I was born in Canada in 1931 to a Natithe family. My father was Oneida and my mother was Mohawk. My parents were musicians, and I grew up in carnival life until the age of 3. I had 5 brothers and sisters and we were a close-knit family. We were a "sports family". "You do what you do, but you do it well." My parents always instilled the importance of doing your best. My brothers and I all played sports such as lacrosse and baseball. I was a tomboy. I had my first pair of skates when I was 5. They were the clamp-on kind that fit on your shoes. I loved to skate.
The Roller Derby came to Buffalo, and my family and I went to see it. I was really enthused about it, and decided that was it --- I wanted to skate with Roller Derby. I wasn't getting that much out of high school anyway. I tried out while the Roller Derby was in town, and they felt that I had potential. Sid Harnesk adjusted the trucks on my skates to make it easier for me to skate on the banked track. My parents came to see the games. My mother was difficult and didn't want me to leave town with the Derby. My dad was more agreeable. Jack McGing was the trainer. He called a week after they left Buffalo, and offered two tickets to my mother and I to take the train to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We went, but when the Roller Derby moved on to Ft. Worth, Texas, my Mom went home. I was 15 when I joined Roller Derby in 1946.
They had a housemother for the underage skaters, named Ma Prennie. She was also the cook, and made wonderful meals for us. After breakfast we had training for 2 to 3 hours. Dinner was at 4 P.M., and then we would lay down to rest. It was two weeks after our stay in Ft. Worth that I skated in a real game. I was a pack skater first. I had to get comfortable on my skates. The banked track was very different from skating in a rink with a flat track.
Training was part of every day life. We trained with the guys. The older skaters took us under their wings, and helped us with breath control, concentration, and doing the 5 stride pace. They also used a chair thrown on the track for us to jump over. It was a surprise element to help us learn to jump a downed skater, and avoid injury. Sid Harnesk was especially helpful to me when I started. He would lay his hands on his back, and I would hold his hands, and he pulled me along on the track. This helped me become accustomed to the high speed skating on the banked track. Ken Monte was a big help, as well. I learned to skate with my hand behind my back, as it helped my breathing by opening up my chest. I was considered a classic, smooth skater, but it just felt natural to me. I had asthma and allergies, but they didn't bother me until I quit skating. They painted the track with green slate paint. We had green dust everywhere. We had to drink a lot of water, and chewed gum to fight the dust. We learned how to block, and we also learned how to absorb a block - that deliberate hit in the chest. Do unto others became a motto.
We had "partners." The guys would grind the skate wheels to keep them round, and the gals would wash the uniforms. Because of my size, I was more of a jammer. I learned to block as well as learning to "regulate the pack." The jammer would come up on the back of the pack on the right side of the blocker in the back. It gave you more room to avoid going into the infield and being disqualified. It was also important because there was a gap between the track and the infield which was dangerous if you got your wheels caught in the space. The track was portable and adjustable to fit the size of the building in which you were skating.
I was always regarded as the quiet one. Because of my being Indian, you had to be good, and never draw attention to ourselves. I missed my family a lot when I left home. We would get layovers, and we could go home to spend a week or two with our families. Three times I didn't go back when I was scheduled to return. It was hard to leave my family. The Derby would call me to return, and then they would send me a ticket.
My first team was the New Jersey Jolters. I also skated with the Chiefs, Ravens, Thunderbirds, and the longest with the L.A. Braves. I did not skate on a traveling team, but I went on a tour to Hawaii. The first time I was on TV was in New York City with the Chiefs. One of my most exciting memories was skating for the first time in Madison Square Garden. I loved skating, and every game was a challenge. My strongest memory of my first game was the crowd. I threw up that night, and also, whenever I had a match race.
The skaters that I most admired were Mary Gardner, Midge Brasuhn, Annabelle Kealey, Fuzzy Buchek, and Gerry Murray. I really admired Gerry's style, more so. ; She looked like she could get the job done. I don't consider anyone as a particular rival, as all of the other skaters were opponents or rivals. Midge, however, was definitely tough.
Roller Derby made me think a lot. I've had a good life. I am content. Through skating, I met a lot of wonderful people. I was a teenager when I joined and I grew up in the Derby. I learned respect and how to get along. It was a family experience and I was one of the first Native skaters. I married Don Lewis, who was also a skater. A short subject movie, called "Roller Derby Girl" was made about me. It featured the training and the games, and it also showed how I met Don Lewis. TransWorld Airlines had an airplane named in my honor.
I really missed the Derby when I retired in 1963. I had skated for 17 years. I became reacquainted with my brothers and sisters after I retired from skating. I became a stonesetter for a jeweler who wanted someone to make Mother's rings. I worked there for 19 years and retired in 1991. I have worked as a bingo runner at the Ft. Erie Native Center, and I am now on the Board of Directors of the Ft. Erie Native Friendship Center.