PURCELL, OKLAHOMA — Several different types of American history spread themselves out on the Maxwell’s dining room table. Carolee and Wayne have sorted through all the paperwork before.
Most of it belongs to Carolee’s grandfather Charles Wilson MacGilberry, but it pulls in Native American, racial, school history, and even the discredited science of eugenics. MacGilberry’s educational experience became the central theme a a book this husband and wife wrote together. “We became very emotionally attached to him,” says Wayne. “We did,” agrees Carolee. “We kept boxes of kleenexes close by from the very beginning.”
He was a bright kid. Charles came from a line of Choctaw chiefs. He grew up on southeastern Oklahoma, attending first the Jones Academy and later the Chilocco Indian School. MacGilberry was good at everything he tried. “From all accounts, the people at Jones Academy realized that he was special,” says Wayne.
Charles was smart enough that even people outside Oklahoma took notice. A New York department store magnate named Rodman Wannamaker was looking for three young Indian men to take part in an experiment. How would these kids fare against the smartest, most privileged young men in America?
In 1914 Charlie started classes at Mercersburg Academy, an élite private school in Pennsylvania. The prevailing notion at the time was that Indian kids like him couldn’t possible be smart enough to pass. From her research Carolee describes, “The people in the East really thought they lived in teepees and painted their faces, and wanted to be in war battles.”
Carolee says her grandfather never spoke in detail about his days at Mercersburg but a 1917 yearbook passage gives some insight into the preconceived notions he had to fight against. The passage under his picture reads in part, “Here is Mercersburg’s great novelty, the first real “Native American” to be graduated. In many respects he in an anomaly. We do not find in Charlie the typical Indian features but a round and chubby face.”
The two other Native American boys who joined Charlie at Mercersburg got homesick and left school. Charlie stuck it out and graduated. He was accepted to Princeton but instead became the first full blood Native American officer in the U.S. Army.
For decades he and his wife taught at the same Indian schools that gave him his early start. Carolee echoes his most important lessons, “He would always teach that you could achieve anything. It doesn’t matter what race you are.”
The Maxwell’s book is called ‘Touched by Greatness”. It’s about a forgotten point in history when a young Oklahoma kid shattered the prejudice of the time and then spent the rest of his life passing the lessons he learned on to succeeding generations.
They wrote the book a few years back but Carolee and Wayne are in negotiations with a publisher that would make it available nationwide.