Betty McCoy was one-half Choctaw, she was once given a leading role in a school
play at Saltillo. That happened
in 1940, the year I was in the fourth grade and Betty was in third. Except for
a few Native Americans, all of us were Caucasians. Black students attended separate
schools in Hopkins County.
Betty’s mother was a Choctaw, whose family
had moved across the Red River Oklahoma to Saltillo
a few years before. Neither my younger brother nor I ever thought of mentioning
Betty’s Indian blood. Occasionally on the playground at school, however, I would
hear some classmates whispering about Betty’s Indian blood when she was out of
earshot. “Didn’ja ever notice how dark Betty’s skin is?” one classmate or another
would ask. “She’s part Indian, you know.”
spring each teacher had to prepare a short program to be presented one evening
during the last week of the term. This was a major event in the community, and
the teachers expected their students to perform at their maximum capacity. That
year Miss Ruby, who taught the third and fourth grades, decided to teach us a
medley of songs. Two or three of the girls had good voices, and Miss Ruby knew
how to coax the boys to sing, too.
There was no theme that connected the
songs we rehearsed. First, we prepared “Sweet and Low”; then we moved to a livelier
“Short’nin’ Bread.” For the finale, Miss Ruby decided on “Red Wing,” a song about
an Indian princess which Bob
Wills and the Texas Playboys had recorded just a few years before. After we
had practiced the songs for several days, we knew that it would soon be time for
Miss Ruby to choose a girl to play the role of Red Wing. The girl would wear a
dress made of brown burlap, Miss Ruby said, and a headband with a tall feather
from one of the turkeys in a flock belonging to one of the local farmers. There
would be a simulated campfire at center stage. Miss Ruby planned that the girl
playing the role of Red Wing would walk on stage between two of the rows of third
and fourth-graders as we began to sing the featured song. At the campfire she
would kneel and pretend to replenish the fire by placing a few sticks on the school’s
only string of lights. The lights served as decoration on the auditorium tree
at Christmas each year. Miss Ruby planned to unscrew the blue and green bulbs
and replace them with red bulbs so that the color would resemble the flames of
One day, after Miss DuPree, who rode the Greyhound bus each
day from Mt. Vernon , took
her seat at the piano in the auditorium, Miss Ruby announced that she had asked
Betty McCoy to play the role of Red Wing. Two of the girls who usually had the
best roles in the programs looked disappointed, but of course they did not speak
a word of objection.
On the evening of the program the auditorium was filled
with parents and others from the community. After the first graders presented
their program, it was our turn to file on stage and sing the medley. We sang the
first two tunes in short order. At the piano Miss DuPree paused long enough to
allow a fifth-grade boy to walk to the front of the stage, kneel down, and insert
the the prongs at the end of the string of lights into the receptacle. The campfire
was ready, and so were we.
“There once lived an Indian maid/ A shy little
prairie maid . . .”
we began to sing the first bars, Betty walked to the center of the stage, knelt
down, and began to place the sticks she brought on stage on the string of lights.
Over the sound of the piano and the voices of my classmates, I heard several gasps
in succession from members of the audience. At the time I thought those who gasped
were expressing approval at the stunning appearance of Betty dressed as an Indian
maiden. I knew that the sad story of Red Wing and the warrior for whom she waited
in vain had its appeal.
older students performed other skits and songs. Then after the final curtain,
I joined my parents at the back of the auditorium. In the car on the way home,
Mamma asked me whether I heard the gasps when Betty appeared on stage.
I said. “Did the people think she looked like Red Wing would have looked?”
“I’m afraid that she looked too much like her to suit some,” Mamma said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Some of the parents thought Miss Ruby should not have called attention to Betty’s
Indian blood by putting her in the costume of an Indian maiden and having her
impersonate Red Wing. I guess they wanted one of the blonde girls to get the part,”
my mother chuckled. Later I learned that a few of the mothers complained to the
superintendent of the school about Miss Ruby’s choice in casting. I doubt that
he ever mentioned the matter to Miss Ruby.
© Robert G. Cowser
shoe horses, don't they?"
Guest Column, February 9, 2010
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