Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: October 13, 1930
Name: Josephine Usray Latimer
Post Office: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: Place of Birth:
Father: James Usray Place of Birth: Information on father:
Mother: Malinda Roebuck Place of birth: Information on mother:
Field Worker: Amelia Harris
My father was James Usray, Mother was Malinda Roebuck. My maternal grandfather was William Roebuck, three-fourths Choctaw.
My maternal grandmother was Folayah Polayah Homer (Homma), one-half blood Choctaw, daughter of John Homer (Homma) of the Shacchi Homer (Homma) Nation, the name Sig-Red Crawfish. John Homer=s (Homma) wife was Chief Natastachi=s daughter.
My paternal grandfather was Phillip Usray, one-half blood Cherokee. My paternal grandmother was (name forgotten) was a sister to Chief Bowl of East Texas. Who held a Spanish Grant to lands before Texas Independence. He aided General Houston in the battle of San Jacinto.
Josephine Usray Lattimer=s grandparents came to the Indian Territory over the Trail of the Tears.
The Choctaws in Mississippi were a law abiding and cultured farming people. They had good homes, churches, and schools, all of which they were forced to abandon and move out west.
The great grandfather of Josephine Usray Lattimer, Ezekial Robuck, and family lived on AHoney Island@ in the Pearl River (Mississippi). This island included about eighteen acres, thirteen of which comprised an Apiary. The bee hives were hollow trees or stumps. They didn=t have bee hives, as we do now, but this was a big industry and brought them quite a bit a revenue and Ezekial Robuck was called the AHoney King@. Through Alex McGilvary, who was trades Commissioner for the Indians who traded with Foreign Countries, it was made possible for Ezekial to dispose of all of his surplus honey to England, making him very independent.
Legend of Ezekiel Robuck
When he was 14 years old and in the Springtime, he went into the woods to have his dream (the guiding Spirit of Destiny). He fell asleep and slept for three days and nights and in his dreams he was among wild roses, the bees were humming, the birds singing, water splashing, geese cackling and white feathers falling like snow. He returned home and related his dream to his mother. She translated his dreams for him in this manner. That in the near future he would live near the water, and would hear it splashing. There would be lots of timber and wild roses, and he would have many bees all around him. The geese honking and feathers falling were wild geese lighting on the water near his future home.
She told him she would make him a medicine charm bag, a custom of Choctaw Indians years ago. Ezekiel=s mother then set about to make the medicine bag as follows; The medicine bag is a mystery bag and is of great importance and meaning in the Indian=s life, being constructed from skins of birds, animals and reptiles, ornamented and preserved in many ways. After these bags were finished and decorated, they were religiously sealed.
The Indian carries his bag through life for good luck, strength in battle and assurance in death that his guardian Spirit would watch over him. The medicine bag was always buried with him, thus aiding him the crossing the great beyond to the Happy Hunting Ground.
She told him to go and visit Elsie Beams, who had a goose farm and was called Queen of the Yazoo River and ask her for some geese down to go in his charm bag, and that would complete his dream. He did this and found her a very charming person. He related his dream and she gave him the down he needed. From this meeting a friendship developed, which ended in love and marriage. Elsie Beams was the niece of David Folsom of the N. W. District in Mississippi which District was the first to move to the Indian Territory.
All of the Indians of this District gathered at Memphis, Tennessee in 1832, and were transported across the Mississippi in the steamboats, The Reindeer, The Cleopatra, The Talma and Sir Walter Scott. In crossing over the Choctaws sang this song, FARE WELL TO NUNIALCHWAYA (meaning - to the land we love so dear). Nunialchwayah was in memory of the leaning pole (Fabuasa), the legend of which many be found at the close of the history of the Choctaws. When the Choctaws reached Arkansas, the Government had wagons and teams there ready for them. The Indians were loaded into wagons and they started for the Government Post, near Little Rock Arkansas.
In loading, my people got separated from each other for there were hundreds of wagons on this journey. When they reached the Quachita (meaning 4th river), it was on a rampage and out of banks. The roads were impassable. It was raining and cold. Even for the well and strong, the journey was almost beyond endurance. Many were weak and broken-hearted, and as night came there were new graves dug beside the way. Many of the Indians contracted pneumonia fever and the cholera. They camped a mile from the Quachita, waiting for the water to recede so they could cross. While they were camped there, Ezekiel Roebuck, father of my grandfather, William Roebuck, became ill but said nothing. When the river was low enough to cross, everyone got in the wagons and started on the journey, but Ezekiel was so sick he became unconscious and fell over. Some one told the driver and he said, AI will have to stop and but him out as we can=t afford to have any one with the Cholera along@. So they stopped by the road side and put him out. My great-grandmother said AYou can put the children and me out too@, and the driver replied, AAlright, but he will soon be dead and you and your three children will have to walk the balance of the way@. Each child had a small blanket.
My great-grandmother has a paisley shawl, she had also brought along a bucket of honey and some cold flour from their home. This flour is made by parching corn and grinding it in a coffee mill until pulverized. This food she carried along for her six month old baby. She begged the driver for food and a blanket for great-grandfather, and he grudgingly gave the blanket and one day=s supply of food.
Great-grandfather was conscious at the time. He had dubbed great-grandmother ALittle Blue Hen@ and when he became conscious of the plight, he would say ADear Little Blue Hen, why didn=t you take the children and go on, I can=t last much longer, and my soul will rest much easier if I knew you were safe. My body is just dust and will be all right any place@. She replied, AAs long as you live I=ll be with you, Dear@. The Little Blue Hen and two boys, aged ten and twelve, set about fixing a bed. The boys had knives with which they cut the long stemmed grass until they made a fairly comfortable bed, then the three pulled the father on it. They were fortunate to be where there was pine and the boy=s weren=t long in gathering plenty of wood and pine knots; not only for warmth and lights but to keep hungry wolves and panthers away as they came circling around growling and vicious looking. The boys threw up a high barricade behind their father=s pallet, of brush, then a big fire a few feet in front and here the little family huddled together. They dared not let the fire die down until after day-break, then the beasts went back into the woods. When the father became conscious, he praised Little Blue Hen for her loyalty and he prayed that his little family might be spared from the dreaded disease. He lived only twenty-four hours after being put out of the wagon, and at sunset his soul passed on. The little mother with sticks, and the boys with knives dug a grave deep enough to bury him, and piled rocks and dead trees on top of the grave to keep the beasts from the body. Then the boys blazed the tree all around the grave. They wanted to leave the grave well marked for they intended to return for their father=s body some day. They fed on roots, wild berries, a spoonful of honey and a small portion of the cold flour and the next morning the brave mother with her three children bade farewell to the Honey King=s grave, by the roadside of the Trail of the Tears, and they traveled on to the post, following the wagon tracks to the river, which they realized they would have to swim across. Undaunted she took her paisley shawl and tied the baby onto her back and cautioning her boys to stay close to her they all swam across the river. Here they found the wagon tracks but they stopped long enough to build a big fire and dry their clothes. They then walked all the way to the Government Post, where they were given food, clothes and shelter.
The next day they were carried to the border line in a wagon and from there they walked all the way into Doaksville, where Captain Doaks gave them plenty to eat and clean clothing. They rested there several days. Captain Doaks sent word to her uncle, David Folsom, and he came for her and took her and the children down to Kiamichi.
The Honey King=s prayers were answered, not one of them too the cholera. The Government had established a trading post and name it Fort Towson. This post was used as a Fort during the Civil War. These Choctaws mad half dugout home for them and the used this for several months until she and her boys could cut down trees enough to make a permanent home. They were never idle; there were days of hardships and toil, tilling the soil from dawn until dark, bitter trying days. The first year they didn=t get to put much in cultivation and most of it was planted in corn. The mother and boys cultivated and harvested the crops and cared for the livestock, believing they were building a permanent home. In the late Summer, they started cutting down trees and built a log house of which they were very proud. Their home had very little furniture. Their beds were home made, constructed of four forked posts, set deep in the earth, forks up so as to hold the side railing posts; these were slatted across with small poles held securely by a rope; upon this they piled high hay and even with their scant bedding this made a very comfortable bed. They had a homemade table and sawed off logs for seats. A mortar was made first as many good Indian dishes came from grain pounded fine in the mortar. A sod fireplace cooked the meals and an ash popper made from a hollow log in which dripping water through wood ashes made lye for soap. She dried wild plums, berries and grapes. The boys killed wild hogs and game for their meat as game was plentiful.
They had pine torches for light as first and homemade candles. This little family was very industrious and later on with the small remuneration received from the Government, they saved enough to buy two slaves and they prospered. Seemingly the Little Blue Hen never grew tired. She was well informed in regard to the medicinal properties of herbs and she turned her talents to aiding the sick. She made teas from the roots and of the lowly broom weed, and excellent remedy for colds and a preventative of pneumonia, if taken in time. This tea was made from the roots of the broom weed, placed in cold water and allowed to come to a rolling boiling point, when the blaze was lowered and the mixture was allowed to steep a half hour. It was sweetened with honey, and drank hot every hour.
She also made a salve to cure external cancer from this formula. One pint honey, one pint of butter, one pint of juice from green vines and leaves of the pole bean. These three ingredients were steamed slowly together until the mixture formed a soft salve. Persons using the cure for cancer must refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages, fat meats, or any oils, drinking for liquids only water, buttermilk, or liquid from Tom Fulla (boiled corn). She was very ambitious for her children. They each went to Missionary Schools at Goodland where the oldest sons, William and Ben Franklin finished, then going to Choctaw College in what is now Blue County, Kentucky. They spent five years in this college where William finished in law.
William returned home for a vacation and early one morning he took his dogs and started on a dear 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 dear 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, AYou 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 her 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 at the Chief=s home. They renewed old friendships and had a big feast of deer meat and ABota Koopsa@, William=s favorite Indian dish-Tom Fuller, cold flour, bunnahhah 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 fled to the arbor; the groom ran also and caught her about the time she reached 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. Last but not least they received two negro slaves, Mose and his wife, Fanny. This happy couple established their home at Roebuck Lake, a home constructed of hewed cedar logs, two stories with and additional room on the back. It was very large with side porches. Like his father, the Honey King, 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. The toll for grinding the meal was one-eight of meal, and exchange of products being used for money then. He also had a sorgum mill run by mule power.
William and Polayah (Annie in English) reared a family of eight children there. The oldest boy Epraim fought in the Civil War and was killed in action at the battle of Poison Springs in Albert Pike=s Brigade. The second oldest, David, became Choctaw National Attorney. Edmond and Enoch were progressive farmers and cattle men. Maylinday was the fifth child. Two girls died in infancy. Rosa, the youngest daughter of Maylinday gave most of this history. She gave a few incidents that happened after her father, James Usray, married Malinday Roebuck.
Father (James Usray) was a cattle man, and made specialty of fine stock, white face Herfords and Red Durhams. One afternoon, Father noticed a white male buffalo among his stock and sent one of the hands to get him out of the herd, and sent him over to Harmon Homer=s who had mixed cattle. The buffalo roamed away on Hanubby Creek and got stuck in a bog and grandfather=s old negro slave, Dick Roebuck, found him almost dead. He knocked him in the head and skinned him and brought the hide to father who had it made into a beautiful rug. Father said this was the first white buffalo he ever saw and thought it must have strayed from cattle and buffalo rustlers out in Texas. Father=s home, six miles west of Hugo, was burned down, having caught from a prairie fire, and this buffalo rug burned with all furniture.
My father was bitterly opposed to the treaty of 1855. He was a delegate at the convention which was held at Doaksville and at this convention they signed three treaties in one. Doaksville and Skullyville are two of the oldest villages in the Choctaw Nation. Skullyville is now known as Spiro. My father=s father, Phillip Usray, lived at Marble City (now Sallisaw).
At the beginning of the Civil War grandfather was living alone, grandmother being dead, and all of his children married. He was quite wealthy in cattle, horses and mules. He was neutral and he sold the horses and mules to the Union side, delivering the stock at Fort Gibson and being paid in gold. On returning home he took his grandson, George Usray, home with him. Grandfather had a tin box that he called his safe in which he put his gold, his gold watch and grandmother=s jewelry. He wrapped a sheepskin rug around this box, got his spade and started toward the hills. He had to pass by the spring and he told little George to stay there until he came back. Then grandfather went into the hill and was concealed from view by hackberry bushes and he returned without the box. He told George never to tell a soul about their journey.
They went to the house, cooked their supper and had just finished, when they heard a knock at the door. Grandpa asked AWho is there@. A voice answered harshly, AOpen this door@. Grandfather was busy while talking, putting little George under the puncheon floor. They yelled at Grandpa to open the door or they would chop it down. He didn=t reply and they chopped down the door and in walked three masked men and demanded the gold. He told them he had worked hard for his gold; that he was too old to work now and too old for the war, and he didn=t intend to give it away either. They told him it was either gold or his life. He replied, AWell I only have one time to die and if now is the time, I am ready@. So they put a rope around his and jerked him along down to the limb on a tree and let him hang for a few seconds, then lowered him and asked if he was ready to tell where the gold was. He shook his head and said, ANo@. They then took their nippers and pulled his toe nails out, one by one. He still shook his head ANo@. They again hoisted him in the air for a few moments; again lowered him and asked if he was ready to talk. He shook his head again ANo@. They slapped his face and pulled his tongue out and cut it off, then they stabbed him in the heart and drew him up in the tree to die. They then ran to their horses, jumped on them and galloped away. During this punishment, little George had crawled out from under the house and witnessed everything and when they pulled grandpa=s toe nails, he shut his eyes and crammed his fist into his mouth to keep from screaming and when they cut out his grandfather=s tongue, he fainted. When he came to, grandpa was hanging in the tree and the men were gone. He crept up to him and called to him but no response. He then ran three miles crying and calling to his uncle, Tobe Usray, whose home he finally reached. When he told his uncle how they had murdered his grandpa, Uncle Tobe went over, cut his father=s body down and took it home and buried him in the old family graveyard near Skullyville. This old cemetery is supposed to be the oldest in the Choctaw Nation and I have read inscriptions on tomb stones there dated 1839. There are lots of the old graves with boards for markers that are said to be older than 1839. They buried some of the Choctaws who died soon after reaching Indian Territory, here.
There is another old grave-yard about three miles east of Hugo in an old apple and peach orchard. All of the Homers for four generations and their wives and children were buried here, some as early as 1838. I have been in this cemetery when parakeets, beautiful green birds, would come in droves in the fall and peck and eat the fine apples. My sister and I had to fight them away to keep them from destroying the orchard.
All of my relatives have hunted and dug all over the Kiamichi hills for the tin box of gold that grandfather buried but it still remains a secret, no one has ever found it.
These facts were gained from my grandfather, William Robak, (Roebuck in English), who assisted and comforted his mother, Polaya (Homer) Roebuck (Little Blue Hen) over the Trail of Tears. A part came from an old diary, from Bible records and from letters, as well as reminiscence of my Aunt Mary Homer, aged Choctaw, deceased.
Abstracted and submitted by Jami Hamilton <Jamialane@aol.com> 02-99