Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wiley Homer, Minister, Educator and Leader Among Choctaw Freedmen

Enrollment Card of Wiley Homer with photo superimposed.
Source of Card: NARA Publication M1186, Choctaw Freedman Card 491

Reverse side of enrollment card reflecting information on parents

     Born about 1851 in the Red River Valley of the southern part of the Choctaw Nation, Wiley Homer was the son of two Choctaw slaves, Isom McCoy and Adaline Shoals. Little is known how he became separated from his parents and became a slave of the Homas, a Choctaw family, but it would be their surname that he would retain throughout his life, even after the Treaty of 1866 which brought freedom to Wiley and to his parents.

      His father was from the nearby Chickasaw Nation, and his mother Adaline was from Kiamitia and was last enslaved by William Roebuck but at one time enslaved as a Shoals. Wiley grew up in the cattle country and saw many of the cattle drives that ran through the southern part of the Choctaw Nation. During his teenage years and shortly after freedom began his effort to educate himself, and to teach himself how to read, by learning the names of the various cattle brands and what ranches they represented.

     He was said to begin by drawing outlines of the cattle brands in the sand. And eventually he became so skilled that his employer hired him to find stray cattle of his with the "A.B." brand. He demonstrated by writing in the sand that he could do that and his intelligence was duly noted by those for whom he worked.

     The book Choctaw Freedmen, Oak Hill Academy reveals a great deal about leaders in the southern part of the Choctaw Nation. According to author Robert Flickinger, after freedom came, the young Wiley Homer obtained a small primer and first reader and began to earnestly study. It was no longer illegal for slaves to learn to read and Wiley took full advantage of the opportunity to learn. Evenings and spare time were spent trying to read, and with time he was given a small catechism and religious book which would launch his life into a new direction. Though working as a farm hand during those difficult year right after freedom, all free time he would spend pouring through pages, learning new words, and writing, often in the dust, to improve upon his skill.

     One summer Wiley was given the privilege of having a true teacher, and he was limited to these instructions only on Sabbath afternoons, after all church services were over. But he devoured his lessons and learned how to read Biblical names and places correctly, and also perfected his skills in language and reading. In exchange for these lessons he had to split 250 oak rails. Though a enormous task, this was a small price to pay for learning.

     His skills in reading then lead to him becoming well sought by Freedmen in the community, to read and occasionally write for many former slaves. This precious skill also lead to his becoming a leader in the small church community that developed. Within a few short years, while still in his early twenties, Wiley Homer became an elder in his church, which was sponsored by the Presbyterian missionary outreach.  He was the elder of Beaver Dam and Hebron Churches in Grant, Indian Territory.

     In 1914, the book Choctaw Freedmen, Oak Hill Academy, by Robert Flickinger contained a fascinating biography of Wiley Homer, and his service to the Freedmen religious community of that part of the Choctaw Nation, which was largely Presbyterian.

      "In 1893 he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Choctaw and assigned the pastoral care of Beaver Dam and Hebron churches. On Sept. 28, 1895, by the same Presbytery, meeting at Oak Hill Academy, now known as the Alice Lee Memorial, he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry. He continued to serve Beaver Dam, his old home church, until Oct. 1, 1912, when, after a pastorate of twenty years, he was honorably retired from the active work of the gospel ministry. In 1904 he secured the erection of a commodious chapel at Grant that, during the next five years, served also as the most convenient place for holding the neighborhood school. After serving Hebron about ten years on alternate Sabbaths, in connection with Beaver Dam, he relinquished that field and served Sandy Branch and Horse Prairie, each a short period."

     As a young man, Wiley Homer had married Laney Colbert not long after freedom. They had ten chilldren but only five lived to adulthood, Susan, Mary Shoals, Hattie Lewis, Sarah Williams and Lincoln Homer. When his wife Laney died, he then remarried a second wife, Rhoda with whom he had additional children.

     In 1912, he retired from the Presbytery, from active ministry. For many years, his name was often mentioned as a leader and orator, but as the 20th century melted away, much of his influence on the religious life as well as the literacy of former slaves from the Choctaw Nation was simply forgotten.

Presbytery of Kiamitia 1914 (Wiley Homer stands to the right), Garvin, Oklahoma

     Stories such as the story of Wiley Homer are important, because if one relies solely upon the data from the Dawes cards and Dawes interviews, much will be lost. Wiley Homer's life should be remembered for he gave so much of his life to the community, and his legacy should endure. His Dawes application jacket revealed nothing of his efforts to bring knowledge to those once enslaved. His Dawes application in fact only focused upon the fact that he had once been enslaved, and by whom. His rich legacy was simply not mentioned, and of no interest.

     But Wiley Homer was truly a man of influence in the communities around Grant and Garwin, and  many learned to read because of his inspiration, and his legacy affected many Freedmen families for years, although now his name is almost forgotten. Many attended Oak Hill Academy because he encouraged other families to have their children educated.

Therefore, his life is shared here, so that perhaps this small piece of the Choctaw Freedmen history, this small piece of Oklahoma History and even this small piece of Black Presbyterian history, will also be remembered.

Wiley Homes  with members of the chapel at Grant, I.T. in 1904
Source: The Choctaw Freedmen, by Robert Elliott Flickinger, 1914

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Remembering Squire Hall, Forgotten Lawman from the Choctaw Nation

Image of unidentified lawman from Indian Territory

Just west of Ft. Smith Arkansas, one finds the small town of Ft. Coffee, Oklahoma, one of the many historically black towns in that state. And a small garden near one of the residents' home is the actual cabin site where a man of distinction and honor once lived in his small cabin. His name was Squire Hall, and his history has been overlooked.

He was a Choctaw Freedmen, who lived near the old Choctaw settlement of Skullyville for most of his life. His amazing history was revealed in an interview from the Oklahoma Pioneer Papers, which are part of the Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma. He was a son of a man called Jake Hall, who died during the Civil War. It was said that Jake assisted the Hall family when some were wounded during what was part of a slave uprising in 1861. Jake later died during the Civil War.

Source: University of Oklahoma, Western History Collection, 
 Indian Pioneer Papers, Volume 37, Interview with Squire Hall
Source: Same as above

Squire was a young child at the time and after the Civil War he lived with his mother when they were allowed to remain in the same community and live on a small parcel of land in Skullyville community in the Choctaw Nation. 

He spent his young years learning how to handle horses and cattle, and basically worked as a cowboy on the large ranches in the area. He spent much time in the interview describing how they would handle wild horses and he admitted that chasing horses was something that he truly loved, more than attending the local neighborhood schools.

Source: Same as above

His distinction came from the fact that he also served as a deputy sherriff in his part of the Choctaw Nation. The area eventually became what is now LeFlore County, Oklahoma.

Source: Same as above

If not for this interview, nothing else about this man who served for four years as a deputy sheriff would be known. 
How was he received when on duty? 
Was he respected as a lawman? Was he feared?  
Are there records to be found that reflect those years when we was a deputy sheriff?

This is probably one of those mysteries without answers, but he served the frontier during the era of other black lawmen who served the Western District Court of Arkansas. But his service was to the Choctaw Nation. 

Will more be found? 
Will his name be remembered in local county histories? 
Will his name be revered by the townspeople and fellow Freedmen? 

Only if his story is continually told.

Squire Hall eventually took his own land allotment as a Choctaw Freedmen and remained in what is now Ft. Coffee for the rest of his life. Several of his descendants also live in the Ft. Coffee Community today.

Source: Same as Above

The enrollment card of Squire Hall, is found among the Dawes Cards of Choctaw Freedmen. He and his wife are listed on Choctaw Freedmen Card #704.

Source: National Archives Publication M1186, Enrollment Cards 
for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914.

The reverse side of the card confirms the name of his father and mother.

Source: Same as above card

By studying the enrollment cards,one can see that there was a family tie to the Hall family, although his Dawes card only reflects his relationship to Walker Folsom. There are many genealogical clues that encourage further study, especially when combined with data from the Pioneer Papers Interview.

No photos have surfaced of this fascinating man from Choctaw country, but hopefully more data will allow his name to be said and his story to unfold and for him not to be forgotten.