Letta May. 1944 | by The Best History Review | Dec, 2023


Once upon a time, there lived a seven year old girl who loved to live. No modern luxuries in those days, just open air, dirt roads and fields of work. Every day was an adventure just waiting for you to grab hold and run with it.

Letta May was born to a Cherokee mother and an Irish father. She looked like a fragile doll, dark brown eyes and wavy hair that shined like copper in the sun. At seven years old, worries of the world did not burden her. She wore a smile that could make anyone forget the hardships of life.

She traveled with her sisters and family to California from Oklahoma , back and forth , as migrant workers. At the time, they were in California and were not planning to return to Oklahoma until the late fall.

One sunny evening in June, she was out walking with her sisters down a dusty road, when three boys began throwing rocks at the girls.

One of the rocks hit Letta May in the head, a pretty hard hit, and her sisters helped her home. Letta May’s mother put her to bed and started cooking the evening meal. In those days, way out in the country, you didn’t run to the emergency room for such things.

Days went by, and Letta May wasn’t getting better. Light hurt her eyes and she was having extreme nausea. Terrible migraines.

Letta’s mother saw she wasn’t getting any better and the parents gathered her up in blankets and took her to the hospital.

Grim news followed.

Letta May had a tumor and would need an operation. The surgeons told the parents the chances were slim but without surgery, she would certainly die.

Her parents consented to the surgery, leaving the child in the care of the hospital while they returned to the fields to work.

Days later, the parents checked back at the hospital to find that , as expected, Letta May did not make it through the surgery.

After delivering the news of the child’s death, the doctors asked to keep the child’s head for research.

Letta Mays’ mother and father stood together, trying to process the death of a child, unable to see her body, unable to say goodbye, to hold, to hug, and now being asked for her head.

Her parents objected strongly to this, stating they wanted to take the child back to Oklahoma for burial.

After much argument, the hospital released the body to the parents but with stipulations. The body of the child had been placed in a coffin and nailed shut. The staff instructed the parents not to remove the nails and open the coffin under any circumstances.

Her parents did as instructed ,transporting Letta May home for burial from California to Oklahoma.

She is buried now in McCurtain County , Oklahoma. A simple gravestone reads,

I think about this small child and I feel such sorrow for her. As much as I question and wonder about Letta May, her parents continued on.

I have searched endlessly for an obituary, something to speak of her life and a record that she was once here and loved.

Perhaps her story written today will serve some purpose and in some way, encourage and reach the hearts of others.

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