Chickasaws preserve past at Pontotoc courthouse

By Regina Butler/Pontotoc Progress

PONTOTOC – The room was a hub of activity. A vacuum cleaner was whirring in one corner, cameras were flashing in the center of the room and a laptop was flipped up for use.
Slowly and tenderly, heavy record books were opened up and each page was being painstakenly vacuumed and cleaned with soft brushes.
This chore of love was being performed by visitors from the Chickasaw Nation in Ada, Okla., who were clad in white hazmat-type suits, face masks and latex gloves to keep from damaging the books or getting any more moisture on them.
The venture began last summer, when a delegation from the Chickasaw Nation came to the Bodock Festival. Historian Don Browning showed one of the members the records in the basement of the courthouse.
From there, plans were made to clean the books and store them properly, and a couple of weeks ago a group came to Pontotoc and began the project.
The basement holds some 300 books dating back to the founding of Pontotoc in 1836. As members of the group were cleaning and going through the pages, they murmured in pleasure at the information they had gleaned.
The curator of the museum, Martha Jo Coleman, appreciates the work the Chickasaws have done for the people of Pontotoc.
“I know they did it so they can have some record of their past, but the condition of some of those books was horrible. We have let them fall into such disrepair over the years,” Coleman said. “I am so grateful they wanted to come and take their time to do this for us.”

A lot of work
The group archived, cleaned, organized and shelved early Pontotoc County Record books beginning with records dating back to the formation of Pontotoc County in 1836.
Coleman explained the valuable work the group did: “The books were first grouped in chronological order, then the covers were cleaned as well as each page dusted in books up to 1850.”
Covers on other books were cleaned. As the books’ pages were cleaned, a digital photograph was made for preservation and research purposes.
These records will be made available to the people in Pontotoc, Okla., and Pontotoc, Miss., once they are ready.
Acid-free plastic was cut and put on all the shelves to protect the books from dust. After the books are shelved, muslin will be hung over the shelves to prevent further dust from invading.
The group had time to clean and shelve only 75-100 books, but Coleman said they plan to return to work on the rest of the collection, and to conduct training on preserving them.