While many descendants from the Choctaw removed from Mississippi to Oklahoma still live within the state, the majority have relocated throughout the years all across the United Sates and internationally.
Poteau resident Curtis Pugh, while currently living only a few miles from his birthplace of Heavener, has traveled thousands of miles sharing the Gospel as a missionary in the United States and internationally. He was born to Lois McAlvain and Jerome Pugh in 1944. As a youngster, his mother, Lois McAlvain Pugh, worked at the Sequoyah Indian School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Pugh would have preferred to attend Sequoyah but at that time children of employees were not allowed to attend the boarding school.
He began his service of ministry at the young age of 16, by traveling once a month to a small community near Quinton called Palestine. He describes his first congregation as fine and patient people and states, “I felt sorry for them because I didn’t know much back then and still don’t know much.” After he would finish preaching, someone would usually take him home to feed him and he would drive back home to Tahlequah after Sunday service.
He met his wife, Janet Killian, while attending Bible College in Memphis, Tennessee, and first introduced himself by telling her he was going to marry her, but admits that is probably not the best way to acquire a date. He chuckles and shares that many of the young female students attending Bible College would attend so they could “get their bachelor.” Janet finally agreed to go on a walk with him, which led to more walks, and they were married on January 29, 1966. They were blessed with two daughters, Anna Cattemull of Auckland, New Zealand, and Ruthie McLellan of Poteau and have eight grandchildren. The Pughs were married for over 45 years until Janet passed away in July 2011.
Pugh freely admits he has not always done what God had instructed him to do and instead drove a truck for many years to support his family. After many years, God “broke my heart and brought me back so I spent 26 ½ years doing mission work.” He spent 15 years in Canada and 11 ½ years in Romania.
In Ontario, he pastored the Six Nations Indian Reserve, which had 10,000 Indians on their band list, for five years. He and his wife started a Christian school at the reservation that is still operating after 27 years. From there, he and Janet went onto the Yukon Territory, but before they could make the journey they would travel to different churches to share the next journey God was leading them on.
Pugh estimates they ended up visiting close to 300 churches until they were located with the Tlingit people in a village about 50 miles south of White Horse, in the far northwest corner of the Yukon Territory near Alaska. Next stop was Romania, but would require him and Janet to visit churches for support for approximately one year before they could make the journey.
While in Romania, they were able to learn about the different levels of communism throughout the country, but also realized the people were among the most generous they had met, and relished anything from the United States. Pugh pastored at a small, country church where they could fit in approximately 150 people. Eventually he was able to start his own church. The building had no air-conditioning, and only a wood-stove for heating in the winter. Nonetheless, people would travel by foot to attend services.
While in Romania, Pugh was able to witness how simple tasks in the United States would be tiresome and complex in the every day life of Romania, such as waiting in long lines to buy bread, milk, and on occasion, fruits and vegetables. Even though life in Romania is very tough and rugged, Pugh shares that if his health allowed him, he would be back in Romania or traveling back and forth. He is a 7th generation LeFlore County area Choctaw and was one of the contributors of the book, “Touch My Tears” by Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer.
Pugh may have spent almost half his life outside the borders of the United States, but the love and labor as a missionary sharing the Gospel in remote and foreign areas is truly reflective of the Choctaw history of serving others.