Te Ata Fisher

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Te Ata Fisher
Born Mary Frances Thompson
(1895-12-03)December 3, 1895
Emet, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory (present-day Tishomingo, Oklahoma)
Died October 25, 1995(1995-10-25) (aged 99)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Other names Te Ata
Occupation Actress, story teller
Spouse(s) Clyde Fisher
Parents T. B. Thompson
Relatives Douglas H. Johnston (uncle)

Mary Frances Thompson (December 3, 1895 - October 25, 1995), best known as Te Ata or Te Ata Fisher after her marriage, was an actress and member of the Chickasaw Nation known for telling Native American stories. She performed as a representative of Native Americans at state dinners before President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1957, and named Oklahoma's first State Treasure in 1987.

Early life[edit]

Mary Frances Thompson was born in Emet, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, on December 3, 1895, near the present-day city of Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Her father, T. B. Thompson, was the last treasurer of the Chickasaw Nation. Her uncle, Douglas H. Johnston, was the last governor of the Chickasaw nation.[1] She was educated in Tishomingo where she was mentored by Muriel Wright, a noted part-Choctaw historian. Later, she attended Oklahoma College for Women (now the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, Oklahoma). Frances Densmore, who was a noted music teacher and ethnographer, recognized her talent for drama. About this time Mary began to use her stage name, Te Ata,[2] which means "bearer of the morning" in the Chickasaw language. She first began telling Native American stories to finance her acting career. Her programs consisted of native legends, myths, chants and rituals in native costumes.

Ms. Davis encouraged Te Ata to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a year. In 1922, she moved to New York City.[2] There she met and married Clyde Fisher in 1933. Fisher was a naturalist and later became curator of the Hayden Planetarium.[1]

Professional career[edit]

During the 1930s, Te Ata performed at summer camps in New York and New England. In 1933, she performed at the first state dinner given by Franklin D. Roosevelt. She performed again for the Roosevelts in 1939, during a state visit by King George VI of the United Kingdom.[1]

Te Ata told her version of the Pawnee story of Baby Rattlesnake to children's book author Lynn Moroney, who adapted it for Baby Rattlesnake," published in 1989 and illustrated by Mira Reisberg.[3]


Te Ata was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1958. In 1975, received a "special recognition" award at the first Governor's Arts Awards ceremony.[4] In 1976, she received the Governor's Award and was named Woman of the Year by the Ladies' Home Journal magazine.[1]

She was named Oklahoma's first State Treasure in 1987.[5]

She was also inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 1990.[6]


Te Ata died October 25, 1995 in Oklahoma City.[1]


A portrait of Te Ata was unveiled at the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City on February 10, 2010. Speakers included Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and U. S. Representative Tom Cole. The portrait was painted by Nellie Ellen Shepherd, and will be displayed in the state capitol.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e Harris, Rodger. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Te Ata." Retrieved November 18, 2012.[1]
  2. ^ a b Sonneborn, Liz. "Te Ata." A to Z of American Indian Women, A to Z of American Women. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2007. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
  3. ^ Reisberg, told by Te Ata ; adapted by Lynn Moroney ; illustrated by Mira (1989). Baby rattlesnake. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press. ISBN 0-89239-111-1. 
  4. ^ Oklahoma Arts Council. Shepherd, Nellie Ellen. "Te Ata." April 4, 2011. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  5. ^ Oklahoma State Historical Society, Oklahoma Hall of Fame
  6. ^ Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame Inductees
  7. ^ Dana Lance, Chickasaw Media Relations Office. March 11, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2012. [2]

External links[edit]