November is Native American Heritage Month, a time I celebrate on this blog with something special. This year, I’m sharing some correspondence from Norma Roberts, a proud Pawnee who for years was the R.N. on duty at Fort Worth’s legendary Stock Show. Norma’s retired now and as sharp as ever. Highly intelligent, kind and perceptive.
There's a great picture of Norma on her Facebook page.
I first heard from Norma several years ago while I was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s ombudsman. She contacted me after reading a column I’d written that was focused on a Native American issue. She treasures her Native heritage. She mentioned that as a little girl she’d been a student at the Pawnee Indian School in Oklahoma where children were not allowed to speak their language and were not treated with the dignity they deserved. She didn’t go into detail, but Norma’s mention of her experience touched me deeply and has continued to do so. Here’s another alum’s personal memories of the place and some photos.
If there was a biography of Norma, I’d buy it in a second. It would trace her exceptional life on an Oklahoma farm and in the Pawnee school before she went on to graduate from TCU’s vaunted nursing program and pursue a medical career. Took a lot of courage and spiritual strength. Many people and many important leaders know Norma and respect her.
When Norma e-mailed me last August, I was on a road trip conducting some research for what I hope will be a book about my mother, the late songwriter Jewell House of Texarkana, Texas. My Cherokee blood comes from my mother and her mother, the late Minnie Mae Treece Hancock who was born and reared on Sand Mountain in Jackson County, Ala., and on back. My paternal grandfather, Roy House, was Indian as well, but he was killed in El Paso in 1925, and never shared any information with the family about his heritage, which was a very common practice rooted in fear of vicious prejudices that were and continue to be deeply rooted in white culture. I don't know his Nation. Maybe he was Cherokee, too. Looks to be. Just not sure. There's a picture of him on my Facebook page.
So there in August I got an email from Norma, which led to a few more, which rekindled my interest in Norma’s story. Over the months, as we’ve had time we’ve exchanged some thoughts. I’ve kept them, hoping to post them to mark Native American Heritage Month. Here, with Norma’s permission, are Norma's e-mails virtually unedited so as to keep that good sense of Norma that one gets from reading her correspondence. They stir compelling thoughts to help keep Native American Heritage Month going long after November's behind us.
David, if you've checked the INDIAN NEWS I mentioned, there is an article about a young Navajo Indian, JACOBY ELLSBURY, baseball player, noted as a CANDIDATE for A.L.MVP.! It mentions he's from the Colorado Indian Reservation; I had worked on that reservation in the USPHS Indian Hosp.! It's about time our young Indians are being recognized. Not since JIM THORPE, has anyone been mentioned; I had gone to the Indian School in Pawnee with some of the Thorpe boys.!! I'll be checking on Jacoby's career.
Also THANK YOU for the prayers, I appreciate that and likewise to you and family. ( : ) ++
I knew about Sam Bradford, just failed to mention him. There was another Indian Q.B. Sonny Six Killer played Pro, but don't recall for what team. I do try to keep up with the different athletes. My father
taught me a lot about sports when I was a teenager. I was the oldest of us 4 girls; no boys at home. I like to think I was his favorite; he always called me by my Indian name.
The Indian school was not a great place to be, but my parents sent my younger sister and me there when my Father joined the Army and my mother went to work in the Defense Plant in Okla. City. I think they thought we would be well taken care of/go to school. WRONG.!
I consider you Indian, David, so don't dwell on the "mixed blood" thing. I'm also proud of our Indian men.....I've never heard of any of them refusing to enlist or burning their draft card. If it happened I never knew it.
Not sure if I ever told you, both my Grandfathers were chiefs in our tribe. Lot of info about them.
I'm just rambling on, but I like people to know about my heritage.
Later.....CHUTUKSEWAH. we don't have an alphabet, so we try to write what we hear*****That's my Pawnee name
I sometimes write when I've thought of something.
My Grandfather, Wm. Mathews, was the Medicine Man/Doctor in the tribe. When he performed some healing on a person and the family could not pay monetarily, they would pay him with horses, cattle, other livestock. That's how he/family built up the farm/ranch. He was my mother's father; she did tell us SOME things that he did. His Pawnee name was translated as BUFFALO CHIEF.He died when I was 18 mos. old, so I don't remember him. Don't know why my mother wouldn't tell us more. However, she did tell us that when he was called to perform the healing on a person, it was quite unique. He always danced in the circle while the men sang his special religous song; he took on the image of a horse. No one else could do that and when he finished his dance, the Tribe always remarked, "OK, it's finished." Then people could talk again and leave the ceremony. I do remember my Grandmother (his wife ) telling us he put a SACRED BUNDLE in the upstairs of the house. We were not to bother it or untie the blanket around it, it was placed on a Buffalo robe on a trunk filled with some of his personal things. I would have liked to see him perform his special dance. It was called appropiately THE DOCTOR DANCE. He never spoke English and mother told us he would speak Pawnee to all the animals and they seemed to understand and obey him. He was from the Kitkehauke and Chaui bands. Our tribe is or was divided into 4 bands: Kitkehauke, Chaui, Pitahaurerat and Skidi.
NOW, comes my paternal Grandfather, Rush Roberts, Sr. he was the principal chief of the tribe until his passing at the age of 99! He comes from the north and was an orphan at the age of 15 or 16. He survived the Sioux massacre by grabbing onto a horse running by and made himself lay straight against the horse. The U.S. govt. intervened and transported the remainder of the tribe to Nebraska. I'm sure you've heard stories about Indians dying of cholera and other diseases. The tribe lost a lot of the people and once again the Sioux traveled to Nebraska & killed a lot of my tribe. So the govt. sent the remainder to Oklahoma on the reservation. I guess the Sioux decided not to go there.
A short time after the tribe was settled, the U.S. Army went to Pawnee to recruit for scouts to go up north to fight the Sioux. My Grandfather's aunt/uncle persuaded him to enlist, though he was the youngest scout. The Pawnee were long-distance runners and great scouts. They helped to capture some of the Sioux chiefs. Grandfather was the youngest scout and lived to be the oldest. When he died, a lot of the Sioux came for his funeral. They told the family they had a lot of respect for him and wanted to be there. Grandpa was Skidi and some elders who have long passed away said our tribe was closely related to the Arikara tribe up north; they were able to speak/understand each other whereas no other tribe could. My Grandfather's Pawnee name: LATAH-COTS-KAH-LAHARA was known as FANCY EAGLE, CHIEF OF THE GRAND PAWNEE. He was also the only tribesman to give someone a Pawnee Indian name. He gave me mine***CHIEF'S DAUGHTER.
The Skidi band of the Pawnee are considered the Top/Superior-more sophisticated of the 4 bands.!!! I was given the choice of which band I wanted when I was a teen-ager and I chose the Skidi. Riled my mother throughout the yrs.!! My father and I would tease her and she didn"t like that!! there were times when my parents were speaking in Pawnee, my father would say a word or phrase my mother didn't understand and he would have to explain to her. Must have been a hold-over from the Arikara side.
I do have one regret among many: Every morning, my father would go outside, facing towards the east and sing Pawnee songs. I never thought to record him. He had a great voice. Another regret, I could speak Pawnee and Wichita at a young age and when I went to the Indian school, we were not allowed to speak our native tongue, so I lost all that. If we ever got caught by the Matrons at the school, we were severely punished. I sometimes remember words or phrases, have forgotten how to carry on a conversation.
Incidentally, the Indian news report that an Oglala Sioux youngster shot some police this afternoon. Apparently, he was drinking!
Did I ever mention the govt. issued the names to the Indians because they could not pronounce or spell their Indian names.? My father was named after his father/my grandfather. His name was Rush Roberts, Jr., Pawnee name was GOOD HAWK. I don't know how to pronounce his Pawnee name. He was an hereditary chief of the Tuhitspiat clan of the Skidi Band of the Pawnee. He died in Fort Worth, All Saints Hospital, Dec.4,1975. He always wanted me in the hosp. room with him so he could call me; he would call CHUTUKS.
I stayed with him night/day. He helped me go to TCU-HARRIS COLLEGE OF NURSNG and I was so greatful. When he sensed he was dying, he spoke to us individually. Most of the Oklahoma relatives came to say their good-byes. When he started talking to me, I started crying so hard, almost made myself sick. He told me not to cry but to help take care of my mother and sisters. He went very peacefully; I was a complete Basket Case. There was a very nice writeup in the Star-Telegram. A lot of people came to pay respects; lot of them we didn't know. He was dressed in his full Pawnee clothes for his trip back home. He was at Harveson-Cole. My mother's brother came from Anadarko to dress him. We always dress our own family; don't know if other tribes do that. One of our traditions is the deceased will wear moccasins.
Just a little " history info " for you.
My computer CRASHED last eve., after my last msg. to you. I managed by myself to re-start it and I know absolutley zilch about these monsters!
If you ever have time to ck your computer, you might like to read up on the Pawnee tribe history, etc. Go to Pawnenation.org. I've been reading/learning about my own people!! The Skidi are called the Wolf band. I signed up on Twitter and tried to add your name/email address......
Sorry, just noticed I didn't spell Pawneenation correctly
This fact /info is true and I hope you'll remember it always***the Pawnee were noted to be the most cunning,famous HORSE THIEVES known all over. They could take a horse from a sleeping person without making a sound; the horses would co-operate and not make a sound either.!!!!
If you ever check your msgs., I have another Indian story to e-mail about the Crow Indians in Montana. We are supposedly distant related via Grandfather Fancy Eagle, then there are the Arikarah tribe I told you about being closer relatives. I guess the Crow nation helped at Little Big Horn and got the best of old Custer.!! The celebration is 5 days/5nights, if you can pull up the info on the Crow Celebration, it displays how the tribe sets up their Teepees; it's very elaborate. CK. IT OUT.! When the dances are completed for the yr.,they take down their Teepees and throw all their poles away. They never keep them to use again; it's always new poles for the next time.
Later ( : + )
David, I'm so glad to hear from you, I couldn't imagine what happened with you; and I'm certainly sorry to hear about your (illness). ... My nurse background and training sometimes take over. I hope I never lose that.
The Crow celebration is usually in August before the harsh winter sets it, since the reservation is so close to Canada. That wind comes with vengeance.!!! The tribe usually starts preparing for the winter right after the celebration. It's referred to as " The Crow Fair."
The Pawnee would always build their Living Quarters on the side of a high hill, and is known as an EARTH LODGE. They built them so large that their horses/livestock lived in there, too, with several families. They took great care of their horses. That's just a small info for you!!
I kinda got off the subject when you asked about the Indian School & I told you other things.
About the Indian School, I remember 2 things that could have been a tragedy for me. I contracted measles with 2 other young girls about my same age.....9 or 10. We were put in one room, 2nd floor of the "little girl's dormitory." One small bed that we shared, taking turns on the floor. The door was locked from the outside. Our meals were brought to us on trays, set on the floor, and the person left after knocking on the door. They treated us like we had leprosy.!! And we were let out about 3 times a day to go to the bathroom. What if there had been a fire? We had one small window to look out.
The other I remember.....I got very ill with pneumonia; my parents were working.....Think Mom was in OKC working in the defense plant, father was in the Army. We were allowed to march to town on the weekends. My Grandmother would come from the farm every weekend to see me and visit. That one weekend when I didn't show up in town, Grandmother asked some of the girls where I was...the girls told her I was sick in the dormitory. She got very upset. She called for the taxicab and went out to the school. Once again no adult ever checked on me; G-mother scooped me up in her arms and carried me out to the taxi ( she told him to wait ) and they took me to the Indian Hosp., which was nearby. The Dr. checked me and told G-mother I had pneumonia and I might die. I was put in an oxygen tent. I heard G-mother singing Pawnee songs, praying and crying. So you see, I guess I was too ornery/mean to die.!! I had always had a strong attachment to my Grandmother and after that incident I had a stronger, loving respect for her.
So David, I had a tough childhood; there are so many things that happened and I had not thought about them until now. This may not be what you wanted to know about the Indian School.
I had mentioned to Norma in a Facebook exchange that Andra, my wife, had given me a 1-hour Discovery Flight in a Cessna 172 as a birthday gift and how excited I was, because I'd always dreamed of flying like my dad, Charles House (who was a commercial pilot), but was denied that dream by a baseball injury when I was about 15. Always had thought it would be impossible to ever get my private pilot's license, but now, at age 67, had learned that it may be possible. Norma's reply:
I think one should live out their dreams before it's too late and I know you're happy with your wife's gift. I'm glad for you.
My Father worked at Convair and was fascinated with the planes. I never heard him say he would like to fly. He did work on the B-36 and entered a contest to name the plane; he was 2nd with his entry of GOLIATHAN. That plane interrupted our class at school. I went to C.F. Brewer. Seems like I told you before about my Father/planes; did I ? None of the family was allowed to use his tools out of his toolbox. He knew exactly where the tools belonged! I guess most mechaniclal engineers are like that. My favorite was the B-38, the HUSTLER. I wished I could fly when I was a lot younger, but I didn't pursue that.
About "the school," it was called Pawnee Boarding School; and other tribes went there. I don't know when it was built. It's a brown-stone building ( girl's dorm ), 2-story. The "little girls" stayed in the bottom and the "big girl's" were upstairs. I don't know about the boy's dorm; never went inside. The 2 dorms were seperated by the dining hall. We had to line up in front of the dorms, including the boys, and MARCH to the dining hall.!! The school acquired the name GRAVY U.!!! That's what was served most of the time. Whenever an Indian met another and asked, "Did you go to Gravy?," they knew what they were talking about. The school is about a mile east of the town of Pawnee. It's still there, but the buildings are now used for Govt. business.
When my parents had to leave for the Army (Father), mother had to go to work. I was taken to the boarding school for "safe" keeping since almost all the children stayed there all yr. I did learn to take up for myself.! Prior to that school, I spent about 2 yrs. with my mother's Uncle/wife in Anadarko. I started school there and when I went back with my parents in Pawnee, I went to the boarding school. When I enrolled, the teacher decided I was more advanced than the others. I was promoted to the next grade, so I skipped a grade. Then when my parents changed my school again, I went to a country school -- STAR-A-STAR.! Once again I was promoted to the next grade. Seems like I was more advanced than the class. Even when my Father took me to T.C.U., I was too young to start college. Spent that year downtown in a business college.
The boarding school took in students from the first grade through 9th grade, I believe. I don't know how many students were there.
The farm was the homestead, not quite 100 acres; Govt.-issued to my maternal grandparents. I think it was called an allotment. I remember a lot of good things on the farm. Learned to ride horses---Indian style---no bridle or saddle. We did put a rope in the lower jaw of the horse, that's all.
You can ask me most anything about our tribe. I think my grandfather was ahead of planning the building of the house. It was 2-story with a commode, bath tub and there was NO running water. we had to pump the water and carry the water into the house. Thank goodness, the windmill /pump was a few feet from the kitchen.
I never got to know my Grandfather. He died when I was about 20 months old. He was the Medicine Man of the tribe.
Writing this has brought back a lot of memories. TAKE CARE.......STAY HEALTHY.
One little tidbit: Did I mention I have a brother? His name is Bob Moline, western artist, lives here in Fort Worth.
Nowah, David.!!!!! (Osiyo, Norma)
I think I forgot to mention Bob is my adopted brother. Yrs. ago the Inter-Tribal club was trying to get their club together and put on dances and my parents voluntered to help them. Most of them lived close to Dallas. That was how the POW-WOW began at Trader Village. My Father was the tallest person, thus he stood out among the dancers. Bob became very curious/fascinated and asked to do sketches of him. Bob is self-taught. The mutual admiration started over 30 yrs. ago. My parents soon became attached to him and decided to adopt him into the family. They took him back to Pawnee and introduced him to the tribe and told Bob if he went among other tribes to mention he is from the Roberts' family. When he did go to Santa Fe, he was surprised how welcomed/treated he was. Grandfather Roberts was the stable master at the Indian school and a lot of the older Indians remembered my Grandfather and his wife, my father's mother; she was the "dining room matron." My father even went to school there. Bob has many paintings of father and he gave me one for my birthday, few yrs. ago and another for just being his sister!!!
Bob told me he had gone up north last summer and stopped at a museum in Nebraska and was surprised to see a large picture of Grandfather. I asked him if it was authentic and he said yes. I asked him if he told the curator he was his Grandson, said of course said they were glad to meet some of the family. They gave him a lot of pictures and sent him more when he got home.
Incidentally, Bob is Comanche! He wants to be considered PAWNEE. He wants a Pawnee name and asked me to help him. I told him we would have to ask the person that gives names. I asked him which Band he would like to be and he didn't hesitate and said SKIDI.!
Bob is a renowned saddlemaker and has made saddles for several Country/Western entertainers. He has his own designs and he's not cheap!! He also does bronzes, used to do watercolors, charcoal, but I don't know if he still does those. Have to brag on him....he did several oils of Father and they were on display in the COWBOY HALL OF FAME IN OKLAHOMA.
Well, David, i'll sign off for now; that pecan pie is calling me. I trust you and famiy had a great Thanksgiving.....
Yes, Norma, we did. And we all are doubly blessed this November, having these great stories from you. Thank you for taking the time to write them and for your permission to share them. To me, it's so very important for us to share stories about our heritage.
Respectful comments from anyone who reads this are most welcome. If you're Indian, what are some of your heritage-related memories?