Alice E. Cummings

A Biographic Sketch

Submitted by: Jeane Barthel Freeman

Transcriber Note: I am not related to Mrs. Cummings.

Dividing Line

Indian Pioneer History
November 4-5, 1937
Mary D. Dorward, Investigator
Alice E. Cummings
A Biographic Sketch
From a personal interview with the subject
420 West 11th Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Alice E. Cummings came to Muskogee, Indian territory from Chamois, Missouri, in April 1886, shortly after the big fire in Muskogee. The husband of Mrs. Cummings' aunt was a foreman in charge of construction of the M.K.& T. Railroad and was at that time stationed in Muskogee.

I was a widow dependent upon my own efforts for a livelihood and through my aunt, was persuaded that there was a good business opportunity in Muskogee so I came and opened a millinery shop.

It was necessary of course before opening a business for a non-citizen of the Creek Nation to secure a permit, which had to be signed by two fullblood Creek citizens. I was delayed in getting my permit and was becoming uneasy about it. My first customer, Mrs. Gilmore, wanted her hat for the coming Sunday and I had the hat all ready but could not let her have it until I had my permit. She finally told me to see a Creek named Chisso. I hunted him up and told him what I wanted. He said never a word but turned around and walked off. I returned home much discouraged, feeling that I had failed, but about two hours later here came Chisso and handed me the permit, saying merely, "Here permit." I had in the meantime told Mrs. Gilmore to take her hat but not to pay me until I had the permit. After she had gone I found the money for it, four dollars, on the stove in the kitchen where she had laid it.

That first permit was valid for six months and cost me two dollars. Towards the end of that time I was beginning to think about a renewal of it and was wondering if I would have to go through the same procedure as at first, when promptly on the day of its expiration came Chisso with a new permit.

My shop was in a room at the side of my aunt's house, along what is now Okmulgee Street, known at that time as Okmulgee Road, and along the Katy tracks. Mine was not the first millinery shop in Muskogee, but the other milliners had not yet gotten on their feet again after the fire. My business was good right from the start, and good throughout the year not just for one or two or three seasons. Pleasant Porter was one of my customers. He brought his wife in one day and bought twenty-five dollars worth of stuff. There was a hat for Mrs. Porter and one for a little girl, besides ribbons, velvets, feathers, etc.

The Indians were my best customers. They never asked for cheap things nor asked the price of anything. They just pointed at what they wanted and said, "How much?" and always paid cash. The boys from Bacone College used to come in and buy feathers. I carried little bright-colored feathers, three on a stem which sold for fifty cents. They would buy these and keep in their pockets while they were in town, but when in the country they would bring them out of hiding and put them in their hats.

There were sometimes amusing experiences, too. One day a woman came in and, even before looking over my things, said, "I wish I had bought my hat while I was in the East." Duly impressed I asked, "What part of the East did you come from?" Her reply almost floored me when she said, "Arkansas."

I married again after coming to the Territory. My husband was Walter Cummings, who worked for the railroad. It was forbidden to sell whiskey in the Territory to the Indians, but the railroad was permitted to keep whiskey on its own property and sell to its employees. One of the employees was a man named George Scott who would come and drink along with the others. One day he drank too much and got drunk. All at once he began to gobble like a turkey, grabbed an axe and started to kill the others. They cleared out of the shack in a hurry and that was the first they knew that George Scott was an Indian. He looked just like a white man.

We sometimes had unusual experiences with the Indians. One morning a big Creek came to my aunt's house and sat down on the porch without ever saying a word. He sat there all morning. Lunch time came and my aunt fed him, still without his saying anything, and he sat all through the afternoon. When it began to get dark he looked up and said, "When do you think Mr. Allen (her husband) will be home?" If he had asked in the first place she could have directed him where to find Mr. Allen early in the morning.

We never had cause to fear them in any way. An Indian once rode up on a horse to my aunt's house at night and said "Wife sick. Want white woman." My aunt got up on the horse behind him and rode off into the country about twenty miles. She was gone for several days and someone said to her Husband, "Ain't you afraid to have her go off with that Indian that way?" My uncle replied, "No, she can take care of herself. They won't hurt her."

When the last Indian council was held at Fort Gibson there were many foreign Indians passing through Muskogee. One morning several of them were lined up along the wall in a butcher shop when my uncle went in. They were wearing blankets and evidently nothing else. My uncle went up to one and said, "Aren't you cold with nothing on?" The Indian pointed to my uncle's face and said, "Cold?" Uncle said, "That's my face. It ain't cold." The Indian said, "Me all face," and with that spread open his blanket and he didn't have a thread on under it.

One family of Cherokees were unusually large and powerfully built. Their name in English was West, but in Cherokee it was Strongarm. They were so strong that the Cherokee Nation had passed a law forbidding any of that family to raise a hand against another Indian because they could kill a man just with a blow from the fist.

Early day restaurants in Muskogee left much to be desired in the way of cleanliness and quality of food. My nephew once got a job in a downtown restaurant where he was supposed to have his meals as part of his pay but he always went back home to eat.

My daughter, Maude Cummings Talley, at one time worked in the allotment office for the Dawes Commission in Muskogee. She has told much of the trickery that was often practiced in getting allotments. One instance was that of a woman who came in one day with several children, one of whom was a baby wrapped up in her arms. The woman was given allotments for herself and each member of her family including the one in her arms. After she had all necessary papers signed and in her possession, she turned to leave, then unwrapped the bundle in her arms and a little puppy dog jumped down. This trick was practiced over and over.

Another ruse that was frequently practiced was such as this: An Indian girl received an allotment in the Cherokee Nation under the name of Cherokee Boles and one in the Creek Nation as Cherry Boles.

Bud Kell was once United States Marshal. He was a fullblood Cherokee, uncle of Lahoma the Cherokee nightingale. Bud was as brave a man as ever lived, I expect. He wasn't afraid of anything but he hasn't been written about as some of the others have. I kept a restaurant then and he used to lie in the shade of my porch to watch for anyone he might want to catch.

Bud was once sent by the Government with a group of sheriffs and deputies to guard a train carrying a great deal of money after word had been received that the train was to be robbed at a certain water tank. All the party except Kell went into the coach to wait, but Kell hid in the coal car back of the engine. When the train stopped at the water tank the head of the party of officers, a Kansas City man, opened the door of the coach and looked out to see if he could see the robbers. Just as he did so one of them shot him. Instead of yelling, "There they are boys, go for them," he yelled, "Boys, they've got us." And then all ran for safety except Bud Kell, who instead, ran and hid behind a tree and opened fire on the robbers. He killed two and wounded another so that he soon died. The robbers fought the officers and took their guns away from them and then held up the engineer and fireman. Those two said, we're going to get off of here." The robbers said, "If you do we'll shoot you." "Well we'd just as soon you shot us as be shot by that Indian out there (Kell) who's shooting at you."

Those robbers went off and hid in the hills for about two weeks and sent word in to the officers to come and get them but no one ever went. Someone asked Bud Kell why he didn't go and he said, "I'm not doing police duty. I'll go where the Government sends me."

Bud never told me any of this. I got it from the railroad men who stayed with me.

Another time a train had been held up by three men. The train that was held up was just ahead of a lone switch engine, which was being run by an engineer who stayed at our house. After the holdup the robbers walked back toward the engine behind, where the engineer got a good look at them. Afterward when at our house he said about one of our neighbors, "He looks very much like one of those holdup men." The money taken in the robbery was not just an ordinary assortment of cash but was money from a bank and was in bills of just certain denominations. It wasn't long after the robbery that the same neighbor referred to by the engineer sent down to my mother (who kept boarders and usually had quite a bit of cash on hand) asking, "Can you change a twenty-dollar bill?" Of course, mother accommodated him.

This neighbor sent down with the same request many times after that and always it was a twenty-dollar bill that he wanted changed, never any other denomination, so we had our own idea as to the identity of at least one of the robbers. But even if we had had indisputable proof of his guilt we would not have dared give him up to the authorities because if we had our lives wouldn't have been worth much afterward.

But with all the holdups and bank robberies, there was never a store nor a house robbed, nor was a woman ever molested. I never locked my door and never was the least bit afraid.

My sister worked for the Muskogee paper. She was the first woman in Muskogee to work for the paper and because it was a novelty passersby often stopped at the front window where she worked and watched her. One day Belle Starr, the notorious woman outlaw, rode up to the window and called to my sister. "Where's Frank Hubbard?" My sister replied that he wasn't there at the time and Belle said, "It's a good thing for him for I'm going to kill him." She had had a grudge against him for something he had printed about her. She wore a knee-length riding skirt and had her hair in two long braids with a snake's rattle in the end of each braid.

Once at the Muskogee fair a prize of a fine saddle was offered for the most graceful woman rider. There were three women who entered the competition; a fullblood Cherokee, a white woman of some prominence in Muskogee, and Belle Starr's daughter. Belle's daughter rode magnificently, but, because of the prominence of the white woman, the judges awarded her the saddle, whereupon the spectators set up such a clamor for Belle's daughter that the judges were compelled to change their decision and give her the saddle.

My daughter, Maude, married James Talley, who once worked on a ranch with Will Rogers. The Cherokees taught Jim to gobble like a turkey, something they seldom taught anyone except their own people. One time Jim was in New York and happened to attend a show where Will was playing. During Will's act when the audience applauded Jim gobbled and at once Will stopped and said, "There's someone in the audience that I want to come right up here on to the stage with me, " so Jim went up. Will had recognized him instantly.

Mrs. Cummings is a great-granddaughter of John Pigman, who came to the colonies sometime before the Revolutionary war. An Italian by birth, he had been compelled for political reasons to leave Italy, went to England for a time, married an English woman and came to the colonies to establish a home. His unmarried brother took part in the Boston Tea Party and was never seen nor heard of again.

John Pigman must have been quite well-to-do for he brought five servants with him as well as what would amount to several thousand dollars in present-day money. The cash he turned over to the colonials when the Revolution came. Mrs. Cummings continues:

I recall hearing my grandfather, John Pigman, son of the immigrant John Pigman, relate how, when he was a little boy he one night heard the gobble of a wild turkey near the Pigman house. He picked up his gun and started for the door, saying he was "going out to get that turkey." His father said, "Give me the gun. I'll get the turkey," and went out. Soon he returned dragging the body of a dead Indian.

My grandfather fought in the War of 1812, and was the one who discovered old Tecumseh dead upon the battlefield. Grandfather always told us that the history books were wrong in their accounts of the way he was found. Grandfather and another soldier had been sent out after the battle to look over the battlefield and report on the killed and wounded. They found Tecumseh and a white man locked in each other's arms, having fought in personal combat until each had killed the other.

Interview transcribed April 13, 2003 by Jeane Barthel Freeman of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. E-mail Freebok@valornet.com

Transcriber Note: I am not related to Mrs. Cummings.

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