally, they were allowed to stand
at a distance and watch. This was one of those mornings. Mr. Bargess had
wrapped the front feet of a large hog with a rope. He and the other men
pulled the rope that was on a pulley up to a place against a shed. The
aging man worked carefully while his large sharp knife ripped through
the hog's heavy outer hide. He must have done this butchering many times
because in an instant he had opened the animal up. Even the crisp brown
bacon and tasty sausage prepared on a plate along side scrambled eggs
couldn't cover over the realities to Colleen of how hard won this
sustenance was to obtain.
“Good! Good,” He muttered. “I didn't damage
the entrails.” Colleen would remember this years later when some of the
girls were so squeemish when they had to dissect a frog in biology
class. She never commented on the student's green appearance, but
wondered how they would have handled ranch or farm life.
Velma's own work gravitated around a more
delicate preparation of food. Her family of the Ponca's had been farmers
for generations. She was gifted with their knowledge, talent and
understanding of being able to tie together all the elements, of proper
timing and weather, or any other small opportunity to allow her a
successful crop. She planted rows of popcorn, regular sized corn and a
variety of corn having very small kernels on miniature cobs. This
smaller variety is what she used to can in jars for storage. Some of the
corn she cut off the cob, laid it on sheets in the sun to dry. A
screened‑in back porch was just the place for the wonderful Indian dried
corn to harden and become shriveled like hard beans. The woman who was
taught at Chilocco how to manage and preserve food for an entire season
counted the days, week's and months so that she could have enough food
stored for the duration of a winter and, in fact, up until the next
crop. The number of days in a week each vegetable would be served was
calculated and carefully planned. Years later she used the same method
when she owned a café. The menu was in place and never deviated from a
schedule of fish on Friday, Turkey on Sunday, Pot‑roast on Friday, or
Liver on Monday. There was always a steady traffic from folks who knew
what was going to be served that day.
Velma asked Lee to plant a field of wheat,
not for the grain but for the green wheat grass she wanted for her
chickens to graze. Vitamin rich eggs, produced by her chickens, were
snatched up by the local grocery stores. She delivered these eggs in
heavy wooden boxes. Lee carried them into the little country store for
her. The large eggs made that way by the field of wheat were definitely
in demand by the customers who bought them from the only store for miles
The children could spend much time searching
for ripe strawberries in her large field of the luscious little blobs of
bright color there on the vine. No freezers at the time caused her to
have to preserve the fruit in jars. Strawberry jam joined the rows of
sand plum jelly on the shelves of the very large, old pantry, located
between the kitchen and the dining room. Colleen could never enjoy
strawberries without remembering how Velma always made them take a stick
with them to rattle the vines so to scare any rattlesnakes out that
might be hiding. Evidently Velma knew the snakes would enjoy the ripe
“My folks stored some food by eating it.”
Velma smiled as she told this to Bell. Certainly the healthy way her
children were growing agreed with that belief.
We Were So
Protectedtc \l1 "We Were So Protected
Worth quoting here is Dennis McAuliffe,
Jr.'s book, “Bloodline,” originally published as “The Death of Sybil
Bolton.” He writes “The Osages were no longer being “fed like dogs”
instead, they were fed on by wolves.” (Pg. 161) Mr. McAuliffe goes on to
assert, “Historians have described the white men as those who now
descended upon the Osages variously as “riff-raff,” “rowdies,”
“vagabonds,” “gamblers,” “whiskey peddlers, criminals,” “sharpers
thieves, bandits,” “lawbreakers, fugitives,” “outcasts,” human
predators, confidence men,” “swearing illiterate men,” “Uneducated rough
men,” “unscrupulous white men,” “low-down, sneaking pillaging dogs,”
“horse racers,” “buzzards,” “dishonest scamps,” “schemers, crooks,
floaters,” “backwash,” “convicts, bad men, card-sharks, former
cow-punchers,” “renegades, grafters,” “petty thieves, barbarians,
cutpurses, murderers, rapists, human rats,” “half-savage frontiersmen,”
“ruthless men who would cut a baby's throat just to see if their blade
was keen,” “the vile and the wicked from everywhere.” End of quote.
And yet, these were the men, Lee and Dennis
had to grow up around. Joe turned around his son's lives by relocating
them on the lonely stretches of prairie. And even though Bertha's death
was not without stress, all in all it was still a pleasant world for the
young people as compared to where their parents had grown up while they
had lived outside of Ralston. Today the sleepy little town, Ralston, is
the model of peace and civilized activity. One would never know of its
early day history by looking down the quiet streets in the present. An
old hotel, preserved, is the only bastion of remembered history to be
quietly explained by the tour guide. There was an upstairs stage where
live performances took place a visitor of today might learn.
Dennis's ranch and the Strike Ax was between
both Foraker and Grainola which made it five miles from each town. The
schools at Foraker and the next closest town, Shidler, had the
advantages of being progressive. Colleen was spending the months of
inclement weather in town with her Gramma Bell during the school year.
This arrangement was made because Lee and Velma were still working the
ranch. The gumbo mud made travel over those, which were little more than
pathways, impossible in winter. Snow could drift up, too. When there was
a slow melt the road was like deep icing on a soft moist chocolate cake.
All their truck could do, was to simply sink down to its running boards.
Velma learned this through experience. The little wire throttle on the
dash board was pulled full out enabling the truck to be fed gasoline
automatically. In this way Velma's hosed legs and feet had to
necessarily be deep into the mud while she pushed the vehicle. Somehow
or another she was able to get down the mile of sticky road until a more
passable, graveled route was reached on the way to the little town of
This was Velma's, Lee's and their children's
world. Dennis's living was different. No one in the family knew the man
was paying $2000.00 every three months for insurance. For insurance? In
going over the records on file at the Osage courthouse, this bit of
information explained a lot of things; especially the reason why Dennis
was always grasping for money.
When Bertha died, Lewis Shoenela, her
wealthy uncle with seventeen headrights, cut her children out of his
will. This told two things. One was that he had become angry over the
circumstances of her death and probably, in his mind, blamed Dennis. Too
bad he didn't know the real culprits. By cutting off his own heirs he
did a great disservice to them and was no longer the benefactor to the
family that he had been.
With the weight of the insurance money on
his shoulders, it was hard for Dennis to maintain the life style his
children had known. Where could he turn? His children were coming into
their teen years and had always been accustomed to their luxuries.
“Say! Lee!” Oliphant, a rancher who owned
great herds, drove up in front of the Strike Ax.
“We herded up three or four of your heifers
and they went through the sales lot. Couple of them had your brand on
them. I went ahead and paid Dennis for them. Is that all right with
you?” Maybe the man was suspecting the older brother was not paying Lee
for his share.
“Yeah, oh sure. I haven't seen him in a day
or two. He'll be around to let me know.” Lee wasn't about to let anyone
know there was a rift in the family.
“Well, just wanted to let you know. You know
how it is with round-up. We didn't even notice until the sales lot
caught it.” Oliphant was a business man and honest to a flaw. He lived
many years doing business with stock and was on top of every potential
“Don't worry about it. I try to keep
everything inside our fences but you know how that goes.” Lee waved as
the man backed out the drive way.
“Oh, yes. It happens.” Oliphant waved back
to Lee. As a rancher of big spaces, he could have overlooked the
incident and gone on his way. But, he was responsible and wanted to see
everything done properly.
Velma looked at Lee when he came through the
front door. She had heard everything that was said.
“Do you think Dennis is going to see to it
we get our money for our stock?” Velma was suspicious.
“Oh you know him. He's off and about. He
will get around to it.”
But, Dennis didn't get around to it.
There was one after another incident with the same dubious outcome.
The Kaffer was ready. Lee harvested the
grain and had enough for his silage plus some to sell. He and Velma
always enjoyed the trip into Shidler which was just seventeen miles
away. At the time it was a thriving small town with a dry-goods store,
grocery stores, the lockers where they kept their meat, café's, a beauty
shop and the, oh-so-wonderful, movie theater which brought wonderful
tales of far away places to them. Romance and beautiful stars were clean
and good enough for even the children to view. If they went to town in
the afternoon after they had taken care of the animals in the morning,
it was possible to finish up their business of selling the Kaffer. By
nightfall the movie theater was a once in a blue moon treat for everyone
who had the benefit of this great pleasure.
Lee stood waiting at the counter for a check
for the Kaffer. The owner of the feed store wasn't his usual jovial self
and Lee wondered about this, a bit.
“Well, Lee, I don't know what to tell you. I
hate this, but Dennis was in here and let me know I wasn't to pay any
money out to you for produce from the Jones place.” The man couldn't
look Lee in the eye. He was embarrassed.
“This grain comes off the Strike Ax, not
Dennis's place.” Lee was never an argumentative person but he was
puzzled. He had planted the grain and tended it until it was ready for
harvest. The seed Mr. Bargess had paid to him for his work on his place.
The grain had no connection with Dennis in any way.
Velma and the children were so disappointed.
Their trip to the movies would have been paid by the sale of their
“You had better say something to your
brother about this!” Velma was angry. She knew it would do no good to
complain. Lee was like this when it came to family; he would do anything
to avoid trouble.
Dennis whizzed into the drive in his new
Buick and had a girlfriend close beside him and Lee invited them into
the house. All the time they were visiting, Velma stayed in the kitchen.
Finally Lee cautiously strolled into where she was. He knew Velma could
be difficult if she was unhappy about something.
“Are you going to invite them to dinner?”
Lee was trying to be diplomatic in smoothing over a situation.
“Your brother can eat here anytime, but that
woman with him is not welcome past the living room. I don't even want
her near my children!” Velma was kneading bread and she didn't miss a
rhythmic beat as she slammed it back and forth on the board. She was
still chaffing over the lost sale of grain but knew she couldn't do
anything about that. However, this was different. No force on earth
could criticize her righteous stand on her family's association with
what she believed to be the shady lady who was in her living room.
“Well, Dennis,” Lee spoke to his brother,
“looks like we are not having a regular meal tonight. Velma is making
bread for tomorrow so it will just be left overs around here.” Lee told
a white lie to cover Velma's anger.
“Aw, that's all right. We'll go on up there.
I think I can scare up something in the kitchen.” Dennis was involved
with his girlfriend and wouldn't make a fuss about anything.
This was just the beginning of the split to
come between the brothers. Every little irregularity from then on became
an issue with Velma. She wasn't like her husband who had always given
over to his big brother. It was their work, their place and she wasn't
going to tolerate anyone taking from her small family.
Questionstc \l1 "Questions
The questions now arise. Why did Dennis not
want to let Lee know he was being legally blackmailed? Had he and Bertha
paid the money for so many years it had just become a habit with him? Or
was he just too vain to admit he didn't know how to deal with the
situation? Did he feel he could in some way protect his children when he
wasn't even able to protect Bertha? Joe was elderly and never consulted
anymore, about anything. He might have been able to solve the problem if
his son had not been too proud to ask for direction.
Honesty would have been the better choice.
If all the cards were on the table, as Joe would say, could there have
not been a family discussion? At least the young people would have known
about the precarious world in which they lived.
Instead, Warren and Ura May went about their
activities believing they were just as free as their classmates who were
not Osage. It is hard for a youth to absorb the realities of their world
when it is fraught with danger. But did the whole picture have to be one
of total illusion? Their world was painted as being safe, comfortable,
and free from harm. It was Dennis's wish for his children to have it
this way and so he painted a picture of an ideal world full of beauty,
security, and all that life should be which was wonderful but hardly
prepared them for the real world. Even the death of their own mother
wasn't enough of a warning to them.
Ura May was involved in singing lessons,
art, English riding and basketball. These activities would serve her in
no way for the life of her choice which was to live at the ranch.
“Dennis wants to sell the herd?” Lee dropped
a bombshell on Velma.
“Just the calves?” Velma asked.
“No, he wants 'er all to go.” Lee looked
away back over his shoulder toward one of the pastures. He seemed to be
accepting what was inevitable.
“Even Cherry, your leader?” Velma couldn't
believe how easily Lee was taking Dennis's decision.
“Yeah! Well, we can start up again, you
know.” Lee wasn't putting up a fight to hold on to anything. The quiet
way he had about him made Velma know he didn't believe what he said.
“How can you just throw years of work out
the window?” Velma was incredulous. “What will we use to build a herd
again? You can't just sell the whole herd.”
Something in Lee's mind made him already
give up. Could it have been that Dennis had told him about the insurance
money? Did Lee see the impossibility of remaining at the Strike Ax?
Velma was pregnant with her fourth child.
Was Lee afraid for her survival in a place where she had to wash diapers
outdoors in a tub of water during even the most freezing temperatures?
Could she survive another hard birth? All these questions remain
unanswered to a greater degree even sixty years later.
For now, Ura May, as an unmarried girl was
qualified to enter contests for tribal princess and Miss Oklahoma. Velma
now threw herself into activities to help the girl excel in her
endeavors. There was a joy in this. The beauty of the girl's trained
colatura soprano voice rang through the houses with her practice. For
one shining moment the beauty of gracious living was theirs. It was an
exciting dream for what would never be. Ura May never knew that the
essence of her being set an example for those around her. As she was
striving for excellence, the die was cast for those, who were younger.
She was living one hundred years ahead of her time. No one knew life
would become more genteel and softer for a whole civilization. This was
only the prelude to that.
Ura May came of age and into her
inheritance. She was heady with power only as a young woman can believe
she has. The girl never knew how easy her Uncle Lee had made her life,
or if she knew it, that old demon of anger over her mother's death
somehow permeated and controlled . With the power she now felt she had,
Ura May was strong into rebellion about all the unity of the total
“I want the keys to the car!”a challenging
attitude was evident.
“No! Your Dad doesn't want the car to leave
the place. He's going to use it later.” Lee wouldn't give in to her.
“I'm taking the car!” Ura May grabbed the
car keys and ran toward the car. Lee ran after her and jerked the keys
away from her. Mike and Colleen watched their Dad in this most unusual
impulsive show of anger. Dennis must have left strong instructions for
Lee that made him so anxious about his daughter not taking it.
“Lee! Lee! Leave her alone. Let her go. She
is eighteen. There is no way you can stop her,” Velma called to her
When Dennis returned home, for some reason
he had elected to sleep over at the Strike Ax that night after he had
heard of Ura May's leaving with the car. This was unusual, but no one
questioned him about why he wanted to sleep over. Normally he didn't
want to leave the comforts of his own home which had running water, an
indoor toilet and all the amenities.
A beautiful night on the prairie was created
by bright moonlight on the sidewalk leading up to the front door.
Everyone was asleep but with the habits of country people who have no
noise to disturb, any kind of commotion will easily awaken them. This is
what happened. The door of a car in front of the house slammed. It was
the first thing to alert the occupants who were sleeping with windows
open during the summer.
Ura May came quickly down the sidewalk. Her
high heels made a clicking sound. She was dressed in the expensive light
slacks she had on when she left. An off-white, silk, blouse was what she
wore to complement the pants. As she walked through the door expensive
cologne announced her presence.
“Daddy! Daddy! Are you awake? I'm home. I'm
married and I want my money!”
“If you are married, you'll play hell
getting any money.” Dennis never moved from his bed. The earlier fight
she and Lee had, made the children who were awake now, fearful and
uneasy. It was as if a summer storm was approaching and this was the
calm before it and, indeed, it did turn out to be. The girl turned away
from the door, went back out to the car and was gone.
The next morning it was if there was a death
in the family. No one spoke-- not Dennis, not Lee and certainly not
Velma, who was always just an on looker in every situation. The
questions were unasked: “Who had Ura May married? Did she marry just to
get her inheritance? Why had she done such a rash thing without the
approval of her father?”
A Dream Sold
for $8000.00tc \l1 "A Dream Sold for $8000.00
Eight thousand-dollar bills were on the
table at the Strike Ax kitchen. Colleen didn't know the money came from
the sale of the cattle. That was a fortune in those days and she didn't
know that either. A teacher in one of her classes asked if any of the
children had seen a thousand-dollar bill. Only two children held up
their hands; Colleen and another rancher's son of the Lohmonds. The
child had no idea of what a rare thing that was at the time.
Summers at their home had been remarkably
pleasant. There were long, warm days without the memory of last winter's
blowing frigid winds when only the miserable cold was so hard to endure.
As unpleasant as that had been, The Strike Axe was still their shelter
and secure place. They loved the large old elm tree with branches
hanging over the yard. It was like a small oasis on the prairie where
the family hunkered down for protection against the ever blowing wind
and life's gaffs, as well. The location of the house was chosen by the
Osage family, Strike Ax, who built it. It was home but the green and
golden days of summer were when living there was special.
A cistern to provide water for the previous
owners had been hand dug with an opening across the top of a wide
diameter at around eight feet. The top was level with the ground around
it. The water could not be used. A danger existed for the obvious bugs
that could be seen, but then, the unseen bacteria made it a worthless
hole in the ground, unfit to use even for bathing. Water had to be
carried from Dennis's place which was about a mile away, as the crow
flies. Lee had placed heavy boards over the old cistern, across the
top. He built a fence around all of this. Velma cautioned the kids about
getting anywhere close to it. As kids will do they couldn't resist
standing close so they could look down into what was a chasm to them.
The rough, jagged rocks to line the wall rested all around the cylinder
and that was its insides. Velma's warnings were heeded. Nothing about
the gaping, dark depths of the place looked to be enticing to the
children who were in awe of what looked like some shadowy place out of a
fairy tale. They could imagine snakes swimming about the murky water,
Dennis's home, in contrast, had been located
to take advantage of the reservoir of clean water they had tapped into
with a well. The house was on a hill with not a tree in sight. The
natural currents of air on the high lands were a blessing in the summer
and a curse during winter. These tireless energies had allowed Lee to
install the wind generator for electricity at his brother's home. Power
during these years, before outback places in Oklahoma had such
conveniences was an exceptional thing.
The furnishings of Lee's ranch were what was
left there by the Osage family of the Strike Axe's. There was no expense
spared. Although it had the stark look of what an Indian family would
have chosen, nothing was shabby about it. There were: old, heavy brass
beds, overstuffed sofa and chairs, fine wood cabinet for radio and
Victrola-- with a great supply of good records-- all this added to an
elegant decor. Velma used the milk-based paint on the walls. The colors
were muted, like ice cream sherbert and they were beautiful in their
softness. Lye on a rag she used to bleach age darkened, varnished, wood
work. Those were the days when the facings on the doors were wide and
held hand carved designs at the top corners. It was true there was no
electricity, but the Aladdin lamps provided adequate lighting. No one
wanted to stay up past dark anyway. Rising before dawn made for a long
day, especially in the summer. The family left the Strike Ax, and as it
turned out, they would never return to live there. The house was there
for years, fully furnished just as they had left it, with no one in it.
Gradually the prairie wind had its way and blew through the broken
windows while moaning its quiet hum in triumph. The old brass beds, the
kitchen cabinet with it sieve to sift flour, clocks holding Roman
numerals, and the Victrola all stayed in service for only the coyotes
who bounded by and were no longer able to pick up one of Velma's chicks.
The house burned in the prairie fire of 1988 two years after Lee's
Their small family had been away from the
Strike Ax for almost a year in 1943. Lee wanted Colleen to have the
teacher who taught him at Ralston when he was a child. They lived there
long enough for Lee's first daughter to enjoy that special person, Mrs.
Goodson. The woman was elderly but as trim and youthful as a girl. Her
teaching was so skilled that there was no awareness of difficulty in
learning. Lee had never forgotten her influence on him and he wanted his
child to enjoy the same experience. But Colleen learned something more
there than academics that year. She learned about the loyal ways of some
of the people. There was the first understanding of what and how far a
friend would go for another person when a girl just a bit older than
herself, stood up to biggest bullies to protect her. There was an
intrinsic culture to deal with something intangible that she would only
experience once again when she attended the funeral for one of the
nieces of Bellzona so many years later. It was almost as if something
mystical lived there and was championing her to higher endeavors.
Whatever that feeling was it seemed to come and kiss her on the cheek
there at the old secret garden cemetery along the river.
Somehow Dennis had talked his brother into
returning to live at Foraker. Bell's health was failing and this was the
reason Lee would have agreed to move back. Lee and Velma bought a house
in town. It was close to Gramma Bell's home, only one lot away. As the
adults began working on the house the kids were uncomplaining about the
Velma and Lee had been living in Ralston and
working with his cousin, Jewel Wagoner, who was married to Jerry
Wagoner. Those were special times for the children when Aunt Jewel, as
they called her, greeted them in the mornings, daily, with the most
delicious breakfast ever to be experienced. The couple lived as close to
the old pioneer ways as could be imagined. Jerry was hardly ever home
but when he was his personality proved to be truly lively and
interesting as well. The man wore over-all's which were fastened with
the metal clasps on his chest. Maybe having always worked with animals
gave his the posture of a gentleman. He would stand, shoulders easily
back and visit with Jewel about some small occurrence or other. It was a
great learning experience for the children and with the knowledge
derived from Lee's first teacher Colleen was to have another facet added
to her awareness of the world around her.
But now they were returning to the little
town of Foraker where Lee and Velma could help with his parents. The
house they bought was old, dirty, and needed lots of repair. With work
it would begin to look a little better. Paint, repair on the windows,
new floor coverings and new furniture made the house almost as livable
as any in the little town.
The large school was only a couple of blocks
away which was within easy walking distance. This house in town was just
as cold as The Strike Ax had been. The difference was that they now had
natural gas for heating. It wasn't pleasant like heating with wood. This
new fuel was smelly and often burned with so much air it became
unreliable for warmth. Otherwise, it was always burning, unlike what
could happen when there was no wood for a stove. No evidence existed to
tell of romance or history in this house. It was simply a
thrown‑together, cheap place something akin to a shack. Velma had no
interest in it. She did the minimum as far as housekeeping. Even her
canning and storing food was not up to what she had done at the Strike
Ax. Velma did make sauerkraut. Apricots she had picked were canned as
well as blackberries. The wonderful cobblers in the winter made any meal
special but the home like atmosphere of the Strike Ax was not here. It
was just an old shack, in an old town, waiting to be torn down.
Painting, outside repairs and bringing back the deceased, former owner's
landscaping almost made living bearable, at least in the summer. Roses
and Hollyhocks in the front yard, trumpet vine on the side, and a cellar
door to run up and down were pleasant things for the children. When they
sang the song in school, “Playmate, come out and play with me, climb up
my apple tree, look down my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door,”
this was the time Colleen thought of their own small townhouse only a
short distance from the school
The boys were allowed to have rabbits. Lee
built hutches to house them. It was a steady daily chore the boys had,
but they seemed to be willing to do it. This was the discipline to form
personalities for responsible men's jobs and activities years later. The
older of the two boys now came in the back door and was standing quietly
in the kitchen waiting for an opportunity to talk to his mother. She was
busy. Rabbits and such were not on her mind at the moment.
“Mama. Mama?” the boy tried to get her
attention. “Mama. Mama?” There was a pleading in his voice but, overall,
he seemed undisturbed and patient to wait for his mother's reply.
Shifting from one foot to the other, again he repeated, this time with
an insistnce that she listen; “Mama?” Velma was accustomed to her oldest
son's unhurried ways and had her mind on cooking.
“Yes Son, what is it?” She had not even
turned to look at him but was hurrying around trying to get their meal
on the table.
“You know my rabbits?”Tthe boy asked.
“Yes, yes? What about them?” Velma was busy.
“Well, I pulled some grass and I was feeding
them--- that green grass they like.” Mike spoke with no expression or
“Yes, son? Speak up. I 'm soooo-busy.” Velma
wasn't very patient.
“Well, I was feeding my rabbits. Brother had
a match and struck it,” Mike only casually mentioned what had happened.
“Oh my Good Lord!” Velma was screaming and
running to the back door. Colleen was at her heels. When they looked
out, there was a wall of flames coming across the vacant lot. It was
high and moving so fast they didn't know which way to run. Fortunately
Lee had already seen the flames and was quickly beating the fire out
with a gunny sack that he was periodically dipping into a bucket of
water. Swinging the sack around and around in a steady rhythm, striking
the flames, time after time, was effective. This was a learned bit of
knowledge all the men of the prairie had used for many years and it
worked to control fire. The heavy, wet sack was flopped against the
flames and it put them out immediately with only sparks flying out from
under the sack. There was not enough water, otherwise, to put out a
raging fire. Other men from town had seen the fire, too. They were all
gathered with their buckets of water and gunny sacks to fight it. A
bucket and a gunny sack were always carefully kept where the container
could be filled with water at a moment's notice usually dipped from a
full rain barrel at the corner of the house under eves. When Colleen was
older, she saw her half-German brother use a truck with a loaded tank of
water sitting on it. He had built a sprinkler system on the back bumper
of the truck and simply drove down through the heaviest line of
advancing fire. This worked better, needless to say, than a wet gunny
sack and took only one brave man to put out a fire.
The men made short work of what could have
burned the dry wood of the old house to the ground. These were the
things the prairie people did for each other. No one called and asked
them to come. They just came, quickly, and surely to the aid of their
own. A handshake after the crisis when all was over and that was the
only thing required for thank-you's. Of course, there would be a telling
of the event over and over by everyone within miles around. All would
have to know what happened. It was a kind of psychological ointment,
this telling and talking of the event, and they were able to convince
themselves that this prairie land could be conquered.
Their younger brother was too little to get
in trouble over his indiscretion. The flames were extinguished with no
damage to buildings and before it had a chance to become a full-blown
prairie fire. What could have been a very sad state of affairs was
averted by Lee and the men of the town. However, that little boy would
be now aware of what could happen with just a toss of one match and that
was lesson enough for him.
Bell's Deathtc \l1 "Bell's Death
Velma was dressed for the meeting. Her black
shining hair, neatly pulled into a bun, always picked up the light from
the dark blue dresses she liked to wear and she was practicing her
violin. If it was almost laughable to hear strains of Humoresque played
with heart touching notes ringing out through the door and windows of a
shack but no one thought anything about it. This was how she prepared
her fingers and mind to pick up the notes from the sheet music in front
of her so she would be able to play in the small orchestra at an
assembly for Bible instruction. Ura May also played the violin and
together, she and Velma, were able to enjoy numbers of Bible assemblies
where a small orchestra of worshipers gathered. Colleen enjoyed her
mother sitting on stage while she was intently focusing on her music.
There was a pride about it the girl couldn't explain. Here was her
mother who she was always known to be rushing about, preparing meals,
feeding chickens, or riding Shorty to help herd cattle. This different
woman was now a lady in a lovely, soft voile, dark dress, holding a
violin under her chin, making music with other people. The notes drifted
around the small school auditorium where they met and it only added to
the joy of the child's appreciation.
Living in town had freed Velma from the
heavy chores of ranch life. As a girl she had, after all, been educated
for involvement in a community. Being elected as president of the parent
teachers association let her become active with those meetings of the
P.T.A. With more time on her hands she did go back to her music and
activities with their faith. The thought of raising chickens, gathering
their eggs to sell, herding cattle, nursing sick calves all was history
now. She was here in this, more of a community than a town, and not at
the Strike Ax.
Back home again close to Lee's family Velma
was taking care of Bell, who was plagued with asthma and impending
health problems. Overseeing of their separate houses was easy because
Bell wasn't helpless, by any means and she did most of her own work. Ura
May was married with a child. This young wife and mother lived about a
block away with her husband and Lynda Carole. Bell and Joe lived with
Dennis and always had family about them if they needed anything. Joe
walked daily to the little store for groceries. All Velma had to do was
be present for whatever family activity was happening where she might be
needed. Cooking and setting up snacks for their Bible study night was
only one thing she did to help Bell.
The wind chimes on Bell's front porch
tinkled in the late autumn cool breezes. They had a wistful call about
them as if trying to tell someone a whispered secret. “What was their
message? Colleen knew nothing about the prayer chimes of another
religion. All she knew was that the minor notes always bothered her. It
did sound like a plea to her which later she learned it was their
purpose to be a prayer. Ura May had probably brought the little chimes
from California. Nothing like what the rancher might consider frivolous
was that readily available in 1945.
A doctor stepped onto the porch of their
Grandmother Bell's house where the wind chimes always rang. He was a
young man. He wore a suit and that made the country people aware he was
not one of them, nor was he of the same lean physic as their men either.
Colleen watched him carefully. She was not allowed in her grandmother's
room at the moment. All the adults had shoo-shoo'd the child out of
their way as they cared for Bell. She just moved a short distance away
to the overstuffed couch in the living room where she could see through
the wide French doors. Gramma's bed was never rumpled during the day,
but it was now. Bell looked like she was lost in the big old poster bed.
Only her thick, shining white hair which was uncommonly uncombed and her
face could be seen. Colleen had never seen her like this.
That man wearing a suit lifted a needle up
into the air and carefully looked at it. He must have felt the little
girl's eyes on him because he looked over toward her, winked and smiled.
Colleen was only a child but she felt fear. After the injection it was
only minutes before the doctor shook his head.
“Mother! Mother! Please don't leave me.” Lee
was on his knees beside his mother's bed. Colleen ran from the house to
the favorite old tree behind where she and her grandmother had spent so
much time and she wept by herself until her brother walked around the
corner and saw her.
“Why are you crying?” In his childlike way
he questioned her.
“Gramma died,” Colleen told him.
“No, she didn't.” Of course, he didn't
“Yes she did. Go see for yourself,” Colleen
He went into the house, and like all
children who are seen, but not seen, the boy was able to verify
Colleen's story. When her brother came back, he sat down beside her on
the steps while she cried. The children were no strangers to death.
Colleen knew it was a fact of life around a ranch but that wasn't
supposed to happen to people. Velma must have wondered about them
because she came out to check to see where they were. She saw her young
daughter crying and knew the child had seen her grandmother die. Velma
had a look on her face like that of some animal about to be caught in a
trap. For only a moment she hesitated and then she was by her child's
side. Whatever cajoling and explanation she used, worked. The mind of
her child was accepting of the inevitable. However, at the funeral when
Velma tried to persuade Colleen to go inside to see her grandmother in
her casket before it was closed, the little girl to do so.
“No!” Colleen was unwilling to do so and
couldn't be influenced to look upon her grandmother. Even at that age of
eight years old she was angry. There was no one to blame, nothing could
be changed, her grandmother was dead. Why should she go look at her? She
wouldn't do it. The girl and her grandmother had been very close.
Colleen knew how proud Bell was, and how much she had enjoyed life. She
knew instinctively that her grandmother would not have approved the
gaping and the curious eyes of people standing over, looking at her
while she was in death. Velma tried to plead with Colleen to see her
grandmother one more time. When she attempted to enlist Lee's aid for
bringing the girl before the casket, he simply looked away and said
nothing. He understood and he didn't insist the girl go inside where his
mother rested in their presence for the last time.
Cleveland, Ohiotc \l1 "Cleveland, Ohio
Lee, Velma and their three children were
sitting in the stadium at Cleveland, Ohio. They were close enough to
Lake Erie to hear the call of the different boats and those were a
mystery to the children. The little tugboats blew a high-pitched message
and the booming bellow of the larger boats seemed to answer. Their
mother had packed light coats for them, but these were not enough to
keep warm. Earlier in the day the family had visited the low choppy
waters on the shoreline of the lake. It was true this water was rough.
The only waves they had ever seen before were the little bits of lapping
water slipping over the edges of mud shores of a pond. A speedboat tore
along over these waves and hit them with a loud slapping sound as it
bounced along. The person driving the boat looked toward them with an
unconcerned attitude. The man was a little like someone riding a bucking
horse, the children were thinking, but the rider steered the boat in an
unconcerned way. He gazed at them for seconds and then rode on past and
into the distance. Later their Dad read to them from the newspaper of a
man who was killed in a speed boat accident on the lake that day.
Colleen always wondered if it was the same person they saw.
The weather on August 8, 1946 was cold and
overcast. It was all a different world for these people of the prairie.
When they left Oklahoma, the heat had already turned the pastures and
the corn fields to a yellow ochre color. The family drove through the
fields of corn in Iowa and they couldn't help but be amazed at the rich
green color of those stalks and leaves.
The stadium was full of people. These came
from all over the nation to meet together for peaceful assembly. Like
Lee they had lived their entire lives in a state of war. Lee and Dennis
were more involved, though, in the home front war between the races.
Their war had started during the early beginning of Oklahoma, when
Grandfather was delivering food to Native Americans directly through the
ranks of angry Anglo people, who at one time or another had suffered
loss and bloodshed from Indian wars. Loyalty to the governments policies
were ingrained into the Jones men's makeup. However, the constant,
massive warfare from the 1900's was heaped upon a whole population in
the United States. When it came home directly to the two brothers,
again, through Bertha's death. The sale of a whole herd made possible by
dirt and hard-earned labor, so they could pay insurance, must have left
them with a feeling of helplessness. With no hope or dreams for the
future, all they could do now was to turn back again to the words of
their Creator and this is what the two men were doing by attending this
assembly of Bible students.
The children, and probably Velma, had no
idea about the seriousness of this new war that was upon them although
Velma was literally raised in a military school and knew about strategy
and warfare. When she saw the planes flying above them dipping low over
the speaker in order to drown out his voice, the mother was obviously
nervous. With brave spirit the speaker simply stood quietly until the
planes had to fly away from him. As soon as their noisy engines were at
a distance, he resumed his speech. The children didn't understand his
words but they did see the bravery involved.. These kids had grown up
with scenes at the movie theaters with this same sort of action, as did
so many others. Youthful people everywhere already knew about the
rat-ta-tat-tat of the weapons attached to airplanes. This intelligent,
dignified and well dressed gentleman continued his hour-long discourse.
He turned from page to page of his Bible and calmly read those
scriptures to this vast audience. The microphone in front of him picked
up his voice and made his message clear and clean as it bounced here and
there off the sides of the stadium. This sound-phenomena fascinated
Colleen. It sounded like the echo when they had yelled down the cistern
at the Strike Ax. The speaker's words were not to incite but, were like
a healing ointment for Lee and Dennis and so many other people who had
suffered gross mistreatment in one way or another because of some injury
or other suffered from the consequences of war. Anyway, at that time, it
helped the brothers come through their losses due to Bertha's sad death.
So much suffering had made them ready and willing to take on even this
more serious fight for peace, no matter how dangerous and unpopular it
Lee and Velma were driving back to the tent
city which had been hastily erected to serve the numbers of people
coming from all over the nation as far as California on one shore and on
up into Canada. The two visited as they always did.
“You know, Velda, I just don't think it is a
good idea to have the children out on those bleachers in the cold. I
think maybe you should stay at the tent tomorrow,” Lee admonished Velma.
“I don't mind. They have the speakers'
voices piped into the campground anyway. I can easily hear all the
lectures.” Velma was agreeable.
Peaceful Warfaretc \l1 "Peaceful Warfare
Lee and Dennis took the car and left early
for the stadium. Velma had strung a line inside the tent and was hanging
wet clothes on it. The rainy weather had soaked everything. Mike and
Colleen were poking at the mud holes around the tent with sticks. Of
course, they wanted to splash into them with their feet but didn't dare
do that. Others had stayed at the camp, too. The speakers, attached to
poles around the grounds, broadcast the men's discourse to all. Some of
the campers were sitting in lawn chairs while they listened and took
notes. Others were quietly going about small chores as Velma did.
Silence was maintained so that all could hear the message coming from
the speakers at the stadium. The children knew this and were not
running, yelling or playing. Poking at the mud holes was all they were
able to do.
A girl from Canada, Beverly Ann Gow, had
joined them in their play. For all they knew Canada could have been a
store or a shopping center. They played as children do, endlessly.
Countries, borderlines, or strategy meant nothing to them. As children
are able to make friends instantly. so they had done. Canadian and
Oklahoma children only were interested in making friendly acquaintances.
“Is your mother Indian?” their visitor
Actually, Mike and Colleen had not really
even thought about this and they just stood looking at her with a blank
stare. They might have asked, “What is Indian?”
The new friend's mother was walking toward
their tent and Colleen ran over to her. The woman held a camera in one
“Children? Is your mother in the tent?”
“She's in there.” Mike pointed to the door
of the old army tent they were using for shelter.
“I'm Mrs. Gow,” the visitor introduced
“So nice to know you, Mrs. Gow. I'm Velma
Jones.” Their mother was not out of the unattractive, canvas structure
where they were staying but was standing in the flap of the doorway.
“I was just wondering if you are truly
Indian?” The woman didn't beat about the bush with her wish to know
Velma assured her she was and obliged the
woman's wish to photograph her. She turned this way and that and even
took her long hair down so she could be photographed that way. They were
all enjoying this small bit of socializing.
The roar of a motorcycle was too loud and
intrusive for them not to notice. A group of bikers was obviously
buzzing the campground. Around and around they flew, jeering and yelling
insults to the campers as they sped by the tents on their noisy bikes.
Another Native American family from Pawhuska
had driven up with them to Cleveland and the head of that family stood
at the edge of the curb. He was a veteran of in service America as well
as a warrior by birth. His appearance was being noticed as the bikers
looked toward him and away from their goal to destroy the camp's
serenity. They looked back over their shoulders and sped by what they
thought were cowardly people. Zeno Pasahtopie raised his fist and shook
it at the rowdy looking bikers. He had no fear of the gang.
“I've got a pole here. Let them come around
again. They'll be all on the ground.” He stuck his long board of a
weapon out toward the middle of the street. The man's arms were powerful
and he was tall. His appearance was that of a warrior of the Osage
tribe. It was an awesome sight to see him standing with no fear. The
anger he was feeling was on his countenance. It was obvious this man was
ready for battle. He held the heavy piece of wood up easily but with
both hands while he bent over so he could extend it out across the road.
Something of the age-old stories about the bravery of these warrior men
was acted out for the children and they were given a rare glimpse of the
warfare that had been so feared by the U.S. soldiers during the wars
with the Osage.
The voice on the speakers above them had
been quiet but now there was someone speaking.
“Friends! It has come to our attention some
mischievous gangs have intruded into our tent city. The authorities have
been notified and are on their way. They will contain this disturbance.
Do not! I repeat, DO NOT take this into your own hands. If any of you
have any kind of weapon's, please throw them down. We came here to meet
for peaceful assembly.”
It was if the Osage man was standing at
attention. He immediately dropped his long club. For one flicker of an
instant many of the people that were standing around knew they had
witnessed, first hand, a flash of action coming from an ancient place in
time when the Osage were fearsome warriors, well respected, by what they
once called the long knives---U.S. infantrymen. Many stories were
told and Mathews, the author of the book The Osages, recorded a
history of it.
Years later Martin Luther King would use the
same kind of peaceful assembly to win for his people their war against
discrimination and oppression.
The goals of these quiet Christian soldiers
assembled on the shores of Lake Erie had not yet been achieved but it
was a movement unwilling to be stopped. Even though some 30,000 of them
had died in the concentration camps along with the Jews, their will
remained strong and they prevailed over that.
Fight for Lifetc \l1 "This Fight for Life
Velma had set up their living room as a
kind of hospital dormitory. After their return from Cleveland, Ohio, the
family walked into a town plagued with whooping cough. In 1946,
inoculations were something new and, as a rule, no one in the community
had received them. All the kids were hacking, coughing continually as
well as vomiting. The doctor did give the youngest brother a shot. He
got the cough but it was a light case. All this would have worked out
except for the fact that Velma was ready to have her next child. The
doctor reassured her and told the mother not to worry. She always nursed
the children and this was an immunity, he said.
When the baby developed whooping cough it
was a fearful time for the
She was such a beautiful child. The baby's hands were so delicate her
fingernails actually appeared to be manicured. Dark hair curled thick on
her head and a tiny rosebud mouth seemed almost too small. How could the
tiny thing survive?
Velma, Lee and Colleen, who was nine years
old by this time, started a vigil and a battle to keep the baby alive.
Velma did not go to bed for seventeen days and nights. She sat holding
the child in her arms. The warmth of her body was like an incubator of
warmth for the baby. Lee and Colleen took turns sleeping so one of them
was always with Velma while she held the baby. The crisis came toward
the last part of their vigil. It was Lee's turn to sleep. Colleen's now
kept watch over Velma and the baby.
“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! Wake up!” Colleen
shook her father. "The baby can't get its breath!" Exhaustion had Velma
actually sleeping while she was clinging to her baby. That tiny thing
had been resting on Velma's tired, limp arms but was now strangled and
Lee was on his feet in an instant. Velma was
all used up and she could do no more than hand the baby over to Lee. Her
face was dark and clouded with despair. In her mind she knew the baby
Colleen watched as her Dad worked with the
child. He picked it up by the feet and held it upside down then used his
finger to reach into her tiny mouth to pull the phlegm from her throat.
The slick slimy stuff came out in a lump. Lee then put the baby down
into its crib. While bending over the baby, he put his mouth over its
mouth and puffed tiny breaths into its lungs. In just a matter of
minutes the baby's color changed from blue to a warm pink color. It was
breathing. When Lee handed the little girl back to Velma, the woman
cried silent tears which dripped over Colleens arms as she hugged her
This was a crisis and it was over. The next
day Velma and the baby both were able to rest and they slept soundly.
The children didn't even have to keep quiet with their play. Velma, who
was normally so easily awakened, slept deep and soundly along side the
crib where her little girl baby also slept
In those days no one knew about mouth to
mouth resuscitation. Whether Lee had read about it or just used common
sense, no one ever knew.
and Rockstc \l1 "Stones and Rocks
Lee was like the limestone rocks he had
earlier manipulated to build the stone wall, watershed, spring watering
hole and front porch of Dennis's house. He had been thrown into a deep
hole of circumstance. The sound was a heavy ker-plunk as he sank to the
bottom. A large circle of waves radiates away from a rock's fall; soon
even that is gone. Bertha had died before she legalized her gift of the
Strike Ax to her favorite person, Lee. Bell, Lee's mother and advisor,
died. Joe, his father was very elderly and feeble. Lee's brother,
Dennis, was paralyzed by the tragedy of his wife's death. Dennis's first
vision was warped from his having joined the different social
organizations. His children were young with undefined goals. Velma,
Lee's wife, was struggling with childbearing and providing for those
Once again, Lee was in the position of
defender. This time it was more difficult because the war he waged was
against powers and principalities and he liked to quote Ephesians
6:12: “Because we have a wrestling, not against blood and flesh, but
against the governments, against the authorities, against the world
rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the
Really, weakened as he had become through
adversity, there was for him a greater strength, he felt, with his
acceptance of a new King, Christ Jesus. His savior's teachings were his
guide and direction. They worked better for the man than Dennis's wealth
had worked for him.
The powers he mentioned fluctuated and
changed with the turmoil of the century. How could one family, or even
one tribe's issues, be of great concern when World War had been raging?
Was it a simple act of worship--- this gathering together of people
praying for peace in Cleveland, Ohio? Or was it to mark a significant
date of August 8, the same day, but one year later, of dropping the
first Atomic bomb on Japan? Fear gripped the nation and these were the
days Lee was struggling through, as was everyone else.
“Mama's very tired. She needs rest. Auntie
said you could come stay with her to go to school. Would you like to do
that?” Lee was preparing Colleen for her having to stay with Aunt Jewel.
Actually Jewel was not her aunt. She was Lee's cousin but as the Native
American had no cousin, she was called Aunt by the children.
Jewel was the daughter of Aletha Artemis Collins Hobson, Mrs. Nathaniel
Hobson. Jewel's mother was a sister to Bellzona. It may have been Lee
could see the girl's grief because of her grandmother's death. This was
the only way he could find to buffer the sadness. Velma was tired. There
was no question about that.
Cowface Mountain was home to the quaint
country school perched at the top of a tall Osage County hill. The roads
running up to it were as stark as the school. This terrain was much
different to what Colleen had known around the Strike Ax and it
interested the child. Inside the building, wide benches and desks had
been lined up to allow four children to sit by each one. Older kids sat
beside younger children and tutored them. Their teacher was a
kindly woman who was never seen to become agitated or impatient with any
of them. Within just a short time Colleen was reading easily. Why not?
She had a one-to-one tutor beside her at all times. This boy was older
and he became her protector on the school ground as well. He was there
for every difficulty she had whether it was climbing up a tall slide or
if she was trying to hang on to a fast-moving, whirling carousel.
Aunt Jewel had no children of her own and
she was happy to have the child in her house. Colleen felt uncomfortable
in the old, too large, house. The kitchen wasn't cozy. Instead of using
the upstairs bedrooms Aunt Jewel had converted the very big living room
into a half bedroom and half front entry-way living room. This was
probably only a winter arrangement so they could use an oversized wood
stove which stood directly in the middle of the room. The entry room
should have been only a living room, Colleen thought, with pleasing
decorating of rooms like her Grandmother Bell's. This was missing from
Aunt Jewel's home. The little girl felt like they were camping-out like
in the tent at Cleveland, Ohio with little furniture and less decor.
Even the kitchen was not right. It was dark and unfriendly in some way,
even though the matronly woman was a wonderful cook. She always stuck
something tasty and special in Colleen's lunch pail, so the other
irregularities were overlooked by the child who had already formed an
opinion of things. Colleen did miss her brother and actually this was
the first time they had been apart.
Aunt Jewel had two things to cause her
difficulty. One was that she didn't know how to drive. The other had to
do with the fact that her husband was, plain out, undependable.
He was a good person but sometimes, just wasn't where he was supposed to
be. In this respect Jerry was like a little boy. He had no vices for
drinking or anything else other than this one thing. Jewel was
dependable enough for. both--or so Lee believed.
The cold on Cowface Mountain was legendary.
It had humbled many of the proud, who believed they could overcome it.
Jerry chugged up and over the numerous hills that were rising and
dipping until he finally came to the top of it.. As Colleen got out of
the car, the child experienced the frigid air when she took a breath and
felt it cut into her lungs with a burning sensation that was
frightening. She would soon be into the one room school house where the
old wood stove in the middle of the classroom kept the children, toasty
and warm. When recess came the teacher didn't require them to go outside
on days such as this one.
Colleen stepped into the outdoors that
afternoon. The shock of the freezing temperature was like an angry
animal glaring directly in her face. She gasped, throwing her head back,
as if to dodge its ferocious bite. Jerry was no where to be seen. She
stood for a time waiting. If the child had been older, she would have
turned around and gone back into the classroom where her teacher could
have helped her. Instead, she struck out to walk the three miles home as
she had done when it was warmer. This time, the more she walked, the
more frightening the unbelievably unending road became.
A new pick-up truck drove around her and
stopped at some distance ahead. With relief she began to run toward the
vehicle. Before the space to the truck could be covered, it sped off.
Colleen was desperate to get to warmth of the protection of an
automobile and she ran after them. She could not understand why she had
been left so desperately alone on the road. It may have been a blessing
in disguise though. Even then, the intentions of someone toward a girl
child might not have been honorable. All she could do was to continue
with her walk. At last she came to the long road leading up to the
Colleen wore gloves but her hands were
chilled and in the first-stages of frostbite. Jewel bathed her hands in
cold water, again and again, while she massaged them. The pain was
excruciating and it was much later in the evening before the child could
sleep. Her body was wracked, with deep sobs while Jewel rocked the
little girl in her arms.
She had no phone but Aunt Jewel must have
found a way to call Lee because the very next day Colleen's parents were
there to take her home. After that Lee never gave his children to anyone
else's care, even up to the point of being overprotective. He always
managed to be with them. No matter how modest their home, he was always
there ‑‑ usually puttering around with one of his inventions. He
couldn't provide expensive trips or entertainment as his brother did for
his children but his great grasp of history, scripture and science
entertained and educated them. They were content to be with their
parents and never felt under-privileged. They enjoyed the wealth of the
material in the Ponca City Library and spent a lot of time reading. The
wondrous artwork in great murals hanging in and about the large classic
architecture of the building was equal to any castle in Europe as far as
the children were concerned.
Our Hometc \l1 "Where Was Our Home
All the furnishings were in the Strike Ax
just as they had left them. Dennis's ranch home was furnished and had
utilities that were intact. Dennis and Joe stayed on at the house where
Gramma Bell had died. Lee still owned the house on the adjoining
property in town. Later he bought three acres beside the river close to
the Coke plant at Ponca City. Coke was a slang term for a type of fuel
similar to coal only lighter in weight.
Why Dad bought three acres beside mountains
of coke is anyone's guess. We spent a winter in the wretched shack on
that place. Velma always had a way of turning any shelter into a cozy
home, though. At one time the land outside the house must have been a
camp ground for a tribe. When Lee turned the soil for a garden in the
springtime, there were hundreds of arrowheads to come to the surface.
This place had character and history similar to that of the Strike Ax.
If the house hadn't been such a shack it would have been a pleasant
place to live. Velma's relatives and Ponca friends were in a habit of
stopping by for a cup of coffee on their way to or from walking to town
and the children did get acquainted with her people who had rich lovely
romantic names such as Little Dance, Eagle, Cries for War, or Little
Lee now wanted his children to study the
Bible with some people he knew in Ponca City. He had heard Ponca City
schools were the best, so this is what he wanted for his children, too.
“Just a minute, I'm going to cut a branch
off that Redbud tree for your teacher.” Lee stopped the car and walked
through the thick, heavy timber along the road to a small tree. The
bright purple-lavender flowers on the small shrub like tree were what
the settlers always welcomed as a herald of spring. The tough little
plant did have a strange determination about them. While all the world
was grey and drab, here was this bit of bright strong color, and it was
Colleen's teacher was bogged down with too
many students, crowded spaces, and other such problems. This morning the
young woman simply looked at the child, made no comment and stuck the
branch down into a vase on her desk. Colleen missed the gracious, gifted
teachers of the Osage the wealthy ranchers had arranged for to teach
their children. Those had been teachers too, but they had a charm about
them as well. Every so often Lee would see that his child had some small
gift for the teacher. It might be a large shiny apple, a delicious
orange, or maybe a handful of wild flowers as they came off in spring.
Those were the days when produce was not so easily obtained. The teacher
may have been appreciative but she never expressed herself in a
thank-you of any kind. The gifting was more for the little girl. That
one moment she had in front of the teacher allowed her to have a chance
to make a connection with her. Something about this bit of familiarity
created fertile ground for a friendlier relationship between teacher and
learner and Lee must have known this.
On a Saturday the Smith brothers were
visiting them for the purpose of holding a Bible study. They were
handsome young men. One was tall and dark with clean cut good looks. The
other brother was shorter. He looked a little like James Dean who played
Jet Rink in the movie Giant. Both were unmarried and in their early
twenties. The young men were now standing at the door waiting for
someone to invite them into the house. Lee went to the door and ushered
them past the kitchen into the living room. Velma was busy cooking but
she stopped and looked toward the two guests as they disappeared into
the living room.
“Run in quick!” Velma told Colleen. “Tell
them not to sit on that rocking chair with the broken rocker.”
Colleen looked into the living room and she
saw the tallest young man in the middle of the bed Velma had in the
corner. He was on all fours and had the strangest look on his face as if
to say, “What happened? I don't believe this!” The girl was too late to
warn him about the chair with a mind of its own and a broken rocker who
threw its occupant over its back as easily as a rogue horse might do.
The bed was behind the living room sofa and
chairs arrangement. It served the same purpose as Aunt Jewel's place in
that it was a warm room where the boys could sleep as well as being a
living room. In this case it was this man's salvation. The rocking chair
had thrown him end of over end. He was flipped totally over, into the
air, and onto the bed. When Colleen ran into the kitchen to tell her
Mother what had happened Velma was looking sheepish.
“I knew I should have gotten rid of that
thing!” Velma was embarrassed.
Lee tolerated this Bible study until he tired of these boys who were not
quite anchored yet. The next people to come out were an older couple,
Leo and Wilma Claus. These folks were special. Wilma had a chain of
questions she always asked the children.
“Who wrote the first five books of the
Bible? Moses? Who built the ark? Noah?” She started with a couple and
before long the kids knew many small bits of information from the
scriptures. They could answer up to and over, sixty questions. It was
always a thrill to see Wilma and her husband coming up the drive. She
was the motherly type and Leo was thoroughly well grounded in his use of
his Bible. There was no foolishness with this older man and woman. Their
father was satisfied with their instructions.
That summer Lee had a magnificent garden.
The sweet potatoes were so big only one could fit in a bucket. A great
number of peanuts under the vines were thrilling for the children to
see. It was exactly opposite to the Osage when nothing could have been
pulled from the rock hard summer earth of the Strike Ax. Rich, sandy
soil caused everything to grow rank here. Did the radiation, arsenic,
sulfur and other chemical off the coke plant have anything to do with
it? Not to worry, the family never ate the produce. By this time they
had moved back to the Osage for the summer. Once Lee drove by the place
while a man was digging his sweet potatoes.
“MY! These are wonderful potatoes! I wonder
who owns this place?” The man was curious.
“Oh, I don't know. Some big cattle-rancher
over in the Osage, I've heard. I don't think he'll miss a few sweet
potatoes.” Lee had an ornery streak when it came to joking about
something a little off what it should be.
Pin Up Girlstc \l1 "Little Pin Up Girls
Dennis's ranch house had been opened for
summer guests. Perfumed wild flowers off the meadow and prairie air ran
through it to relieve the musty odor of having been closed for so long.
Fresh linens sprinkled with lavender water were on the beds, furniture
was polished and dusted with sweet-smelling oil and the rugs were
vacuumed. That old Victrola was cranked up and lovely music filled with
notes from harpsichords was ringing through the rooms. The house had
been built so tight there was never much dust. Grasslands did not
promote a dusty environment like the wheatfields around Ponca City.
Drapes on the windows were heavy velveteen in a berry color and they
seldom had to be cleaned. The feeling of an English country home was
maintained in this way. Venetian blinds were easily wiped down. This
tight built house kept any varmints out.
“Please Mama? Please, please can I stay with
Ura May at the ranch house tonight?” Colleen begged for special favors.
“You don't want to stay in that house do
you?” Velma looked directly at Colleen.
“I do,” Colleen replied with defiance.
“Lee? Do you think we should let her go out
there?” Velma depended on Lee's decision.
“Now Velda, we've talked about that.” Lee
was soothing his wife Velma's insecurities because of her belief in the
presence of remaining spirits after the death of Bertha. So it was, the
child would be allowed to stay the night at the most usually ostracized
home as if were the one who had committed the crime.
Ura May, Dennis's daughter, came after
Colleen in her small, classy, maroon colored convertible. The little
girl had grown up beside her cousin, Ura May, who was always busy with
her friends, activities or hobbies. The child had not had very much
private time with her older cousin. She always was the nuisance child
under Ura May's feet. The little girl cousin was constantly interested
in these grown-up activities. There had never been any question in the
little girl's mind that her cousin was simply the most beautiful and
talented person who was her age. The thing about it was that so many in
the community agreed with Colleen and would say so to her. “I think Ura
May is just so beautiful.” In her mind she agreed but kept silent. Her
mother had warned her not to talk about her cousin and in some way cause
Once she was at the counter in the kitchen
while Ura May was pouring raisin bran into a bowl. Colleen had earlier,
carefully picked out all the raisins. Ura May held up her bowl and
looked inside it. She then turned her attention to the child beside her
who was quietly watching to see her cousin's reaction at not having any
raisins in her cereal.
“Seems like someone picked out all the
raisins?” Ura May had a way of raising her eyebrows when she asked a
question and actually already knew the answer. This sort of summed up
the relationship the two cousins had. One was older and in control, the
other was youthful and supposed to be obedient. The obedience was
altered with little tricks like this but overlooked to allow the child
her own self-respect. This disobedience was never pushed to anything of
great importance. Only little things were the rule for the weaker to
push at the power of the cousin with established rights because of age.
Actually, the child wanted the love and any
attention her cousin would give her. Their bond was so strong in this
way Colleen didn't even know it was there until years later. In the end,
distance and circumstances separated, physically but not spiritually.
Ura May's slacks were pressed with a sharp
crease. They were a khaki color but of a softer fabric than the uniforms
of soldiers. The delicate silk blouse she wore was of a paisley design
with multiple colors of berry, black, and beige. A blouse like this
agreed with Ura May's refined taste. The young woman's personality had
been molded by the time she was fourteen when her mother died. Her
mother, the Osage women, was proud, dignified and essentially had a
definite attitude. These characteristics came across with a decided
statement saying, “I'm in control, here. If you like it, okay. If you
don't, that's okay too.” Evidently Bertha had taught Ura May well.
Colleen understood this about her cousin and loved her anyway. Ura May's
discriminating taste and polite ways covered over any flaws as far as
the little girl was concerned.
The adults, who were guests, visited. It was
time for the Colleen to go to bed, alone, in Ura May's old room.
“I don't want to go to bed in there by
myself.” she begged to stay up with her cousin while she visited with
extended family who were guests.
“Yes, you are going to bed.” Ura May didn't
budge on that decision. “I'll leave the door open and sit in this chair
by the bedroom where you can see me.”
Colleen was alone in the dark, spooky
bedroom. She imagined the ghost of her aunt was lurking in the shadows
even though she had never seen a picture of the woman to know what she
looked like. The child turned her back to the bedroom while she was
looking toward the lighted living room where Ura May was sitting. The
shaft of illumination came from that room and rested across the top of
the bed. In this position Colleen drifted off to sleep. The next morning
the girl woke to the beauty of her cousin's old room with its muted
color of soft blue. The little girl pin-ups in frames floated across the
west wall in playful poses. She then wondered why she had been
frightened by the shadows of the night before. Everything here was as
perfect as the artwork, color and design in the pictures. How could any
ghosts be around, anyhow?
Lee did not want Velma to teach the children
the superstitions of her Ponca tribe. When Colleen became older she did
learn, through her grandmother Elizabeth Little Cook, Velma's mother.
Some of the teachings were so mysterious and frightening these would
gradually be lost because no one wanted to adhere to the heavy
responsibilities of cause and effect over a material world. Lee's use of
Christ's teachings which put these dark forces in their place with the
matter-of-fact-statement of his Savior, “Get behind me Satan” and it was
a much easier suggestion to follow than some of the Native American's
Out Placestc \l1 "Far Out Places
Lee and his friend, John, stood holding
their Bible literature in their hands while they waited for someone to
answer the door. The far out places around Burbank, Fairfax, Apperson
were diligently combed by the men who were actively promoting the
peaceful philosophy of their faith even though the message promoting
peace was decidedly unpopular in a nation that had been embroiled in war
over the past few years. The United States was pumped up for practicing
nationalistic patriotism for numbers of years. At first the people who
followed their hearts as conscientious objectors were tarred and
feathered, then they were arrested and hauled off to jail, other methods
used are better forgotten. Children of these people were not excused
from ridicule according to how much influence their parents had in the
community. As long as Lee's children were in Osage County there were no
prejudices. There were too many of the freedoms that had been won by the
Jones family as they struggled for civilization. The people remembered
“I don't think anyone's at home.” John
turned to step down from the porch. Lee started to follow behind.
The inside door and the outer screen door
suddenly violently slammed open toward John. Lee was at the advantage of
being outside and was able to quickly step back away from the force of
the house holders angry action. John turned to step back up on the porch
and avoided the man's intentions. John was a small man in stature but
big in having a kindly heart. He worked a daily job on projects
involving the oil company in Ponca City and there wasn't much he was
afraid to do. He had already been honed to a life of steady work at this
time. His steps were a bit slower at this age but the man's voice was
strong, quiet and soft. He had conduct telling of willing service for
his faith, family and job. The well worn conservative brown suit he wore
didn't divulge that part of his personality. Steadily he held his worn
Bible as he opened it to read.
With glaring eyes and sure movement the man
at the door raised a rifle directly into Lee and John's face. Of course,
Lee had grown up in an area when this could happen at any time during
his earliest years in Ralston. The issues over Law and order, were
battles decent citizens had to fight to win in Oklahoma. The highlands
of the prairie were places that couldn't all be covered with patrol cars
at the earliest of statehood or for that matter at this time. Murder,
covering and hiding the corpse, wasn't only a possibility, it did
happen. Lee was well aware of this as was John. At this year there
weren't the advantages of electronic surveillance, or satellites to
patrol the sky. The thought of cell phones wasn't even conceived.
John did not waver from the mission of
bringing good news to his neighbors. He slowly went from scripture to
scripture speaking clearly and softly as he read. He told of Christ's
love for mankind in healing the sick, the Master's teaching from door to
door and inevitably giving up of His earthly life for all mankind. It
must have made an impression on the man who slowly lowered his gun and
brushed a tear from his eye.
“I'm sorry,” he apologized to Lee and John.
“I've just lost my brother while he was in service to his country. It is
hard for me to get over it.”
“Yup, 'Ol John had some talkin' tah do that
day. He stayed right in there with that disturbed man. Why, he even left
some Bible literature for him to read and I'm sure he was back at his
door again to check up on him. We just never know the sufferin' folks
have to endure. The angels must have been leadin' us to the right place
that day. Someone else might not have had the concentration, knowledge
of scripture or quiet manner John used.” Lee's total admiration for the
man came through as he related the incident to his daughter.
Covingtontc \l1 "The Attorney, Covington
Lee could bring the men of Wales' skill of
story telling into the living room. He had an easy-going way that
allowed him to pull the person into the web of tales he told. He might
begin a story with a question.
“Did I ever tell you about Brother
Covington?” He asked.
“No, Dad. I never heard you mention his
name,” Colleen replied.
Lee was in his element as he began to weave
a tale that well could become a legend just from the way he told it.
“Well now, let me tell you about the
gentleman. He was a Texan, you see, and he always wore a big white
Stetson hat, boots, and western cut suits. That was just the outside
appearance because he was a lawyer right up there with those New York
attorneys. If you got him in a court of law there was no other lawyer
that could even come close to the way he handled a case.
Lee pulled at the collar on his shirt and
straightened, with both hands, his western bolo tie on its string as he
was remembering something about the man.
“Yes sir, he was something else.”
Colleen wasn't aware that her father was
educating her in so many ways. It was just a story and she loved to hear
him go into detail about one or another happening.
“They were trying to start Bible studies
with folks down in southern Oklahoma at the time. Covington just
happened to be visiting in that part of the country. You know there were
some pretty impoverished people living in sad conditions. Of course,
that didn't matter. He and his friends were out doing their best to
study the Bible with folks even if he had to teach them to read first.”
“Covington stepped up on the porch and
knocked on the door that had no screen. Strutting around inside the
house was a rooster.
“Yes, I live here. What do you want?” The
bird seemed to be saying. Covington liked to tell this, too. “That old
dude was as important as anything with his head cocked to one side as he
looked at me. “Who's that man standing on my front porch?” He seemed to
“The lawyer had his attention on the fowl
because he didn't see the man of the house standing in the shadows of
the room. Without warning the man came flying out of the house. With a
reckless, wide swing, he made an attempt to strike Covington with his
“The agile Texan, of course, didn't want to
be decked, so he easily stepped back away from the man's attack. All
would have gone well except that the rotten floor of the porch broke
through. Covington was now standing on the ground in the very middle of
the splintered boards. His white Stetson had gone flying off in another
direction. The house holder was as surprised as the lawyer when he saw
how his porch had collapsed under the weight of the big man.
“Covington pulled himself out of his
ramshackle place, reached for his hat which was now on the ground,
brushed it off by rubbing the out side of his arm and coat sleeve across
it as the old cowboys used to do. He was in effect trying to regain his
composure and manliness.”
“He spoke to the man at the door in his slow
Texas drawl.” And now Lee grinned as he enjoyed the telling of his
“Suh,” he told the mesmerized house holder.
“I was a gentleman when ah came to this door, and I leave this place, a
“With that statement the slow talking, slow
walking Texan turned and walked away. No one could say he didn't brush
the dust of his feet, too.” Lee had a way of pursing his lips together,
ducking his head down while he looked straight into the eye of the
person to whom he was telling the story. He would then lift his head
back up, cock it to one side and look far off into the distance as if he
was, indeed, actually watching a replay of the event. He might then take
his fingers and strum them on the table when he finished his story. It
was rather like a drum roll to emphasize the finish of a story.
Discriminationtc \l1 "Family Discrimination
Extended family visited, prominent people
were invited, any stranger who came was entertained. Velma cooked,
served food on elegant tables with fine china. She did the cleaning
along with Gramma Bell when she was living. Velma ironed the clothes,
washed the clothes, leaned the toilets, and waxed the floors at Gramma
Bell's home, the ranch house, the Strike Ax and now the shack like
town-house. No one, was ever invited into this house. Velma and Lee's
home was never a showplace as The Strike Ax had been. Their home in town
was where children played, prepared lessons for school and studied the
Bible for meetings. There was nothing exciting, exquisite or interesting
to have been created with oil money around those pursuits. The children
never questioned the difference of their position in any of this. They
had meals with everyone else. If there was wild duckling with sausage
stuffing, leg of lamb with mint jelly dressing, chicken fried steaks
stacked on platters it didn't taste any better on lace table clothes
than on the heavy oak table in their own very modest surroundings. For
some strange reason there was never envy for or coveting of anything
that did not belong to them. Lee was only interested in his inventions.
Velma's personality didn't care about collecting things, not needed. She
was a people person. Any material thing was disposable and she
did not treasure them. The woman could pull together a functioning
household from literally nothing. If sawhorses having boards resting
over them served as an outdoor table, so much the better. A long piece
of colorful fabric over the boards would make a pleasant place to hold
delicious dishes of food she had prepared.
Velma was now beginning to run from this
heavy load of responsibility. Ura May now had the power of ownership and
she was not going to honor Bertha's commitment to her Uncle Lee. Velma
felt relieved of any duty to Dennis's family and she wasn't, ultimately,
going to stay. Ura May actually resented Lee's having any freedom for
continuing former work he had done on the place. One by one, each duty
was removed. First the manipulation for selling the herd, pressure for
money from Dennis, her father, and then when she came into her own
inheritance Ura May made statements to the effect, “this was my Mother's
place, and now its mine.”
The grueling hard work of ranching was in
itself a trial. An introduction of greedy, grasping for power and
competitive urges reared an ugly countenance. It could be compared to an
insidious small reptile. If it had legs like a lizard, and it ran
quickly into their presence but when observed was suddenly away. Too
late its arrival had already been seen. The idea was always there and
this created an insecurity for Lee and Velma. Lee loved the ranch so
much he probably would have been able to continue on as a hired laborer
without any promise of ownership. Things were different for Velma. She
had children who were at the mercy, she felt, of this subtle
discrimination against her as someone of another tribe.
Velma knew of Native American ways if Ura
May didn't. Ura May began to visit her mother's people of the Osage.
What they told her, was a way to allow her anger and suspicion over her
mother's death. Her mind held fertile ground for what she felt was an
infringement on her ownership. She didn't know the Native American
culture. The woman-child didn't know anything about the roots of it. If
it was a part of a great civilization reaching all over the major part
of the United States headed up by the empires of the Aztecs, she didn't
know this. Selective cultivating the strongest warriors, healthiest
people and most intelligent leaders was no accident in her own tribe but
Ura May was unaware of any of this. Her mother, Bertha, had been
physically, very ill. She was a descendant of a mighty chief and could
have lovingly taught Ura May all about the beauty and strength of her
people if she had lived. These were all the realities of cause and
effect of another culture which was woven warp and woof into that
present world of Bertha's Anglo husband's world. Ura May had no idea of
how tied the Jones people were to the ownership of land. Although, she
was fast developing their attitude. It was Osage land. Ura May felt she
owned it. Already it had been proven some of the murders of the Osage
was done by their own families for extra ownership or headrights. If she
had stopped to think, she would have been able to reason on this. Dennis
was not the beneficiary but of only a third of the land. He did inherit
a portion of his wife's headright, but it was of little value to him
since his two children came into it, too. Broken up in three ways
limited the amount and use it formerly had.
Velma was, “Ponca Woman.” It was this
knowledge of the Osage's thinking that kept her pulling away from what
the Jones's thought was theirs. She had her own culture. Standing Bear
was her ancestor, a mighty chief who fought for his own people,
sacrificing even on a greater scale. Shikina, Kickapoo princess, was her
ancestor too. The French trader Pascal Pensoneau who married the
breathtakingly beautiful Shikina and loved her with such a depth of
feeling. He left his wealthy French family in around St. Louis to
forever wander among the tribes with her. Velma's veins were running
with the blood of her ancestors and duty toward her own tribe. Like
Scarlet O'Hara in the tale, Gone With the Wind, Velma stood shaking her
fist at any who would discriminate against the blood of her children.
She stood proud and alone on the prairie, working and striving with all
her might and Lee loved her with so much passion there was nothing she
could do that was wrong. He would soon follow the path of Pascal,
Velma's ancestor, who forever wandered the plains and prairies to be
with his beloved Shikina. The records are there to show how John Jacob
Astor wondered what was wrong with Pascal because he was selling
blankets to the Indians for only three dollars. It doesn't take a rocket
scientist to figure that one out.
Running After the
Arrow Placetc \l1 "Running After the Arrow Place
In the spring when wheat was brightest green
Lee and Velma rented Clara Running After the Arrow's place out of Ponca
City close to the Conoco Oil Company's tank farm. A vacant home belonged
to a woman of the Ponca tribe. The space had a strange feeling about it
that told the story of the Native family who had lived there for,
obviously, a number of years. There were great old shade trees in the
yard. A circle drive with a well-worn entry way curved around the side
of the house. If grand old pieces of furniture like was in The Strike Ax
had been left in the house might have been more desirable.
A large living room with bedrooms along the
north gave the building a rectangular shape. Everything was clean but
stark as so many of the older tribal member's homes were, not from
poverty, but by their conservative ways. No decoration, color or style
had been brought to it. A long living room was hard to decorate. If a
sofa was placed along the lines of the room, the space
swallowed it. The sofa could be placed across the room but it was still
too small and lost. One solution would have been to create groupings
within the large area. Velma wasn't about to invest in extra
furnishings. Consequently, the domicile could never be decorated to
create a homey feeling. It always looked bare and lacking in
The kitchen held the original owner's huge,
ancient, wood‑burning cookstove. Since the room was so big, the black
monster of a stove fit easily at an angle in one corner of the room.
There was a heavy, wooden-table which was placed exactly in the middle
of the room to take up most of the space which left little room for
those seated around the table. This made for a cramped, uncomfortable
room. Windows were on one side of the room close to the chairs and this
was cold and miserable as well.
Fields were all around the house. The back
pasture had an old family cemetery with a wrought-iron fence around it.
Points and spires atop the metal gave a feeling the sacred place was
protected. The stones held names of people strange to them. No one had
to tell them to stay out of the enclosure. Once a jack-rabbit hiding
there was startled by the children's approach. They were anxious about
the small cemetery which was hidden in the center of the field, anyway.
As it jumped and ran they were frightened out of their wits. All in all
the children felt they were intruding on someone's home something like
Goldilocks and the three bear's home. It was if the people would return
at any time demanding their own place back from the family.
When school started, Colleen was confronted
with new experiences. Lee was working and not as involved as Velma with
“Those Indian boys will steal your lunch!”
Colleen was informed. The color of her skin was fair and the child
speaking to her didn't know she was Indian. This had never happened
before. In the Osage everyone knew everyone else. No one would have
dared make a comment to her like this. It was just the beginning of the
girl's observance of racial matters, well not to ignore the incident at
Cleveland, Ohio but that wasn't like this. Something ugly was wrapped
around this newest statement and the girl could feel it.
She watched those boys while they waited for
the bus. They grabbed someone's lunch pail, riffled through it, took
what they wanted and then went on to the next person.
“Dad?” Colleen asked, “I wonder why those
Indian boys were taking food from others?”
“They are probably hungry. If they try to
take your pail just open it and let them have what they want. If you
tell your teacher about it, we will bring your lunch to you.” Lee always
tried to find a peaceful solution even with children.
The boys never bothered her though. It was a
strange sight for her to see. They would grab their victim's lunch box,
wrestle the person around, slinging them this way and that until the
child let go of the handle on their lunch box. Quickly, the little boys
grabbed what they wanted. Some of the Anglo boys put up a fight but with
no success. There was something so strange about this. The Osage school
she had attended served hot lunches at noon. The food was home cooked,
wonderful, and inexpensive. Velma always managed to pay in advance. To
see children who were hungry enough to steal food was something she
couldn't understand. This was years before food was served at the
schools in Ponca City.
Winter seriously settled down upon The
Running After the Arrow place. If this old homestead had been friendly
during the warmer months, it was now miserable. The large rooms were
cold and felt hollow. No nook and cranny of any sort gave them an escape
from the cold. A small wood stove at one end of the living room was in
no way able to produce enough heat for the room, much less the whole
house. Even the wood stove in the kitchen could not keep the room warm.
Often the children were around the table wearing their coats trying to
keep warm while they waited for a meal.
As if they weren't suffering enough,
already, Velma decided to take in an Indian family, who were in a worse
situation. The children suffered with impetigo, hunger and lice
infestation. She worked diligently to correct all these maladies. The
Indian health clinic nurse became her friend as she battled to overcome
each condition. The impetigo on one child gradually was cleared up with
bathing and medicine. The little girl was suddenly beautiful and free of
the sores on her face and on her scalp. The lice were a more difficult
adversary. Finally, the visiting children were lice free, but Velma's
own children were infested with then.
Kids are sensitive to their parent's
feelings. Somehow they all knew their mother was through with living at
the Running After The Arrow place and she was defeated.
Velma had Mike flat on his back, resting on
the porcelain drain board of the double sink at the ranch house. She was
treating his scalp with the medicine the health nurse had given her.
Colleen was now looking down onto the white surface. A black louse was
crawling across it. Quietly the girl mashed the nasty thing and never
mentioned it to her mother. The world was once again calm and secure.
She wasn't going to let the peace be broken for an instant with the
appearance of one filthy, little louse. The lovely kitchen was bright
with an airy kitchen that was always stocked with staples and canned
fruit in the cellar. Velma had something simmering on the stove, a warm
fire heated the large living and dining rooms and the other children
were in the bath tub soaking in under the bubbles. They did stay the
night, but Velma would not let them sleep in the bedrooms. Instead she
made a pallet on the floor in the dining room and this is where they
slept. They stayed there for only one day and one night. Colleen was
again bothered by the old, childhood dream of running from the front
bedroom where her aunt died. In her dream she was looking back over her
shoulder, but her steps would become slower and slower and she could not
Gramma Bell's house was the next place they
stayed for a short time, just long enough for Velma and Lee to find
another place. It was like they were playing musical houses instead of
musical chairs. It was strange. Gramma had died there. This didn't seem
to bother Velma. Why did she have such an aversion to the house where
Aunt Bertha died?
His Headtc \l1 "Over His Head
Lee had been able to manipulate 1000 acres
of stock with their pastures and care. He had lived around Ralston
immediately after statehood when the laws were not solidly in place. It
was a time when daily living was fraught with danger. But now he was in
a new overwhelming situation. His plans for his children to enter better
schools and attend Bible studies with friends were suddenly undermined,
not by design, but by the determined teaching and habits of those who
were already established. He and Velma were now at odds with each other.
Instead of their former united energies they were pulling in different
It is such a strange thing when lack of
communication cuts off a couple's understanding of each other. Lee was
unsettled about Velma continually working long hours at The Wishing Well
café they had rented in Ponca City. It was the first café she operated.
One of his children was going to school with tears because of having no
laces in their shoes. Another time a packing plant sent out chili meat
that was so bad with grissle Lee wouldn't let Velma use it. It was an
insult that this packing plant treated them as too ignorant to know what
was good beef. These two events were evidently the straws that broke the
camel's back and Lee became dissatisfied and angry. Like his
Grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Brewer Collins, he had a way of looking far
ahead into the future. He could see the outcome of a plan. As far as he
was concerned there was no future for his children in a life style like
this. Velma never knew why he suddenly became Mr. Hyde instead of Dr.
Jeckyl. Maybe she felt righteous in her desperate need to try to give
her children food and a decent shelter. She felt no guilt because she
was so busy with the café that she had no time to worry about
shoestrings. The truant officer who was dogging their heels because
Colleen was not going to school, or not being sure where her sons were
playing that evening didn't really bother her either. She should have
known there was a racial problem involved with Colleen but she didn't
take the time to ask why the girl did not want to attend school.
The family had always lived in a peaceful
world despite all the hardships. Now they were caught in a terrifying
place where their parents were too busy with their own divided wills to
be bothered with them. The children's folk's battle escalated to the
point of separation. Children too young to do so were staying at the
home where they had been living after Velma ran from Lee's changed
Dennis popped in and out to check on them,
but was off and gone without really helping with their survival. His
greater concern was getting his brother's marriage put back together.
Before Dennis was able to do that, every pantry and cabinet had been
cleaned out. Velma had been operating a small café but that was soon
cleaned out by the growing children's appetites.
Colleen took a dish pan into the back yard.
Here is where they gathered the leaves of the dandelions. The girl
remembered seeing her Grandmother Bell gathering wild greens of lamb's
quarters, poke, and dandelions many times. In fact, she had seen her own
mother preserve them by canning them in jars. There was enough flour and
cornmeal left in the cabinets for Colleen to make cornbread to go with
the dandelions. This is how they survived. Finally Velma returned to
check on her children. Lee was gone with Dennis who was working
desperately to reason with his brother. Velma's fear of Lee's possible
violence was overcome by her need to know about the children.
“Is there nothing to eat here?” Velma was
opening and closing cupboards.
“We've been eating greens and cornbread,”
Colleen told her.
Velma made no comment. Instead she stood
quietly looking away from the children. No matter how much she believed
in her own rightness the woman seemed to be making a decision to give in
to his wishes.
After this Colleen always respected her
father's teachings about the love of Christ and his admonishing that
they were supposed to love their neighbor. However, she had learned and
became wise with the knowledge that when the cards are down, there is no
Once again Lee was moving his family and
this time it was to the old farmhouse of his mother-in-law's place along
the Salt Fork River. Here he once again became the easy going pleasant
person they had always known and he seemed to be happy. Undoubtedly, It
was more his idea of what a good life should be. The house was
dilapidated but it was on one hundred and forty acres of wheat and
pecan-timbered land. This provided plenty of room for the development of
his children. It was away from city streets, too. He made it a paradise
for them with his teachings about the wildlife and the environment which
was heavy with many plant species on acres that had never been disturbed
The move was a good decision because what
they learned helped them to become active with projects for giving bck
to the developing civilization around them. As far as continuing with
regular Bible study and meeting attendance from that time forward, that
never happened, although Lee did continue to study with his own children
and whoever happened to wander through. Occasionally, someone would come
for a Bible study and for a while they might attend meetings. Lee wasn't
one to join a group of any kind. He did say he had taught mighty men who
were more able to go forward with the Lord's work than he was. His
explanation? “I am slow of speech.” The other elements to control were
never mentioned. The beginning of fast growth creating competition
within the group, changing of some of the old values to new practices
allowing ostracism and then there was the demon of racial division at
that time which, of course, was like a canker sore, (Lee's words). This
was overcome later but at the present he wasn't going to force his wife
into any situation where she would have to be the pioneer when the
outcome would be too far away for her to enjoy. Her battle was with
cooking, feeding, and working with her family. One more stumbling block
could have been just too much. Unlike Dennis did with his wife, Lee was
more cautious about trying to force his wife into an Anglo mold. Despite
all these things, Lee never weakened in his teaching the children his
faith but in a one to one, personal way. He encouraged Dennis to enjoy
going to the meetings with his children and in this way they learned the
great freedoms of Christ's love.
Fixing Uptc \l1 "Cleaning Up, Fixing Up
“I'm ready to carry off another load,” Lee
yelled to Velma. She was inside the old house busy throwing buckets of
soapy water on the floors while scrubbing them with a broom. The house
had been built by her grandfather, Sam Little Cook, in the 1890's.
Gramma Lizzie, Sam's daughter had allowed tenants to stay there while
they farmed part of the land. Instead of depositing opened food cans,
pop bottles and other glass containers in one place, the tenants simply
tossed them all over the yard. There wasn't an inch that wasn't covered
with some sort of trash. Old refrigerators and other larger pieces were
also scattered outside the house in the thick, Bermuda grass that at one
time had been the lawn.
“How many more loads do you think we have to
go?” Lee wanted to know.
“We still have those old car frames and then
there are the refrigerators. That is all big stuff. You may have to just
make one trip on each of those.”
“Well, when I get back, the boys and I are
going to start pulling off what bits of shingles are left on the roof.”
Lee and Velma were back working as a team. The shingles on the house
must have been put there in 1890. They were flimsy and thin. The house
leaked in every room. On a day it had rained there were not enough
buckets to place under the drips from the ceiling. Pulling the old
shards completely off to start with new shingles was a necessary thing.
Lee's kids made a game of sailing the shingles for as far as the light
pieces of wood could go. If a gust of wind happened to catch them, they
flew away like miniature airplanes for a long distance. When it was time
to put the new shingles on the roof, Lee showed them how to lap each one
over the other. It reminded Colleen of the paper weaving she had learned
in school. The small nails they used didn't seem like they would hold,
but did. Evidently this small size nail was needed to keep from cracking
the thin shingles. These were the things Lee had on his mind when he
wanted to get his children away from city streets. Learning new skills,
working to make a world
them something to enjoy and just in general manipulating their
environment were principles he wanted to inculcate into his children.
No one noticed little brother was getting a
sunburn. His very fair complexion could not take much sun without
getting beet red and this was painful. Velma made him get off the roof
but it was too late, he was already burned. She kept pumping cold water
with the pitcher pump to put on his legs and arms. This relieved the
burn for the little boy.
Lee covered the bottom half of the walls
inside with heavy lengths of four feet by eight feet, boards. He painted
this a warm, rich leather color. The walls and ceiling of the rooms were
painted a light creamy yellow. The interior was lightened from what had
been ages old dark green paint. The house became more livable.
Some of the old furniture belonging to
Velma's grandparents, Sam and Esther Little Cook remained even up until
this day. The pieces were heavy, durable and in good condition. There
was an antique wood desk with a wide drawer. Colleen was given this
piece for her room. A unique willow table even had the date of 1921
carved into the front of it.
Trees were close to the kitchen windows.
Their trunks were bent and
to one side. Velma pointed out to the children that they were like this
because her mother's sisters had used them repeatedly to soften the
hides they had tanned. She said the women put the skin around the tree
and pulled it back and forth across the tree's bark. This was what
softened the tanned skins into leather.
Pieces of linoleum were spread across the
old splinter-filled boards on the floor. This house also had a large,
heavy wooden, table, in the kitchen.
After this move Lee brought his father, Joe,
from their house in Foraker and this was the final break for them from
what they had left behind. The old gentleman stayed as long as he could
at the Lee and Velma's place close to where Bell had died. In his
loneliness he got his days and nights mixed up. People in the community
said he would be working all night long in his little shop and sleep all
day while going without eating. Dennis was gone more than he was at home
so Joe did not have much association with him. The elderly man had
always taken care of buying the groceries in their household. He even
wore a path where he walked every day on the way to the store but now he
was sleeping during the day and there were many stretches of time when
he did not buy groceries. Often, he did not have food in the house. When
someone called Lee and Velma it was almost too late. He was very weak
and thin. It was a good thing they rescued the frail old man and just in
Joe was busy arranging his work shop in this
new place and he seemed happy to be doing so. If he missed the dreams of
his earlier life when his wife, family and children were with him, he
didn't complain. At 94 years the old man remained a gentleman. His
dress, his loving helpful ways with the children, was his attention to
details in a quietly performed way, and no one out of the family was
aware of his contributions.
“What is Grampa doing?” One of the boys was
looking out over the ridge in front of the ravine. Grampa looked like an
ant with a too-large load. Somehow or another he managed to collect a
large piece of metal the former tenants had tossed into the creek.
“Oh my word! We are tossing it out and
Grampa is dragging it back,” Lee complained. Velma was the buffer
between Joe's saving ways and Lee's frustration with what he named his
father's savings as junk picking. She knew that many times Joe had just
exactly what was needed because of his salvaging habit.
“Leave him alone. He has a use for it.”
Velma scolded her husband for criticizing the old man. Sure enough he
did. It was to be the back drop for his work bench. The out door area
might as well have been an indoor place. Little boxes of wood were
filled with everything imaginable. Holes were drilled in the bottom of
the containers so that when it rained there was no standing water left
in them to rust the contents to a great degree. Of course rain rusts
metal but if it was a certain bolt or piece needed, a little rust didn't
hurt anything. Joe guarded his shop with a watchful eye, too. Everyone
had to respect his doing so because sooner or later he would have
something they needed.
on Wheelstc \l1 "Sally on Wheels
Lee walked the timber with his kids and he
identified the many kinds of trees and shrubs for them. The stillness
under the thick foliage of the trees made it seem as though it was
another world, far and away from any other, although it was only
fourteen miles from Ponca City. They planted tomatoes on the floor of
the grove in the places that were not shaded. They realized a heavy crop
and that seemed incredible to them. Lee had taught them to wrap the
stems of the plants with wet newspaper when they first planted them so
the cut worms couldn't get them. Every plant had survived. The rich
alluvial soil close to the river made the plants grow quickly and then
produce huge tomatoes.
No one objected to Lee's bringing the Farmal
tractor from The Strike Ax. It, after all, had been a gift from Bertha.
So it was the Aunt Bertha they never knew who reached out from the grave
with her generosity and helped them once again. Lee plowed the twenty
acres around the farm house. His children dropped watermelon and
cantaloupe seeds into the rich, sandy soil. As the plants grew, the
children spent hours going up and down the twenty acres of rows with a
hoe to keep out the weeds. The watermelons came off and were so big it
often took two people to lift them into the back of the pick-up. They
took the melons to town in their pick-up truck and always sold the whole
Velma was expecting her last child but this
did not keep her from preserving food and working with the garden.
Everyone was busy. Lee had a job in the foundry at Tonkawa but he
arranged work and chores for the children while he was gone.
Who knows how people think? Tom, the older
man, living across the road in the old Story Teller family home was a
bachelor but had for a girlfriend who was a cousin of Velma's. Sally, a
fiery woman, seemed to watch the goings on of the little family. She was
like an angry cat, flipping its tail, waiting for a moment to attack.
Her anger could not be explained other than she was jealous of Velma's
beauty. Sally had a face scarred from fighting and was homely to the
point of being almost frightening, in fact, tribal members had nicked
named her, Mrs. Frankenstein, which was a wicked thing to do, even if
there was a grain of truth in the resemblance. She had a problem with
alcohol. Often she would come by their place and yell some insult or
other toward Velma as she and Tom drove by. No one paid any attention to
the woman and this only seemed to anger her, all the more. On this
particular day she and Tom drove up into the driveway. Sally rolled out
of his truck like an angry animal and was up to the small porch in an
instant. Velma stood in front of her now and still did not reply as the
women screamed insults. All at once, Sally grabbed up the buck saw from
off the front porch. She held her hands on both sides of it and tried to
come down on Velma's face with it. Velma grabbed the saw and wrestled it
back and forth. In the process the sharp teeth of the saw caught Velma
inside her arms, making deep cuts. Something about that must have really
sent Velma over the edge. She was finally, furious. Joe tried to pull
Sally off Velma, but he was so old and feeble that the drunk woman
simply threw him flat down on his back across the porch. He landed next
to the leather punch, a tool they had been using. Lee, who was always
working to make things easier for his wife, had added a long piece of
conduit to the handles which gave Velma more leverage on the handle of
the tool and made it easier to use. Still on his back, Joe picked up the
steel metal punch, removed the conduit and handed it brother Mike, who
then handed it to Velma. Velma now had a weapon. Wielding the conduit
pipe, Velma was armed against the bigger Sally and she used it repeatly
on the woman who was in pain and running towards Tom's pick up truck to
get away from her all at once ferocious little cousin. She was able to
jump into the truck because Tom had opened the door for her. In an
instant Velma was up on the running board, still using the pipe on
Sally. Tom accelerated the truck which was coming close to the very
large gate post.
“Jump Mother! Jump!” The boys were yelling
to their mother.
were trying to get her off the truck before she was crushed between
the over large, post.
Velma did jump, just in time to avoid that
Sally, the perpetrator of the fight, in her
perverted thinking, had gone to the district attorney and he called
Velma into his office.
Velma took her family and Grampa Joe with
her so they, could verify her story. She told the patient man that she
was on her own place and was attacked by the drunken Sally. After they
all had finished their stories, the district attorney turned to Sally.
He appeared to have been too well acquainted with the woman.
“Sally, I think you had better go home, stay
sober and leave people alone. Maybe you can keep out of trouble that
After that they were free from the insulting
calls, threatening gestures and any other bother from Sally. What
corralled the errant Sally? Was it the advice from the District Attorney
or from her having met the tiger like cousin face to face? Velma was
protecting her children, and in the process put the fear of God into the
errant woman. Probably it was the later.
Furs, and Skinstc \l1 "Of Pecan, Furs, and Skins
Lee and Velma loaded up their truck with
what the family needed for a day in the timber. They had tarps to go
under the trees for catching falling pecans. Velma included drinking
water and snacks for the kids. Lee threw in a pair of gaffs to strap on
his legs. These were what linemen used to climb electrical poles for
repairs but he used them to scramble up the tall, pecan trees. His
bouncing on the limbs caused the pecans to fall in a hurry.
In the warm fall days the timberland
beckoned to them. They loved to roast weiners on the fires fragrant with
pecan wood their parents built. Velma always brought potatoes to stick
in the coals. These tasted so much better than at home. The skins were
blackened and crusty but the insides were delectable when eaten with a
large pat of butter.
The sounds in the woods were different,
too. Everything was amplified in some way. Pecans dropped into empty
buckets and the thud rang out to a distance. Food was more delicious and
appreciated. The many leaves on the ground gave the children a new game
of rolling, tossing and tunneling. Winter might be close but it was a
time for them to revel in those beautiful days of Indian summer. The
family soon had large gunny sacks full of nuts. They were now ready to
take them into a buyer on South First Street in Ponca City. The rough
structure where they were going to sell their pecans had an old
fashioned, unpainted board front. Flat black, wide lettering at the top
read, “We buy Pecans, Furs.” Over large measuring scales big enough for
two or three of the children to stand on at once were in the front room.
This was where Lee hefted the heavy gunny sacks full of pecans in place.
Of course, the kids were interested in this man who bought nuts and furs
from trappers. In the back room skins of opossum and other smaller
animals could be seen through the doorway. He busily went about his
business of weighing the pecans and in just a short time had their money
on the counter for them. The children were guaranteed to have new shoes
for school. There wasn't going to be any missing out on supplies or not
having what they needed. This year they were ready for school. They
weren't just buying new laces for worn‑out shoes but a pair of new
shoes! Instead of their mother and father having to do all the work to
provide, they were helping to meet their own needs. It made them feel
very independent and worthwhile. Not to mention that there was a
pleasant, awareness that they knew each one was now growing up with an
understanding of what life expected of them.
“Say now!” Lee was joking with the boys. You
are pecan magnates.” Little did he know at the time that one of his sons
would make a fortune off great acres of pecan groves. The methods would
be considerably different. A mechanical shaker was attached to the trunk
of the tree and with a slight shaking the whole tree dropped its cache.
Other mechanical pickers eliminated the need for anyone to crawl around
on the ground searching for the nuts. Lee would have been like a child
in a candy store observing all the inventions created to harvest pecans:
from pecan tree shakers, crackers, and packaging equipment. It would all
have been a source of pride and humility to know his own son had come
from such a small beginning to enjoy this part of his life so much.
Bridgestc \l1 "Bridges
Spring rains often caused water to wash off
the wheatfields on down to the little creek running across their place.
Spring rains rushed over the new wheat with such force it flattened the
green grass, looking wheat as if someone had taken a large comb and
smoothed it into place against the soil. That same water collected in a
strong, forceful stream between the two hills where there was a low
place. No matter what the county did to try to build a bridge across it,
nothing would last. The last large whistle they used ended up stacked up
against the deep gouged out low cliffs of the creek. Normally there was
no water at all and then suddenly off the land above there was a rushing
with such an angry push that nothing could stand in its way. A larger
bridge could have been built across the ravine but the county wasn't
going to do that just to serve the two houses at the end of the road.
When the run-off calmed to a small, swift
current, the children loved to play in the less dangerous water.
Branches of trees hanging low over that space became a favorite spot to
play. They could bounce on the limbs just within inches of the stream.
Often they would roll a large watermelon into the water where it was
left to cool. When the melon was dropped and broken open all dived for
the huge brilliant red heart. Sweet streams of that melon trickled down
their chins and they never tired of this treat.
Uncle Dennis was bringing them back from the
meeting one night when they came upon what had been a
gully-washing-rain. Now the once small creek was stretched out like a
swift-moving sheet of water. It was as wide as the banks would allow it
to be which was quite a distance. This small flash flood was too wide
for the car to drive over and because it was so swift they did not dare
cross it. Lee had walked down from the house to where they were. He was
standing on one side and Uncle Dennis on the other while they visited.
It wasn't long before their uncle was back in the car.
“Your Dad says for us to just stay here in
the car. The water will go down in a little while, but we will have to
wait. As soon as it gets low enough, he will cross in the truck to pick
you kids up.” It had been a long day and the children were tired. The
younger ones curled up on the seats and dozed off. The youngest curled
up to sleep beside Colleen who was fascinated with watching the rushing
water. It was relentless as it busily rushed from higher ground off the
wheatfield. Bright light from the moon illuminated the place almost like
day. Uncle Dennis was under the wheel and had nodded off. She was the
only one who wasn't sleeping.
There was a bloodcurdling scream. It was a
demonic shrill screech. Twice the sound came through the trees. Uncle
Dennis was wide awake but didn't move or say anything. The way he was
looking out of the corner of his eye told the girl he had heard the same
“What was that?” The frightened girl wanted
“I'm not sure, but I would guess it is a
panther. They do scream like that.”
wasn't letting her know if he was worried. However, he reached over to
open his glove pocket where he always kept a small pistol.
“It sounded like a woman's scream.” If
Colleen's eyes had been any larger they would have been in competition
with the full moon above them.
“Whatever it is, it's probably in the trees
and I doubt will bother here. Maybe just going through.” Dennis was
consoling the girl.
“If there is nothing to worry about, why is
he getting that gun out?” She wondered to herself. The girl was
concerned about how safe they actually were and she was busy rolling the
window up. Somehow she never enjoyed playing around the creek as much as
before that terrifying scream.
The next day when Colleen told her mother
about what she had heard, Velma stopped what she was doing and looked at
“We have always had mountain lions, panthers
migrating, to go through here. They follow a stream, you know.” Velma
shared this bit of information with her daughter. The cat probably came
up from the river and then realized this flooding stream was a dead end.
They don't usually leave the protection of the timber. This wide
wheatfield around the house where anyone could see him would deter it
from coming on up to the house. That is unless we had stock, which we
don't.” This reassurance satisfied Colleen, but the frightening scream
of the creature would always remain in her memory.
She never heard one again and did not look
forward to a time she would again do so. That long, loud piercing cry of
whatever it was sent shivers up her spine with just the thought of it.
Years later, when all Lee's sons became
involved in ecology and land preservation ‑‑ through sodding of
highways, building bridges and dams, and fighting pollution ‑‑ it could
be asked, did these days of lazy activities of play and pleasure around
the rushing waters off the
wheatfield lead them to their choices of working to create a pleasant
environment, for society?
Motor Scooterstc \l1 "Bicycles and Motor Scooters
The Big V and the old 101 Ranch was only a
couple of miles from their mother's home place where they were now
living. These people were settled. Some were farmers whose family went
back several generations. Others were people who had good jobs with
Conoco oil. There were some on welfare, too. Everyone had a stable
income. All could afford extras for their family. They had money for
nice clothing, adequate nutrition, and, best of all, each family could
afford extra things they wanted for their kids, like bicycles.
Lee was working in the foundry during the
day. He would never have bent to the thought of taking welfare even
though the work was grueling. Velma was very careful how she spent his
check. We all knew Dad's job was demanding and dangerous. The man poured
hot metal. His work was in a place where he had to breath the air that
was heavy with fumes from off the furnaces. These were the days before
government regulations sued for better working conditions. There was a
risk of injury to his eyes from hot slag and he risked his health to
provide for his family. For those who do not choose to remember let the
record be in writing. When he came home in the evening, his first chore
was to accomplish the cleansing of his body. This was no small regimen
and it took him a fair amount of time. He had to bathe off the black of
the foundry. The bits of metal embedded themselves in his flesh and he
had to take a tweezers or a needle to remove them. The wounds from
digging them out he always covered with the red of mercurochrome.
Sometimes the copper metal left a green mark where he had taken the
pieces out the days earlier. The children were aware of the heavy,
physical work he did and didn't ask for extra anything. It was obviously
a severe test on his body and mind to survive it.
Velma finally demanded, “If you don't find
something better I won't be able to stand it.” As a result of Velma's
pleading Lee did find a better job but in the same foundry. He asked to
work in the machine shop of the same foundry. This newer job gave him
kinder conditions in which to work. The creativity of it was more to his
personality and he loved making the molds from sand, too. His working
conditions were better and now he could actually be protected from the
most grueling part of foundry work. So the admonition of the scriptures
worked for them, “It is better for there to be two of you, so that the
other one will be there to help if one should fall.” In a sense Lee had
fallen. He was now in a different world than he had ever known. It was
the world of hard labor.
Grampa Joe must have been alert to the
longings of his grandsons for bikes like the other kids' around them
owned. The ninety-two-year-old man quietly went about his business. He
put together all the leftover parts of bicycles into one classy English
bike. There were wheels, spokes, frames, tires, gears and whatever else
he needed to build from his saved parts. Grampa had owned a bicycle shop
in his youth and he knew everything that was to be known about this mode
of transportation. In just a short time he had assembled a racing bike
for his grandson. No one in the whole of the farming community had any
idea what it was. Mike learned to use the gears to get fantastic speed
out of the thing just as Joe knew he would. The bicycle was a source of
pride for the boy and he never tired of scooting up and down the miles
of road at great speeds.
Grampa was once again in the position of
making decisions for his family and building that bike was nothing
compared to his next surprise. Winter was in the air. Walking back and
forth to school was now what the children had to do. It wasn't any fun
to go on foot through the bitter cold. Before the freezing temperatures,
they had been able to dally around in the evenings on the road. Playing
and laughing with friends made the walking go faster. The cold blowing
wind and sometimes snow stopped that. It was steady plodding for the
children if they wanted to get out of the cold as soon as possible. One
evening, when the single journey had been particularly tedious, the
children were trudging up the long, uphill driveway leading to their
home. It was a goal accomplished and they knew the warmth of the house
where Velma's cooking of a hot meal was there to greet them. They
couldn't believe what they saw next. In the very middle of the drive,
right before them was an incredible sight! They were so excited the
children could hardly wait to get inside the house to ask who was the
owner of this brand new motor scooter. Mike was first into the house.
“Mama! Mama! Whose scooter is that?” The boy
was excited with the possible thought that it might be theirs.
Mike came rushing back out to where the
others were standing around the machine. They were very impressed with
this most unusual vehicle. To think, just possibly to dream, it might
belong to them. Slowly, oblivious to the cold, they tip-toed around the
thing as if it would evaporate into thin air if they were too noisy or
“IT'S OURS! It's ours? Can you believe it?
It's ours.” Mike was the bearer of good news. Well, no one was going to
take his word for it. They were all now inside the house, converging on
their mother with questions, too.
“Mom! Is it ours? Is it really ours?” They
were pleading with their mother and all the while praying it really did
belong to them.
“Yes, it is yours. Your Grampa didn't want
you to have to walk in the cold, any more.” Velma wasn't surprised at
all. She knew about her father-in-law. He might be in his nineties but
his intelligence wasn't weakened even if his body was frail. So it was
with the Joneses and their love for children.
Dennis had tried to put Grampa in a rest
home, but when Velma went to visit the waiting, alert, old-gentleman he
simply picked up, his previously packed suitcase, he called a satchel,
and left with his daughter-in-law as she walked out the door. She didn't
deter his unannounced exit as he trailed behind her on the way to the
car. Joe had work to do at home. He needed to do things like building
bicycles, buying motor scooters, making fly rods for the boy's fishing,
and keeping neighbor women from working rack and ruin on his
daughter-in-law, Velma. So what if he was nine-two?
Picture of Bike:
Picture of scooter:
Dad wouldn't have believed this modern
Sally in Courttc \l1 "Sally in Court
If Lee knew about range wars, he had no
knowledge of the battle in the farming region over Indian leases. And
yet, the fighting was much on the same level, he would discover. When a
farmer offered him an evening and night job of plowing the wheat fields,
he took it. If he was dissatisfied with turning the earth, which was
seldom done on their lands on the virgin prairie, he never complained.
Sally stayed up to her old tricks. The lease
Lee was plowing was a part of her father's land. As we know, Indian
lands are all controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If an Indian
owns inherited land, it is usually part and parcel along with other
heirs. This is how it was with this land. Sally's father owned it but
his wife's family also owned shares in it. The farmer who leases it pays
the Bureau of Indian Affairs and has no dealings with the owners.
However, there was a relationship between the Indian owners and their
lessor. If he was a wise man he would pamper the Indian landowners with
handouts just to stay on good terms with them. This may have been what
the leaders at one time meant when they called the Indians, children. In
other words, If you threat them well they become compatible and gentle.
Their ways, are guileless, and free from deep-seated hatred, but then,
isn't this the way it is with anyone? There was a delicate balance in
the relationship surrounding these dealings with the Indians and their
land so the ultimate production of wheat for bread could happen.
Sally was smarting over her words of
discipline from the district attorney so she was devising a way to get
revenge. It was impossible to attack the lessor because of retaliations
from every side to come down on her. But now here was Lee and this was
different. He represented that White Race to her and in her mind she
could go after him or his family. He looked to have no Bureau, authority
or anything else for protection.
Lee had been carrying a hunting gun to kill
rabbits as they jumped up in front of the tractor. Rabbits were a good
source of protein for his kids. They had grown up on the delectable
meat. Velma fried them up so they were as crispy and delicious as fried
chicken. On occasion, when there was a large kill, she canned them in
jars to preserve them.
Boy, the dog, liked to lope alongside the
tractor in the hopes of having a rabbit's head thrown to him as Lee bled
the animals on the spot. Crafty Sally must have been watching from the
window of her house while Lee plowed and killed the rabbits.
While Lee was working on one side of the
eighty acres, Sally ran out to the other section and built a quick,
make‑shift fence by sticking rods in the ground and stringing strips of
fabric‑like wire between them. When Lee came back around, he ignored the
light fence and just ran over it with his tractor. The furious Sally
came running at the tractor as if she could physically subdue the
“Sally, I'm going to plow this field. You
just go on and get out of my way.” This was all Lee had to say. Sally
was livid. She ran back to the house and in an instant was off and gone
in old Tom's truck.
Again, there was a call from the district
attorney. This time he wanted to talk with Lee. Sally was a little in
over her head this time. Lee went up and filed charges against her. She
wasn't expecting to have to go to court, but she did.
Well, of course, you know Lee wasn't going
to hire a lawyer. He tried to placate Velma's worries when he told her
he would be his own attorney. Everyone in the family was very nervous.
Lee just wasn't made for arguing a case in the street, much less in
court. Anyway, this is how the family felt. It was strange how the whole
community turned out to go to the trial. The cowboy and Indian scenario
must have been on their minds and they wanted a good laugh.
“He had a tractor on that gun!” Sally was
questioned and she nervously blurted this out. The uneasy woman was now
worried about her position. She had not counted on all the notoriety she
was now getting. In her haste and uneasy feelings her words were mixed
up. Tractor on that gun should have been, gun on the tractor.
Lee was listening closely to her testimony and caught this mistake.
“Sally. You told this court I had a tractor
on a gun?” Lee asked the women when he was called to cross-examine her.
“Yes! Yes! Yes, you did. You know you did!”
Sally was sticking by her error.
“I see.” Lee was pensive. He asked Sally, “I
had a tractor on a gun?”
“You did, Lee Jones, you sure did.” Sally
still stuck by her error.
By this time the whole courtroom was in an
uproar with laughter. There was something about this gentle little man
who was obviously just a common laborer taking a position as an
attorney, cross-examining the woman and doing it with such an
unconcerned, calmness to make the trial a riot of hilarity. The picture
of a tractor on a gun had been imprinted on the farmers' minds and they
could hold their laughter no longer. It was outrageous and hilarious.
Hard working farmers seldom had something to laugh about and they were
thoroughly enjoying this free play which was acting something out that
was so familiar to them. Some wiped the tears from their eyes while
their shoulders shook from trying to smoother their laughter and
misbehavior in court.
“Order! Order in this court!” The judge
didn't much like the foolish turn this case was taking. He threw the
case out of court, as the saying goes. He dismissed the case.
“Sally! Will you please go home, stop your
drinking and leave people alone?” The judge was telling her the same
thing the District Attorney had told her earlier.
Something about having to go to court worked
wonders on Sally's conduct. No longer was she a problem to the family,
the wheat farmers, or anyone else. She would not even look in their
direction when they passed each other on the road. No more insults,
curses, or threats were yelled as she and Tom drove by the house. Sally
did continue her drinking, but was always able to control herself in
spite of it.
Caught in a
Cross Firetc \l1 "Fire
Mike was hardly able to push the petals of
the big tractors, but he wanted to work along with his Dad who plowed
with the tractor in the evenings and up into the night. Lee pulled out
of the fields before it was too late because he had a day job and Mike
had to get up to go to school the next morning. Wheat fields are plowed
in the fall after the grain has been cut. The stubble of the cut wheat
stalks at that time were turned completely under. After the wind of the
day calms, a tractor will put less dust into the air. This was important
for the boy's sake since Mike still had his asthma. The farmers now have
air-conditioned, enclosed cabs on their tractors. Today the stubble is
turned with a one-way plow which doesn't have the same depth of tilling
as once was practiced. This is a better protection for the land and,
hopefully, will prevent another dust bowl era. The wheat stems are cut
lightly into the soil. This adds their mulch back into the ground making
it more fertile and giving the microbiology an opportunity to work.
The leases have to be bought by the farmer.
This creates a problem sometimes. One farmer has the lease and then
another farmer comes along, who is his competitor. It usually is a
neighbor living close to him, sometimes just across the road. Sandwiched
in between is the owner, who is Native American. The next faction, is
the Bureau of Indian Affairs who has control over the leasing.
The farmers keep a delicate balance in how
they work through these potentially explosive situations. The Bureau of
Indian Affairs alone could be an unbelievably tough, hard-nosed entity.
If the farmer carefully cultivates friendly relations with the Indians,
they, in turn, will sign the leases for him. He also has to maintain a
staunch stand with the Bureau. Other problems can cause unpleasantries
to arise. For instance, a man may have a lease on a piece of land. The
bureau calls to tell him he is not up to date on his payment.
“How much behind am I?” he asks.
“You owe ten percent,” the agent informs
“Er.....ah.....ten per cent of what?” the
farmer asks. He wants to know, is it ten percent of one year or two
years or three years.
“Get smart with me and I'll send a federal
marshall up there!” The agent is adamant.
The man holding the lease is unaware of
procedure since this is his first time to lease from the bureau.
“I'm sorry, Sir. I didn't mean to sound
rude.” The farmer is careful with such a powerful government entity. “I
just would like to know how much I owe. Do you think I could talk to the
When the second agent comes to the phone he
asks the same question. This time the woman answers, “Yes, sir. You owe
ten percent of one hundred dollars, that will be ten dollars.”
After the farmer agreed to send the
payment he turned to his wife and said, “ We must have spent ten
dollars on the phone for me to find out I own them ten dollars. I hate
to think what it would have cost if they had sent a federal marshall
out, or if I had leased a great amount of land instead of that small
At any rate, this is the climate involved
when Mike and Lee were plowing land for wages.
To shake him out of his doldrums from the
monotonous work Lee could hear a pinging on his tractor, which was
actually a bullet striking metal. Sure enough one of the farmers' and
his hired hands were on the ground behind a knoll, firing at Lee and his
son. Lee stopped the tractor so he could stand up for yelling and waving
to his son, who was on the front tractor. When he got the boys
attention, he started to turn the tractor around only to realize the
farmer who hired him was standing at the other end of the field behind
his car with a thirty-thirty rifle and scope while he leveled shots down
on the first farmer. Lee and Mike had been caught in a cross-fire.
Fortunately, the farmer who fired the first
shots gathered up his weapons and men to make a speedy exit. The shots
from the thirty-thirty rifle with a scope leveled down on them coming
from their rival at the far end of the field was too accurate and too
close for comfort. Eighty acres of farm land was not far enough away to
dodge the closely aimed bullets.
Lee took a lot of razing and joking over his
precarious position, but in actuality it wasn't funny. The thought was
that he wanted to be very angry about it, but instead, he shrugged it
off in a good-natured way, with not another thought about it. Again his
early days in Ralston, Oklahoma, had honed his ability to exercise
self-control over something like this. What were a few stray gunshots
when he had once had to hide in cornfields from a drunken father, or
make himself scarce when gunmen came into town for an evening of
recreation. The extra money he made from plowing fields bought staples
for the kitchen. This was the only real thing about the total scenario
as far as Lee was concerned. It was as important to him as the loaf of
bread the American public would pick up for their families on their way
home from work. Their living all came from the same bread basket of the
nation. Lee wanted only smooth workings on any project and could always
seem to see the greater picture and he often took time to speak of these
things to his children. The outcome of a matter, whether it was for
failure or success, was most important. Success being the prized
achievement to look toward.
Xerxestc \l1 "Xerxes
Union District 98 Country School was a two,
story brick building resting on one corner of a wheat field. Maybe an
acre and one half around it were lined on two sides with stately old
tees on the back. There were the Cadillacs of outhouses with
cement-based floors. Those were regularly cleaned with hot soapy water
and the teachers made this a part of their duties. At one time children
had all ridden horses to school and the stables were still standing even
though they were no longer used.
This picture is similar to the Union
District 98 school house, except that there is one more story to this
one which Union did not have:
This photo at the link below is incredibly
like the Foraker school:
The only playground equipment at Union
District # 98 was two or three swings. Over half the children were
American Indian so equipment was never needed. Their activities always
included sports and games. Basketball and baseball were the two
favorites. Long recesses and lunch hours were allowed for these
physically active children. They did well here where savvy
instructors were aware of what was needed for them to do the maximum in
their academic work.
This hearty outdoor recreation only helped
their grades, in fact, the children all enjoyed their school work. There
were absolutely no discipline problems for these children. They worked
for simple rewards like taking the blackboard erasers outdoors to dust
out the chalk. Plopping the erasers together or dabbing them on the
cement bannister was a game. Another reward for outstanding work gave
them an opportunity to curl up in the big overstuffed chair in the
library room. Nothing was greater than being where there were shelves of
books such as Zane Grey, Nancy Drew or other mystery books. The pleasant
quiet and privacy of the little room gave the student a feeling of
having their own private library as well as a sense of accomplishment
for having won the right to be there through one accomplishment or
Regular social activities were planned and
the student's parents joined in with the children's fun. It was on one
of these evenings a spelling bee was planned. Parents were to be in this
part of the program. The basement of the school was where this was held.
A festive evening was often provided in this room where the stage at one
end allowed them to enjoy other nights of pleasurable activities as
Colleen was anxious about this. She knew her
father only had a formal third grade education in the public schools. He
was constantly reading and studying but, of course, as a child, she
didn't believe this self-education was the same and she was worried he
would be embarrassed with spelling words incorrectly.
She was very surprised. Lee and another
person were the only two left standing, at opposite walls. Finally close
to the last letter of the alphabet was given to Lee. When Colleen heard
the letter “x” the girl just knew her father would be spelled down.
Lee stood up, shoulders back, and he looked
like a small boy with a mission. He cleared his throat and looked
straight ahead. With a voice clean and clear he spelled, “Xerxes. X E R
X E S.”
Colleen could have laughed out loud, because
not but just a week before they had been studying about this king during
their Bible study. Lee was the winner of the spelling bee. His daughter
wasn't about to tell anyone her father only had a third grade education.
As far as she was concerned he was the smartest man on the planet
regardless of not having grades and formal schooling. Here was his
continuing sense of humor. He loved to keep life interesting with simple
little turns from the expected by doing things like this.
Years later, Colleen home schooled her
youngest child. This is Calvert School who provided lesson plans for
Drought, 1953tc \l1 "Agricultural Drought, 1953
Velma pulled the handle of the metal pitcher
pump up and down a number of times. There was NO flooding of the clear
water to gush forth. History already has a name for the year, 1953. They
called it the agricultural drought. This is an apt description for what
happened. Without warning there was no rainfall. One day followed
another with only clear skies or maybe a small high cloud would be above
them. There was nothing more than that and soon dry dusty days followed.
It didn't help to look toward the sky while
they were wishing and praying that the immeasurably small cloud would
somehow increase in size and volume. It didn't happen.
The garden always had provided them with a
supply of ample, fresh green, vegetables. This year, potatoes, tomatoes,
onions and everything else came up with strong, beautiful green leaves.
Without rain the plants slowly wilted and turned brown. This was
difficult enough to watch, but when the well went dry there was no other
way the family could survive.
No understanding of such a significant
condition can be had while we live in temperature controlled, climates.
Gone were the days when they believed in the rain band. Any absolute as
far as that Great Spirit's retaliation against those who do evil onto
his worshipers separated into a straight path clan is only a raised
eyebrow for something gone for too long ago to remember. Was there any
truth to the melody tied into an ancient drumbeat or was it just a lost
tradition with vibrations sent along the waves of the air? No one even
remembered how to approach those powers on high in a request for rain
much less even considered such a primitive idea.
Colleen had been working at learning to
paint the heads of miniature tom-toms, tee-pees, and other souvenirs
Uncle Dennis was buying from the Native Americans. He liked to smile and
say, “Well, I guess instead of being a rancher, I'm now a jobber.”
Dennis kept the children busy, well in fact,
the whole family worked for him in one way or another.
Lee learned to strip the cowhides of hair
with lime. He left these for days in tannic acid which had been soaked
out of tree bark. The heavy tough rawhide was then laced onto a large
ceremonial drum head. These, even then, sold for a good price in
hundreds of dollars. Lee also built a frame for them so they could serve
as a coffee table for a den decorated in western decor. A piece of glass
cut to the size of the drum protected the rawhide top from any cup or
glass left on it. Dennis was able to sell these for $1500.00. This was
the beginning for Colleen to learn art. Painting with fast drying
lacquer made the later use of slow drying oil paints a snap.
Occasionally one of these turns up in someone's home or as decoration in
a shop fifty years later.
With the money from the painting Colleen had
been making payments on her school clothes. She shopped at an exclusive
little shop in Tonkawa for the nicest clothes she had ever owned. The
skirts and blouses were now hanging in her closet ready for her first
days in high school. Once or twice a week she would take them out to
arrange and rearrange the different blouses and skirt together just to
enjoy the possible different ensembles she would have to wear.
In a way the move to town because of the
drought and the dry well was a small blessing for her family since the
driving of the girl back and forth was not necessary now. She was
sixteen and could drive Lee's new Ford truck but she couldn't take it
and keep it away from the family all day while she was at school in town
if they lived in the country. With the drying up of the well there was
no possibility to stay on the old farm place.
Once again, like they had done with the
Strike Ax, the family moved, leaving all their furnishings behind. If
some of the things were filched and showed up in antique shops fifty
years later or in a museum Colleen felt no remorse at seeing them.
Something in her mind wondered how folks wanted to save something her
family no longer cared to keep. People, of course, didn't know Dempsey,
Dennis's baby, had died in the metal baby bed with rungs painted white,
that she saw so alone and by itself in the little shop. The old motor on
its rocker would no longer wind up. Instead, of wishing to repurchase it
she, instead, walked away with only a lump in her throat because of the
whole history around it.
Sally, Velma's arch enemy, had her revenge,
finally. The old house they left was burned to the ground. No one could
point a finger at that emotionally sick woman and Velma would never
prosecute her own family for such an evil act that would surely bring
prison for the woman. The children's mother, Velma, was the only one who
felt real regret over the happening. The house, after all, had belonged
to her grandfather. Lee had some thoughts about some of his expensive
instruments being burned but that was all. He would never be able to
replace his banjo, mandolin, and guitars.
The beautiful part of youth's way is that
they have no sentimental ties to anything. Young folks have a way of
looking to only the present and planning for the future. This must have
been a protection from what their family considered tragedies, else how
could they have survived the sorrows. Still, though, in later years
Colleen would dream about the bare location which was empty without the
old farmhouse. In some of her dreams at night she and her husband were
wondering where to build their own home at that location.
Lee was continually working with them to
teach them not to become involved with staid traditions. He didn't want
his Scot-Irish teachings or his wife's Native American beliefs for his
children. He believed there could be a new world free from the fetters
of superstition and ingrained thinking without questioning what could be
done with real freedom from these ancient teachings. This was a blessing
for the children and they never felt sorry because of what others might
consider poverty. As far as they were concerned, many blessings came
with the true wealth of their environment and that was plenty for them.
There was the wonder of light to bring them art, the mystery of moving
water and its holding magnetic particles in the sand, and there was the
beauty of the brotherly and sisterly love they had for on another.
Tonkawatc \l1 "Tonkawa
Everyone in their family was working for
wages. Velma worked as a cook in a café. Lee was working long hours
welding impellers, a type of centrifugal pump, for Mr. Wetmore, who
manufactured them. The kids were still working for their Uncle, creating
Native American souvenirs. By this time he had built up quite a small
clientele. His orders came from several states and some from foreign
soil as far away as Australia.
Velma had found temporary housing for them
in an old P.O.W. German soldier camp in the year of 1953. The apartments
were stark inside and out with stalag type buildings. Rows of this
housing rested on piers without inclosed foundations. Some were on
cement foundations. If this was something less than status quo they were
too busy with the happenings around and about the camp to notice.
“I'm wearing my jeans tomorrow. That big kid
bullying Mike around is going to stop.” Colleen announced at the supper
Velma and Lee exchanged glances but didn't
“I'm gonna git you, you dirty little Indian
you.” The bully yelled at Mike the next day as he was getting off the
bus. The big kid had his head thrown back, eyes narrowed down to a slit
and was smirking, too.
Colleen walked directly up to the boy who
was now on his bike. She took the handle bars, jerked them right and
left a couple of times and the kid was on the ground. The angry
defending sister pounced on him while he was down. After he had his face
pushed around in the dirt a bit, he was crying.
“Are you going to pick on my little brother
again?” Colleen was making it clear the boy had met his match.
“Leave me alone, I won't bother him
anymore.” The fierce boy had the wind taken out of his sails. All he
wanted now was for the wire-y girl to let him go.
The windows of the barracks stretched all
across the living room so that Colleen could see the bus driver coming
toward the porch.
“Oh no! I'm in trouble now,” the girl was
frightened about her fate for fighting. She ran to get her mother while
she was trying to tell her what had happened.
“Yes sir?” Velma was always polite and she
spoke to the man standing on the utilitarian looking porch that had no
design to it at all.
“Mz. Jones, I just wanted to tell you how
much I appreciate your daughter taking care of that bully. He has
pestered kids getting off my bus until I wanted to do something with him
myself. It sure was funny to see him go sprawling off that bike.
He didn't know what hit him. It all happened so fast. I expect he is
pretty embarrassed a girl taught him a lesson.” The bus driver was
chuckling as he talked with Velma. Colleen didn't come out of her room.
She still wasn't sure she was in the clear.
“Well, sir, you know, we don't encourage the
children to fight. Fighting isn't the way to settle anything. However, I
think this boy has really been asking for someone to take him to task,”
Velma told the man.
“He has, but that's over now. I'll bet I
never have any more trouble with him.” And for a fact, the boy never
bothered anyone again.
I Join?tc \l1 "May I Join?
Tonkawa is a small college town. There was a
mix of people occupying the modest homes throughout the area. The town's
people were aware of this sudden influx of families to the P.O.W. camps
but they didn't seem to be bothered by it. A general acceptance of these
newcomers was shown through friendliness and hospitality, at least in
Colleen's experience. Velma's family had lived on their farm close by
Tonkawa and she was acquainted with people in this town since it was
where they shopped. Her mother, Lizzie, had always been a respected
person. These were the ways of small towns, to judge the person by how
their family had conducted their affairs. Right or wrong, this was the
way it was.
Uncle Dennis was always sporting around in a
new Buick. His expensive boots, tailored suits with a touch of the
rancher's western cut and handy cash was met with a little more
suspicion but they got over this when he didn't try to mix with the
Lee had worked with numbers of men first at
the foundry and then for Wetmore, who owned a leading industry in the
town. Between the two brothers Lee was more to the folk's liking. They
understood about hard work and he was obviously a part of them in this
For the most part, there were no great hard
issues for any of the little family to suffer through. Certainly nothing
like raging, blowing cold, weather with wood burning stoves or neighbors
warring over wheat land. Only one incident sticks in the mind as far as
being a little disruptive. This was when Colleen brought papers home for
her folks to sign. Some of the girls had asked her to join a
sister‑group to one of the men's organization. The girls let her know it
was an honor to be invited as a member. She felt good about that.
“Mother, some of the girls asked me to join
this group. These papers have to be filled out and signed so I can take
them back to them.”
Velma picked up the papers, looked at them
and as was her way, looked thoughtful.
“I can't do anything about this at the
moment. Your Dad will have to give his consent.” This should have been a
red flag to let Colleen know this wasn't something her parents would
Colleen had never seen Lee angry over
anything she wished to do but this time he was curt when he told her,
“absolutely not. You don't get involved with things like this.” He made
his point emphatic by tapping his finger on the papers. The strained
look on his face surprised her. He really was upset.
Too Far in the Future
The girl made no complaint. Even when she
handed the papers back to the girlfriends' she wasn't concerned about
whether they would be offended or not. Lee had left no room for doubt.
He wasn't a joiner and he didn't approve of his children's getting
As it turned out Colleen did well in her
studies while completely enjoying the academic work. She enjoyed the
respect her peers gave her for this and that was plenty for her.
Lee never mentioned the application forms
again. The year 1953 was a time when a young person wasn't as willful to
come into disagreement with their parents on matters like this. Whatever
the adult's values were, these rolled on over to the children. It was
pleasant to be relieved of the responsibility for making decisions on
things beyond a young person's understanding. No explanation was given,
none was expected.
Not until thirty‑six years later would an
understanding of what Lee was trying to teach come full circle for
Colleen with the painting of the mural for the post office. Although her
work was to represent the part of the community that was Native American
she still had to portray a feeling to touch everyone's heart. Only
standing alone before her creator through prayer would she be given
direction on this. No organization or group of people could support or
show her the way. She had to listen to her own heart and humbly ask with
solitary entreaties for guidance from the highest power's spirit.
Her grandchild was deprived of her father
through divorce. God recorded in his scriptures he hated divorce but now
Colleen's dearly loved grandchild was a deprived two‑year‑old playing
around her feet as she worked on the four feet by eight feet canvas,
which would be the mural. A weakness visited on her own by these
circumstances was to be recorded for history with the little boy in the
painting at the eagles feet. Some men could ignore the laws of God but
this great nation at that time of 1990 was still under the wings of one
God however weakened the laws on marriage had become. It was in
agreement with the ancient lost laws of the Ponca who believed in
lifetime devotion to their mate or mates, as the case might be, since
plural marriages were practiced. However, they were still bound for a
life time to those partners. If an American Indian woman was put away
through divorce she became shamed, ostracized from the tribe and only on
extreme occasions would a man do this to a woman he had chosen as a
mate. It could literally mean death for her and her children without the
support of the tribe. And is that so different for the women of today
who struggle to raise children alone? It is a monumental sadness which
has consequences to reach down for the suffering of that child's
children. This is written through experience since Velma's own mother
had divorced her father when she was only two years old. The little one
is weakened. The child who becomes an adult has to fight the gaps of
their loss when they deal with their own children. The parent who comes
from a divorced family has a great sorrow in their heart. They can
become over protective or on the other hand too filled with fear to face
the problems arising in their own family. Divorce is inevitable in this
society. All we can pray is that our children try to avoid the pitfalls.
Lee was teaching them a greater truth. He
wanted his children to believe the whole world could be one tribe,
undivided and united with the love Christ taught. There are those who
will never accept this. But as the passage of time marches forward
through communication, understanding, and knowledge a light shines at
the end of the tunnel. The suggestion is that in the not so distant
future, this will happen, and it is a hope. If God's original purpose of
a lovely, clean earthly home for his children doesn't come about in our
frail lifetime what does it matter? We can place in the hearts of our
children the seeds of a world free from bigotry, ignorance and
nationalistic cruelty just as Lee tried to do with his children. If they
practiced only one percent of what he taught, it was to be a great life
for them. They might be separate from many groups, but from the strength
of individuals, who were true friends, Lee's children were given grace.
Different Drummertc \l1 "That Different Drummer
Velma respected her husband's protestant
faith, even though she never understood the backbones of it. Tribal
ways, Catholic teachings and military school had all taken up each
recess of her mind. The young woman was overwhelmed by the strength of
Lee's understanding. First she had to compromise with Bell, then Dennis
and finally Lee who didn't vary from the essence of their belief's.
While his family stood, stoic in their determination to teach the
children, Velma was dancing to the tune of a different drummer. If that
drummer happened to be performing with a leather wrapped drumstick then
this is the way it had to be. Velma didn't know her people's ways would
disappear. If she had of known there would have been even more of a will
to participate in her own traditions, or maybe she would have leaned
more towards Lee's faith, but doubtfully so.
Wesley Tahl stood straight and unmoving
while his sister‑in‑law was dressing him for the ceremony. It was a way
to joke with their brother‑in‑law and sister‑in‑law Indian customs. If
this foolishness was what she wanted, the man was obliged by tribal
tradition to allow it. When folks knew Wesley's sister-in-law had
dressed him, his ridiculous outfit would be explained.
“Stand still! I've got to get this honor hat
straight.” The sister‑in‑law was not wavering in her resolve to go to
the limit for the sake of a contrived joke on Wesley, her
brother‑in‑law. The honor hat she had designed was from a rather large,
tin, coffee can. It was painted black to make it look like the tall
beaver hat similar to what Abraham Lincoln once wore.
Next she pulled out a long strand of
macaroni she had laboriously threaded into a necklace. She had to
stretch to toss it over his head so he could wear it around his neck.
Velma helped her take two old bed blankets, sew them together in the
fashion of the men and drape them in their style over the man's
shoulder. When Wesley entered the arena, the laughter he garnered from
an understanding audience was just the kind of thing that could lift
Velma away from the tedious life she led while trying to cope with
raising a family. Lee, who had been raised in the Indian village of the
Osage, was tolerant and didn't interfere with what seemed to give her
relief and pleasure. In fact, Lee was known to occasionally join in the
fun. Once when his sister‑in‑law danced in front of him in the arena, he
took off his western Stetson hat and swished it close to her legs like a
fan. When the audience roared with laughter, the woman had to turn to
see what her brother‑in‑law was doing. She saw the reason for their
laughter and dropped one side of her shawl off her shoulder leaving one
hand free so she could pretend to hit at him while she was also shaking
her finger at him for his foolishness. All this was for even more fun.
At another dance Velma dressed her friend as
a man. They put khaki trousers and shirt on the woman. She wore a full
mask with a man's wig on her head. Her man‑styled hat was pulled down
over the wig. As she danced in the arena every action was studied to be
masculine. Her walk, the friendliness with the other men and the cocky
way she leaned back to drag on her cigarette between dances gave her the
complete appearance of the non‑Indian man. She was a good actress. All
would have gone well but when the prize money was to be given for the
most imaginative costume the woman's son‑in‑law was in charge. He walked
over to her and put his arm on her shoulder's as men sometimes do.
“Heeeennnn‑dah!” (Expression meaning, Oh
no!!! or Oh my!!!) The unsuspecting son‑in‑law then caught on that the
man was no man but his mother‑in‑law. Tradition dictates that a
mother‑in‑law and son‑in‑law, in the old days, were not to even be in
the same room together. The woman ducked her head and looked as if she
was trying to find a way to escape. The tradition said she couldn't even
speak to the man to reprimand him.
Meanwhile, the crowd was splitting their
sides with laughter because of how the woman's masquerade had been
uncovered. These were the days when everything wasn't so serious. People
didn't fly off so easily with anger and the world was still slow moving.
Tribal politics was not of much interest. Old customs and laws were
practiced. The habit of competition for salaried jobs wasn't an issue at
that time. Life moved at an easier pace then, without the necessity of
duplicity regarding whatever might have to be done to work for votes or
for a council person's position.
Morward Fin!tc \l1 "Morward Fin!
Little Brother was playing the part of Doc
of the Seven Dwarves in a school play about Snow White. He would be
prancing around the kitchen with his imaginary dwarves following behind
him, while he memorized his lines. In a staunch manner he suddenly
stops, points straight ahead and commands, “morward fin!”
The subtle humor of Walt Disney and his
confusing the first letters on the words, “Forward Men!” made Doc the
uncertain leader of an even, less confident crew, who sometimes ran for
cover. The family often laughed after recovering from some crisis
situation with the comment; “Morward Fin!” This was all in fun, but
sometimes things were of such a magnitude there was no getting past the
sorrow of it.
Dennis never talked about what had driven
him away from the ranch place, his home in Foraker or from his daughter
and her new family. His son, Warren Curtis, had joined the army against
Dennis's will. The abandoning of the ranch which would have provided a
service of a greater magnitude by providing beef for the armies if
Warren had picked up on the business of ranching. Dennis may have felt
it all was too much to endure and he did not even talk about it. He must
have believed his daughter, her husband, and his son could actually
pick-up the work only one person, Lee, had been doing. Dennis had always
let his emotions help make his decisions. Of course, he loved his
children. He was proud of their accomplishments and must have believed,
they could easily take up ranching.
Lee and Dennis had worked together for
their whole life. When there was a spat between Dennis's children and
Lee it had temporarily divided the two men.
Without Lee's steady plodding ways on the
land, the ranch fell apart as easily as the dry gumbo soil under their
feet could do, crumbling like pebbles in your hand. Dennis's children
had been raised at the ranch home but their interests were of a far more
protected activity than Lee's had been. They were not prepared for the
hard, rough life of the cowboy or, for that matter, even the foreman.
They had no idea, how much effort their own mother had put into book
work. That fact alone would have been lost in the passage of time if not
for the evidence of it was kept in her notes and writing. The
maintenance, the social activities and even the cleaning required great
amounts of labor to keep the ranches and town properties. Unless a child
is included in these activities like Lee and Velma did with their
children there is no understanding of what is required to keep a ranch
operating. To say, “This place is mine” was an easy statement to make.
However, the carrying out of that thought was far more difficult. Lee
had managed easily. When the work was too much for one person and
required a crew Lee and Bertha would hire workers. But, even then, the
workers were pulled from extended family who needed jobs. Without this
easy give and take there was no future for the micro-miniature ranch
Dennis and Lee had been operating. His children couldn't possibly
compete with the great herds of cattle belonging to seasoned, cattle
barons, who had big operations close-by, in the area.
Dennis was busy working now though. His
Indian artifacts and souvenir businesses were thriving and he was
helping with Lee and Velma's children. Without warning a malevolent
event would handicap the good he was doing.
The long two-by-four on the lumber truck in
front of Dennis's car slid off its load and slammed through his front
windshield hitting his head. He suffered brain damage and his life was
over, although he did continue living for many years. Forever after, he
would be just a shadow of his former self. The man driving the lumber
truck didn't even know he had lost a two-by-four, or so he told. A truck
hitting their brakes could cause the lumber to rip off its load if it
wasn't securely fastened.
More than ever, Lee had the whole
responsibility of the family. The extra monetary consideration they had
enjoyed through Dennis's benevolence was now cut short. Physically he
appeared to be still with them and there were times when he seemed to be
healthy again, but suddenly, down he would go into a quagmire with
erratic depths of mental illness. It was like he died but he was still
living and suffering as a whole different person. The family couldn't
grieve over his death because he wasn't physically dead. His body was
there but his mind was only partially working. They could only be
sorrowful for the loss of the person he had been.
The family did continue going forward, but
it was with another challenge. They were like Doc of the Seven Dwarves
who had said, “Morward Fin!” The following years had little joy attached
to the hardships. Lee stumbled through dealing with his brother's mental
illness as best he could.
How Had They
Managed?tc \l1 "How Had They Managed?
Velma went to quite some lengths in finding
a nice home to rent for Colleen's summer away from Chilocco Indian
School. In those days only certain conditions allowed a student to
attend. In Colleen's case the original location of their homes, the
ranch and the farm place, gave that permission. Both locations were too
far out to be served by a school bus. This time the house Colleen's
mother rented was on the highway leading to the White Eagle Reservation.
Again it had belonged to an Indian family. It was a large two story
house and at one time must have been quite elegant. The floors were a
lovely hard wood oak. Walls recently painted were clean and attractive.
A wide porch stretched across the front. Bedrooms upstairs and down gave
everyone their own space. A deep well provided plentiful water. A clean,
modern looking kitchen was to adequately serve as far as being well
equipped. There was a pleasant, roomy bathroom and it was centrally
located. A farm house would not always have such a nice bathroom so this
was an extra amenity.Velma brought a couple of pieces of furniture from
the Strike Ax. The owner of the café where she worked sold her a very
nice dining room suite complete with China closet. The house was cozy
and even though it was vacant for sometime extra cleaning, polishing and
personal decorating touches brought everything back to a comfortable,
The drought was past so there was a relief
from the eternal cleaning like Colleen had to do at Chilocco. Even the
massive, heavy building of the school did not keep the dust out. Usually
the floors of the halls were covered with a fine silty covering. This
year the rains came and this gave them freedom from the chores of
constantly fighting dust which allowed Colleen more time with her
two-year-old brother and younger sister. The older boys spent most of
their time, outdoors. Lee and Velma were working all the time but the
happy surroundings of the elegant old home not too much different from
the ranch house made the children feel comfortable and satisfied. There
were friendly neighbors on the south who Velma trusted to keep her
informed about what was happening with her family.
Uncle Dennis was with them, too. Before his
accident he had always been a mentor for the children. It was his always
his role to help around the house with house work when he was well. He
was their parent for all purposed when their own mother and father were
working. It had always been this way. Colleen did not realize how bad
his mental health had become. She was soon to be shocked at the turn his
help would take.
Now that the girl was home, Velma had taken
the opportunity to go to work full time again which left Colleen with
all the duties around the house. The children were accustomed to her
being in that role and most of the time things went off without too many
problems. The boys had their projects, little brother and sister played
together and Colleen went about the chores of cleaning and cooking.
Uncle Dennis liked to help around the kitchen with cooking and washing
On this particular morning Colleen had
finished dusting the small desk her folks brought from the Strike Ax. It
was a lovely little piece of furniture with a slant top to open up flat
on hinges into a desk. The color was a dark wood and this gave the piece
strong lines even though it was small. At this place it was something to
remind them of the beauty that was theirs at the ranch. As she was
proceeding to go on to her next chore, KER-WHAM! The loud noise behind
startled her. When she turned to look to see what had caused the sound
she could see the desk was on the floor. The contents of it were
scattered all over in a broad way. The impact of it hitting the floor
jerked all the papers, magazines, pencils and pens out of it. Dennis was
standing poker stiff, his hands down at his side and a silly grin on his
face. Colleen went about gathering up the things. She was unbelieving
that her always highly responsible Uncle would do something like this.
He was always the one who insisted on tidiness and most of all,
self-control. There was just never any radical act like this in his
“Why! Uncle Dennis?” was her only comment.
Colleen ignored him and didn't try to
understand since she had her mind on preparing lunch for the children.
As soon as the meal was ready, she opened the silverware drawer to set
the table. The holder was completely empty.
“What happened to the silver?” Colleen was
puzzled. She had washed and put it away herself.
“I can find it!” Little Sister had to know
something Colleen did not. “Come on,” the little girl motioned to her.
She led her big sister into the bedroom,
opened a drawer, pulled back some clothing, and there was the silver. It
was beginning to become clear to Colleen how sad her Uncle really had
become. She didn't want to believe it. What was going on with this man
she had respected so much at one time. He was the one who was always
studying the Bible with her, seeing that she got to the meetings,
eternally teaching so many things from good manners to living a balanced
home life. This was just not that man. Here was a stranger, someone she
didn't even know. The most difficult time of her life as far as having
to deal with grief settled down on her as heavy as any burden to carry
could be. When a person is mentally ill, she believed, all their
personality, their thinking, and former character is gone. For all
practical purposes they seem to be no longer living. How can anyone
grieve for someone who has died but then, they are still living. For a
girl to have suddenly lost a dear Uncle who had contributed so much to
her welfare was the saddest of circumstances. She could not outwardly
grieve because so much was required of her regarding her brothers and
sisters. Sometimes at night when the house was quiet she would quietly
sob. She didn't want to let her parents know in any way that she wasn't
grateful for the sacrifices they had made for all of them.
After the rolling of the desk over onto the
floor the rest of the day went by without any more bizarre behavior,
until, that is, it was time for Lee and Velma to return from work.
Dennis must have timed their arrival. He placed himself so that he was
sitting on the yellow, painted stripe of the highway in front of the
house. The cars sped by and swerved to miss the seated gentleman who was
waving his fist at them while they barely missed hitting him. He was
totally unconcerned for his own safety.
With this particular circumstance Colleen
was childlike. She didn't think too much as she watched Lee go out to
the road, reach down, and pull Dennis to his feet. Lee was matter of
fact in the way he cared for his brother. There seemed to be no anger,
accusation or any other emotion. He simply led the sick man back to the
house with no admonition as to what his disabled brother should or
shouldn't be doing. The sadly ill man was willing to be subjected to
Lee's care like a child who followed an overseeing adult. Where once
there was a man who was sure and decidedly in control was now only a
shadow moving along behind his protective younger brother.
Shall Passtc \l1 "This Too Shall Pass
A problem never comes about without a
solution somewhere on the horizon. This is what happened with Uncle
Dennis. He continued with his aberrant behavior and was tolerated by
everyone around him. The family all loved him and realized he was sick.
Velma continually reminded them of this.
“Dad, the well is not working!” Colleen told
her father when he walked in the door from work. She knew about a well
going dry and what the consequences could be.
“It's okay!” Lee must have sensed her
anxiety. “It has an overload switch. When it gets over heated, it clicks
off so the motor won't burn up. Come on, I'll show you where it is.”
While Lee was opening the hinged lid on the
top of the well he stopped and looked around the yard.
“Where is your Uncle Dennis?” Lee asked.
“I don't know.” Colleen had been busy
worrying with not having water. She didn't remember to keep a close eye
on her unsteady uncle's where abouts.
As if to answer their worries someone drove
up into the drive. The family couldn't see the visitors from where they
were behind the house. The persons approaching weren't aware the family
was in the back by the well. Heavy steps on the front porch told Lee and
Colleen, it must be more than one person. Lee went through the back
door, the house, and then to the front door, to answer their knock. He
must have suspected something was amiss. His family knew he was in
control by the way he was the first one to the door. He usually let
Velma go to the door or the telephone.
Colleen and Velma crept quietly into the
living room where they could see and hear what was being said.
“Does this gentleman live here?” The men
were very polite when they asked. There was Uncle Dennis standing on the
porch with the men just like in the days before when he would be
bringing cattle buyers into where his desk was at the ranch house.
“Yes, he's my brother.” Lee replied without
hesitation. “Is there something wrong?” Lee asked. Of course, he knew
there was. The circumstances having been what they were with Dennis
caused Lee to exercise caution with how he was to meet whatever
complaint these men had.
Whether it was Colleen's youth or from being
in a kind of shock over the events to come up with her uncle who can
know? For her, the world at the time was a little like a dream. Things
flowed in and out of her space as though she was watching a black and
white movie. Only the most immediate, present living was of importance.
Everything was so out of character for her Uncle.
“Well, sir,” the men continued speaking with
their mild manner, “you see, he was over at our grain elevator. We had a
load of wheat come in today. He was standing at the very edge of the
platform where the grain is being poured into the hole. If he should
fall in that large space, it is doubtful we would be able to get him out
before the grain would suffocate him. In fact, it was just by chance we
saw the old gentleman. He was weaving back and forth and we thought he
was a goner for sure. If he fell and was covered with wheat when we
weren't watching, no one would know he was down there.”
Lee was at a loss for words. He looked
straight at the men and he had a very strained look on his face. It was
more than evident he was focused on the issue at hand.
“We'll take care of it,” Lee reassured the
men. “It won't happen again.”
The two men seemed to be satisfied with the
sure way Lee was able to meet their complaints.
Goes Ontc \l1 "Life Goes On
Lee and Velma took Dennis on the long,
lonely, sad journey out to the state operated, mental-hospital. All
Dennis's surplus money had been used up on clinics, short term
treatments and other facilities. All he had left was his Osage headright
which paid only quarterly. The free state hospital was the last
alternative and this was where Lee was taking his brother. It must have
been quite a miserable trip with Dennis kicking the back of Lee's seat
on the driver's side for most of the way. Their old car was just barely
hanging together. There was a possibility they couldn't get it started
if they stopped so they drove straight through.
Everything had to be in order before Dennis
left and this had been painful for them, too. The children were
mercifully spared knowing about the legal issues involved. There had
been a three-day observation period required at which time this was
essentially, no more than incarceration. Dennis told later when he was
lucid and well, that he had cleaned his entire cell with his
handkerchief and the bar of soap left on the sink. Even in the fog of
his mental despair he practiced cleanliness or was this just part of the
overwhelming condition of his mental health. Lee's family could be
compared to horses in a stable when one animal is ill. All the other
horses will stand soulfully in despair, while the owner treats the sick
one. They will stand with their front feet spread apart and their heads
drooping low. As soon as the sick horse is taken off the premises and
out of sight, the remaining ones will begin to frolic and play. Who can
know what they are feeling?
It was like this with the children. For as
much as they loved their uncle there seemed to be a great relief he was
no longer with them. In a way they were like the dumb animals who didn't
understand and could not help one of their own.
The former work Dennis had done for Colleen
by seeing she attended meetings and studied the Bible now paid off.
Those young people with whom she had made acquaintance were alert to the
potential dangers for a young girl in a school away from home and the
possibility that she might be visited with so many difficult situations.
They included her completely in their group . Youthful, but serious
minded, made them clean thinking and dedicated to doing their share for
helping society by teaching Christ's loving ways. There was an
unwavering service to their community. They offered their energies and
spare time to doing these good works. Each held designated territories
where Bible studies were conducted in what was called the field which
simply meant they were invited into someone's home to help that person
to research and study the scriptures. Usually the results were that the
one who conducted the study got more out of it than the one with whom
they studied. Colleen was included in these activities. This was when
she became interested in the wonders of research. After work was done,
the leaders in the group made time for swimming, house parties, visiting
or other socializing.
“Mom! Guess what! I've been invited to go to
the district convention at Oklahoma City.” Colleen was excited. She had
always gone along with her brothers and sisters to these events or with
Uncle Dennis. Since he was away, she was so pleased just to be able to
“I need a dress though,” she muttered. This
was another way she was missing her uncle. He had always been there to
help her mother when she needed clothing for the occasion.
“We will manage,” Velma reassured her
Sure enough! The fabric Velma brought home
that evening when she returned from work was special. The price of
material was nothing compared to what it would have cost to buy a
ready-made dress. It was soft cotton with a delicate, tiny irregular,
hounds tooth-checked-pattern. The colors were beige and cranberry. Velma
used the large dining room table to cut a pattern for the dress. The
skirt she cut in a perfect circle. The top was fitted to the waist.
Puffy sleeves with a band to fit around her arm gave style to the
garment. A long row of tiny, cranberry buttons ran down the bodice of
the dress in front. After Velma finished Colleen tried it on for
fitting. The fullness of the skirt was different and pleasant for the
girl. Velma had measured and cut a perfect pattern and no alterations
had to be made. Ballerina slippers were in style at that time in the
year of 1954. Velma bought a pair in the same cranberry color as the
dress. Colleen believed no girl dressed any better. She actually felt as
well dressed as the little models in one of the fashion magazines Velma
brought home. Colleen had no idea her mother had probably cut the
pattern from one of the dresses shown.
The trip to Oklahoma City was a total
success with many happy memories and joyful good times for her. It was
wonderful medicine. In this way her uncle's spirit remained with her,
even though he was not there. The young people she was with were such a
brilliant light in her life they would never be forgotten. The sparkle
of their being sometimes came to her in later years when difficult times
and surroundings came upon her. It was as if this was a promise of what
joy and sweet living should be. Totally she felt like a princess with
such a wondrous entourage of loyal subjects. They were like Sir Walter
Drake who might have thrown his cape over the mud in her life so she
could easily step over it. How could she fall in love with any one of
the boys who were actually men when she respected them all equally even
as her own brothers. Of course there was great competition among the
girls to land someone in marriage of their own faith. Colleen had
been taught by her father to remove herself from a place where there was
this kind of rivalry and so she had already done that, with her going to
the boarding school. But this was summer and was when she was to
experience special times with childish, yet grown-up, good friends.
There were sedate parties in each other's homes where young adult
married people were present. Otters couldn't have had as much fun
playing in the waters of the Wentz and Conoco pools as they did. Bible
lectures in the park gave everyone the opportunity to bring covered
dishes for picnics together. There were no worries about someone
sneaking off for doing something immature. They knew what was expected
of them as young adults and there was no deviation from those standards.
It was a time before all the sadness of society's ills were upon youth
and it was wonderful freedom for them. The enduring memories gave
strength through the years with a humility and thankfulness for their
best of times after the world took on major changes for young people.
Lee was strict about association. Although
he and Velma never attended the meetings, Lee didn't complain about
these young people of his faith with whom his daughter had chosen as a
group to share activities. He gave her complete freedom to enjoy their
company in recreation and in their common purpose of learning the Bible.
The young men of their circle were the ones who saw to the decorum
regarding conduct and correct behavior not in a stuffy way but they were
steady. No later than curfew hours, not pairing off alone with the
girls, and reminders for when and where they were supposed to be
regarding their spiritual obligations. There might be a special program
where one or the other had a small part, a visitation to someone in the
hospital or who was ill at home, and even a morning of return visits
with those who were studying the Bible with them. It was a happy, busy
association full of clean fun, responsibilities and duties performed
with light hearted joy. If the sorrow of her uncle's plight was ever in
the back of her mind, it no long dominated her with despair for his
The girl of high school age never felt
impoverished and, indeed, she was not in regards to the basics of her
necessities, spiritual or materially. She understood about poverty
though. The girl knew her Dad could never afford any clothing for
himself other than the heavy khaki shirt and trousers he wore to work.
Velma wore a white uniform most of the time while she worked double
shifts as a cook. Two or three changes of school clothes for his
children and for their attending meetings were all Lee was able to
Velma always said she never had teenager
problems with her children. The reason was that her children were never
teenagers. They went happily from childhood directly to the
responsibilities of adulthood. Lee and Velma were gifted with knowing
how to do this, but then, it was a time when society allowed children to
mature earlier. They learned to drive tractors when they were twelve
years old. Feeding livestock, carrying water to them, and many more
duties were shouldered. Rather than feeling someone was taking advantage
of them, they felt proud and grown-up that they were able to do these
things. It was a simple practical world wherein they lived filled with
desires to reach their highest aspirations struggling with courage to
dream and to run toward their goals. No cat and mouse games were played
with the authorities, who then seemed to have respectful feelings toward
the youth, too. In just a span of fifty years from 1954 to 2004, how
different the world has become.
You Seestc \l1 "You Sees
Lee kept to his routine. Work, meals, sleep
and then back to work. His recreation was tied up in tinkering with his
inventions for not other reason than that the world would become a
better place. As he explained them to his children, they became
acquainted with whatever gadget he happened to be building and in the
process they learned some principles of physics.
“Hi Dad. Where's Mom?” One or another of the
kids would ask when they came home.
“Oh, she's takin' her dancin' lessons.” His
humor was always like this. He meant Velma was at some dance, hand game
or funeral involved with her Indian family that was actually the tribe.
“What jah doin'?” It was obvious Lee had
something he was building. Plaster of Paris, wire, string, and all sorts
of tools were on the table in front of him. Lee was passionately
involved with an all encompassing love for whatever he was designing at
“Well, you sees.” His word sees he often
used in his speech. It was in agreement with the scripture that said,
'They have eyes but cannot see. Lee loved to play with the English
language as easily as he played with hydrogen when he was a young man.
Sees, a non-existent word he used and it was his way of letting the
kid know he had also “seized” their mind for a while so they could
see or understand something. It was so strange that the gadget
always seemed to tie in with some problem they were having. It was
really an awakening to know he was aware of what dilemma in their life
they were wrestling at the moment.
“You sees,” Lee repeated. “This here is a
Colleen looked at the contraption. This was
the year 1954. No one had seen a circular, tube turning as is a space
shuttle does today. However, this is how it looked. It was a hollow,
tubular wheel that was in fact a motor as Lee now explained. The plaster
of Paris covering made its color white as the space ship in the movie
2001, only this was a small mechanical device 24 inches across.
“If it is a motor, how does it run?” Colleen
was now caught into the mystery of his gadget
“Well, I'll just show you.” Lee started it
Sure enough the thing whirred along with
little noise. Colleen was amazed.
“It can't be a motor. There are no pistons!”
The girl didn't know much about mechanics but she did know some things.
“It has one piston. That is all you need.
The piston going in a circle creates less friction and has less wear on
the parts. With fewer parts this means, less repair. Years later Mazda
would build a circular engine. Something Lee did, they didn't do, caused
their motor to have quite a few problems.
Colleen learned a lesson in mechanics that
day but she also had an answer to the decision she was trying to make
about leaving Chilocco before she graduated. She did feel exactly like
this new engine which was going in circles. The constant routine with
the military school could be tedious at times. She felt deprived of many
of the activities she had when she was home and the girl missed her
family, especially her youngest brother and sister. Her friends were at
home and she was united by faith with them and that was something never
possible with others at the boarding school. How had Lee known what she
was thinking? Of course, all the activities in this town were like a
motor with six or eight pistons. They did have to be balanced and
worried through. On the other hand, Chilocco was a smooth, functioning,
engine. Although the military values of the school, could make
the student believe there was nothing more than marching around and
around in one place, still, she would be given quiet, friction free,
opportunities to study and complete her high school years. There were no
worries about meals, car transportation to different activities, or
decisions to make regarding social activities. All this was provided. As
usual, Lee had given her counsel without once referring to the actual
dilemma she was facing. He had seized her mind for just long enough to
help her decide to stay at Chilocco so she could finish her high school,
which she did.
“Yes, I sees.” Colleen smiled as she replied
to her Dad's teaching.
From Hometc \l1 "Letters From Home
Mail call! Mail call! Every one to the lobby
for mail call. The energetic hall monitor was herding the girls to the
lobby. Every student in Home Five at Chilocco Indian School was required
to be in the large lobby for mail call. The room where they waited
together was bigger than any southern mansion's living room. The girls
lounged on the comfortable furniture, some were on the steps leading to
the second floor and others were sitting on the polished, marble floors.
This was a leisurely Saturday morning and they were enjoying the time
off from everyday details and chores. Even their attire was casual. Most
of the girls wore jeans, sweat shirts, t-shirts or anything else that
was comfortable. They were only allowed to wear pants when in the
building like this. Colleen never got a letter but still, she, like
everyone else, was required to wait for the possibility that her name
would be called. The parents and family of the girl lived only
twenty-six miles away. Friends came for her to go to meetings on Sunday
and without fail, the one week-end a month when she was allowed a home
visit, her parents were there for her. No one sent along a note since it
would be just a short time before they could see her. This was unlike
some of the other students who lived great distances away from their
When her name was called, she was shocked.
Even more startling was the fact the letter came from Uncle Dennis.
There was no mistaking his scrawl. His letter was short but that didn't
matter to her. It was a wonderful thought to believe her uncle was back
with the living.
Colleen began writing to him, but she was
careful to pen only the positive things. Her letters were a diary of the
everyday events at the school. She told him how beautiful the campus was
and how much it reminded her of when they lived at the ranch. The
manicured grounds, lake with white geese bobbing up and down on the calm
waters, and the massive stone buildings were like a picture to paint.
Colleen wrote usually of a pleasant happening about one or another
employee who spent moments with her in an encouraging way. She told how
much she loved the food, and this was a stretch of the imagination. The
truth was that there were sometimes crunchy, freshly picked apples on
her tray with sweet milk served at every meal. This is what she told her
uncle. No description was made about the long waits in line or that she
was required to go to meals and that sometimes the girls hid in the
showers or closets until after room check to get out of going.
Before long things did begin to get better
for Colleen at the school. An Osage girl brought a radio to her room on
the pretense of wishing to borrow five dollars while using the little
box for collateral. Warren, Dennis's son, had written her and in his
letter was always a five-dollar bill. This is what she used to loan the
girl. The small little radio became great pleasure for her. She was one
of the few girls who had music on demand. This lessened the feeling of
that prison like atmosphere for her. She was careful to keep the radio
concealed behind the drapes on a ledge. The volume was turned low. Once
in a while a matron would pause with a puzzled look when she heard the
strands of music floating across the room but then none ever commented
about it. There were no rules against having a radio, it was just
something most girls didn't own. As long as the sound was low and
discretion was used for listening only during daylight hours no problem
arose over this rare treasure.
Warren and Colleen began corresponding. She
described her world to him with more detail accordingly for both good
and tedious. The time she was restricted to the building for going to a
student council meeting too early was mentioned. For punishment a detail
was given her for waxing the floors of the large reading room and the
great lobby on her knees. Colleen described the blisters she had to her
Warren, who was in the Army wrote to her
about his experiences in Europe. He told her about the rich old dude
who rigged up his castle to play tricks on his guests by squirting them
with water when they least expected it. Her cousin told her he had
visited Italy. Once she received a silk scarf with a map of France
embroidered on it. Warren sent her leather articles with gold stamped on
them he had bought from a monastery.
Letters soon came from a quite elderly
gentleman by the name of George McLemore. His notes were all about
activities with her friends in Ponca City. Unlike Uncle Dennis, he wrote
long letters and covered every incidental happening in Ponca City, no
matter how small. These letters were a great pleasure for the girl. The
man was very elderly but he certainly handled a pen well. Colleen could
see him in her mind with his stash of Bible literature going from one
Bible study to another. Some made fun of his activities even those who
were of his own faith. He never was bothered by the lack of respect
given to him while he industriously went about his Father's work.
The eighty-four-year-old man was clean, well dressed, healthy from the
walking exercise and had a pleasant personality.What better way could he
have spent his waning years. Colleen could see his happy countenance as
she read about things going on in her town from his clear, carefully
hand written note. Even though she was only a girl, she appreciated the
man's dignified attention. His kindness made her feel she wasn't a
forgotten person in a room away from family and friends. What she didn't
know was that Uncle Dennis was truly back with the living and he was
ever manipulating these small matters to bring her relief from her being
away from her home.
Ura May sewed some things for Colleen and
she sent these along via the mail. All this distracted the girl from
having any homesick or lonely days. When the bell rang for mail call, it
was Colleen who made it early enough to get a seat on one of the comfy
Second Streettc \l1 "Second Street
Only one street in Ponca City was worse
than First Street and this was where they lived on Second Street. This
was before H.U.D. housing for low income people, existed or, for that
matter, was even conceived. Second Street was where the Indian people
came when they left their country homes. People had been moving there as
early as the turn of the century. Velma remembered her uncle Osburn
Little Swift having lived on the same street. He was married to Minnie,
a non-Indian woman. Lee and Velma, years later were now residing at
Second Street with their children in a rented house. The place was
cheaply built and by this time there wasn't much about it left to enjoy.
There was no foundation. The wood floors rested directly on the ground
which was okay, except that it was rather unusual. Of course, if it had
been a mansion not many people wanted to brave the neighborhood. One
good thing to come out of the children having to live on Second Street
was that they learned what was involved in having to deal with the
Native American children. Those kids were what might be called street
smart and could be compared to The Dead End Kids of yesteryear in
the movies by the same name. A kind of bond and tie developed between
them that went on into their later years. Prison caught some of them,
others went to alcohol or drugs but there were some who rose above their
lot and made a success of their lives.
For others, the education at Chilocco served
as a guard and saving force. However, on occasion the boarding school
served to create deep resentment and anger because the child hated it
because they had been taken away from their home. Velma had been
subjected to eight years at the school while Colleen had been there for
only four years. It was strange how Chilocco was actually designed to
break apart the culture of the Native people but a few, in their deep
rebellion against this attempt, became forever bonded with their Native
American peers against the school trying to inculcate Anglo disciplines.
Lee taught his children a different
philosophy. It was his belief that it was their duty to stand apart so
they could be able to form their own opinions. By being removed in this
way, the girl was given a choice. She didn't have to embrace the
military regimen, the religious rituals or other traditions. Lee gave
her the gift of freedom and at the same time taught her to respect her
mother's ways. They weren't subjected to an all out battle over religion
as their own children would be,and it was a relatively easy time for
them. All they had to do was enjoy the dedication their parents had for
seeing to their best interests.
“Your mother, Velma, as a child did not have
any say in what happened to her. She could at first be in an emotional
state as were many of the students. Velma's mother, Lizzie, was totally
absorbed with the standards of the school and rigidly raised her
children in agreement with those values. Attitudes Lizzie had she
received from constant reinforced training at the school. Marching like
soldiers, following rigid rules for schedules as far as when to sleep,
eat, shower, or go to recreation. Every part of their life was
regimented. Some today would call it brain washing. The youthful persons
were already having to deal with issues such as having been a defeated
nation. Then upon graduation, these torn apart values were taken home to
set up governments for their tribe. The Indian wars in a covert way
continued. Sometimes the influence is too subtle to be seen but other
times, if a person looks closely, the rebellion was obvious which shifts
once from old traditions and then back again to the regime at Chilocco
where they were tutored. All this hampered progress for them. It was
difficult. The American Indian had to work through it. Some quit trying
and went to alcohol. ”
There on Second Street was where they were
in 1956 and Colleen was curious enough to ask her father to explain one
habit the older Native women had that interested her.
“Dad, I wonder why the older Ponca women
wear their under slips an inch or two longer than their dress?” From the
earliest of times the children were able to ask their father anything.
There was nothing too sacred to discuss. In fact, if there was a crisis
they might all find themselves around the table in a Bible study where a
point was made for their information. Science, medicine, procreation or
whatever the issue was it would be woven through his discussion with
“It's a long story.” Again Lee used the pun
in the English language to lighten up the topic with humor.
“Oh Dad. Get serious.” Colleen grinned as
she continued her quest for information. “Sometimes I know they are
aware their slip is showing. There will even be that wide hand
embroidered, lace on them to make it more obvious.”
“Well, Girl,” Lee always had a way of
involving a person in his conversation. “You went to Chilocco. I suppose
you know all about the rules?”
“Oh yes.” Colleen couldn't even think of all
the things they did to comply with the authority in one way or another .
“Often-times, when I asked someone why they did this or that in such a
way, the answer was always, 'it's just the rules.”
“So many of the young Native people in
earlier days were forced to attend government schools. They were removed
from their homes and held almost like prisoners,” Lee spoke to his
daughter. “You went on your own having freely made the decision to go so
you could get an education and this is why you never had that anger
inside you. Freedom is a wonderful thing. It gives a person positive
attitudes. You wanted to go and you weren't in rebellion. This gave your
mind a chance to more easily absorb what was being taught.”
Lee continued, “One of the strict rules in
those early days was that if the girls ever allowed their under slip to
show they were given heavy punishment. At least this is what your mother
has told me. They might be deprived of social activities or required to
do unpleasant work.” Lee had a way of making a point without pointing a
finger of blame at anyone.
Colleen understood that circumstance. Waxing
the floors on hands and knees she remembered all too well.
“So, you sees,” here was Lee's word again.
“When we are free of the dictator, we sometimes return to our former
ways with more determination to bond together in agreement with our
loyalty to our own ways. Some of the folks drowned their anger in
alcohol, others just allowed their slips to hang long beneath their
dresses for all their lives, so determined were they to show the world
they never forgot the strictly enforced rules at Chilocco.
“Oh, I sees!” Colleen grinned. Understanding
was a wonderful thing.
Lee did know about his wife, Velma. He loved
her in spite of the things she had suffered. To be so involved with her
people wasn't exactly what he wanted, but he remained tolerant and
recognized the demons within her psychic for what they were. There was
the French blood, too. Something in her ancient genetic make-up going to
the Pensoneau's was all tied up with the names of her ancestor of the
Flower or Fleur De Lis. Her father was Narcissus Pensoneau. He hated the
flower name and changed it to Narcisse. At any rate, the blood was
strong and it was this that governed her need to be tied into
socializing with her Native American family as well as the blood of the
Little Cooks, her mother's family.
Whistles and Bellstc \l1 "Good-Byes, Whistles and Bells
Students were like leaves falling from a
tree while at their own graduation. Chilocco campus was first all abuzz
with visiting parents attending different phases of the programs planned
for their children. Some had come great distances and were given rooms
where they stayed overnight so they could be able to share in their
child's accomplishment. The gowned students were on the beautiful
manicured lawn for the last time in their lives as students. Some did
not want to pull away from the experience and they were visiting after
the ceremony. Soon though it was time to go to their rooms to collect
and pack their things. Maybe she had lingered too long with her friends
because when she returned to the building her roommate was already gone.
There were no good-byes. Nothing, not even a note was left. The room she
had called home for all this time was so still and this was hard to
accept. A deep feeling of loneliness came upon her. Why had she played
for all that time and never looked forward to what would be an
inevitable ending to security. Up and down the halls was the same. Rooms
were empty and abandoned. It looked as if the girls had all rushed
through, stripped their rooms of possessions and all but ran to get
away. It all seemed so strange. How could everyone simply walk away from
all the time they had shared in this Home Five. For such a brief time in
her life she had enjoyed the luxury of not having to face the issues
involved with the real world. Maybe this was the anger some of the
children felt. Was it the realization that this had all been an illusion
and was something like the tale in Scotland called Brigadoon where peace
and joy reigned but only as a world never to be enjoyed again.
Colleen took her time folding and packing
her clothes. She half way believed some one of her friends would pop
their head through her door at any minute. No one did. The girl reached
up on the walls to lift away the memorabilia she kept there. A poster of
Margo Fonteyn was pinned to a closet door where her own ballet slippers
hung and she took them down. Her little radio from D'Ann St. John was
still behind the curtain. She knew that girl was already gone. Colleen
had seen D'Ann's mother drive away with her while they were on the lawn.
That girl didn't even really care about the radio, after all. Was it all
just some sort of a game they played? Or were Aunt Bertha's Osage roots
still providing for her through her Uncle Dennis. He would have known
how music always made her life easier. Finally, Velma came walking into
the girl's room.
“Are you ready to go?” Velma was wise about
her daughter's feelings.
“I suppose everyone must be gone already.
There seems to be no one in the building. I don't know when they all
left,” Colleen looked to her mother for an explanation.
“They left while we were visiting on the
lawn. It is always like this. Friends you have had for years are all at
once gone, usually forever. I always felt strange with it, too.” Velma
must have experienced the same thing over and over every year for the
eight years she had attended Chilocco.
“It is better this way,” Velma told her
daughter. “You probably won't see hardly any of these students ever
again. If you do, it will only be in chance meetings and maybe at the
As she left with her mother Colleen turned
one last time to look at the room where she had lived for this last
year. This was the end of one phase of her life and she knew that. She
wished to relish every moment without rushing away. The girl wanted to
say good-bye to the women who were the supervisors but they were no
where around either. She had no other choice than to walk down the wide
hallway from her room and then on through the tall heavy doors for one
last time. As they walked slowly down the curved sidewalk she glanced up
to the corner room where she had stayed when she first came to the
school. Colleen imagined she could see herself standing in the window
watching her own departure.
“Did you always feel this lonely when you
left here, Mother?” Colleen asked.
“Yes, dear. Yes I did.” There was suddenly a
bond with her mother as they both shared a common emotion.
Colleen wondered to herself, “Is this the
reason her mother seemed to be always searching for a home? Why was she,
forever needing to be constantly changing and moving from one place to
another? Or was it the circumstances tied up with the Strike Ax and Aunt
Bertha's death? What were the ghosts that haunted Velma's peace and
willingness to reside in just one house? Velma told of the dream she had
after Aunt Bertha died. She said she was weeping at her casket in her
dream. Aunt Bertha awoke and said, 'Don't-cry, kid. I'm not dead I'm
just foolin' them.” Were these the shadows of sorrow to run Velma from
place to place where she wished to live for a while in peace before they
found her again, or was she looking, searching for that one place
similar to her ranch home where she at one time had felt secure. Velma,
after all, lived at Chilocco for eight years. That was twice as long a
time as her daughter was there.
At home the next morning Colleen was
treasuring the time for sleeping late.
house this time was almost directly behind what was then called Bogan
Pool, at Ponca City. It was the swimming pool provided for the city's
resident kids. The life guard blew his whistle and Colleen sat directly
up in bed. It was but only for a moment she had forgotten where she was.
Her bed here at home did not have the same white sheets tightly drawn
over the top of it. These were softer and of a color. She could hear the
old sounds remembered from childhood. Dishes clattering in the kitchen,
the screen door banging and a radio playing somewhere made her know she
was wonderfully, completely at home.
Colleen smiled as she remembered how someone
stole the bell Mrs. Means always used to wake them in the morning. The
woman would be trudging down the hall in her robe, her house shoe's on
her feet and with rollers in her hair while swinging the long-handled
bell. That bell reminded Colleen of the one the country school teachers
once used to call children from the playground. It was loud. Someone who
was adept at practical jokes hid Mrs. Means bell there at Chilocco and
it was hidden so well it couldn't be found. The result was that the
dormitory advisor was undaunted with her early morning need to rouse the
girls. She came stomping down the hall the next morning with a police
officer's whistle. The girls felt this was worse than the bell but, too
late, Mrs. Means was in a punishment mode for the rest of the year. This
is why the life guard's whistle caused Colleen to sit up so suddenly.
She was reminded of Mrs. Mean's whistle. It felt good though, to realize
she was, indeed, at home. There wouldn't be any more five thirty a.m.
whistles to rudely awaken her. To sleep in without any danger of
punishment or restrictions was wonderful, she thought.
Dennis and Lee in
Stride Againtc \l1 "Dennis and Lee in Stride Again
Dennis and Lee kept to their brotherly ties
when Dennis returned from his stay in the state hospital. The older
brother purchased a new Buick and the two brothers were again working
with their crafts. Evidently his royalties had accumulated while he was
in the mental hospital. The car allowed Dennis to begin his traveling to
shops about the country for taking orders. Small souvenir retail places
were always pleased to have someone who could provide authentic hand
made bits of Native American fantasia.
Lee was now holding a large chisel in his
left hand. He gripped the tool with his whole fist because it was as big
as one the stone carvers might use. In a slow determined way he struck
the chisel with a large rubber-mallet hammer. The rubber on the head of
the hammer kept the chisel from ringing when it was struck to cut
through the steel of a large, oil drum, top. One blow at a time and one
small chisel size cut made in the steel caused the work of cutting the
lid off the steel oil drum a lengthy undertaking. This kind of firmness
and patience spoke of Lee's being able to accomplish a task. He was a
master at setting goals. Opposition and difficulty came but he did not
waver. Heavy metal of the cylinder would make a strong support over
which wet rawhide could be laced. The drying of the drum head might
break a lighter support. No breaking down of the sides on this
ceremonial drum would happen. Strong men, who were the drummers. would
beat together with concentrated force but the drum would hold firm.
One of their competitors at the time laced
all his drums with a tanned white leather head. Their artist splashed a
repetitive brush stroke over and over for a stylized design to look like
a bonneted Indian head. Always a quickly drawn stroke would make the
face of the Indian head, and then, slick, quickly drawn lines, were for
the war bonnet. The design was always the same and always recognizable .
It they were hastily made souvenirs no one seemed to care. It was
something for children a tourist could pick up.
Lee's drums were made for the real purpose
of using it in the arena. His large drum surrounded by not less than six
or seven large men keeping rhythm on it with heavy, leather bound
drumsticks was proof of the drum's usefulness. If it wasn't durable,
they could easily pound right through it making a large gash through the
top. The drummers never broke through the top of Lee's drum.
For the smaller drums Lee used a rawhide
goat skin. They were a slick hard texture when dry. The thinness of the
skin made them look almost like parchment. The hide had to be soaked in
water for a short time so that it could be made pliable enough to lace
down over a cylinder. There was always a standard size for these
miniature replicas of the real thing. The cylinder was only a tin can,
saved from someone's vegetables for dinner. Having the hides of the same
size allowed the work to go easier with a type of assembly line process.
These hides were all purchased from a dealer in Tulsa, Oklahoma who kept
a great warehouse for every kind of skin, hide or leather. There were
stacks and stacks waiting to be made into a buckskin dress, belt, or
other leather crafts.
Dennis kept to the business of sales, book
keeping, traveling to add new customers to their lists and Lee with his
family worked at filling orders. The older brother had gone through a
trial with his mental health. Somehow he had managed to get past it. He
was more eccentric than ever, though. He wore his Stetson hat, cowboy
boots, but this time instead of western cut suits he purchased the
flashy kind of western wear entertainer's and country western singers
wore. His business kept him from bowing to the same agonies he had
Something in the blood and genes of the men
inherited from their ancestors in Wales gave them a natural push to work
at crafts. The challenge, the control for their mind and maybe the
design for planning gave them work that freed them from being idle.
Shawneetc \l1 "Shawnee
In Shawnee, Oklahoma Lee worked two jobs,
Velma had two jobs, Colleen held two jobs. The shifts allowed one or the
other to be at home with the children. The tiny house where they lived
was neat and tidy and this was an amazing thing considering how small it
was. There were three boys, two girls and the parents living in a one
bedroom house. Seven people were in the house that couldn't have been
much bigger than a storage building but somehow they were all happy.
Only one of the boys was disturbed by bad dreams and sleep walking at
Sunday was a day Velma and Lee could both be
home with the children. She had prepared a nice meal for them and one by
one they enjoyed their food. The small table wasn't a place they wished
to linger as they had done when they were children around the large
tables at the Strike Ax, little town of Foraker and even at the old farm
house out of Ponca City and Tonkawa. Velma quietly visited with them as
she peeled one of the avocados she had brought home.
“What is that, Mama?” Colleen was curious
about the new food. Her mother had always some way or another introduced
them to unusual fruits and vegetables from different places. Once she
pleased them with allowing the children to peel the tangerines she
brought home. The loose, easily peeled skin was a fascination for them.
Another time Velma had peeled a pineapple while they were at the table.
To see the clean fruit without its heavy peel was fascinating. Now she
was doing the same thing with this strange looking dark green, pear
“It's an avocado, you see. It comes from
California. They are an acquired taste. You can't eat and like them
right off. You must first try a tiny bite with a bit of salt, relish it
in your mouth so that you may get the taste of it.”
“Is it sweet?” the girl asked.
“No, not sweet. There is more of an oily,
mellow, vegetable taste. Just take a bit on the end of this spoon.”
Velma encouraged them to taste the avocado as she sprinkled some salt on
Sure enough, the children were slow to
accept the difference in the taste of the avocado. With Velma bringing
them into the house regularly they gradually began to enjoy the
delectable pleasure of this new experience.
For all the working in the public Lee and
Velma always took time to teach their children. It was a wonderful time
of their life for them. If they lived with meager circumstances, they
never knew it. Lee continually emphasized the values of simple living so
they were unaware of their lack of wealth. Velma's experiences at
Chilocco caused her to know how to teach them with the thought of caring
for their cleanliness, dress and awareness for their spiritual needs,
Lee's teachings were often light hearted
though and the remark he made about the avacado was to grin and say,
“It's an alligator pear!”
Ignorance is a Blisstc \l1 "Ignorance is a Bliss
Lee loved the power of words. He had a way
of manipulating the English language in order to make more impact. For
instance, he might pronounce the word smooth as smuoooth. There was no
mistaking the meaning of the word. A gesture with his hand indicating a
flat, smooth surface could further let the listener know what he meant.
It was his way of teaching and it worked. There was no rough, jerking a
child about, not even with language. To recall his methods is a good
As easily as he cared for a large herd of
cattle, alone, with a good cutting horse, a lead cow, who was trained
and steady, so now, Lee's patient perseverance worked with his children.
His brother Dennis he somehow or another kept to the chore of taking up
the position as spiritual leader for the family. Dennis could do that.
His outgoing gift of gab, good-looking wardrobe and clean new vehicles
made him able to shuffle the children back and forth to meetings while
Lee and Velma worked long hours and low wages to provide housing and
food for them.
Colleen had no idea of the powers she faced.
She worked as a maid in the home of a doctor who owned a clinic. The
girl knew that in 1956 the doctor could easily drop 600.00 dollars at
the country club for one night's entertainment of his family. When she
had dental problems and needed a good dentist, the doctor's family
dentist was used. The girl was fooled into thinking she paid the bill
with 40.00. The innocence of youth did not let her know her self-respect
had been protected by that doctor.
The boy she dated came from a family who was
actively engaged in businesses with material rewards obviously in place.
Although Lee, her Dad, was no stranger to the strong hand of these
controlling elements, his daughter was blissfully unaware. Lee never
missed an opportunity to remind the girl she was working to save for an
education. Even though some of the Joneses of Georgia and Jonesboro
promoted the marrying into money Lee quietly, carefully,
sidestepped this. No lecture, speech or comment was made about it. He
continued ahead while quietly suggesting “ignorance is a bliss, but
danged if I believe it”
This is how Lee saw to the association his
children had. It was true he couldn't totally cut out all of the people
around them, or rather, he wouldn't. Lee was away at work a lot but the
alert, vigilant care his brother, Dennis, exercised served as a guard
for Lee and his children.
“Mom!” Colleen had a night off and she
wanted to ask permission to stay over night with one of the girls she
had met at the meeting. “Marleen's mother has asked me to stay over
night with her tonight.”
Velma and Lee were always in agreement in
everything. One didn't make a decision alone. It was their way to
privately discuss each issue. Colleen sometimes thought they might have
had to talk over the smallest circumstance. Evidently Lee must
have been in approval because Colleen was given permission to visit with
the girl, or maybe, in reality, the association was pre-arranged.
Dennis drove her up the long drive leading
to a large, two-story, farm-house where Colleen's new friend lived. The
homestead was well-kept even though it obviously was not a new building.
It was a stark white with no trim of different colors even though the
architecture was of a Victorian era. Maybe the farmer who built it
according to blue print didn't see the need to buy varieties of paint to
follow a style.
Colleen felt so fortunate to have been given
the opportunity to peek into an Alice in Wonderland world, which was
removed from the common place. Her friend ran up to the gate of the
fence encircling the country lawn around the house. Inside the enclosure
a neat, well-mown yard was directly against the rough country grasses
outside its space. Traditionally, they walked up the cement side walk to
go into the back door as all country folk were accustomed to doing.
After they stepped through the mud-room a large country kitchen was on
their right. To the left was the great room. This was where the dining
and living rooms were all one. A massive table and chairs were the only
furniture in the dining room and it was where the family took their
meals. Colleen could see why it was so large when meal time arrived and
her friend's big family of brothers and sisters were seated around that
huge space. Bountiful amounts of food was stacked on top of the table.
Her friend's mother served a wonderful meal
as great and as elegant as one that might have been on the long tables
at the back porch of the ranch house for the hired hands who came to cut
and bale hay when she was a child. There were mounds of mashed potatoes
in large bowls, fresh sliced tomatoes, directly off the vine. Platters
of crispy slices of beef were heaped up. Corn on the cob tasted only
like it can when it has, that day, been taken from the stalk.
Her friend's father took his place at the
head of the table. The man was stocky and strong in his physical
appearance. His weather-beaten face and heavy-work worn hands showed the
world he was a man of the elements. He truly looked to be content. His
heart felt prayer as the head of his family gave a sure indication he
was a man of faith. As he looked up from his prayer he smiled and said,
“It is written, man must work the ground by the sweat of his brow.” His
humble smile told he was in acceptance of this prophesy.
Sweet Aromatc \l1 "Smell That Sweet Aroma
Lee and Velma both worked for a man who
owned two separate businesses. He had a steak house along with an
elegant type hamburger eatery. The hamburgers were served with the
beginnings of service at the speed of sound which only meant that
speakers were set beside the cars. People drove up, for the first time
spoke into the microphone to give their orders without having to wait
for a car hop to write everything out by long hand. In 1955 this was a
new invention and the whole population was fascinated with this
innovative way to order a hamburger. Whether it was an idea the owner
had totally devised by himself or whether the ingenuity Lee always
practiced might have had a hand in it no one will ever know. True to the
culture of the Joneses it was their way to manipulate, manage and hone
someone to a place for accomplishment just as if they had done it all on
their own. It was a thing of pride for them. “All my friends and family
are successful,” which wasn't, of course, totally true, but it was what
they wished to happen. Lee had practiced this with his own brother in
their earlier ranching partnership. If someone was to have a brief
acquaintance with the man they would not realize what was happening.
However, if you were his child it would be so much a part of your life
that it was something to understand and then try to practice. It may not
have come from the Jones side but from Lee's mother, Bellzona, who was a
Collins had a culture so strong that if
folks didn't grow up around them they would never have known about it.
They didn't expect other folks to understand their ways and like Michael
Collins of Ireland they made decisions quickly. It was their habit to
stay to their own goals and knitting. They could care less if someone
did not agree with what they were doing. Their methods were already
inculcated into their actions from some distant past. This strong manner
made them obedient to hearth and home. A choice of women, who were so
dedicated to their duties, made their families happy. Music played a
large part in their being and it was a way to be able to throw off,
sometimes, dreary lives. The children received their direction so
carefully and sweetly so that many times they were not even aware of
when they had learned a skill. It was as they were treating each child
like a fine piece of china, polishing it with a soft cloth until the
shine was bright enough for anyone to see.
As the family became isolated from each
other through distance should there be a returning for a short visit it
was if they had never been apart at all. Sometimes, when one or another
of them were in depths of despair a distant family member might call. If
the question was asked, “How did you know I was so down?” The other
family member might say, “Oh, well, you know.” And this happen so many
Indeed, they would know. It was that
unexplained something that could not be understood. It wasn't strong
enough to be called telepathy but rather was just a sudden wistfulness
and family tie that made a person want to speak to a certain loved one.
These were the issues standing within
Colleen's soul that were so strong at the moment. She felt obligated to
follow through with the arrangements she had made the year before to
stay at Chilocco on a working-scholarship in order to attend College at
Arkansas City. The parent's teaching worked for them all but in one way.
Their lack of a need to possess someone else's wealth caused them to not
even know of the opportunities that could have been there for them.
Colleen caught the eye of a boy who came from the wealthiest of families
there at Shawnee. She wasn't impressed with the great mansion where he
lived. Tall Grecian columns rising to a two-story level were lovely, she
thought, but she had no desire to own the house. Long row of stables
beside the house proved the point that the boy was active with his
equestrian activities but nothing more. When his mother had to meet her
while she was working and was approving of her son's selection in a
wife, it didn't dawn on Colleen the possibilities that were available
for her. The fact that the woman drove the most expensive car wasn't a
deciding factor either. If Lee or Velma approved or not they never
voiced their opinion. After Colleen had saved so carefully for the
following year's college tuition, her parents encouraged her in that
goal. Nothing was mentioned about her taking up or going along with the
intentions of the very nice, rich boy. These were the days of innocence
for Colleen. Lee may have known the boy was a distant cousin and he was
so against this sort of intermarriage back into family. If the wealth of
the Osage nation didn't lure them in comparison why should this marrying
for wealth appeal to Lee and Velma? Hadn't the tragedies of the Osage
been imprinted on their hearts and minds in a personal way with Bertha's
sad ending? At any rate when the time for school was to start Colleen
had enough money saved for her trip back to Chilocco Indian School where
she would stay while attending the small junior college in Arkansas
City. She didn't allow herself the luxury of falling in love with the
handsome boy who could have made her family's life much easier, or maybe
not. There were no guarantees regarding these decisions, and that was
Velma expressed her wishes for the girl to
stay at home so she could go to a business school in Shawnee. Whether or
not it was a mistake for the girl to leave her family and their home in
order to face the trials of trying to succeed without any financial or
moral support is not known. Even so, she did manage to pile up a number
of hours, gain knowledge to help all through her life and physically
survive. That was a tight squeeze at times and she did learn what it was
like to be hungry. Probably it was a mistake but the other alternative
was something she wasn't able to face. Had the sorrows of the Osage
Nation already made an impression on her mind, too? Did she actually
have a fear of wealth as so many people do and create all sorts of
stumbling blocks for themselves in order not to succeed?
Lee and Velma continued for a time at
Shawnee but an injury to Lee's back from an accident where he was
working caused them to return to Ponca City. As they were driving at
night, the children were all asleep in the back seat when Lee drove
through the oil refinery of Ponca City. One of the younger boys awoke
and sat up in the car as they were arriving.
“Smell that sweet aroma,” he said.
There would be no more sleep walking for
him. He was out of the strange town of Shawnee. No matter how fine it
was, how many mansions and jobs there were, and how well they were
treated he was definitely out of his locale and secure place. Now that
he was back to the refinery town he knew; he was happy to be home.
My Dadtc \l1 "About My Dad
The flimsy old screen door banged and then
flopped itself shut as Lee's youngest son broke through it. He was
running in a hurry to get away from something or someone.
“Dad! That kid's father is after me. He said
he was gonna whip me.” The little boy's eyes were round, wide and too
bright as he was trying to let his Dad know what was happening.
“Now Son, settle down and tell me what you
are talking about.”
“It's that kid who has been following me
home, throwing rocks at me every evening after school. He hit me with
one. See?” The boy ducked his head so the bloody place could be seen. “I
fought with him and I bloodied his nose.”
“Go on in the bathroom, Son. Get that blood
cleaned off your head.” Lee sent the boy out of the room.
Sure as a tornado follows the gusts of a
wall cloud a giant of a man now came up the sidewalk with a rolling walk
toward them. He was burly, tall and oversized compared to Lee's small
stature. Anger on his countenance was enough to make him fearsome but
the swearing and cursing, made Lee know this man meant business.
Lee had lived under the shadow of a weapon.
In the early days at Ralston, as a boy, a gun wasn't just an ornament or
a hunting tool. It served a purpose. A weapon bought protection for a
family and was as much a part of their life as a water hose, anti‑freeze
in the car radiator, a telephone or anything used for defense and
The children were told, over and over, to
never touch the weapons left unlocked and available. A gun was never
loaded but they were still under strict discipline to leave them,
totally alone. Something about the gun being plainly in view and over
the door made a statement to the children. No matter how youthful the
boys and girls were, they still understood what a gun represented. Its
use was tied up with death.
They had grown up around the hunt. A great
number of their early years had seen rich provisions of protein through
the killing of animals. Unless someone has experienced this way of
living it is difficult to explain. Meat gave life and they understood
this. Taking a life, even if it was an animal's, was not for pleasure or
sport. Animals were hunted, bled on the spot, and sometimes dressed
immediately, especially if in a far out location during the hot summer.
Ice or cold water was carried where the animal could be butchered,
cleaned, and kept cool.
“I'm going to tear you limb from limb.” The
furious, bear like man, promised Lee.
The threats could easily be endured.
However, when the man began to make his way toward the screen door Lee
took action and it was with one easy motion he easily reached for the
shot gun shells and then for the gun. It was pulled from its place
exactly at the same time the man intent on attack was stepping up to the
“I'm coming in there after you. I'll drag
you out here and stomp you to a pulp.”
The year was 1957 some fifty‑five years into
Lee's life. Hunting for years gave him an ease with a gun. He held the
stock of the double‑barreled shot gun in the crook of his arm. With a
thumb he flipped the small lever to drop both barrels. Lee easily
slipped the shell of red cylinders with brass heads into place. The
deliberate man then snapped the barrels shut.
Western movies are wrong about gun fights.
There is no emotion involved. The sudden act, quiet movements and
resolve probably cannot be reenacted. One thing the movies do as a true
portrayal is the use of slow motion. This is the closest way of
describing what happens. Life stops as if the universe is pained and
heaving with a wish to continue, but almost cannot.
The bear of a man was a whipped puppy. “No!
No! I'm goin.' I'm through.” He never took his eyes off Lee's weapon as
he backed slowly away from the loaded double barreled shotgun.
“Oh Lee! That horribly huge man!” Velma was
pale even after the intruder was gone.
Unshaken, Lee opened the barrels and picked
the shells out with the nails of his thumb and forefinger.
“There is a way to make things equal. That's
why they call this an equalizer. The gun went back to its place over the
door and was never used this way again.
“The man, who lives by the sword, will die
by the sword.” Lee could be heard to say.
Due Seasontc \l1 "Meat in Due Season
Dad was always there. If the house was a
rented place in a poor neighborhood it could have been a castle as far
as Lee was concerned. If when someone stepped up on the porch, they
could see these were humble surroundings. The minute they entered, Lee
took the opportunity to greet a guest with warmth and hospitality. This
was not a pretense. He really did enjoy people. The cup of coffee brewed
up for them not only warmed their hands and body but spirit as well. For
just a brief flicker of a short period of time that guest became a
prince of sorts out and away from whatever their personal dilemma might
have been. He was honored in one way or another and only for the fact
that he had taken the time to pay a visit. That person Lee somehow was
able to make them believe they were special in one way or another. The
way they were greeted, or the genuine pleasure and appreciation Lee had
for their visit made clear how he felt about his guest. Lee's steadiness
by always being at his door to answer it must have been some sort of
consolation to folks who lived when things were always subject to change
and sometimes without warning.
“Come on in out of the cold, man!” He often
called out an invitation. His words made them feel welcome, “Say now!
Well, what do you know? I'll be darned Come on in here! Come on in.” So
many came across his threshold, quietly and for no purpose, other than
to find a refuge from a private storm. Folks had enjoyed fishing in
Lee's watershed close to the Strike Ax to escape their narrow horizons
and they now found an escape from a heavy trial of some sort or another.
Their faces might be strained and their words were measured and too few.
Before they left, Lee had visited with them in his clever way to bring
them away from their own demons. The guest left with a different
outlook. How their host had been able to pinpoint a problem with not
once actually having said anything in so many words was as illusive to
the visitor as it might have been to anyone who happened to be an
Colleen watched him entertain too many
people to remember in just this way. It was difficult for her to
understand what it was he did or what it was he said that seemed to help
them. The folks who came in never talked about their troubles. They
might make one small statement about what was bothering them. Lee was
always able to immediately pick up on their problems. One time she
remembered him observing his grandson cooking an egg.
“Say now, son! How in the world did you
learn to fry an egg, over easy, so well?”
The boy looked up at his grandfather as if
he was surprised anyone would notice. “I just worked at it, Granddad.”
The sparkle in the boy's eye along with a
sly grin let anyone know he was proud of himself. Colleen felt surprised
that noticing such a small act would allow the boy to be so proud.
Lee's personality was shaped around the core
of his lack of fear about association. He had an uncanny way of
ferreting out those who truly were visiting for a good purpose. If
someone happened to have less than higher-motives he simply became
unavailable. Lee's hiding place might be in the bathtub with a long
soak, or his head under a newspaper as he snored during a nap. He might
be so deep into a televison program he couldn't spare a moment for
Looking back has to make us wish we could
be able to question Lee about his feelings. What were his views about
being virtually raised in and around the early day wealth of the Osage
only to now live in comparable poverty? If it bothered him, he never
expressed any feelings about it. He always seemed to be proud of
someone's good fortune, almost as if he had enjoyed their prosperity as
much as they did. His only interests were with the eternal trials of
visitors, his growing children's problems, the inventions that absorbed
his mind and, of course, his job at the foundry.
His grandfather, William Beaver Jones, had
been a blacksmith. The men whose ancestors were from those who worked
with iron must have left their knowledge with him in some way. The love
for shaping metal tools was practiced in a private way in his own
workshops. There were old worn out files heated and hammered into
chopping knives. Delicate filaments out of light bulbs were saved for
some finer purpose. Classier hunting knives with handles made from the
bones of an animal had to have been learned from someone.
For any who thought they had a knowledge of
their family it was believed Lee's wife was the strong matriarch. Little
did anyone know the subtle way in which Lee maneuvered every part of
their life. Many years later when genealogy pointed out the names to tie
back to the ancestors on the Jones side it was obvious their Dad
controlled something as small as a name given to a child. This later
gave them understanding and appreciation of family in Scotland, Ireland
and Wales. Great numbers of William Joneses who hail from this land make
any kind of search almost impossible.
Lee lived his belief. It didn't matter to
him he wasn't able to follow in a formal way any steady attendance to a
church or a place of worship. He never spoke about it, but we definitely
knew he wasn't pleased with the irregular ways of some who proclaimed to
be overly righteous and above everyone else with their teachings. If
there was any direction going toward religious instruction he never
deviated away from the written word of the scriptures and in such a
kind, gentle way one couldn't feel anything but the same deep
appreciation and love he had for his “Great Creator.” Reasoning was the
ultimate measure he presented to his children. “Meat in due‑season,” he
called this teaching, heart to heart.
In Lee's Eyetc \l1 "Hot Slag In Lee's Eye
Colleen and her husband walked through the
front door to an empty house. The small television flickering with its
usual blurred image. Her mother was always working her usual double
shifts which left Lee at home with his grown but still young sons, and
one daughter. The youngest son was still a child of seven or eight. Bare
floors, sparse furniture, and a dimly lit room made the place
unattractive. These conditions never seemed to bother Lee who was now
the patriarch of his family. Colleen's husband came from a family whose
home was always as beautiful as any magazine photograph. He was never
was bothered by these obviously impoverished surrounding', of Colleen's
family. He simply settled into the lumpy old sofa and began to watch
“I wonder where Dad is?” Colleen asked.
“I'm in here, Girl.” Lee called from the
There he was, stretched out on the bed,
fully clothed. His daughter was accustomed to see him like this when he
returned from work. It was only after a bath and change of clothing he
would rest like this. This time he didn't offer to get up as he usually
“I have a piece of slag in my eye. I don't
know if I'm going to be able to make it through the night. I'm in a lot
of pain.” Lee was uncomplaining usually.
The hard life of early day ranching and
foundry work along with the pain at this time was beginning to show on
Lee's face. For some reason his daughter sensed that this was something
more serious than he was telling her so she waited while her husband
watched television. In only a little while Lee was up and out of bed and
in an uncharacteristically hurried way.
“I don't think I'm going to be able to stand
this pain. I believe you will have to call a doctor.” Lee was resting
his head on his hand while holding the other hand over one eye.
It was already late, around ten thirty.
Colleen knew of no doctor in town other than where she had always been
taken for glasses while she was at Chilocco.
“Dr. Bush, I'm so sorry to bother you this
late and at home. My father has a sliver of slag in his eye. He works at
the foundry as a grinder, and he is in severe pain.”
These were the days, 1957, when doctors were
not too far removed from the time they actually made house calls. It
wasn't too much of an imposition into their lives. Emergency rooms were
not functioning like they are now. The doctors had been trained to the
warfare involved with their profession when it came to dealing with a
crisis. They didn't make rounds to outback places in horse and buggy
these days, certainly not, but they still had the spirit of the old ways
“Bring him to the office. I'll be there
shortly.” Dr. Bush told her.
Sure enough the doctor was waiting for them
in his car when they arrived. He still had on his robe and house
slippers and seemed sleepy while fumbling around a bit as he readied his
instruments. It made Colleen nervous to think this obviously tired man
was going to have to do this delicate work on her father's eye.
When the doctor was ready to work, his hands
became as steady, sure and strong as the piece of steel invading his
patient's eye. In one deft movement he had the slag removed. He gave Lee
drops for his eye and a small package of pain medication.
“How much do I owe you, Doc?” Lee was still
with the old school in his familiar addressing the doctor in an
“Don't worry about it, I'll send you a
bill.” The doctor was ready to get home.
“Can I give you Dad's address? Colleen
“Naw! Call me tomorrow.” And with that the
doctor was ushering them out of his office.
Colleen never forgot the kindness the doctor
showed to her father even though they lived a world apart from the man.
Lee had a life of constant commitment to his
family and although his struggles were heavy and hard to carry at times
he never wavered from his duties to them. The low wages never seemed to
worry him. It was as if he kept the motto of the Jones family ever
before him. “Do The Best You Can With What You Have.” Somehow the gentle
old doctor, who was probably about the same age at the time, respected
Lee, the man, and was able to understand his patient's strong will.
Years of Hard
Labor Overtc \l1 "Years of Hard Labor Over
Lee for two decades had been trekking back
and forth to the foundry. He worked two jobs, one in the day and another
at night sometimes until twelve o'clock. Another skill had come into
play and that was welding. This was piece work. Welding impellers paid
better than the foundry and in order to do this Lee had to work at
night. The work was not always available and Lee couldn't give up a
steady job for it. Velma continued to work double shifts as a cook.
Lee's children were all on their own, most of the time. When Lee's
retirement came it was time for him to give up hard labor. His lungs
were weakened from the early years of asthma and from the later times of
breathing noxious fumes from the molten metals in the foundry. He had no
desire to continue.
It was around 1970 when Velma picked up the
reins and continued working to provide for her youngest son at home.
Oklahoma for Indians, O.I.O, out of Norman hired her. This organization
was created to help bring the Native American into the mainstream. Some
said they didn't particularly care for that mainstream, but then, that
was besides the point. Whatever had been decided upon in Washington
would be carried out. Velma began attending classes at Oklahoma
University so she could be better equipped to handle her job, which was
actually social work. It doesn't have to be pointed out how stressful
this work can be, but Velma carried the ball well. She walked into the
three D's: Daily, dreadful, dangerous conditions in the field. The
town's reaction to this new endeavor for the Native American seemed
often impossible to get through.
“You mean you are coming into this office to
tell us how to work with the Indians?” The pompous head of his
organization was not receptive to an offer for anyone or of anything
this Indian woman could bring. I think you had better just turn around
and go, out the same door you came through.”
“Respectfully, Sir, I will do that. Programs
such as these will ultimately be established and I believe it will be to
your advantage for someone above me to come talk with you. Velma
contritely answered the man's orders and left.
True to her word, on Monday morning a
swarthy giant of a black man came through the same door. He had his
credentials from the University and even though Velma had been ordered
out, there was no asking this man out of the office. He was too solid in
his position. One after another entities and businesses had to
acknowledge that the Native American must be recognized. The programs
were established but for many years that raw spirit of anger of those
who were pushed into changes had resentment that lingered just below the
surface. Revenge is an ugly thing, too, especially when practiced on
innocents who were in no way involved with decisions made by people in
the highest places. The price of freedom becomes all too high when loved
ones, who were the warrior's children, were persecuted. The beauty of a
child's loving ways can be eroded with treatment that is cruel and so
hardened. No one can understand the reasoning behind it. Even those who
practice hurt, avail themselves of the fought for benefits of special
education, teacher's aides and other social helps without stopping to
think about who battled for those advantages.
Velma and Lee then began to play host to the
volunteers called VISTA, Volunteers in Service for America, a sister
organization to The Peace Core. These were young people who came from
powerful, in this case, families to work at menial jobs in White Eagle,
Red Rock, and Ponca City. Although they did hard work, some had the
advanced education to do more skilled innovations as well. Here, their
job was for anything that would contribute to the community. Lee was
more able to help make their transitions from a world of wealth into the
places where they had to work on the reservation. Digging ditches for
the first foundation on incoming tribal housing was, without a doubt, a
cultural-shock for them. Lee treated the young people with the
same kindness and respect he had used to raise his own children. The
dedicated young people blossomed under his diplomatic instructions. Lee
was able to do this during the evening hours around Velma's kitchen
“Come on Dad! I've had a call from the
office. We need to make a run to an alcohol treatment center out of
town.” That night Velma hurried Lee so he could travel with her and the
alcoholic Native American man who was having d.t.'s. Velma's small
Mustang Ford was not big enough for the man who was standing on the back
seat and stomping snakes his brain was seeing in the floorboard. The
hardest part was delivering the man. Later Velma would have to follow
through with visits to his home to monitor his progress and see if he
had a ride to AA meetings. It was all a part of her job assignment. Of
course, there were happier assignments that were hers as well. It was
necessary to balance an enjoyable job with another that was unpleasant.
Lee was involved with these projects, too, but only as a companion while
his wife went about her work. For any success, Velma was given the
recognition. Lee stayed happily in the background and seemed to be
saying, “It's just as I wish it to be.” Years had passed from the
passionate love he for his Native American wife of the Ponca Tribe. Now
that love was stronger than ever, in a supportive, respectful way. Velma
was still involved, integral to his life, the welfare of his children,
and their own survival as the mature couple was approaching another
phase for their lives together.
in the Schoolstc \l1 "Indian Children in the Schools
The setting up of a Native American Day in
the schools was one of the goals of O.I.O. This work around 1970 was the
up part of her job, something she enjoyed. All through the years
starting when she was the oldest sister to her own siblings, through the
care of the Miller children of the 101, and Lee's nephew and niece down
and to her own children Velma had the experience necessary to work with
children. She began to use all that knowledge along with her Native
American's family's teachings to initiate programs for the children in
One of the most successful programs was the
tutoring of children at White Eagle. Mary Jane Douse was a teacher Velma
loved because she had such a dedication to the little ones. The women
enjoyed sharing stories about the struggles they had.
“Why do they call you Bimbo?” Ms. Douse
asked one of the third grade boys. “Do you have a real name?”
The quiet boy went about his work on his
paper without answering immediately. Ms. Douse was accustomed to the
Ponca children's reserve so she knew to wait for a reply. When he
finally looked up to his teacher he said, “Well, would you like to call
Ms. Douse never tired of chuckling over the
dry wit of her students.
At this time was when Velma went into the
churches to speak and implore their members volunteer as tutors at White
Eagle. Numbers of their people did and were successful in more ways than
one. By helping the children with their school work the volunteers
themselves became interested in the traditions, culture, and beautiful
regalia of the Ponca. Not only were children's live's enriched, but the
volunteer's own world was widened out, as well.
On one occasion O.I.O had arranged for a
volunteer doctor to come have a one day clinic for only the children.
The schools were involved during the winter with inoculations for the
childhood diseases but there were other issues with health as well.
These were the summer months when one minor problem or another might pop
up. Of course, a meal would be arranged for this, and everyone enjoyed
coming, not just for the clinic, but to eat together and socialize as
Screams from a child standing in the middle
of a sticker patch caught the ear of one of the volunteers. The little
boy's wails were high pitched and sounded desperate. The doctor and the
volunteer ran at the same time to pick the child up out of his agony of
goat-heads and sand burrs. This child had one foot in the air and the
other in the hated sticker patch like a frozen little statue standing in
a fountain that wasn't going to move. The little boy wasn't about to
step down into the stickers. The volunteer picked him up and held the
boy high enough so the doctor could pick the stickers out of his foot.
The young doctor carried him inside while the child rested his head on
the welcome shoulder of the man. That little one had found a friend, and
managed to stay shadow close to the doctor for the rest of the day, much
the delight of his saving hero.
Experiences like this made others things
they had to do, easier. Velma was the pioneer who worked with love for
her people to create a world of understanding and co-operation between
the races. Creation of unity was once only a dream in her heart but now
she pushed through one project after another to accomplish a goal. It
may have been a Native American style show, an art exhibit, establishing
a craft's fair, or too many things to record or remember. The list would
be endless. Lee stood beside her and encouraged her, as only one pioneer
to another, can do. Ever so slowly the mis-understanding and hatred
began to fall away from the people in Velma's world. The whole community
enjoyed the fresh outlook while the old attitudes were like a sordid
soiled garment dropping from off their shoulders. It all happened so
slowly that unless someone was a close observer no one would have known
the managing hand that was, indeed, was Velma's.
Gregarious, fun loving, Lee and Velma, made
new friends as well. Mary Jane was one of these. Many hours were spent
in chit-chat evenings filled with joyful-visitation about the work they
were doing. Probably this was the richest time of their lives. The
struggling, grueling, difficult days were behind them. Together Lee and
Velma went to conferences. Lee stayed in the motel or at least in the
background while Velma's days were filled with learning and planning
strategies with her superiors.
Senators and Senator's children walked
through their humble living room. Once a reporter from the Times
magazine came to the house. His tall Viking-looking-size was like a
tower in the living room doorway. All of Velma's work was looked at by
the nation through his article pointing to what was going on with the
Indians in Ponca City. It was all just a pleasure for Velma and she
probably didn't even keep the article. Saved newspaper clippings would
be about one or another of the Indian boys or girls. Years later when
her daughter was given the honor to paint a mural for the post office it
was Velma who asked, “Paint something about the children, won't you?
Wimpy'stc \l1 "Wimpy's
Before Velma had worked for O.I.O she and
Lee purchased the old Wimpy's café that had been a high dollar steak
house restaurant at one time. Years had caused it to be downgraded to
something more like a family hamburger-heaven, but it was presently
closed. A road house like Lee and Dennis's, The Pig, in around 1930, it
was not. That earlier Pig was not to be confused with the later Pig
which had curb hops. Lee and Dennis's Pig was located in front of the
hospital. It was a sit‑down restaurant and frequented by another group
of people, entirely.
Velma and Lee purchased Wimpys a little
before the 1970's. Their buy included the style of the place which was,
loud juke box music, huge hamburgers, very wide, long French fries and
these were the calling card. On the opposite side was a daily special
menu. Sunday was a Turkey dinner complete with hot rolls, mashed
potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable of choice. This changing menu every day
was geared to the family and for the truck drivers. Entrees changed but
the vegetables stayed in place. Afternoons saw the grill come into play.
This was from two in the afternoon. Grilled steaks, French fries, and a
salad with one house dressing was exactly what some folks wanted. The
order and organization in the earlier eating establishment remained and
it was easy for employees to work there, well that is, as easy as is
possible with the hard work involved in food service.
Saturday nights did a booming business.
Velma hired savvy waitresses who could work the inebriated patrons. Lee
probably had some part in helping Velma with this from his days at the
Pig many years before when they had tipped a flask of liquor into the
heavy stemmed goblets of Near Beer. It was ironic that the later Pig
with the curb hops served Root Beer in heavy goblets, just like the ones
used in the original Pig owned by Lee and Dennis.
Nothing bothered these women who waited
tables in Wimpy's on Saturday night. Nothing. They smoothly worked
through the rough, loud talking men while they pocketed large tips from
the drinking, too drunk to care, public. The family was not allowed to
work these nights only but on an extremely necessary basis. The drinkers
always wanted large glasses of milk to help them sober up and it was a
challenge to keep the milk flowing to a large crowd, especially when the
patron was not going to patiently wait. If a waitress didn't have a lot
of self-control, someone could have milk spilled down their back. This
never happened, even though, some of the waitresses expressed a desire
to do so.
“Well I never,” Little Sue was upset and had
tears in her eyes. “Well I never, I just never.” Ordinarily nothing
bothered the tiny little woman. This time one of the men had reached out
of his booth to pinch her as she went through.
Velma was now defending her girl. “You will
have to leave, Sir. My waitresses are too valuable to be abused.” This
owner had walked up to the man's booth with an uncompromising manner.
Before there was time for a retaliation on the drunks part one of the
police officers who was eating there that night stood up.
“Is there a problem Velma?”
“No problem, no problem.” The drunk had
sobered up enough to realize he was being invited to leave and didn't
want to push his luck too far.
Even the night shift was used to the
greatest advantage of the business. Wimpy's stayed open continually,
seven days a week. There were three shifts of help required. The
graveyard crew consisted of only Lee and Cowboy, an old retired rancher,
like Lee. It was a sight to see as the two men worked the night shift.
Lee's Stetson cocked at a jaunty angle to one side and Cowboy with his
to the other. Lee poured coffee to the truckers and Cowboy flipped
'burgers. The delectable fries were legendary and always ready in the
frigid box already cut up. Reaching into the cold water and tossing them
into the bubbling hot fat took no special cooking skills. The sound of
their loud sizzle as the oil bubbled up made the kitchen have a special
atmosphere as if it were manned by a big time chef who was eccentric
enough to wear his cowboy-hat, while he cooked. These men made up a
night crew which served in another way and that was to be the night
watchmen. It cost less to keep the café open with this motley crew. It
was easier than to have to close it and pay a night guard.
Truck drivers were the ones who most often
frequented the well‑lit little place. For years later it was common to
happen to meet some driver who was then living in Dallas, Topeka, or
wherever else they might be living. The men always spoke fondly of the
bright light on the side of the highway when all else around had been
dark for miles. A cartoon of Wimpy eating a hamburger on a sign over the
door was a bit of whimsey to lift the spirits of those men on their
lonely routes. Wimpy's location between Kansas City, Oklahoma City and
Tulsa became a brief stop-over haven for good food and better coffee.
The two aging men in Stetson's served them, and it just meant a bit of a
light‑hearted moment to the trucker who had miles of lonely road ahead
of him on these particular highways over and through the Tallgrass.
Velma was pulling in an incredible business,
giving work to a numbers of persons with the three shifts made up of
waitresses, cooks, salad girls, dish washers, and bus boys. This didn't
include money paid out for maintenance, in one way or another. Equipment
had to be kept in working order and this was a job for different
businesses including electricians, plumbers, furniture upholsterers,
bookkeepers, equipment sales such as ice‑makers, refrigerators,
commercial dishwashers or whatever piece of appliance to break down in
the middle of food preparation.
The little American Indian woman enjoyed the
good business and the extra, added benefits it brought to her family.
They had a lesson in café management, enough so that they knew there was
no desire, whatsoever to own a café.
A close up view of the old sayings, “Indian
scalp his enemy, white man skins his friends,” was brought to their
attention. Services or furnishing's for a café are incredibly inflated.
Everything from the decorations on the tables, chairs, tables, cooking
utensils, all are purchased from café equipment providers. These things
are durable and indestructible, but a price is paid for this. When an
establishment gets to the age that Wimpy's Café was the breakdowns are
going to happen. If an ice maker goes out in the middle of July or an
air‑conditioner quits, there is no other alternative but to purchase a
new one. Velma did well in competing with the other restaurants in town.
However, this was before the fast food places. She was able to sell her
Wimpy's with a profit even though the new owner complained he had bought
nothing but broken down equipment which was exactly what Velma's Anglo
friend had sold her. On the other hand, Velma turned this disadvantage
into an advantage. With hard work and being satisfied with meeting the
existing challenges Velma escaped being “skinned.” No one was able to do
as well after her. Wimpy's finally closed down completely after it
Still, Velma with hard work, a business
acumen, and very wise management in food service had allowed them to do
very well at Wimpy's. We pay for our education in one way or another and
it did call attention to her abilities which gave her the opportunity
and resume' to go to work for O.I.O.
Full Circletc \l1 "Full Circle
Lee was like a kid with a new toy. He took a
polishing cloth and rubbed the slick surface of their latest model Buick
until it glowed as only a new car can. Dennis had bragged that he bought
36 new Buicks in his lifetime but Lee had never owned one. While Velma
was with O.I.O she always had a new car so she could cover the miles of
her territory but they had been smaller cars like her maroon Ford
Mustang. As far as Lee was concerned this new car was class. Didn't
matter if Velma had sold her Mother's family farm to buy it.
Actually, it wasn't quite like that. Even
though Native Americans are said to own land the catch to that statement
is that a Bureau of Indian affairs manages every little sunflower
growing on it, and this is no joke. The number of heirs coming into the
same piece of land makes it an impossibility for any one person to farm
or use it, unless they lease it from the B.I.A. The person leasing it
then has to deal with the staff in those offices. There are Native
Americans who still live on their land but in Velma's case that option
had been given up before she was born when her great-grandmother
remarried a man with numbers of his own descendants who came into the
property after his death.Velma was doing her heirs a favor by getting
rid of the worrisome property, and besides, the pleasure she and Lee had
from traveling and visiting around the country was worth much more to
“Say, Mam. I'm looking for certain man who
lives in this Tahlequah area. I wonder if you can help me.” Lee spoke to
the woman who was standing in the doorway of her modest little home in
the middle of Cherokee country. A healthy rose bush with vibrant, large
blooms climbed up a trellis beside the door. This alone was evidence
enough that here lived a descendant of the Collinses.
He continued, “they tell me he is a giant of
a man, almost seven feet tall. I believe they call him, 'Bub.”
The country woman stood looking at Lee with
a mixture of distrust and a desire to try to understand what he was
“I've heard he's got a big family maybe
twenty or thirty, of 'em live in his place.” Lee kept a straight face
and seemed to be sincere. By this time the woman he was questioning
began to step back into her house while pulling the door shut until
there was just a crack she was peering through. It was apparent to her
there was something amiss with this man.
“I think he is married to a woman they call
Cordy, she's part Cherokee.” Lee looked back up the road as if he could
see the fictitious man's house in a distance, he, in fact, had just
created. Cordy was the name of his cousin to whom he was speaking and
this was the clue.
Something in the woman's mind clicked. “Lee
Otis Jones.” She recognized her childhood friend and cousin. Now both
were laughing out loud. Lee was famous for little trickster ways like
this. He had not seen his cousin since they were teenagers, and without
a doubt she had forgotten. Lee, Velma and long lost cousins spent a day
of joyful reunion. This was just one of the pleasures given to Lee in
his days that had dwindled down to the autumn of his life.The classy
Buick that could cover miles quickly and comfortably afforded him an
opportunity to visit many places his mind held dear to him such as The
Lee's Passion was, none other than, Velma,
his Native American wife. He had come full-circle from the early day
extended family advantages of his Joneses, monetary wealth of the Osages
and then, back again to a greater-wealth. This was the life he had shared
with his wife as they struggled together to beat all odds, those of
poverty, prejudice against half white, half Indian children, as well as
their own traditional differences.
Lee was there to the very end for his
granddaughter with cerebral palsy. Just his perseverance as a father and a
grandfather held Colleen steady for all that she had to strive to obtain.
Even though these merits were all in opposition to the hiding away of
crippled children at institutions. Standing against a system that did not
have a place to educate these children were the values Lee brought to
The weak, the imperfect, all had something
that they could give back to society and these were the things Lee
believed according to Christ's teachings as He healed such little ones.
Lee passed away, October 31, 1986. Pat Braden,
a friend who was his nurse, was with him. A daughter of a dear old friend,
Martha Grass, was there, too. Lee asked Velma to, “please go for your
breakfast,” and she did. While she was out Lee gently slipped away. It was
as if he could not tell her good-bye. Velma had been beside her husband,
day and night and she was tired. Only a few nights before in his delirium
spoke to someone he called “Uncle David.” It wasn't until years later
Lee's first grandfather was out of Kentucky, Hopkins county, David Hunter,
was traced by contact with some of his cousins through a genealogical
“This is my wife, Velma,” Lee was introducing
the non-existing person. “She's Native American and we're proud of that.”
So it was, David Hunter's granddaughter,
Elizabeth Ann Brewer, wife of Nathanial Stewart Collins, who made that
prophesy about Lee, her grandson.
“He will cause great changes in high places
with mighty men.” The fact that he did these things with such gentle
humility made it never seen to be his maneuvering. If anyone did see it
and had called it to someone's attention his comment would have probably
“When you see a terrible-thing happen, you
know it came from that Ole' Adversary, but when you see a good thing come
about you know that came from The Man. The Man upstairs, now, He's the
One. He's ALL goodness.