McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

September 21, 2013

Volunteers start work on Choctaw village construction at McAlester park

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Pole by rough hewn cedar pole, the re-creation of a traditional Choctaw village began coming together Saturday as volunteers met at McAlester’s Hutchison Park.

As Choctaw Tribal Councilor Bob Pate pushed posts into the ground, McAlester News-Capital Publisher Amy Johns trimmed leaves from a long branch.

College student Carter Eaton tamped dirt around the edge of a post, while volunteer Haven Wilkinson, who is a former McAlester city councilor, sawed the rough edges off a cedar log.

Meanwhile, Eddie Gray hoisted a chain saw to cut a post to the needed length, while Tommie Hamilton and David Smith started to piece together a food preservation structure.

They all worked under the watchful eye and assistance of Les Williston, who works on cultural projects with the Choctaw Nation, and who traveled to McAlester to help ensure the authenticity of the village.

In another group, Pam Kirby, Ann Parrott and Vickie Stokes braided long pieces of leather, presumably to be used to help lash some of the cane and willow branches together.

Wes Carter also fired up a chain saw, using it to trim some of the bigger willow branches.

Workers hoped to get as much of Phase 1 of the project as possible completed this weekend, in time for the village to be dedicated during the Wild West Festival, set for McAlester’s Old Town on Oct. 5.

Vicky Church, Kathy Mowery and Wilkerson had been among the first to answer John’s request for volunteers to help work on the village this weekend, arriving at Hutchison Park early Saturday morning.

Soon thereafter, Andy Dobbs and Troy Dobbs, who are brothers, arrived with a trailer load of fresh-cut cedar. Twilia Gray, another volunteer, said the cedars came from land in Crowder, where her daughter and son-in-law, Brenda and Tom Baxter, now live, on the original home place of her father, Howard Reed.

Ross Eaton also joined the volunteers, helping push cedar posts into the ground. He said his son, Carter Eaton, who is 19, had received a scholarship from the Cherokee Nation for community volunteerism, and they decided to stand with their fellow tribe, the Choctaws.

“I thought it was a good idea to give back to my Native American heritage,” Carter Eaton said. He told how his father had seen the call for volunteers in the newspaper and thought it a good idea.

“I agreed,” he said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.