Editor’s note: J. L. Strickland is a retired textile mill employee in Valley, AL who refers to himself as a “Linthead Emeritus.” He is also quite a good story teller and from time to time shares one of his tales with us. They always make me smile, just as this one will do the same for you no doubt:
“To escape being removed from their traditional home, the Alabama band of MOWA Choctaw fled into forests and swamps over a century and a half ago. They existed, largely unseen, for lo, many years. However, later rulings and events led to their revealing their presence. While these benighted humans have made some gains, they have been frustrated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs refusal to recognize MOWA Choctaw as a legitimate tribe.
While an original 1830s treaty signed by all parties acknowledged the Choctaw Band as a self-governing entity, there was a sneaky snag in the fine print, as usual. In the flowery language of that era, this document clearly recognized the Native Americans’ autonomy and guaranteed the Band would keep control of their lands for “as long as the grass grows, the winds blow, and the rivers flow.”
Or, ninety days, whichever came first.
Another fast one pulled by the White Eyes. My heart goes out to the MOWA Band and other put-upon Native Americans. For a fleeting moment in my life, I was a mistreated Native American, too. And believe me, I still harbor painful memories of that brief, but mortifying experience.
My transformation from an 11-year-old Scots-Irish paleface into a noble savage came during the first week of summer vacation, circa 1950. Regular school was over, but my mother immediately signed me up for Bible School at the Fairfax (Alabama) mill-village Methodist church.
Thankfully, Bible School lasted only until noon. After that first morning’s dismissal, I trotted out of the church and headed to the drugstore up the street, seeking ice cream.
There was a barbershop beside the drugstore. Another kid, who often visited his Alabama mill-village relatives, was coming through the barbershop door that fateful day. While I immediately recognized the older boy, I had never seen him in the majestic form he had assumed. I was stunned, awestruck. It was an epiphany.
This glorious lad had just received a fresh Mohawk Indian haircut. The shaved sides of his head seemed to be radiating some sort of mesmerizing, celestial light. While I had often admired the Mohawk braves sporting their distinctive hairstyle in movies at the village picture show, I had never actually seen a real human being wearing such hirsute adornment. It was more than my B-movie loving soul could stand.
I had to have a Mohawk haircut and I had to have it right then! An irresistible craving had been flung upon me. Seizing the moment, I ran into the barbershop and asked the barber, Mr. Siggers, to cut my hair just like the older boy’s. Being well aware of my red-haired mother’s fiery temper, Mr. Siggers refused.
The hesitant barber said that before he would cut my hair in such a drastic fashion, my mother would have to come with me and give her permission. No way would that ever happen, and we both knew it.
Later, I sat on the curb in front of the barbershop, sad and dejected. I had even lost my appetite for ice cream. Then I suddenly remembered another mill-village barber, Knotty Borders, just a few streets away. I quickly headed in his direction.
When I barged into his shop, Knotty was asleep in his barber’s chair. He was a small, wiry man, with a reputation as a drinker. As I explained what I wanted, he blinked and yawned and looked at me like I was crazy. But, when I pulled out three wadded up dollar bills from my Hopalong Cassidy billfold, my total life savings, Knotty motioned for me to climb up on the chair.
In no time at all, he had shaved the sides of my head, leaving only a two-inch-wide strip of hair from the back of my head, across the top of my lumpy skull, to my forehead.
There, staring back at me in the cloudy barbershop mirror was my new awesome incarnation. I had taken on the fearsome visage of a Mighty Mohawk Warrior. It was all I could do to stifle a terrifying war-whoop.
Other kids I passed on the way home stared at me with their mouths gaped open, rendered senseless by my overpowering magic.
I was Big Medicine now. My power was growing with each panther-like step. I walked a mile or so out of my way, just to practice my crouching, stalking, and glowering.
As the time grew near for my mother to come home from the cotton mill, I crept from tree to tree down the mill-village streets until I reached our back yard. There, I hid in the coal shed, planning a big surprise for her.
A real redskin’s ambush. Little did I know the true nature of surprises – a surprise can work both ways.
Shortly, I heard Mother banging about in our three-room mill house. She was busy at the sink when I snuck into the kitchen. Even though still a brand new Indian, she didn’t hear me creeping up from behind. I was a natural!
Shouting a loud battle cry, I pounced on my mother, who was washing a big cumbersome metal pot in the sink. Startled, she flinched in terror, dropping the pot, and splashing hot, soapy, greasy water all over both of us.
Since my mother was only slightly over five feet tall, and about 90 pounds, we were almost the same size. But she had that incredible ligament strength and quickness that is commonly seen in red-headed people. It must be something to do with the freckles.
Angry and dripping wet, she grabbed my neck and the seat of my pants and body slammed me to the worn linoleum-covered floor. “What have you done to your head?” she shrieked. I tried to explain about the older boy and his Mohawk hairdo; and how I really liked the look, and always wanted a haircut like this, but I was talking so fast I’m not sure she heard all of it.
I might as well have been jabbering in Mohawk.
Holding me in a tight headlock, Mother dragged me into the bedroom. Totally outraged by the haircut, now it was she who was spouting gibberish. As I vainly struggled to get away, she removed one of Daddy’s belts from the nail inside the bedroom closet.
Quickly using only one practiced hand, she expertly folded the belt into operational mode and proceeded to whip the living daylights out of my hind end.
(In fact, it was weeks before my daylights reached a normal level again. About the same time my hair grew out.)
Therefore, I get a tear in my eye every time I see or hear where Indians have been trifled with or abused or disrespected.
How well I understand the plight of the Native Americans. Been there, done that.
I was a proud Mohawk brave for fewer than two hours before I started hating white people myself. Especially those with a bad temper, a mean streak, red hair, and freckles.”