Imagine never meeting a lonely young soldier in the midst of war. Imagine not learning about a love that persists from childhood and endures through the upheaval of the Choctaw culture. Imagine not knowing about a wife’s unwavering love in the midst of a desolate wilderness with no one to help her. Josie gathered these people into her heart from wisps of conversation and old family diaries and precious letters. Her stories are the gifts that Josie has bequeathed to us.
Josephine Latimer was a storyteller at heart. If she had stayed in Garvin County, we never would have known these captivating stories. The economic stresses of the 1930s brought Josie and her children to Oklahoma City. There she was exposed to the bigger stage. As part of the Indian Pioneer Project she gave several interviews about her family and her youth growing up at Roebuck Lake. In 1940 she joined the WPA Theatre Project as a writer.
Although not many of her writings have survived, we are still able to see her influence many years later. At some point she met the great historian Angie Debo. She most likely shared many of her experiences as a young woman growing up in the Choctaw Nation. Her views on the Dawes Commission and land allotment programs probably influenced Dr. Debo and the viewpoints she expressed in her books. Through Dr. Debo she came into contact with Novella Goodman Martin who was collecting folk tales. Mrs. Martin wrote down ten of Josie’s stories and later published them in a book called Choctaw Little People.
Among the ten stories in the book was Granny Roebuck’s love story:
Many, many years ago, too many to count, the tribe of the Choctaw Indians lived on their lands east of the grandfather of all rivers, the mighty and powerful Mississippi River. The Choctaw Iksa or clans lived in rhythms with the seasons, content with their way of life.
The Mingo Chief Nitactaschi, called John Homma by the white man, was very skilled in the art of arrow-making and the clan prospered from his abilities. Among the chief’s family was his lovely daughter Polayah Falyan Homma (later called Mary Anna Homer). She had many friends but her favorite playmate was a young boy named William Roebuck.
The children invented many games in the nearby fields and streams. When they grew old enough, John Homma made each a set of bow and arrows. Whenever the Chief had time, his daughter and William would cajole him into teaching them how to make their own arrows. But no one ever made arrows that flew as swift and straight as John Homma’s.
During their teenage years a great change came to the Choctaw Nations. After persistent pressure from the U.S. government, the three head chiefs for the Choctaws signed an agreement exchanging their familiar, beloved homeland for unknown primitive lands in the west. It was a bitter time for the Choctaws and required much courage to face an unknown future.
The clan traveled together on the Long Cold Walk to their new country in the west. During the journey William’s father became ill with the dreaded cholera. William and his mother stayed behind to care for his father while their clan proceeded west. They could do nothing for William’s father except make his last days comfortable.
With William’s youthful energy and his mother’s cleverness, the young, now-fatherless family made it to the Mountain Fork crossing and on to the Wheelock community in search of their clan. The early years in the community required hard work from everyone. William did his part, but in his spare time, he wondered what had happened to John Homma and his best friend Polayah.
William’s abilities were soon noticed by the Choctaw leaders. He was selected to attend school in Kentucky to study law and to learn the white man’s language. The Choctaws knew that they needed to educate their own people at the white man’s schools. The white man’s legal concepts were not easily understood by the Choctaw.
The story now continues in Josie’s own words:
“William returned home for a vacation and early one morning he took his dogs and started on a deer hunt. In a very short time his hounds jumped up a big buck with horns branched out like a tree. It is the nature of the deer when chased to run for water and this one fled to Roebuck Lake which it swam across but the hounds were crowding it so that it turned and started swimming back. There were some Indian girls on the lake, fishing from a boat. They saw the deer and one of the girls shot at it with her bow and arrow, hitting the deer in the head where its immense horns held the arrow. William then shot the dear and recovered the girl’s arrow. The arrow looked strangely familiar. He examined it closely and remembered making several arrows like that for a school mate back in Mississippi, cutting his initials on them.
He waited for the girls to row to the landing when he asked to whom the arrow belonged. One of the girls stepped toward him and said the arrow belonged to her, that she was Payayah Homer (Homma). He said, “You are! Well I am William Roebuck.” They were much surprised to see each other again. He gave the deer to her, and she in turn invited him to her grandfather’s home near Goodland, where she and her father lived.
The two girls got on their horses and William threw the deer across his horse and they all rode to the girl’s home on the way William inquired about their father and she told him that her father was District Chief. All of the Choctaws called him “John OK,” as he had put his mark on their commissary orders before they could receive their groceries.
On their arrival at Goodland, William went into the house to see her father and this was a happy reunion ant the Chief’s home. They renewed old friendships and had a big feast of deer meat and “Bota Koopsa”, William’s favorite Indian dish “Tom Fuller,” cold flour, banaha bread and many other Indian dishes as well as white folks food.
The following year William and Polayah were married, and by two ceremonies, the first was the Indian Ceremony, the second by Reverend R.D. Potter, a Presbyterian Minister, Indian Missionary to the Choctaws at Goodland. These ceremonies were performed in 1842, according to William Roebuck’s (Indian Robak) family records. A description of the Indian Ceremony appears in the record. They built an arbor and covered it with mistletoe, intermingled with long trailing vines with berries hanging down. Then two poles were erected about twenty-five feet apart near the arbor.
The bride and the nine maids were at one pole, the groom and nine attendants were at the other pole. Two wise medicine men beat the Tom Toms; two wise medicine men played the Indian Love Call with a flute, (fashioned from a willow branch).
The girls formed a circle around their pole, and the men did like-wise about their pole, and they danced around the poles weaving in and out. Then they danced single file toward each other, forming a figure eight until the bride and groom met, when they danced around each other two or three times, then she fed to the arbor and there the ceremony was sealed with a kiss.
This marriage ceremony was very elaborate and was accompanied by feasting. After the Indian ceremony, the religious ceremony was performed under this arbor and after this ceremony was over, they received their wedding gifts, all home spun coverlets, bed linens, table linens, Indian handmade pottery, pitchers, vases, bowls, baskets, and many other beautiful hand-made Indian things, as almost every Indian brought something. The priceless present the bride received was the Paisley Shawl of William’s mother, which had come with them over the Trail of the Tears.
This happy couple established their home at Roebuck Lake, a home constructed of hewed decorated logs, two stories with an additional room on the back. It was very large with side porches. Like his father Ezekiel [in the old Choctaw Nation] , William started an apiary.
They had a fine spring of water at Roebuck Lake. The lake was in the shape of a horse shoe and was three miles around with and island in the center. This was William’s plantation and he and his servants crossed this lake in boats to reach his farm which contained 160 acres of fine land.
William also had a gin and grist mill on this lake and the Indians brought their cotton and corn often from a distance of twenty-five miles, as there were no grist mills nearer. He also had a sorghum mill run by mule power. “
William and Polayah reared a family of eight children at Roebuck Lake, losing two in infancy.
- The oldest boy Ephraim fought in the Civil War and was killed in action in 1864 at the battle of Poison Springs at Camden, Arkansas. He had two sons, William Mack and Ben.
- The second oldest, David, was appointed Choctaw National Attorney in 1894. His wife, Malina Austin [Roll# 4092], was the younger sister of Jane Austin McCurtain. Like her sister Jane, Malina was well-educated and taught at the neighboring schools in Kiamitia County at Goodland, Cold Spring, and Long Creek. They raised ten children. David died in 1896 after being struck by a train.
Of the many attorneys that practiced at the old Choctaw Courthouse of Tobucksy County, A. D. Hefley had high praise in particular for David Roebuck [from “A Choctaw Landmark,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Dec, 1934, page 478]:
Dave Roebuck, tall, straight, and fine looking, was a lawyer whose grace and manners before the tribal bar will always be noted in Choctaw history. Roebuck practiced in all courts of the Choctaw Nation and had many cases in the U. S. Court at McAlester. He was a law partner of Jake Hodges, noted criminal lawyer of Paris, Texas.
- Daughter Malinda was born in 1846 and was the mother of Josephine Usray [Roll# 4024] and her sisters Emma, Annie, and Ella.
- Daughter Lucretia married twice and died young at age 33, leaving several children, including Ada Bell Spring, Belshazzar McIntyre, and Della McIntyre.
- Daughter Mary Anna Roebuck [Roll #3994], born 1854, was known as Aunt Pus. She married twice: first to James Oliver Spring and second to John Josh Crowder. She was mother to about 10 children. See her Memorial Page.
- Daughter Ella Roebuck [Roll #11879], born 1858, married James Henry Miller, a country doctor from Texas interested in land in the Indian Territory. They settled in Antlers and raised eight children. See her Memorial Page.
Josephine’s extended family (left to right): Uncle David Roebuck, his wife Malina, Aunt Lucretia, Aunt Ella, and Aunt Pus.
Source: Indian Pioneer Papers (WPA), University of Oklahoma Libraries Western History Collections, Interview with Josephine Usray Latimer, #8822, October 13, 1937.
The story about William Roebuck and Mary Homma also appeared in the book, Choctaw Little People (1970), by Novella Goodman Martin. The book is now out-of-print; Mrs. Martin passed away in 1980 in Tyler, Texas. However, the Choctaw Nation has transcribed the stories and made them available on their website under History and Culture.
***Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***
Graphics by Opia Designs