Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Joe T. Thornton [9/23/2016]

Tanya Finchum:

Today is September 23, 2016. My name is Tanya Finchum, and along with me is Alex Bishop. We're with Oklahoma State University and we are in Tahlequah [Oklahoma] to interview Joe Thornton. This is part of our Spotlighting Oklahoma project, so thank you for having us. Let's begin with learning a little bit about you as to when and where you were born.

Joe T. Thornton:

I was born in Adair County near Stilwell [birth date redacted].

Tanya Finchum:

Happy belated birthday, hundred years! (Laughter) Were you born at home?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

Brothers and sisters?

Joe T. Thornton:

I had seven brothers and sisters. There was eight of us altogether.

Tanya Finchum:

And where were you in the order?

Joe T. Thornton:

I was second, number two.

Tanya Finchum:

Older one then.

Joe T. Thornton:

My sister was older than me.

Tanya Finchum:

And what did your parents do for a living?

Joe T. Thornton:

They were farmers.

Tanya Finchum:

Raising what primarily?

Joe T. Thornton:

Well, in those days they didn't have tractors you know. They had to use the team to pull the plows and the wagons you know. They raised hay, and corn, cattle. Of course they had a couple of mules and a horse. Basically, it was just corn, and garden products, and they sometimes raised cotton.

Tanya Finchum:

Whatever it took to keep the family alive, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) Whatever. Yeah, there weren't many jobs, you know, available in those days.

Tanya Finchum:

Early 1900s. Were they born in Oklahoma? Your parents?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, they were. My great-grandfather came over the Trail of Tears. I think he came from Tennessee. He landed up close to Wauhillau, Oklahoma when he hit Oklahoma.

Tanya Finchum:

Was his last name

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, he was an Englishman. Actually, my great-grandfather--great-great-grandfather was an Englishman. He married a full-blood Indian girl. That was the beginning of the Thornton Indians. Now they're scattered all over the United States. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

And what tribe?

Joe T. Thornton:

Cherokee.

Tanya Finchum:

So are you--what percentage?

Joe T. Thornton:

Eleven-sixteenths.

Tanya Finchum:

So your mother was--

Joe T. Thornton:

She was half Cherokee and half German. Her father was a German.

Tanya Finchum:

Growing up, did you practice Native American culture?

Joe T. Thornton:

Not much. Most of my neighbors, well, a lot of my neighbors were white children. Quite a few of them were Indian of course. My parents didn't teach me to speak Cherokee, so I spoke mostly English.

Tanya Finchum:

I take it they spoke Cherokee? Your parents?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, they spoke it fluently.

Tanya Finchum:

In the home what would they speak?

Joe T. Thornton:

When they was talking to each other and didn't want us kids to know what they was talking about, they'd speak Cherokee. (Laughter) The rest of the time they spoke English. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

What was the nearest town to--

Joe T. Thornton:

Stilwell was the county seat of Adair County. That's where I was born and grew up. I went through the eighth grade at Wauhillau Grade School, country school.

Tanya Finchum:

How far was that from your house?

Joe T. Thornton:

It was a mile and a half.

Tanya Finchum:

And how would you have to get there?

Joe T. Thornton:

I walked. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

No matter the weather, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

From the time I was six years old until I finished the eighth grade.

Tanya Finchum:

What would you take for lunch?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh, a biscuit with a piece of meat in it or something like that. Sandwich of some kind. That was mostly lunch.

Tanya Finchum:

During the wintertime would you still have to walk that far?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes, snow or whatever.

Tanya Finchum:

What kind of clothing would you have on snowy days like that? Like to keep your feet warm and dry.

Joe T. Thornton:

We had what we called brogan shoes. They were high-top shoes and we wore overalls, boys did. We had, of course, coats. We had good clothes, good, warm, clothes.

Tanya Finchum:

Do anything special to keep the feet dry when it was snowy?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, but when it was snow on the ground and we wanted to go rabbit hunting, which we quite frequently did, we would wrap our feet in--we didn't have boots, rubber boots. We wrapped our feet in what we called gunnysacks or tow sacks. It's a webbed sack, you know. We'd wrap them and tie them in that. That'd keep our feet fairly dry and we'd go rabbit hunting. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

And catch a few. And would eat them?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes, yes we ate them.

Tanya Finchum:

Did you do something with the fur?

Joe T. Thornton:

No.

Tanya Finchum:

Didn't sell it?

Joe T. Thornton:

Rabbit fur's no good. (Laughs) We'd sometimes go hunting at night and then we would hunt possums and raccoons. Their fur was saleable. We'd prepare those and sell them, make a little money, extra money.

Tanya Finchum:

Being the older son, you got to do that with your dad a lot?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, I did. I'd go with him. Sometimes we'd stay out most of the night. Sometimes it'd be cold, sometimes wet. I'd get cold, and hungry, and tired, and I never would whimper because I was afraid they wouldn't take me (laughter), they wouldn't take me the next time. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Can you describe the house you grew up in?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, it was a frame house. It had been painted way back there, but we depended on a fireplace for heat. We had two beds in the same room we had the fireplace in. We had beds in the other rooms, but they wouldn't be any fire in those rooms. We had a wood cookstove. Course cooking food on a wood cookstove, it tastes great. The food is good. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Who got to sleep in the beds with the heat stove?

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes--I think when I was real young I did. Later on I slept in the room that didn't have a fire in it.

Tanya Finchum:

How would you stay warm in those rooms?

Joe T. Thornton:

We had quilts, a lot of homemade quilts. We slept on a featherbed. They're warm. The mattress would be made of feathers. It'd be warm, you kind of sink down in it. Those quilts, they were made with cotton, cotton bats, piece of cotton, you know? (Gestures layering) So we stayed warm.

Tanya Finchum:

You hustled in at night, get under the cover's good.

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh, yes. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Had you made the mattresses? Did your mother--

Joe T. Thornton:

They called them featherbeds. They weren't mattresses, no.

Tanya Finchum:

Were they made at home or do you think you bought them?

Joe T. Thornton:

Actually, the ladies would get together and make those things.

Tanya Finchum:

So they'd have to save their feathers?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, oh yes. They saved their feathers. When they'd kill chickens they'd save the feathers.

Tanya Finchum:

Okay, so how would you fluff it?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) You just kind of work it around.

Tanya Finchum:

Take the broomstick to it?

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes.

Tanya Finchum:

How would your mother do laundry?

Joe T. Thornton:

With a washboard. (Laughs) You know what a washboard is?

Tanya Finchum:

I do, yes.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, a washboard and tub. She put that washboard in the tub and rubbed. Course they'd boil water and have hot water. They had a big kettle, an iron kettle, that stood about that high and they'd build a fire, put that kettle on it. They'd dip water, hot water, out of it with a bucket, put it in the tub. That's the way they did their washing.

Tanya Finchum:

Where would they get their water?

Joe T. Thornton:

We had a big spring not far from the house. About a hundred yards from the house was a big spring. It run all year.

Tanya Finchum:

So you had to fetch it in buckets.

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes they'd go down to the spring and do their laundry. But at times, yes, we'd carry water from the spring to do it, especially in the wintertime.

Tanya Finchum:

How would you do bath time?

Joe T. Thornton:

We had a washtub, tub about that big. (Gestures) We'd get in that when we was kids. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

All in the same water?

Joe T. Thornton:

No. We had plenty of water with that spring there. We didn't worry about water. Later on, after we were more or less grown, we had electricity and we pumped water up. Course we had a bathroom and electricity, everything, after about 1940, I think.

Tanya Finchum:

You were getting in your twenties.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes. When I was--after I finished the eighth grade, grade school, I went to school at Seneca Indian School at Wyandotte, Oklahoma, and took the ninth grade there. Then when I finished that I went to Chilocco Indian School, which is in Northern Oklahoma, north of Ponca City. I took--I finished high school there.

Tanya Finchum:

That's a long way from Adair.

Joe T. Thornton:

Quite a ways, yes.

Tanya Finchum:

How did you come to go to Seneca?

Joe T. Thornton:

To go to high school, why, sometimes they didn't have--I don't know if they even had a bus then that ran. Later on, they had a bus that ran in Stilwell for high school. For us Indians it was good to go to those Indian schools. They were good schools. When I went to high school at Chilocco I worked on the dairy. They taught you a trade, you know. I picked the dairy because I could make money working on it. I made my spending money. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

That's what, three hours or more from Adair to Newkirk?

Joe T. Thornton:

It's 250 miles.

Tanya Finchum:

A long way.

Joe T. Thornton:

It takes quite a while. (Laughs) There weren't many cars in those days.

Tanya Finchum:

How did you get there?

Joe T. Thornton:

Someone took me in a car.

Tanya Finchum:

And how often would you come home during--

Joe T. Thornton:

End of the school year. I didn't come home during the school year.

Tanya Finchum:

Not even at Christmas or holiday time?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, too far.

Tanya Finchum:

Did Seneca not have a high school?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, they just went through the ninth grade.

Tanya Finchum:

Through the ninth. Okay. I don't know much about Indian schools. You lived in a dormitory, I'm assuming?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

Shared a room with how many boys?

Joe T. Thornton:

Bunch of them. (Laughs) I don't know how many.

Tanya Finchum:

But a room-full, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

Quite a bunch, yes.

Tanya Finchum:

How many would be in your grade as you went through? Like in your class.

Joe T. Thornton:

At Chilocco there was--I don't really recall. Seemed to me like there was 250 students there, and they had four grades. I don't know, there may have been fifty in my grade. They had different classes though. I remember when I was in the eleventh grade, I was in 11A group and those classes, some of them had guys in it that were good artists. They'd come up with some of the darnedest cartoons, on the bulletin board sometimes, you'd ever seen. (Laughs) Sometimes one of them would do a cartoon of the teacher, you know? And pass it around. We'd get into it. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

How would they discipline you?

Joe T. Thornton:

I don't remember ever being disciplined at Chilocco, but in grade school, at the county grade school, they'd switch us with a switch.

Tanya Finchum:

So you worked while you were at Chilocco?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, worked on the dairy.

Tanya Finchum:

And then what would you do for fun?

Joe T. Thornton:

That's where I started in archery. I made bows and arrows. And there was a bunch of us boys, and then we had Boy Scouts. Us boys that messed with archery, we'd go out prowling across the countryside with our bows and arrows. Course they had all kinds of athletics. I started boxing there, I did a little boxing at Chilocco. Chilocco had a boxing team that was one of the best in the United States. They could whup any college in the nation. Make no bones about it, they knew they could. (Laughs) They had a really good boxing team. Their athletic teams had to play colleges, because some of the students were older than normal high school students. So they had to play colleges and they didn't win many football games. They won a lot of the ladies' basketball games because they had four famous girls on the team. One of them was [Louis] "Rabbit" Weller's sister. He was a famous basketball dribbler, one of the best in the nation. One of them was Jim Thorpe's daughter.

Tanya Finchum:

That name I recognize.

Joe T. Thornton:

I forget, one of them was a daughter of the guy that--Andy Payne, that won the cross-continental derby [Trans-American Footrace] around 1935 or somewhere along in there [1928]. He won $25,000 dollars for outrunning anybody across the United States. His daughter was on the team.

Tanya Finchum:

So students came from all over Oklahoma?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, course some of them came from other states. We had Navajos there. Some of them came from Arizona, and we had some from New Mexico, and North Carolina. Still had a bunch of Cherokees in North Carolina.

Tanya Finchum:

All over then. And what years were you there?

Joe T. Thornton:

At Chilocco, '31 to '34. I was the class of '34.

Tanya Finchum:

So it was kind of during the Depression time. Did your parents have to pay for you to go?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, they didn't--that was one of the good advantages of going to an Indian school is you didn't have to pay.

Tanya Finchum:

You didn't have to pay for room and board?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, they fed us and give us an education.

Tanya Finchum:

Were the teachers strict and tough?

Joe T. Thornton:

Fairly strict, yes.

Tanya Finchum:

Did you have a favorite class?

Joe T. Thornton:

Mathematics, algebra, I was a straight-A student in algebra. Mathematics was my favorite there. When I went to the grade school I think I made the highest grade in eighth grade arithmetic in the county.

Tanya Finchum:

Wow, and how many were in your age group there, in one through eight?

Joe T. Thornton:

Eighth grade, I don't know, ten or fifteen, twenty maybe.

Tanya Finchum:

Would they have pie suppers?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes, yes they had pie suppers. I remember one time--my mother, she didn't think much of things like that, but Dad, he was always for fun you know. One day, one evening he asked me, he said, "Hey, would you like to go possum hunting tonight?" I said, "Sure, let's go." So we took the dog, took off. I noticed we was going down the road, main road. I didn't pay much attention to it. I thought he was going down there and knew some place to go. When we got to where we was going we was at the grade school, and they was having a pie supper there that night. He bought my girl's pie for me. (Laughter) My girlfriend. You know in eighth grade you're beginning to have girlfriends, you know, sort of. I've laughed about that a many a time. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

You didn't tell on him?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh no, no! (Laughs) She just thought we went possum hunting. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

And when she asked if you caught any what did you say?

Joe T. Thornton:

Ah, we didn't find none that night.

Tanya Finchum:

And you said you worked with mules and horses to plow?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, I did.

Tanya Finchum:

Did they have names?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, the mule, the main mule, was Jack and the other one was Sam. The horse, he couldn't run very fast, so Dad called it Racehorse. (Laughter) That horse kicked me one time. I walked up to it, I was going to change the saddle and take it off. He was asleep and you don't ever want to walk up on a horse or a mule when they're asleep because the first thing they do is kick. He kicked me right on the leg, boy it hurt. One time I started to feed the mules a block of hay and when I came up close to it I didn't--you're supposed to speak to them before you get there, be sure they're awake. I didn't make any noise and boy, that mule kicked me right here (gestures) and throwed me about ten feet. Was no permanent damage though.

Tanya Finchum:

Where would they have to take you to the doctor?

Joe T. Thornton:

To Stilwell. One time I had a dog that got hydrophobic, you know. Mad dog they call it. I wrestled around with it and put it in a pen, put it in a shed, or a barn, smokehouse or something. Anyway I put it in a building. It had slobbers on it you know and I got it on me, and I probably had scratches on my hand. The doctor said I better take the Pasteur treatment. I was about ten years old, and I had to walk a half a mile to catch the bus. I'd catch a bus and ride into Stilwell and walk to the doctor's office, get my shot, go back to the bus station, catch the bus. They run a bus twice a day. I could catch the bus back then, it ran a half a mile from the house. I'd walk a half mile then to the house.

Tanya Finchum:

By yourself?

Joe T. Thornton:

While I was a ten-year-old kid. Nowadays kids wouldn't do that. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Could've hopped onto Racehorse and rode in.

Joe T. Thornton:

I could've rode him over there, but I'd had to tie him up until I got back.

Tanya Finchum:

And you did that by yourself?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

What were some of your favorite meals that your mother cooked for you?

Joe T. Thornton:

Fried chicken of course, fried chicken, and fried potatoes. That's basically what we considered a good meal.

Tanya Finchum:

How often would you have fried chicken?

Joe T. Thornton:

Well, every Sunday. We had hogs and we'd kill hogs and cure them. We had pork all year. Dad would cure those hams, used mostly salt to cure them I think. We had sliced ham or chicken. We ate good for farmers, I guess.

Tanya Finchum:

Did you have a smokehouse?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes, we didn't smoke them though. He just cured them with salt.

Tanya Finchum:

And your mother canned a lot, I'm assuming?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh, she canned a great deal, yes. All kinds of vegetables, corn, and beans, beets, and I don't know what all.

Tanya Finchum:

It took a lot to feed ten people, didn't it? Eight kids.

Joe T. Thornton:

Eight of us, but mostly we weren't all there at once. Part of them--my sister went off to school too. Course me and two of my brothers went to school away. Two of them died when they were young. Two of them went to high school at Stilwell.

Tanya Finchum:

During the flu epidemic or something else? The two that passed, the ones that died young, what did they die from?

Joe T. Thornton:

In those days they had--they called it a summer complaint, but it was a stomach disease that nowadays they could cure real easy, but in those days they didn't, they couldn't. They didn't know how. Lots of children died with that.

Helen Thornton:

They were infants.

Tanya Finchum:

Fast forward back to Chilocco. What else can you tell me about your experience there?

Joe T. Thornton:

It was a great school. We had a company of the National Guard there, Company C of the 180th Infantry, 45th Division. We was one of the few schools in the state that had a company of the National Guard. I tried to get in the National Guard, but they wouldn't let me. I was only seventeen, had to be eighteen. (Laughs) Anyway, I guess maybe it's a good thing I didn't. The 45th did more days of combat than any other division during World War II, I think. They lost a lot of soldiers. I guess knowing about the 45th was one reason that when I got out of high school I joined the regular Army. There wasn't any jobs available. Boy, you couldn't buy a job in 1934. It was the middle of the Depression, so I joined the regular Army and they sent me down to Fort Sill. I did three years down there in field artillery. That's where I learned to be a radio operator. We had a radio club actually in the unit I was in. When I was at Fort Sill we had a radio club, and we had a HAM radio station. We learned a lot about radio there. We built the station and I also studied a correspondence course in how to repair radios while I was in the Army. So when I got out I was a trained radio technician. I was going to put in a shop, but I got a job at Western Auto Store. It was a new Western Auto Store in Tahlequah, and they were selling a lot of radios. They needed a radio technician to keep them running, so they hired me as a radio technician.

Tanya Finchum:

That would've been in 1937?

Joe T. Thornton:

It was Jan 1, 1938's when it was. The store hadn't been there too long. But that was the first job I'd really ever held.

Tanya Finchum:

At Tahlequah, right? That's quite a ways from Stilwell, too, isn't it? How did you end up in--

Joe T. Thornton:

I had a deal where I could repair radios for a dealer in Stilwell. I was just going to open my own shop though. I came over to Tahlequah, there was a guy that did some radio work at Western Auto and I knew he had a stock of parts there. I came over to Tahlequah to get a part from him. The guy that was running the store said, "Hey, do you repair radios?" I said, "Yes, I do." He said, "How would you like to have a job here?" "I think I'd like that all right." He hired me, but the pay was pretty low. I think it was twelve-and-a-half a week. (Laughs) Anyway, they raised my wages pretty soon. Then when the war came along they opened this powder plant at Chouteau. I got a job up there. I thought I ought to do some work that'd help the war effort. I went to work up there. They paid fifty dollars a week, which was pretty good wages. Had to ride a bus to get there though. They had me cast as a patrolman. I was working with the patrol division, but I was repairing their radios and fence detectors is what I was doing. Electricians, they were classified differently and instrument technicians. They was making about two or three times what I was. They were paying me the same wages as they were paying the patrolman. I thought, "Well, that's not right." So I told them that they would have to reclassify me or I'd quit. They said, "Well you'll get drafted." I said, "Yeah, I know." I was about ready to go into the Army anyway. I felt like I ought to be in the Army. I had all that experience already in the Army, so I quit and sure enough in a month or two they drafted me. I got in the Signal Corps this time instead of field artillery, which I knew would help me if I worked as a radio technician the rest of my life. Being in the Signal Corps I would learn a lot more about radio. When I got up to Camp Crowder, Missouri, that was the central Signal Corps school, they started me out taking classes. I was acing all the tests so they made me an instructor. I thought, "Well, maybe they'll give me a good ranking." But the only ranking those instructors, the only ranking is a corporal, so I got a corporal's ranking. I'd been discharged from the field artillery after three years' service. I'd been a corporal for about two years in the field artillery. I was the oldest ranking corporal there. (Laughs) Anyway, when I went up to Camp Crowder they made me take basic again. I told them, "I'm the oldest soldier in basic training in the Army." I had a hash mark. (Laughs) Anyway, I had to take basic again. I had a real good career in the Signal Corps.

Tanya Finchum:

Where were you stationed?

Joe T. Thornton:

At--well, after they decided that those instructors had to get in an unit, you know, operational unit, they assigned me to a unit and they shipped us out one day. They put us on a train and we didn't know where we were going. The officers with us, they probably knew, but we didn't. Anyway, we headed east. We wound up going through the Pentagon. (Laughs) We were stationed just outside there in Alexandria, Virginia, which is not far from the Pentagon. That's where our radio station was. We had five acres of antennas, big antennas. We had five, fifty-thousand watt transmitters. That's the biggest allowed in the United States. That's like KVOO, is a fifty-thousand watt transmitter, you know. All the big--WLW, WGN in Chicago, they're all fifty-thousand watt. We had five of them and a crew to operate them. If the president wanted to send a message to MacArthur or Eisenhower, they would process it in the Pentagon and then it'd go out over our transmitter to London, or Brisbane or wherever the theater headquarters were that they wanted it sent. They'd send us a little message like in Morse code. It'd come to our station in Morse code. Like P-15, that meant put transmitter P on fifteen megacycle frequency. We didn't really know--I guess the man in charge of the station knew, but I didn't even know where fifteen megacycle was aimed you know. They had each one of those antennas, I guess, aimed at one particular theater headquarters. I think Hawaii probably was a theater headquarters also. Anyway, there was five of them and we had five transmitters.

Tanya Finchum:

What was your job?

Joe T. Thornton:

Keep that transmitter, put it on the air and keep it running. I was a technician. They had a guy--I was actually assistant night chief. They had one guy that was over me, he was a master sergeant. The first month I was there they made me a buck sergeant, three-striper. Next month they made me a staff sergeant, that's as high as we went. The night chief, he was a master sergeant. He probably knew more about where the messages went and everything than I did. Of course our officers, they were--I guess our headquarters, company headquarters, was in the Pentagon. Anyway, we never did go to it. We lived in--they had big, brick barracks there for that station. We lived in that brick barracks.

Tanya Finchum:

Would you know the content of the messages?

Joe T. Thornton:

No! They were in radio teletype and radio teletype they change the frequency eighty-five cycles. Then Morse Code, you break the carrier you know, dot, dash. Short dot and then a long dash. Like the letter A is dot-dash. E is the most common letter in the English language, so E was one dot. (Laughs) Anyway, that's the only way we used our knowledge of Morse code was that message that came from the Pentagon or wherever it came from.

Tanya Finchum:

While you were in that military did being Native American play into your role at all?

Joe T. Thornton:

No.

Tanya Finchum:

Were there any other people in your unit that were from Oklahoma or Chilocco?

Joe T. Thornton:

Not when I got in the Signal Corps. They were from all over the United States. A lot of--the Signal Corps is a bunch of well-educated guys, most of them. We had a lot of PhDs in there. We had guys that graduated from all the big universities in the East. They were--a lot of people called the Signal Corps the Jewish Infantry because there were so many educated people in it. (Laughs) They didn't do any fighting of course, the Signal Corps didn't. They decided at one time that every company ought to have a man that can man a machinegun in case of--they're moving so they'd have aircraft protection you know. I thought, "Hey, that's fun!" They asked for volunteers you know, and I thought, "Hey, I'd like to get a chance to fire all those machineguns." So they sent me one day down to Camp Gruber, and they had all those machineguns there and mortar, thirty caliber, fifty caliber, whatever kind. I got to fire all those machineguns. (Laughs) We were shooting at a dummy, a drone out there 1,600 yards out. They didn't think we could shoot it down. But there was one guy there that was shooting in our group that had been an aircraft gunner somewhere already, and they send him back for rehab or something, I don't know what. Anyway, he shot that plane down, (laughs) that drone, and they chewed him out and said, "Do you know how much those things cost? Those things cost $2,000 dollars!" He said, "Well, you told me to shoot at it!" (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

How long were you in that time around? How long were you in the service?

Joe T. Thornton:

I was in two years. Went in '43 and got out in December of '45, after the war was over.

Tanya Finchum:

And that entire time you were in Alexandria?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, no. Most of my time--I was only in Alexandria about two months into my time. I was there when the war was over. I was there three, or four, or five months. I don't know, not very long.

Tanya Finchum:

Do you remember the day the war was declared over?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes. (Laughs) Everybody remembers that I think. Do you remember it?

Tanya Finchum:

I wasn't alive.

Joe T. Thornton:

You wasn't alive then. (Laughs) Helen was three or four years old, I think, five.

Helen Thornton:

I remember.

Joe T. Thornton:

She remembers it.

Helen Thornton:

There was a lot of horns honked, but I was--I was about five years old.

Tanya Finchum:

What do you remember from that day?

Joe T. Thornton:

It wasn't a big day, when you were in a unit, you know, and it was operating. We were still working soldiers. We didn't do much, but those that ran big posts, I guess they did more probably.

Tanya Finchum:

So you were discharged and then what did you do?

Joe T. Thornton:

I came back home and--

Tanya Finchum:

To Tahlequah?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah. When I left I sold my shop to another guy, and when I came back there wasn't a vacant business building in Tahlequah. I was going to put in another shop. There was absolutely no place to put it. So I bought a half interest in with the guy that I sold to when I left. I worked with him there until--there was a man in Tahlequah that owned a lot of property. He built some more buildings. I rented one of those, put in my own shop.

Tanya Finchum:

Radio?

Joe T. Thornton:

Radio, yeah. Then, of course, shortly they invented TV and I was radio and TV. I put the first television in Cherokee County in 1948. That was before Tulsa came on the air and the only station we could get was Oklahoma City. Of course that's pretty far for television and the picture was snowy, but it was quite a curiosity. People really liked to see it.

Tanya Finchum:

Would they come in just to look?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes. On Saturday night when the Grand Ole Opry was on, we'd put it in the window and leave it on until the Grand Ole Opry was over.

Tanya Finchum:

Sell very many when they first came out?

Joe T. Thornton:

Quite a few. Of course I said I put that in in '48, and the big sale started in '52. In the fall of '52 Zenith brought out a really good seventeen-inch and it wasn't too expensive. I sold a gob of those.

Tanya Finchum:

Did you have one at home?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes.

Tanya Finchum:

We're getting up to about the time you met Helen. Aren't we getting close to that, '48? '52? Somewhere in there?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) No, actually when I won the world championship in 1961, shortly after that I was divorced. I told somebody that I was the only one that won a world championship one week and got divorced the same week. (Laughs) It was a year or two before I met Helen. She came in the shop to buy a bow from me. She was living in Fort Gibson and her sister and brother-in-law were--her brother-in-law was an archer. They were teaching the Boy Scouts archery. They had an indoor place to practice. So they could practice at night. She came in and bought a bow from me. I found out they had a place to shoot at night and I wanted to practice. They had an indoor place, so I went over, started going over and practicing with them. I noticed she was shooting pretty good for a beginner, so I started teaching her. I taught her for six months and she made the United States team. She outshot all the women in the United States but three or four. (Laughs) I guess I did a good job teaching her.

Tanya Finchum:

We should back up then. You started messing around with the bow when you were at Chilocco.

Joe T. Thornton:

Chilocco, yeah.

Tanya Finchum:

And then when did you get back into it?

Joe T. Thornton:

Well, when I was running this TV shop I hired college students to help. Do things like put up antennas and take a TV out of the cabinet and put it back together. Me and one of the technicians would do the actual repair, and then they'd do the taking apart and putting back together. One of the guys was from Beggs, Oklahoma, down here. He told me one day, he said, "Hey! Did you know that they got archery clubs in a lot of cities in Oklahoma and they hold tournaments about every weekend in the summer?" I told him, "No, I didn't." He said he had a bow and he hadn't ever shot in any of those tournaments but he planned on it. So I thought, "Hey, that's great," and I found out they were having a tournament not too far. I guess it was in Tulsa. I borrowed his bow and some arrows and went up there and shot a tournament. Did pretty good! I thought, "Hey that's great," so I bought me a bow, and arrows, and started practicing. I started shooting tournaments. Then I put in an archery shop, because I could buy my stuff wholesale then. I made arrows and fixed up bows and got them ready to shoot. I started shooting all the tournaments that come around. Course when Helen got started shooting we would make them together. We shot every weekend in the summertime. Course once a year they'd have these world championship shoots. Course I won in Oslo, Norway, in 1961, that's where I won the world championship. In 1962 the British, they were having their national tournament, and they invited me and Nancy Vonderheide, a world champion, to come and shoot in their national tournament. They wanted to add a little prestige to it, so they paid our way. I found out later that the Martini and Rossi Company actually put up the money. Anyway, we went over and shot in their national tournament and both of us won the British National Championship. We brought those big silver cups back to the United States and showed them around, because we had to send them back before the next year's tournament.

Tanya Finchum:

Did they invite you back?

Joe T. Thornton:

They were traveling. You just got to keep the trophy one year. But it was a big, silver cup. (Laughs) Quite a trophy. Anyway, we kept them for a year, nearly a year, and sent them back.

Tanya Finchum:

Did they invite you back a second year?

Joe T. Thornton:

No. (Laughs) They treated us real good. They had a guy from this Martini and Rossi Company to take care of us, show us how to get to our hotel. We stayed in an old house hotel, which was built two or three hundred years ago. We shot on Eton College's playing fields. That's the famous college where the blue bloods of England go to school. We got to meet a bunch of those blue bloods, these young guys in tuxedos. They went to school in formal attire. The only place in the world where they go to school in formal attire. We signed a lot of autographs for them while we were there. (Laughs) I'm one of the few guys around that's signed a lot of autographs for British blue bloods.

Tanya Finchum:

That's quite a long ways from Oklahoma, isn't it?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) Sure is.

Tanya Finchum:

Norway was too though. I mean that was--

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, it was. But I really loved those countries. Norway, they really--the Scandinavian countries: Norway, Sweden, and Finland, they treat the Americans better than any countries in Europe, I guess. Except maybe England and England--they were kind of jealous of us I think. We made a lot of friends, good friends. I had one friend in England, he ran a diving services. Did deep sea diving with helmets and everything on. I found out he was in the movie Sink the Bismarck! I thought, "I'm going to see that movie. I'll get to see my friend." When I saw the movie he was in a diving helmet, you couldn't tell who he was. (Laughter) But the sad part of it was that he and his son were working in the Thames River. His son got sucked in a thing, somehow or another, and it caught him and he couldn't get out. And he drowned. Joe, that's his dad, Joe Davis, had to go down and bring him out. Dead son. It was terrible, but Joe was really a great guy. When this lady, Nancy Vonderheide, and I were over there we were invited to his place for tea one afternoon. We went out there and the English, they make really good tea, but they can't make coffee worth a hoot. He asked me, "How do you like your tea, Joe?" I said, "You fix mine just like you fix yours." I didn't know how to fix it good. We don't drink much tea here, except iced tea. He fixed me a glass of tea. Boy, that was the best hot tea I ever drank. It was really good. (Laughs) I don't know how--what he put in it. It was really good.

Tanya Finchum:

He had a good name too, if it was Joe.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, Joe Davis. I met one guy at that tournament that--well, actually when I was shooting in Oslo. At the end of the first day I was tied with an Englishman. I found out that he was from Nottinghamshire, that's where Sherwood Forest is you know. He was a good shot; he was the best shot the English had. Of course in the end I beat him pretty good. We still get Christmas cards from his, I think it is. She's married again, but she still sends us Christmas cards.

Tanya Finchum:

They treated you pretty well sounds like.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, we have two or three good friends in England and we made friends in Sweden. When we were shooting in Sweden, the Swedish archery team in this one town invited the American team to stay with them instead of staying in a hotel. They said, "Stay, we'll keep you." There was one couple that invited Helen and I to stay with them. They wanted us particularly because they knew I was the world champion. (Laughs) So we stayed with them. Course we thought they were married, but we found out later they weren't married. The Swedes, a lot of them live together that are not married.

Helen Thornton:

And she came to visit us later.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, she came to visit us later actually.

Helen Thornton:

She took a bus tour--

Joe T. Thornton:

She traveled all over the United States.

Helen Thornton:

--across the United States and stopped and stayed with us a few days.

Joe T. Thornton:

We took her out to eat at the Cherokee Nation restaurant and all that fun stuff.

Helen Thornton:

She ate frog legs. (Laughter)

Joe T. Thornton:

One lady from Paris, one of the lady archers from Paris visited us one time.

Helen Thornton:

She and her husband, both. She brought me a scarf from one of those famous people that makes scarves over there. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Being world champion has some perks!

Joe T. Thornton:

It does, it does. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

How did you get to be so good?

Joe T. Thornton:

I practiced a lot.

Tanya Finchum:

How much, by a lot?

Joe T. Thornton:

Well, when I was getting ready for the world tournaments I'd shoot three hours a day. I'd come home at noon and shoot thirty minutes and shoot maybe in the morning before I went to work and shoot after I got home until dark. Then we'd shoot a tournament a lot of times. In the summertime we'd shoot tournaments almost every weekend.

Tanya Finchum:

Having to perfect your technique?

Joe T. Thornton:

Actually, when you're learning archery you talk to all the good, you know. Some of them will talk to you, some of them won't, and you read everything you can find on the technical part of it. Course you practice. But talking to other guys helps a lot. You'll work on like how to place your hand. One time I was working--I was having trouble placing my hand just right. I worked on it a week and finally I got it perfected. I thought, "That's right." Sure enough, I guess it was. Anyway, I was looking at the guy that won the world championship, and he was placing his hand exactly the same way I was.

Tanya Finchum:

If others ask you how to do, would you tell them?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes, that was one of the things I was noted for, talking to anybody that wanted to ask me questions about how to do this and that. There's a lot of things that--like when I took Helen over there out. I told her, "Now they'll try to bug you." I told her ways they'd do that. One way, you know, if you're pretty close with to somebody, you're a little ahead of them, they'll come around before the last go round. They'll say, "Looks like you've got it won. Shake hands with me." They'll shake hands with you. They think you'll get over confident and get careless. (Laughs) The fun way of bugging you. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Little mind games, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah. There's other ways too.

Alex Bishop:

I want to know, where did you practice? Did you practice at home? Did you have an archery field?

Joe T. Thornton:

When I had an archery target up, I had one out here where I could shoot up to a hundred yards. That's ninety meters. Ninety meters is ninety-nine and a fraction yard.

Helen Thornton:

Down the road. (Laughs)

Joe T. Thornton:

I'd go down the road. I had posts marked so many yards.

Tanya Finchum:

And then you'd have to go recover your arrows.

Joe T. Thornton:

Well, your arrows are supposed to be in the target. (Laughter) Sometimes they aren't.

Helen Thornton:

You had to walk up to the target and pull them out. (Laughs)

Alex Bishop:

Did you ever miss? Ever have a bad day?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes. I was shooting in a tournament up in Wichita, Kansas. That was a field tournament you know. They have targets around at different distances and different places in the woods. You're shooting between trees, over trees, under trees. I was shooting with--usually they'll have three or four guys on one target. Me and two or three more were shooting at this target one time. There's a guy that come along, he'd been drinking. He looked at that target, those arrows right in the middle. He said, "Custer never had a chance." (Laughter) And staggered off.

Tanya Finchum:

So once you were married, did you have children?

Joe T. Thornton:

She had two before we were married, and I had two before we were married.

Helen Thornton:

So we have four together.

Joe T. Thornton:

We don't have any between us.

Tanya Finchum:

Would they go with you to these tournaments?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes. They shot too.

Helen Thornton:

My two were younger, so they went with us. We just put them in the back of the station wagon. I took a jar of water and a bar of soap, they'd play around. A lot of the places they had playgrounds for the kids.

Joe T. Thornton:

After they got old enough they shot.

Helen Thornton:

I'd put them on the tailgate of the station wagon, clean them up, and we'd go to eat on the way home. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

They took up archery?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah.

Tanya Finchum:

Did they? Did they get as good as the two of you?

Helen Thornton:

No, they never did it...

Joe T. Thornton:

They didn't spend as much time at it as we did.

Tanya Finchum:

Didn't practice as much.

Helen Thornton:

...very much. They just did it for fun.

Joe T. Thornton:

One of our boys, Steve Brady, he was in just before you all came. He had a tree stand out--well, it's a ladder stand actually, not a tree stand, put it up against a tree. He had one out here in my storage place and he was going down to--He drew in that Cherokee [State Game] Refuge down there, during the hunting season. He was going down to put it up. He still shoots, he still hunts, bow hunts. He hunts with a gun too sometimes.

Tanya Finchum:

How many championships? You did the World Championship in '61, [in Oslo, Norway]--

Joe T. Thornton:

British National Championship in '62. I took the silver in Finland in '63. Those world champion tournaments are every two years. I took the silver in Sweden in '65.

Helen Thornton:

You went to Holland in '67 and I didn't go.

Joe T. Thornton:

I didn't do any good in Holland. [In] 1970 I won the national championship here in Ohio, the United States National Championship. I held the World Championship, the British National Championship, the United States National Championship, and two or three state championships.

Alex Bishop:

Now every good athlete has a nemesis, an arch rival, did you have a rival?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, most of the archers are real friendly. The guy that beat me in Sweden in '65, he was from Finland, Matti Haikonen. I hadn't started using a clicker then. A clicker was a device that helps you after you develop a bad habit. He was using one that he had invented. When we got through he gave me one of his clickers that he had invented. He realized that he beat me because of that clicker. After you've shot a while--

Helen Thornton:

It was funny too.

Joe T. Thornton:

--year or two, two or three years...

Helen Thornton:

When he gave it to him.

Joe T. Thornton:

You develop a trouble and they called it a lot of things, Gold Fever, Archer's Paradox, the Doom. You get to where when you put that sight in the goal or before you get to the goal, your fingers release that arrow and you can't keep them from it. You get that thing up there where you think, "Oh now I'm going to put that sight in my goal and release when I get ready." You can't do it because when that thing gets up that close, bam, them fingers release it. Nobody's ever been able to beat it other than with a device of some kind. This clicker, in the cut out for the sight window you put that clicker in that window and it's got a bow in it. When you stick your arrow through there then you pull it down and then rest it on the arrow rest. When you pull it back and you pull it through and it clicks, then you release. You know you're not going to release until that clicks, so you don't release. You aim it with that arrow almost out of that. Then you just kind of square your shoulders and let it come to that and release. Bam, you can hit it. (Laughs) Sounds silly but it's just strange. I don't know for sure anybody that's ever beat that without a device of some kind.

Tanya Finchum:

You have to be real steady.

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yeah, you have to be steady. You hit a target at ninety meters, you've got to be steady.

Tanya Finchum:

So no caffeine that day.

Joe T. Thornton:

No caffeine that day. Actually, caffeine don't seem to make much difference though really.

Tanya Finchum:

Helen said it was a funny story when he gave you the clicker.

Helen Thornton:

He was just making fun of Joe in a good way, because he beat him with a clicker. Joe had won all the other--

Joe T. Thornton:

Who's that?

Helen Thornton:

Matti Haikonen.

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh no, he wasn't making fun of me. He did it because he was my friend.

Helen Thornton:

He said, "Here Joe, you can win now when I give you this clicker." (Laughs)

Alex Bishop:

He kind of cheated.

Helen Thornton:

It was done in a nice way.

Joe T. Thornton:

He knew he kind of cheated I bet. Actually, it wasn't cheating. It was okayed by the International Archery Association. It was okayed. I was just stubborn. I didn't want to use it because I figured I could beat that. I could release when I wanted to without that. I couldn't. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

It was just a funny--

Joe T. Thornton:

I put that on in '70 and won the national. Man, I beat him bad. I beat him bad.

Tanya Finchum:

When did the Olympics--during this time there wasn't--

Joe T. Thornton:

Olympics were '72. I served three years on the National Archery Association Board of Governors. My three years was up in '72, and we got that archery into the Olympics in '72. By then I was fifty-five years old. I was getting old for--too old for Olympic competition. I got to where I couldn't--when I was shooting ninety meters, I couldn't give you any kind of a physical strain. You've got to be flexible. I wasn't flexible enough to be comfortable when I was aiming at ninety meters, so I couldn't shoot my best. I really wasn't as good at the other distances as I should've been. I qualified to try out for the Olympic team, but I didn't make the team.

Tanya Finchum:

But you had a major role in getting it declared a sport?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, I was on the Board of Governors that we were trying to get it in there. Course we had a lot of help. The archery manufacturers, they were furnishing money, when it was needed you know. We did manage to get it in there though, where it should've been before, long before that.

Alex Bishop:

Did you go to the '72 Olympics? Did you get to watch the competition or--

Joe T. Thornton:

No, I didn't get to see much of it. It was--I don't know; it was in Germany I think.

Alex Bishop:

Montreal, the summer Olympics would have been in Montreal.

Joe T. Thornton:

Might have been.

Helen Thornton:

We never went to any of those. We just stayed home after we quit. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

Between the two of you, who was the better shot?

Helen Thornton:

Well, he was my teacher. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

That's a loaded question, I know.

Helen Thornton:

He was.

Joe T. Thornton:

She was a darn good shot for a lady, I'll tell you. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Had any of your siblings got into archery? Your brothers and sisters?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, not really.

Tanya Finchum:

Just you?

Joe T. Thornton:

Just me. After we were more or less grown we were separated, different places.

Tanya Finchum:

Where did you get your bow? Your favorite one. The one you competed with.

Joe T. Thornton:

From Black Widow Archery Company in Springfield, Missouri. The Wilson brothers, they were good friends of mine.

Tanya Finchum:

Go up and try out a few? Or how did you pick it?

Helen Thornton:

They handmade it for us, for Joe.

Joe T. Thornton:

I think he sent me that one, didn't he? The one I won the world championship with I think he sent it to me. He knew I was shooting good. I'd won some state championships. We were good--I was good friends with the three guys. There was two brothers and their cousin that formed this Black Widow Archery Company.

Helen Thornton:

Make the bows, handmade it.

Joe T. Thornton:

The bows, to start with, some of their hunting bows were black. But their target bow, mine is a maple, maple colored and white limbs. Later on we had them make white bows.

Tanya Finchum:

Autographed with your name on it?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes, they sent it with the name on it.

Alex Bishop:

That's neat.

Tanya Finchum:

When was the last time you shot?

Joe T. Thornton:

The last big tournament I shot was the tryouts for the Olympics. And in 1970 I made the team and shot in North England.

Helen Thornton:

But then he started shooting just for fun, the Senior Olympics.

Tanya Finchum:

Senior Olympics?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, I shot the Senior Olympics, and I'd shoot cornstalks [during the Cherokee National Holiday], in Tahlequah.

Tanya Finchum:

You'd shoot cornstalks?

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, shoot at cornstalks.

Joe T. Thornton:

That's the Indian game you know.

Tanya Finchum:

No, I didn't know.

Joe T. Thornton:

You didn't know?

Tanya Finchum:

No.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, they'd put four stakes, two here and two here. They'd take a bunch of cornstalks about that long and they're about that--these stalks are about that big. They fill that up with cornstalks and you got a target; it's that high, and that wide, and that thick. They get off at eighty yards and shoot at them or sometimes they'd make it a hundred. It's best when they have it eighty yards. They count the score by how many stalks your arrow goes through.

Helen Thornton:

They have one of those every year at the Cherokee Nation Holiday.

Joe T. Thornton:

They have three divisions: Indian bows, recurve bow, and a compound bow. Now they have three divisions. I'd always enter the recurve bow because it was my favorite bow. I would always win. I've got stacks of--there's a shelf in here full of them and a garage full of them. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

And boxes of trophies out in his barn.

Alex Bishop:

They probably didn't like to see you coming, did they? (Laughter)

Joe T. Thornton:

Finally, I came in second, I think. When I was about, I don't know how old I was, I was getting pretty old, I thought it was time to quit, so I quit shooting. It was hard to walk back and forth that hundred yards.

Tanya Finchum:

After you retired from the radio and the TV shop, you were still shooting?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah. I don't think I was--let's see, that was in '87. I wasn't shooting big tournaments then.

Helen Thornton:

He had bypass surgery in--was it '81 you had bypass surgery?

Joe T. Thornton:

[In] '87 I had bypass surgery.

Helen Thornton:

After that he couldn't shoot real heavy bows.

Tanya Finchum:

So you retired in '87 and then had--

Helen Thornton:

And shut the business out too.

Tanya Finchum:

That was a big year. I understand they just opened a shooting range, the Cherokee Nation has. They named it some name. (Laughs)

Joe T. Thornton:

Joe Thornton.

Helen Thornton:

Joe Thornton Archery Range.

Joe T. Thornton:

Get that printed sign.

Helen Thornton:

Also, they have archery in the schools now.

Alex Bishop:

Oh really?

Helen Thornton:

Yes, that's one reason that the Nation put that--the Cherokee Nation built that range and named it Joe Archery Range and he's in the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame. He's just had all kinds of--

Tanya Finchum:

Good things happen, yes.

Helen Thornton:

--honors. Yes, honors. He's a good person. Always has been.

Alex Bishop:

He has a lot of hardware. He gets the honors now, just not the hardware that comes with it.

Tanya Finchum:

All these competitions though, is always a trophy the prize? Or was there any cash prizes?

Helen Thornton:

No, you can't take money if you're competing.

Tanya Finchum:

If you're an amateur, you can't get paid.

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, you can't take money.

Tanya Finchum:

(Brings in sign) That's neat. Did they ask you first?

Joe T. Thornton:

I don't think they did. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

It was a surprise!

Tanya Finchum:

Total surprise? They didn't say, "Is it okay with you?"

Joe T. Thornton:

Pretty good artist wasn't he? Sign painter.

Alex Bishop:

Good job!

Helen Thornton:

And the chief was there honoring him.

Tanya Finchum:

Pretty big day. That was after you turned 100?

Helen Thornton:

No, that was just before. On his hundredth birthday we had a family reunion and there was like about seventy people from all over the country, relatives of Joe.

Joe T. Thornton:

Even the chief was there.

Helen Thornton:

And the chief came.

Tanya Finchum:

Did you have to blow out a hundred candles?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) No.

Helen Thornton:

It was a few days before his birthday that we celebrated his birthday.

Alex Bishop:

He had to shoot them out. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

Anyway, he's had lots of honors, lots of honors.

Tanya Finchum:

Living to a hundred, do you have any secret? What do you attribute it to?

Joe T. Thornton:

I always tell them I just lived a good, clean life. (Laughs) I've had a lot of fun. I've had a great life. Helen and I, we consider our life really, really good. We've had a lot of fun.

Helen Thornton:

We've been married fifty-three years.

Joe T. Thornton:

A lot of travel, just lots of--

Tanya Finchum:

And a hobby that you both liked. Well, not really a hobby I guess, but a sport.

Helen Thornton:

That's how I met him.

Tanya Finchum:

And been married fifty-three years?

Helen Thornton:

Fifty-three years.

Tanya Finchum:

What's the secret to that?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) She's a good nurse I guess.

Helen Thornton:

I'm a nurse. I went to nursing school.

Joe T. Thornton:

She's a retired RN.

Tanya Finchum:

That helps.

Helen Thornton:

And I've put him through lots of sickness. Made him well, helped to make him well.

Alex Bishop:

Always allowing you to practice.

Helen Thornton:

Taking care--yeah, practice on him! (Laughs) We've had a good life, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren.

Joe T. Thornton:

These archeries, they were really good socially. We'd get together and enjoy a get-together. We'd have Christmas parties and New Year's parties. We enjoyed life.

Helen Thornton:

We really had a good time.

Joe T. Thornton:

We made so many friends. So many different places and people you know. Gosh, we had real good friends in Arizona and back East. All over Oklahoma and all over the world. I had a good friend in New Zealand, and we had some good friends in Australia, Philippines. Golly, I don't know where all. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

If you hadn't been involved with archery you may not have traveled as much?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, we wouldn't have. Used to we'd be getting on those big planes ever so often heading for Europe. We really enjoyed that too.

Tanya Finchum:

Where would your bow have to be? In the baggage claims or --

Joe T. Thornton:

In the baggage claims. You was allowed I think seventy pounds, wasn't it, Helen?

Helen Thornton:

I think it was.

Joe T. Thornton:

And we had to include all our equipment. We'd have to take two bows. In case one bow broke while you was competing, you had to have another one ready. Arrows, you had to have plenty of arrows and other things. Some of them--

Helen Thornton:

So we couldn't take too many clothes. (Laughter)

Joe T. Thornton:

--even took tools to repair their arrows with, if you had to.

Tanya Finchum:

How many arrows would you have to have?

Joe T. Thornton:

I think we'd take about ten, or fifteen, or twenty. Didn't we, Helen?

Helen Thornton:

A couple of dozen I imagine.

Joe T. Thornton:

I know we took at least a dozen, because you had to shoot six at a time.

Tanya Finchum:

And they would break, too?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, not normally.

Helen Thornton:

But you might shoot, knock off--

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes you'd tear the vanes off of them, the feathers.

Helen Thornton:

--the vanes off them. We shot with plastic vanes you know.

Tanya Finchum:

When you got there would there be someone to inspect those?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yes. They inspected your equipment every day before you shot.

Helen Thornton:

Every day before you shot.

Joe T. Thornton:

It had to pass inspection.

Helen Thornton:

We had a friend that was blind in one eye. (Laughs) Joe, tell them about that, about Al.

Joe T. Thornton:

Al Herron?

Helen Thornton:

No, not Al Herron.

Joe T. Thornton:

We had one friend that one eye, his right eye was a glass eye. He shot right handed with his left eye. The Russians, they're always jealous of the Americans anyway. He took black tape and scissors and made him a cross arrow and put it on his right eye. (Laughs) He was up there shooting and a Russian came over and told our team captains, "Hey, that guy's got a cross arrow on his right eye on his glasses. That's illegal." He said, "Okay, I'll take care of it." He went over to Al, "You've got to take that cross arrow off your glasses."

Helen Thornton:

That was our team captain.

Joe T. Thornton:

"Okay, okay, I'll do it." (Laughter) He took it off.

Helen Thornton:

He was blind in that eye, but he was just being ornery.

Joe T. Thornton:

The team was really laughing. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

We had a lot of fun.

Tanya Finchum:

I think that might be the secret to longevity, being able to laugh about it, have humor.

Joe T. Thornton:

I always thought the English, the way they take things so slow, they ought to live to be a pretty old age. I was noticing one day we were shooting next target to the English, and one of them was supposed to get up and shoot, and he was still sitting in his chair. You only got so long to shoot. You have to get up there and do it pretty fast. Finally, one of the guys outside, "Peter, old chap, would you care to have a go at it?" (Laughter) I told them I was American, "Hey, Pete! Get up there and shoot!" (Laughter) Later on at another tournament, I guess it was the one in York, England, his wife came around and said, "You know my husband, Peter, don't you?" I said, "Yes Ma'am, I certainly know Peter." (Laughter) I got acquainted with him, I knew him. He was a nice guy.

Alex Bishop:

You picked up the English accent pretty well.

Joe T. Thornton:

There's a lot of difference between the English and the Americans. One of them wanted to buy one of my bows, my spare bow, when we were through shooting. One of their--I don't remember which tournament it was. After we were shooting I sold him my spare bow. Course he knew I could get a new one because I knew the factory men. They had a new bow out that had a big handle. It was a big, bulky handle. They was--a lot of them were making big handles. That'd put more weight in it so that you'd be steady. You couldn't wiggle around with a heavy bow like you could with a light bow. Some guy was joking about it. He said, "You know a smuggler could drill a hole in that and fill it full of diamonds or something, smuggle anything in there from the country with it." (Laughs) This Englishman came around and I asked him which bow he wanted and what kind he wanted. He said, "Oh, that smuggler model." (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

And one time when we were in Sweden, I think it was, wasn't it Joe? When that guy came up to us and he was shooting wooden arrows, where were they from?

Joe T. Thornton:

That guy was from Turkey. The kid was from Turkey.

Helen Thornton:

And Joe sold him his arrows after the tournament was over because they couldn't get--

Joe T. Thornton:

I sold him some arrows. He said that American arrows in Turkey cost a lot of money. He was a kid that--he was a young guy. I say kid, I guess he was probably twenty years old, maybe eighteen or twenty. Helen and I were walking down the street of Helsinki [Finland] at night. They don't close up over there until pretty late because it don't get dark until ten o'clock hardly. We was looking in a window and a kid came up to us. He saw we had on a uniform, an American emblem on it. He said, "You archer? I archer also!" (Laughs) He didn't talk very good English. I said, "Yes, what country are you from?" He said, "Turkey." I knew where he was from then. He could speak English but not very good. He was the one wanting to buy some arrows from me.

Helen Thornton:

Joe sold them to him pretty cheap--

Joe T. Thornton:

His arm was about as long as mine, so they would fit him.

Helen Thornton:

--after the tournament.

Joe T. Thornton:

You have to have arrows to fit your arm length.

Tanya Finchum:

No, didn't know that.

Joe T. Thornton:

The way you choose that, you do this and put the arrow back there and the tip of the arrow would come to the tip of your fingers. That's the rough way to judge how long an arrow you shoot.

Tanya Finchum:

Speaking of that sort of thing, once it got into the Olympics, did you help with the rules and regulations regarding the sport?

Joe T. Thornton:

No. I went out about that time. That was the end of my term, my three years. We had decided that--actually, they got together with like the head of the United States Archers, and the British, and the French. See, we had a president of the National Archery Association. He was the head of the Board of Governors, the president. He got together with others and they worked up the rules. I went out about '72 I guess it was, end of my term. I didn't run for another one. Kind of a rough job, you've got to fly to Chicago in January and it's always cold up there.

Tanya Finchum:

Do you belong to any clubs or associations today?

Joe T. Thornton:

Last time I went to a meeting of the State Archery Association they gave me a membership, state membership, I think, or I bought one. I don't remember which. Anyway, I wound up with a state membership. I dropped out of the national when I quit shooting.

Tanya Finchum:

How about with your veterans? Do anything with the veterans?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, the other day I got a seventy-year pin from the American Legion. I was the oldest Legionnaire in this post. I've been a member of the American Legion for seventy years. I'm also Masonic Lodge member. I've been a Lodge member for a long time. Many years.

Tanya Finchum:

Have you been to a Chilocco reunion?

Joe T. Thornton:

Oh yeah, I still go to them.

Helen Thornton:

We don't go up there. We went up there once, but long time ago. That's closed down now.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, but we would go to the Cherokee County chapter. We have a chapter here.

Helen Thornton:

Chilocco chapter.

Tanya Finchum:

How many is in that group? In the chapter here?

Helen Thornton:

Joe, how many would you say is in that chapter?

Joe T. Thornton:

In our chapter? I don't know, twenty?

Helen Thornton:

Twenty-five or thirty. Something like that.

Joe T. Thornton:

Twenty-five.

Tanya Finchum:

It closed sometime in the '60s, maybe?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, Joe's brother worked up there. He was a counselor before it closed down. Our chapter gave Joe this jacket. Honey, that doesn't look very good. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

Say I'm working on it.

Alex Bishop:

Oh wow.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah this is the school.

Tanya Finchum:

Stand right there and we'll take a picture of you with it.

Alex Bishop:

Chilocco Indian School.

Tanya Finchum:

There we go. All right.

Joe T. Thornton:

The Otoe-Missouri tribe did that work there. Course that's Joe

Tanya Finchum:

I'd say you're the oldest living alum, aren't you?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, I am. (Laughter) I thought that was really nice they give me that.

Tanya Finchum:

That is really nice.

Joe T. Thornton:

Not only that, but two or three weeks ago they gave me a watch. Alumni did, it's a beautiful watch. It's got a leather band. I made my own band--

Tanya Finchum:

You made that?

Joe T. Thornton:

--I used to do Indian jewelry, yes.

Helen Thornton:

And he made mine.

Tanya Finchum:

How nice.

Helen Thornton:

We lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation for a year, and I worked for Johns Hopkins on research project on the Indian reservation.

Joe T. Thornton:

I made my belt buckle--

Helen Thornton:

That's what he did, he learned to make Indian stuff.

Joe T. Thornton:

--I got to looking for Cherokee designs, couldn't find any. So I made my own designs for my jewelry. This belt buckle is my design of a Cherokee belt buckle. The seven-pointed star, see, is the seven clans. Seven sides to the council house and the arrows of course, that's for my archery. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

This has a record of Joe's family in it.

Joe T. Thornton:

That star's history of the Cherokee--the Indian, the Cherokee.

Tanya Finchum:

Growing up did you do Cherokee songs or games, anything like that?

Joe T. Thornton:

No. We didn't do any--when I was in school we'd stomp dance sometimes just for the heck of it. I learned one of their calls, (sings in Native American Indian), and the answer is, (sings in Native American Indian). (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

That sounds pretty good.

Joe T. Thornton:

I don't know what tribe that's from, but the guy who led our stomp dance was Osage I think. Osages, Creek Indians, once in a great while we'd do a stomp dance or something, just for kicks. They'd be--or sometimes they'd have an Indian thing. I remember one time or sometimes we'd have a rope spinning demonstration. There was some Indians from Warner, Oklahoma, down there. Two of them. It was a brother and sister. The girl was real pretty too. They'd do a rope spinning demonstration; they were good at it! They lived on a ranch down there. Nautchi and Teesee McGeary. It was two men, Nautchi and Teesee. I can't remember the girl's name, but they did this rope spinning demonstration. They were real good at it. Anyway, while I was there, there was a guy from York Archery Company, which is an old time archery company, came and did an archery demonstration there. That is one of the things that got me interested in archery, I guess. He put on a pretty good demonstration. That would've been in 1933 or '34. About 1965 Helen and I did a demonstration at Chilocco. (Laughs) My brother was working there as a counselor. He had us come up and do a demonstration. We told him we would. We had a pretty good demonstration worked up.

Helen Thornton:

We use to go to some of the schools and do them you know. Joe had this deal where he'd ask for a volunteer and he'd sit this kid down, the stage up there, and then he'd put an apple on his head. He'd get back and he'd--then he said, "Maybe I better take a practice shot." Make the guy get up and then he'd shoot a target and miss. (Laughs) Then he'd give a talk on being safe and not ever shooting until--

Joe T. Thornton:

I'd shoot that dummy right between the eyes. (Laughs) The expression on that kid's face, "That could've been me!" (Laughter) You know I'd give them a talk on safety. Tell them we didn't actually shoot any apples off anybody's head.

Helen Thornton:

Gave all the kids a lecture.

Joe T. Thornton:

They'd seen me shooting a ping pong ball off of a golf tee. They knew I could hit it. They knew I could hit that apple. At least they thought I could, but when I shot that dummy they wondered then. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

We've had lots of fun, had a good life.

Tanya Finchum:

Sounds like it.

Helen Thornton:

We have good kids, and good grandkids, and good great-grandchildren.

Joe T. Thornton:

We used to do those demonstrations all around for Boy Scouts and schools, mostly the schools. We'd always meet up with a guy that was in charge. We wasn't going to shoot no apple off their head. (Laughs)

Alex Bishop:

I'm sure you had some very willing volunteers in the audience too.

Helen Thornton:

Oh yeah, those kids they just loved--

Joe T. Thornton:

There'd be two or three of them volunteer. (Laughter)

Alex Bishop:

Until they saw the dummy.

Joe T. Thornton:

They saw me shoot a ping pong ball. There was a guy--this guy that won the world--the first Olympic championship, Williams. He did a demonstration on TV one time. He put a lifesaver, a little mint, on a toothpick on the target. Course most of the demonstrations only ten yards, thirty feet. He popped that with the first arrow, which is--that's pretty good shooting. Course he was the Olympic champion, he knew he could hit it. I remember one time I was shooting at this ping pong ball on a golf tee in front of the target. I shot and knocked that ping pong ball against the target and it come a bouncing back. Right by my left hand, I reached down and scooped it up. I stuck it up like I intended to do that all the time. (Laughter) Usually you'd hit it and it'd fly off the side. They thought I intended to do that. One of the stunts we'd do, I would take--put two arrows, shoot two arrows, and there'd be two balloons on the target and I'd burst both balloons with those two arrows. Another one, I'd have an aluminum pie pan I'd tape to a balloon. Helen would burst that balloon and as that pie pan dropped I'd pin it to the target. That was pretty good there, that was a timed shot. I knew where that pie pan would be. I'd really release more or less on her pop. When she shot I knew that was going to fall so far. That's where I was aiming. It wasn't as hard as it looked.

Alex Bishop:

Did you ever split an arrow?

Joe T. Thornton:

People don't generally shoot to split an arrow.

Helen Thornton:

You don't do it on purpose.

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes you telescope in there but that's a rare occasion. Usually it's not intentional, you just accidently--the arrow just happens to be there and you're shooting at something else.

Helen Thornton:

You're shooting at the middle and if you're shooting at the middle and there's one in the middle. Sometimes you just (smack) shoot--

Joe T. Thornton:

With the closer targets, those guys with the bow and arrows can shoot awful close. This guy, as I say, they could hit a nickel-sized target in ten yards, a spot. Not every time, but a lot of time. Matter of fact, a guy with a bow and arrow can beat most pistol shots, most policeman even, at forty or fifty yards. The target, forty or fifty yards away.

Tanya Finchum:

Were you that good of a shot when you were younger shooting at rabbits?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) Well, shooting at a setting still rabbit's real easy, but shooting a running rabbit's pretty hard. One time one guy--when I was at Chilocco we always had a rabbit roundup at New Year's Day. They'd get all the students, all the boy students, to circle around and we'd have about a mile circle and come in we'd have a 200-yard circle with a fence around it. They'd kill the rabbits going in and they'd carry them and they'd give them to the Salvation Army. Salvation Army would be there with guns and they'd kill some with their guns. They'd dress them out and give them to some place where they were feeding poor people you know.

Tanya Finchum:

It was called a rabbit roundup? On New Year's?

Joe T. Thornton:

On New Year's Day at Chilocco every year. The boys, a lot of them they'd carry clubs. This one guy carried a bow and arrow though and there was a jackrabbit and got him in this 200-yard circle. The jackrabbit running around out there and he shot that jackrabbit. They had his picture in the Arkansas City Daily Traveler the next day.

Tanya Finchum:

When you graduated from there, your senior year, did you do anything special?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, I don't recall anything special.

Tanya Finchum:

Have a prom?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, we had a prom. I remember going to that prom. They was pretty strict there. They wouldn't let the guys kiss their girls at that prom. They wasn't supposed to. Somebody's coming?

Helen Thornton:

That's Tammy. She helps me out.

Joe T. Thornton:

Anyway, they'd sneak around and you'd see them behind somebody. (Laughs) I know one girl got in front of us and my girlfriend was her friend.

Tanya Finchum:

What would you wear to prom.

Joe T. Thornton:

What we wear to school. Most of us didn't have real good clothes. Course for graduation we wore suits and everything. I bought my suit with the money I earned working at the school dairy you know. I remember I had it tailor-made in Arkansas City. Wool serge, good cloth. It cost me $17.50. (Laughs) That was in 1934. Tailor-made, wool serge suit for $17.50.

Tanya Finchum:

That was extravagant, wasn't it? At that time? Sharp dressed man.

Joe T. Thornton:

I've got that album in here.

Tanya Finchum:

He's terrific. He's fishing for something else Helen.

Helen Thornton:

What you hunting, Honey?

Tanya Finchum:

He was going to show me a picture of his--

Joe T. Thornton:

My album! Do you know where it is? My Chilocco album.

Alex Bishop:

Chilocco was in Newkirk. Is it still there, the school still there?

Tanya Finchum:

They closed it in the '60s and there's not much from the campus there.

Alex Bishop:

There's not anything, a building or anything?

Tanya Finchum:

I don't think so.

Alex Bishop:

Newkirk is a town that's north of Stillwater about fifty minutes. It's out in the country. There are historically Indian schools all around, but that was one of the big ones. Oh my gosh, that's an old book.

Tanya Finchum:

Yearbook.

Alex Bishop:

A yearbook, 1930s.

Tanya Finchum:

How neat.

Joe T. Thornton:

There I was. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

You've got your hair parted down the middle.

Joe T. Thornton:

All the boys had their hair parted down the middle. (Laughs)

Alex Bishop:

That was the hairstyle, huh?

Tanya Finchum:

What did you use to get it to lay flat?

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) A little story there, when I was a boy growing up and going to grade school I had a lot of hair and my hair just all bushed out. I couldn't--I'd comb it and the next minute it was all feathered out you know, unruly. Then about that time somebody invented this rose hair oil. (Laughs) It cost about ten cents a bottle. I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. You could put a little of that on your hair and comb it, and it'd stay combed. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

I been thinking about trying to find somebody to restore that because it's about to fall apart.

Tanya Finchum:

Yeah, is there a picture of the school in here? Alex Bishop: What I like is the vocations they have, you have nursing and tailoring--

Joe T. Thornton:

Towards the front there's a picture of some of it.

Tanya Finchum:

Yours is listed as "Dairying."

Alex Bishop:

Dairying.

Helen Thornton:

He worked on the dairy.

Joe T. Thornton:

Dairying, yes.

Alex Bishop:

Look at the women, home economics and nursing.

Tanya Finchum:

Was Josephine your sister?

Joe T. Thornton:

Cousin.

Alex Bishop:

And you had all the different tribes, Cherokee, there's a Kiowa, there's a Pawnee.

Joe T. Thornton:

I think there was thirty-eight tribes in our class.

Tanya Finchum:

Wave must be popular for the women. Hair was wavy.

Joe T. Thornton:

They had it every which way.

Tanya Finchum:

Would most of the instructors be Native American?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, part of them were. Most of them were white I think. They had their own print shop. They made their own annuals and everything. That was one of the trades you could learn, was printing.

Tanya Finchum:

You said you went to Ark City to get your suit made?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

How would you get there? You wouldn't have a car I wouldn't think.

Joe T. Thornton:

They run a bus.

Tanya Finchum:

From the school?

Joe T. Thornton:

Sometimes. Every so often they run a bus. I don't remember how often, sometimes you'd get out and catch a ride you know.

Tanya Finchum:

Hitchhike.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, it's only seven miles to Ark City.

Alex Bishop:

They used to have trains run up through there too. I recall some--

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, a train. Catch it.

Tanya Finchum:

Those are neat.

Alex Bishop:

It's a neat history.

Joe T. Thornton:

Here we are in another book, this is an archery record book.

Tanya Finchum:

That's a great picture.

Alex Bishop:

So back in those days most of the women either home economics, nursing, or teaching.

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, Charlie Rogers took that he was a photography teacher at Northeastern. A friend of ours.

Tanya Finchum:

Matching uniforms--outfits I guess I should say.

Helen Thornton:

We had shirts that had archery on them. I don't know if we have them on there or not, but that's what we shot in.

Tanya Finchum:

And the belts.

Helen Thornton:

We had those quivers made by an Indian friend of ours.

Tanya Finchum:

And they're called what?

Helen Thornton:

Quivers, to hold the arrows.

Joe T. Thornton:

What you carry your arrows in.

Helen Thornton:

There were several friends that--

Joe T. Thornton:

Don't' know why they called it a quiver, but that's what it's named.

Helen Thornton:

--were having them to make them some when they saw ours. We've still got them.

Alex Bishop:

Pottawatomie, Shawnee--

Tanya Finchum:

Back in the day when teasing was in.

Helen Thornton:

And bleach. Is my hair bleached there?

Tanya Finchum:

It's pretty blonde, looks like it might be. Both serious looks.

Helen Thornton:

I had to see if blondes had more fun. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Pretty good life, huh?

Helen Thornton:

Yes, we've had a good life.

Tanya Finchum:

Won a lot of awards, and honors, and met a lot of people.

Helen Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

Where do you consider home? Is Tahlequah--

Helen Thornton:

Tahlequah is our home. I was raised at Sulfur, Oklahoma. My father was a Baptist minister. That's where I grew up. I don't have anybody left--they're all gone. I had a brother and a sister, and mother, and father. But they all passed and went to Heaven.

Tanya Finchum:

So you consider Tahlequah home. You were born in Adair, but you've lived most--well, all of your life practically here, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, most of it.

Helen Thornton:

We've lived here ever since we got married. I lived in Fort Gibson when he met me and when we were dating, but then when we got married I moved to Tahlequah.

Tanya Finchum:

Having been in the service during World War II, you could've used the GI Bill. Did you go take any college classes or anything?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, I took flying lessons and learned to fly, but I didn't stay with it. I just quit flying.

Tanya Finchum:

When you're looking back over a hundred years, someone else that wants to live to a hundred, what advice would you give them? Marry a nurse?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, marry a nurse.

Helen Thornton:

Might be a good idea.

Joe T. Thornton:

There's so many of them nowadays they become alcoholics or dopeheads you know. Stay away from that stuff. I lost two brothers that were alcoholics. One of them died when he was forty-eight and the other lived to be about, I don't know, eighty I guess.

Tanya Finchum:

How old were your parents when they passed?

Joe T. Thornton:

My mother was 102. My dad was thirty-eight. He got shot.

Helen Thornton:

Somebody shot him.

Joe T. Thornton:

He was murdered, you might say. Guy shot him in the back.

Tanya Finchum:

Your mother was 102, what about her parents?

Joe T. Thornton:

Her mother lived very old, but her dad, she didn't know. I think he died way back there somewhere, I don't know.

Tanya Finchum:

So longevity--what about your father? How old were they?

Joe T. Thornton:

His dad lived a long time and his mother lived pretty old I think.

Helen Thornton:

Joe, his brother lived until he got lost.

Joe T. Thornton:

He had a brother that lived, he was about ninety-three and he was getting old and he had Alzheimer's. He couldn't remember anything, he'd get lost. Walked out over his farm, he couldn't get back to the house. He didn't know where it was. Anyway, he disappeared one day. They had the sheriff's department out looking for him. Me and my neighbor, we took our horses out and rode everyplace that the guy could've possibly wandered and walked as old as he was. Couldn't find him, never did find him.

Helen Thornton:

There were lots of people hunting.

Joe T. Thornton:

Still don't know what happened to him.

Helen Thornton:

We figured maybe he went down to the highway. He lived out in the country you know. And said, "I need to go to town or something," and got lost, and just--we don't know. That's just something we thought might've happened.

Alex Bishop:

Any of your brothers and sisters still living today?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah, one sister's living. She lives in Tulsa. A brother in Denver. That's all.

Alex Bishop:

They'll have to catch up to you.

Joe T. Thornton:

Yeah. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

Peggy's, how old is Peggy? She's in her eighties, his sister that lives in Tulsa. I think she's in her late-eighties.

Tanya Finchum:

Is there anything left on your bucket list that you want to do and haven't done?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, I don't know of anything I'd like to do that I could do. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

We don't get too far from home these days.

Tanya Finchum:

Throughout your life you've eaten pretty much what you've wanted?

Joe T. Thornton:

Yes.

Tanya Finchum:

I mean fried and all.

Helen Thornton:

No, I keep him on a pretty strict diet. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

Once you've had your heart--

Joe T. Thornton:

She kind of watches me.

Tanya Finchum:

I stand corrected then.

Joe T. Thornton:

My mother, though, lived to be 102. She ate fried food. She ate meat, fried meat, until she died.

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, she ate what she wanted.

Tanya Finchum:

She probably worked it off in her earlier days, what she ate.

Helen Thornton:

She was a tough old lady. She was good in a lot of ways.

Tanya Finchum:

Was church an important part of growing up?

Joe T. Thornton:

No. We belong to this church down here. I didn't join it though until along about the time Helen and I was married I guess.

Tanya Finchum:

Growing up it wasn't?

Joe T. Thornton:

I wasn't active. I'd go to church part of the time, but not active in it.

Helen Thornton:

It was with me. My dad was a Baptist preacher.

Joe T. Thornton:

She was, her dad was a Baptist preacher. (Laughs)

Alex Bishop:

Sounds to me like you looked out for his health, his spirituality. She made you go.

Helen Thornton:

I tried to. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Today, at a hundred, talk me through a typical day. What time did you get up this morning?

Joe T. Thornton:

About seven o'clock.

Tanya Finchum:

And what time will you probably go to bed tonight?

Joe T. Thornton:

I try to go to bed about ten thirty.

Helen Thornton:

Right after the Ten O'clock News.

Tanya Finchum:

And if we weren't here, what would you be doing?

Helen Thornton:

Probably having lunch.

Joe T. Thornton:

Nothing, yeah.

Tanya Finchum:

How do spend your time during the time is what I'm getting at.

Joe T. Thornton:

I read quite a bit. I work crossword puzzles.

Helen Thornton:

He works lots of crossword puzzles, and he reads a book.

Tanya Finchum:

Keeping your mind sharp.

Joe T. Thornton:

I'm pretty good at working crossword puzzles.

Tanya Finchum:

And you read westerns?

Joe T. Thornton:

Louis L'Amour.

Helen Thornton:

We love Louis L'Amour.

Joe T. Thornton:

My favorite western author.

Tanya Finchum:

When I was getting ready for this interview I came across the title of a book, The Witchery of Archery. Do you have that book?

Helen Thornton:

No.

Tanya Finchum:

It's an old one.

Joe T. Thornton:

I've seen the book, but I don't have it.

Tanya Finchum:

It's one of the first ones written about the sport. Written like 1878, I mean it's an old book.

Helen Thornton:

Wonder where you'd find one.

Joe T. Thornton:

The guy that wrote that book, compiled that stuff--Bob Rody, he's an old friend of mine. He's written more books about archery probably than anybody. He wrote a book every year there for a while about archery tournaments. I got one. The first one I got that had my picture in it I told Helen, I gave her a copy of it and I wrote there that, "Someday your picture will be in one of these." Sure enough! There it is. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

That's when we were dating. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

How sweet.

Helen Thornton:

He taught me to shoot and in six months I made the team. I thought, "If I could stand up there like the world champion and shoot good, I ought to be able to do it anywhere."

Tanya Finchum:

Did you get the J. Maurice Thompson Award medal from the American Archery Association?

Joe T. Thornton:

I guess so.

Tanya Finchum:

And you have over seventy-five medals?

Joe T. Thornton:

I don't know how many I've got.

Tanya Finchum:

Hard to keep up with that many.

Joe T. Thornton:

I haven't the slightest idea. I'm in four halls of fame. American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, let's see, the Oklahoma State Archery Association Hall of Fame, and the Chilocco Indian School Hall of Fame, and the Cherokee Nation Honor Society. That's the one where I met Crystal Gayle my favorite singer. (Laughter)

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, I took a picture of him sitting by her.

Joe T. Thornton:

Took a picture of me and Crystal together.

Tanya Finchum:

Sounds like we need to rub shoulders with him.

Joe T. Thornton:

We corresponded. We sent Christmas cards for a while. She's a real nice person. Not only a great singer, but she's a nice person.

Tanya Finchum:

You are too. I don't know about the singing part; can you sing?

Joe T. Thornton:

Can't sing a note. (Laughs)

Helen Thornton:

He don't even try.

Joe T. Thornton:

I can't even whistle good. (Laughs) I got one brother that sings, picks the guitar.

Tanya Finchum:

Anything else you want to add before we close out?

Joe T. Thornton:

No, I don't know anything.

Tanya Finchum:

My last question is when history's written about you, what would you want it to say? How do you want to be remembered?

Joe T. Thornton:

I was a good person I guess. When I won that world championship and they put me in all these halls of fame, I told them, "If there's one thing I was proud of, I was a good representative of my Cherokee Nation and I was a good representative of the United States." I was proud of that. You can read about these teams, you know, and they do all kinds of things. The team that went over before me shot their arrows into the wall of the hotel where they stayed, or the motel. It was something I would never do. A lot of them, some of these black athletes, they pull all these bad stunts. When you stand up on that victory podium, in a foreign land, and they play that Star Spangled Banner -- (Emotional)

Helen Thornton:

That's really something.

Joe T. Thornton:

--something.

Tanya Finchum:

Makes you stand tall and proud, and probably get teary-eyed.

Joe T. Thornton:

It does. It does.

Helen Thornton:

Yeah, I was--I won three gold medals as a member of the Ladies World Archery team.

Tanya Finchum:

Kind of have to pinch yourself to see if it's real.

Joe T. Thornton:

(Laughs) Yeah.

Helen Thornton:

So I stood on that winning podium too, and I know how it feels. Feels good. (Laughs)

Tanya Finchum:

Not very many people can say they've done that.

Joe T. Thornton:

No, not too many of them.

Helen Thornton:

I just call him my amazing man. (Laughter)

Tanya Finchum:

That he is. The next goal is to make it to 120, huh?

Joe T. Thornton:

Superintendent, he was a real nice guy--

Helen Thornton:

I told him he had to live to be 110, 120 would be better.

Joe T. Thornton:

...at Chilocco. He wasn't even Indian though.

Tanya Finchum:

All right, if there's nothing else we'll say thank you so much for sharing with us today. It's been terrific. You're great.

Helen Thornton:

We've enjoyed it.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us