OKMULGEE, Oklahoma – After many years of searching for something to lead to her ancestry, Muscogee (Creek) citizen Shawn Partridge located files that gave her a glimpse of her grandmother’s childhood.
Partridge, like many other Natives, grew up knowing very little about her family history.
Her grandmother Nora Watson died at the estimated age of 44, something Partridge had always been aware of but there were “huge gaps” in information.
Watson had six children; Partridge’s father was just nine years old at the time of her passing. The children were sent to Bacone Orphanage for some time before attending different local boarding schools throughout their childhood.
Apparently, the father of the children was very abusive to Watson. Partridge learned this just a few years after entering her career field and working for the MCN Family Violence Prevention Program.
Partridge said that at the time of adulthood, her father and three uncles had entered the military.
“They were disconnected from family,” she said.
While in the midst of her search trying to fill in those information gaps, Partridge recently discovered something that struck her.
“Having attended Haskell, an all-Indian university for an associate’s and going on to OU for a bachelor’s in Native American Studies I had heard throughout my educational career about Carlisle but never knew that my grandma had attended there until many years later,” Partridge said.
It was Partridge’s paternal aunt, in her old age at the time, who had mentioned to her that Watson had attended school at Carlisle Indian Boarding School about ten years ago. Upon hearing this information, it motivated Partridge to continue her search.
“My last aunt had been institutionalized from the time she was very young so she was not a source of information,” Partridge explained. “I found out the bulk of this information after my dad’s passing and my aunts and uncles. Though, I don’t think they would have had too much to offer with her (grandmother, Watson) passing at a young age.”
Partridge relied on Google for her search and she claimed it was the most helpful tool in leading her to specific Google Documents that had listed the names of children by tribes that had attended Carlisle that included the name of Nora Watson.
This new finding led Partridge to the Carlisle Indian School Resource Center where she found digital archived school documents pertaining to her grandmother.
“It seems like more information and records available since my initial search,” Partridge said. “It does help give a glimpse of what her life may have been like, even just those couple of years and how that potentially impacted the rest of her life.”
Though discoveries have been made during her search, it poses different questions in Partridges’ mind.
Watson was born on June 1, 1901 according to digital records. She was admitted in to Carlisle on Sept. 6, 1915 by her guardian referred to in documents as G. J. Fuller.
According to Partridge, this man was of no relation to Watson or the family. Records state that Watson’s parents were deceased at the time of her admittance in the boarding school.
Apparently Fuller was a pharmacist in Eufaula, OK during this time. Partridge claimed her grandmother was from the Dustin area.
“I just start to think all kinds of different things,” she said. “About how she may have been taken advantage of and her being vulnerable.”
The search has brought out many emotions for Partridge, it has had moments of hard learning experiences along with developing thoughts that have been difficult.
“I know a variety of experiences have not only impacted their lives but generations,” Partridge said.
Archived letters from Watson to her guardian Fuller requesting to come home many times over her stay at Carlisle bring deep emotions out of Partridge.
“There is very clearly sadness, anger and a lot of things,” she said. “I can see it in my own family. In my dad and aunts and uncles, how the lack of nurturing, lack of consistent stable parenting impacted them not only as children but as adults and their ability to parent us as kids.”
Partridge stated this is an example historical or generational trauma, which is experienced and passed down in Native American families.
“I know I feel the way others feel when they look into this information,” Partridge said. “I am learning to heal from this not only for me but for my family and my son.”
Partridge encourages citizens to look into these databases that are available and have conversations with living family members.
“These things are not easy to talk about,” she said. “I wish I had known sooner so I could have had the opportunity to have these conversations with family before they were gone.”
Unfortunately, Partridge has no information about her grandmother before her attendance at Carlisle.
Information about the Carlisle Indian Boarding School can be accessed at: https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/.