Generations of Secrets and Lies
Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree
Story told by Great Grandmother-Mary Jane Overton – “Ma”
“In 1850, my mother Sipsee gave birth to the only child she and Hawk would ever have, she names me Mary Jane. She never gave me an Indian name, or enroll me on the Chickasaw register. She might have been wrong in doing this; her thinking was that her daughter with a white name would have a chance to fit in a white world. This would cause a problem in the future, relatives tracing the heritage of our Native American ancestors would be impossible. The only proof that we existed would be the stories told to those who would listen. It was my mother’s way of trying to change in order to live in her new world. This change did not mean she had forgotten the old ways, she told me many stories of the simple life known by the tribe before the family was forced to go away. She gave me the knowledge of the Indian way and how to survive. She knew that Hawk my father would always possess the heart of a warrior and would never change”. Ma in telling the story remembered both of her parents; her eyes would glaze over with sadness when she talked about them.
Both Sipsee and Hawk were survivors in their own way. He in the ways of the land and playing the white man’s game to his own advantage. Yet, Sipsee knew survival meant to learn everything about the white people and their way of living. Sipsee wanted more for her daughter than always being afraid of separation from her family. Once when she ventured into town the general store proprietor asked her name, she told him Sipsee Over-Towne because they only had tribal names. He misunderstood and called it Overton. Sipsee decided when dealing with the white man she would use that name she would be Sipsee Overton. They were all Indian, dark skin, she tried to get Hawk to call himself a white man name, he would just walk away. Sipsee in time would know the word arrogant, in her own mind, this is what she thought of him and she would within time share these thoughts with Jane.
After a few years had passed, they had built a cabin, Sipsee worked for a farmwoman living on the edge of the forest. Jane would go with her every day, they would clean the house, cook and work outside when ask, for this she was paid only a few “cents” every day. She was a good woman and taught Sipsee to read and write, in turn she would teach Jane at night. Hawk began logging in the Black Warrior forest for a local lumber company. He worked for loggers that had their own team of horses.
Soon after he got the new job, he told Sipsee that he was going on a hunting trip. He came home after two weeks; in his possession was a team of beautiful workhorses and he set in building himself a skid to haul logs. He told Sipsee he found them running wild and he had tamed them before coming back. Sipsee suspected some logger in the southern part of the state was missing his fine team of horses, she never question Hawk. She knew that it was wrong to steal, Hawk knew it was wrong to steal; but it would be wrong to go against Hawk.
Hawk became one of the best loggers in North Alabama. Another logger waged a bet with Hawk that his team could pull more weight with the loser forfeiting his skids and team to the winner. Hawk told Sipsee that he would soon be the owner of two teams and have someone working with him hauling logs, Sipsee again thought of him being arrogant. She silently did not approve of him taking a chance on losing their only means of making a living.
The day of the race many people gathered to see who would win. The skids were loaded the day before the race with an estimated equal amount of weight. Unknown to Hawk the middle of his skid had been added iron bars. Hawk, Sipsee and their young daughter Jane walked into the logging camp and Hawk began to hitch his team to the skid. He stood proudly behind his tame waiting for the shot he knew would soon ring out starting the race. Suddenly he was distracted with a familiar sound above him.
It was a large hawk circling above him, spreading his massive wings, his calls seems to be one of frantic warning. Hawk turned and looked at Sipsee; their eyes met and locked in some unknown fear. The shot from the pistol rang through the air, starting the race. Hawk’s command to his team sounded no less than one that would send men into battle. Hawk knew when his team lurched forward that he carried a larger amount of weight than had been agreed. This was no difficulty for Hawks team, within seconds they were side-by-side with the other team. Hawk pulled ahead he could see the bloody cuts on the backs of the other team left by the brutal lashing of a whip. He knew this torture must stop, he urged his team forward crossing the finish line.
“The Injun won.” The first words heard from the crowd.
Hawk leapt from his skid and jumped onto the other skid throwing the man with the whip to the ground. He jerked the whip from him, beating him until he bore gashes like those on the horses. Hawk did not think of the danger and him doing such a thing, his thoughts were with the horses. Hawk then went to the horse’s one-b-one, speaking to them softly then walked back to his own team. Gasp from spectators feel the air when a pistol was drawn from the man on the ground bloodied by his own whip. Sipsee saw the anger on the man’s face, she focused on Hawk. Getting up from the ground where Hawk had left him the man pulled his pistol out firing it at Hawk until the chamber was empty. With his back covered with blood, Hawk continued to walk towards his team, he spoke gently in his own language to them then fell to the ground. Sipsee ran with Jane by her side, Hawk’s spirit was gone from him, his life had ended. The logger Wes McCartee had shot Hawk in the back.
“Nobody will do anything to me; he is just another dead Injun.” Wes McCartee with a snarling smirk on his face yelled to the crowd.
Several of Hawks friends, Indian loggers, unhitched his team and placed his body on one of the horses on another Sipsee put her daughter Jane. Hawks friends held to his other horses, in no way was the white man going to get them. Sipsee could hear the people as she walked from the camp.
“The dirty Injun’s should know better try to beat a white man”. Sipsee turned looking into the eyes of Hawks killer, she then turned to face the crowd saying; “You have not killed just another Indian or just another man. You have witnessed the murder of a proud Chickasaw warrior”.
Taking hold of the horse caring Hawks body Sipsee began walking the rutted road back into the forest where they lived. Several Indian families followed singing a song for the dead; it floated on the wind through the deep woods. Sipsee saw the hawk that soared above the team; she now believed it to be a sign. Hawk would be buried with his ancestral ceremony.
Sipsee decided to leave the forest. With the help of friends, she loaded the few possessions they had in an old two-wheel cart, hitched with two of Hawks horses. The would leave the world of heartache behind, they would have to live with their lives filled with secrets and lies.
She gave the remaining horses to Hawk’s closest friends, placing Jane up on the seat of the cart she pulled away never looking back. She took with her from the white woman who taught her English a letter of endorsement. She had told Sipsee both her and Jane would be allowed to work on the plantation of her sister. With her child the letter and all the courage she had, Sipsee moved further into central Alabama.
This facts of this story has two aspects, one is the presumed facts written from the annals of history; and second by the verbal history confident from the memory of Mary Jane Overton, proud Chickasaw.
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