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A Personal Bio


    To tell you something about myself I must first say, I am rather a late bloomer when it comes to many things like writing but I have always had a creative mind touring constantly and researching for discovery.  Duncan, Oklahoma, was the place of my birth, November 28, l935, in my parent’s home rather than in a hospital. New Mexico was my home from age nine to adulthood.

   I have been told Mother taught me many words at a very early age by using a catalog to increase my sight knowledge and word association.  Also, I do not remember when I ever had a beginning point for artistic expression, it has always been.  I drew pictures before attending school. Color, design and construction of any object were first curiously inspected before the whole was appreciated for whatever it was.  For instance when observing tree leaves I didn’t see a colony of green appendages but individual green, veined, leathery textured, objects that blew around when the wind moved them.  Some leaves had little eggs laid on them and insect eaten holes.  They turned hard and crunchy when the umbilical stem dried up causing them to drop to the ground.  I never viewed leaves as being a part of a whole, but rather saw them as individual mavericks with lives of their own, much like me.

    After decades of finding oils a means of artistic expression, mostly from my kitchen studio burdened with an artist easel and paints among pots and pans, I pursued painting pictures with words to express an accumulating knowledge concerning my lost heritage, perceived to be Indian.  The results from my accumulation, notes jotted down in a little green-spiral notebook, had aged forty years before anything was ever formerly written.  My husband, Clarence, assisted me in some serious research by chasing down people and getting oral history before elders passed.  I read material associated with earlier times researching archives and after many rewrites the results finally evolved into a self-published book, Displaced Cherokee: Come Home, Come Home.  Humphrey Printing Company in Wichita Falls, Texas, allowed me to direct everything in the compilation of this work including my illustrations by using photographic means of documentation for all original records.  This effort was awarded First Place in the l986 Oklahoma State Fair in an Open Class Category.  It was also endorsed by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries that same year. 

   Our family story is such a unique story I was dreaming about writing a novel as soon as my documentary went to press. With very little formal education, the notion to write a novel proved to me it wasn’t a thing for the faint hearted.  I am not a quitter.  It has taken me years and years of revision, research, and at a latter time, encouragement from Dr. N. Brent Kennedy, author of ; The Melungeons, The Resurrection of a Proud People: An Untold Story of Ethnic Cleansing in America.  Our lost family heritage was due partly to our connection to this culture.  I do not claim to be a writer but more of  a storyteller and for eighteen years I worked at this piece.

   Thus, The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel about the Melungeon Shanty Boat People, brought my obscure heritage to life, my picture painted with words.  It is a Historical Fiction based on fact during eras of the Trail of Tears, Civil War and Texas cattle drives.

   I have boldly written things, poetry included, because it never occurred to me I couldn’t.  Some things just take a bit longer but eventually they get done if I don’t grow faint hearted.  Eighteen years is a stretch between projects, however. I trust it will not be that long for the new novel in progress, God’s Breakfast Nook.                                                                     

Tonya Holmes Shook

Tonya Holmes Shook
Rt. 1 Box 69-K
Hastings, OK 73548



The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel about the Melungeon Shanty Boat People

By Tonya Holmes Shook


Harriett Holmes was 15 and pregnant when she boarded in 1837 a Kentucky shantyboat that would become her home for the next decade. Life was difficult for many people during the 1800s, but it was especially so for Harriett’s family, because they were Melungeons, a mixed race with low social status.

The Drifters follows Harriett and her family through the Trail of Tears, the Civil War and Texas cattle drives. Can a slave help Harriett and her family find solace, redemption and grace through God? This book explores that and other themes in a compelling story about a forgotten ethnic group in American history.

Critical Acclaim

"Wonderful novel--comparable to Alex Haley's Roots." --Lawton (OK) Constitution

"The Drifters is a powerful book exploring the gamut of human emotions during the American Civil War and the Indian War years. ... Tonya’s gripping tale ... spills over to questions of race, ethnicity, and social class, and how these factors interact with the broader issues of right and wrong, good and evil. But perhaps most touchingly ... The Drifters rides a theme of unrequited love, in this case a devotion that was not diminished by death nor the passing of time. A wonderful book!" – Dr. N. Brent Kennedy, Ph.D., President of the Wellmont Foundation, Kingsport, Tennessee

"This book is a marvelous blend of fact and fiction—a great historical novel ... you can’t put it down!" – Faye Hamilton, Comanche, Oklahoma

"One of the best books I’ve ever read." – Shera Isler, Tucumcari, New Mexico

"This book grips your interest from start to finish, especially as you learn about the ability of these people to survive in spite of the utter disdain in which they were held while living in shantyboats on some of our nation’s major rivers. ... A good read." – Jo Ann Rowan, Gray, Tennessee

"This will take you from laughter to tears." – Nicki Green, Temple, Oklahoma

About the Author

Tonya Holmes Shook was born in Oklahoma and lived in New Mexico and Texas before returning to Oklahoma in 1985. She is author of Displaced Cherokee: Come Home, Come Home, a book documentary that took First Place in the 1986 Open Class Category at the Oklahoma State Fair. The book also was endorsed by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. In addition to writing books, Tonya is an accomplished artist, poet and short story writer. Many of her works have Christian themes.


Shook's Personal Resume

   Sketching, painting in watercolor, pastel, (sub. matter: animals/portraits)

   First oil painting 

   Quay County Fair, Tucumcari, NM:  Blue Ribbon - No Age Category 

   Drew weekly cartoons for Tucumcari, NM Newspaper 

   University of NM: Beginning Jewelry (John Poore)  Beginning Painting (Howard H. Schleeter) 

   Univ. of NM: Layout/Design (Mallory), Figure Drawing (Kenneth Adams)

   Illustrated English text book for the Migratory Workers of
New Mexico (plural/singular nouns)

   Began Sepia-tone oil body of works for depictions of historical memorabilia

   First Solo: Wichita Falls, TX; Represented by Major Art Collections, Inc., Austin, TX (one of 30 shown in “The Best of Texas” nationally distributed catalog) 

   Art Shows: Houston, TX; Albuquerque, NM; OK Historical Soc. Museum Solos - Perry, OK/Old Central at Stillwater, OK; Burkburnett, TX; Wichita Falls, TX; Leslie Powell Gallery, Lawton, OK; Trail of Tears Art Show, Tahlequah, OK; Webb Gallery, Santa Fe, NM, Afternoon Tea, oil painting on temporary loan at Texas State Capitol

   A fourteen minute television documentary was taped of my art for airing at Eastern N.M. University - KENW-TV, “Things You Should Know”, hosted by Don Criss of Portales, NM 

   Served on the Goals Committee for the city of Wichita Falls, TX, in the field of Emergency Medicine.  

 I was instrumental for introducing the first glucometer to the city of Wichita Falls for public purchase through Dan Rivkin Drug Stores; 

 I coordinated a 1st meeting of 30 First Responders for a Paramedic Emergency Medical System which met at City View Baptist Church.

   Wrote, edited, indexed, illustrated, published and marketed, “Displaced Cherokee: Come Home, Come Home” which took First Place in the l986 OK State Fair in an Open Class Category.  Endorsed by the Ok. Dept. of Libraries that year. Libraries, NYC Public Library, Los Angeles Public, State Archives of Tennessee, and many others from coast to coast purchased this book for their reference shelves.

   Compiled lifetime writings into manuscript form for the late Kate Routh Harris, “Days Eye, Philosophical Time Line of One Woman’s Experience”.

   Taught art lessons at our Art Gallery/Gift Shop in Hastings, OK

   Wrote a weekly human interest/American column for Comanche Times, Comanche, OK.

   Owned/operated gift shop/art gallery

   Served on Board of Directors for the Chisholm Trail Museum, Waurika, OK

 Served on Steering Committee for the Tri County Chisholm Trail Commission, Hastings, OK 

 Processed wool, spun, made original designs from my yarns sold to boutiques.

   Wool spinning, carding, blocking demonstrations (product from fleece to finish) at  Oklahoma Public Schools (Waurika, Temple, Duncan & Ryan)  

      Invited to show art work at Celebration of the Cowboy, First Bank and Trust, Duncan, OK

   Aug. 5, l996, accepted invitation from Dr. Mitchell Land, Dean of Journalism at North Texas State University, Denton, TX, to speak to his class of Creative Writers on the “Motivation of My Creativity”

      Duncan Art League Art Show, Oct. 11th, Duncan, OK

   Compiled manuscript of short stories, Perspectives From Peachtree Plantation;

    God’s Breakfast NookGentle Spiritual Visits;  Lilly;  An Unusual Beginning

   Write poetry  

 Taught an Adult Sunday School Class, First Baptist Church, Comanche, OK.

    A guest author/presenter for Oklahoma’s first Red Dirt Book Festival  Oct. 17th/18th, 2003. Shawnee, Ok.; (sponsored by Oklahoma Baptist University/St Gregory U./ Ok. Arts/Humanities Council, Pioneer Library Systems and Ok. First lady, Kim Henry.)

    Presented new standards and codes petition for Livestock Guardian Dogs to the Sec. of Agriculture, Terry Peach and to Janet Steward, the Director of Legal Services for the Ok. Ag. Dept., on Jan. 23, 2004 – possible legislation on this document in 2005 

  Guest author at the Chisholm Trail Museum Book Festival, Waurika, OK., Feb. 7, 2004

    Asst. Judge of poetry for 4 counties for the Sr. Citizen’s poetry contest sponsored by ASGOG, Feb. 17, 2004 

2004  Short Story printed by Spring Hill Review  Remember Me

2004 Honorable Mention for short story, The Importance of Blank Spaces, Kansas Writers Association.

 2004   Wrote Historical Fiction Novel, The Drifters: A Christian Historical Novel about the Melungeon Shanty Boat People (based on facts from self-published book) concerning a new Melungeon ethnicity, January Publishing date; Release in Nov. of 2004 by Marquette Books

 2005 slated to be in Who’s Who in the World (released Nov. 2005)





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