Teenage Female Stunt Flyer: Pearl Carter Scott (1916-2005)
Folks along the old Chisholm Trail in rural 1927 Stephens County rarely saw an airplane in flight. So when a monoplane circled Marlow one morning and landed on blind entrepreneur George Carter’s spread just east of town, a crowd gathered to investigate. The pilot who stepped out of the aircraft was himself blind in one eye, as evidenced by the black eye patch he wore. The man was Wiley Post, an unknown ex-convict who had just completed his first solo flight, and who also had a brother named Joe who lived across the road from Carter’s pasture.
Living with Carter was his 11-year-old daughter Pearl, whose thirst for learning and adventure seemed inexhaustible. Already, she not only drove automobiles, but served her father as his business chauffeur. After lunch, Post asked Carter would he enjoy a ride aloft. Carter, despite his blindness, accepted. When they returned, Pearl peppered them both with questions, then announced she would like to go up next. Her biographer Paul F. Lambert described what followed:
“With George’s permission, Pearl became Wiley’s next passenger that day. Wiley could see that Pearl was fearless and eager to learn. The plane had dual controls, so Wiley decided to give her a basic flying lesson. First he had her put her feet on the pedals that controlled the ailerons so she could feel how they moved and how the plane responded when Wiley manipulated them. He also told her to hold her stick ‘real light.’ Pearl was enthralled. She knew immediately that she wanted to learn all about flying.”
Over the next months, Post returned to Marlow to see his brother, visit with George—their eye problems strengthened the two’s bond—and coach Pearl as an aviator. The next year, when she was 12 and under five feet tall, George spent nearly $5,000, a hefty amount then, to build her a state-of-the-art Curtiss Robin airplane. He spent additional money to clear a small airfield and construct a hangar.
Nearly 26 feet long and 41 feet in wingspan, the Curtiss Robin weighed close to three-quarters of a ton and featured a powerful OX-5 engine. The model gained fame as the aircraft of choice for the era’s daredevil barnstorming pilots, who traveled through the American heartland staging flying shows.
The following year, at age thirteen, after continued coaching from Post, Pearl flew solo, thus becoming the youngest aviator in American history. For the next five years, she gained fame, first for that, then as a daredevil stunt flyer at popular southern and western Oklahoma air shows. She excelled in barrels rolls, spins, dives, and other airborne feats. She even attempted to parachute out of a plane, though her parents vetoed that effort.
Pearl married Marlow farmer Lewis Scott and bore him three children. She gave up flying at the peak of her success and popularity, and only eighteen years of age. She explained this heart-wrenching decision by calling herself “just too much of a daredevil” to be a young wife and the mother of little children. The thirty-year marriage was a difficult one. She divorced Lewis in 1961.
Angel of Mercy
In 1972, at the age of 65, when most people are settling affairs and winding down for the final chapters of their life, Pearl embarked on a new venture. It proved one of the greatest accomplishments of her long and storied life. She hired on as a Community Health Representative (CHR) for the Chickasaw Nation.
Her devout Methodist mother Lucy possessed half Chickasaw and half Choctaw blood, and Pearl grew increasingly devoted to the tribe in her later years. Of her American Indian heritage, she declared: “It has meant everything.
Pearl’s ostensible job aimed to help connect needy tribal members with health, diet, sanitation, and other services. According to her, however, “We vaccinated dogs. We vaccinated cats. We gave people shots. We’d take their temperatures....we’d go with them and help them get anything they needed. We were even taught how to deliver babies.”
She drove up and down remote hills, and explored dirt and mud roads in order to find suffering folks across the Chickasaw Nation of southern and southwestern Oklahoma. They included the clinically depressed, the alcoholically-enslaved, and the hopeless.
She paid for extra gas and expenses for her car out of her own pocket. She impoverished herself to buy hungry children groceries. Many was the Chickasaw father who put his arms around her neck to “just cry because I got their kids something to eat. It was just pitiful…When you see kids hungry, you’re going to feed them.”
Granddaughter Beverly Louise Parker lived with Pearl during much of this time. She recalled the telephone often ringing in the middle of the night, “and it would be somebody needing help. She’d jump up, get dressed, get in the car, and go break up a family fight” or respond to someone being “drunk or in jail. She just worked all the time. That phone never stopped ringing.”
Her grandson Craig delivered Pearl one of the great gifts of her later life when, in 1970, he took her flying. When he turned the controls over to her and she piloted the aircraft, she did so for the first time in 37 years. Then, in 1996, at 80 years of age, she flew a King Air plane.
Pearl Carter Scott weathered much grief in her long life. Both her parents, her still-beloved former husband, all her siblings, close friends like Wiley Post, and even her son Carter all died before her own passing in 2005, at the age of 89. But she died as she lived, rich in friends, honors, and accomplishments.
Post had admonished her long before not to let “anything deter you from what you want to do. You may fall down once in a while, but don’t give up. Get mad, and get up and show ‘em that you can do what you can.” She took that advice. Overcoming so much, and helping so many, her life embodied the epitaph she left for herself: “Never give up.”
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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