After the recent blogs about the tragic events surrounding the Choctaw Removal, I thought we all needed a love story, although like much of life, there are losses to be endured. The picture of the Cold Springs School may not seem appropriate for a love story, but a school much like this represented love to the heroine in our blog today.
I also want to introduce a new category for my blogs: “The Grandmothers.” These are our most revered ancestors, most often the women that came across on the Trail of Tears, and in old age became the strength of their communities. They become the midwives for the next generation. They passed down the Choctaw oral traditions. Essentially, they became the treasured “grandmother” to a Choctaw Nation that lost many of its women during the brutal journey across the Trail of Tears.
This story had a couple of these grandmothers in it. But first, the story starts with a great-great-granddaughter named Josie who grew up in the 1870s-1880s in an area known as Roebuck Lake. This area was the original settlement of a Choctaw family named Roebuck who came across the Trail of Tears to the new Choctaw lands near the Kiamichi River.
Josie’s mother Malinda was a member of this large, extended family, being the daughter of a lawyer, judge, and prominent Choctaw named William Roebuck. Josie’s extended family included three aunts and an uncle with cousins too numerous to count. At the center of this small community was Granny Roebuck, the wife of William Roebuck. She was the daughter of John Homma, her Choctaw name being Folayah Polayah Homma. More about her in the next blog.
The story of how Josie’s mother and father fell in love is the first love story of our trio. Josie’s father was James Usray, from the Cherokee Nation. His daughter Annie recalled that a rebellious and unhappy James ran away from home at twelve years of age and wandered the Cherokee Nation until the Civil War broke out. James then decided to enlist in the army with Stand Waite’s Choctaw Brigade.
Horses have played a big part in many a romance, but this time it was the absence of horses that started the romance. During the Civil War, while the brigade was camped near Roebuck Lake, their horses wandered off from the army camp and James was sent to search for them. His search led him to William Roebuck’s house at Rock Hill. Mrs. Roebuck answered his halloo, but refused to talk to a white man, sending her daughter Malinda instead to do the talking.
James was immediately smitten with Malinda. Before he left the Roebuck house, he got Malinda’s name and address. Distance and bullets may separate them, but this young soldier would not be deterred. James set out to woo his fair maiden with pen and paper over the long futile months of the Confederate campaign. When the final battle was fought and General Stand Waite yielded victory to the Union forces at Fort Towson, young James guided his horse over the dusty trails to the big house at Rock Hill and the one person he wanted to see more than any other in the world.
In 1868 Malinda gave up her school-teaching job to marry her handsome soldier. The couple found a place to settle right on the Red River about a mile from the house at Rock Hill. The Usray farm on the Red River grew to an impressive 500 acres under cultivation. Malinda went back to school-teaching to help meet the costs of their growing agriculture business. When they saved enough cash, a difficult task back then, they were able to buy a herd of 25 heifers, which had calves the following year. In the summers Mr. Usray hired drovers to take his prize Heifer cattle up the Texas Trail to the Kansas nd Missouri markets.
Granny Roebuck kept watch over the young family and helped with the birth of Malinda’s four daughters, Emma, Josie, Annie, and Ella. But before her four daughters were fully grown and married, Malinda Roebuck Usray passed away in 1888 at age 41.
James Usray was twice elected and served two terms as County Judge of the old Kiamichi County, Choctaw Nation, and was elected and served as Sheriff of Kiamichi County. He married only once more, to a woman named Lizzie. Judge Usray’s obituary can be viewed on his Memorial Page.
To his eternal credit, he provided education opportunities for his daughters. Josie and her sisters attended the New Hope Girls School near Skullyville. Because Josie had an aptitude for learning, the Choctaw Nation paid her expenses at the Athenaeum College in Columbia, Tennessee. She successfully completed her curriculum in three years there, passed the examination required by the Choctaw Nation and obtained a five-year teaching certificate. The following school term found her at the Oak Cliff College in Dallas, Texas, studying Home Economics, Art, and Interior Decorating.
By the time Josie finished her studies in Dallas, the growing community at Goodland needed schools for the local children. Josie rented a vacant house from a local merchant, Joel Spring, and opened her own school. The older students sat on long pine benches at the only table available. The younger children balanced books and slates in their laps. Her income, she proudly writes, was $75.00 per month from the Choctaw Nation.
Perhaps, in a different era, Josie would have been a writer. Still she found time to write about her mother, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother. She wrote down the stories her grandmother told her about the Little People, Old Man Turtle, and the Signal Bird. But she never wrote much about her own life. And as effusive as Josie was in telling of her studies and her first school, she was reluctant to say much about her handsome admirer or her children.
Six years after her mother’s death, Josie met Osborne Latimer, by all accounts a fine man from Lamar County, Texas, whose father was a County Judge in Custer County, Oklahoma Territory. On July 25, 1894 Josie married Osborne Latimer and their first daughter Marguerite was born the following year. Another daughter followed in 1899 and a son in 1901, then two more sons.
Josie still had a passion for teaching. She taught for three years in the one-room schoolhouse her husband built for her on their property at Farney. The building was christened the “Wigwam School.”
In 1902, the young family, now with the addition of two girls and three boys, moved to her husband’s allotted lands near Wynnewood in the Chickasaw Nation. In her writings Josie never discussed her feelings about the move, but it must have been heart-wrenching to leave her childhood home and all her cousins, the birthplace of three of her children, and the little schoolhouse built just for her.
Osborne’s health began to fail in 1913 and by 1915, he was seriously debilitated. Josie’s father passed away on May 13, 1915 at Hugo. Three days later on May 16, her husband of twenty-one years passed away at the Wynnewood Hospital. At age 42 Josie found herself as a single mother supporting five children and running a ranch.
For a time Josie was able to keep her family together with the help of her son-in-law George Wheeler. In 1920 they were residents of the Walker community near Paul’s Valley with a married daughter Marguerite living at home as well as her three sons, age 18, age 15 and age 13.
By 1930 they were no longer farming in the Walker Community. All her children had now married with their own children on the way. Josie and the family of her oldest daughter Marguerite had decided to try their luck in Oklahoma City. Josie found work as a home nurse. Her daughter was a saleslady for an advertising company and her husband George Wheeler worked as a shipping clerk for a bakery.
Only one son, Osborne Warren, a carpenter, had stayed in the area with his wife’s family at Pauls’ Valley. As far as Josie’s other two sons, Bryon was a lineman for a telephone company in Shawnee. Her youngest son, Joe, was in Oklahoma City, working as a radio repairman.
For various reasons…drought, crop failures, economic depression…people began leaving their rural lives and moving to the cities. The 1930s were truly a time of change for our country. Josie’s life was also drastically changing. She would face difficult times as her family became more fragmented. But opportunities would also open up for her. And we would be the direct recipients.
***Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***
To Be Continued….