Tumbleweed Smith
Tumbleweed Smith

I have several friends who help me find interesting people to interview. My go-to person in Seminole is Leo Copeland, who writes stories for the Seminole Sentinel newspaper.

Leo was born on the county line between Pushmataha and McCurtain counties in Oklahoma. He has some Indian blood. “My mother was part Choctaw, my father Cherokee.”

The family moved to Arizona when Leo was three because his mother suffered from TB. “I went barefooted all summer when I was growing up. The bottoms of my feet were like leather. When I got goat heads, I’d just scrape my feet on the ground to get rid of them. Never felt a thing.”

Leo had a big brother who excelled in sports. “I didn’t play anything. I can’t walk and chew gum without stumbling.” When he was 15, Leo started picking cotton. “It was hot. One morning it was 101 degrees at 5 o’clock.”

Leo didn’t start deer hunting until he was a teenager. “My daddy said guns were not made to point at people. He wouldn’t even allow us to point a cap gun at people.”

After graduating from high school, Leo went to Amarillo and enrolled in a bible college. “I wanted to be an elder in the church,” he says. Apparently that training took. Leo became a preacher in Seminole and was at the pulpit 42 years. When he retired in 2002, someone at the church told him there was an opening at the paper. He called and made an appointment, asked if they needed a resume. They said no. The editor and publisher interviewed him.

“After a while they acted like they were going to hire me and I asked them if I was hired when would I start. The publisher said about 15 minutes.”

When asked what he would write about, Leo said he would like to do a series called Echoes From The Past and interview elderly people who moved there. “I started off pretty good. My wife had a beauty shop and I cleaned it up every Friday afternoon. I got acquainted with a lady who was the last customer on Friday to get her hair fixed. I asked her if I could interview her. She said fine, but she didn’t think she had anything interesting to say. It turned out she was the first woman sheriff of Gaines County.”

Leo has some historic photographs from early residents of Seminole. “Some of them got here in a covered wagon with their flop-eared mules pulling it. I have pictures of ladies in bonnets and long dresses standing beside the wagon.”

Leo says he has written more than 500 stories. He wrote a book about the seven cities of gold and is working on another book about bear hunting.
When the paper hired him, he told the publisher that he had been a preacher 42 years and would not be able to keep spiritual things out of his writings. The publisher said that was OK. Leo said he could have gone somewhere else after he retired, but decided to stay in Seminole. “It’s my home now. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”Leo is still active in the church. He is an elder, the position he wanted as a teenager.