In southwest Oklahoma close to where I grew up there once existed a black township called Cookietown. From what I was told, it was founded by black Civil War soldiers after the war, many of whom took Indian wives and moved to Indian Territory to work the land.

Twice during my childhood families from the town's inhabitants moved nearby to farm the fertile bottomland of Beaver Creek. The first family moved across the creek when I was eight. Their house "mysteriously" burned in the middle of the night while they were asleep and all seven family members died.

I was ten or eleven the summer when the second family moved to the section next to the Indian lease my family was farming. There were five of them and one of the boys was my age. We quickly became friends. I just thought of him as a darker skinned Indian, really. He was quiet and shy, and as sweet and kind a boy as I've ever known. I showed him how to make a real six-hand bow and arrows out of bois d'arc or willow limbs and I swear he cried the first time he shot a jackrabbit to bring home to his parents for supper. I knew his family was poor (since they were living in a teetering shack with no electricity or gas) but being a kid I never realized how poor until school started and he came to school that first day barefoot and wearing the same ragged, patched overalls he'd worn all summer. It was a strange sight to see his dark feet with the light soles padding around the shiny halls.

It didn't take long for some of the older boys to taunt him with "nigger." He had the guts to be defiant and accepted a challenge to fight from one of the boys. The white boy, several years older and a couple of feedsacks heavier, beat him to a bloody pulp behind the gym after lunch. I rode home with him on the bus, but he didn't say a word. Maybe he hurt too much to talk.

That night an armed mob of honking, whooping rednecks in pickups surrounded the family's house and started smashing half-empty whiskey bottles against the paint-bare walls. Since they lived down the hill from us, we could hear the racket. My father left his favorite show, "Sugarfoot," to investigate. I guess he had an inkling of what was going on. I'd told him what happened that day at school. My oldest brother and I talked him into letting us come along, but we had to promise to lie in the back and peep over the side.

When we got to their place the fire had already climbed the walls to the tin roof. Daddy drove up as close as he could get and warned my brother and me once again to stay put. From inside the house we could hear the women and children's screams and the father calling out to the mob, begging for the lives of his family. I peeped, of course, and I could see the laughing tormenters had their guns leveled and were intent on letting them burn to death — unless they were crazy enough to come out. Most of the mob had kerchiefs over their faces, a few even had Ku Klux Klan type hoods on. As my father strode forward with that familiar set to his jaw I know he must have thanked Jesus when a big stationwagon navigated through the maze of vehicles and parked next to us between the house and the mob. It was our neighbor, good friend, and a former rodeo cowboy, Delbert. Together, unarmed, they entered the burning house and rescued that family before they burned up; brought them out, coughing, clinging to each other, crying, wailing.

I had sneaked out of the back of the pickup and started it up. I intended to run over any bastard that shot his gun. All the hateful, gutless mob did was yell and jeer at my daddy and Delbert as they brought the family and put them in Delbert's big Ford station wagon. Delbert had more room in his house than we did in our Indian lease shack so he took them home for the night.

I won't ever forget the look on my little friend's face. The scaredest, hurtest look there could be. And that was the last time I saw him. My mama told me they went to live with some kin. What's strange about this memory is I can't for the life of me remember that boy's name.

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