Press Release

Release Date: July 19, 2023
by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office

It started out as a Boiling Springs Church reunion.

Haskell Alexander, a Chickasaw citizen and longtime church attendee, said the church, located near Allen, Oklahoma, had not hosted a reunion since well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the reunion was being planned, former church congregant Gary Dean Johnson and his son, Chad, decided to donate a new bell, which has been a missing reminder of a simpler time, as well as a hallmark of Chickasaw community involvement. Boiling Springs Church is one of the churches continuing today that were part of the Seeley Chapel movement.

“There is much history behind that first annual meeting at Seeley Chapel six decades ago,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby in his 2020 State of the Nation address at the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival. “During that time, churches like High Hill, Boiling Springs, Johnsons’ Chapel, Yellow Springs, Sandy Baptist, Sandy Creek, Red Springs, Pennington and, of course, Seeley Chapel – these were the epicenters of tribal communication.”

History of Boiling Springs Church

Along with these other churches in the Chickasaw Nation, Boiling Springs Church is an important and living part of Chickasaw history and culture. The church was named after the fresh springs that bubbled or “boiled” up from the ground.

According to a marker at the church, it was built in 1911 when missionaries spoke to Chickasaws in the area about constructing a church. The marker states members of the Frazier and Burris families got money for the land the church was eventually built on by chopping cotton.

“Descendants of those families still attend and support the church, which continues to be a center for the Chickasaw language,” the marker says.

The Rev. Jefferson Davis “Sonny” Frazier and the Rev. Jesse Humes, both inductees of the Chickasaw Hall of Fame, were descendants of the original families and both served as the church’s pastors. Stanley Smith, who was a master language teacher for the Chickasaw Nation and recipient of the Chickasaw Nation Silver Feather Award in 2007, also served as pastor of Boiling Springs Church.

Alexander said he is a descendant of the Frazier family.

“At that time when the church started, everyone spoke Chickasaw and Choctaw,” Alexander said. “We still sing the Choctaw hymns there today.”

Mary Smith, a Chickasaw citizen, wife of Stanley Smith, longtime church attendee and descendant of the Frazier family, said she learned to sing Choctaw hymns from her father.

“When I was 9 or 10, I would be in the back seat, and my dad would start singing our hymns,” she said. “That’s how I learned Choctaw hymns.”

She often leads songs at the church and sings at funerals. After a stroke in 2016, Smith said she thought she wouldn’t be able to sing the hymns anymore.

“I never thought I’d be able to talk or sing again,” she said, her voice beginning to shake. “But I’m so glad God restored my voice. That’s why it’s important to me to sing our songs.”

Alexander said many descendants of these families, some who have since moved away, return to attend the church during Easter, Christmas and special gatherings.

“We enjoy our special holidays and gatherings, because they do come back and share memories,” Alexander said.

In addition to being a place to worship and learn about God, the church served as the site of important political events for the Chickasaw Nation after Removal to Indian Territory.

“In the late 1840s, Chickasaw leaders met at Boiling Springs to begin drafting the constitution and first laws of our nation,” said Governor Anoatubby in a speech to the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference in 2011.

It was among other Chickasaw churches important to the 1950s and 1960s grassroots Seeley Chapel movement which saw Chickasaws gather to help restore the recognition of Chickasaw sovereignty and self-government.

In large part because of this movement, in 1971, the Chickasaw Nation elected Overton James during its first election for tribal governor since Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

Alexander said the church bell called people in the community together, and congregants were involved in their community and their tribe.

“That was basically where people got their information, at the churches,” he said. “That was where everyone got their news about the Chickasaw Nation.”

“The bell meant a lot to the Chickasaw people,” said Smith. “When it was time to start, all they had to do was ring the bell, and people knew it was time for church.”

According to Alexander, the Boiling Springs community was large and lively, and there were 21 children who got on and off the school bus at a single stop there.

“The kids would almost fill up half the bus right there at that one stop,” he said. “It was always a lively place, and that was one reason for the church bell.”

Alexander said his grandfather, Jeff Alexander, began attending church at Boiling Springs in the 1930s and was at one point a deacon of the church.

“He rang the church bell many times,” he said.

Boiling Springs Church was the site of the second Chickasaw Church Tour during the Chickasaw Annual Meeting and Festival in 2018, a yearly tour of the churches that have served as important political and cultural sites for the Chickasaw people.

“Our churches are where we gathered. It’s where we gained strength and spiritual insight,” said Chickasaw Nation Legislator Lisa Johnson-Billy about the Chickasaw Church Tour.

At some point around 1990, Smith said the church bell was stolen.

“One Sunday we came to church, and it was gone,” she said. “It was a big bell. It would take a lot of guys to handle that.”

After learning who might have the bell and requesting that it be returned, Smith said it was eventually placed back by the church gate, and church leadership stored it in the church’s camp house. Before it could be hung, however, it was stolen again.

Reunion and bell dedication

When the Johnsons, who are also descendants of the Frazier family, decided to donate a new bell for the church, the church reunion of congregants and descendants of the Chickasaws who founded the church took on a new significance.

Alexander said he believes it is important to continue the tradition of coming together in service to the Lord and each other.

“I truly believe we have to keep it going,” he said. “It’s very important in our lives. Times have changed a lot.”

Smith said she’s glad to be a part of the legacy of the Frazier family and the Boiling Springs Church.

“I am so proud that my dad and my grampa taught us a lot,” she said. “The church is so important to us now.”

April 30, 2023, Boiling Springs Church hosted a reunion and bell dedication ceremony. Alexander said Johnson-Billy shared the sermon. Phillip Billy led worship in song, and Choctaw hymns were sung as they have been in years past.

Following the service, Alexander said Gary Dean and Chad Johnson were the first to ring the new bell.