Women of the Red River Valley

Polly Colbert.jpg

Polly Ann Colbert was enslaved in the Chickasaw Nation. She is buried at the old Colbert Cemetery.

Polly Colbert.jpg

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Women's history is often hard to define. It is a lived experience to be a woman in a patriarchal system, and for most women in history, their experiences were often not recorded or examined. This is why "women's history" tends to focus on a select few "exceptional" people and ignores the fact that from the very beginning, what they saw and lived through proved just as important to understanding history as what men dealt with. But because men tend to be the "default human" in the presentation of history, women are often ignored.

The Red River Valley, in particular, is a great place to study history within the context of how people who happen to be female managed the many historical complexities. For example, women in the Red River Valley experienced slavery both through work and assault, as well as  through the French, Spanish, and American systems. Comanche women viewed their place in the world differently than did Caddo women; a pioneer settler's life was effected by industrial changes that affected both home, work, child bearing, and education.

One of the first examples of a woman navigating through the history of the Red River Valley is Marie Therese dite Coincoin, who endured two forced sexual relationships as an enslaved person in French Louisiana before manumission gave her the opportunity to build a profound legacy. Like Coincoin, Polly Ann Colbert was born in slavery, but about one hundred years later. Being bonded to a prominent Chickasaw family in the Indian Territory explains how much of her life was all about "making do" as her oral history attests. On the enslaver side is Sophia Porter, a woman who had been abandoned by her first husband after he took her into the Republic of Texas. She figured out how to make her way through a society that didn't have many options for people like her. The twentieth century brought about scholars like Angie Debo, a child of an Oklahoma Land Rush family who questioned the fraught history of Indian Territory. And then there's Karen Silkwood, a working class woman who challenged the people in power even as she experienced threats to her own safety.

Examining women's experiences within the context of the Red River Valley's history is a truly a journey worth exploring.