My great grandmother, Thelma Muskrat Lee, was born and raised in Oklahoma on what is now called the Grand Lake of the Cherokees. This is where my great grandmother and great grandfather met and lived out their lives. They lived on this land before there was a lake. Along with other locals, they were to move up hill so that the valley where they lived could be dammed and flooded. They then lived in their home on the lake all of their lives, where they raised my grandfather and had a traditional farm life.
Thelma and Everett were part Cherokee and lived close to the land, as their ancestors had. Thelma not only had Indian ways, but was a true pioneer woman. She raised and butchered her own animals, had a bountiful garden and made just about everything herself. These things sustained their family through the depression and taught her many of her frugal ways which she carried out all of her life. She would do things like wash her ziplock baggies, in a time when everything was becoming disposable. Famous for using her shot gun into her late nineties, she was known to shoot any stray water moccasins, who occasionally slithered a little too close to her home; along with squirrels, rabbits or any other “vermits” which were unfit for her tidy homestead. Thelma was fearless and her blue-eyed gaze would cut through you like a knife. She was also as tender as a doe. She died at 102.
I recently visited my family’s homestead on the lake, where I spend much of my childhood as well. This Indian land runs deep in my blood, this land where its people have endured many trials and received many blessings. I go to this land for restoration, to plant my feet in the ground and feel them go down like heavy roots, deep into the earth, my motherland.
My mother and five aunts have been reviving the old garden site of my Great Grandmother’s. As I walk through the heavy summer air, down the garden path, a long row of okra runs next to green beans and eggplant. Tomatoes and dalias line the garden edges, where garden is kept with a tidy fence. A calf suckles on her mother as they meander through the rolling green hills, next to the garden. Just beyond the pasture, lies the graveyard where much of my family is buried. On the path back to my Great Grandmother’s house, my aunt’s keep their bees. These brilliant bees will pollinate the garden year after year. The root cellar is still in tact and all of my Great Grandfather’s tools still hang in the musty old shed. His old red tractor is still used today to mow the grass and tend the farm.
I stayed in Thelma’s old home just long enough to feel the red dirt under my toes, put my feet in the lake water and sleep some nights in that peaceful old house. My daughters were able to take a swing by the lake and breathe in the air which so many of my ancestors breathed in their lives.
I feel so deeply thankful for the traditions my family has keep in tact, for the importance which has been placed on the old ways and this beautiful land which sustains them. The bounties which my Great Grandparents created were not created in vain, but live on today. I can hear my Thelma whispering her prayers over this land still today. I only hope my children can still hear her prayers when they are grown.
Wow. You have a gift for using your words so susinctly put the reader right there. Beautifully written Becca and moreover it is selfishly rewarding to understand what it means to you. I love you and your family.
So glad you are putting this in writing for future chachas and their families. I wonder how long the farm will stay intact…forever I hope. Six generations and counting. I especially like the graveyard reference; the full circle hadnt occurred to me.
Everett Lee, Thelma’s husband, was my mother’s favorite cousin. My mother was Vera Ralston and she and Everett were both grandchildren of John and Eliza Ralston. I visited your great grandmother and great grandfather with my parents and then later with my husband. I am doing some family research and would love to talk with you further. Your story and your sensibility is lovely. Cynthia
I need to make a correction. Everett and Vera’s grandfather was Lewis Ralston.
Lewis Ralston was my Great-Great Grandfather! He married Eliza Postell, my first name isLewis!
My mother was Vera B. Ralston, I have been to Monkey Island twice, the first time I talked by phone to you & Thelma, very interesting conversation. Both times I visited the Rolston cemetery & once talked to the adjoining neighbor. My mother was born in what was then Needmore, Oklahoma Territory in 1904. Cynthia is my younger sister. I am a member of the Cherokee Nation, we have had several get togethers of member Cherokees here in the Pacific Northwest. Chief Baker has been at these.
It is wonderful to hear all of this family history. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get my mom and aunts in on this conversation.
Dear Ralstons, I am Everett’s eldest grand daughter, Janet Lee Gann, Rebecca’s mom, and know who you all are. I, too, am interested in Ralston history. We should chat soon. I actually have some photos of your beautiful mother Vera. They were in an old trunk of our great grandmother, Lou Ralston Lee. As Cherokees, you may be interested in Osiyo.tv website that my other daughter, Jennifer Loren, hosts. She was just out west with Chief Baker filming a new segment. Must go as I babysit 2 grand daughters and have a very active 3 year old who needs me. Talk soon! Janet
I use to spend two weeks in the summer with Aunt Lou, memories that I cherish and the stories! Ironically, I received a picture of Aunt Lou and Uncle Bill in the mail today! She was so beautiful! Only about 5’ tall, but a dynamo! I can remember when she would come down to the road and pull a flatbed across for us to get on the island if the lake was up, later on OK built the bridge
Here is the website to Voices of the Cherokee People:
Do you remember Bill and Lou Lee who lived on the hill above Thelma’s property?