In May of 1838 a mighty nation was uprooted from it’s ancestral home land by our federal government and the Georgia militia. The people were herded, like cattle, on a long and torturing journey into a land that was to become the Indian territory and later, Oklahoma. Over a fourth of that nation died on what is known as, The Trail of Tears.
On May 30,1874, in Tahlequah, Cherokee, Indian Territory of Oklahoma, a descendant of that great nation was born. His name was Peter, the third son of Mary Melvina Tyree a full blooded Cherokee and William Miller Bennight.
Pete, as everyone called him was my grandfather, actually, my step-grandfather but no one would have ever known. He helped my grandmother raise myself and my brother with all the love and care he did his own children and step-children and he was the only grandfather I ever knew.
My earliest memory of him is when I was about four or five years of age. He was painting our house and I was watching him. He put down his brush, told me to stay where I was and went to the back of the house for something. I don’t know why little children do some of the strange things they do but I picked up the brush, dipped it into the paint and proceeded to paint my head. When he returned, there I stood with paint dripping down my face. He gave a little chuckle, shook his head with a tsk, tsk and said, "Your grandma is going to have a fit," then marched me in to my grandmother who had the task of removing paint from my hair.
Pete was a quiet man, small of stature but muscular and strong, a coal miner and carpenter by trade. He was never idle, when he wasn’t working his mine he did repairs around the house, planted a garden, went hunting for honey-bee trees, rabbits and squirrels or went fishing. A natural born fisherman, he loved the sport and went every chance he got. He and my grandmother had a little ritual they went through each time she thought he had spent more time at the sport than he should. He would come in and tell her he was going fishing. She would say,"No Pete, you’re not". He’d give a little nod and say,"O.K. mommy", and go on about his business of getting things ready to go. Every once in a while she would interrupt him and say,"Now, Pete, I told you, you weren’t going fishing." Again, he’d give the nod and O.K. mommy. When he got everything ready to go, he’d give her a little kiss on the cheek and away he’d go. She would bend over laughing and say that he just didn’t pay her any attention at all. Sometimes he made little balls out of boiling water and cornmeal to use for bait. It must have worked pretty well because he always came home with a good catch.
I don’t recall ever seeing him come home in his work clothes all black with coal dust. The reason is that he always took clean clothes with him and he and the men who worked for him had rigged up a make-shift shower out of a barrel with holes punched in the bottom and they took turns pumping water into it from a well. Nothing like a cold shower. Brrr!
He had an old mule named Maude that pulled the coal cars up from the mine by a cable around a pole. Maude was blind but she knew each time the cable came around and stepped over it.
When I was about eight or nine, he took me down in the mine, just far enough for me to see what it was like. The only light was from a lamp he wore on his cap. Yes! I was frightened, I can still see the total blackness and smell the coal but I knew he wouldn’t let anything happen to me. I didn’t realize at the time what courage he had to go down in that black hole every day to make a living for his family.
There was another ritual we went through. Whenever I got all dressed up to go somewhere, I asked my grandmother how I looked. She always told me I looked very pretty. Then I would ask Pete,. He always told me, "Pretty is, as pretty does." When I got all dressed up for my eighth grade graduation, I asked grandmother how I looked and was told that I looked very pretty, so then I asked Pete, expecting his usual reply. Instead he said, "You look very nice." I was speechless. I consider that to be the greatest compliment I ever had.
As far as I know, Pete never used profanity. If he did, it was never around me. The worse words I ever heard him say were, "goll-dang and dad-gummit". He did occasionally take a nip of whiskey, for medicinal purposes only and he did drink an occasional beer but his real and only vice was his love for his "chawin’ tobaccie".
Pete was an interesting man with a sad but interesting heritage. The Cherokee people are noted for their devotion to their children. Pete was living proof of that. I am very proud to be able to say he was my grandfather. I could not have had a better one. It’s the people in our lives, whether related by blood or not, that love and care for us, that make us who and what we are. I am Thankful to God for giving me Pete.
Peter Pitchland Bennight
I told you he knew how to catch them. That's my grandpa!!!
My grandpa P. P. Bennight is listed on the coal miners memorial in Greenwood, Ark. along with his brothers L.F. and J.E.
Also my grandmothers nephews Barney and Park Null.
By Lora Cox © 2001