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Indian Pioneer Papers - Index

Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: June 12, 1937
Name: Andrew Riley
Post Office: Wilburton, Oklahoma, Star route, eight miles south west of Wilburton
Date of Birth: January 25, 1856
Place of Birth: Near Gainsville, Texas
Father: Alfred Riley
Place of Birth: Arkansas
Information on father: Died at the age of forty six.
Mother: Tolitha Gatliff Riley
Place of Birth: Newton County, Missouri
Information on mother: I do not remember when she died. She was buried in Texas.
Field Worker: Bradley Bolinger 
Interview #6358

Interview with Andrew Riley, age 81, Wilburton, Oklahoma


My father was forty six years of age when he died, and was buried in the Vaughan Cemetery in Arkansas. (?)

My mother's name was Tolitha Gatleff Riley. She was born in Fenton County, Missouri, but I do not remember much about her death, as I was a small boy. I think she was buried in the State of Texas. 

I was eleven years of age when my father came to the Indian Territory in the year of 1866. We settled in the neighborhood of where the town of Poteau is now located. We settled on a small creek called Sugar Loaf Creek. This creek ran along at the foot of what was called then Sugar Loaf Mountain. When the white settlers came to this Indian country in those days it was necessary for them to apply to the Indian Government for a permit to live in the Choctaw Nation. My father was a white man. This permit allowed us to settle on the amount of land we needed and start to improve it. Improvements were in the way of building rail fences and building a house. This would entitle the white settler to have possession of any land in the Indian Territory for a period of five years, without further charges or rent. When a white settler came to the Indian country in those days, he did just as my father. There was an unlimited amount of timber in the country then. Trees of all sizes which were needed to build a log house. The white settler's location could not be any closer to an Indians place in those days than from one quarter of a mile to a half of a mile from the border of the Indian's land.

I was nineteen years of age when I met my wife. I was working at a sawmill that had been set up in the country. I also farmed a little and worked around this Mill for about four years.

One of the first cotton gins that was ever moved to the Indian country was put in the country east of what is now Poteau. There were no towns whatever in those days in this country. I worked at this first cotton gin when they got it ready to run. This was a gin of the old type and it was powered by eight horses, hitched two abreast and traveled in a circle. Those four teams were hooked to four beams fastened to a large turn table that turned the machinery of the gin. Four bales of cotton to be ginned in one days time was a good days work. These bales would weigh in the neighborhood of five hundred pounds each. All the cotton raised in the Indian country was raised by the white settlers who located in the country.

When I was a boy between the age of ten and fifteen years the Choctaw Indians just lived around in cabins all over the country. The Indian men did not do any of the work around the cabin home. The Indian women did all the work. They went out and raised the little corn patch so they could make their bread, and Tom Fuller. They did all the work that was necessary around the cabin. The Indian men did the hunting and furnished the family with meat and some lard. This country was full of wild game of all kinds in those days, such as wild hogs and deer and turkey. The Indian women in those days would go to the cane breaks on the creeks and gather cane and split this cane into small thin strips, and weave it into baskets. Most of the Indian women were very good in making these baskets because they were well made. After they had raised their corn for their bread, they had a large piece of wood cut off of a good sized tree. This piece would be about three feet long and it would be burned out to a hollow cup shape on the end and set up. They used a small mall to beat the corn up in this log so that they could get all the husks off the corn. 

Along in 1873 and 1874, I had my first experience with the Choctaw Indians when they got sick. Some of the family went out in the woods and dug roots, and herbs and brought them in and cooked them down to a strong tea, which they gave to the sick one. There were no doctors in this country in those days and the nearest one that I knew of was in Fort Smith. If the Choctaw was very sick he usually did not get well.

When I was a boy they just buried their dead in one corner of the yard, as there were no cemeteries nor public burial grounds in those days. 

In the later years they began to select places on the top of some of the high hills for cemeteries. They would dress the dead Indian just in the everyday clothes that he had been wearing, and build a box out of any kind of rough sawed lumber without dressing the box in any form. They just laid the body in the bare box and fastened a top on it and put it in the grave. 

Many of the white settlers who moved to this country in the early day thought that there were treasures or money buried in the graves with some of the old Indians who were more intelligent than others. In many places they would go and dig into these old Indian graves but nothing was ever found. My information regarding the Indian burials and what they buried with them is that there was a very few things such as his gun and the rest of his clothes and small personal articles that they buried with the Indian. In most every instance when there was a dead Indian they always built a log cabin, with a split board top on it, over his grave. Many of these little cabins in the graveyards have all rotted away, and there are only a few remains lying around the grave. In some instances the better educated Choctaws would, when some of their family died, go out in the hills and get a large natural rock and chisel some notations on it and used it as a head and foot marker.

When I was a younger man in this country there were no roads to travel on. When you had to go some place you traveled mostly on horseback and would start in a straight line as near as possible across the country. There was the road that was built before the Civil War across this county called the Military Road and it ran from Fort Smith to the Texas border. There were two stops in this county in those days. One was where Red Oak is now located and the other was at what is Mountain Station on the top of a high mountain several miles southwest of what is now Wilburton. The soldiers of Fort Smith built this road in order that they would have some way to travel over the Territory of the Indian tribes in order to help protect them. There was a stage coach that ran over this road and they would always stop at these stations and feed and water their teams. There were always four horses hitched to the stage.

Near where Red Oak is now located was one of the first stations, and an old Indian court house which was started in the country. This county was named by the Choctaws as Gaines County in those days.

Along about the time Green McCurtain got to be Governor of the Choctaw Tribe there were several white settlers located in this country and many of the younger whites had married into the Choctaw tribe and become what they called then an intermarried citizen. At that time there were two factions in the Choctaw tribe. One faction was against the white settlers coming into this country and settling, as they claimed the white man was coming in and taking the Indian's land away from him. They were even against this country being accepted for Statehood. Green McCurtain was an educated full-blood Indian. He was educated in the south, and was well liked by the Choctaws and was for getting all their land measured and sectionized so that they could tell what was theirs and what was not. McCurtain won out in his efforts to get this done. He was a good Indian who wanted his tribe to have every thing that belonged to them, and he generally got most of what was right. 

The Choctaw Indians in the day of their own Government had a great honor system, as there were no prisons anywhere in the nation. When an Indian committed a crime which was as serious as murder, was found guilty, he was permitted to go back home after his trial and get his personal affairs in line. Even though he had been notified by the Indian Court of the day of his execution he would always report. The Choctaws thought there was no other place where they could live unless they lived among their own people, and in their own nation. They would report, even to be executed, rather than try to leave the country. The town of Wilburton came into existence along about the time the Choctaw Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad came through this county, and along about the time coal was found, and production was started. Wilburton became a good sized town in almost one year.

Transcribed for OKGenWeb by Lola Crane coolbreze@cybertrails.com  November 2001.