Carrie Coats Killion Interview
My first cousin once removed, Carrie Mayes Coats Killion , was interviewed by Juanita Cherry in June 26, 1981. Juanita Cherry is a correspondent for the The Daily Times, Pryor, Oklahoma.
The spirit of the early Oklahoma pioneers has seen Carrie Coats Killion through the years and keeps her going today.
This diminutive lady, aged 82, and weighing slightly more than a pound for each year, isn’t as fragile as she looks. Only the snapping black eyes reveal her inner strength and determination.
Carrie Coats Killion was the wife of the late Ansel Killion. She was born before the turn of the century, about a mile south of Strang. She was later allotted land for a farm located in the Grand River Valley on the east side.
Her maternal grandparents were the Jim Craig’s, early pioneers. Her father was postmaster at Strang for many years. Her mother was Brazilla Melissa Craig.
Although the family Bible and records burned in a house fire, Carrie recalls Brazilla Mellissa marrying Henry Lee Coats in the early 1890’s.
Their older children were placed on the Cherokee tribal rolls. Son Bill and daughter Carrie received allotments lying along the east bank of the Grand River between Spavinaw Creek and Strang. Henry Lee and his daughter, Lillie, drew land allotments in Craig County.
On the paternal side, Henry Lee’s father was James McKenzie Coats, an Irish man. He married Anna Scott, a full blooded Cherokee. They died within 17 days of each other from la grippe (influenza).
Henry Lee and his sister, Jennie Coats, were placed in the Cherokee Orphanage. Henry Lee ran away and was taken in by Sam and Martha Mayes. Mayes was a rancher and a U.S. Marshall. They had a daughter named Carrie.
Years later, Henry Lee would name his first daughter Carrie for his benefactors.
With the assignment of the land allotments, the Craigs found themselves in a land controversy of Old Settlers vs. Too Laters. In a court case, the Too Laters won. Family wounds and scars were slow in healing.
The M.O. & G. Railroad was completed with the Golden Spike ceremony in Strang in 1913. Previous to the completion of that railroad, Strang residents used the “Katy” and caught the train to Pryor.
“Yes, I remember the Pryor depot,” explained Carrie. “But it was the first depot. It looked like the one in Vinita and other towns. The construction crews built them all alike. My mother and I had so much trouble with hay fever, asthma and allergies we caught the train in Pryor to ride to Muskogee for medical treatment.
“One time when we got back to Pryor it was dark and raining very hard. Mama wanted to spend the night in Pryor, but I knew the family would worry. We drove on home and got there safely. Everyone was asleep but Granville (Craig).”
“When it rained,” Carrie explained, “the prairie roads became bottomless ruts, but that night the mud was just on the surface. We really didn’t have any trouble.”
Carrie and Ansel Killion were married on Christmas Eve 1915.
“There was no ferry across the Grand River then,” she recalled. “The river was up. We almost turned the buggy over and we did get our feet wet. We were married by the justice of the peace in Vinita and went to Ansel’s aunt’s house for dinner. I ate the sweet potatoes, but I couldn’t eat the ‘possum.”
The young couple moved to Carrie’s allotment where the Coats family had been living. Trouble was now invading the community.
M.O. & G. construction workers had left low, dug out places along the right-of-way. These filled with water which soon became stagnant. Typhoid and malaria were rampant. Accoding to Carrie, there were 23 local cases of typhoid the summer of 1916.
Carrie was one of the 23. “I was in bed for four months. I finally pulled through, but was so weak it took me a long time to get over it.”
As soon as possible, the young couple rented out the farm and moved to Craig County. Both had relatives living there. The Killions’ only child, Leonard, was born in October.
Later the railroad cleaned up the stagnant water holes. Strang became a more healthful place to live and the Killions moved back to their farm.
In 1924, a series of events began that led to a number of homeless children finding refuge with the Killions.
Ansel had used his truck to take the body of his older sister near Timber Hill, north of Vinita, for burial. After the service, a perplexed, stunned father and four small children were confused as to what would become of them.
The Killions put the children in their truck and took them to their home. They and Ansel’s sister, the Curry family, shared responsibilities for the next two years. Then the father took the two children living at the Killions’ to his own relatives in Missouri.
The next year, 1925, death began taking its toll of the Craig family. Jim’s wife and a daughter, Nellie Goins, passed away.
Three years later, 1928, Jim died.
In 1929, Carrie’s mother, Brazilla Melissa, died. Brazilla’s husband, Henry Coats, was in very poor health. The younger boys, Virgil, Kenneth, Ed and H.L., were left homeless. Again, the Killions opened their home and the boys found refuge with other sisters, Lillie Garrison and Beatrice Killion.
The late Nellie Craig’s husband was Straley Goins, also a Strang postmaster. When Nellie passed away, Straley kept the family together. Eventually, he remarried and had a second family.
He and the second Mrs. Goins died within a short time. This left other homeless children--Lawrence and Margaret--who found a home with their cousin, Carrie.
The Killions’ own child, Leonard, married. His wife, the former Dorothy Lumpkin, passed away in 1941, when their second son was only three weeks old. The Killions took their grandsons, Norval and Marion, and raised them as their own.
In the mid-1950’s, the Killions sold their Strang farm and moved to Vinita, then to Tulsa. Before too long, Ansel passed away following an injury caused by a neighbor’s milk cow he was tending.
For many years, Carrie has lived alone in her small house in Tulsa. Allergies and breathing problems have plagued her all of her life. A ruptured appendix left her lying in a coma in a hospital for 11 days before the problem was discovered. A fractured hip was repaired by inserting metal pins that remain painful to this day. The bad hip and arthritis confine her to walker.
Glaucoma has robbed the sight in her right eye. Extensive pain resulting from the diseased eye has finally abated after the nerve was severed.
A limited diet and poor food assimilation keeps Carrie grossly underweight and robs her of stamina. She is homebound, but her unquenchable optimism and exuberance for life send visitors away cheered and lighthearted.
“My family has never gone to bed to die. They all passed away in their sleep. I hope I can, too, or better still, live to see Christ’s second coming. According to the scriptures, I feel it will be soon. I want to live to see that day,” and the penetrating black eyes were very serious.