John Dudley Keys and Minnie Allice Holland

John and Minnie Keys raised eleven children in a two room cabin, "Old Home", down the old Qualls road in the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma, Cherokee Nation West.

The Son of James Theodore Keys and Margaret Carlile:

John Dudley Keys already had a daughter, Viola when he met and married Minnie Allice Holland in 1910. Vi's mother died when she was young so she was raised by John's brother Jim and his wife Lyde. Aunt Lyde was Vi's mother's sister.

Minnie was the daughter of JOE HOLLAND and MARTHA MARSHAL of Gravette, Arkansas. John and Minnie's family grew to include nine boys and two girls. The oldest boy was James, but he was called Yowner, a corruption of the Cherokee word "Yonah" which means "Big Bear", a name that fit him to a tee. Next came Kale Starr, he was always known as Knox. Then Lawrence or Rabbit, a name given to him because every day when he got home from school he would grab a biscuit and go out to the garden and start nibbling on what ever vegetables were young and tender. After Rabbit there came Levi, then Walt, then Guy, then Mary Wahlele, pronounced "Walela", the Cherokee word for Hummingbird. Following Mary came Ellis, then the ninth child, NINA ELZABETH. The two youngest ones were Roxie, who always went by his middle name, Cookson and Clint.

Children of Minnie & John Dudley Keys

Mary, Clint, Ellis, Nina, Levi and Knox
Rabbit, Walt and Cookson

Back Row:
Rabbit, Knox and Levi
Front Row:
Guy, their father John, and Walt

During the depression years John and the boys would go up around Porter and pick cotton. John cut railroad ties and hickory billets for the railroad, getting anywhere from 10 to 50 cents a piece for them. They never went hungry as Minnie had her garden and plenty of hands to tend it. She insisted there not be one weed in it... not even in the cornes.

Making a living was difficult at best. Money was always hard to come by. The "Indian" land John received was next to worthless, ten acres of rocks and ravines, not fit for farming. He rented a place not far from his folks. In later years they would call it "Old Home". Way too small for the thirteen people who lived there, Minnie would hang sheets at night between the beds for privacy. School was down toward Qualls. They called it "Stone Chapel".

John's Uncle Henry's boy, Kye Carlile had other ideas about how to make a living. Some say he robbed banks with Pretty Boy Floyd, another local boy from over in Cookson. Some said he killed a woman, but he swore he didn't kill anyone. One time he came down to John and Minnie's place for a visit. He played ball with the boys, running through the pasture barefoot. He got thirsty so he went down to the creek to get a drink of water. Guy stopped him saying, "Mister, I don't believe I'd drink right there." When Kye ask him why he said "`Cause there´s an old dead crawdad right over there". Kye laughed about that the rest of the day.

Once Kye and his friend, Troy Love were running from the Sheriff, Grover Bishop. Troy had Grovers back in the sights of his gun when Kye stopped him. "Not in the back" he said. It wasn´t long after that that Grover Bishop caught up with them out in Rice Carter´s field and shot them both dead. Threw them both in the back of an old car with their legs hanging out the trunk. People went wild looking for the loot they supposedly buried. Some thought it was in a cave on John´s Indian land up by L. L. Finney´s bluff. All they ever found there was an old tin cup. They buried Kye Carlile in Pettit Cemetery.

President Roosevelts "New Deal" saved the Keys family. The boys, Yowner, Knox, Rabbit, Levi, Walt and later, Guy got on with the CC camps, working on the hiways. John D. went to work with the WPA building roads. An Indian woman named Mary Noisy had some land just the other side of Grandpa and Granny's old place. James Theodore (Grandpa) had died in 1917 and Margaret (Granny) in 1930. They are buried beside each other in Park Hill Cemetery. Anyway, Mary told John he could live on that land, rent free. All he had to do was build a house. Nina Keys was about ten years old at the time her dad walked her up the little hill and said "This is where the new house will be".... The new house was even smaller than Old Home. With the older boys gone, the 18' X 18' log cabin John and the boys built themselves, along with the table and beds, didn't seem too small. The windows had no glass so Minnie hung cotton sacks over the holes to keep the wind and cold out. It had a dirt floor so she would sprinkle water to keep the dust down. The kitchen was a separate building out back that was later turned into a smoke house.

They dug a well but never struck water so that became the storm cellar and seconded as a root cellar. On one occasion they did have to climb down in there, Thunder and lightening and wind so strong that after John got his wife and children inside the door slammed shut and they couldn't get it opened for him to climb in. Finally, with everyone pushing from the inside and him pulling from outside, they got it opened just enough for him to get in. Never had anyone seen a wind that strong.

To wash clothes, Minnie would carry them down to the spring by Granny's old place, where she had a washboard and a old black metal kettle she'd light a fire under for hot water. She'd make starch out of flour. Then she would haul those wet clothes back up the hill and hang them on a line they had rigged up in the yard. In winter, those clothes would freeze and be hard as a rock. The yard had no grass so they'd sweep it to keep it clean. The spring that fed the creek was cold, clear water that never changed, never went dry. To keep milk and butter they would put them in a bucket and weigh it down with a rock... no one ever bothered it and the cold water kept it fresh. In the Summertime they cooled watermelon that way.

The older boys left home after returning from the CC camps. Yowner and Knox married, Rabbit, Levi and Walt went out on their own. Guy had gone to the CC camps in Colorado a little later than the older boys and then went on his own. Mary, Ellis, Nina, Cookson and Clint were all that were home in the years preceding World War II.

They had plenty of chores to do before school, the cows had to be milked. It was a long walk to Stone Chapel from the new house. In the early summer the kids were allowed to cut thru Mr. Tillmans apple orchard. Their dad had forbidden them to eat any apples, an order they promptly ignored. The Tillmans would always have a fresh, cool watermelon or cantaloupe cut just as the children passed bye their place. If they didn't have that, they'd at least have a cool glass of buttermilk ready for them. Mr. and Mrs. Tillman were the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.

After school there were more chores to do. Carrying water up from the spring, tend the garden, sweep the yard. But there was time for play too. Mary and Nina would make a play house out of rocks (there was always plenty of rocks around) and pieces of board to make cabinets. Guy would bring them empty cans they could pretend were canned goods. After awhile they started attending the Keys School, it was closer.

In the evening everyone would gather around the old battery operated radio and listen to the Grand Ole Opry, Fiber McGee and Molly, and Lorenzo Jones. John Keys was a musical man, a talent he passed on to his children, especially Cookson and Clint. From the time they were just little boys, people would ask them to play at their weddings or parties. They were always glad to oblige.

Tahlequah was the nearest town, a long walk down that Park Hill Mountain and even longer back up it! John, at one time or another, had both a model "T" and a model "A" Ford. Both black of course. That grade was so steep he'd have to put it in reverse and back up the hill... (there's more power in reverse). Nina would sometimes catch the mail car to hitch a ride into town. Her mother once brought her a glass of cool milk while she was waiting, just because she thought she looked thirsty. The road was a long way from the house, Minnie Keys was a wonderful, loving mother. She died much too young.

Clyde Welch and Nina Elizabeth Keys

On one of those trips into town, Nina saw a handsome young man of about sixteen. He was the most handsome boy she'd ever seen and as it turns out, no relation to her. That in its self was somewhat of a miracle as everyone it seemed was related to her in one way or another. Of course, he never even looked her way but thats not the last she would see of CLYDE L. WELCH...

~ ~Cherokee Blessing~ ~
Yagaquu osaniyu advanto adadaligi ngohili nasquv utloyasdi nihi. Which means:
May the blessings of the Great Spirit be always with you!

Sources and Acknowledgements



THE CHEROKEES by Grace Steele Woodward

DAWES ROLL of the Cherokee Nation


CHEROKEE WOMEN by Theda Perdue


I want to thank my mother, Nina Welch, for the personal family stories and for being the source of the pictures. Jenny (Keys) James, for the picture of John and Minnie Keys. My nieces, Sherry Shartzer & Julie Welch, for all the help in getting the pictures on the page. My sister, Elizabeth Ninke and sister-in-law, Paula Welch for all their support. I couldn't have done it without you.

And a special thank you to Michael "Wauhilau" Walkingstick

Donna Welch

I want to thank Yogi for this beautiful award.
Thanks, Doc!

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