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Press Release

Release Date: August 10, 2018

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

  • Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby holds a rare 1890 book containing the Chickasaw Nation Constitution written in the Chickasaw language. It was donated by Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductee Towana Spivey, left. Twenty items were donated from Spivey’s private history collection to the Holisso Research Center at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur.

SULPHUR, Okla. – At 74, one of Oklahoma’s most famed historians, archeologists and museum curators is ensuring historic items he has collected for more than 60 years will be preserved for future generations.

Towana Spivey, a 2012 Chickasaw Hall of Fame inductee, donated extremely rare and precious items to Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby recently. The items will be professionally preserved at the Holisso Research Center, located at the Chickasaw Cultural Center.

Two of 20 items donated by Spivey are particularly rare.

One is a book published by Indian Citizen Print of Atoka, Indian Territory, in 1890.

It is the Chickasaw Constitution written entirely in the Chickasaw language.

The second is a publication of the Sequoyah Constitution which includes a rare fold-out map of the proposed states of Oklahoma and Sequoyah. Only six known copies exist of the book with the map fully intact within the book’s contents.

Additionally, Spivey’s donation from his private collection includes items pertaining to Chickasaw history, constitutions and laws of the Nation; patents or allotment papers for Chickasaw citizens; documents concerning U.S. Congressional actions taken in the 19th century to remove the Five Civilized Tribes from their homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory circa 1830; a booklet of the Laws of the Chickasaw Nation in 1878-81 and an exhaustive accounting of his efforts to preserve important Chickasaw antiquity sites discovered in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the late 1970s.

“Governor Anoatubby and his staff were very pleased to accept the donations. I feel good about the collection being saved for the future,” Spivey said.

Curious Son

Born in Madill in 1943, Spivey’s dedication to historic preservation occurred long before he was recognized as one of the state’s most influential historians and preservationists.

In fact, he was an energetic, curious boy exploring his small corner of the world. In his orbit was the home of George Henshaw. It was a large, two-story structure with a garage.

Young Spivey had no idea Henshaw was a very important player in the Sequoyah Convention and traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for admitting it into the union along with Oklahoma Territory. He wasn’t aware Henshaw had served as an Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner at the turn of the 20th century or that he was Oklahoma Governor “Alfalfa” Bill Murray’s right-hand man during the Depression.

Henshaw died in the late 1940s and Spivey’s parents looked into purchasing the Henshaw home.

Spivey tagged along for the tour.

“I remember on a lower level of the home there were all kinds of books and documents stuffed into old bookcases commonly owned by lawyers in those days. My parents didn’t buy it but I sometimes reflect on whatever happened to all those books and all the stuff he had in it that were historically significant,” Spivey said. “I never realized until many years later it was an historic house and he was an historic individual in Oklahoma history.

“I tell people history is everywhere. It surrounds you. It is in old bookstores, in flea markets and garage sales. You must be aware of it and be able to recognize it,” he said.

Finding Treasures

How Spivey came to own many of the historic artifacts he donated to Governor Anoatubby is “an interesting, circular story,” Spivey said laughing.

His grandmother resided in the small Marshall County town of Oakland west of Madill. She owned a house she rented to a woman named Shelton, who died in the early 1960s. Spivey’s grandmother requested he clean out the house after Mrs. Shelton’s relatives had removed all of the items they desired following her passing. Items left behind were to be discarded.

“There was a lot of old stuff in that house. I really didn’t know the history at the time and didn’t attach any significance to it. However, the items left in the house were old and I have always loved old stuff. As I was going through a bookshelf in the living room, there were all these historic books.

“I just came across books like the “Sequoyah Constitution” and “The Constitution of the Chickasaw Nation” and “Laws of the Chickasaw Nation” and I saved them. Everything else was thrown away,” Spivey laments, adding “I shudder today to think what other historically significant item was thrown out.”

Turns out, Mrs. Shelton was the daughter of four-term Chickasaw Nation Governor Benjamin Franklin Overton.

It also turns out a frequent Spivey “playground” was an open-sided shed overflowing with lumber, carbide gas lighting fixtures, iron beds, “and other neat things” (door knobs, fancy hinges) from two houses disassembled by Spivey’s step-grandfather in the 1940s.

The remnants were the dwellings of Governor Overton and noted Chickasaw businessman Holmes Willis, who founded the community of Willis, just north of the Red River.

“When they were building Lake Texoma (completed in 1944) the Army Corps of Engineers determined the Overton and Willis homes would be lost to the lake’s watershed. So, my step-grandfather tore them down and kept them underneath the shed,” Spivey said. “Those were the only two-story homes in the area.

“I remember when I was young, my cousins and I would play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers there,” he said laughing.

“When I became an adult and married, there was an iron bed there that I salvaged out of the stack that became our first bed. We still sleep on it to this day. It came out of the Holmes Willis home place.”

About Towana Spivey

Spivey is retired from the U.S. Army. He and his wife of 50 years, Phyllis, live in Duncan, Oklahoma. He graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in history and natural science. He earned his master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in anthropology/archeology and museum studies. Spivey has written several books and articles pertaining to frontier history and has served as a primary consultant or been featured in at least 35 television documentaries. He has also worked as a historical consultant to movie productions, playing an intricate role in the development of characters and historical accuracy in the making of the movies “Windtalkers” and “Dances with Wolves.” He devoted his life to preserving the history, language and material culture of many Oklahoma tribes including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Comanche, Kiowa, Chiricahua, Apache and the Warm Springs Apache along with many others.