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Tiajuana King Cochnauer

Tiajuana King Cochnauer

Putting together pieces of your family’s history can be a daunting task. For Tiajuana King Cochnauer, that task has been made easier because of the University of Oklahoma Western History Collections, a special collection on the American West within the OU Libraries.

A member of the Choctaw Nation, Cochnauer has spent decades sorting through archival documents there to trace the many branches of her family tree.

“Since 1987, the researchers in my family have been finding incredible historical information in the Western History Collections, and we have not even tapped all that’s there,” she said. “It’s very important to me and my family, because some of these manuscripts are of relatives in the Choctaw Nation.”

Cochnauer, who holds two OU degrees, recently designated the Western History Collections as a beneficiary of her retirement fund from the state of Idaho, where she served as the minority student advisor and cooperative education director for the University of Idaho.

While Cochnauer, who now is assistant manager of information and external relations for the USDA Forest Service-Savannah River in South Carolina, has made many gifts to OU, including support for Sooner Heritage Scholarships, she said her planned gift provides a way to make a lasting and meaningful impact on OU well past her lifetime.

“When you’re able to plan ahead, it’s just the wise thing to do,” she said. “I worked hard for that particular fund -- it’s my retirement fund from the state of Idaho -- and OU is a good cause, specifically the Western History Collections. Costs are going up just to maintain keeping a building open, so wherever my gift can be used, that’s where I want it to go. I believe in education, having worked in higher education in student services and academic affairs. I have two degrees from OU, so I obviously believe in OU.”

While Cochnauer earned a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology in 1969 and a master’s degree in education in 1971, her introduction to OU came as a child. Her father, Joseph King, served in the U.S. Navy’s Seabees in World War II and was deployed to France. After the war, he entered OU on the GI Bill. A young Tiajuana and her parents lived in temporary housing for veterans while her father went to school. He earned his master’s degree in education from OU in 1948. Afterward, he went on to coach baseball and basketball at Keota High School, instructing future Sooner baseball coach Enos Semore along the way.

Cochnauer has vivid memories of those early years, but said her memories of that time are stronger as a result of the information she has acquired in the Western History Collections. Being able to thumb through old OU yearbooks, for instance, has given her a greater understanding of her childhood and the legacy of her late father.

“When I went to the Western History Collections and saw all the yearbooks there, I found some information that I hadn’t seen before,” she said.

The Western History Collections is an outstanding resource for materials on many American Indian tribes. The Indian Pioneer Papers include interviews conducted during the 1930s by government workers with thousands of Oklahomans on the settlement of Oklahoma and Indian territories.

Through these accounts, many of which are first-person narratives, Cochnauer gained a better understanding of her lineage and the Choctaw Nation. Many of the interviews in the Works Project Administration’s Indian-Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma are of or about members of Cochnauer’s family, including her maternal great-grandfather, James Dyer, a prominent member of the Choctaw Nation who represented the tribe as a delegate to Washington, D.C.

Cochnauer said whether the Collections are used by faculty, students, alumni or visitors, such resources are invaluable to understanding the past and how it has shaped the present.
“I am aware of a number of folks who are gaining interest from their personal family connections, but the bonus for us is some of our ancestors, some of my ancestors, were political leaders in the Choctaw Nation before statehood,” she said. “None of my relatives have the information that I do … and I don’t want all of this to be lost.”