Our Amazing U.S. Military and Special Ops

Best in the world. So proud of you! Thank you for all you do. (Never enough said!)

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 12:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Osama bin Laden: No tears for you!

Enough said.

Published in: on May 3, 2011 at 12:48 am  Leave a Comment  

The Hand of God ?


Red represents low-energy X-rays, the medium range is green, and the most energetic ones are colored blue. The blue hand-like structure was created by energy emanating from the nebula around they dying star PSR B1509-58. The red areas are from a neighboring gas cloud called RCW 89. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO/P.Slane, et al.

Published in: on April 9, 2009 at 8:49 pm  Comments (2)  

Lost Treasures in Cologne, Germany

On one of my trips to Germany, we visted the beautiful city of  Cologne.  I was saddened to see the following news:

March 5, 2009

The city without a memory: treasures lost under collapsed Cologne archives

cologne1 (Federico Gambarini)

The six-story building (shown above) was supposed to be a model for similar archives around the world. But it collapsed in minutes.

The German city of Cologne woke up yesterday without a memory.

As police used tracker dogs to try to unearth suvivors beneath the collapsed archives building, engineers were trying to work out how the 1971 institution – once regarded as a state-of-the-art documentation centre, copied across the world – could have simply collapsed, as if hit by a missile.

Some of Germany’s most valuable documentary treasures may have been destroyed, wiped out in the three minutes it took for a six-storey building to become a pile of smouldering brickwork on Wednesday afternoon.

The private papers of the Nobel prize-winning novelist Heinrich Böll, one of Germany’s most powerful postwar writers, have been lost under the rubble. They include the drafts of books, corrected manuscripts, letters and radio plays. The writer was born in Cologne and insisted before his death in 1985 that the papers be moved from Boston to his home town.

Lost, too, were manuscripts of essays and articles written by Karl Marx when he was editor of the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne in the 19th century.

Letters written by the philosopher Hegel, lyrics and notes written by the composer Jacques Offenbach – who composed The Tales of Hoffmann – edicts issued by Napoleon and King Louis XIV, and the personal papers of Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first Chancellor and former mayor of Cologne, were also lost.

If they are ever recovered, the documents will almost certainly be irretrievably damaged.

“We are talking here about 18 kilometres of extremely valuable archival material, of absolute importance to European culture,” Eberhard Illner, the head of the city archives, said. “Now the memory of a European city has been destroyed. I can only hope, but cannot believe, that some of these fragile documents survived under tonnes of concrete and steel.”

The archives included the minutes of all town council meetings held since 1376. Not a single session had been missed, making the collection a remarkable resource for legal historians.

The earliest document stored in the building dated back to 922, and there were hundreds of thousands of documents spread over six floors, some of them written on thin parchment. A total of 780 complete private collections and half a million photographs were being stored.

Many of the documents had been recovered from library buildings smashed by Allied bombing during the Second World War.

That was one reason why Böll – most famous outside Germany for his novel Group Portrait with Lady – was determined that his manuscripts be housed in the Rhineland city. He had been hailed as the pioneer of postwar Trümmerliteratur, the “literature of the rubble”, chronicling Germans’ attempts to rebuild their lives and recover their memories. Cologne seemed the appropriate place to house his work.

Mr Illner compared the loss with the fire that raged through the Anna Amalia library in Weimar in 2004. The Cologne loss could be even greater, however, because most of the documents are original and have not been copied.

“Even if there isn’t something that hasn’t been pulverised or destroyed by water, it will take decades of restoration work,” said the historian Joachim Oepen.

When the building was constructed, a small nuclear-bomb proof chamber was included in the cellar to protect the most precious pieces. But in recent years, the chamber has been used only to store cleaning material.

There was even less warning of the collapse of the building than would have been given during a nuclear attack. Workers on the rooftop heard a cracking noise and immediately alerted the 26 people using the archives at the time. Less than three minutes later later, the building was flat.

If there are human victims, they are entombed under an amusement arcade that adjoined the archives. The fire brigade said today that there might be two or three people crushed under the tangled girders, but that their chances of being found alive were diminishing by the hour.

Staff at the archives first noticed cracks in the cellar early last year, but the building was deemed safe. Preliminary blame is being laid on the construction nearby of a new underground railway station.

Published in: on March 5, 2009 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Eye of God

The Eye of God

helix_eye-of-godOnly 450 light years away in the constellation Aquarius, this long-observed planetary nebula, created from outgassing of a dying star has been imaged in glorious detail and color by Hubble.

Nicknamed “The Eye of God” it spans an area half the size of the moon. Read more from hubblesite.org.

(NASA, ESA, C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), and M. Meixner, P. McCullough)


This is the one that freaks me out… this could just as easily happen in our Milky Way Galaxy.  A true “star wars” event!  Makes one feel pretty small and insignificant, doesn’t it?  So, forget your troubles today!  If we get zapped like this, none of it will matter!

“Death Star” Galaxy Black Hole Fires at Neighboring Galaxy

Even galaxies get bullied. Here, a so-called “death star galaxy” blasts a nearby galaxy with a jet of energy. Scientists said that if this happened in the Milky Way, it would likely destroy all life on Earth.


Dec. 17, 2007

RELEASE : 07-280

‘Death Star’ Galaxy Black Hole Fires at Neighboring Galaxy

WASHINGTON – A powerful jet from a super massive black hole is blasting a nearby galaxy, according to new findings from NASA observatories. This never-before witnessed galactic violence may have a profound effect on planets in the jet’s path and trigger a burst of star formation in its destructive wake.

Known as 3C321, the system contains two galaxies in orbit around each other. Data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory show both galaxies contain super massive black holes at their centers, but the larger galaxy has a jet emanating from the vicinity of its black hole. The smaller galaxy apparently has swung into the path of this jet.

This “death star” galaxy was discovered through the combined efforts of both space and ground-based telescopes. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope were part of the effort. The Very Large Array telescope, Socorro, N.M., and the Multi-Element Radio Linked Interferometer Network (MERLIN) telescopes in the United Kingdom also were needed for the finding.

“We’ve seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we’ve seen one punch into another galaxy like we’re seeing here,” said Dan Evans, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and leader of the study. “This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling.”

Jets from super massive black holes produce high amounts of radiation, especially high-energy X-rays and gamma-rays, which can be lethal in large quantities. The combined effects of this radiation and particles traveling at almost the speed of light could severely damage the atmospheres of planets lying in the path of the jet. For example, protective layers of ozone in the upper atmosphere of planets could be destroyed.

Jets produced by super massive black holes transport enormous amounts of energy far from black holes and enable them to affect matter on scales vastly larger than the size of the black hole. Learning more about jets is a key goal for astrophysical research.

“We see jets all over the universe, but we’re still struggling to understand some of their basic properties,” said co-investigator Martin Hardcastle of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. “This system of 3C321 gives us a chance to learn how they’re affected when they slam into something like a galaxy and what they do after that.”

The effect of the jet on the companion galaxy is likely to be substantial, because the galaxies in 3C321 are extremely close at a distance of only about 20,000 light years apart. They lie approximately the same distance as Earth is from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

A bright spot in the Very Large Array and MERLIN images shows where the jet has struck the side of the galaxy, dissipating some of the jet’s energy. The collision disrupted and deflected the jet.

Another unique aspect of the discovery in 3C321 is how relatively short-lived this event is on a cosmic time scale. Features seen in the Very Large Array and Chandra images indicate that the jet began impacting the galaxy about one million years ago, a small fraction of the system’s lifetime. This means such an alignment is quite rare in the nearby universe, making 3C321 an important opportunity to study such a phenomenon.

It is possible the event is not all bad news for the galaxy being struck by the jet. The massive influx of energy and radiation from the jet could induce the formation of large numbers of stars and planets after its initial wake of destruction is complete.

The results from Evans and his colleagues will appear in The Astrophysical Journal. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass. Additional information and images are available at: http://chandra.nasa.gov

Published in: on February 27, 2009 at 7:36 am  Comments (3)  

Woogie: Comanche Warrior


This is a beautiful photo portrait of my dear friend, Woogie Watchetaker, graciously provided by David and Ruth Malhalab.  It was taken by their family member, Jonathon J. Malhalab, sometime between 1976 – 1977 when the family member was stationed at Fort Sill.

Mr. Malhalab is seeking any information whatsoever relating to this photo and the circumstances relating to it.  If you have  any information relating to this photo or the events relating to it, please email me and I will put you in contact with him.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy seeing Woogie, proudly displaying his great strength, pride and strong character. What a special man he was and I extend a special thank you to Mr. Malhalab for sharing it with me and for the permission to post it on my artblog so that the entire world can enjoy it as well. Jonathon J. Malhalab’s photographic skills were amazing.  I know Woogie must have been very pleased with the  results of the sitting.  I’m so thankful for whatever circumstances made it possible for the photo to be taken and appreciate David Malhalab generously sharing it with us.  This, my friends, is the Woogie I knew.  He always described himself to me as “strong, like Geronimo” and that strength Woogie always displayed was skillfully captured in this photo.

NOTE:  This photo is protected by a copyright.  You must have written permission from Mr. Malhalab or his representative to copy or use this photo.

The Eagle: Did You Know…?

Did you know that an Eagle knows when a storm is approaching long before it breaks?

The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come.  When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind picks it up and lifts it above the storm.  While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it all in the calming breath of the Great Spirit.  The eagle does not escape the storm.  It simply uses the storm to lift it higher.

The storms do not have to overcome us. When the storms of life come upon us (and all of us will experience storms in our lives) we have the ability to rise above them by setting our sight on Our Great Creator.   We can look to Our Great Creator’s almighty power to lift us up above the storm.

The Creator of all things can set us above the winds of the storm and allow us to soar above it all,  just as the eagle does.

Kindred Spirits by Cheryl Davis (Copyright 1993)

Kindred Spirits by Cheryl Davis (Copyright 1993)

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eages.”

Isaiah 40:31

Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 11:42 pm  Leave a Comment  


Yigaquv osaniyu adanvto adadoligi naqvv utlogasdi nihi
(May The Great Spirit’s Blessings always be with you)



Oh, Father Time… slow down, please!

What’s the big hurry?

Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 6:27 am  Leave a Comment  

A 2008 Merry Christmas to Everyone!



Remember the Reason for the Season. I pray that it is a blessed holiday for you and yours. May the New Year bring you all an abundance of God’s love and grace.

Be Blessed.




G00d Luck in the Championship Game!

Sooner Links:






Published in: on December 25, 2008 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Veterans Day 2008 Salute to a Father and Son: Richard and Hugh Vertrees; and To All Our Military Troops

This Veterans Day, I want to say a big “THANK YOU” to all the top-notch men & women who serve or have served and sacrificed for this great Nation.  Your military service makes it possible for us to live the very blessed lives that we live.  I also send up a special prayer for America as we begin the “Obama Era” in America’s history.

Today, I ask for two “special blessings:” One for my nephew, Richard “Vercules” Vertrees, who honorably served with the 204th Military Police, Bladerunners in Baghdad, Iraq for a one year tour as an MP.  Richard was there during the period of time Saddam was captured:  an extremely violent time to be there. Another for Richard’s father, my dear brother-in-law Hugh Vertrees, who served honorably in Phi Bui, Vietnam with the 101st Airborne.  Both men saw combat during their time in service.  They served their country well.  I am incredibly proud of both of them, for the many blessings they bring to my life and will forever be grateful to them for their service and great sacrifice.  Words are, as always, so insufficient to express my gratitude for all that “they and hundreds of thousands of others” have given.


Hugh Vertrees (Above Photo: Right) was stationed in Phi Bui, Vietnam with the 101st Airborne.  His treacherous job was to patrol the jungles, rivers, and deny the enemy access into Phi Bui.  This duty was a result of the successful capturing of Phi Bui in 1968.  Hugh honorably served his country in Vietnam from January 1971 to December, 1971.

Welcome Home Soldier! Thank you for your service!”






Richard “Vercules” Vertrees (Above Photo, Right)


richard_iraq(Richard: Front Row, Far Left Side)

204th Military Police, Bladerunners:  Baghdad, Iraq  2003


Richard, “Home for Christmas


To Richard and Hugh, and to all who are

currently serving or who have served in years past.

You make me proud!  THANK YOU!

Yigaquv osaniyu adanvto adadoligi naqvv utlogasdi nihi
(May The Great Spirit’s Blessings always be with you)




Adrian says, “Go Army!”



Richard’s unit:


Hugh’s unit:

101st Airborne Veterans


The Vietnam Center & Archive: Virtual Archive



Community of Veterans (Support for Iraq and Afghanistan Soldiers)



MILITARY.COM:  A Veteran’s Day Slide Show



Published in: on November 11, 2008 at 11:12 pm  Comments (1)  

MacArthur on Being a Soldier and a Father

I recently bought a book called “Wisdom of Our Fathers” written by the late Tim Russert. I admired him a lot & the book is not disappointing me. I want to share part of a letter from the book with you. Beginning on Page 37, Tim wrote: “President Harry Truman & General Douglas MacArthur were bitter rivals, to the point where Truman relieved MacArthur of his command during the Korean war. And yet both men – the common man who found himself in a position of great power, where he had to make uncommonly hard decisions, & the feisty and brilliant military leader – were heroes to my dad.

When I was twelve, General MacArthur gave a speech at West Point that became an instant classic, especially in our neighborhood. Dad referred to it often, and to this day whenever I hear the word ‘honor ‘ I think of MacArthur. His subject that day was “Duty, Honor, Country” – the motto of the United States Military Academy. To some people, MacArthur told the cadets, those words were just a slogan. “But these are some of the things they do,” MacArthur said. “They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation’s defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, & brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid.” It was a great speech, & I’m sorry it isn’t better known today.


After ‘Big Russ & Me’ (his first book) was published, one of my readers sent me a quote from General MacArthur that he thought I might enjoy. “By profession I am a soldier and take pride in that fact,” MacArthur said. “But I am prouder – infinitely prouder – to be a father. A soldier destroys in order to build, the father only builds, never destroys. The one has the potentiality of death; the other embodies creation and life. And while the hordes of death are mighty, the battalions of life are mightier still. It is my hope that my son, when I am gone, will remember me not from the battlefield but in the home, repeating with him our simple daily prayer, Our Father Who Art in Heaven…”

A soldier destroys in order to build…

…the father only builds, never destroys.


General Douglas MacArthur, Advice:


I realize that advice is worth what it costs — that is, NOTHING!


General Douglas MacArthur, Age:


I promise to keep on living as though I expected to live forever. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up interest wrinkles the soul.


General Douglas MacArthur, on Age:

You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair.


General Douglas MacArthur, on Parenting:


A Prayer For My Son Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory…Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, and the meekness of true strength. Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain..


General Douglas MacArthur, on Propaganda:


Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.


General Douglas MacArthur, A Soldier Speaks: Public Papers and Speeches of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, 1965 – Surrender:


There is not one incident in the history of humanity in which defeatism led to peace which was anything other than a complete fraud.


General Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, pp. 216–17 (1964), [speech to the people of the Philippines, on Leyte], October 17, 1944:

People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of the Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil…. The hour of your redemption is here…. Rally to me…. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory.


General Douglas MacArthur, In his speech to the Republican Party Convention, October, 1962 – WAR:

“In war there is no substitute for victory.”


Published in: on July 12, 2008 at 4:14 pm  Comments (2)  

The Choctaw Expression “Okeh” and the Americanism “Okay”

Andrew Jackson

excerpt from: http://www.presidentprofiles.com/Washington-Johnson/index.html

……Efforts to make removal treaties with the Indians began as soon as Jackson took office and continued throughout his presidency. Jackson himself occasionally participated in the negotiations. The administration focused on the southern tribes, beginning in September 1830 with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaw, and proceeding with the Creek, Chickasaw, and, in 1835, the Cherokee. Less well known are the treaties made with the generally weaker tribes of the Old Northwest, such as the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. Over the period of Jackson’s presidency, the United States ratified some seventy treaties, affecting approximately forty-six thousand Indians…..


Jim Fay, Ph.D.

Abstract: The etymology of “‘OK” based on the Choctaw “okeh” that was cited in dictionaries well into the twentieth century, and how that etymology came to be replaced by one formulated by Allen Read. Also notes and information about this document .


Consider the expression “O.K” as it was used in the early to mid 1960’s.

Peter, Paul and Mary were singing, in the song “All Mixed Up”:

You know this language that we speak,
is part German, Latin and part Greek
Celtic and Arabic all in a heap,
well amended by the people in the street.

Choctaw gave us the word “okay”…

The song was written by Pete Seeger, who was at the center of the folk music scene as the composer of such songs as “This Land Is Your Land.” Seeger said he based his statement about “okay” on Choctaw traditions such as the one that Andrew Jackson heard the expression from the Choctaw during the Indian Wars before he passed it on to the rest of the world. (PETE) One apocryphal story has a Choctaw warrior using the expression to Andrew Jackson to express victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. In 1840 a “Jackson Breast Pin” was advertised celebrating “the hero of New Orleans and having upon it…the very frightful letters O.K.”Also at the center of this folk music scene was the Okeh record label, “okeh” being recognized as the older spelling for “an Indian word.” The first Okeh records had a Native American silhouette logo on the label.

The expression was still occasionally spelled “okeh” in popular usage at that time in America, and that was a preferred spelling in other parts of the world such as Germany and Russia. It is still a preferred spelling in those parts of the world.

Dictionary entries of the day routinely cited a Choctaw etymology based on resources going back to 1825, especially an 1870 Choctaw Grammar which treated the expression in some detail, saying the expression meant “it is so and in no other way” and was often used as an interjection to get the attention of the user. When spoken more quietly it expressed “thank you.”

The US Postal Service was introducing new changes including two-letter abbreviations for the states. Oklahoma was given the abbreviation ‘OK,’ which fit in very well with the myriad of Choctaw and other Muskogeon place names. For example, the village that had been “North Muskogee” until that name was changed to “Okay” in 1919 became officially designated as “Okay, OK”

Although the Choctaw etymology was widely accepted during the early 1960’s, other events were also happening at that time in the etymology of “OK.” Columbia professor and editor of the scholarly American Speech, Allen Walker Read, had been promoting for 20 years the importance his discovery of a couple of early uses of “OK” dealing with Martin Van Buren. He argued that the popular usage of “OK” was derived from an acronym for “Old Kinderhook,” which referred to Van Buren’s birthplace.

There were literally dozens of instances of “OK” in the published record before and after the instances discovered by Read. The 1830’s and 40’s was the time of an extremely popular fad in which normal expressions were given facetious or “sportive” spellings and acronyms such as “N.C.” for “’nuff ced” or “K.Y.” for “know yuse.” “OK” was the basis for an endless array of these facetious acronyms, and many linguists saw no reason why “Old Kinderhook” was any more important in the life of the expression than any of those other uses such as “Orful Katastrophe,” “Out of Kash” or — by far and away the most popular — “Oll Korrect,” which was often associated with Jackson.

Nevertheless, Read was very zealous in promoting the “Old Kinderhook” etymology, so zealous that the Dictionary of American English (DAE) editor in charge of the OK entry published a paper in American Speech pointing out that the “Old Kinderhook” was not the origin of the expression and arguing it was not even a very significant component of the etymology. He argued that the ‘Old Kinderhook’ etymology be abandoned.

That paper led Read to publish a series of six papers in the 1963 and 1964 issues of American Speech. The papers offered an encyclopedic account of the various uses of the “O.K.” expression by whatever spelling. But, more importantly, the papers also served notice about how Read was more than willing to use the pages of American Speech to treat anyone who did not wholeheartedly endorse his ‘Old Kinderhook’ etymology.

Four of those papers will be discussed here.

But before looking at those papers, we will take a look at a significant body of American literature that pre-dates by almost a decade and a half the uses of “O.K.” beginning in 1839 and cited by Read.

One final introductory note…in this discussion the expression will be rendered by whatever spelling was used by the original writer. In those instances when the expression is used in general, it will be spelled “OK” that implies no particular historical pedigree.


The expression pronounced “okay” and denoting affirmation — “it is so and not otherwise” — appears in Choctaw literature more than a decade before the acronym or pseudo-acronym “O.K.” appears in English literature. Linguists refer to it as a particle in that it does not modify any particular noun, verb or other modifier of the sentence in which it appears. It merely affirms or emphasizes the point being made.

The authorship of this early Choctaw literature is universally ascribed to two Presbyterian missionaries to the Choctaw, Cyrus Byington and Alfred Wright. Although those names seldom if ever appear as authors on the title pages of the publications, they are almost invariably given in brackets as the authors in citations of those works. Wright was a full-blood Choctaw, and he and Byington sought to develop material to evangelize and educate the Choctaws on one hand and to train missionaries and teachers on the other.

These two men produced either independently or in collaboration a body of literature that included an 1825 reading and spelling book with translations apparently aimed primarily for non-Choctaws; an 1829 Chahta vba isht taloa holisso or, Choctaw hymn book; an 1831 translation of passages from the Book of Genesis, History of Joseph and his Brethren; an 1835 Triumphant deaths of pious children; an 1836 Chahta i kana or The Choctaw friend; an 1839 volume The Acts of the Apostles translated into the Choctaw language: Chisus Kilais, with the Choctaw subtitle “Im anumpeshi u’hliha u’mmona ku’t nana akaniohmi tok puta isht annoa, chaval anumpa isht atashoa hoke.”

These titles were followed by a host of similar works, many of them Bible translations, and all devoted specifically to evangelism and education. It might be noted that the titles of these early works is sometimes no more clear cut than the authorship of them. The title cited in a catalog might not be the title given on the title page at all, but rather a translation of the title or even merely a general description of the work.

The 1825 Choctaw spelling book consists of lists of spelling words and verb conjugations with English translations followed by translations of Bible passages. The particle”oke” or “hoke” is not included in these lists, but it is routinely used in the Bible verses translated at the end of that early book. After offering translations of The Lord’s Prayer and The Ten Commandments, the book offers a translation of The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus beginning with Luke 16:19, and it ends that verse with an expression ending in “-oke” to affirm or emphasize the point being made. That passage is about the rich man who lived in luxury every day, and the translation ends the first verse with something akin to “…the rich man lived in luxury every day, yes he did.” The “-oke” notation is used to end about half of the remaining verses translated in that early book, often with the “tok” particle to emphasize “in the past.”

The Choctaw use of the affirmative particle is virtually identical to one of the very common ways the expression “OK” is used in English. Take, for example, that quintessential use of “OK” in the sentence, “We arrived OK.” Perhaps that “OK” may not modify either “we” or “arrived.” In other words, it does not necessarily reflect on either the condition we were in when we arrived or how satisfactory our arriving was, but merely emphasizes the point that we arrived. This is especially the case in some situation in which our arrival is called into question. And so, for example, the comment “Someone said you never arrived” might well be met with “Oh, we arrived OK.” Indeed, we would probably see no contradiction at all in the declaration “Oh, we arrived OK, but we were too late” or “Oh, we arrived OK, but we were all sunburned, and Jack had a sprained ankle.”

The expression “OK” is not used is used to modify either “we” or “arrived.” It is rather used to affirm and emphasize the point being made. The statement says, in effect, “We arrived, we did” or “We arrived; it is so and not otherwise.”

At any rate, subsequent Choctaw spelling books and readers de-emphasized the spellings lists in favor of straight prose, and they made use of the particle. but they too never included it in the word lists or discussed it directly. The presumption was that the use of particle “oke” or “hoke” was so common and self-evident as to preclude any need for explanation or discussion for either its Choctaw or non-Choctaw readership.

The first spelling book in 1825 made rather fine distinctions regarding pronunciation, offering for example three separate ways of pronouncing the vowel “e” ­ as a short “e,” as a long “a,” and as the “eh” sound. Later works adopted the much simpler pronunciations. The pronunciation guide (on page three of most editions of the speller) states simply that “o” is to be pronounced as the “o” in “note,” and “e” is to be pronounced as the “a” in “made.” It must be remembered that Byington and Wright had little or no interest in “expanding the envelope” of linguistic studies. They were concerned only with the most expeditious means of teaching and converting Choctaws and training teachers and missionaries, and the simpler orthographies fulfilled that requirement very admirably.

In the 1825 book most of the vowels had some diacritical mark attached to them. In subsequent works, such complications are almost, if not entirely, absent. A fluent speaker of Choctaw may observe some subtle nuances between the sound of “eh” and a short e, for example, but such subtleties were not essential for the purposes of the missionaries.

Using this straightforward and unambiguous orthography, the verb “oke” or “hoke” is pronounced “okay,” or “hokay.” Moreover, since expression comes at the end of sentence or is used as an interjection in the Choctaw language, the expression is easy for even a non-speaker of Choctaw to spot on paper, to hear in spoken Choctaw and to learn to use after some fashion or other.

The spelling book went through three editions before 1840 and eight editions before the end of the century. Editions after the first edition were usually referred to as Chahta holisso Ai isht ia vmmona or in English as A Spelling book written in the Chahta language or simply as Chahta holisso, that is, “The Choctaw Book.”

After the death of Wright in 1853 and Byington in 1868, others published the material those individuals had developed but not published because it was not directly concerned with evangelism or education. This situation gave rise to the curious phenomenon in which those missionaries were listed as authors of new works from more than a century beyond the grave. They are the authors, for example, of Nitak moma ilhpak pin or Our Daily Bread published by the American Bible Society in 1978.

The Dictionary is a good example of the timeless nature of the material. In 1915 the highly respected Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian published A dictionary of the Choctaw language with Byington as the principle author. That Dictionary has been repackaged and reprinted countless times since, for example by Oklahoma City Council of Choctaws, Inc., in 1972; by the Scholarly Press in 1976; by the Central Choctaw Council, in 1978; by the Title VII ESEA funded Bilingual Education Program located in McCurtain County, Idabel, Oklahoma in 1985; by Native American Book Publishers, in 1990; by the Global Bible Society in 1995; and by others. It was microfilmed by the Microfilming Corporation of America in 1974 and by the Law Library Microform Consortium in 1990.

The earlier works published by Byington and Wright themselves also continued to be republished to this day, but, because of their more limited application, not to the extent of works such as the Dictionary. The 1829 hymn book, for example, was reprinted by the John Knox Press in 1964; by the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1988; and by the Native American Bible Academy in 1997.

The publication of Byington’s Choctaw Grammar is a particularly interesting story. The widely respected linguist and ethnologist Daniel Brinton published a fuller version of the kind of material that had gone into the very first 1825 spelling book but then abandoned to streamline the evangelism and education efforts. Byington had finished the first draft of a Choctaw grammar in 1834, and was asked to submit the work to the Smithsonian in 1852, which he did It was well received, but the final revision seems to have been lost. Brinton published it in 1879, and made a presentation on it to the American Philosophical Society in February of the same year. The Grammar was subsequently published by the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1915 and on other occasions.

The second reason the Grammar is of interest is that it first treats at some length an important aspect of the nature of Choctaw conversation and oratory that was only infrequent and incidental in the formal literary exposition of the previous publications, and that is the heavy and effective use of interjection. Both the historical record and contemporary evidence demonstrates that Choctaw speakers delight in rhetorical flourishes such as interjections and rhetorical questions to invite a response from the listener. ( Badger, 6-7 )

It should be remembered that the works published by Wright and Byington were almost exclusively spelling and grammar books and translations of the Bible, not conversation. Moreover, the literary style adopted by the missionaries in biblical translation was quite different from vernacular, conversational Mississippi Choctaw. ( Badger, 16, note ) Consequently, these early books do not necessarily offer good examples of vernacular, conversational Choctaw. One of the early Choctaw works that was an exception to this was the 1835 book Triumphant Deaths of Pious Children, which contains a good bit of conversation, and these passages of dialogue include interjections and rhetorical questions to involve the listener in the dialogue.

The Grammar took some pains to treat these various rhetorical devices in more detail than previous works had done. The syntax of most interest to English users of “okay” is the “affirmative contradistinctive” and the “objective interjection.” As noted earlier, that syntax meant almost exactly what “okay” means today, “it is so and not otherwise.” ( Byington, 14-15, 55 )

Byington distinguished between “okeh” and “okah”:

ok takes ah in okah, a distinctive and definite predicate…
ok takes eh in okeh, a distinctive and absolute predicate… (15)

Okeh was also used as the objective interjection:

These are used to excite the attention of the party addressed… (55)

This is also virtually identical to the way the expression is used in English. How many meetings or classes have begun with “OK, let’s get started…”? One textbook on public speaking offers the admonition not to begin the speech with “OK…”

Moreover, “OK” is routinely used in English as a particle to affirm or emphasize the point being made, often in a rhetorical question. For example:

“Can we get started?”


In this case the “OK” is not so much a yes/no answer as it is an affirmation of the point being made in the rhetorical question.

Linguists and ethnologists have noted the similarity in the use of the expression in Choctaw and English, but since Read published his series of papers, this point is given the most hesitant treatment. One treats it in an “amusing” footnote:

While the existence of this Choctaw word is known to etymologists (see Thomas Pyles, Words and Ways of American English /New York: Random House, Inc., 1952/, pp. 159-60) there are two points which are not generally taken into consideration. One is that the lingua franca built on Choctaw could have easily contained this word and spread its usage over a wide area. The other is the prevalence of okeh in Choctaw speech. It was amusing to note the occurrence of okeh in Choctaw conversations in much the same syntactic and semantic environments as the American OK occurs. If OK came out of the American back woods as suggested by Pyles, then Choctaw would be a sensible source. ( Badger, 16, note ).

The book by Thomas Pyles mentioned in this note discusses Native languages in particular for some eight pages and is elsewhere sprinkled with references to Native and frontier contributions to American vernacular speech. Chapter Seven, “Later American Speech: Coinages and Adaptations,” which discussed the expression “okeh” begins with these words:

The War of 1812 and the appearance on the American scene of the frontiersman — both in the flesh and as a national symbol — mark the beginning of an indigenous psyche Americana which is striking reflected in the flood of Americanisms originating in the nineteenth century. (154)

The book accepted the “Old Kinderhook” etymology but also included a small but straightforward mention of the Choctaw etymology of “OK.” Moreover, Pyles said that Read built up a convincing case for “Old Kinderhook” but admitted the possibility and discussed the implications of it just being “a newspaper writer’s fabrication of an etymology after the fact.” (162)

It might be noted, however, that in a 1982 work published after Read’s series of papers Pyles showed no such ambivalence. He not only ridiculed evidence of pre-Kinderhook or non-Anglo-Saxon uses of the expression, including his own 1952 work, but disparaged that evidence as the romantic product of “the ingenuity of amateur etymologists.” (274) While the 1952 work treated Indian languages (in eight pages) as a significant source of loan words into American English, in 1982 he peremptorily dismissed Indian languages in a single paragraph within a five-paragraph section on “Slavic, Hungarian, Turkish, and American Indian” which he says are “[v]ery minor sources of the English vocabulary.” (309) On the second to the last page of the 1982 book, Pyles reiterated that Indian languages do not have significant usage in American English and what usage there is occurs mainly in literature, such as in the works of James Fenimore Cooper. (310)

The central place of Choctaw as the lingua franca of the frontiersman as suggested in Pyles’ 1952 book is supported by a World Cat survey of the publications during this time by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which produced the Byington and Wright books. Such a survey indicates that the Native cultures that received the most attention were the Choctaw and related Muskogean people. Cherokees received the second most attention.

Moreover, Choctaw phrases using some form or spelling of “okeh” were precisely those phrases that would be familiar even to people with no particular interest in the language culture. One such phrase, “Yak oke,” was and is a good example. “Yak oke,” by various spellings, means “Thank you,” but may also be used to express joy when spoken quickly or regret when spoken slowly. (Byington, Grammar, 369) Moreover, about the first two expressions one learns about any language are those for “yes” and “thank you.” Just as people today who profess no knowledge of or interest in Spanish still know the words “sí” and “gracias,” or people who profess no knowledge of or interest in French know the meaning of “oui” and “merci,” so it was that people of the 1800’s who were interested in the frontier undoubtedly knew of “oke” and “Yak oke.” The fact that they seldom, if ever, wrote the expressions or used it in formal discourse does not mean they did not use them.Choctaw expressions based on some form of “oke” are precisely those expressions learned by those people with even the most fleeting contact with the language and culture. Even today, in web pages that do not by any means deal with the Choctaw language, if those pages do include a phrase or two of Choctaw, those phrases will almost invariably be based on some form of “oke.” The phrase “yakoke” or “yak oke” used in its “Thank you” sense is a popular feature of these pages. Some rendering of “oke” is often used to proclaim “I am Chahta (Choctaw).” or “We are Chahta.”

In short, anyone with even a passing interest in Choctaw culture has occasion to be familiar with “oke.” That may account for why the word was used constantly in the very early Choctaw spelling and reading books, but never treated formally in the word or expression lists or conjugations.

Modern reader may not appreciate the how widespread the use of the “okeh” spelling once was in vernacular American speech, a use documented in the mention of “okeh” someplace in entries for “O.K.” or “okay” in modern dictionaries, often with the notation the spelling is obsolete.

Woodrow Wilson, who was a highly respected historian and author of, among other works, the five volume A History of the American People before he became President, was something of a campaigner for “okeh,” and always used that Choctaw spelling to emphasize its Native origins. He did not use the spelling “O.K.,” he said “Because it is wrong.” Wilson, 145

The Arrow shirt company marketed an Okeh collar for a while with the slogan “all that its name implies.” The advertisers felt no need to explain to the public what it was the name implied. (The author is indebted to Elina Smith of Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc., New York, who included photocopies of three “Okeh” shirt collar ads in an April 29, 2002 letter.)

“Okeh” continues to be the favored spelling for the expression in some other languages, notably German and Russian. It may not be included in their dictionaries, but the “okeh” is alive and well in vernacular usage, as demonstrated by web searches of those languages. A Russian language search for “okeh” done by a competent Russian language researcher on a computer configured to the Cyrillic alphabet yields primarily, as any web search for “okeh” does, a mass of information about records by “Okeh” artists. But included in those listings is Russian vernacular use of “okeh,” most notably as the names of the businesses that have flowered in the new-found freedom of recent years, names that indicate the New World aspirations on which those businesses are based in import/export, computers, market research, consulting and so forth.

Before leaving the discussion of the substantial body of material by Byington and Wright, perhaps a couple of points are in order. First, this body of work has been taken very seriously for some 175 years and is taken seriously today by a variety of scholarly and religious institutions. A review of the three editions of the spelling book published before 1840 or the array of the institutions reprinting the Dictionary, for example, should dispel any notion that this material can be dismissed as silly or trivial buffoonery or as some kind of Tonto-esque “pop culture” gag.

The second point is an ironic counterpoint to the first. Nothing in this body of material should be taken as an effort on the part of Byington, Wright or Brinton to engender an appreciation for the Choctaw language or culture. Quite the contrary, the work of those individuals was devoted to, as Brinton put it in his introduction to Byington’s Grammar, “redeeming the [Choctaw] nation from drunkenness, ignorance and immorality to sobriety, godliness, and civilization.” (4) The whole body of evidence is predicated on the assumed superiority of civilized culture over uncivilized culture and on efforts to eradicate one culture in favor of the other.

Byington, Wright and Brinton would be appalled at the notion that their work might, some 150 years later, lead to some increased appreciation of traditional, uncivilized Choctaw culture, or that the work might play any part in expressions from the language of “ignorance and immorality” finding their way into the language of “godliness and civilization.”


One of Read’s papers was entitled “The Folklore of ‘O.K.'” but was a review of what most historians and the general public would be more apt to call history than folklore. In that paper he says that “[o]f all the folklorist stories about the origin of O.K., the cleverest and most seductive” is that it is derived from the Choctaw okeh. (14)

This etymology was the one given by dictionaries well into the twentieth century. Read cites in part a couple of these dictionaries. One was the New Century Dictionary:

A humorous or ignorant spelling of what should be *okeh <Choctaw (Chakta) okeh. . .: a use that may be compared with that of the Hebrew and European amen .’ Emery, V. I, 1179; “Folklore,” 17, note

Another was Webster: “Prob. fr. Choctaw okeh it is so and not otherwise,” which was retained until 1961. (17, note)

However, Read excludes from his quote a rather crucial aspect of this Choctaw usage documented by Byington and included in the New Century dictionary entry, and that is the “interjectional” nature of the expression when “used to excite the attention of the party addressed.”Another nineteenth century Choctaw grammar, Allen Wright’s Chakta Leksikon, spelled the expression “okah,” “hokah,” or “yokah” and translated it as “it is, usually used in reply to a question with emphasis” – “Folklore,” 15

Read did not mention that Funk and Wagnals included the term “okeh” as a separate entry from “OK” in their 1941 edition and quoted the Byington grammar. Moreover, although some of the works by Byington or Wright had been reprinted repeatedly by respected scholarly, cultural and religious institutions for over a century, Read did not treat any of them in the text but merely mentioned them as a digression in a footnote about another work.

Read surveys several of the “backwoods” associations with the expression.

John Jacob Astor became the nation’s first millionaire by trading with the Indians for furs. In large part this trading was done throughout the section of the country in which Choctaw, or some derivative of it, was the lingua franca noted in the quotation above. One dictionary of colloquialism says that Astor used “OK” to approve of business transactions with other traders. Read says that it is “altogether probable ” that Astor used “OK” from 1839 until his death in 1848. (“Folklore,” 13) Read’s pinpointing the date as 1839 most assuredly is based on his own assumptions about the etymology of the expression. The chronology of history presents an alternate view. If the evidence offered by Read is correct and Astor used “OK” in reference to other traders, it must surely have been before 1834, when he retired from his activities in dealing with those traders. Haeger , 243

Read reviews the first of the numerous accounts he discusses in his papers associating Andrew Jackson with “OK,” accounts that were set down on paper some time after the incident described. William H. Murray, whom Read repeatedly refers to as “Alfalfa Bill” instead of by his given name, was a student of Choctaw history, president of the Constitutional Convention instrumental in creating the state of Oklahoma and subsequently governor of that state. Murray offers an account of the Choctaw warrior Pushmataha using the phrase “si Hoka” very much in the unique way that “Okay!” is used today, and Jackson becoming enthralled with the emphatic expression. – “Folklore,” 15-16

In later papers Read presents several pieces of evidence (which he discounts out of hand) associating Jackson and William Henry Harrison ­ both of whom launched their careers on the frontier ­ with the expression “OK.”

Another piece of evidence Read dismisses out of hand is the work of W.S. Wyman, who he calls a highly praised “excellent scholar” and accomplished user of Choctaw.

Wyman offers a very earnest presentation of the evidence that Jackson learned “okeh” or “Hoka” from the Choctaw. He begins with “There is a tradition among the intelligent Choctaws of the old stock who once lived in Mississippi,” and ends with a ben trovata comment to the affect that, although the tradition is very enlightening and very consistent with history, the reader is not obligated to accept that tradition. Read interprets this modest phraseology to mean that Wyman fabricated these accounts. (“Folklore,” 15) When a scholar is accused of fabricating fraudulent historical evidence one would usually expect the accusation to be supported by some historical evidence that warrants the accusation. Read offers none, other than his suspicion, but treats his suspicions as established fact.

Admittedly, much of this evidence has all the earmarks of apocryphal anecdote. For example, until some historical documentation comes to light to support it, any scenario in which “okay” first passed into American English when Pushmataha used it to Andrew Jackson to indicate victory at the Battle of New Orleans is a little too pat and a little too neat not to arouse some skepticism. As a matter of fact, a look at the logistical setting of the story suggests that it probably would not have been Pushmataha who said to Jackson that the battle was going “okay.” ( Ward )

Nevertheless, reservations about individual anecdotes should not cause the entire body of evidence to be dismissed as “anecdotal” other than in the sense that all history is anecdotal. The point is that the well documented and widespread tendency to associate “OK” with the frontier is not based on the details of one particular anecdote. Quite the contrary, the apocryphal, almost mythical quality of these anecdotes in itself speaks volumes about how deeply rooted the term was in the frontier and in Native American (and native American) culture. The wide popularity of the expression had little to do with the specific details of any anecdote.

The central importance of Choctaw language as the lingua franca of the frontier at the time when the frontier was playing a large part in the molding of psyche Americana has already been noted. Moreover, as also earlier noted, the Choctaw expressions based on some form or spelling of “okeh” are precisely those expressions well known to people with even the most fleeting contact with or interest in the language or culture of the frontier.

Any discussion of whether Jackson could possibly know of these Choctaw expressions misses the point entirely. If anything, the question should be whether it is at all possible that Jackson could not have known of these expressions mentioned in the various anecdotes, and the answer to that is “no.” It is virtually inconceivable that Jackson could deal with Choctaws for years, adopt a Choctaw boy and yet remain unaware of these expressions, any more than one could deal with Mexicans for years and remain unaware of the expressions “sí” or “Gracias.”

Read’s treatment of the Choctaw “okeh” is a good example of the rhetorical technique known as “inoculation” in which evidence or arguments are acknowledged merely in order to give them a derisive dismissal. The attempt is to “inoculate” the audience against this evidence by creating an unwarranted antipathy to it that is difficult to overcome with reasoned argument. Indeed, the whole point of inoculation is to forestall thoughtful reasoned treatment of the evidence.

And so, for example, Read does not offer reasoned refutation of Murray’s account of Pushmataha and Jackson, although such refutation is possible. Quite the contrary, Read does not do anything to invite a reasoned evaluation of the evidence. He merely establishes that Murray was known as “Alfalfa Bill” in hopes the audience will always associate that evidence with bucolic buffoonery and dismiss it out of hand. By the same token, Read does not take issue with Wyman’s credentials, nor does he try to refute Wyman’s accounts of the Choctaw traditions surrounding Jackson and “OK.” He tries to establish the feeling instead that sophisticated readers understand that Wyman’s ben trovata comment indicates he was merely indulging in a little tongue-in-cheek academic gag.

Read concludes his discussion of the Choctaw etymology with the statement that the evidence he has surveyed is the product of emotional Indian lovers and that “the weight of the evidence is conclusively against” the Choctaw etymology. (17) This is a startling conclusion indeed, since he has presented no evidence to refute, conclusively or not, the evidence for “okeh.” Even if one totally accepts Read’s objections – Murray was a buffoon; the term was promoted by Indian lovers; Wyman was a practical jokester, the Pushmataha-at-New-Orleans anecdote is too good to be true – none of these factors invalidate the Choctaw etymology. Indeed, they are all part and parcel of that etymology. They all speak for its widespread popularity and usage of the expression in vernacular speech. Misunderstanding, embellishment, fraud and chicanery are often crucial factors in the origin, meaning, usage and popularity of words, especially vernacular colloquialisms such as “okay.” Indeed, the etymology that Read champions later in these papers is one that he deems particularly valid because it was “engineered” through a clandestine conspiracy.

The only evidence Read presented in the “Folklore” paper documented the depth and breadth and scope of the popularity of the Choctaw etymology which achieved the near-mythic status in folklore. Read spends considerable effort in these papers documenting on one hand the popular, widespread association of “OK” with Jackson and then arguing on the other hand against the relevance of that evidence in explaining the popularity of the expression. Indeed, he probably spends more time in the papers discussed here arguing that point than on any other single topic.

It seems that with this paper Read established a fundamental principle on which on which the discussion of “OK” or “okay” would be based, and that inviolable principle was that uncultured, non-Anglo-Saxon, “popular” material had no place in the discussion. According to Read, what may appear to be sound historical evidence is really nothing more than vindication of his premise that the material is really the “cleverest and most seductive” of all of the the bogus etymologies.


In another paper, “The First Stage in the History of ‘O.K.'” Read offered early instances of “O.K.” appearing in newspapers beginning with a March 23, 1839 issue of a Boston paper. He offers a lengthy explanation and examples of a fad that emerged in Boston about 1838-9 which delighted in “sportive” use of language, spelling and abbreviations such as “N.C.” for “’nuff ced” or “K.Y.” for “know yuse.” This fad was documented by numerous examples of “O.K.,” “sportive” and otherwise, collected by Albert Matthews of that city.

He also described how the speech of the frontier, in particular the “transmontain” region between the Allegheny and Rocky Mountains, was in vogue at the time and was the source of many linguistic innovations. He offers several examples of this as raw material for “sportive” use of the language.

The dozen early instances of the use of “OK” cited in the paper are colloquialisms expressing affirmation. In five of the twelve instances, the expression is not glossed. The reader is assumed to be already familiar with the term and its meaning. In the remaining instances, the expression is glossed as “all correct,” although in some instances “all correct” does not seem to be a particularly good fit semantically or syntactically. In all instances the term is used in an informal, uncultured context. Indeed, in one instance an apology was later made for using the term at all. In none of the dozen quotes offered by Read is the expression used as an abbreviation for anything.

Read closes the paper with this startling summation:

…in the spring of 1839, O.K. became current as standing for “oll korrect,” in a slang application of all correct, and from there it became widespread over the country. Thus the emergence of O.K. is well accounted for. (“First Stage,” 27)

This conclusion is startling because, except for one instance in which he speaks about the use of humor in “the emergence of ‘oll korrect,'” that term does not appear any place in the paper until this summary. He offers extensive documentation of other sportive abbreviations (over 125 citations), as well as extensive background and interpretation on how one should expect to see “O.K.” glossed. He offers examples of “O.W.” glossed as “all right” beginning some nine months before the first occurrence of “O.K.” He offers an instance of “a.r.” glossed as “all right” before the first occurrence of “O.K.” But he offers not one instance of the appearance of “oll korrect” in the public record during this time.

This includes every instance in which the style of writing might conceivably be considered “sportive.” This includes instances in which the writer spells “Boston” as “Bosting” or uses N.S.M.J. for “‘nough said ‘moung gentlemen” or uses the phrase “Vell, vot ov it!” but still glosses “O.K.” as “all correct.” That seems to be fairly persuasive evidence that the “sportive” expression “oll korrect” has not yet been coined. Moreover, most of the instances of “O.K.” cited by Read occurred in settings which did not by any stretch of the imagination use “sportive” phraseology or spelling.Regardless of the conclusion with which he ends this paper, the evidence he presents argues very exhaustively and unambiguously that “OK” was widely used at this time as a popular colloquialism expressing affirmation but not as an abbreviation for “Oll Korrect.”


In his next paper “The Second Stage in the History of ‘O.K.,'” Read continually refers to the general usage or general circulation of “OK” as “Oll Korrect,” but he is able to offer only two examples of clear cut instances of this “general usage.” He offers several citations of a story that Jackson used “OK” for “Ole Korrect” or “Oll Korrect” and notes that this material was very popular and widely circulated. However, he maintains the policy he established in the “First Stage” paper of dismissing as irrelevant any evidence that associated Jackson with “OK.” He also dismisses evidence associating William Henry Harrison with “Oll Korrect,” saying it is a case of “simply a transference from one false story to another.” -“Second Stage,” 89-91

He offers two examples of “OK” being glossed as “Oll Korrect” in jest as part of a list of similar outrageous inventions (“Second Stage,” 97, 99) But out of the some 80 uses of “OK” he cites in the paper, excluding those he “disposes of” because they associate “OK” with Andrew Jackson or the frontier, Read is able to find only two instances in which “OK” is employed in general usage or general circulation as “Oll Korrect.” Neither originated in either Boston, where Read claims the phrase was created and promoted, or New York. Both are from Ohio (which was not far removed from “frontier” at the time.). One occurred in April of 1840, and the other in September of the same year, well after the stories associating it with Jackson had become popular.

The evidence he presents in the “Second Stage” paper documents extremely persuasively that “OK” was very widely used during this time as a colloquial expression of affirmation, but it was not employed in general usage as an abbreviation for “oll korrect” (except in connection with Jackson) any more than it was in dozens of other ways.

The “Second Stage” paper, however, is not primarily about the “Oll Korrect” etymology, but rather about the “Old Kinderhook” etymology. This use of “OK” was first noted by Read in the March 23, 1840 issue of The New York New Era, a paper affiliated with the democratic political party. The paper carried a notice regarding a meeting of the a group of Tammany Society “O.K. Boys.”

The Democratic O.K. Club, are hereby ordered to meet at the House of Jacob Colvin, 245 Grand Street, on Tuesday evening, 24 the inst. at 7 o’clock.
Punctual attendance is requested.
By order,
William Stokely, President
John H. Low, Secretary
(“Second Stage,” 84)

Read might give the impression the Tammany groups were merely a New York political group named after a building, Tammany Hall – also popularly known as the Great Wigwam – but that is not the case. The Tammany groups or social clubs as well as the buildings were named after the individual described as “the greatest and best chief known to Delaware tribal tradition.” (Mooney, “Tammany,” 683) There were Tammany Societies up and down the young country, and they had been instrumental in the formation, development and survival of that republic. Tammany is sometimes referred to as the patron saint of America. (See the chapter “America’s Patron Saint” in Jack Weatherford’s Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America.)

Because the Tammany Society is so central to Read’s “old Kinderhook” etymology, the subject warrants some discussion:

…it appears that the Philadelphia society, which was probably the first bearing the name, and is claimed as the original of the Red Men secret order, was organized May 1, 1772, under the title of Sons of King Tammany, with strongly Loyalist tendency. It is probable that the “Saint Tammany” society was a later organization of Revolutionary sympathizers opposed to the kingly idea. Saint Tammany parish, La., preserves the memory. The practice of organizing American political and military societies on an Indian basis dates back to the French and Indian war, and was especially in favor among the soldiers of the Revolutionary army, most of whom were frontiersmen more or less familiar with Indian life and custom. . .. . .The famous Tammany Society. . .was founded in 1786 by William Mooney, a Revolutionary veteran and former leader of the “Sons of Liberty,” and regularly organized with a constitution in 1789 (most of the Original members being Revolutionary soldiers), for the purpose of guarding “the independence, the popular liberty, and the federal union of the country,” in opposition to the efforts of the aristocratic element, as represented by Hamilton and the Federalists. . .

The society occasionally at first known as the Columbian Order took an Indian title and formulated for itself a ritual based upon supposedly Indian custom. Thus, the name chosen was that of the traditional Delaware chief; the meeting place was called the “wigwam”; there were 13 “tribes” or branches corresponding to the 13 original states, the New York parent organization being the “Eagle Tribe,” New Hampshire the “Otter Tribe,” Delaware the “Tiger Tribe,” whence the famous “Tammany tiger,” etc. The principal officer of each tribe was styled the “sachem,” and the head of the whole organization was designated the kitchi okeemaw, or grand sachem, which office was held by Mooney himself for more than 20 years. Subordinate officers also were designated by other Indian titles, records were kept according to the Indian system by moons and seasons, and at the regular meetings the members attended in semi-Indian costume. . .

For the first 30 years of its existence, until the close of the War of 1812, nearly the whole effort of the society was directed to securing an foundations of the young republic and it is possible that without Tammany’s constant vigilance the National Government could not have survived the open and secret attacks of powerful foes both within and without. Mooney, “Tammany”

In 1812 a branch of the Tammany Society was formed at Hamilton, Ohio. They called their meeting place “Wigwam No 9,” and met to listen to “long talks.” (“Tammany Society”) Details of Choctaw culture were very popular and well known at that time and “long talks” or “great talks” were common popular translations for Indian (Choctaw and others) expressions for a speech. The Tammany faithful delighted in using what they perceived as Indian expressions whenever possible as the quote above suggests and as this newspaper notice illustrates:

NOTICE.–The members of the Tammany Society No. 9 will meet at their wigwam at the house of brother William MURRAY, in Hamilton, on Thursday, the first of the month of heats, precisely at the going down of the sun. Punctual attendance is requested.”By order of the Great Sachem. “

The ninth of the month of flowers, year of discovery 323. William C. KEEN, Secretary – “Tammany Society

Read might also give the impression that the Tammanies were sophisticated and effective molders of public. This perception is greatly at odds with the more widespread perception among the civilized, cultured elements of society that the Tammanies were little more than mobs of uncouth hell-raisers. This was certainly the perception about the Ohio group:

They exerted an influence which was extensively felt, and in the short period of their existence did considerable mischief. (Mooney, “Tammany Society”)

The New York Tammanies of 1839-40 were not very different, nor were they perceived as very different, from the Ohio Tammanies of 1812. The microfilm copies of The New York New Era from July 19 to the end of that year offer about the only accessible record of the day-to-day offerings of that New York City democratic publication at the time preceding the “OK boys” notice in March of ’40. (New York Democratic-Republican New Era)

Some things are evident from this six month long “snapshot” of the Tammanies. The most obvious thing is that they were not serious, sophisticated users of the press, nor were they sophisticated social or political activists. Their interest instead seemed to be limited to taking every opportunity to use what they perceived to be Indian expressions and performing what they perceived to be Indian rituals and practices. While the six months of the New Era on microfilm documents in great detail the meetings, agendas, motions, debates and so forth of other democratic groups around the city, there was nothing like this concerning the Tammanies, with a couple of minor exceptions. Press reports about the Tammanies were almost entirely limited to notices about meetings nearly identical to the ones in the Ohio papers decades before, notices that delighted in using what the Tammanies perceived to be Indian expressions. Here’s an example.

TAMMANY SOCIETY OR COLUMBIAN ORDER Brothers – A regular meeting of the Institution will be held in the Council Chamber of the Great Wigwam, on MONDAY EVENING, Dec. 2d, at half-an-hour after the setting of the Sun.
General and punctual attendance is particularly desired.
By order of the Grand Sachem,
JOHN M. LESTER, Secretary
Manhattan, Season of Hunting, Eleventh Moon, Year of Discovery 48, of Independence 65th, of the Institution 51st.
N.B. An election of Sachems will take place on the above evening.

Many, perhaps most, of these notices included a note similar to the one in this notice that the upcoming meeting would feature some ritual associated with the election or installation of sachems. If there was much purpose to the Tammany meetings as anything more than an occasion to delight in Indian speech and practices, it is not apparent in the Tammany papers of the time.

A parade organized by the democratic “Butt Enders” in November of 1839 is also insightful. The democratic New Era noted that it included a contingent of Bucktails Boys mounted on white horses and featured a large painting of an Indian purporting to be “Old Tammany.” The Bucktails were so named because instead of wearing the usual items of Indian regalia favored by Tammanies, they wore buck tails on their hats instead plumes, to commemorate the totem of Chief Tammany, the deer.

The New Era devoted a column to the parade. The rival Whig paper The New York Herald, on the other hand, devoted a column and a large engraving to the event in the next issue and another column and large engraving a few days later. The article describes how the Tammanies had traditionally been identified by Indian names such as Mohawk (as the Mohawks who performed the Boston Tea Party, for example), or as the Bucktails until the summer of 1830 when the efforts of various factions to assume power within the Bucktails or Tammanies began engendering a myriad of splinter groups with rough-and-tumble, but not necessarily Indian, names. (“Humors“)

These Tammany groups were not only very uncouth, they were also very successful. It was the success of this popular, rowdy, frontier approach to politics that had decided previous elections, and the Harrison partisans decided to exploit (or manufacture) a frontier, rough-and-tumble image for their candidate.

As a result, Harrison became popularly known as Tippecanoe, after the famous Indian War battle. So popular was this Indian-derived designation that Harrison’s most popular slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” used it in place of his name. Supporters of Harrison began developing Tippecanoe clubs in response to the success of the Tammany groups, and Read documents that the Tippecanoes sometimes referred to their activities as “pow-wows” (“Second Stage,” 95) just as the Tammanies sometimes did theirs (90).

In general, the Whig efforts to sell a rough-and-tumble, log-cabin-and-hard-cider image of Harrison were definitely less successful than the various rough-and-tumble images with which the Tammanies sold their democratic candidates. The Tammanies often characterized Harrison as the “granny” general, or “petticoat” general, and these jabs seem be well received by the public. Sometimes the imagery of the conflict between the Tammanies and the Tippecanoes was fairly explicit, as in this description of the Tammanies by the pro-Harrison New York Morning Herald .

In the streets, a few miserable squads of these squalid creatures, who, in the wantonness of barbarism, call themselves “huge paws,” “roarers,” “buttenders,” and the like, were crawling along to a fife and drum, that made the very horses in the omnibuses stop, fling up their tails, and burst forth in a broad “ha! ha!” Tammany Hall, up to near ten o’clock, was deserted, and waiting for the tribes; but it seems that as great panic has seized these miserable barbarians as did the savages on the Tippecanoe river, where General Harrison approached their settlement to chastise their insolence. (New York Morning Herald, April 11, 1840, p.2, col. 1)

Perhaps a moment should be taken to note the general tone of the piece. It is a free-and-easy, tongue-in-cheek swipe at the Tammanies. It is not intended to be taken too seriously or too literally. As an example of the tone of the campaign, it is very enlightening. As an example of journalism, it is not outstanding, to say the least. And it is not, nor does it have any pretensions of being, an example of sound historiography. To suggest that a sentence or a couple of words can be taken from this story to serve as the factual basis of some cultural phenomenon is highly problematical at best.

The 1840 newspaper notice about the some of the Tammanies meeting as the “OK Boys” was documenting a rather ordinary phenomenon as these groups constantly evolved and reorganized. In this case, a group of Tammany Bucktails or Tammany Old Butt-Enders began calling themselves the OK Boys.

One newspaper account stated that The O.K. Club was “said to number 1,000 bravos…”. – Second Stage, p. 89 Bravos was the shortened version of the more common “Indios Bravos,” or “Wild Indians.” “Bravos” was often used by itself in English to mean “savage.” Other accounts more or less characterized the O.K. Boys as the standard bearers of the Tammanies. – Second Stage, 94; Second Stage 95

The vulgar, improper nature of these groups was expressed in their catchwords or war cries, and this particularly applied to “OK.” It was widely noted that there was something special and inexplicable about this use of “OK” from its very earliest days.

Indeed, four days after the initial newspaper notice by the OK boys another notice appeared in the same paper with the headline, “Meeting To Night,” followed by the large letters “O.K.” That notice the expression “O.K.” proved to be a thinly veiled suggestion to the OK Boys to break up a meeting by the political rival party, the Whigs. The papers the next day commented how central the expression “O.K.” was to the ensuing melee:

About 500 stout strapping men, many of them with sticks, . . . marched three and three, noiselessly and orderly. The word, O.K, was passed from mouth to mouth, a cheer was given, and they rushed into the Hall and up the stairs, like a torrent. (85)

Another paper described “shouting the watchword of the New Era, ‘OK.'” Another paper called “O.K” the “war cry” (italics in the original). (85)

In the coming months “OK” was described as cabalistic on many occasions. The term “cabalistic” was used in a virtual sense in that the expression seemed to have an inexplicably popular and inexplicably expressive dimension to it.Read also described the term as cabalistic, but argued that it was cabalistic in the literal sense of deriving some special significance through secret ritual, secret password or secret society. He argues passionately for a theory that the publisher of the New Era organized and engineered a clandestine conspiracy to promote a special, secret use of the expression “O.K.”

Read put forth this theory because some months after its initial story about the OK Boys, the New Era carried the ad for the “O.K.” lapel pin mentioned earlier commemorating the “hero of New Orleans,” Andrew Jackson. The notice described “the very frightful letters O.K., significant of the birthplace of Martin Van Buren, old Kinderhook, as also the rallying word of the Democracy of the late election, ‘all correct.'” The story went on to note that the pin could be purchased at Mr. P. L. Fierty’s, 486 Pearl Street, and ended with an optimistic hurrah that the upcoming elections would turn out “O.K.” – “Second Stage,” 86

On the face of it, this notice seems to be a rather unremarkable advertisement in a very unremarkable publication. Catalogs such as the OCLC Union List of serials often include the description that the New Era was “largely advertisements,” and that is very true. It was only published for about four years and never rose much above the level of a modern day “shopper” except that it contained daily long harangues against the formation of a national bank and promoting New York democratic politics. It was usually entirely ads except for the second page which contained the political material. One could hardly find, in the New Era, a less likely instrument of social engineering, just as one could hardly find, in the Tammanies, a group more devoid of aspirations or abilities to advance social or cultural innovations.

The “hero of New Orleans” commemorative pen was typical of the standard New Era advertisement that starts out as a humorous anecdote or human interest story and then ends up in the last sentence or two noting where the object of the story – the patent medicine or corset stays – could be purchased. It was a common practice of the day to try to disguise ads as legitimate news articles. An ad for “rheumatism plasters” that was run dozens of times in the New Era was given a “New Era” byline in an effort to make it look like a news story. Likewise, an ad for a hat store was given a “twist” to try to make it look like a democratic political notice. There is no reason to believe the OK lapel pin ad is anything other than another one of these ads.

Read perceives the notice differently. He argues in this “Second Stage” paper and then more passionately in his last paper of the series that this notice was “an important breakthrough” in the use of “OK.” He theorizes that the editor of the New Era, after months of secretly engineering the popularity of the expression “OK” through secret meetings as a cabalistic abbreviation for “Old Kinderhook” finally, in the “hero of New Orleans” lapel pin notice, announced to the public the secret, heretofore inexplicable, cabalistic meaning of the expression.

Others have not always share Read’s interpretation of the notice. The notice does not materially seem to be particularly about “Old Kinderhook.” On the contrary, it is hard to imagine a more explicit argument that in 1840 the expression “OK” was popularly associated with Jackson and the Choctaws at the Battle of New Orleans. At least the writer of the ad saw no need to explain the connection. Both “Old Kinderhook” and “all correct” seem rather to be afterthoughts to exploit the sportive acronym fad.

Andrew Jackson and New Orleans were an extremely important part of popular culture at the time. Entertainment offerings of the day included a speech at the New York Lyceum recalling the Battle of New Orleans and the exploits of “the old Hero” of that battle. (“New York Lyceum“) A fundraiser for the Tammany Temple was a ball commemorating Battle of New Orleans. (“EIGHTH WARD TAMMANY TEMPLE ASSOCIATION“) One New York establishment advertised in the New York Herald was the New Orleans Literary Depot. (“NEW ORLEANS LITERARY DEPOT“)

Moreover, the lapel pin notice did not at the time constitute an important breakthrough in the use of “OK.” “OK” for “Old Kinderhook” was not used at all before the lapel pin notice and, according to Read’s own evidence, it was not widely used after that notice. Read cites only one instance in November of 1840 of the use of “OK” used as “Old Kinderhook.” – 98

Read’s evidence, or lack of it, is compatible with that of other historians in that Van Buren’s birthplace, Kinderhook, is sometimes associated with the man in political and campaign usage, but he was not by any means known as “Old Kinderhook” in general usage. Read elsewhere expresses consternation that a “sound historian” knowledgeable of the events surrounding “Old Kinderhook” should be “so remarkably vague” to the Library of Congress about the etymology of “OK.” In fact, this historian’s explanation of the rise of “OK” was not vague at all; it just didn’t include in any way “Old Kinderhook” but rather associated the expression with Andrew Jackson. – “Folklore,” 13

Even the one example Read cites of general usage of the name “Old Kinderhook” may have been more tongue-in-cheek than an example of “general usage.” This usage occurs in a notice about a rally for Van Buren and another Tammany candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson. “O.K.” and “Old Kinderhook” references to Van Buren were used to maintain parallelism with the use of “O.K.” and “Old Kentuck” to refer to Johnson. “Old Kentuck” was in wide circulation at the time, as documented by Read. (“Second Stage,” 86) But it was the nickname for an important national Whig leader of the day, Henry Clay. For the Democrats to suggest that the popular nickname “Old Kentuck” referred to the Democratic Johnson was a gag to take a slap at Clay and the Whigs.

Referring to Richard M. Johnson as “The Hero of the Thames” was also a slap at Harrison who usually accorded that distinction, and was celebrated in that way in a song “The Hero of the Thames” promoted for months in the New York Morning Herald. In fact, the description “Hero of the Thames” fit Johnson at least as much as Harrison in that it was Johnson and his troops who engaged in the crucial battle on the field. Indeed, according to the widely circulated anecdote, Johnson was the individual who killed Tecumseh after being wounded by the Shawnee chief. Harrison, on the other hand, was the butt of Tammany efforts to ridicule the extent of his heroism in battle and, indeed, his very manhood, on occasion portraying him in a dress. This raises the question about the extent to which, if any, the use of “Old Kinderhook” in this instance was much more than one more facetious element of the gag. To take sportive acronyms in this newspaper story literally is to miss the whole point. And yet Read takes the story very seriously and very literally, arguing not only that it documented a general usage, but the general usage from that time forward.

Finally, it should be noted that according to Read’s own policy, the entire lapel pin notice should be dismissed out of hand, associating, as it does, the expression “OK” with Jackson. The whole purpose of the notice is to promote the sale of the pin designed to commemorate Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. This particular instance, however, Read does not characterize the material as “folklore” or “fabrication” as he does other material dealing with “OK” and Jackson. In this case, says Read, “a particular individual, the Tammany editor, simply set down the truth as he knew it.” (note, 89) Read says his discovery of the notice was the “important breakthrough” in the etymology of “O.K.” “With that piece of information, the whole picture appeared to fall into place.” – “Successive Revisions,” 251- 252

It is characteristic of Read’s interpretation that he would maintain that a substantial body of material associating “OK” with Jackson – material by reputable historians that was widely accepted and widely circulated not only at that time but to this day – did not have any bearing on the popularity of the term, but that two words take out of context from an obscure notice about an “OK” lapel pin commemorating Jackson – a notice that apparently went unnoticed until Read’s promotion of it a century later – would be, according to Read, the seminal event in the popularity of the expression.

By the same token, it is characteristic of Read’s interpretation that he would maintain that a large body of popular and widely accepted material dealing with Jackson is irrelevant because it was “invented,” but that the seemingly obscure and inconsequential citation he discovered “looms overwhelmingly important” because it was clandestinely “engineered.”

Read ends the “Second Stage” paper with a reaffirmation of the importance of his discovery dealing with “OK.” Out of the 80 or so instances of “OK” he documents in this paper alone, not counting those dismissed out of hand because they associate the expression with Jackson or the frontier, one is the phrase “old Kinderhook,” and one is the sportive use of “Old Kinderhook” some five months later in an anti-Whig gag. On the basis of these two isolated instances and an enormous amount of interpretation – “sheer, gratuitous, armchair theorizing” according to one of his critics – “Successive Revisions,” 258 – Read concludes that:

…in the history of O.K. “Old Kinderhook” looms overwhelmingly important in explaining how it got fastened into the American (and World English) vocabulary. – 88, note

He ends the paper with the statement that he has established “the trajectory of O.K. as it rocketed across the American linguistic sky.” (102)

Read took this line of interpretation to the point that he considered the lapel pin notice the “origin” of “O.K.” All previous examples of OK he came to regard as incipient forms of the “Old Kinderhook” etymology. Although the expression seemed to be used by those with no ties to Van Buren about as much as it was by the Tammanies, Read argued that those uses were really attempts by opponents of the Tammanies to de-value the term. Read speculated about what it would take “to modify the picture” to the extent the “‘Old Kinderhook’ origin” would cease to be regarded as the only true one. Read’s friend, H.L. Mencken wrote in an article for New Yorker that many “have busied themselves with trying to find examples of O.K. before March 23, 1840. . .but always without success.” (259-260)

When Heflin, the Dicionary of American English staffer in charge of the OK entry, pointed out the obvious, that “the expression O.K. was widely known in 1839 and 1840” Read’s response was “No one can deny this or does deny this.” (262)

There are a couple of other problems with the sportive “oll korrect” and cabalistic “Old Kinderhook” etymology.

First, “OK” has always had some widely understood and accepted special connotations of impropriety to it. The reference to the “frightful letters O.K.” in the Jackson lapel pin ad has already been noted.

Early in 1840 a theatrical weekly used “O.K.” in a story about a benefit for the widow and children of a popular entertainer: “The net proceeds was upward of $1,200, O.K.” – “First Stage,” 18 – “O.K.” appeared about three weeks later in the same paper, and Read says the editor apologized the next day for using the expression because it was not appropriate for inclusion in the paper. (18-19) This paper had no problem with sportive or colloquial phraseology in general, and there was certainly nothing improper about the benefit-for-the-widow-and-children story. However, there was definitely some widely appreciated dimension to the expression “OK” that made it unacceptable in ways similar colloquialisms were not.

One news story referred to the “mysterious letters, the power of which, when exerted, is so fatal to the peace and harmony of the city…” – Second Stage, 91. A short fictional newspaper piece said “Drums beat in the street and shouts of O! K! made the night hideous.” (99) Brinton’s implication that Choctaw was the language of “ignorance and immorality” while English was the language of “godliness and civilization” comes to mind.

Even today the use of the expression is not considered standard English, as any grammar or high school student who used it in an essay or paper has probably learned.

The second problem with the “oll korrect” or “Old Kinderhook” etymologies is semantics. This is obviously the case with “Old Kinderhook.” No one would seriously argue that in any but one or two instances the expression “OK” has been used to express “Old Kinderhook.”

But even “Oll Korrect” is often not a good semantic fit for the expression “OK.” This is a very characteristic and widely acknowledged aspect of many, if not most, of the early uses of “OK” documented by Read. In these instances when “OK” as “all correct” does not quite seem to fit, the traditional, non-abbreviation “okay” seems to fit perfectly. So does the Choctaw “okeh” meaning “it is so and not otherwise” discussed earlier. The linguist’s observation that “the occurrence of okeh in Choctaw conversations in much the same syntactic and semantic environments as the American OK” is remarkably pertinent.

And so, for example, charitable net proceeds of upwards of $1,200 would not be characterized as “all correct.” But it would be perfectly natural to pronounce them “okay” or “okeh.” By the same token, failure to hold a meeting might be “okay” or “okeh,” but it would not be “all correct.” (“First Stage,” 13) The attendance at a concert (“the house” in theatrical parlance) might be “okay,” but it would not be “all korrect.” (“Successive Revisions,” 265) Even when those instances of “OK” are glossed as “all correct” the gloss is reasonable because “all correct” conveys the general idea about as accurately as anything else might. But in almost all of those cases, the essential “feel” of the word is not conveyed by “all correct.” To use the terminology of the Choctaw linguist, the “syntactic and semantic environments” do not quite fit. In all of those cases, the tradition “feel” of “okay” is a much better fit.

Heflin cited “O.K.” used in reference to a mint julep and a bargain and pointed out that thinking of those things in terms of “OK” is perfectly natural, but in terms of “all correct” is problematical. Read acknowledged the point but minimized its significance. – 13-14

It should probably be noted for the record that Read published a “Later Stages in the History of ‘O.K.'” after the “Second Stage” paper, and in that later paper he reviewed his conclusion of the previous “Second Stage” paper, that the general usage of “OK” was a product of “Old Kinderhook”:

The Tammany leaders, drawing upon the symbolizing of “Old Kinderhook,” intended their slogan to mystify the public, but the concentrated attention of the Whigs wrested the expression from them and assured its place in general usage.” – Later Stages, 83

In this paper he cites and disparages several instances in which “the erroneous Choctaw etymology” is explicitly used: Woodrow Wilson’s use of “okeh,” a sampling of three instances of “oke” used in England, a play on words in which “okeh” becomes “okie” as in “okie-dokie” as well as the nickname for an Oklahoma resident in a popular song proclaiming “I’m a Pale Face Okie…From back in Muskogee.” – 95-96

Read also published a paper devoted exclusively to discussing whether or not Andrew Jackson could spell.

His last paper in the series was titled (with what was apparently unintentional irony) “Successive Revisions in the Explanations of ‘O.K.'”


In this last paper of the series Read deals with a subject he has for the most part ignored in earlier papers, even though it is by consensus the earliest known example of “ok” being set down on paper. It is the quintessential “We arrived OK” notation in the hand-written diary of a traveler going from Boston to New Orleans in 1815. The traveler’s name was Richardson, and the “Richardson OK” occurs in the entry for February 21, 1815. It is, of course a hand-written account with many strike-outs and insertions, but by most reckonings that entry includes this sentence “Arrived at Princeton, a handsome little village, 15 miles from N Brunswick, ok & at Trenton, where we dined at 1 P.M.” (“Successive Revisions,” 246)

This “OK” was written by a traveler to New Orleans who presumably was interested in events in that city and in touch with someone who lived there, and it was used at a time when that city (and the nation, for that matter) was still abuzz over the Battle of New Orleans. It is perfectly plausible, but perfectly speculative, that the traveler had learned of the expression “OK” from the New Orleans friend or family member and then used that expression in his diary. It is possible Richardson read the expression in press accounts of the events surrounding the battle because such accounts were common and popular, although those accounts seldom included much or any information about Native contributions to the victory, and no usage of the Choctaw in the public record has yet come to light.

Woodford Heflin summarized how this occurrence of “OK” was regarded in many quarters, coming as it did some twenty-five years earlier than the flurry of occurrences of “OK” coming in 1839-40:

Some people may argue that the very fact of its earliness casts doubt upon its genuiness. This fact, of course, should make one pause in making a hasty conclusion, but in itself the argument is negative and is not necessarily true. Colloquial language very often does not get written down until long after it has come into common use. (95)

Heflin, always the meticulous researcher, invested substantial “unhasty” thought and research on the question, even consulting a handwriting expert. “In my opinion,” he wrote, ” it is a genuine usage.” (94)

There was certainly room for different opinions regarding this notation, and the “Successive Revisions” paper is ostensibly about how the DAE editors grappled with how to treat the notation. In fact, however, the paper is overewhelmingly the notice Read served about what would happen to anyone from “a mere snip of a secretary” to the chief editor (and in particular at Woodford Heflin) who did not take his “Old Kinderhook” etymology sufficiently seriously.


Before leaving the subject, mention must be made of an significant “frontier” dimension to the expression “OK,” and that is its recurrence as a place name. The first examples that come to mind are probably the “OK Corral” of gunfight fame and the “OK Mine” of Central City, Colorado, which was also home, incidentally, to the Marx Brothers’ OK Clothing Store. It is hard to believe these things were named ‘OK’ to commemorate a New York City politician. But the most interesting and provocative “OK” was and is – where else? – Okay, OK.One current web site about ghost towns says that:

Okay was a frontier town that grew and prospered in the pre civil war times. In 1871, the railroad came through and the town moved to its present position. There is not much remaining of the original town. ( Okay)

This description is not exactly wrong. It is certainly more right than the widely circulated assertion that town of Okay was named for the Okay Truck Company. The town was officially given the name Okay in 1919; the OK Truck named in 1923. McMahan, 13, 27

Both the “ghost town” and the “truck company” assertions imply the situation was much more well defined and straightforward than is the case.The Three Rivers area of what is now Oklahoma figured very prominently in frontier history. The first trading post was established in 1806 but was destroyed in its first year by Pushmataha because it was dealing with Osages, the enemies of the Choctaws. Other traders followed, until trading posts and more than 30 log cabins appeared in a two or three mile stretch of the Verdigris River. One of Astor’s prime competitors, Auguste Chouteau, established not only a trading post there, but a facility to build keel boats to ply the rivers. Chouteau’s facilities was later converted to an Indian Agency as the federal government became involved in the administration of Indian policies. – 6-8

This relocation of the Chouteau facilities was only one example of a common and recurrent incident in the history of the area. Flood or fire or war would often cause a small settlement or trading post to be relocated a few hundred yards up or down the river. When the railroads came through, the centers of the community tended to gravitate toward the area that offered the most effective access to the railroad.

Moreover, the arrival of the railroads and later the implementation of U.S. Postal Service to the area meant that the community or the loose cluster of smaller communities acquired official names, perhaps for the first time. For example, the first railroad facility in the area was the Corretta switch and the community that gravitated around that facility became known, more or less officially, as Corretta Switch. When postal service came to the region, one of the prime challenges it faced was to adjudicate the various claims regarding which of the traditional names should be used and where the facility should be located. The post office went through a series of name changes, the most recent being in 1919 from “North Muskogee” to “Okay.”

How prominently did the name “Okay” figure in the early history of what is now the town of Okay? Did, for example, the community identify itself as “Okay” in the early 1800’s before it relocated near the railroad in 1871 as the “ghost town” quote above implies? There seems to be no hard contemporary documentation in the current literature one way or the other. There appears to have been an Okay bank before 1915. (20) It is highly unlikely that any hard evidence will come to light documenting the use of the name “Okay” that predates the published uses of “OK” beginning in 1839.


The problem of the etymology of Okay, OK is the problem of “okeh” or “OK” in microcosm. The history of the region and the preponderance of other place names in the area drawn from Muskogean culture – from Pushmataha county to the town of Muskogee – suggest very strongly that “Okay” is merely a variant spelling of the Choctaw expression that Byington spelled “okeh.”

The alternate view, that the name “Okay” is a corruption of the acronym “O.K.” which stands for “Old Kinderhook” may be more complicated and dubious, but it places the discourse squarely within the civilized context of Anglo-Saxon culture and the published record which many liberally educated English language researchers tend to assume is the only valid and legitimate one. The self-evident difference between Choctaw “ignorance and immorality” on one hand and Anglo-Saxon “godliness, and civilization” on the other noted by Brinton comes to mind.

Read’s out-of-hand dismissal as “folklore” of anything that is colloquial or popular or “uncultured” is a profoundly striking example of such thinking.

The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang lists “okeh” as the obsolete equivalent of “okay” four times but says that “[w]ithout concrete evidence of a prior and established English borrowing from Choctaw-Chickasaw” the claim that this “okeh” – the obsolete form of “okay” – is derived from the Choctaw “okeh” is no more warranted than similar claims about the Liberian Djabo “O-ke,” the Mandingo “O ke,” or the Ulster Scots “Ough, aye!” – II, 708

It is surely not arguing against the importance of high standards of rigorous and disciplined discourse to note that there seems to be one set of standards of “concrete evidence” for “okeh” and another set of standards of “concrete evidence” regarding Read’s “Old Kinderhook” theories. Read offers explicit statements that the expression was derived from Choctaw from, among others, 1) a professor of English and “excellent scholar” well versed in Choctaw, 2) a student of Choctaw history, president of the Constitutional Convention instrumental in creating the state of Oklahoma and subsequently the first governor of that state, 3) “a reputable etymologist” and “prominent member of the American Philological Association” 4) a President of the United States and author of a 5-volume A History of the American People. Moreover, Read tells us that “O.K.” was the war cry of bravos who were standard bearers for the Tammanies who beat drums and went to pow-wows. (He does not mention that the Tammanies were originally referred to as the Red Men secret order, that Tammany Hall was referred to as the Great Wigwam, and that the use of Indian terms, rituals and costume was the defining characteristic of the Tammanies.)

Read offers no refutation of this evidence of any kind. Nor does he offer any evidence of this kind to support his “old Kinderhook” etymology.
The only evidence he offers in support of his “old kinderhook” etymology is two instances of the phrase being used in an obscure political propaganda sheet that was only published for about four years. One of the cases was an obvious gag. In neither of these cases was any suggestion made by the user or anyone else that “old Kinderhook” figured in the origin of the expression “O.K.”

Over a century of scholarly statements, recorded uses, anecdotes, songs, record labels, geographical names and dictionary entries document – and in many cases celebrate – the popularity of rustic, frontier or Choctaw associations with the term. In the 1960’s, when Pete Seeger wrote that “Choctaw gave us the word ‘okay'” he was merely reflecting what had been the popular and accepted etymology for decades. (“PETE” ) By the time Read published his series of papers in ’63-64 it would seem to be late in the day to try to “un-ring the bell,” to promote a school of etymology that pronounced the century of folklore and vernacular, colloquial usage as “erroneous” and irrelevant.

Indeed, by any standards of reasonableness, it would be hard to conceive of a more ludicrous and far-fetched “scholarly” explanation for the current extraordinary popularity of this colloquialism than to argue that it was a 100 year-old phantom conspiracy (for which there is absolutely no evidence) about Martin Van Buren’s birthplace that “assured its place in general usage” and that a single obscure (and probably facetious) journalistic usage of ‘Old Kinderhook’ looms overwhelmingly important” in the current popularity of the term. Such “sheer, gratuitous, armchair theorizing” seems to validate all the pretentious, irrelevant, silly “doesn’t-have-a-clue” connotations sometimes associated with the word “academic.”

Regardless of the origin of the expression, the fact remains that the “okay” used around the world today, the “okay” that was once commonly spelled “okeh” in this country and is still spelled that way today in other parts of the world, is very much the same colloquialism that was used on the frontier a century and a half ago. In other words, to review the quote from the Choctaw grammarian mentioned earlier “the occurrence of okeh in Choctaw conversations in much the same syntactic and semantic environments as the American OK occurs.”

Indeed, the whole world speaks Choctaw.


Badger, Herbert Andrew. Descriptive Grammar of Mississippi Choctaw . Diss.University of Southern Missouri, 1971.Byington, Cyrus. A Dictionary of the Choctaw Language. Edited by John R. Swanton and Henry S. Halbert. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 46. GPO, 1915.

—. Grammar of the Choctaw Language. Edited by D. G. Brinton. Philadephia: McCalla and Stavely, Printers, 1870.

[Byington, Cyrus and Alfred Wright.] Chahta Holisso. Cincinnati: Morgan, Lodge, and Fisher, 1827.

—. A Spelling Book Written in the Chahta Language with an English Translation; Prepared and Published Under the Direction of the Missionaries in the Chahta Nation, with the Aid of Captain David Folsom, Interpreter. Cincinnati: “Published by Morgan, Lodge and Fisher for the Missionary Society,” 1825.

—. Triumphant Deaths of Pious Children. In the Choctaw Language. Boston: “Printed for the Board, by Crocker & Brewster,” 1835.

Craigie, William A.and James R. Hulbert, eds. Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942.

“EIGHTH WARD TAMMANY TEMPLE ASSOCIATION,” New York Democratic Republican New Era, Dec. 28, 1839, page 2.

Emery, H.G. and K. G. Brewster, eds.. New Century Dictionary. New York: Century, 1927

Fritzius, Bob. “On the Origin of OK.” <<http://www.ebicom.net/~rsf1/ok.htm>&gt; (18 Aug 01)

“The Grand Procession,” New York Democratic Republican New Era, Nov. 1, 1839, page 2.

Haeger, John D. John Jacob Astor, business and finance in the early republic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Heflin, Woodford, A. “‘O.K.’ and Its Incorrect Etymology” American Speech Dec. 1962: 243-248.

—. “‘O.K.’ — But What Do We Know About It?” American Speech XVI 1941 89-95.

“Humors,” New York Morning Herald, November 3, 1839, p 2.

“Immense Meeting at Tammany Hall,” New York Morning Herald, November 1, 1839, p 2.

Johansen, Bruce. Forgotten Founders. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1982. [Posted as full-text at <<http://www.ratical.com/many_worlds/6Nations/FF.html>&gt;

Lighter, J.E., J. Ball, and J. O’Connor, eds. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang. New York: Random House, 1994.

McMahan, Liz. “Okay: Where Oklahoma Began.” Typescript project “for the Okay Auxiliary.” 1989. Available through the Oklahoma Historical Society, Wiley Post Historical Building, Oklahoma City, OK. 73105-4997.

Mencken, Henry Louis. The American Language : An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, 4th ed., New York : Knopf, 1962

—.. The American Language, Supplement I. New York : Knopf, 1962.

—. “‘O.K.,’ 1840.” American Speech, XVII (126-127).

—. “Tammany” Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Ed. Frederick Webb Hodge Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30. GPO: 1910. V II, 683-684.

“NEW ORLEANS LITERARY DEPOT,” New York Morning Herald,

New York Democratic-Republican New Era. Usually referred to in text as the New York New Era but cataloged as New York Democratic-Republican New Era. A note is in order about extant copies of the publication. Catalog descriptions of the microfilm sometimes refer to it as dealing with the years 1839 – 1842. In fact, it includes issues from July 19, 1839 to the end of that year and then a single issue in 1842. This is only one example of how anomolies or errors of the cataloging process tend to overstate the archives of the publication. Some searches of union lists or catalogs, for example, might give the impression that several institutions hold the same collection of a dozen or more bound issues. A moment’s thought would suggest that this is an enormous coincidence. In fact, it is an error. In fact, it seems that there is no reasonably extensive archives of the publication. The Library of Congress, according to its on-line catalog, has four scattered issues.

“New York Lyceum,” New York Democratic-Republican New Era, December 4, 1839, page 2.

Okay” from “Ghost Towns and History of the American West.” Atjeu Publishing., 1998. << http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/ok/okay.html >> (8/18/01)

“PETE by Pete Seeger and Friends: ‘All Mixed Up.” Paul Winter’s World of Living Music. < http://www.livingmusic.com/catalogue/albums/pete/tracks/allmixed.html > (11/5/01)

Pyle, Pyles, Words and Ways of American English. New York: Random House, Inc., 1952.

—. The Origins and Development of the English Language. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982.

“Pushmataha.” Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Ed. by Frederick Webb Hodge. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 30. GPO: 1910. V II, 329-330.

Read, Allen Walker. “Could Andrew Jackson Spell?” American Speech 1963: 188-195.

—. “The First Stage in the History of ‘O.K.” American Speech Feb. 1963: 7-27.

—. “The Folklore of ‘O.K.'” American Speech Feb. 1964: 5-25.

—. “Later Stages in the History of ‘O.K.'” American Speech May 1964:83-101.

—. “The Second Stage in the History of ‘O.K.'” American Speech May 1963: 83-102.

—. “Successive Revisions in the Explanation of ‘O.K.'” American Speech December 84: 243-267.

Sutton, Allan. “The Origins of Okeh.” Mainspring Press: Books and Online Resources for Collectors of Vintage Records, 1999. <http://www.mainspringpress.com/okeh.html&gt; (3 Jan 00)

“Tammany Society” from “A Historical and Biographical Cyclopedia of Butler County, Ohio.” <http://www.rootsweb.com/~ohbutler/cyc/104.htm&gt; (Jun 29 01)

Ward, Rufus, Jr. Personal conversation, August 5, 2001. Ward is co-author of By the Flow of the Inland River – The Settlement of Columbus, Mississippi to 1825, by Samuel H. Kaye, Rufus Ward, Jr., and Carolyn B. Neault. Columbus, MS 1992.

Weatherford, Jack. Native Roots: How the Indians Enriched America. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1991.
—. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. New York: Fawcett
Columbine, 1988.

Wilson, Edith Bolling. My Memoir. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1939.

Document Information
Copyright 2002, 2007 by Jim Fay
Uncredited or commercial use prohibited.
To download this file or the poster it accompanies, go to http://www.prairienet.org/prairienations/posters.htm
This page: http://www.prairienet.org/chocokeh.htm
Home page: http//www.prairienet.org/prairienations
Originally posted: 4/12/02
Revision posted: 9/13/07

Published in: on July 9, 2008 at 2:45 am  Leave a Comment  

God and the Spider

During World War II, a US marine was separated from his unit on a Pacific island. The fighting had been intense, and in the smoke and the crossfire he had lost touch with his comrades.

Alone in the jungle, he could hear enemy soldiers coming in his direction. Scrambling for cover, he found his way up a high ridge to several small caves in the rock. Quickly he crawled inside one of the caves. Although safe for the moment, he realized that once the enemy soldiers looking for him swept up the ridge, they would quickly search all the caves and he would be killed.

As he waited, he prayed, “Lord, if it be your will, please protect me. Whatever your will though, I love you and trust you. Amen.”

After praying, he lay quietly listening to the enemy begin to draw close. He thought, “Well, I guess the Lord isn’t going to help me out of this one.” Then he saw a spider begin to build a web over the front of his cave.

As he watched, listening to the enemy searching for him all the while, the spider layered strand after strand of web across the opening of the cave.

“Hah, he thought. “What I need is a brick wall and what the Lord has sent me is a spider web. God does have a sense of humor.”

As the enemy drew closer he watched from the darkness of his hideout and could see them searching one cave after another. As they came to his, he got ready to make his last stand. To his amazement, however, after glancing in the direction of his cave, they moved on. Suddenly, he realized that with the spider web over the entrance, his cave looked as if no one had entered for quite a while.

“Lord, forgive me,” prayed the young man. “I had forgotten that in you a spider’s web is stronger than a brick wall.”

We all face times of great trouble. When we do, it is so easy to forget what God can work in our lives, sometimes in the most surprising ways. And remember with God, a mere spider’s web can become a brick wall of protection.


Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 8:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Native Americans Enlist for Turf and Tribe


Photo from AP Photo by Gerald Herbert

A silhouetted Francis Whitebird, a former Army combat medic and member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, leads a Native American blessing of the future site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center, Monday, March 26, 2007, in Washington, during a ceremony to marking the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

si.unm.edu/bern_2003/ janie/jan_tl/janie_tl.htm

Native American Code talkers from WWII (Image from www.csmonitor.com)

They continue to join the military in larger numbers than almost any other minority group – many out of a sense of tribal duty.


By Jennifer Miller / Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

August 20, 2007 edition

(excerpt:) Fort Defiance, Ariz. In a grassy clearing amid the dusty hills here, Donovan Nez bends over a bubbling spring. Mr. Nez, 26, is a Navajo Indian and a former marine. Though he wears his dark hair cropped in a military cut, he looks very much the civilian on this Sunday afternoon. He balances on a fallen log, turning every so often to flash a boyish smile at his younger cousins who cluster behind him on the bank.

“When you drink this water,” says Nez, “it seeps into every crevice of your body. It rejuvenates you.”

Nez turns back to the water at the site known as Swiffle Spring, located on the Navajo Indian reservation just below the Chuksa mountains here, and bows his head. He whispers a prayer in Navajo, then English.

“Mother Earth, ease our physical and mental burdens. Thank you for all you have given us. For safety and strength. For this sacred water.” He places his hands in the spring.

When Nez thanks Mother Earth for protection, he often has something specific in mind – namely Iraq, where he served two tours with the US Marines.

Nez believes his faith and traditions helped bring him back safely from the war. More than that, they help explain why he and other native Americans enlist in the military in such large numbers – even though many resent the way the US government has treated their people over the centuries…

(excerpt:) “Natives were enlisting before we were recognized as US citizens. They enlist to protect the family.”

Similarly, when Mary Cohoe looks at the flag, she doesn’t think about Congress, the president, or democratic ideals. To her, Old Glory is a symbol of the US military and the physical sacrifices she and her people have made for their land. Ms. Cohoe served in Vietnam with the Red Cross. The US Army issued her a military ID while she was in the country, and she still considers herself a Vietnam veteran. “It’s our dirt,” she says. “That’s where we came from. The flag is the loyalty that we have, as Navajo, to Mother Earth.”

(excerpt:) “The reason I’m OK with being a US citizen is that Mother Earth is the same wherever you are,” he says. “For me to have the whole US as my home” Nez pauses mid sentence, as though in awe – “I’m so lucky to be living on my land.”

(Thank you to the Christian Science Monitor for writing this article and allowing me to reprint excerpts of it to share with my readers. To continue reading this entire fascinating article written by Jennifer Miller, correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, follow the live link above or visit this website: http://www.csmonitor.com)

www.csmonitor.com | Copyright © 2008 The Christian Science Monitor


Base honor guard pays tribute to the fallen

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — Members of the base honor guard (right center) from here march with Native Americans who have served in the military and fellow family relatives during a ceremony honoring a fallen Native American, Cpl. Nathan Good Iron. Corporal Good Iron served with the 188th Air Defense Artillery in Afghanistan. He was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade Nov. 22. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joe Rivera)


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Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 9:56 pm  Comments (1)  

Help Honor Our Code Talkers


From the Desk of Chief Gregory E. Pyle

Help is needed from Choctaws across the United States so that legislation can be passed in the United States Congress to recognize the original Native American Code Talkers.  The Assistant Chief and I are currently working with members of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bill that will make it possible to issue medals for service as a Code Talker.  We had 40 meetings in two days during the most recent trip to Washington, D.C. to ask for support for legislation to honor Code Talkers from all tribes.

Congressman Dan Boren has introduced HB 4544, which currently has 95 co-sponsors.  We need 289 co-sponsors to this bill, and many Congress people need to hear from someone who lives in their district before they will agree to sign on.  Senator James Inhofe has introduced S 2681, and it currently has 21 co-sponsors.  We need 67 co-sponsors on this bill.  All Senators and Congress-people from Oklahoma have signed on, and now we need to gather support from the other 49 states.

Native American language being used as code was made famous by the Navajos in WWII.  Their service was recognized with medals in 2000.  However, members of other Native American tribes also used their languages as unbreakable top-secret codes in WWI and WWII.

Choctaws were the first to use their Native language as ‘code” to transmit messages on the field.  Ironically, these men voluntarily served this country and used their own language to help win the war six years before the Native American Citizenship Act.  It is also ironic that at the same time the Choctaw language was being used to benefit the war effort, Native languages were being banned in government schools.

All of the Choctaw Code Talkers are now deceased.  Only a few living children remain.  Recognition of these men is needed now, before the children’s generation is lost.  HB 4544 and S 2681 allows a gold medal to be presented to each tribe, with a silver duplicate medal presented to individual Code Talkers or their families.  Bronze medals will be sold by the United States Mint, and all costs will come from the revolving fund for such activities of the Treasury, with no appropriates necessary.

Please contact the Congress-people and Senators who represent you and ask them to support these bills as a co-sponsor.  The honor is long overdue.

For help with maps on who your Congressman or Senator is:


Then you can contact your Congressman with direct e-mail, phone numbers or addresses available on;  www.house.gov

And you can contact your state’s Senators with direct e-mail, phone numbers or addresses available at www.senate.gov

It is highly recommended that e-mail or phone calls be the contact method.  If mailing through the postal service, please direct the information to the state offices, as the mail in Washington, D.C. is slow due to security measures.

You can find the entire bills on http://thomas.loc.gov/

The following have already co-sponsored in the House


Published in: on May 1, 2008 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Salute

Today, I salute Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his vision, his words, his actions and his sacrifices – including the ultimate action of giving his life for those beliefs and principals he so proudly and boldly fought for. In honor of Dr. King, I say here’s to FREEDOM, here’s to STANDING UP for what one believes in, here’s to EQUALITY and here’s to accepting each other with NO regard to another’s’ social or economic status, or ethnicity.

Your life will be enriched beyond measure
‘if diversity is your friend.’

Media Credit: AP PHOTO
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks at a voter
registration rally held in a Montgomery, Ala.,
church, in 1965.
Published in: on April 4, 2008 at 5:03 pm  Comments (1)  

Ojibwa Prayer

Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
And whose breath gives life to everyone,
Hear me.

I come to you as one of your many children;
I am weak …. I am small … I need your wisdom
and your strength.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunsets
Make my hands respect the things you have made.
And make my ears sharp so I may hear your voice.

Make me wise, so that I may understand what you
have taught my people and
The lessons you have hidden in each leaf
and each rock.

I ask for wisdom and strength
Not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able
to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me ever ready to come before you with
clean hands and a straight eye.
So as life fades away as a fading sunset.
My spirit may come to you without shame

Author unknown
Published in: on April 3, 2008 at 5:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Choctaw Stickball

Choctaw StickballStickball has been a part of Choctaw life for hundreds of years. Opposing teams use handcrafted sticks or kabocca, and a woven leather ball, or towa. Each team tries to advance the ball down the field to the other team’s goalpost using only their sticks, never touching or throwing the ball with their hands. Points are scored when a player hits the opposing team’s goalpost with the ball.

The earliest historical reference to Choctaw stickball was a Jesuit priest’s account of a stickball game around 1729. During that period, the Choctaws lived in towns and villages scattered across the area that is now southern Mississippi. When disputes arouse between these communities, stickball provided a peaceful way to settle the issue. These games were hard-fought contests that cold involve as few as twenty or as many as 300 players.

Choctaw Stickball2 In his book The Mississippi Choctaws at Play: The Serious Side of Leisure, anthropologist Kendall Blanchard describes what an 18th century game might of looked like:

“The nature of the playing field was never strictly defined. The only boundaries were the two goalposts at either end of the playing area and these could be anywhere from 100 feet to five miles apart, as was the case in one game in the 19th century…”There were no boundaries on the sides of the playing field, and the game’s action simply followed the ball. Many times spectators were rousted from comfortable vantage points as the fleet-footed, fast-swinging…athletes scrambled after a far-flung pass…

“The rules, like the layout of the playing field, were ambiguous and limited to only three or four stipulations. Of primary importance was the restriction that no player was to touch the ball with his hands, using instead only his sticks to carry and throw the small ball. At no time were spectators allowed to interfere with the process. If they did, a penalty was assessed against their team…

“While players could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball, there were implicit limits to acceptable violence.”

Mississippi Choctaws continue to play stickball. When the first Choctaw Fair was held in 1949, stickball was an important event, but it involved only a handful of teams. Today, anywhere from 8 to 10 teams meet during the fair in a single-elimination tournament. The championship game closes out the fair, with the fans filling the Choctaw Central High School football stadium to cheer their teams on.

Choctaw Stickball3Modern stickball has a few more rules than tis historical predecessor. These are printed and distributed to all players before the fair begins. The game is played in four fifteen-minute quarters. Players still score points by hitting a post which is set up in the middle of the football goal post. They still advance the ball without touching it, using their kabocca. The appearance of the players is different, too. For most of the 20th century, players wore handmade uniforms consisting of pants hemmed just below the knee and open-necked, pullover shirts. These were made in the community colors and decorated with the diamond patterns found on traditional clothing. In the late 1970’s, there uniform gave way to gym shorts, but many players now wear headbands with the diamond design in community colors.

Stickball, as it is played today, remains a uniquely Choctaw sport and a symbol of tribal identity. So that boys will have a chance to develop their skills there are two age divisions for young people’s teams. Occasionally, women’s teams will take the field in exhibition matches.

The resurgence of interest in stickball has kept several Choctaw craftsmen busy. The kabocca and towa used by the players have to be handmade. The kabocca are carved from hickory and bent at one end to shape the cup of the stick. then leather or deer hide thongs are tied to make the pocket in which the players catch and carry the ball. The towa is made from cloth tightly wrapped around a small stone or piece of wood. Once it is wrapped to the desired size, the maker weaves a leather thong over the cloth.

Information taken from:
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Website

A fast and furious game of stickball
Photo:© Choctaw Community News
More on Indian Stickball
Did you know that Indian stickball is an official part of the Mississippi State Games? Stickball is a hard game to play; it’s something like lacrosse with no protective gear. The towa and kabocca, stickball equipment, have to be handmade, and the game has more rules today than it did long ago. Choctaw kids also play many other sports and have a basketball and soccer camp.
Getting the feel of the kabocca
Getting the feel of the kabocca
Photo:© Choctaw Community News

More facts about Choctaws:

Eastern Mississippi is home to the Mississippi Choctaws. In the 1800s the United States government forced many Choctaws to move to Oklahoma, along with other tribes. The United States wanted Choctaw land for white settlers. At one time the Choctaws lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana, too.

Have you heard of the Code Talkers? Choctaw was one of the first Indian languages used in World War I to send secret messages for the U.S. Army. The enemy never figured it out, and the Choctaw soldiers were honored for their contribution. Choctaw language is still very important to the Choctaw people, who work hard to protect it from extinction.

There are language programs in schools, and language classes are part of summer camps. Besides learning Choctaw, students learn how to design Web pages. Many kids like using the digital camera and image-editing software the best. Students put lots of information about Choctaws on the Web, including the Choctaw Fair.

The Choctaw Fair is a weeklong event held every July. There are pageants, cultural exhibits, Choctaw social dancers from each community, rides, entertainers, and tons of visitors from all over. You can have traditional food like holhponi, or fresh hominy. Visitors can see Choctaw artists make their famous swampcane baskets in the museum, or attend the Stickball World Series.

Reservations/Communities: one reservation each in
Louisiana & Mississippi; one community in Oklahoma
Total population: 158,774
Some people to learn about:
Owanah Anderson [1926– ], Oklahoma Episcopal Church leader, women’s rights activist
Philip Martin [1926– ], Mississippi tribal leader
Phil Lucas [contemporary], Oklahoma film producer, director
Poarch Band of Creeks, Chitimachas, Tunica-Biloxis

Web links:

NOTE FROM CHERYL: I have some of my own stickball pictures I will try to post at a later date. I have watched the Mississippi Choctaws play stickball… The roughness/toughness of NFL Football is NOTHING compared to Indian stickball. They carry players off massively bleeding, on stretchers. It’s the most intensive amateur athletics I’ve ever seen in my life. I wonder if Tommie Harris would be tough enough to hang with some of our Choctaw boys? Ha! Oh… he probably could – for a minute or two anyway!

YouTube – real choctaw stickball




The game of stickball has been played by the Choctaw in Mississippi for 400 years and at one time was used in place of war to settle disputes between Native American groups. The modern sport lacrosse is a direct descendant of stickball. The game is extremely fast-paced and physical, but simple. The only two rules are that players can’t touch the ball with their hands and can only tackle someone in possession of the ball (body checks are legal anytime). The field consists of a pole at either end and the purpose of the game is to hit the opponents’ pole with a ball comparable to a hackey sack. In the process, players can receive some nasty wounds from rough play and being hit by the kabocca.

Many times, Choctaw stickball teams travel to festivals for competitions, and they are a tough opponent. The Choctaw often will try to trick their opponents, using different strategies and techniques each time they play. But when the Choctaw play on the reservation, they don’t hold back! To the Choctaw, it’s not just a sport, it’s part of their identity and they don’t like to lose. They’ve been playing it since they could walk and every game is an intense game. THEY TAKE THEIR STICKBALL SERIOUS, FOLKS!

You’ll have to check out the Moundville Native American Festival in Alabama held every fall, and the festival at the Choctaw reservation in Mississippi held in the spring. It would be an experience you would never forget!
Moundville Native American Festival
Muscogee (Creek) Indians demonstrate stomp dancings @ Moundville Festival
Native American performing artists, craftspeople, and musicians entertain and educate visitors each October at the Moundville Native American Festival. This year’s festival is October 4-7.Attracts 16,000 visitors annually to the park, located 13 miles south of Tuscaloosa off state Highway 69.
County JuneFest Replaces Dawg Days Festival
Choctaw County, MS
Posted by roboblogger Feb 22, 2008
Due to the dawg days of summer heat Choctaw County
will host a new festival, JuneFest, held on June 6-7. JuneFest
will replace the traditional Dawg Days of Summer festival
in hopes of attracting larger crowds …
Great Stickball pics & articles:
Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 6:33 am  Comments (4)  

Chahta Anumpa: Brief Numbers Lesson

Choctaw: [Chah-ta] [pronounced CHOCK-tah]

One (1): Achafa [v-ch’ vf-fv]

Two (2): Tuklo [tuk-lu]

Three (3): Tuchina [túch-che-nv]

Four (4): Ushta [ush-tv]

Five (5): Talapi [tálh-lha-pi]

Six (6): Hannali [h’vn-na-li]

Seven (7): Untuklo [ o-túk-lu]

Eight (8): Untuchina [ o-túch-che-nv]

Nine (9): Chakkali [chák-ka-li]

Ten (10): Pokoli [pók-ko-li]

Vowels & distinctions of the Choctaw Language:

The three Choctaw vowels may be described as [a], [i], & [oo] or nasal [ã], [i with ~ – ie: like the ã sorry, no symbol available], & [o with ~ – ie: like the ã, sorry, no symbol available]. The Choctaw short [a] may be written with the Greek letter upsilon, v; with a script v, v; or even with the letter v. It is pronounced rather like the vowels in English hut; love. It is never pronounced like the sound in the English word moon. Because the standard Choctaw orthography was developed by a white missionary, final short [a] is spelled not with v, but with a, reflecting the English spelling convention of writing final schwa sounds (which sound very much like Choctaw short [a]) with the letter a. Additionally, initial short [a] is often spelled a (ie: all the vowels in achvffa are short [a], even though they are spelled in both v and a.)

Long [i] is spelled: e (ie: tuchena [tuch-che-nv] = ‘three’

Short [o] is generally spelled u but is never pronounced like the English vowel u, as in duty or cute. As is the case for short [a], some short [o] sounds appear at the end of a word, but because of interference from English spelling conventions, short [o] is almost never spelled u when it appears at the end of a word; it is nearly always spelled o. Tuklo has two short [o] vowels, but the final one is spelled o.


Rhythmic lengthening: iti achvffa (one tree: iti=tree; achvffa=one): the first three syllables are light. This environment causes the second syllable of iti to be lengthed: iti achvffa → i-tii-a-chvf-fa. Note: In sentence structure, verb is placed before the noun.

However, if a string of light syllables is interrupted by a heavy syllable or if the phrase ends, there is no rhythmic lengthening. For example, iti tuklo (two trees: iti=tree; tuklo=two) does not trigger rhythmic lengthening in the second syllable of iti: iti tuklo → i-ti-tuk-lo.

Note: An accented syllable receives a higher pitch than the other syllables. If there is no accented syllable, the word is pronounced with even stress on each syllable.

Reference: Choctaw Language & Culture – Chahta Anumpa by Marcia Haag and Henry Willis, University of Oklahoma Press: Norman; www.ou.edu/oupress; Cover Illustration by Cheryl Davis © 2001; ISBN 0-8061-3339-2


Published in: on March 28, 2008 at 5:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Too Many Wives? Quanah Parker’s Dilemma

This is one of my favorite stories on Quanah Parker. You have to understand Native American women to understand his dilemma. (We’re strong women, you know!) He said, “YOU TELL UM…” …Wise man! Ha.

(Page 246)…. In 1892, when the Comanches and Kiowas agreed to accept allotments, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah in regard to the number of wives he would be allowed to keep. Their conversation was substantially as follows: “Quanah, you have agreed to take allotments and sell your surplus lands and let them be settled by white people. When the white people come to be your neighbors it will be the white man’s law and the white man’s law says one wife. You have too many wives. You will have to decide which one you want to keep and tell the rest of them to go somewhere else to live.” Quanah listened attentively and looked at the commissioner with a very fixed gaze for some moments, and then startled that worthy by saying, “You tell um!” Then he waited several moments until the significance of this had dawned on the commissioner’s mind, when he added: “You tell me which wife I love most—you tell me which wife love me most—you tell me which wife cry most when I send her ’way—then I pick um.” The commissioner replied, “Oh, let’s talk about something else.” (….smart move…)

The significance of this was that the chief loved his wives all alike, but if the Government would tell him which one he would be happiest with he would abide by the decision. This responsibility the Government, through the Indian Department, never assumed, but after statehood, when Quanah wanted to take another woman (to whom he had taken a fancy) for a wife, the Indian agent at Anadarko warned him not to take any more. In time Parker quarreled with one wife and then another and (Page 247) “threw them away,” to use the Indian phrase for divorce, until at the time of his death he had but two left.

Link for article:
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 1, No. 3, June, 1923
Comanche Civilization With History of Quanah Parker.

Can’t blame the women. Quanah was a fierce warrior, never losing a battle to a white man, was easy on the eyes, a smart, forward-thinking man, powerful, wealthy… and a great Chief of the Comanches.

//www.nativeamericans.com/QuanahParkerAfter%5B1%5D.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Photo above: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.

//sirismm.si.edu/naa/baegn/gn_01749a.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Native Americans - American Indian Chief, Quanah Parker became chief of the Comanche Indians in 1867 and until 1875 led raids on frontier settlements. A shrewd businessman, he was believed, at one time, to be the wealthiest Indian in the United States.American Indian Chief, Quanah Parker

Quanah Parker became chief of the Comanche Indians in 1867
and until 1875 led raids on frontier settlements.
A shrewd businessman, he was believed, at one time,
to be the wealthiest Indian in the United States.

More Links on the Great Chief Quanah Parker:

Concerning his wives:

excerpt from:


In 1901, the Comanche were allotted 160 acres each and the rest of the land of the Comanche-Kiowa reservation was put up for lottery for the white settlement of the area. Quanah chose a place near Cache where a wealthy Texas cattleman named S.E. Burnett built a large house for Quanah. The lumber was hauled in from Vernon, Texas and a twenty-two-room house was built. With all the children and Quanah’s seven wives a large house was required. Each of the wife’s bedrooms was furnished identically so there would be no quibbling as to which wife got the better room.

When the Commissioner of Indian Affairs approached Quanah about having five wives he said that Quanah now lived in the United States and would have to live by it’s laws. The Commissioner told Quanah that the white men who were his neighbors had only one wife. He then said that he would have to send away all his wives except for one.

Quanah replied, “You tell um” and just stared at the Commissioner. After a few minutes the Commissioner realized what Quanah was referring to and did not answer. Quanah then said “You tell me which wife I love the most – you tell me which wife will cry the most when I send her away – you tell me and then I pick um.” The Commissioner quickly changed the subject and Quanah kept his wives. When he died, Quanah had only two wives left but had as many as seven in his life.

Cynthia Ann never re-adapted to the white culture. Broken in spirit and a misfit among whites, Cynthia refused to eat and starved herself to death in 1870. Cynthia was buried in Henderson County, Texas in the Fosterville cemetery.  (continued:  see above link for complete story.)



Quanah’s first wife was Weakeah, daughter of Comanche chief Yellow Bear. Originally, she was espoused to another warrior. Quanah and Weakeah eloped, and took several other warriors with them. It was from this small group that the large Quahadi band would form. Yellow Bear pursued the band and eventually Quanah made peace with him, and the two bands united, forming the largest force of Comanche Indians.

Over the years, Quanah accumulated four more wivesHe had twenty-five children. Many north Texans and south Oklahomans claim descent from Quanah. It had been said that more Comanches are related to Quanah than any other chief. One grandson became Comanche chairman, the modern “Chief” of the tribe.



Quanah Parker, a Kwahadi Comanche chief; full-length, standing in front of tent.
Photographed by Lanney. Public Domain photo.
National Archives, “Pictures of Indians in the United States”

Photographs of Native Americans reside among the publicly and internet available materials of the National Archives. Images can be ordered in sets of slides, or as individual prints, though many are available in quality high enough for PowerPoint works and use on classroom materials. Many of the photos are 19th century.

Quanah Parker stands as one of the larger Native Americans in Texas history. This photo puts a face to a reputation in Texas history textbooks. Texas teachers may want to be certain to get a copy of the photo. His life story includes so many episodes that seem to come out of a Native American version of Idylls of the King that a fiction writer could not include them all, were they not real.

  • Quanah’s mother was part of the famous Parker family that helped settle West Texas in the 1830s. Cynthia Ann Parker was captured in 1836 when Comanches attacked Fort Parker, near present-day Groesbeck, Texas, in Limestone County. (See Fort Parker State Park.) Given a new name, Nadua (found one), she assimilated completely with the Nocona band of Comanches, and eventually married the Comanche warrior Noconie (also known as Peta Nocona). Quanah was their first child, born in 1852.
  • Nadua was captured by a Texas party led by Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross in 1860, in the Battle of Pease River. Noconie, Quanah, and most of the Nocona men were off hunting at the time, and the fact of Nadua’s capture was not realized for some time. Nadua asked to return to the Comanches and her husband, but she was not allowed to do so. When her youngest daughter, who had been captured with her, died of an infection, Nadua stopped eating, and died a few weeks later.
  • Sul Ross was a character in his own right. At the time he participated in the raid that recaptured Cynthia Parker, he was a student at Baylor University (”What do I do on summer breaks? I fight Indians.”) At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ross enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Over 135 battles and skirmishes he rose to the rank of Brigadier General, the ninth youngest in the Confederate Army. A successful rancher and businessman back in Texas after the war, he won election as governor in 1887, served two very successful terms (he resolved the Jaybird-Woodpecker War in Fort Bend County, and had to call a special session of the legislature to deal with a budget surplus), refused to run for a third term, and was named president of Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (Texas A&M) within a few days of stepping down as governor. Ross’s leadership of the college is legendary — students put pennies near a statue of Ross in a traditional plea to pass final exams, among many other traditions. After his death, Texas created Sul Ross State University, in Alpine, Texas, in his honor.
  • Quanah Parker’s father, Noconie, died a short time after his mother’s capture. He left the Nocona band, joined the Destanyuka band under Chief Wild Horse, but eventually founded his own band with warriors from other groups, the Quahadi (”antelope eaters”) (also known as Kwahadi). The Quahadi band grew to be one of the largest and most notorious, always with Quanah leading them. The Quahadis refused to sign the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaties, and so avoided immediate internment to a reservation. However, dwindling food supplies and increasing opposition forced Quanah to retire to a reservation in 1875, in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. This was the last Comanche band to come to the reservation.
  • Quanah was appointed Chief of all the Comanches.
  • Through investments, Quanah became rich — probably the richest Native American of his time.
  • Quanah hunted with President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Rejecting monogamy and Christianity, Quanah founded the Native American Church movement, which regards the use of peyote as a sacrament. Quanah had been given peyote by a Ute medicine man while recovering from wounds he’d suffered in battle with U.S. troops. Among his famous teachings: The White Man goes into his church and talks about Jesus. The Indian goes into his Tipi and talks with Jesus.
  • Photo at right: Quanah Parker in his later life, in his business attire. Photo thought to be in public domain.
  • Bill Neeley wrote of Quanah Parker: “Not only did Quanah pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he never lost a battle to the white man and he also accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence.”
  • Quanah Parker died on February 23, 1911. He is buried at Fort Sill Cemetery, Oklahoma, next to his mother and sister.

Quanah Parker’s epitaph reads:

Resting Here Until Day Breaks
And Shadows Fall and Darkness Disappears is
Quanah Parker Last Chief of the Comanches
Born 1852
Died Feb. 23, 1911

Other Resources:

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 10:55 pm  Comments (12)