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Polly Ann Colbert, Chickasaw Free Woman

Woman on porch
Lucinda Davis, a Creek Free Woman, photographed by the WPA.

The Colbert Cemetery in Bryan County, Oklahoma is a predominantly African American graveyard. I was fortunate enough to gain entry, as it's closed off because people like to go party in this secluded spot.

One grave caught my attention - that of Polly Ann Colbert. First, she lived to be 106 years old. Second, I recognized her name immediately. Polly Ann Colbert, I remembered, had been interviewed by the WPA for the Federal Writers Project in 1936!

The life of Polly Ann Colbert, a Chickasaw Free Woman, is a history lesson of Indian Territory. She was born as an enslaved person in 1852 in Tishomingo (Johnston County, Oklahoma) to Liza Colbert and Tony Love, who were enslaved by the Holmes family. Her parents died early, and the Holmes family raised Polly at the farm along the Red River "about four miles from de ferry on de Texas Road." She grew up running errands and learning to cook Chickasaw dishes. After freedom, she worked at Bloomfield Academy (Bryan County) and for the Holmes family until she married, farmed, kept house, and raised nine children.

She shared a Chickasaw-Carribean recipe in her interview:

“We cooked all sorts of Indian dishes: Tom-fuller, pashofa, hickory-nut grot, Tom-budha, … corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes. We made hominy out’n de whole grains. Tom-fuller was made from beating corn and tasted sort of like hominy. We would take corn and beat it in a wooden mortar wid a wooden pestle. We would husk it by fanning it and we den put it on to cook in a big pot. While it was cooking we’d pick out a lot of hickory-nuts, tie ’em up in a cloth and beat ’ema little and drop ‘e in and cook for a long time. We called dis dish hickory-nut grot. When we made pashofa we beat de corn and cook for a little while and den we add fresh pork and cook until the meat was done. Tom-budha was green corn and fresh meat cooked together and seasoned wid tongue or pepper-grass.”

The photograph is of Lucinda Davis, who grew up as an enslaved person in the Creek tribe and for most of her life, only spoke Creek. She called hickory-nut grot by its Creek name, sofki: “… you pound up de corn real fine, den pour in de water and dreen it off to git all de little skin from off’n de grain. Den you let de grits soak and bile it and let it stand. Sometime you put in some pounded hickory nut meats.”

You can read about Colbert's life as a Chickasaw Free Woman in her WPA interview in the link posted below. Please be aware that Polly Ann Colbert used offensive words when describing her life.

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