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Oklahoma Family Tree Stories

This beautiful sculpture of three redbud trees with gold and silver leaves by artist Robin Starke is located just outside the Eleanor & John Kirkpatrick Research Center in the Oklahoma History Center. Each leaf of the "Oklahoma Family Tree" memorializes an Oklahoma family with the family surname, first name(s), and the town or county where they lived. In addition, a short family history will be preserved in the digital family history book at the base of the tree. This is a great way for your family to make history and benefit future generations at the same time. To find out how to honor your own family with a leaf visit the Oklahoma Family Tree Project page.

Dyer, James Family

James Dyer’s death at age 84 on August 7, 1921, made the front page of the Broken Bow News. The full-blood Choctaw and southeast Oklahoma pioneer resided in Eagletown, Indian Territory, in Eagle County (present-day McCurtain County). He was known throughout McCurtain County and beyond for his contributions to his family, the ministry he served for fifty-four years, and his community.

James’ father, Moses, was removed from Mississippi on October 8, 1832, and followed the Trail of Tears to Eagle County. He was buried in a family cemetery near Eagletown. Records about Moses’s wife and James’ mother, Eliza, have not been located, and her grave has not been found.

James was educated in Presbyterian missions in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was apprenticed to a carpenter until he reached twenty-one years of age. He subsequently joined the Presbyterian Church and, at the age of thirty, was ordained as a minister. He served his people in that capacity until he died. Throughout his long and productive ministry, James earned distinction for his strict moral code and dedication to improving his people’s lot in life. He traveled to Presbyterian churches throughout McCurtain County on routes that later became roads for timber companies to use in their logging operations. He wrote at least ten Choctaw hymns that were published in a Choctaw hymnal.

On December 22, 1874, he married Malinda Labor, daughter of William and Preeca/Preasy Labor, at the Big Lick Presbyterian Church in present-day Smithville, Oklahoma. Children from that union include, in birth order, Elliston, Josephine, Laura, Laurena, Adeline, James Junior, Aaron, William Harrison, and Winnie Pearly. Malinda was admitted to the Choctaw Nation as an intermarried citizen after she and James divorced. Malinda died in 1903 and was buried in a family cemetery near Eagletown.

James was married three times prior to his marriage to Malinda. All three of his wives—one named Hittie, and his third wife, Eve—were deceased at the time of his fourth marriage. After he and Malinda were divorced, James married Carrie/Corrie Lockley. Following their divorce, he married and divorced for the sixth and final time.

James and his half-brother Joel Dyer built the Gardner Mansion east of Broken Bow, which later became a museum. Upon his return to the Choctaw Nation from Nashville, James was elected as a representative to the Choctaw Council from Naniwaya (later, Tuskahoma) in what was then Eagle County, Indian Territory. He assisted the Dawes Commission in its mission to prepare the Five Tribes for statehood and represented the Choctaw Nation in Washington, DC before and after Oklahoma was admitted to the Union as the forty-sixth state in 1907. James and his eldest son Elliston Edwin Dyer remained active in Choctaw Nation affairs. Another son, James Jr., represented McCurtain County in the lower house of the state legislature during its eighth session.

In 2016 the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma introduced ground-penetrating radar to the Eagletown Cemetery and discovered that Reverend Dyer was buried next to his youngest son, William Harrison Dyer, known affectionately in the Eagletown area as Uncle Bill. The elder Dyer’s great-granddaughter, Tiajuana King Cochnauer, expressed her family’s gratitude to the Choctaw Nation for bringing groundbreaking technology to the cemetery. “We are so grateful to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma for providing this service to Choctaw families. It enables us to protect and maintain the burial sites of family members we never met, but who had such an impact on shaping the Choctaw Nation.” Descendants of James and his wife Malinda Labor Dyer and family friends gathered at the Eagletown Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend in 2017 to commemorate their ancestors by placing a memorial stone at their final resting place.

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