ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Mrs. Gwynn Crawford
INTERVIEWER: Emma R. Echols
DATE: January 12, 1972
E: This is Emma Reid Echols, Route 6, Box 260, Rock Hill, South
Carolina. It is January 12, 1972. I'm recording the oral
history of the Catawba Indians, and I'm now visiting the
Lesslie School. My friend today is Mrs. Herbert Crawford,
who was a teacher, and is now the librarian here at the
school. I'll let her tell you her full name.
G: Gwynn McAulay Crawford; Mrs. Herbert Crawford.
E: And you've been teaching at Lesslie School for quite a
number of years, haven't you?
G: That's right. Since World War II.
E: We are especially interested in your relationship to the
Catawba Indians. The Catawba Indians, I believe, were in-
tegrated into this school in the fall of 1966. Was your
husband principal at that time?
G: That's right.
E: Do you remember these children coming into the school?
G: Oh, yes. Miss Ethel Owings, who was assistant to Mr. Sullivan,
came on and talked to us about the board deciding for the
Indians to attend Lesslie. She asked me if I would be willing
to have them in my room. At that time I was teaching two
classes--a third and a fourth grade. So they took the fourth
grade away from me, and gave me this fifth grade class of
Indians. So I had the third grade regular children, and the
fifth grade Indian children.
E: You had them seated on different parts of the room, then,
since you had two different classes, didn't you?
G: Well, now, yes. One class on one side, and one on the other.
E: You remember what time of the year this was?
G: This was sometime in the late fall that they came in.
E: That was quite an event for you, and for your school. What
was the attitude of these children when they began coming in?
G: Well, you talking about the whites or the Indians?
E: No, the Indian children.
G: The Indian children were...well, they acted almost like they
hated it. They were very...they looked impassive about it,
but after you got to know them, you realized that it was a
big change for them to come here, and it took some time for
them to feel easy with me. In fact, it was three weeks before
I would say that I was their teacher.
E: What about the attitude of the white children to the Indian
G: Well, they were thrilled to death. I had a third grade class
made up mostly of little boys. You can imagine how excited
little boys would be about a chance to go to school with
Indians. They were tickled to death, and everything. They
were yelling and yelling at the Indians all year long. The
little ones did.
E: Did you feel that after you broke the ice, so to speak, that
you really became the friend of the Indians?
G: I think that I did, because they've kept up with me since
then, and some of them are always stopping by to see me.
But there was a real awkward feeling about that at first,
and I can remember how baffled I was by the little Indian
children, until we got comfortable with each other. The
first thing that I noticed about them--that made me realize
we had two different races in the room--was, at times,
when the Indians would just seem like they would close their
minds to what you were teaching them. Just sit there. It
seemed like their skin took on a kind of a greyish tinge,
and that was the first thing that I noticed. I noticed that
the whole time when there was any kind of withdrawal on their
part, you know, it seemed to me that their skin took on a
E: Was that evidence that they didn't want to learn what you
were teaching at the time?
G: I don't know. I think they just weren't too interested.
Their idea of what to do in school was a great deal different
from ours. Would you like for me to tell you about it?
E: Oh yes!
G: All right. When they first came in to this school their idea
of being busy in school was to copy something. All of them
had beautiful handwriting. What they loved to do...they would
like to get busy and copy something. They wanted me to get them
to copy something. And there was...you know, I don't teach
like that unless there's something behind it. I think, though,
that love of copying something had to do with their interest in
art. I think that just doing something with their hands, you
know....But now that was where we struck our first common ground
in the school room, was through art. To me they were the most
talented little bunch of children I had ever taught.
E: What about Mary Caroleen Sanders? You have kept so much of her
art; she was in that class that you're speaking of. Now,
will you tell me some of the things you gave them to do, or
did you just give them materials and let them work on their own?
G: Well, usually we had a mural going in the room all the time,
you know, a big old mural on the wall that the children worked
on. I remember that Les Blue is the one that liked this, and
it was about Indians. It's strange, too, the idea about Indians.
They were thinking about other people as much as we were. I
found lots of times that they didn't think about themselves
as Indians, and when you mention Indians to them, they think
of something they had seen about Plains Indians, or some tribe
of Indians or nation way away.
E: Did they do anything with pottery or with clay while they were
in your class?
G: I tried that, and that didn't work too well. The best results
I had from them was turning them loose with paints, and letting
them just paint what they wanted to. Mrs. Echols, you might
be interested in this. I, of course, was watching them care-
fully, as you would a bunch of children you don't know too well,
and from a different background. The little white children
would always act their age. They would paint the sky up high...
just a straight blue; you've seen hundreds of those. The
Indians that I taught never did paint a blue sky. They painted
it other colors, and to me that was what made some of their
pictures so beautiful. Now, that Sanders girl you were talking
about, her skies were always several shades of bone or buff,
and I don't know what it was about it, but it just made her....
The pictures that she did, you know, beneath the sky, or with
a sky background, it made them just stand out so beautiful.
E: Did they like the darker colors, or did they go for the bright
G: They liked the bright colors and the dark too. They didn't
care for the pastels.
E: In your teaching of these children, did you find some areas
of reading or math, or any subjects, more difficult than
G: Well, you know, that's been a long time, but it seems to me
that they liked their math when they were fairly along. And
I believe that they had more trouble with reading than they
did with that. There's something orderly about an Indian
that I think the math appealed to.
E: What about the discipline? You probably didn't have trouble
with discipline, if they were interested in what they were
G: Well, I never did get complete control of them until I punished
a child one time, and that was just for...I think it was dis-
obedience, you know, just a little thing. It was an accumu-
lation. I took that child to the office, and when I came back,
they were just settled back, just as satisfied as though...
very nice...you'd expected us taking all that discipline. They
never did give me very much trouble.
Now, there were several boys that I just lost my heart
to, they were so attractive. But then, they didn't have any
ambition, and the others seemed to admire them for that. It
was an attitude, I guess, that worried me more than anything
else. One of those boys--who was the best artist in the room,
by the way--he ended up in the state penitentiary. Got in
trouble, you know. Disobeyed. Now, as I said, he was very,
very attractive though. He was a real artist, and he was
very honest. That's another thing about the Indians--they
were honest. I would say that their standard of honesty was
greater than that of many white children. Of the whole crowd
I never did find but one Indian boy who did the slightest
thing dishonest. Now, the boy that got in the penitentiary,
he was not there for stealing. He was there for...I don't
know whether...I think he killed somebody. That's an awful
thing, to put killing below stealing, but I mean it was a
manner of temper in him that got him in trouble.
E: Well, you spoke of their art and their math and their reading.
What about music? You're such a good musician; did you have
some of them in your Glee Club, and did they like to sing?
G: Yes, they loved singing. They learned it too. I found that
their voices were not as pure as the little white children's
voices. There was a little tone to it that was a little bit
scratchy. They didn't have the white's purity of tone to
E: Someone told me about the time you went out on the playground
to help an Indian boy who was in trouble. Do you remember
G: Oh, yes. Now, I believe that was the time when they quit
looking grey at me. They did not like to be compared with
Negroes about anything, and some child in the school grounds
called one of these boys a "nigger," and he was fighting for
dear life over it. The little Indian girls came running in
the school and got me...which I was glad that they did that.
We went out where the boys were, and I just made an issue out
of taking up for the Indian boy, and sending the other boy to
the office, and telling the other boy that he was to quit
calling people "niggers." And I don't know that that was too
big a thing, but it kind of opened the door to the Indians.
I didn't have any problem with any of them again.
E: They came to you with their problems at lunch time? Do you
remember them ever using any unusual expressions or words or
stories from their past?
G: Now, I remember a million things that they told me, but I
don't remember any expressions. Right after I had taught
these children, I wish, at that time, that I had kept some
kind of diary about it, because they did have expressions
that we didn't use. One of them, you know...you talk about
"my comb." Like, "I had washed my comb." But the Indians
that I taught always talked about "their comb." It gave you
insight into home conditions, because that was something that
was passed around.
Another thing that they did that was unusual.... You
met my son, Nickie. Well, they were very interested in
Nickie, and they always wanted to hear about him. One time
he was sick, and he had summer bronchitis, or something like
that. The Indians told me all kinds of things that I could
do to get him well. I don't remember any of them, except
one thing. I believe it was one of the Beck children said,
"You just get Mr. Proctor to get a mole and kill it. And
now, you don't have any medicine, and he'll get well."
E: Did you have this whole group of Indians for one year, or
longer than that?
G: I had them for one year.
E: Now, how many do you think were in that group? Of course,
you don't remember exactly.
G: I think there were about twelve of fifteen...something like
E: Do you think they showed signs- of affection? Like, at the
end of school, often children come and tell you, "Goodbye.
I love you." Did the Indians show any signs of affection?
G: Yes, they did. They'd come up, and hold on to you, and hold
your hand. Some of them would put their arm around you, you
know, while they were talking to you. I didn't think...they
were not like stoics, or along that line. It was just when
they first came here, that they were just so very reserved
E: What about the needs in the home? Did these children need
food or clothing when they came to your school?
G: That's another thing that impressed me about them. They
came from real poor homes. In fact, part of the reservation
was not...you know, that business wasn't straightened out
until later. But I do not know of one Indian who got free
lunches. They didn't want it. They wanted to pay for that,
and I know it was a hardship for them, but it was a matter
of pride, you know. And they weren't too fully dressed.
Sometimes you could tell that they needed some new socks, or
something like that, but they got along rather well.
E: Now, at this time they rode the school buses to school?
G: That's right. All the trouble we had with the Indians that
first year was about the school buses. There was fights and
things that broke out between the whites and the Indians.
Now, that was older children...some of the boys that were on
there coming from high school. I don't know what went on,
but the Indians asked for a special place on the bus for
them to sit in, so they could sit together. One of the older
Indian men came and talked to Mr. Crawford about it. I don't
remember all the ins and outs about this that they gave. Since
they were the last ones to get off the bus, they put them on
the back of the bus...let the Indians all sit together if they
wanted to. Well, they did that about a week, and then they
decided they wanted the front of the bus. So I think they
just made everyone sit together.
E: Now, I'm sure your husband must have had a good many times
when you had problems that would come to him?
G: More than likely.
E: Now, did these children ever come to you and ask you for
praise? Did they expect you to encourage them, and did they
expect you to advise them? Did they ask for that?
G: Well, they liked for you to comment them just like anyone
else, but they had a very special love for whoever was teach-
ing. I noticed it later, you know, with the other teachers
too. I think today you'd say they identified with the teacher.
You didn't find--in these little ones, anyway--you didn't
find that hostility towards a person...older people. It's
something that you find at some places today.
E: Did they ever tell you any stories about the wild Indians?
G: The wild Indians? I heard about the wild Indians. And I
think maybe that older people in the tribe tried to keep the
stories about the wild Indians to themselves. I think that
subject was a little bit taboo. But one day, I don't know
why it was, we got started talking about things of that sort,
and they told me about different things about the wild Indians.
I questioned them as much as I dared, because I could see from
the way they looked at each other, and warned each other, that
it was a subject maybe that you shouldn't press them too much
about. Now, Mrs. Echols, when I told my husband about the
stories about the wild Indians, he had me write to Dr. Francis
Bradley. You know, he died just recently, and he was a lecturer
on South Carolina folklore. I don't know...that thing was
fresh in my mind when I wrote to him about that. Would you
like for me to tell you, a few of the things that I...?
E: Oh, please do!
G: All right. Well, I think that the subject may have come up
like this. Some boy was maybe bragging about something, and
the others said, "You better watch out. The wild Indians are
going to get you."
And I said, "Wild Indians?"
He said, "Yes."
I said, "Well, where are they?"
And they said, "They're under the ground. If you come
home drunk at night, they'll come out and beat you up because
they don't like us Indians to drink."
One of the boys said he had seen them rear up out of the
ground one time. His idea of these Indians was just like the
pictures you see on the nickel, or something like that. These
Indians have feathers, and they ride on horses. Then he said
that the wild Indians' meeting place was across the Catawba,
and that you could hear them yelling and hollering. But the
wild Indians, as I remember it, seemed to be just like an
ancestor, you know, checking up on what you were doing, and
seeing if you were keeping the faith.
E: Did they ever tell you about leaving clothes on the line at
G: No, I never did hear that from them.
E: Oh, I've heard that story too. You remember any of the other
stories that they tell about the wild Indians?
G: I just can't think. Oh yes, I do remember one place that they
said there was a...when you got to the reservation there was
this tall tree there, and a hole went down under this tree.
That's where the wild Indians came out.
E: Now, since they loved the forest and the land so much, did
they particularly like stories of animals, birds? Did they
tell you any?
G: No. Sometimes they would paint pictures, and I would kind
of get to something that they needed from that, but they
never did tell me any of their folk tales. I did learn
some of the superstitions. When they were in my room, they
were very interested in fairy tales--not Indian folklore,
but just our own fairy tales.
E: What superstitions did you find that some of them had?
G: I don't remember anything special. You know, Mrs. Echols,
this has been so long ago.
E: I think you're doing fine remembering.
G: Well, would you like for me to tell you about the time they
had the big Mormon meetings?
E: Yes, I would.
G: Well, you were talking about music. I had learned about one
hymn I think they sing more than any other: "All is Well,
All is Well." I learned that, and I let the other children
sing it. They were just thrilled to death to hear one of their
There was the year that I had...or it may have been the
next year. I've forgotten which. There was a village Mormon
convocation for this part of the country, and so many real
important people who were Mormon hierarchy came out here. They
had an all day meeting, and they had singing. The little
Indians really did enjoy the importance that this thing....
E: I think they used the Lesslie School, isn't that right?
G: That's right. They met right here at the school.
E: I know that your husband would be interested in that too.
G: Yes, and then I was interested in...there were several out
here who sang in the Tabernacle- Choir, and one of the....
E: Is it called the president? The man called the president,
you know, is the head of it for seven years, or something like
that. I think he is. His wife is one of the soloists of the
choir, and she was here.
G: Great big woman. Just as hardy...and a wonderful musician.
She played the piano, and she sang too.
E: Mrs. Crawford, since you had the first class of integrated
children here, I wonder how the children felt, or how the
parents felt concerning this integration. Were they glad to
be at Lesslie School, or did they resent giving up their
Catawba Indian school?
G: Well, I'd say that there was a little bit of both in it. They
were excited, you know, over the new adventure, and getting
in with new people, but their hearts harkened back to the
old school a lot. We at this school received a good many books
from that school when they closed it out. I would see the
little Indians when they would find those books, you know,
with their school name in it. They would look at each other
just like, "Oh, these were the good old days."
E: Did they need workbooks, or were the books and workbooks
provided for them?
G: My experience with the Indians was that they bought what they
were supposed to have, and they didn't want any help. Now,
they may have been getting government money at home...I don't
know. But here at school we didn't have any trouble with them.
E: Did the parents visit the school at this time?
G: Some came. I've never seen a difference in the attitudes to
this change...the difference between the men and the women.
The Indian women were much freer with us, and felt more at
home here than the men did. I know it used to amuse me, be-
cause for a long time I never did talk to an Indian man. There
was a little reticence there. I don't know whether it was
their etiquette or what, but sometimes I would have to go out
to the car and talk to a family, and advise them. Go out to
the car, but if there was a man there, he'd turn his back on
me, and I'd talk to the woman. I've had those Indian women
actually wink at me, and then toss their head, and tell the
men they thought they're crazy. I think it must have been a
custom, and then it may have been self-consciousness. I don't
One of my children was sick in the hospital, and I went
to see her several times. When we went in the hospital room,
the whole family would be there. I bet she had six little
brothers and sisters that were younger than she was. They
were the cutest little black-eyed things, and just the
prettiest babies you've ever seen. And then the father,
when I would come in the room, he'd hitch his chair around,
and turn his back. The only Indian man that I remember
talking to was Mr. Ayers. They let me come over one time.
E: Did they seem to appreciate what the teacher was doing for
G: Oh, yes! And they couldn't thank you enough. They were
very generous about the things that they gave you. I don't
remember who it was, but one of the mothers during the year
made an apron for me. Made it by hand, herself, and they
were always giving me little pieces of pottery. Then at
Christmastime, they would give me presents too.
E: I don't suppose any of the pottery is preserved in this
school? It would be nice if it were preserved...some of it.
G: Well, now, no. Those pieces that they gave me...I wasn't
thinking ahead like that. That would have been good to
have left them here. I had those at home, but now Mrs.
McFarland, that teaches the third grade here now, she's got
a good collection of Indian pottery in her room. Her room
is one that I pass as I go down to the office.
E: I'd like to see that. Today, 1972, I'm sure that things
have changed. The principal at this school will be giving
me, a little bit later,a list of all the Indian children.
But let's talk about you as the librarian today. Do you
have any Indian children that are helping you in the library?
G: Not this year. I don't have any Indian children helping me
this year, but I have had Indian children helping me. You
know, the older ones. Now, the little Indians that are in
this school--see this just goes through the fourth grade--
they are not too interested in helping. I have had excellent
help from Indians before the school divided--especially
mending books. The Indian girls could mend them lots better
than I could ever think about mending them.
E: You have worked with lot of different Indian children. As
a rule, do you find Indian children enjoy reading? Like the
G: Yes, especially the ones that have lots of pictures. And
they love to be read to.
E: Now, what do you think the Indians think of themselves? The
South Indians, are they proud of themselves and their history,
G: I think that the women could get more pride along that line,
but when they first came in, the girls...I think they looked
on themselves as kind of second class citizens. That was
always something that Herbert Crawford, the principal, in-
sisted that teachers do, was to try to give the Indians some-
thing to be proud of.
E: What did the Indians think about themselves?
G: When they came here, or now?
G: I would say now that there's not much...I know the white
children don't know the difference between themselves and
the Indians. I don't believe the Indians are feeling any
difference. In fact, to me that's disappointing. I would
like for them to keep their identity more than they have, but
they fade right in with all the school whites...especially
athletics. You know, some of those Indian boys, athletes,
have gotten scholarships to Princeton and so on.
E: Now that you provide source materials for your teachers,
do you find that teachers are interested in projects on the
Indians, and do they check out the books?
G: That's right. I guess in this, and in our area too, we have
more books about animals for little children than anything
else. And the next category is Indians--we have just hundreds
of books about Indians. I know a lot of Indians like them,
but the other children do too.
E: Do you have many books about the Catawba Indians?
E: Very few?
G: Very few about them, and sometimes when a child writes some-
thing about the Catawbas, we'll make a little booklet out of
it, and leave it out for the other children to read. Our
main subject heading on the Catawba Indians today is from
a book that came in. Anytime we find a book that has any-
thing about them in it, you know, we always file about it
in the card catalog so people can get to it. Have you seen
that new book that the Rock Hill system wrote as a study in
E: No, I haven't.
G: I have that book; I'll show it to you. The first part of
that book is about the Catawba Indians.
E: That would be very helpful to see something....
G: So I was bringing out the different subjects about the Catawbas.
E: Now a number of your children remember you so well. They
told me so. I wonder if you would know any of the youths who
have gone on into business, or teaching, or nursing, or any
of the ones that you happen to see today...and know them?
G: I came across one Indian...one of them has worked at Sherer's,
a dry cleaning place, and they're always sending me messages
by the younger children. See, some of those I taught have...
they're so large, and they have younger children here, and I
hear about them. They send me messages, and I send them back.
The boy that made the most impression on me was a failure
on my part. Les Blue was the boy who I told you ended up in
the penitentiary. He was the one who was the best student,
and he was the grandson of old Chief Blue. He was the one
who just seemed to want to just throw things away. He served
his time in the penitentiary, and Caroleen was always asking....
When the family would go down to the penitentiary to see him,
Steve and I always sent him a message. I don't think I saw
him but once or twice after he left school here.
He was paroled from there, then, and come home, and
drowned in the Catawba River. He was the one of the boys who
talked so much about the "Old Indians" and things. He was
drowned just about near where the "Old Indians" had their
meeting place, and I thought about their meetings.
E: Now, Caroleen Sanders was one of yours, and she's become a
beautician down here in Charlotte. Have you seen her recently?
G: No, I haven't. I remember her exactly, though...very well.
She was just a friendly little girl. In fact, Mrs. Echols,
these Indian children all had character. As I say, I just
think I came across one rotten apple in the barrel, and the
rest of them had exceptional moral standards. Now, then, their
morals were just....
E: How do you account for that? Do you give the credit to the
church, or the home, or their native ability?
G: Well, I grant you that the pure Indians that were not mixed
up with us were high-type people. You know, I've heard that
the Indians in Mexico, living in the mountains, are steadfast
tribes. I imagine it comes from several sources. It comes
from their heritage and homelife, and, of course, the church.
E: Did you really enjoy these Indians?
G: Well, as I look back over it, I enjoyed the Indians more than
any one group that I had. And it was strange that I should
enjoy them, because it took me so long to get next to them
so that I could teach them. We went through a hard time there
at first, and I just felt like I was not reaching them at all,
and they were holding back from me. But when we finally got
together it was just a big hug on both sides. They liked me,
and I was crazy about them.