The Bootlegger’s Story

The Bootlegger’s Story

Time and place: Late 1930s, Nuyaka, OK

 In Nuyaka, an alley ran behind our house. Beyond the alley was an open field that reached nearly to Mr. Jones’ grocery store. Near that point was a small house where the bootlegger and his family lived.

I don’t remember ever hearing his name.  He was just called “the bootlegger.”  He had a wife and two or three small children.

One summer afternoon his oldest little girl came running across the field to our back door. She told my mother that her dad was very sick and wanted my dad, Brother Wells, to come and pray for him.

Mama explained that “Brother Wells” was not at home; he was away preaching a revival and wouldn’t be back for two or three weeks. But she told the child, “If your dad wants me to, I’ll come and pray for him.”

The little girl ran back across the field and almost immediately returned saying for my mother to come.

Mama went. She found the man really was very ill; in fact he was afraid he was dying. Some of his homemade brew had poisoned him. Mama assured him she would pray, but he should repent and change his lifestyle. He agreed and she prayed.

In a few minutes after her prayer, he felt better. He sat up and had his wife bring a wet cloth for his head.  He was so relieved to be feeling better that he cried. Mama talked to him about the changes he needed to make and assured him the church would help him.

The next day he had recovered, although still weak.  Mama prayed with him again. He seemed sincere in his desire to live a different life.

I’d like to end this story by saying that he became a strong Christian leader in the community, but in a few days he returned to his former business. Perhaps the need to support his family by the only trade he knew caused him to go back to making and selling liquor. Or perhaps his lack of grounding in God’s Word left him without the faith to break the bondage of his addiction.

I do know this: he fully believed that my mother’s prayers had saved his life. When he met her anywhere in the community, he greeted her with great respect.

We left Nuyaka not too long after this, and I don’t know what happened to him. But I have wondered if Mama’s prayers planted a seed in his life that grew stronger through the years and eventually brought him into the kingdom of God.

I like to think that the memory of her prayers led him into righteousness.


“Sister” Heard

“Sister” Heard

 Place:  Nuyaka, OK

Time: 1940-42

 Sister Heard and her three little daughters attended our church services regularly. Occasionally, her husband Sterling came, too, but he wasn’t sure about our Pentecostal style of worship.

 Sterling was a hard-working farmer who managed his land and livestock well. Sister Heard worked equally hard at caring for the children and their home. I remember being in their kitchen where she had a big black cookstove that burned wood. It was made of cast iron and had deep reserviors built into each end of the cook surface. She kept these filled with water from the well, so warm water was always available.

 In church Sister Heard’s girls sat next to her on the bench and sometimes the youngest sat on her lap. Sister Heard was a quiet woman who did not seek to draw attention to herself. That’s why what happened one Sunday night is engraved so indelibly on my memory.

 The service progressed as usual until it was time for my dad to preach. He stood silently in the pulpit for a few seconds, looking over the congregation. Then he said, “I don’t have the message for tonight.  God must have given it to someone else here. If you have the message, please give it.”  And he waited.

 This type of announcement was not too unusual in early Pentecostal services. In fact one of the criticisms often leveled at Pentecostals was that they “are all preachers!”

 The seconds turned into a minute or more while people looked around the church wondering which deacon or other leader would respond.  Finally Sister Heard took her youngest child off her lap, sat the little girl on the seat, and stood up.  Holding to the back of the bench in front of her, she began to speak fluently without hesitation. Her face glowed with God’s presence.

 The shock in the congregation as palpable.  As the anointing of the Holy Spirit flowed over her, this woman who rarely spoke out in church gave an inspirational message of love and encouragement. 

 When the anointing lifted, she dropped back into her seat and bowed her head into her hands as though she was astonished at what she had done.  Those of us present, even the children, knew that God had used her to bring us a message of His care for His people.

 One other memory of Sister Heard stands out. A few months after this, our family was going through a hard time. My parents were making a house payment of $25 per month, and in addition to pastoring the church, my dad drove a school bus to help support us. His pay for driving the bus was the same amount as the house payment, so we depended on offerings from the church for our living expenses.

The winter had been hard and my dad came down with a back problem that put him in bed for several weeks. He got another man to drive the school bus and that meant my parents had to come up with the house payment some other way. My mother picked up what day work she could by doing washings or quilting for hire, but that winter very little work of any kind was available. 

 One morning after having our usual breakfast of biscuits and water gravy, I left to walk to school.  What I didn’t know was that Mama had nothing to make a meal for noon. After I went to school, Mama went to prayer.

 Up the road about a mile Sister Heard had a pot of beans cooking on the stove. Sterling had started spring plowing in some new ground, and she knew he would be hungry. She went to the smokehouse and got a piece of ham to slice. As she worked, the Holy Spirit impressed her that she should bring food to our house. She knew nothing of our need and wasn’t sure if she should do this.  But the urging of the Spirit became so strong that she sliced extra ham, put lard, corn meal, and flour in jars, gathered up a few potatoes and put dry beans in a paper bag. She put all this in a big tow sack (a bag made of a coarse material such as burlap which feed came in) and then decided to add a bowl of butter and a jar of milk.

She pushed her pot of beans to the back of the stove, turned the damper down to keep the stove from getting too hot, put on her coat and walked about a mile to our house, carrying this tow sack of provisions.

When my mom came to the door, she said, “Sister Wells, here’s some groceries. You have to take them whether you want them or not, because I can’t carry them back home.”

Of course, my mom was very glad to take the groceries.  Sister Heard didn’t come in but hurried back home to continue her preparation for Sterling’s noon meal. As she worked in her kitchen, the joy of the Lord began to flood her soul and she shouted praises to God.

 Sterling heard her shouting and thought something terrible  had happened.  Maybe the house was on fire, or one of the children had fallen into the well. He ran across a plowed field to the house and found his wife praising God in the kitchen.  I remember Sister Heard telling my mother about it: “Sister Wells, Sterling was the maddest man you ever saw when he found out I was just praising God!”

When I came home from school at noon that day, I smelled ham frying. I though I was imaging things! We hadn’t had meat, not even a nickel’s worth of bologna, in a long time. Mama had biscuits ready and fried potatoes with ham. It was a happy day for the Wells family – not only because of the food but even more because God had sent it to us in our time of need.

 Sister Heard’s relationship with God was so real that in time Sterling became convinced that he, too, needed to open his life to the work of the Holy Spirit. We moved away not long after this, but the Heards remained mainstays in the church.

Every church needs a Sister Heard. 

Copyright 2013

A Paralyzing Miracle


Place:  Nuyaka, OK 

Time:  Winter 1936

A Paralyzing Miracle

My dad was leading a small group of Pentecostal believers in planting an Assemblies of God church in Nuyaka, an oil-boom community in Okmulgee Country, OK.  The “boom” had “burst” leaving the local economy in worse shambles than before.

 The Pentcostals had no church building; they used a brush arbor during the summer. The onset of winter brought the need for a different meeting place.  Dad was able to arrange with the local Methodist congregation to use their building on Sunday nights. This is the first church building I can remember.

Our small group didn’t nearly fill the building, but we sang and rejoiced as if the building were full. Every service included testimony time when individual members of the congregation stood and told how Jesus was blessing their lives.

 My dad preached and, in Pentecostal fashion, prayed with those who came to the altar to give their lives to Jesus, He and the congregation lay hands on the sick and offered prayer for healing. Those desiring to be filled with the Holy Spirit were encouraged to praise Jesus in worship.

Some in the community did not welcome a Pentecostal church.  Our services were too loud and boisterous, not reverent enough by their standards. They tried to discourage people from coming.

One Sunday night, two young men dressed in cowboy hats and boots came to church.  My dad didn’t know them, but he invited them into the service and they took a front seat. They removed their hats and sat quietly throughout the service, including a lengthy altar time.  When everyone else had left, they were still sitting on the seat.

My dad was ready to turn out the lights. He went to them, spoke kindly and ask he if could help them. Suddenly, they seemed to come alive, grabbed their hats, and rushed from the church.

The next day one of my dad’s nephew who did not attend church came by our house. He called the young men by name and asked my dad if they had been at church the night before.  My dad replied that two young men had come, sat on the front seat, and left only when everyone else was gone.

 His nephew turned white in the face and asked, “Uncle Harold, what did you do to them?”

My dad was puzzled.  “I didn’t do anything only speak to them,” he said.

His nephew replied:  “Yes, you did! They came planning to go out and ride their horses into the church during the altar time, but they couldn’t move.  You paralyzed them!”

“If they were paralyzed, I didn’t do it,” my dad said. “God did.”

 “Well, it nearly scared them to death,” his nephew said. “They couldn’t move until you spoke to them at the end of the service. They said when you spoke, the paralysis left and they could get up and leave.”

 Dad’s nephew went on to say that the cowboys and been hired by men in the community who opposed the church to “have some fun and give those Pentecostals a good scare while they were praying and shouting.”

“I don’t think they will bother you again,” the nephew said.

 And they didn’t.

Hardy Jones – Village Mystery Man

Memories from the 1930s

Time and Place: Late 1930s, Nuyaka, OK

From my birth in 1933 until I had completed second grade, my family lived much of the time in or around Nuyaka, OK, a small oil-boom community in Okmulgee County.  Exceptions were one year in CA (1934-35),   about 20 months in Arkansas (late fall of 1936 to summer of 1938) and 8 months in Truskett, (also known as Hog Shooter) OK (1941).  Each time we returned “home” to Nukaya.

From the ages of 5 to 8,  I became very familiar with Nuyaka’s residents. On most days, I walked the paths (no sidewalks) to one of the stores, to church or school, and on other errands, such as going to the local grist mill for cornmeal. I also walked past the modest home of Hardy Jones. I don’t remember his ever speaking to me nor I to him, but I do remember how curious the local residents were about Mr. Jones.

He didn’t work, although he seemed to be in good health and not too old – perhaps in his 50s. No one knew his source of income, but he had enough money for his needs and even a few luxuries…this in a time when hard-working people were struggling to make enough to buy food. Hardy lived alone, and so far as I know had no relatives or family visitors. In nice weather, he usually sat on his porch reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe.

That newspaper was the source of much village speculation. Mr. Jones had the Kansas City STAR mailed to him! No one else I knew bought or read a newspaper. Money was too scarce to spend on unnecessary items!  To get the STAR by mail must have cost at least a dollar a month (I’m still trying to find out the exact cost.)

Some local residents wondered aloud if he had robbed a bank and read the STAR to see if the police were on his trail. Remember, these were Bonnie-and-Clyde days, and bank robberies were a much discussed topic. Others thought perhaps he owned land where oil was found and didn’t want to share his fortune with anyone. (A similar incident had happened to a local family.)  Another suspicion was that he had left a wife and children somewhere and was hiding from them.

My dad occasionally talked to Mr. Jones. I remember one time Dad telling my mom that Mr. Jones thought another war was brewing in Europe. This was troubling news to my parents who still remembered WW 1 (1914-1918) which had been called “the war to end all wars.”  Most Americans did not want to think of another war.

One story that I remember about Hardy Jones caused much mirth in the village.  One Halloween night several young men on horseback (wanna-be cowboys) were out celebrating and playing jokes on unsuspecting residents.  Since Nuyaka had no sewer system, each house had an outside toilet. The pranksters rode down an alley that ran behind several of these outhouses. Being “cowboys,” they roped the outhouses as they rode and dragged them over. The story is that Hardy Jones was in his outhouse when it was roped and was tumbled about, yelling fiercely. I probably wouldn’t believe this story but one of my cousins was in the group of riders and vouched for its truth.

Our family left Nuyaka in the summer of 1942, and I never knew how the mystery of Hardy Jones turned out. Was he a bank robber? An oil-boom rich man? A run-away husband?  Whatever he was, speculations about him were a source of much entertainment in a small community where daily life was hard and any kind of excitement was welcome, even if it was fabricated.

I think Hardy Jones might have liked that!

Welcome to a Time that Was! Dustbowl Years, 1930s in Oklahoma

Out-of-Church Tales


Place:  Nuyaka, OK – a very small community in Okmulgee County

Time:  Mid-1930s. Dustbowl years. OK had been Indian Territory until 1907 when it achieved statehood.


Grandma Foster


She wasn’t really my grandma.  But she’s one of the first adults outside my core family who I knew loved me.

You see, I was one of those “unexpected blessings” that sometimes come to parents later in life. I was born in 1933 when my dad was nearing forty and my mom was 32.  Their only other child, my sister Lucille, was 13 when I arrived. I was “Baby Sister.”

Let me hasten to say that although I might have been unexpected, I was not unwanted.  Even though times were hard – terribly hard in Oklahoma’s dustbowl – they welcomed me with open arms and hearts. I was their pride and joy as far back as I can remember.


Grandma Foster attended a small church that my dad was leading. I’m not sure the rest of the congregation appreciated her, but I certainly did. In Oklahoma at that time, being Indian had a certain stigma and Grandma was Indian – and proud of it! She never tried to hide her heritage.



She was in her 60s when I first remember her.  To get to church, she walked on a dirt road up a long hill. She didn’t dress up but came wearing a bib apron. As soon as she came in, I would go to her. She would pick me and set me on her lap. Then she pulled whatever she had brought me from inside the bib of her apron.




In spring and summer, it might be something from her garden; or it might be an apple or a guinea egg with a light green shell. She had a flock of guineas as much for protection of her place as for their egg production.  (Have you ever heard a flock of guineas raise a ruckus?  They’re noisier than watch dogs! And, yes, they will chase you!).

 Sometimes her gift was something she had picked up in the woods and kept for me: a few pecans, a brightly-colored bird feather, a leaf or flower. She would tell me the gift’s significance, where she had found it, and why it was important.

Grandma and my mother became good friends. In the spring, we would go with her to the woods to gather edible greens. She taught us to look around the edge of brush piles or along the south banks of a small creek, where wild onions, dock, dandelion, polk, and other greens would come up as soon as the snow had gone.

Our little community had two general stores, where we bought flour, a little sugar, coffee for my dad and tea for my mom. But like most country people in those depression years, my parents had very little money, and we lived mostly on what we raised.  By spring, dried beans, sprouting potatoes, corn bread and gravy were getting old, and my mother especially longed for something fresh and green.

Grandma also knew about herbs for healing. In fact my mother gave her credit for saving my life in the winter of 1935.  My parents had made a trip to California in the fall of 1934 seeking jobs and a better life. In the spring of 1935 I had a long bout with whooping cough, then measles, and finally pneumonia. Doctors in Porterville, CA gave my parents little hope for my life. But my parents were praying people and attended a church where prayer was made. In God’s goodness, I survived.

They returned to Oklahoma in the early summer of 1935 and resumed share-cropping along with my dad’s church work.  My mother was extremely protective of me, but that winter, I again came down with pneumonia.  In spite of much prayer I continued to get worse. Finally my dad made a trip to the nearest town to get a doctor. The doctor noted my high fever and difficulty breathing and said there was nothing he could do. He told my parents that the fever would likely break that night, but in my weakened state he couldn’t offer much hope of recovery.  

After he left, Grandma Foster came to see what the doctor had said. My mother told her that he didn’t expect me to live. Grandma had brought with her some herbs and a small bag of onions. She asked my mother if she could treat me. Mama thought there was nothing to lose so she agreed.

The wood cook stove was hot; Grandma took an iron skillet and filled it with sliced onions. While the onions were heating, she made a tea with some kind of herb, and Mama held me up in bed to breathe the steam from the tea.  Then Grandma asked for a piece of wool cloth.  Mama got one, and Grandma poured the hot onions on the wool and wrapped them tightly, then wrapped the bundle in a feed-sack towel and placed on my chest. 

Grandma and Mama sat by the bed and waited. After some time I began to cough and struggle to breath. Grandma told Mama to hold me up while she held a pan under my chin.  Mama said I began to spit yellow/greenish mucus into the pan.

Eventually I was breathing easier and soon broke into a sweat as the fever decreased. Grandma stayed the night and sat with my mother.  By morning my fever was lower, and I was on the slow road to recovery.

 Later when I was about 5 years old, when my mother could get a day’s work doing washing for someone in winter (the old method – a big black washpot heated full of water and two tubs of water: one to wash the clothes with a rub-board, one to rinse them, then pin them on the clothesline.) or helping with butchering, or other farm work, she sometimes left me with Grandma. If the weather was nice, Grandma took me for walks in the woods, and we gathered herbs.

 On those walks, she told me stories about her Indian heritage.  One of those stories was about her grandparents who had come to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. They were young people, traveling with their families, but in love and planning to be married. The trip was a horrible journey through cold, wet weather. By the time the government-supplied food reached the travelers, it was often molded and wormy, and the young woman became ill.

 The Indians traveled by horseback, walking, and horse-drawn carts. Each evening they made camp and built fires to prepare a meal. As the young woman became weaker, her lover grew increasingly concerned. Knowing that she needed nourishing food, he began to scout the farms they passed each day to buy eggs and milk for her.

 They had in their camping supplies a small iron teakettle that would hang over the fire. It held 3 eggs to boil. The young man would boil the eggs and coax his beloved to eat at least one, keeping the other two for the morning and noon meal the next day. The eggs and milk, along with any other fresh food he could buy, enabled her to gain strength and survive the long trail. 

Grandma emphasized to me that the Indians paid for the food they got from the farms they passed. I didn’t understand the significance of that then, but later when I read about the Trail of Tears, I learned that some people said the Indians robbed their fields and barns for food.  Perhaps some did, but Grandma believed that her grandfather was a honorable man. Her grandparents had a great influence on her life.

Later when we moved away, Grandma gave me that little teakettle as a goodbye gift. It has moved with me through life and sits tonight on top of the china cabinet.

Grandma died in 1942. As I grew up and thought of Grandma, I sometimes wondered why she told me, a 5- and 6-year-old-child, the stories about her grandparents.  But now that I am approaching 80, I find myself willing to tell children things I would not think of sharing with adults. I have decided that it is because the child is not judgmental.  When Jesus said, “Except you become as little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” perhaps He was asking us to show more love and acceptance to our fellow travelers and less condemnation.

 That’s how I remember Grandma Foster.

Copyright 2013, Joyce Wells Booze