Dolly Bruner Tobler Stidham (1830- 1926)
From the Gateway to Oklahoma History
This elegant photo taken in the early 20th century by Jennie Elrod Elrod (1869-1961) of Okmulgee, Oklahoma, pictures a woman who was African-American, possibly part Creek. Dolly was born in the early 1830s in Alabama as a slave in the Grayson family, members of the Creek/Muscogee nation. As a child she went with the Graysons to what was called Indian Territory after the Creeks were forcibly displaced by The Trail of Tears.
She is thought to be the daughter of Mary Ann Grayson and Jake Bruner. She lived with this couple in Coon Creek near North Fork Town, Indian Territory, now under Lake Eufaula. When her son Robert Tobler married in 1893 he listed his mother as Dollie Bruner.
She spent most of her life north of Okmulgee,
which is south of Tulsa and once the Muscogee Nation.
When the Civil War began Dolly was about 30, a slave in the Watt Grayson household. The Creeks were divided in their Union/Confederate loyalties, resulting in violence, killings and displacement, a legacy that endured in the local culture.
Albert Pike (1809 – 1891)
After the Confederate government appointed Albert Pike as Confederate Commissioner of Indian Affairs he negotiated alliances with various Oklahoma tribes but resistant groups favoring the Union or neutrality gathered under Creek leader Opothleyahola. Confederates pursued the rebellious Indians who sought refuge in Union Kansas.
Carrie Clabo Fudickar tells us that in August, 1863 Confederate troops captured Jake Bruner who was imprisoned with a group of Blacks, Creeks and Seminoles to be force marched to Texas. He escaped and refugeed at the Union Fort Gibson where he died from an illness. Opothleyahola also died in a refugee camp during the war.
Stand Watie (typo above) (1806-1871) a Cherokee
was a Confederate General
Dolly is listed as a "Freedwoman" in the early-20th-century photo's caption because that was her official classification in Creek records. Once freed she remained with the Watt Grayson family. During the war and the post war years she gave birth to ten children, perhaps, with the older seven being the children of James "JimBoy" Tobler. She had three with a man named Morris Coleman or Morris Stidham.
Was Dolly living at the Grayson home when he was robbed in 1873?
At some point she kept a boarding house.
The war-torn territory continued to be a place of almost incredible violence if we can judge by Dolly's family history. Of those ten children nine died deaths related to gun brutality. Four of her boys were said to have been hung for murder; a daughter and four boys were shot (one by his wife.)
1890, Leavenworth Times
Shifting population as outsiders moved into the post-war territory contributed to the chaos.
From Grinde & Taylor, Red Vs Black:
Conflict & Accommodation in the Post Civil War Indian Territory
Robert Tobler, Dolly's son listed above on the 1893 marriage document was imprisoned in an Ohio penitentiary according to this 1899 record from what is known as the Dawes Rolls. As Indian Territory prepared for statehood a list of the "Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory" was compiled between 1898 and 1907.
Tribal settlers and the "Freedpeople" were allotted land. Through allotments, inheritance and litigation Dolly seems to have owned quite a bit of land.
Applying for allotments in Muscogee
Dawes Rolls card of Dolly's family. If she was 59 this would have been about 1889. Son March is listed as 12---he was born in 1887 so 1899 is more likely and Dolly and Morris's ages are wrong.
We interpret this woman, perhaps seated in her farm yard, according to our
own perceptions and prejudgements. She looks poor in our eyes, but
she was said to have been wealthy, living alone in a comfortable home.
1922 Okmulgee Times
She testified at several trials.
1922, Muskogee Democrat
A woman with some power in her community.
How she dealt with the violence and loss she lived with is harder to understand.
The final chapter in Dolly's life is also dramatic. She was killed in a 1926 tornado when she was 96.
Her house collapsed; she lingered for a few weeks.
It would seem that only a tornado could vanquish her.
Her quilt top seems to have looked like this EQ8 sketch. The block has been published many times
but in Dolly's time the Clara Stone catalog of newspaper patterns called it Fish or Whirligig.
The WPA interviews of former slaves in the 1930s include Mary Grayson's who describes Indian Territory life. Dolly was probably a relative.
Donald A. Grinde & Quintard Taylor, "Red Vs Black: Conflict & Accommodation in the Post Civil War Indian Territory," American Indian Quarterly (Summer, 1984)
Donald A. Grinde & Quintard Taylor, "Red Vs Black: Conflict & Accommodation in the Post Civil War Indian Territory," American Indian Quarterly (Summer, 1984) Mary Grayson, interview with Robert Vinson Lackey, summer 1937, Tulsa, OK, in The WPA
Oklahoma Slave Narratives, ed. T. Lindsay Baker and Julie Philips Baker (Norman, OK: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1996)
Mary Grayson, interview with Robert Vinson Lackey, summer 1937, Tulsa, OK, in The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives, ed. T. Lindsay Baker and Julie Philips Baker (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996)
I worked as a portrait photographer, and I think it's possible both the chair and quilt top came with the photographer. I bought lengths of fabric to use as backgrounds and drapes. I used a variety of props, a tiny wicker chair, a plaster column, a large wooden train set, etc.
In this time period the photographer's equipment would have required some kind of vehicle to transport.
A lot of good information about the Indian Territory that I didn't know.
Excellent post about this amazing woman.
A wonderful photograph of Dolly Stidham seated and wrapped up in a quilt top! I am inclined to believe that she is the proud owner/maker of the quilt top and I note that it has the triple strip sashing with 9 patch cornerstones seen on other late 19th c./early 20th Southern quilts. Thank you, Barbara, for such an interesting post.
What a strong and amazing woman.
Pat. I had to cut something and it was info about the photographer who was an Okmulgee librarian who took many pictures of her neighbors. Not the usual itinerant
Loved this story. It is very sad about her children. Back then I think people ate less, because there was less, helping them live longer. When looking at the depression it was the same. I sure respect this lady. Thank you.
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