This is the story of the owners and a Grant that saved Ancestral Chickasaw villages. While The Archaeological Conservancy was working on a deal to purchase and preserve ancestral Chickasaw villages in Mississippi, I became very close to the ‘wonder’ older couple who owned the site. They are a true love story. In fact, I tear up just thinking about how special they are. They had nothing but love when they married. Lottye Betts was a school teacher, and the first woman to wear pants to teach in the Tupelo Public schools- she really had to fight for it. Her husband, John Ray, bought land way out in the country to farm cattle. He bought a gas station and they both worked really hard and still remember rain coming in their house during storms. Eventually, John Ray acquired more gas stations and more land.
Tupelo began to grow and his country farm land (that had many Chickasaw home sites on it) became high dollar real estate. They had bought a house in the city of Tupelo, but decided to move it out to their farm. Lottye Betts walked in front of the trailer carrying their house, with an axe and cut a winding driveway through brush and small trees, until she reached the exact spot on a high ridge overlooking a creek bottom, where she wanted their house. Back in the day, they started finding all kinds of artifacts. They educated themselves about what they were finding, its history and meaning.
This was a time when grave-diggers were rampant in Tupelo. These looters were using the metal detectors to find Chickasaw graves which usually had some kind of metal- silver or iron artifacts buried with them, so they could dig the graves and collect the artifacts. It was terrible and no one seemed to care, except John Ray and Lottye Betts. John Ray regularly ran looters off his land with a shotgun- many of them were people he knew well. Eventually word got out that you just didn’t dig on the Beasley’s property.
A few years ago, they wanted to sell some of their land and old home and build a new home on adjoining land. They’d decided to divide most of their land among their children and grandchildren. They also wanted to make sure the part that had the Chickasaw sites, including the historic 18th Century village of Tchichatala (chi-cha-ta-la), were protected. Even as they sold it to us, they were very generous. It was 35 acres and pristine archaeology in an area that has been hit hard by looters and erosion.
Working with the Beaselys is how I began working with the Chickasaw Nation. I went to Ada, Oklahoma to visit Governor Anoatubby. A friend, a former tribal historian Richard Green, arranged the visit. I asked Governor Anoatubby if the Nation would help us with the cost of a survey and maybe some acquisition cost. It was going to be expensive to save this land and I had no idea where The Archaeological Conservancy would find enough money. I knew we didn’t have nearly that much. Governor looked at me and said, “When we first came to Oklahoma, it was too painful to look back and we had to struggle to take care of the living. Now we are at a place where we can look back and we can take care of our dead. We will give you the entire amount.”
Since then, the Nation has take over management of the site and it looks wonderful. The Nation uses it as a place for their elders and youth to visit and learn about their ancestors. I’ve been able to stand there and literally watch it change the lives of young and old Chickasaw. The first time the Governor visited, I heard him say to someone standing next to him, “I can feel it. Do you feel it?” That, to me and The Archaeological Conservancy is what it’s all about.