Snow, OK

No stores, no school, no games: Winnie Benjamin's isolated life in the Choctaw Nation at Snow, Oklahoma

Native AmericansPhoto byKarsten WinegeartonUnsplash

Meet Winnie Cooper, young Choctaw native girl

During an interview conducted by fieldworker Johnson H. Hampton on June 10, 1937 in the town of Snow, OK, Winnie Benjamin shared some details about her life.

She was born near Mount Sion in Towson County, Choctaw Nation, sometime in May of 1872. Her father's name was Gilbert Cooper, but she doesn't remember her mother's name. Winnie explained that her parents were not from Mississippi, like so many of the Choctaws were, but had lived and died near Mount Sion, which was a church house built of hewn logs on two sides in the mountains.

The old church house built with logs had been there since Winnie was old enough to remember anything. At the time of the interview, the Indians continued to have their meetings there, and it was still called Mount Sion, although it had been renovated using lumber in recent years.

Winnie was unsure whether her father or grandfather had fought in the Civil War. She'd heard talk about the war, but her father never spoke of it. Winnie and her family lived in a mountainous area with no stores nearby. Therefore, her father had to go to Texas, possibly Clarksville, to get their groceries.

Living in isolation meant the family had to grow what they ate, and wear what they made

There were no stores or post offices in their part of the country, and they had a difficult time getting flour, coffee, and sugar.

Winnie's mother made meal out of the corn they raised by beating it in a mortar made out of a wooden block. They had wild game in the area, such as deer, turkeys, fish, and squirrels, so they could easily get meat when they needed it.

Her mother had a spinning wheel and a loom, and they raised a little cotton to make clothes, which they had to pick the seeds out of by hand. Winnie's mother would card the cotton and put it in rows, then spin it into thread and dye it with weeds, roots, and bark of trees to make black, blue, and yellow cloth. Winnie's mother would then make shirts, breeches, and dresses, which she sold to other Indians. She also made socks and cotton mittens to sell. Winnie said it was a lot of work to make the clothes.

Winnie had never seen an Indian ball game because her father, who'd converted to Christianity, felt the games were against his religion and didn't allow them to attend.

She never attended school, so she couldn't speak or write in English, but she could read a little in the Choctaw language. Winnie grew up and lived in the mountains and believed she would die there:

I am a full blood Choctaw. I have lived among the Indians all of my life. I lived mostly in the mountains and I guess I will live there until I die..."

Winnie had been told that she belonged to the Double Lake Clan, Hiyape Atukla mia baka tok oke, but did not know what it meant.

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Judy Derby has worked in the surrounding communities as a social worker and advocate. providing resources and information to help local families meet their basic needs. She's been writing about social issues and related topics for over 10 years.

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