Did she tell you she’d been born into slavery?
No, she didn’t. She had no memory of it. And also, children don’t know to ask their elders, “Tell me about your life when you were a child.” … My dad knew of his very strong ties to the Choctaw Nation, which was spoken about in everyday conversation, so that wasn’t new, but … I didn’t know this part of Sallie’s early history. Of course, where I grew up, everybody knows they have some ties to [Indian] Territory. In Fort Smith, everybody has cowboys, Indians, marshals and outlaws in their family.
What is your advice to people who want to start researching their African-Native American heritage?
Your heritage is your heritage, whether it’s white, whether it’s black, whether it’s blended, whether it’s a family of immigrants or a family native to the Americas. Your family history is done using the same methodology, regardless of ethnicity. You’re going to start with your oral history – you’re going to sit down and talk with your elders, and you’re going to talk with them more than one time. Transcribe those interviews. Even before you leave the house, you’re going to look and see what you have in the house – for example, I had some documents that were folded up in little pieces in Samuel Walton’s old Bible. There was Sallie’s land allotment information with “Choctaw Nation” stamped at the top. At some point you will be ready to start obtaining those vital records, and the most important thing is that you don’t skip back 100 years – you start with things that are more recent.