Choctaw First Lady Caroline Gooding LeFlore: a Sutler’s Daughter

Caroline had many roles during her long life in the Choctaw Nation: a sutler’s daughter, a First Lady for Chief Basil LeFlore, a guiding light for Goodland Academy, a surrogate mother, and lastly, a destitute widow.

To be totally forthright, Chief Basil LeFlore was a widower when he served the Choctaws as Chief for a one-year term 1859-1860. At age 26 Caroline Gooding married Basil LeFlore on Feb 7, 1863.  Basil was 53 years old, two and a half years beyond his office of Choctaw Chief and one or two years beyond losing his second wife, Martha Bacon, whom he married at the start of the war.  During the Civil War, Basil LeFlore was placed in charge of the Commissary at Fort Towson (military post), which was used by the Confederate Troops.   

From “A Family Makes Its Mark – The LeFlore Family” by a descendant Ralph McBride, these facts about Chief LeFlore are mentioned:  “In the Removal Roll of July 1832, Basile is listed as having two in family. His wife was Narcissa Fisher, sister of Osburn Fisher, and on reaching the Western Nation, they first settled near Doaksville. They later moved to a farm near the present town of Valliant, Oklahoma [the Clear Creek settlement]. The children of Basile and Narcissa Fisher LeFlore were: Henry C. LeFlore, married Sophia —–; Osburn F. LeFlore; Zadoc LeFlore; and Rosanna Avery LeFlore, married Henry L. Gooding in March 1863 [Carrie’s brother].  An entry in the Dairy of Presbyterian Missionary [Cyrus] Kingsbury, dated Weds, March 16, 1852, read, “Mr. Basil Leflore’s son More [Moore] is very sick, we fear he will not live.” [Basil’s first wife Narcissa is thought to have also died in 1852.]

Carrie, as she was known to everyone, was born to George C. Gooding and his wife Esther Sprague at Fort Towson in 1834. Both her parents has been born into military families in the East. She grew up in the house next to her father’s store, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of customers, mail delivery, and the bugle calls and cadences of a military post. Her father George was the sutler (or storekeeper) at Fort Towson from 1832 to his death in 1851. He was also postmaster at the Fort from its establishment in Sept 1832 (from reminiscences of his son Henry Gooding).

Below is a rare  photograph of Esther Sprague Gooding, Carrie’s mother. It is a “Carte de Visite” photograph, measuring 3.75 inches x 2.5 inches, taken in New York City at the C. D. Fredricks Studio, 587 Broadway, between the years 1861-1862 when he conducted business at that address. Mrs. Gooding died January 22, 1863.

Nearby was the town of Doaksville. An article in the Antlers American by Edmond J. Gardner described the town as one of the most important centers in the area, the only town for miles around, with Clarksville, Texas being the nearest of any size. In 1853 the town contained a score of residences, three general stores, a post office, a church, a council house, a blacksmith shop and a few other businesses, as his informant, Henry L. Gooding recalled.

Henry Gooding with violin-cropHowever, Mrs. Gooding made sure her two daughters were exposed to a more refined setting than a rough frontier life, sending them to relatives in upstate New York for several years. According to a 1930 article in The Indian Arrow (Goodland Academy), Carrie was a very fine pianist. Her brother Henry, shown left,  was also a musician, playing the violin/fiddle.

In an undated article about Henry Gooding’s death in 1926, the following information appeared about his childhood home:

The Gooding home was a homey, comfortable, hospitable, Christian home, whose doors always stood open to their friends, their relatives, to the weary travelers who passed through the Fort and especially to our missionaries who were laboring among the Indians at that time. The home had a family altar, one where Bible instruction was given daily, also reverence for God’s worship.

Mrs. Mary Semple Hotchkin, [sister of Charles Semple of Caddo, Okla. and mother of Rev. E. Hotchkin, president of Oklahoma Presbyterian College, Durant, Okla.] told the writer that when she came as a missionary to the Indians in the early 1850s, that her first teachings was done at Wheelock, a full-blood boarding school for Indian girls, not a great distance from Fort Towson [military post] that the Gooding home, in due time after she had gotten acquainted with the family, became a veritable “haven of rest” for her, that when she got all tired out, or became discouraged with herself, with the progress she was making in her school and religious work, she always, if possible, went to see Mrs. Gooding, made a visit, told her of her troubles, perplexities and discouragements, and that Mrs. Gooding in her quiet, motherly, Christian manner could always soothe, comfort and encourage her to the extent that her work became dearer to her each day that passed. In time it brought joy and happiness into her young life, became a privilege rather than a task.

Miss Semple was one of the many early missionaries that Mrs. Gooding “mothered.” She found her greatest happiness in Christian service, in the home, in the early churches maintained by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions among the Indians…

For a brief while, Mrs. Gooding’s sister  Sarah Babbitt, and her husband, Army Quartermaster Edwin Burr Babbitt, were stationed at Fort Towson [he would rise to rank of Brigadier General after the war]. In June 1836 their son, Henry Babbitt was born at the Fort. There must have been trips to Fort Jessup in Louisiana and to San Antonio to visit Mrs. Gooding’s sister when Army transfers took the Babbitts away from Fort Towson. The two families remained close. Carrie would keep in touch with her two cousins, Sarah Frances ‘Fanny’ Babbitt Ainsworth and Laura Babbitt Weeks, and seek emotional and monetary solace from them in her widowhood.

Old Town Fort Gibson-title
An example of an early settlement near a military post

The year 1863 was a precarious time for Carrie. It was the middle of the Civil War when both supplies and personal safety were questionable. For the first time in her life, at age 26, she was alone…and unmarried.

Death of George Gooding 1851

  •  In October 1851 her father George had died; Carrie was just 14 years old. See his memorial.
  • In 1853 her older sister Elizabeth had married a soldier, James Stevens They lived in Hunt County, Texas with their two sons, Frank and Charles.
  • In 1859 her oldest brother Lawrence had married  and was residing in Paris, Texas with his wife Martha and three children. He was an on-and-off newspaper publisher and Justice of the Peace for Precinct No. 6 in Lamar County.
  • Her brother George Gooding had left home and was living in Hunt County, Texas with the Stevens family in 1860.
  • In 1862, at age 18,  her youngest brother Henry L. Gooding enlisted in the Confederate Army, serving with the Choctaw Deneale’s Cavalry Battalion. He was a prisoner of war at Richmond, Va. during the last year of the war.
  • Lastly, Carrie’s beloved mother, Esther, died on January 22, 1863 at age 57.

Less than three weeks later, Carrie became Mrs. Basil LeFlore, married at Fort Towson army post on Feb. 7, 1863 by family friend, the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, with her brother Henry serving as witness.  Rev. Kingsbury , the veteran missionary from the Choctaw missions in Mississippi, was running the mission station at Pine Ridge, about two miles from Fort Towson.

It’s interesting to speculate on what drew Carrie and Basil together. Perhaps it was a sense of loss in each of their lives. Perhaps it was her mother’s wish that she marry someone that could provide for her. Perhaps it was finding someone of her own intellect that had interests in the larger world.

Whatever it was, their marriage seemed to be a good partnership.  Carrie’s brother Henry had married Basil’s daughter Rosanna in March 1863, a month after Carrie’s wedding. When the war was over, the two couples moved to Goodland where Basil purchased a home next to the Goodland Mission and Henry had the farm next door.  While Basil had no wish to serve again as Chief, he willingly served his people as National Auditor and Treasurer for many years.

Of Basil’s three sons, we know little: At the time of their father’s marriage to Carrie, Henry C. was age 17; Osborn was age 16; Zadoc was age 15. But they eventually found their own helpmates and settled down.

  • In 1885 Henry LeFlore, age 40, had moved to the Atoka area, was widowed, had 20 acres under cultivation, and 75 cattle. He died in 1923 and  was buried at his homestead 5 miles northwest of Coalgate, Okla. His first wife Sophia Perry LeFlore is buried in the Westview Cemetery at Atoka. See Sophia’s memorial page. He married again to Josephine Wright from Virginia. See Josephine’s  memorial page.


Henry C. LeFlore, 83, passed away at his home near this city at 1:45 a.m. Friday [August 31, 1923].

Mr. LeFlore was born near [Fort Towson], Okla., on January 18, 1940, and has been a continuous resident of the Indian Territory and state of Oklahoma with the exception of the time he was in the Confederate Army.

He has lived in this community for the past 40 years, and Uncle Henry, as he was affectionately known by nearly all of our people, was a good citizen and neighbor.

His father, Basil L. LeFlore, was at one time governor of the Choctaw Nation and owned a large plantation.

During the time of slavery, [Henry] worked many slaves. He was a fluent speaker in the Choctaw language. In the early days he was a very active stockman and was a chief swine raiser during the free range. His Poland Chinas swarmed through the woods in large numbers. He was 1-16 Choctaw Indian.

Besides his widow, two children Miss Ruby and Henry Clay LeFlore, survive besides numerous friends.

Funeral services were held at the family home Saturday at 10 a.m. by Rev. Forest E. Dudley and the remains were laid to rest in the family burying ground five miles northwest of Coalgate. Burial was beside his little daughter where the white and yellow honeysuckle is growing. ~~Coalgate Register, Thursday, Sep 6, 1923

  • Osborn LeFlore, age 39, was married [Rhoda Folsom], no children, with 150 acres in cultivation and 100 head of cattle. Osborn died before the Dawes enrollment. His burial place is unknown.
  • Zadoc LeFlore, age 37, was living in Kiomitia County with his wife Susan Spring, with 36 acres under cultivation, and 24 horses and 9 cattle. Their first child was named Caroline/Carrie after his step-mother. Of his brothers, only Zadoc has a grave marker at the Fort Towson [City] Cemetery. He is buried in the old section near another pioneer, Mrs. Jane [James] Wilson. See Zadoc’s memorial page.

Hugo Daily News 1931-2col -14

Carrie and Basil enjoyed living near the Goodland church and school, called Yakni Achukma in Choctaw . They were active supporters and worked closely with the Presbyterian missionary, the Rev. Oliver Porter Stark and his second wife, Harriet McCormic, who directed the development and expansion of the school. The LeFlores helped to build the little campus chapel where the students worshipped. Every visitor that came a-calling at the LeFlores could count on a gracious reception and an excellent supper.

Rev. Stark’s first wife Olivia is credited with the founding of the Goodland Academy. Upon coming as missionaries to the Goodland area in 1851, the couple had only their home, a one-room log structure with a lean-to. The only funds available was a stipend for their actual living expenses. The Choctaw tribe, at that time, had no funds with which to build a school or pay a teacher. Undeterred, Mrs. Stark gathered all the Indian children nearby to her home and started a school in the lean-to.   Olivia Stark died Sep. 15, 1854 from complications of child birth; both mother and child were buried in the Goodland Cemetery. Carrie’s early acquaintance with Mary Semple Hotchkin and stories about Olivia  Stark must have been an inspiration, for Carrie also taught students both in her home and at Goodland, wherever the need arose.

Carrie’s brother Henry Gooding was also a devoted supporter of the Goodland school, sending his nine children there and regularly attending church. He operated a saw mill several miles east of the Goodland mission. When the old Goodland Mission church was torn down in 1894, Henry send load after load of lumber free of charge to erect a new church, which was still in use in 1926. Henry was a charter member of the first school board, assisting them with advice and funds as his means allowed. Along with his nine children he  reared and helped educate several orphan children.Henry Gooding_1x2

Carrie was also the spiritual support for her relatives and anyone needing assistance. Among the collection of her correspondence at Oklahoma University is a charming letter from Joel Spring, dated Oct 4th, 1889 in which he talks about his malaria sickness and his plans to give up liquor. Joel Spring was a member of the Spring family that founded the town of Hugo. He was married to Carrie’s niece Winnie Gooding.

Joel Spring letter

A school publication sixty years later said of Carrie:  “There were Indian women – Christians – who shared equally in these early years of ‘carrying on.’  Leading, directing, befriending them all, was one of the best white friends the Choctaws ever had – Mrs. Carrie Gooding LeFlore…If she had done nothing more than help train our Choctaw leader [Silas Bacon], her labors would not have been in vain.”



Mrs. Carrie LeFlore, wife of Basil Leflore, taught several terms of school at the Goodland Orphanage. She had been reared at the Fort Towson Military post, received her education partly in the Fort, spent several years in New York, was cultured, refined and a very fine musician.

Her husband, Governor LeFlore, chief of the Choctaw tribe, purchased the William Fields site on the north of Goodland Orphanage. Mrs. LeFlore did excellent school work there, which was still composed of Indian children, all of whom were day pupils living in the vicinity.

As pupils attending the school during the time it was under her supervision, she had Silas Bacon and Wilson Jones, two Indian boys who in later years were destined to become leaders in Christian and educational work among the Choctaw Indians.

Mrs. LeFlore was a born leader in educational and religious advancement among the Choctaws. As wife of their Chief, she had a wonderful influence with the Choctaw people. She not only trained the children in her school room but never failed when an opportunity presented itself to train the grown-up older Choctaws to cultivate the habits of industry, economy, and faithfulness in their everyday lives.

~~The Indian Arrow (Goodland Academy, Okla.), October 1930


TO BE CONTINUED … In Part 2 of this story, we’ll cover Carrie’s financial struggle after the death of her husband and her last years.

***YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.***


The Carrie Gooding Collection [correspondence] is housed at the Western History Center, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla. and in the WHC digital archive here.

Photo of “Mrs. Gooding”, #2350; the T. W. Hunter Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society.

The Goodland Indian Orphanage Collection is housed at the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division. See Box 2 – Correspondence, Items 1 – Articles, Basil LeFlore, Item 3 – Correspondence, Papers – Carrie Gooding LeFlore, Item 4 – Correspondence – Barbara Gooding Regan re; Carrie Gooding LeFlore, item 9 – Correspondence – Henry Gooding, 1911

The Spring Family Collection is housed at the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division. It includes documents from the Griffith Family.

More about the Rev. Oliver Porter Stark and his family is available on his memorial page at Find-A-Grave.

More about Mary Semple Hotchkin is available on her memorial page at Find-A-Grave.

4 thoughts on “Choctaw First Lady Caroline Gooding LeFlore: a Sutler’s Daughter

  1. Your photo label of “Mrs. Gooding” is more likely Henry and Carrie Gooding’s mother. The dress style and photo style is more 1850s to 1860, and Esther Gooding was the Indian side of the Gooding marriage. This was probably only a few years before her death at age 57. To have any camera around in that period was unusual but possible since she was the sutler’s wife. I was looking for Carrie’s photo, and now know of your search, too. Surprised that Barbara Regan did not come up with one.
    I am looking at the ca. 1900 group photo of the Goodland Church & Community. The Bacons, Jacobs and Kaneubbees, I know. Carrie was 66 then. Is she there? Believe the photo is at the Historical Society.

  2. Thank you for suggesting Esther Sprague Gooding. I did not consider that possibility. Photos from the 1850s were usually the daguerreotype – very distinctive because the photo is on a shiny silver plate enclosed in glass (see my last blog for examples). This photo could be Carrie LeFlore – post Civil War – just mis-identified. Carrie in her last years was bed-ridden. Her brother Henry makes reference to this – I want to say it was in her allotment papers – not sure at the moment.. It would be wonderful to find a picture of Carrie – maybe with the Spring papers since they were friends. Thanks again.

  3. Jay – I’m going to do some more research. I noticed that the posting at OHS gives this info: Fredricks, C.D. (Photographer) [New York]. Also the black dots on the photo could be tarnishing on the silver plate. It is hard to tell but the photo could be in a case as in a daguerreotype. All suggesting a pre-civil war age and that you are correct in thinking that is Carrie’s mother before her death in 1863.

  4. Blog updated today with new information about Mrs. Gooding’s photo. With the help of the back of the photo we know that the photo is of Carrie’s mother, Esther Gooding, taken 1861-1862 in New York City, shortly before her death in January 1863.

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