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The lessons of Choctaw teacher, Dorothy Jean Ward Henson

   Dorothy Jean Ward Henson, who is a resident of Idabel, is a half blood Choctaw who was born on June 3, 1933, to Ruby Lee Roberts Ward and Isom W. Ward.

   Dorothy's family tree contains rich Choctaw History. Her paternal great- grandfather came from Mississippi on the Trail of Tears and became the first unofficial sheriff of McCurtain County. This was before registered voting took place.

   Her father, who was a full blood Choctaw, was registered on the rolls as 815NB (newborn) because he was just an infant when he was registered. He was able to speak Choctaw fluently and was a carpenter who built houses in the Idabel area.

   Dorothy was her parent's first-born child and was delivered in the home with the aid of a doctor who made rounds to all the homes in the area in an old buggy.

   When she was a little girl, Dorothy would visit her aunt Selina Ward McClure, who was her father's sister and help her husk corn and cook peanuts. She would also help her father cook squires often.

   During the Great Depression her father provided for his family and helped his neighbors by planting acres of turnip greens and inviting them to harvest what then needed. He also hunted all sorts of wild game. Dorothy still exceptionally enjoys wild meat.

   Her aunt Selina donated two acres of land for the Living Land Church to be built. Dorothy's mother was led to salvation as a result of the ministry of the church, in which Wesley Bobb was the pastor. Dorothy has fond memories of this church. Memories of camp meetings and even three day long cookout. There was a sign that said, "You're on time," and when it was time for church to start, they flipped the sign over so it was embarrassing to be late, said Dorothy as she recalled her childhood church.

   When Dorothy became old enough, she began her college education at what is now Southeastern Oklahoma State University. She spent only a year there before transferring to East Central University in Ada.

   Upon finishing her education, she was involved in a short marriage that granted her a son, Michael Wayne Henson. Dorothy and Michael moved from Ada where she worked for a telephone company to Idabel where she

took up a teaching job located in Glover.

   This was a one-teacher school and Dorothy taught all grades, first through eighth. She spent only a year there before moving to Dallas with her sister Betty Ward Sullivan.

    While in Dallas she taught the first grade at Annie Webb Blanton School and worked on her master's degree. When Michael was in the first grade, he would say "mama, let me off two blocks from the school," said Dorothy as she explained her son's embarrassment to have his mother double as his teacher.

   Dorothy also worked as a hostess at a steakhouse in the evenings to support her small family. She spent long days,

from the morning until late in the evening to keep things running smoothly.

   When Michael was 8-years-old, Dorothy married Bryan Keith Henson, Sr., who worked for Texas Instruments. He invented the device on ATMs that keep kids from putting bubble gum and other bothersome substances in the machines.

   Dorothy met Keith through an organization brought single parents together. Once a month, there were days for the kids to play and another day each month was for the parents to socialize. They did things such as ice-skating.

   The couple had a son in 1954 and named him Bryan Keith Henson, Jr. who loved to collect Native American


   Dorothy eventually began teaching at George W. Truett School in the Casa Linda, Texas area. On Saturdays she tutored children form west Dallas, which Dorothey described as being a very poor


   The area she tutored consisted of 52 different tribes of Indians ranging from Navajo to Eskimo's. After the children were tutored, they would share a meal and play games and sports.

   Dorothy went on to help with the beginnings of an Indian Center in Dallas. She recalls that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) brought many Navajo's in from Arizona. There were more children than was staff members

to support them.

   Dorothy told of her work by saying, some of us would volunteer and work sometimes until 10 p.m. sometimes

helping them. We even got volunteer dentists and doctors to help.

   The name of the organization that Dorothy help start is

called Trinity Indian Mission. Through this she was nominated to be on a Presidential Task Force. She worked for

Trinity Indian Mission for 12 years.

   Because of her contribution to the Dallas community, The Dorothy Henson Addition at the Silverstein School was named in her honor. This building has a library, science lab and 17 classrooms.

   While in the Dallas area, Dorothy was also considerably involved in the Church. She attended Tribal Chaplain Bertram Bobb's church before it was even in a building.

   She helped set up an Indian Center in Oak Cliff, Texas. Most people seemed to like that area better, so we se set

up a new center there, said Dorothy. When it began, volunteer workers ran it, but it eventually got funding.

   In the late 1990s, Dorothy moved back to Oklahoma because her family needed her. Keith had also passed away a short time before the move.

   In recent times, Dorothy has been active in her Oklahoma community. She attends church at St. Francis DeSales Catholic Church in Idabel.

   She also partakes in the Wednesday dinners at the Choctaw Center in Idabel, where she enjoys the camaraderie and friendship of her fellow seniors. She was nominated from that site as the Outstanding Choctaw Indian Elder.

   She was even in the play, Tall Cotton, which was produced by the Idabel Centennial Arts Council. The play is about the history of Idabel and Dorothy played the roll of Ida, one of the sisters for which the town is named.

   "McCurtain County has my heart," said Dorothy. She enjoys living in the area and cherishes the time she spends with her grandchildren, Cody and Anthony Henson.

Dorothy Henson


This article and others came from the Choctaw Nation Biskinik. To see more history please refer to the following sites.

Sounds of Choctaw - Social Greeting
Sounds of Choctaw - Weather
Lesson of the Day