MEET OUR ELDERS

The Choctaw Tribal Elders Oral History Project was launched in 2016 with the mission of capturing the stories & oral histories of Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians tribal members who grew up in Mississippi, Choctaw communities during the mid-20th Century.  Our Tribal elders are a valuable source of cultural knowledge.  It is our desire to make their stories available for younger and future generations.  Below you can find information and short life stories about elders who contributed to the Choctaw Tribal Elders Oral History Project.

Nellie Billy

Mrs. Nellie (Tubby) Billy lives in the Red Water community.  Her parents were Lewis and Effie (Bell) Tubby. She is a descendant of Chief Mashulatubby. She was part of the first graduating class of Pearl River High School (Choctaw Central High School) in 1964. She attended Haskell Institute in Lawrence, KS and Tougallo College in Madison, MS.  For many years she worked as a Choctaw language teacher for preschoolers before she retired. She is an active volunteer with her church.

Mrs. Billy has a number of hobbies including collecting recipes, quilting and sewing.  She is knowledgeable about traditional cooking, gardening, farming, Choctaw funeral custom, Choctaw hymns, and stories. She is a kind, dedicated, and outgoing person.

The Tall Tales of My Father  

“My father used to really enjoy telling Choctaw fables (Shokka Annompa), often laughing while telling us humorous stories.  Just before we went to sleep, he would like to sit and tell us stories. Sometimes he would tell a scary one.  We would be sitting apart from him when he started, but as he continued, we would move closer and closer to him until we were at his feet.”

Cubert Bell, Sr.

Mr. Cubert Bell, Sr. lives in Henning, TN. He was born in Philadelphia, MS to Willie and Lillie (Willis) Bell. He is a veteran of the US Marine Corps. Before he retired he worked at a few businesses including Firestone Tires and Sears Automotive.  He served as Community Center Director in Ripley, TN, and was employed as Assistant Director and tour guide at the Chuccalissa Museum, in Memphis, Tennessee.

A Passion To Learn To Read In Choctaw
“I was probably 7 or 8 years old, my grandmother and uncles would get letters from the homeland (Mississippi) all written in Choctaw, so you know, when they got through reading it, I would look at it, but I couldn’t tell what it said. So I fussed and fussed about it, and finally one of my uncles decided that he would start a Friday night Choctaw writing class.  That’s how I became proficient in reading and writing in Choctaw and able to teach it as well.”

John Mingo, Jr.

Mr. John Mingo, Jr. calls the Standing Pine community home. He was born in Kemper County Mississippi to Archie and Alice (Willis) Mingo and raised in Nanih Waiya community. He attended Pearl River Day School and attended high school in Chilocco, OK. He is an electrical engineer by trade.

Mr. Mingo is a rich source of Choctaw cultural knowledge and is skilled in making crafts like the blowgun, rabbit sticks, beading, stickball sticks, and wood carving.

Stickball Experience at the Choctaw Indian Fair
“I remember playing and enjoying stickball around the time Patsy Buffington became the first Choctaw Indian Princess (1955). And there’s some differences in the way stickball looks now and back then. Nanih Waiya had their first team, and that’s who I played with. At times, I wore a horse’s tail because of how fast I ran. I played the center, and when I ran, the horse tail would bob up and down.”

George Isaac

Mr. George Richardson Isaac resides in the Pearl River community. He was born at the Old Indian Hospital in Philadelphia, MS to the late Hugh and Celia (Farmer) Isaac. He attended Pearl River High School. Mr. Isaac is also a Deacon at Hope Indian Baptist Church.

Mr. Isaac enjoys outdoor activities like fishing, hunting, gardening and farming, and has a fondness for singing Choctaw hymns.

Practice makes perfect
“When there was a revival, the elders in the church would sing, and I would sit and listen to them sing. Sometimes I would bring a small recorder and record them, and later I would play the tape and sing along. If I messed up on a song, I would just play it back again and do it over. Sometimes I would hear a new song, and I would learn one stanza at a time until I learned it. I would listen to the tapes I made and that’s how I learned the hymn songs.”

Williamson Isaac

Mr. Williamson Isaac is a life-long resident of the Pearl River community in Neshoba County. His parents are the late Hugh and Celia (Farmer) Isaac. He attended Pearl River High School.

Mr. Isaac currently works in ground maintenance at Choctaw Health Department. He attends Hope Indian Baptist Church and serves as a Deacon. One of his favorite past times is singing Choctaw hymns. People who know him describe him as being a kind and dedicated individual. He’s also a talented musician and guitarist.

Waking To Heavenly Music
“My father was a godly man. He was always studying the Bible. He was a deacon, and then later became a preacher. One of my fondest memories was my father waking us up every morning to his singing Choctaw Hymns and quoting scripture in Choctaw.  He wanted God to guide our day.”

Harold Comby

Mr. Harold “Doc” Comby lives in the Pearl River community. He was born in the Standing Pine community and raised in the Pearl River community. His parents were Jones and Rosia (Isaac) Comby. He attended Pearl River Day School and Choctaw Central High School. He attended several different colleges and universities in the state of Mississippi.

Mr. Comby enjoys making a number of Choctaw traditional crafts like stickball sticks, beading, the Choctaw drum used at stickball games, and the Choctaw sash. Harold enjoys being an emcee at powwows and festivities. He is also knowledgeable about many Choctaw traditional beliefs & practices, and is dedicated to cultural preservation.

Words Of Wisdom On Coveting From My Parents
“My parents used to say, if it’s material things, it’s going to deteriorate, so why fight over it. Always put people first. You can always replace a chair, or a pickup truck, but you can’t replace a person. I think these are things we need to teach our folks, especially the young, so they will have an identity of who they are, and be proud of who they are.”

Peggy Thompson

Ms. Peggy S. Thompson lives in the Pearl River community. She was born at the Old Indian Hospital in Philadelphia, MS, in Neshoba County. She is the daughter of Steve and Oneva B. Thompson. Ms. Thompson attended Bogue Chitto Elementary School and graduated from Choctaw Central High School. She went on to attend East Central Community College and Mississippi State University, Meridian campus. She has worked in a variety of occupations with the Choctaw tribe and tribal schools.

Peggy’s hobbies include arts and crafts, in particularly sewing and beading. She also enjoys baking, Choctaw chants and dancing. She is knowledgeable about Choctaw weddings, traditional beliefs, dances, medicine, and clothing.

A Grandmother’s Legacy – Passing on Her Knowledge
“As a Grandmother, she taught me things like quilting. She did a lot of quilt work.  She made a lot of Choctaw Dolls out of rags, and that’s where she taught me how to do the Choctaw traditional trim work on the dresses. That’s how I learned how to sew from her; by making Choctaw doll dresses.”

R.J. Willis

R.J. Willis is a resident of the Pearl River community. He was born in Neshoba county to Cowin and Mollie Sissy Coleman (Tubby) Willis. He attended Pearl River Indian School. Mr. Willis was employed at Weyerhaeuser Plywood for 20 years. He is knowledgeable about Choctaw chants, games and farming. Mr. Willis is a self-taught musician.

Drawn To His Fiddle
“My father used to play the fiddle, and when he didn’t see me, I would find it and play with it. When he caught me with it, he would get on to me and say ‘Don’t touch it, you might break it.’ But I was always drawn to his fiddle, so when he went to work, I would try to play it. When I got a little older, I started to teach myself to play by listening to country shows on the radio and to other Choctaw fiddlers.”

Pearlie Thomas

Ms. Pearlie Thomas lives in the Bogue Homa community. She was raised in Conehatta, MS. She attended Conehatta Boarding school. She is currently employed as a Recreation/Community Youth Service Aide at the Bogue Homa Community Center.

Ms. Thomas’ hobbies are sewing Choctaw traditional dresses and shirts, beading, and playing softball. She is knowledgeable in Choctaw cultural arts such as traditional dances, basketry, and cooking. With her many talents and skills she has helped other tribal members learn about the Choctaw culture.

Learning the Art of Basket Making
“My mother taught me a few things, like putting together the bottom part of the basket (patali) but for the rest, like the sides and design of the basket, I would go to Martha Jim (a close family friend) for help. If I happened to get stuck on a direction to weave the basket, Martha would show me on which direction to take. Martha also showed me how to do the diamond design on the basket.  My mother also showed me a pattern and said ‘If you go by this, it will turn out the same.’ I kept trying until I learned how to do it.”

Billy Chickaway

Billy G. Chickaway was born in Neshoba County. He was raised in the Tucker Community and currently lives in the Conehatta Community. His parents were Henry and Annie Chickaway. He attended Tucker Day School, Ardmore High School in Oklahoma, and Choctaw Central High School in Choctaw, MS. He also attended various colleges in the state of Mississippi. He has worked in management positions in several entities and is now a Benefits Director for Pearl River Resort. Billy served his people in the Tribal Council in two consecutive terms.  He is a retired veteran of the Air National Guard-186 Air Refueling Wing in Meridian, MS. He reached the rank of Master Sergeant. Billy has a vast knowledge of Choctaw culture.

A Lesson From Morning Chores
“I remember as a youth that we had to hoe the garden before going off to school. We would go in the garden and do what the Choctaws call ‘Okchali’. That’s putting dirt in and around the plant and getting rid of the weeds. One time I was hoeing the garden and I accidently cut a plant. I looked around, checking if anybody saw me, and then I put the plant back into the ground and went on my merry way. Later on, my grandmother was working in the garden and came across the plant I had cut and saw that it had wilted and died.  After I came back home from school, she asked if I had cut a plant.  I told her I did cut it, but i replanted it.  She told me the plant had died.  I went to see for myself. I told her I will try not to do it again.  It was a teaching moment where she talked to me and showed me that these things (vegetables) will keep you alive, so you need to take care of it, I learned my lesson.”

Judie Isaac (1942-2017)

Ms. Judie Lene Isaac was a resident of the Pearl River community. Her parents were Wilburn and Mealie Isaac. She attended Tucker Day School and Pearl River High School. She worked as 4-H coordinator for 15 years, Choctaw Indian Fair Program assistant for 20 years, and also worked as Activity Coordinator for the Choctaw Elderly Center for six years. She was strong in her traditional beliefs and enjoys expressing her knowledge of the past.

Memories Of Past Choctaws Celebration
“The elders use to say that there would be a gathering, where they would slaughter a cow for the feast. They would also play stickball all day. In the evening, they would start dancing the Choctaw dances. It was told to me that they would dance all night. They said they would dance so much that they left deep impression on the ground they dance on.”

Thelma Barnes (1942-2018)

Mrs. Thelma R. (Jim) Barnes was born and raised in Philadelphia, MS, and attended Pearl River High School. She resided in the Pearl River community. She was the daughter of Vernon and Elsie (Willis) Jim.

Mrs. Barnes was a veteran of the US Army Reserves. Before retiring, she worked as a nurse at the Choctaw Health Center in Choctaw, MS.

Mrs. Barnes enjoyed a variety of hobbies including sewing, beading, reading, and cooking. She loved to sing Choctaw hymns. Mrs. Barnes was a well-rounded individual who lives with passion, dedication, and grace.

Bobby Joe

Bobby Joe was born in Kemper County Mississippi. His parents were Effie Joe and Henry Joe. He attended Bok Ćito School. He worked a variety of jobs, and was employed for 17 years at U.S. Motors. Bobby enjoyed hunting small game as a youth. He learned to Chant from his Father (Henry Joe) and Prentiss Jackson. He was an ardent teacher in Choctaw Dances and Songs. He loved to share his knowledge of Choctaw Traditions.

My Father’s Influence
“My daddy was a Chanter. I learned to sing by listening to him. I remember when I was younger he was asked to chant for a group at the Choctaw Fair. I got interested by watching him chant.”

Grover Chitto

Mr. Grover Chitto lives in the Conehatta community. He was born in Walnut Grove, MS and raised in Chicago, IL. His parents were Jefferson and Bernice Chitto. He attended Lakeview High School. Grover enjoys playing chess. He is knowledgeable about Choctaw basketry, beading, hunting, gardening, fishing, cooking, and Choctaw dances.

Laline Farve

Mrs. Laline Farve lives in Standing Pine community and was raised in Conehatta, MS. She attended Conehatta Elementary School until the third grade. She is the daughter of Johnny and Mammi Lewis. She worked in a variety of occupations including sharecropping. She enjoys her time with friends at the Choctaw Elderly Center. She is a seamstress, , making her own dresses and traditional Choctaw clothing. Though in her early eighties, she continues to make dresses.

Fun Playing Washers
“I remember they would play washer throw, somebody would set a time, and they would play into the night, sometimes almost til morning.”

Melba Smith

Mrs. Melba Jean (Bell) Smith lives in the Pearl River community. She was born and raised in Neshoba County on the Choctaw Reservation. Her parents are Frank K. Bell, Sr. and Ivenia (Lewis) Bell. She attended Pearl River Indian School and graduated from Choctaw Central High School. She attended East Central Community College. Her occupation is Patient Benefits Director at Choctaw Health Center. Melba has a vast knowledge of past cultural traditions and is proud of her Choctaw heritage.

A Family Feast
“I remember when it was winter, and there were no stores to go to, families would gather to hunt and to eat together. The men did the hunting, mostly rabbits and squirrels, and the women would gather at an appointed place and prepare to cook. Even if it was cold, we would gather together.”

Donna Williams

Donna Williams is from the Bogue Chitto community. Ms. Williams learned the traditional techniques in preparing corn from her mother Mable Jackson and her uncle John Levi Bell. She’s one of the few that prepares and cooks hominy using the traditional method for her family on special occasions.

Donna took up the tradition of hominy making at the encouragement of John Levi Bell. “When Momma used to do it I would watch and helped out, but I never did it all by myself until John Levi got me started and brought this wood mortar to me.”

 Richard Thompson

Mr. Richard Thompson was born and raised in Philadelphia, MS, and resides in Tucker community. His parents were Tubby and Palonia (Willis) Thompson. He attended Tucker Day School, Chilocco Indian School, Foothill Community College, DeAnza Community College, and Bay Valley Technical School. He lived in California for 45 years and was employed as an electrical engineer. Mr. Thompson is a Veteran of the Army Reserves and National Guard. He enjoys different sports and electronics. Working on his farm as a youth helped him to develop a strong work ethic. His leisure time included hunting, and fishing.

Keys To Hunting
“[To hunt] you gotta be real patient. You gotta be… You need [to know] a lot of things that animals do…they don’t come around the middle of the day. They only come around evening time or early morning. I needed [that] kind of training, which I learned from my uncle, father, grandfather. …That training made me a very good hunter.”

Roger Smith

Roger Richardson Smith resides in the Pearl River community. He was born to Clement and Mallie (Solomon) Smith and raised in the Conehatta Community. He attended Conehatta Elementary School and Choctaw Central High School. Mr. Smith has worked in a variety of occupations like sharecropping, driving for Dallas Transit in Dallas, TX, BIA road maintenance and construction, a truck driver for KLLM, and a 911 dispatcher for Choctaw fire and ambulance. He served in the United States Army. As a youth, Roger learned how to hunt with Choctaw Rabbit Sticks and would join his relatives on rabbit hunts.

The Hunt
“We didn’t have car so we (relatives) would walk to where we were going to hunt. My uncle usually came with us and he had a lot of hunting dogs. When the dogs spotted a rabbit, we would get ready because a rabbit usually circles back around to where he started to run. Sometimes we got’em, sometimes we didn’t. that’s the way it was.” 

Elizabeth Allen (1947-2018)

Elizabeth Allen was a lifetime resident of the Bogue Chitto community. Her parents were the late John Levi Bell and Maggie Wallace Bell. She was raised in a family that practiced many Choctaw traditions. She was best known for her desire to share her heritage with the younger generation. She credited her father for instilling her with strong family values, work ethic, and the love for Choctaw culture.

We Ate What We Raised
“When we were children, Daddy [used] to do that – he was a cotton planter and corn planter. He [used] to plant a garden and it was from the garden we ate. And [we did] not go to store. Not like how we eat today.”