TISHOMINGO, OKLAHOMA – Dr. Paul Lambert remembers vividly the tree-lined avenues of Tishomingo, navigating his bicycle along narrow paths and wide brick-paved streets; fishing in the historic waters of Pennington Creek.
He didn’t realize it then, but two Tishomingo High School classmates would be a future governor and lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation – Bill Anoatubby and Jefferson Keel. They toiled together in class and competed on the gridiron.
Dr. Lambert recalls this southern Oklahoma community fondly; its history steeped in booms and busts in petroleum and on the farm, its diversity, off-the-beaten-path rural ruggedness, the resiliency of its hardworking citizens and the town’s determination to survive and grow when so many like it languished and disappeared.
The Ph.D. historian retires May 1 from the Oklahoma Historical Society, just as his comprehensive historical look at Tishomingo begins. The work will be published by Chickasaw Press.
A Peek at the Past
It was known as “Good Springs” when founded in 1852, a tip of the hat to the pure, clear, cool water that flowed from the depths of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.
The Chickasaw tribe made the community its headquarters and renamed the town Tishomingo for a revered tribal leader who put his name to paper on important treaties.
In 1856, the Chickasaw Nation wrote and ratified its first written constitution and elected Cyrus Harris to serve as their first elected governor.
Dr. Lambert arrived here at age 5 with his parents Floyd and Margaret. His father was in the retail gasoline business in the early 1950s.
“It was a great place to grow up. I lived just a few blocks from Pennington Creek – where the dam was – and we would fish and run around in the woods. It was wonderful,” Dr. Lambert recalls. “My mother and father remarked on many occasions Tishomingo was the only place they wanted to be. They loved being a part of the community.”
A Familiar Name
Dr. Lambert is well-known to the Chickasaw Nation. He penned the biography of Pearl Carter Scott, celebrated Chickasaw who was the youngest person to earn a pilot’s license at age 13 in 1929. He assisted the tribe in organizing and establishing the Chickasaw Press.
The book will take a full spectrum view of the community, Dr. Lambert explained. “I am planning on doing a very broad-based narrative history. It will take the Chickasaw point of view because it is a big part of the story. But also, it will take the community as a whole. The African-American experience will be included.
“I think one of the interesting things about Tishomingo is it was able to buck the trends that have seen many communities the size of Tishomingo at the turn of the 20th century that are fading away and many of them have disappeared. Tishomingo has faced tough times but has held together and is now prospering and seems to have a bright future,” Lambert explained.
Where to Begin
Many historical questions reverberate through Dr. Lambert’s mind. How did the Chickasaw arrive here? How did construction of Fort Washita benefit Tishomingo by protecting it from warlike tribes from the Plains?
While it prospered from 1900 to 1920, farm depreciation ravaged the area, driving crop prices to poverty levels and “King Cotton” to record lows. Yet, Tishomingo sprang back in the 1930s at the depths of a national economic depression.
“Somehow, Tishomingo hung in there; thriving when it shouldn’t have and maintaining an important presence for more than 150 years,” Dr. Lambert notes.
“Murray State College will be a major topic, too,” he explains, adding the Chickasaw Nation’s revitalization in the 1970s paid great dividends to the college and vice versa.
A Little Help is Needed
In the coming months, Dr. Lambert will be in Tishomingo frequently and he will be looking for assistance from Tishomingo residents to flesh out his book through stories and photographs.
“I will need the help of the great people of Tishomingo. We will be establishing partnerships with the historical society and the newspaper and the Chickasaw Nation to help me and illustrate the story,” Dr. Lambert said. “As soon as we have these elements established, we will be asking Tishomingo to help tell the story of the community.
“I am so excited about this project. I loved growing up in Tishomingo, attending great schools and forging lifelong friendships,” Dr. Lambert said. “I graduated from Tishomingo High School in 1964 and studied at Murray for two years and East Central University for two years. I received my doctorate in history from Oklahoma State University.”
Now, as his work-a-day career comes to an end, a new project will unfold for Dr. Lambert.
“We’re going to explore all the elements that shaped and formed Tishomingo into the great community it is today,” he added.