All the dirt, news, culture and commentary for Oklahoma's second century.

Haunted History: Choctaw Native filmmaker captures paranormal at Native American sites

Photo provided
The Team praying before an EVP session.
Fertile Ground Compost Service
Help support Red Dirt Report

SHAWNEE, Okla. – The Roaring Twenties was a time in Oklahoma when oil made millionaires overnight, including American Indians. The birth of a gilded era was tarnished by the flow of black gold than ran red with the blood of murdered Native Americans.

In Osage County between 1921 and 1925, at least 60 Osage Indians were dead and their oil drenched lands had gone to white owners. Some were found shot through the head in their car, others were blown apart in home explosions and some suffered brutal violence by white men who would do anything to get rich. The Osage Murders, as they were called, was one of the FBI’s earliest cases.

A journalist, Dennis McAuliffe revealed massive corruption among law enforcement, businessmen, and the town coroner. It sounds more like the script for a film noir, but Mark Williams can tell you it’s true. He is the CEO of Native Boy Productions and is currently filming a documentary, “The Reign of Terror,” about the Osage Murders. 

Williams is no stranger to Oklahoma’s Native American history. He is a Choctaw Nation member whose father was a cultural preservationist. Williams felt it was important as a Native American to document indigenous history in Oklahoma.

In addition to fiction films, NBP is well known for their ongoing documentary series, The Native American Paranormal Project which captures paranormal activity on sites with Native history. They tour old boarding schools, cemeteries, and Native government buildings across the state. To name a few, NAPP has documented the Grisso Mansion, in Seminole; the Concho Indian Boarding School near El Reno, Sacred Heart Mission and Cemetery near Konowa, and Wheelock Academy near Millerton.

No hype film techniques

The paranormal series has been well received, mostly having been shown in film festivals, at churches, and community centers. They’re even getting attention from major networks. Williams has been approached by TV executives who show paranormal documentaries, but he has declined each time.

D. D. DeCoteau and Steve Jacob examine equipment. (Photo provided)

“We’ve been set up with The Travel Channel, History and Discovery and they were very interested in putting us on TV. In their emails they would say, ‘We don’t want ya’ll to lie, but really jump if you don’t normally jump.’ They wanted us to take acting lessons. That told you they basically wanted us to exaggerate and we can’t do that. That’s not who we are,” said Williams.

He is skeptical of what he sees on TV. “I think the ones on TV really hype it up. It’s for ratings and I understand that. They put a lot of music and affects into it. Some are probably borderline fake. They glorify what happened at those locations. We don’t. We just try to tell the story of what happened,” he said, “we tell the sincere story.”

Concho Indian Boarding School

Many of those stories are tragic, including beatings, rape, and murder. These schools for Native Americans were later criticized as a way to erase their culture and religion in order to take away their sovereignty. They were forbidden with beatings to speak their native language. “The saying was ‘Kill the savage, save the man,’” Williams said.

With a long held interest in the paranormal, Williams decided to try to document haunted Native American sites a few years ago.

“Concho was our very first one. We didn’t know what we were getting into. I was going to do this one and get back to my films. We interviewed some of the Cheyenne Arapaho tribes, some of the employees who had stories to tell. The tribal newspaper had some good stories to tell. It was very interesting to get their experiences and we went out there, not sure what we’d get.”

Still, he said nothing could have prepared them for that first evening on the Concho grounds. Using cell phones, digital cameras and recorders they reviewed footage and audio. They were excited at what they discovered. EVP sessions (electronic voice phenomenon) captured voices that were unheard while they were walking around. When a crew member turned to face the camera as they entered the grounds, she could hear heavy breathing directly in front of her. During that moment, the digital recording picked up a voice saying, ‘Come.’ She also later felt something or someone yank her arm. 

Happy Frejo. (Photo provided)

They screened the film in Oklahoma City. “It was a success. It was packed. We didn’t even advertise it except on Facebook. We had a small Q&A afterwards. Hands went up and people suggested places to go. That’s how the whole series got started. We realized people wanted to see more,” said Williams.

Wheelock Academy

Their paranormal film at Wheelock near Millerton proved to be the most active. Wheelock, established in 1832 as a church, opened a school the following year. It was closed during the Civil War and briefly reopened until a fire in 1869. From 1880 until 1955 it operated off and on as a school for Native children. It is owned by the Choctaw Nation and is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Williams was excited to gain full access to Wheelock grounds. Several major networks had tried and failed to get permission. “I had family that went to Wheelock and I had family that died there. So, it’s a closer connection that we have and I think they [spirits] feed off that and we get more reactions and responses.

They were abused and mistreated by white educators. If an all-white team walked in, they’re going to be scared. If an Indian team walks in and we ask the questions sincerely, respectfully and in their native tongue, it’s going to draw them out and welcome us,” said Williams.

He also learned that spirits will sometimes prefer or feel safer with women. “A lot of girls were raped and murdered there. They were impregnated and their babies killed. You got punished for speaking in Choctaw. The spirits there were so active but they were more responsive to our female team members. By the end I had the girls stay there and we left.

A lot of things started happening then. We had a list of girls who were killed there and we made contact with some of them. They were moving things around and as the females were talking, one of the responses was, ‘Sshhh. By quiet.’ You would normally think that’s just a response, but it was 3 and 4 in the morning in the dorm room. Back then, if you were talking late, an instructor would probably come in and beat them,” said Williams.

Quese IMC at the Grisso Mansion. (Photo provided)

When the male film crew returned at the end of the session, the recording captured a voice saying, ‘Sshh. Be quiet. The boys are coming.’

The Grisso Mansion

The Grisso Mansion in Seminole is so active, that the splendor of the home is almost as well known as the spirits which haunt it. Today valued at $4.2 million, it cost “Doc” William Edward Grisso $750,000 to build. He acquired “Native American oil leases,” according to Janet Johnson, development officer for Grisso Mansion and Seminole tribal member. He built the home in 1928 with Italian tile, Spanish iron work and hand carved walnut doors for the stunning 26 room home.  

While filming there, Williams captured a dark shadow seating itself in a chair, Doc Grisso’s favorite. A lamp next to the chair is known to turn on after it’s turned off. Williams asks if it turns on by itself. Their recording picked up a voice whispering, “By itself.”

Also while at the mansion, a crew member avoided the many mirrors in the house. “He felt really unsettled, and he wouldn’t look in the mirror. He was talking to his wife about it during one of the EVP sessions. Later we listened to the recording and it says, ‘Look in the mirror.’ It reaffirmed what he was sensing,” said Williams.

Other disturbing EVP results included voices saying, “Over here,” “I died,” and escalating grunting or growling noises.

Several visitors to the mansion say their children tell them they met and played with a little Native American boy in the ballroom who calls himself, “Mecco,” which means chief. Others have captured the image of a young boy in the same room who appears to be about six-years-old. During construction of the home between 1926 and 1928, the body of a six-year-old boy was discovered where the basement of the residence now sits.

The Grisso Mansion. (Photo by Mackenzie Herman)

Interviews in the documentary reveal long held beliefs by some Seminole people about what may have occurred there. Doc Grisso acquired the property by marrying a Seminole girl, approximately 14 or 15 years old named Suda Fixico Wesley who died six months later. Many Seminole people believe she was poisoned, while others say she was shot.

Doc Grisso was the town doctor, pharmacist, and coroner. “At the courthouse in Wewoka, I did find a 1926 guardian deed that listed Suda Fixico Wesley as tenants in common with Doc Grisso, which usually means common law marriage. The mansion is on a Fixico allotment. There was no investigation done because the autopsy showed natural causes. He’s the coroner and so, he wrote that.”

After Wesley’s death, Doc Grisso married Maggie for whom the house was built. Williams said there is no evidence of foul play, but there is a ghostly image of a young Native American girl in the ballroom caught on camera. They wonder if it’s Suda or perhaps another Seminole girl who may have been among other Native families that worked there to pay off pharmacy debts.

Whispers of wild, drunken parties during which Seminole women were raped behind locked doors in the basement have never been proven. However, in Williams’ experience, haunted locations are often associated with violent or tragic history. In his experience, tragedy begets unrest.

“There are a lot of theories out there, but I believe spirits are energy. I think it’s an energy that is at unrest,” said Williams.

That’s why he believes some locations have more activity than others. “There are a lot of theories. One is that they can feed off batteries and light to the point you can almost see an apparition. We can’t see something when it’s not strong enough to appear. If want to see it, we start asking questions. It’s going to start feeding off of us and if it wants to manifest that’s why we can see it. No one knows for sure, that’s what I think. They feed off of who we are.”

Not all tragedy

Williams stressed that not everyone had bad experiences with boarding schools and in fact, many have fond memories of their time as students in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

At Wheelock when they showed their film to a class reunion, some were upset to learn of the tragic history and were shocked. “Not all of them had a bad time. A lot of them enjoyed and told me it was the best years of their lives, that it did further their education, that it did help them. It depends on the decades you’re talking about. Most of the deaths occurred were from the 1890’s to 1910 when there were less regulations and people monitoring them. The people we interviewed were from a better time,” said Williams.

Some of NAPP’s documentaries are available on DVD, but they regularly show all their films upon request. “The Reign of Terror,” will air on Tribal TV (CATV-47). Contact them by email:  nativeboyproductions@gmail.com.

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About the Author

Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy Ragan Wood is a freelance writer and editor with a special interest in investigative and...

read more

Enjoy this? Please share it!

About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

Member of the Oklahoma Press Association
Member of Investigative Reporters & Editors
Member of Diversity Business Association
Member of Uptown 23rd
Rotary Club of Bricktown OKC
Keep it Local OK