*This is the second of four writings exploring a cross-country trek spanning three generations. My grandfather, father, and I drove from Madison, Wisconsin to Dallas, Texas. It was a journey connecting old with new memories. The time reclaimed and recorded the history of our humanity…
The theme of history dominated 377 miles of conversation from Springfield, Missouri to Durant, Oklahoma. This never before visited land was new yet familiar. My grandfather Tom Balisle’s unbreakable doctrine was born and taught here. I sensed its powerful presence. It was a homecoming for us all.
Spanning 55 miles on Highway 3 between Antlers and Broken Bow, Oklahoma is the Code Talkers Highway. A green sign unobtrusively alerts travelers of its namesake. From the Choctaw Nation’s website: “…Nineteen Choctaw men have been documented as being the first to use their own language as ‘code’ to transmit military messages. During the first world war, with the tapping of the American Army’s phone lines, the Germans were able to learn the location of where Allied Forces were stationed, as well as where supplies were kept. When the Choctaw men were put on the phones and talked in their Native speech, the Germans couldn’t effectively spy on the transmissions. Native Americans did not receive nationwide citizenship until 1924, yet the Choctaws were both patriotic and valiant, with a desire to serve in the war effort…”
Tom Balisle was born in the timber camp of Alikchi. Today the only physical remnant is a marker twenty miles west of Broken Bow on the Code Talkers Highway. My grandfather’s memory of natural and manmade infrastructure from the past became an oasis twice removed. Feverishly, my father and I searched for a landmark and by chance found confirmation.
From the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Alikchi Court Ground Marker: “Nearby Alikchi Springs was site of court ground for Apukshunnubbee District, Choctaw Nation, 1838-1906. Justice Dispensed here for Major Crimes Committed by Choctaws, including capital Punishment. Last legal execution under Choctaw Law carried out here July 13, 1899 when William Goings was executed for murder by sheriff Tom Watson before hundreds of witnesses. Alikchi Choctaw word for medicine man (currently refers to medical doctor).”
The reunion was bittersweet. It provided validation to my grandfather that his mind had not failed along with a flood of childhood memories. However, a sadness was sensed. This was my grandfather’s birthplace and now it was a marble monument. Tom Balisle was one of the last alive to share his story of this place.
As the evening settled in, it was off to Main Street Barbecue in the town of Durant. Fried Okra, southern style green beans, pinto beans, potato salad, cornbread, and homemade banana pudding provided comfort. Oklahoma had more stories to tell, memories to discover, and art to inspire.
Art dealer, curator, and former director of the Museum of Contemporary in Los Angeles Jeffery Deitch: “Overall, I think any opportunity to expose people to art on a mass level – to have some kid in Oklahoma say to his mother, ‘I want to be an artist’ – is a good thing.”
Bless your heart, yes indeed.