UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Elizabeth Plyler
Interviewer: Emma Echols
September 11, 1993
Elizabeth Plyler is a dancer and potter who lives on the
Catawba reservation. In this interview she about encountering
prejudice in the white public schools and her hopes for the future
of the Catawba tribe.
Interviewer: Emma Echols
Interviewee: Elizabeth Plyler
Date: September 11, 1993
E: This is Emma Echols, 5150 Sharon Road, Charlotte, North
Carolina. I work on the Oral History of the Catawba
Indians. I am out at the Nature Museum, and I wish you
could be here, too, because all spread out here are the
artifacts and things from the tribe. [There are] tables of
corn and the things that are made from corn, tables that
tell about the medicines and so forth. In a few minutes
there are going to be some dancers. I have a beautiful lady
here in her costume--blue and brown--and she is a beautiful
woman. I must tell you about her feet. They are [in] boots
that are made of leather, with little beads all the way up.
You did not make your costume? Now tell us your name and
P: I am Elizabeth Plyler and I live at 1864 Plyler Road, in
Rock Hill, South Carolina. I am a Catawba Indian. I am a
potter; I am also a dancer.
E: Now tell us your mother and your father's name.
P: My mother's name was Mary Rachel Brown Plyler. My father
was Olan F. Plyler.
E: Your mother and father are living now?
P: My mother and father have passed away.
E: And what immediate family do you have?
P: I have two daughters, and one lives in Texas and one lives
here in Rock Hill near me, but they do not participate. My
daughter Dale participates in the festivals. She sells my
pottery when we have our Catawba festival at Catawba, and
she has a nice regalia that she wears then.
E: Was she here last fall? Dancing with the group?
P: No, she does not dance. She just goes and sells my pottery
at the festival at Catawba. We have it in November.
E: Well, you are a beautiful lady. Now tell me, do all of [the
people] have costumes? Yours is so beautiful, in brown and
P: Yes, all of the dancers [have]--you do not call them
costumes--you call them regalia.
E: Good, I am glad to know that.
P: All of the dancers have regalia. We have six or eight
ladies that participate, and we have some young men, but I
do not think that the men are going to be here today.
E: Now tell me the names of some of the dancers.
P: Evelyn George is a dancer, and she is seventy-nine years
old. We have Becky Garris, we have Florence Wade, Melissa
Straight, Ruby Benson; I cannot think of all of their names
right now, and the boys [are] Joseph Canty, and his father
Dean Canty. We have Wally Canty. That is all of the men
[that] we have.
E: Now tell me, are these traditional dances that you have
known for years?
P: Yes, we do the traditional dances.
E: Do they have names for those dances?
P: Well, it is just a traditional Catawba dance, and all of the
tribes do the traditional dance, in some way. And it is
just the toe and heel.
E: I am so glad that the young ones are learning from you all,
P: Yes, the young ones are learning, and we have some young men
learning to drum. Our festival is the Saturday after
Thanksgiving. This will be our [inaudible] festival.
E: Now what is the date of your festival this fall?
P: November 27.
E: Around Thanksgiving time.
P: Yes, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It is from 10:00 to
E: Now, you have a number of herbs and things down here. Tell
me about the early medicines you remember as a girl.
P: Well, my mom always made up a salve or grease to put on us
in the winter when we had colds and stuff. Then we used the
red oak bark for the poison oak. We used the catnip, and
the altertag for the babies whenever they had a stomach
ache, or the hives or something, to make them rest. There
are a lot of different herbs that was used, but I do not
remember them all.
E: Of course, you could not remember them all. Well you are
not only a homemaker and a dancer, but you are also making
pottery. You make the traditional pottery, but you have a
little air, a little special part that you put on your own
pottery, do you not?
P: Yes, I put my name and the date on my pottery, and I try to
put the designs that the Catawbas used years ago on my
E: What are your favorite things that you make?
P: I love to make pitchers.
E: And what do you use to decorate it with?
P: Well, I use a nail or whatever I can find to carve it in.
E: Do you make the same kind of pottery your mother or your
E: Yes, we made the wedding jugs, and the vases and the peace
pipes, and the pitchers, and the loving cups. I made the
same things that my mother and my grandmother made.
E: Do you find that people are more interested in coming to
visit you and buy?
E: [People] used to have to just go to the homes to find you,
but now you have them on display at the festival, will you
P: Yes, they will be displayed at the festival, and people will
E: Of the older people that you remember, who influenced your
life most of all? Either white or Indians.
P: I guess my grandmother.
E: Tell me about her.
P: Well, my grandmother was Rachel Wycey George Brown. She was
a small woman. She was not even five feet [tall]; she was
about four-something. About four feet I guess. She lived
near us, and she told us stories and I went with her when
she went to sell her pottery from door to door. I went with
her when she spread out her pottery on the ground and sold
it, up at Winthrop College.
E: And they were outside the gate, then, selling the pottery?
P: Yes, outside the gate, selling the pottery on the grounds.
She put down a big blanket, and put her pottery on the
ground, and we would sit on the blanket all day.
E: That was difficult to do and she did not get very much
money, did she?
P: No. No, she did not get very much money. She raised her
last child. He was blind, and her husband died in 1927.
She raised him and took care of him until he was grown.
E: Where was her home at that time?
P: She lived at the reservation. She always lived at the
reservation until she passed away.
E: Now, who else do you remember besides your grandmother who
influenced you? Was there a teacher or someone else like
that who had an influence on you?
P: Well, Brother Hayes was our teacher. He was not an Indian,
but he came and taught us in school. We went up to the
seventh grade. There were two rooms, and when you finished
the seventh grade, you had to go to the outside school.
E: Did they welcome you there, in the Rock Hill schools?
P: No. They did not. We could not ride the school bus. I
started to the outside school at about 1942 and I quit in
1943. We could not ride the school bus. The black people
could ride the school bus, but we could not ride the school
bus! And the bus went right by the reservation, but it
would not stop and pick us up! So we had to get to school
the best way we could, so I would go with my father at about
5:00 in the morning, and I would have to stay at a store
until it was time to go to school. [Then] I would walk on
down to school, then I would walk back on up to the store
and wait until my father got off work. He did not get off
work until 5:00, so it was an all-day thing. The children
would not have anything to do with you, so I finally quit.
E: What grade was that?
P: It was in the ninth grade.
E: Well, some of the Indians have gone back and gotten their
high school diplomas.
P: Yes. I went back and got my G.E.D. [General Equivalency
Diploma] out at York Tech.
E: Good for you. When was that?
P: It was in the 1970s.
E: Well, I am proud of that. I have heard of two or three
others who have done the same thing, and still doing it.
You know, so much is told about and is written about the men
of the Catawba, but I am interested in the women. That is
the reason I am doing a whole series of stories about the
women because I think that you all have had a real
influence. You have taught your children, and you have
taken an active part in the church.
E: You remember the old, old church on the reservation, I am
P: Yes, I do.
E: You went to it then. Well, what do you see for the future
of the Catawbas now?
P: Well, I am hopeful that the Catawbas will go forth, and be a
great influence on the community, and I hope that in the
future we will have a museum of our own. I hope that we
will have a Catawba village. I am on the board of the
Catawba Cultural Preservation group. We are getting the
last schoolhouse redone [we are redoing it ourselves and
fixing it up]. It will be a learning center. We are having
basket classes, and teaching the young people all kinds of
things that we did when we was children, and that our
forefathers did. I hope that I will live long enough to see
a museum and a Catawba Indian village built there.
E: I hope that you do, too. It has been a joy to meet you and
to know you. I think that the Tribe is in very good hands
with people like you as their leaders.