Service and Honor: The Story of Two Choctaw Men, Long Forgotten

This story is about a son and his father, neither knowing much about the other.

The son: Calvin R. Bryant, orphan, baseball player, store owner, and brave soldier.

His father: Josiah Bryant, Indian Territory lawman under the famous Capt. Sam Sixkiller and equally famous Capt. Charles LeFlore, also sheriff for Blue County, I.T., and later Choctaw senate president.

I believe very much in the everyday hero and heroine, people that you will never find in the shallowness of today’s news or movies. They live their lives by the simple tenets of honor and integrity, never realizing that they are weaving a vital weft into our society. How enriched we are that we can look back and see the honesty of those simple lives.

~ In the Service of His Country: a Father’s Story ~

Josiah Bryant, the son of Choctaw pioneer Jesse Bryant, was born in 1854 in the old Blue County, Choctaw Nation near present-day Durant. His father sent him to school in Bonham, Texas until 1873 but required his young son to earn the money for his tuition.

In 1874 at age 20 Josiah was elected sheriff of Blue County, serving for six years in that position. In 1880 Josiah was elected to the Choctaw legislature but retired from the House when controversy erupted over the Frisco Railroad Charter bill.

Notice by Sheriff Bryant

Josiah’s career as lawman resumed in 1883 when he served in the Indian Territory police force under Capt. Sam SixKiller. After Capt. Sixkiller was ambushed and killed in December 1885 on the streets of Muscogee, he served under Capt. Charles LeFlore at least through 1887. The pay was 8-10 dollars p.m. (per month). Other well-known Choctaw men on the force were Joe W. Everidge, Wm H. Harrison, D. W. Hodges, and N. F. Krebbs.1885 police roll-crop

Josiah was an industrious man. From the 1885 census we learn that he pastured 200 head of cattle and 100 hogs, and had 100 acres under cultivation, producing two hundred bushels of oats and corn each, much more than was required for the family “tom fuller” crop. By the time of his 1891 interview with H.F. O’Beirne, his holdings had grown to 400 acres of farmland and 800 acres of pasture.

His family in 1885 included his second wife Susan, age 22, and three sons from his first marriage to a woman named Lucinda: Albert, Alfred and Napoleon, age 8, 6, and 2, respectively.

Josiah soon developed a reputation as a capable and reliable Choctaw leader. In 1886 he once again served in the Choctaw legislature, where at age 32, he was elected Speaker of the Legislature, the youngest man ever to be selected for that position. In 1887 he was elected District Trustee of Schools for Blue County.

In 1889 he was asked to fill the unexpired term of the late sheriff, Levi Garland, of Blue County. In Oct 1891 Josiah was sworn in to the Choctaw Senate and elected President of the Senate. As Senate President, he was called to serve for a short while as Acting Principal Chief, Jan 27, 1894, in the stead of Wilson N. Jones.

In Aug 1895, as a nominee for the Progressive Party, he made an unsuccessful bid for National Treasurer, losing to the National Party nominee, the formidable and popular W. W. Wilson. See my blog on W.W. Wilson: Thoughts on Politics and Disappointment.

Photo-Josiah H Bryant
Josiah ‘Joe’ H. Bryant

Josiah must have been a man of few words. His 1891 interview with H. F. O’Beirne presents an unembellished litany of dry facts, with only the barest bones about his personal life. We are forced to describe his home life by the reflection of his personal loses. Losing children in that era happened to everyone, but Josiah had more than his share. Josiah lost his first wife, known to us only as Lucinda, and his oldest son, Albert.

 

In a loss of another sort, his son Napoleon ended up serving time in the state prison in Columbus, Ohio during the Dawes enrollment period, probably sent there by the Federal Court in Fort Smith, meaning that his transgression involved a white man.

It is unclear when Josiah lost his second wife Susan but their three children, Julia, Florence, and Calvin, survived to adulthood. Upon Susan’s death, Josiah sought out a third wife to care for his young children when his various duties took him from home. In the year 1895 Josiah met and married the vivacious widow Brunetta Cornelia Hampton from Hartshorne, I.T. She was the daughter of the late Choctaw Chief Jackson McCurtain and widow of Simpson Hampton.

Wedding News: The Hon. J. H. Bryant and Mrs. Brunette C. Hampton were united in marriage at the home of the latter in this place last Sunday, Judge S.P. Nelson performing the ceremony. Mr. Bryant is a prominent merchant of Blue [community], and a candidate tor treasurer of the Choctaw Nation. The bride is a popular and highly esteemed lady and has a host of friends in Hartshorne. ~ The Hartshorne Sun (I.T.), Saturday, June 8, 1895.

Josiah’s last known public office for the Choctaws was as Local School Trustee for Blue County, March 29, 1897. At some point after March 1897 and before the Dawes enrollment, Josiah H. Bryant passed away, leaving his five surviving children as orphans. He would have been about 43-45 years of age. Most likely, he was buried at his old homestead near Blue, as was the practice then, in the family burying ground near the graves of his wives and his son Albert.

His third wife Brunetta also died before the Dawes enrollment period. Brunetta’s daughter Josephine R. Hampton, called ‘Josie’, was raised by her grandmother Jane Austin McCurtain in Tuskahoma. Josie was Choctaw original enrollee #5409.

Photo Atwood Risner sm
Mr. Atwood Risner

In early July 1899 the Probate Court of Blue County granted the guardianship of Josiah’s three minor children – Julia, Florence, and Calvin – to Mr. Atwood Risner, a cattle trader and inter-married white who was fluent in Choctaw. Mr. Risner’s family was well known in the Nelson area where his father George was a tanner and his sister Tennessee, the wife of Bennie Hunter, a prominent Choctaw.

Josiah’s son Alfred escaped adoption. He was old enough to make his own living and soon was married and raising a large family. Josiah’s second oldest son Napoleon was serving time in the Ohio state penitentiary.

All five children were each a Choctaw original enrollee and lived to receive their allotted lands, although under restrictions because of their high percentage of Choctaw blood.

Alfred W. Bryant – Roll # 9857, Card #3459; see his memorial.

Napoleon Bryant – Roll #9696, Card #3393; see his memorial.

Julia Bryant – Roll #9858, Card #3459; wife of Morris P. Phillips; see her memorial.

Florence Bryant – Roll #9859, Card #3459; wife of W. F. Flanagan; see her memorial.

Calvin Bryant – Roll # 9860, Card #3459; see his memorial.

Napoleon Bryant continued to have problems with the law. On the 1910 federal census he was serving time at McAlester in the State Penitentiary. In 1913 he was sentenced to two years for forgery. After he served as a Private in the 20th Infantry, 10th Division in World War I, his life seemed to settle down with the help of his wife Lottie, and his sister Julia. He died at Ardmore in 1935 after a lengthy illness.

Photo Florence Bryant Flanagan
Florence Bryant Flanagan

Florence Bryant was married in 1911 to a Texan, James E. Gilbert, had a daughter Geraldine, and then quickly divorced Mr. Gilbert. She married a second time to W. F. Flanagan, another man from Texas. In May 1917 she passed away at age 28 at their home near Noble, Oklahoma.

She died a rich woman, with an estate valued at $7500, including 120 acres of good farm land in Bryan County and a Dodge automobile. Her five-year old daughter Geraldine went to live with her mother’s sister Julia in Ardmore, as Mr. Flanagan soon remarried, and probably did not care to raise a child that was not his. Mrs. Flanagan is buried at Highland Cemetery, her beautiful gray headstone embossed with her photo, most likely at the request of her sister Julia.

~ In the Service of His Country: a Son’s Story ~

Photo Calvin Bryant
Sgt. Calvin R. Bryant

Calvin R. Bryant was about eight or nine years old when his father died. His young age possibly made it easier for him to adapt to a new home and different schooling in Durant. He developed a love of baseball and played professional baseball with the Texas and Oklahoma League, mainly on the Ardmore Blues, the Altus Chiefs and the Durant Educators, becoming well known in Carter and Bryan counties.  See details about his football and baseball career at Baseball’s Greatest Sacrifice.

For another great Choctaw baseball player, see the blog on The Escapades of Chief Cool-Em Off to learn about a young Choctaw pitcher Arthur Lee Daney.

Calvin then made his home on his allotted lands near the Blue community. His WWI Draft Registration Card describes him as age 26 and a druggist in Blue, working for himself. Somehow, perhaps with the help of his adopted father, Calvin had been able to get funds to stock his own store in Blue.

That Calvin was a bright and capable young man was recognized by the military and they quickly promoted him to the rank of Sergeant. He was first placed in the 358th Infantry, 90th Division and trained at Camp Travis near Austin. After going overseas he was transferred to Company E, known as the famous Indian Company, with the 36th Infantry Division, part of the 142nd Regiment.

In July, 1918, the 36th Infantry Division arrived in France and was sent to Bar Sur Aube, southeast of Paris and near the front, for more training. It was called up to the line in late September. By that time the Allied Forces had converged near the Argonne forest, and on Sept 26th began the final show-down, the battle known as the Allied Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

On October 5 to 7, 1918, the 141st and 142d were detached from the parent division and put directly on the line in front of the village of Saint Etienne in the Meuse-Argonne sector.

Many things proceeded to go wrong for the 142d Infantry. A blog by historian Jack W. London describes the inadequate training, the flawed planning, and confusion on the battlefield in The Battle for Saint Etienne, France. Without the covering fire of supporting tanks, the soldiers of the 142d were sent across open country to capture a church in Saint Etienne and to take out the lethal German machine gun barricaded in the bell tower. Many men were wounded or killed that day.Headstone-Calvin Bryant-fix

In reporting the tragic news that Sergeant Calvin Bryant, brother of their resident, Mrs. Morris P. Phillips, had been killed in battle, making the ultimate sacrifice, the Ardmore newspaper gave a brief account of the battle for Saint Etienne. See the full newspaper article here.

Indian Soldiers Tamed Prussian Guard and Fought Great Fight

(~from the Stars and Stripes, official paper of the American Forces)

It was the Prussian Guard against the American Indian on the morning of Oct 8 in the hills of Champagne. When it was all over, after the wire protected slopes had been trampled as though they were no more than bramble patches of thorny and leafless berry bushes, and there were no more German gunners left in the earth-baked machine gun nests, the Prussian Guards were farther on their way back toward the Aisne, and going fast, and warriors of thirteen Indian tribes looked down on the town of St. Etienne. The Indians – one company of them – were fighting with the 36th division, made up of Texas and Oklahoma rangers and oil men,…and with the French [soldiers], this division was pushing away forever, the German menace to Rheims.

Despite the great sacrifices and bravery of the American soldiers, the battle remained undecided. It is a well-known story by now. Soon after the Meuse-Argonne campaign got underway, a company commander in the 36th Division reportedly happened to overhear two of his soldiers conversing in Choctaw. He recognized the military potential of the language, essentially unknown to the Germans, when the Germans had been able to crack every code used by the Allies up to that point. He persuaded his superiors to post a Choctaw speaker at various field company headquarters.

On October 26, 1918, the Choctaw code-talkers were put to use for the first time. Having completed this first mission without mishap, the code-talkers then played a major role the following two days in an attack on a strongly fortified German position called Forest Ferme. The tide of battle turned within 24 hours, and within 72 hours the Allies were on full attack. Pinned against their borders, the Germans were forced to sign the Armistice Agreement, taking effect 11 a.m. on Nov 11, 1918, thus ending the “great war.”

Sgt. Calvin Bryant would have been proud of his fellow Choctaw soldiers, even though it came too late to save him and the others who gave their lives in that battle. At least two Congressional Medal of Honor awards were given out posthumously after this last fierce offensive:

2Lt Erwin Russell Bleckley, Wichita, Kansas, killed Oct 6, 1918 when flying in vital supplies to the front lines.

CPT Marcellus Holms Chiles, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, killed Nov 5, 1918, while leading the advance across a stream, waist deep, in the face of the brutal machinegun fire.

There is no glory in war, said my dad, who survived the intense shelling at Calais, France in June 1944 shortly after D-Day. There is only absolute terror, misery, and loss. I am reminded of his stories after seeing yet another Hollywood movie trying to glorify war.

That there are heroes cannot be doubted, men who never realized the bravery and determination they possessed until on the battlefield. There is also honor in serving one’s nation. But there is never glory in war.

Footnote:  After taking care of her extended family for so many years, the last sibling, Julia Bryant Phillips, passed away at the age of 53 on Aug 13, 1942 at a hospital in Lawton, Okla. She is buried next to her brother Calvin at Highland Cemetery, Durant, Okla. There was no one to put her picture on her headstone.

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

More sources:

Leaders and Leading Men of the Indian Territory, 1891, by H. F. O’Beirne, is available online at the OpenLibrary website. See page 185 for the sketch on Josiah H. Bryant.

See the lovely memorial stone for Sgt. Calvin Bryant, placed at his grave in Durant by his sister, Julia Bryant Phillips.

Another well-written account of World War I’s Native American Code Talkers can be found here at the History Channel website.

See more of the history of the 142nd infantry at the Texas Military Forces Museum site.

To learn more about the legendary Cherokee Lawman, see the book by Chris Enss titled Sam Sixkiller. It is an easy read and your library probably has a copy.

For a light-hearted look at the folks who stay behind during the war, see Jack W. London’s book, French Letters, Virginia’s War

3 thoughts on “Service and Honor: The Story of Two Choctaw Men, Long Forgotten

  1. I enjoyed this story very much as I have just discovered my great great grandfather on my dad’s side was on the original roll. We never knew anything about this. At 63, I just discovered my heritage includes Choctaw and I thank my cousin for her hard work on my family tree. Eager to learn more.

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