"You just watch the slaves and see they works and works hard, but don't lay on with the whip, because I is the only one who knows how to do it right!"
Maybe the old Master was sickened of whippings from the stories the slaves told about the plantation that joined ours on the north.
If they ever was a living Devil that plantation was his home and the owner was It! That's what the old slaves say, and when I tell you about it see if I is right.
That man got so mean even the white folks was scared of him, 'specially if he was filled with drink. That's the way he was most of the time, just before the slaves was freed.
All the time we hear about slaves on that place getting whipped or being locked in the stock—that one of them things where your head and hands is fastened through holes in a wide board, and you stands there all the day and all the night—and sometimes we hears of them staying in the stock for three-four weeks if they trys to run away to the north.
Sometimes we hears about some slave who is shot by that man while he is wild with the drink. That's what I'm telling about now.
Don't nobody know what made the master mad at the old slave—one of the oldest on the place. Anyway, the master didn't whip him; instead of that he kills him with the gun and scares the others so bad most of 'em runs off and hides in the woods.
The drunk master just drags the old dead slave to the graveyard which is down in the corner away from the growing crops, and hunts up two of the young boys who was hiding in the barn. He takes them to dig the grave.
The master stands watching every move they make, the dead man lays there with his face to the sky, and the boys is so scared they could hardly dig. The master keeps telling them to hurry with the digging.
After while he tells them to stop and put the body in the grave. They wasn't no coffin, no box, for him. Just the old clothes that he wears in the fields.
But the grave was too short and they start to digging some more, but the master stop them. He says to put back the body in the grave, and then he jumps into the grave hisself. Right on the dead he jumps and stomps 'til the body is mashed and twisted to fit the hole. Then the old nigger is buried.
That's the way my Mammy hears it and told it to us children. She was a Christian and I know she told the truth.
Like I said, Mammy was never sold only to Master Jackson. But she's seen them slave auctions where the men, women and children was stripped naked and lined up so's the buyers could see what kind of animals they was getting for their money.
My pappy's name was Jacob Keller and my mother was Maria. They's both dead long ago, and I'm waiting for the old ship Zion that took my Mammy away, like we use to sing of in the woods:
"It has landed my old Mammy, It has landed my old Mammy, Get on board, Get on board, 'Tis the Old Ship of Zion— Get on board!"
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]
I don't know how old I is, but I is a great big half grown gal when the time of the War come, and I can remember how everything look at that time, and what all the people do, too.
I'm pretty nigh to blind right now, and all I can do is set on this little old front porch and maybe try to keep the things picked up behing my grandchild and his wife, because she has to work and he is out selling wood most of the time.
But I didn't have to live in any such a house during the time I was young like they is, because I belonged to old Chief Rolley McIntosh, and my pappy and mammy have a big, nice, clean log house to live in, and everything round it look better than most renters got these days.
We never did call old Master anything but the Chief or the General for that's what everybody called him in them days, and he never did act towards us like we was slaves, much anyways. He was the mikko of the Kawita town long before the War and long before I was borned, and he was the chief of the Lower Creeks even before he got to be the chief of all the Creeks.
But just at the time of the War the Lower Creeks stayed with him and the Upper Creeks, at least them that lived along to the south of where we live, all go off after that old man Gouge, and he take most of the Seminole too. I hear old Tuskenugge, the big man with the Seminoles, but I never did see him, nor mighty few of the Seminoles.
My mammy tells me old General ain't been living in that Kawita town very many years when I was borned. He come up there from down in the fork of the river where the Arkansas and the Verdigris run together a little while after all the last of the Creeks come out to the Territory. His brother old Chili McIntosh, live down in that forks of the rivers too, but I don't think he ever move up into that Kawita town. It was in the narrow stretch where the Verdigris come close to the Arkansas. They got a pretty good sized white folks town there now they call Coweta, but the old Creek town was different from that. The folks lived all around in that stretch between the rivers, and my old Master was the boss of all of them.
For a long time after the Civil War they had a court at the new town called Coweta court, and a school house too, but before I was born they had a mission school down the Kawita Creek from where the town now is.
Earliest I can remember about my master was when he come to the slave settlement where we live and get out of the buggy and show a preacher all around the place. That preacher named Mr. Loughridge, and he was the man had the mission down on Kawita Creek before I was born, but at that time he had a school off at some other place. He git down out the buggy and talk to all us children, and ask us how we getting along.
I didn't even know at that time that old Chief was my master, until my pappy tell me after he was gone. I think all the time he was another preacher.
My pappy's name was Jackson McInotsh, and my mammy name was Hagar. I think old Chief bring them out to the Territory when he come out with his brother Chili and the rest of the Creek people. My pappy tell me that old Master's pappy was killed by the Creeks because he signed up a treaty to bring his folks out here, and old Master always hated that bunch of Creeks that done that.
I think old man Gouge was one of the big men in that bunch, and he fit in the War on the Government side, after he done holler and go on so about the Government making him come out here.
Old Master have lots of land took up all around that Kawita place, and I don't know how much, but a lot more than anybody else. He have it all fenced in with good rail fence, and all the Negroes have all the horses and mules and tools they need to work it with. They all live in good log houses they built themselves, and everything they need.
Old Master's land wasn't all in one big field, but a lot of little fields scattered all over the place. He just take up land what already was a kind of prairie, and the niggers don't have to clear up much woods.
We all live around on them little farms, and we didn't have to be under any overseer like the Cherokee Negroes had lots of times. We didn't have to work if they wasn't no work to do that day.
Everybody could have a little patch of his own, too, and work it between times, on Saturdays and Sundays if he wanted to. What he made on that patch belong to him, and the old Chief never bothered the slaves about anything.
Every slave can fix up his own cabin any way he want to, and pick out a good place with a spring if he can find one. Mostly the slave houses had just one big room with a stick-and-mud chimney, just like the poor people among the Creeks had. Then they had a brush shelter built out of four poles with a roof made out of brush, set out to one side of the house where they do the cooking and eating, and sometimes the sleeping too. They set there when they is done working, and lay around on corn shuck beds, because they never did use the log house much only in cold and rainy weather.
Old Chief just treat all the Negroes like they was just hired hands, and I was a big girl before I knowed very much about belonging to him.
I was one of the youngest children in my family; only Sammy and Millie was younger than I was. My big brothers was Adam, August and Nero, and my big sisters was Flora, Nancy and Rhoda. We could work a mighty big patch for our own selves when we was all at home together, and put in all the work we had to for the old Master too, but after the War the big children all get married off and took up land of they own.
Old Chief lived in a big log house made double with a hall in between, and a lot of white folks was always coming there to see him about something. He was gone off somewhere a lot of the time, too, and he just trusted the Negroes to look after his farms and stuff. We would just go on out in the fields and work the crops just like they was our own, and he never come around excepting when we had harvest time, or to tell us what he wanted planted.
Sometimes he would send a Negro to tell us to gather up some chickens or turkeys or shoats he wanted to sell off, and sometimes he would send after loads of corn and wheat to sell. I heard my pappy say old Chief and Mr. Chili McIntosh was the first ones to have any wheat in the Territory, but I don't know about that.
Along during the War the Negro men got pretty lazy and shiftless, but my pappy and my big brothers just go right on and work like they always did. My pappy always said we better off to stay on the place and work good and behave ourselves because old Master take care of us that way. But on lots of other places the men slipped off.
I never did see many soldiers during the War, and there wasn't any fighting close to where we live. It was kind of down in the bottoms, not far from the Verdigris and that Gar Creek, and the soldiers would have bad crossings if the come by our place.
We did see some whackers riding around sometimes, in little bunches of about a dozen, but they never did bother us and never did stop. Some of the Negro girls that I knowed of mixed up with the poor Creeks and Seminoles, and some got married to them after the War, but none of my family ever did mix up with them that I knows of.
Along towards the last of the War I never did see old Chief come around any more, and somebody say he went down into Texas. He never did come back that I knows of, and I think he died down there.
One day my pappy come home and tell us all that the Creek done sign up to quit the War, and that old Master send word that we all free now and can take up some land for our own selves or just stay where we is if we want to. Pappy stayed on that place where he was at until he died.
I got to be a big girl and went down to work for a Creek family close to where they got that Checotah town now. At that time it was just all a scattered settlement of Creeks and they call it Eufaula town. After while I marry a man name Joe Johnson, at a little settlement they call Rentesville. He have his freedmen's allotment close to that place, but mine is up on the Verdigris, and we move up there to live.
We just had one child, named Louisa, and she married Tom Armstrong. They had three-four children, but one was named Ton, and it is him I live with now. My husband's been dead a long, long time now.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]
MS. JOSIE JORDAN Age 75 yrs. 840 East King St., Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I was born right in the middle of the War on the Mark Lowery plantation at Sparta, in White County, Tennessee, so I don't know anything much about them slave days except what my mammy told me long years ago. 'Course I mean the Civil War, for to us colored folks they just wasn't no other war as meanful as that one.
My mother she come from Virginia when a little girl, but never nobody tells me where at my pappy is from. His name was David Lowery when I was born, but I guess he had plenty other names, for like my mammy he was sold lots of times.
Salina was my mammy's name, and she belonged to a Mister Clark, who sold her and pappy to Mark Lowery 'cause she was a fighting, mule-headed woman.
It wasn't her fault 'cause she was a fighter. The master who owned her before Mister Clark was one of them white mens who was always whipping and beating his slaves and mammy couldn't stand it no more.
That's the way she tells me about it. She just figgured she would be better off dead and out of her misery as to be whipped all the time, so one day the master claimed they was something wrong with her work and started to raise his whip, but mammy fought back and when the ruckus was over the Master was laying still on the ground and folks thought he was dead, he got such a heavy beating.
Mammy says he don't die and right after that she was sold to Mister Clark I been telling you about. And mammy was full of misery for a long time after she was carried to Mark Lowery's plantation where at I was born during of the War.
She had two children while belonging to Mister Clark and he wouldn't let them go with mammy and pappy. That's what caused her misery. Pappy tried to ease her mind but she jest kept a'crying for her babies, Ann and Reuban, till Mister Lowery got Clark to leave them visit with her once a month.
Mammy always says that Mark Lowery was a good master. But he'd heard things about mammy before he got her and I reckon was curious to know if they was all true. Mammy says he found out mighty quick they was.
It was mammy's second day on the plantation and Mark Lowery acted like he was going to whip her for something she'd done or hadn't, but mammy knocked him plumb through the open cellar door. He wasn't hurt, not even mad for mammy says he climbed out the cellar a'laughing, saying he was only fooling to see if she would fight.
But mammy's troubles wasn't over then, for Mark Lowery he got himself a new young wife (his first wife was dead), and mammy was round of the house most of the time after that.
Right away they had trouble. The Mistress was trying to make mammy hurry up with the work and she hit mammy with the broom stick. Mammy's mule temper boiled up all over the kitchen and the Master had to stop the fighting.
He wouldn't whip mammy for her part in the trouble, so the Mistress she sent word to her father and brothers and they come to Mister Lowery's place.
They was going to whip mammy, they was good and mad. Master was good and mad, too, and he warned 'em home.
"Whip your own slaves." He told them. "Mine have to work and if they're beat up they can't do a days work. Get on home—I'll take care of this." And they left.
My folks didn't have no food troubles at Mark Lowery's like they did somewheres else. I remember mammy told me about one master who almost starved his slaves. Mighty stingy I reckon he was.
Some of them slaves was so poorly thin they ribs would kinder rustle against each other like corn stalks a-drying in the hot winds. But they gets even one hog-killing time, and it was funny too, mammy said.
They was seven hogs, fat and ready for fall hog-killing time. Just the day before old master told off they was to be killed something happened to all them porkers. One of the field boys found them and come a-telling the master: "The hogs is all died, now they won't be any meats for the winter."
When the master gets to where at the hogs is laying, they's a lot of Negroes standing round looking sorrow-eyed at the wasted meat. The master asks: "What's the illness with 'em?"
"Malitis." They tell him, and they acts like they don't want to touch the hogs. Master says to dress them anyway for they ain't no more meat on the place.
He says to keep all the meat for the slave families, but that's because he's afraid to eat it hisself account of the hogs' got malitis.
"Don't you-all know what is malitis?" Mammy would ask the children when she was telling of the seven fat hogs and seventy lean slaves. And she would laugh, remembering how they fooled the old master so's to get all them good meats.
"One of the strongest Negroes got up early in the morning," Mammy would explain, "long 'fore the rising horn called the slaves from their cabins. He skitted to the hog pen with a heavy mallet in his hand. When he tapped Mister Hog 'tween the eyes with that mallet 'malitis' set in mighty quick, but it was a uncommon 'disease', even with hungry Negroes around all the time."
Mammy had me three sisters and a brother while on the Lowery plantation. They was Lisa, Addie, Alice and Lincoln. It was a long time after the War and we was all freed before we left old Master Lowery.
Stayed right there where we was at home, working in the fields, living in the same old cabins, just like before the War. Never did have no big troubles after the War, except one time the Ku Klux Klan broke up a church meeting and whipped some of the Negroes.
The preacher was telling about the Bible days when the Klan rode up. They was all masked up and everybody crawled under the benches when they shouted: "We'll make you damn niggers wish you wasn't free!"
And they just about did. The preacher got the worst whipping, blood was running from his nose and mouth and ears, and they left him laying on the floor.
They whipped the women just like the men, but Mammy and the girls wasn't touched none and we run all the way back to the cabin. Layed down with all our clothes on and tried to sleep, but we's too scairt to close our eyes.
Mammy reckoned old Master Lowery was a-riding with the Klan that night, else we'd got a flogging too.
We first moved about a mile from Master Lowery's place and ever week we'd ask mammy if we children could go see old Master and she'd say: "Yes, if you-all are good niggers."
The old Master was always glad to see us children and he would give us candy and apples and treat us mighty fine.
The old plantations gone, the old Masters gone, the old slaves is gone, and I'll be a going some of these days, too, for I been here a mighty long time and they ain't nobody needs me now 'cause I is too old for any good.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves
"UNCLE" GEORGE G. KING Age 83 yrs Tulsa, Oklahoma
"Prayers for sale.... Prayers for sale...." Uncle George chants in sing-song fashion as he roams around Tulsa's Greenwood Negro district—pockets filled with prayer papers that are soiled and dirty with constant handling.
But they are potent, Uncle George tells those who fear the coming of some trouble, disaster or just ordinary misery, and there's a special prayer for each and every trouble—including one to keep away the bill collector when the young folks forget to make payments on the radio, the furniture, the car, or the Spring outfit purchased months ago from the credit clothier.
Its all in the Bible and the Bible is his workshop—'cause folks don't know how to pray.
He's mighty old, is Uncle George King, and he'll tell you that he was born on two-hundred acres of Hell, but the whitefolks called it Samuel Roll's plantation (six miles N.E. of Lexington, South Carolina).
Kinder small for a plantation, Uncle George explains, but plenty room for that devil overseer to lay on the lash, and plenty room for the old she-devil Mistress to whip his mammy til' she was just a piece of living raw meat!
The old Master talked hard words, but the Mistress whipped. Lot's of difference, and Uncle George ought to know, 'cause he's felt the lash layed on pretty heavy when he was no older than kindergarten children of today.
The Mistress owned the slaves and they couldn't be sold without her say-so. That's the reason George was never sold, but the Master once tried to sell him 'cause the beatings was breaking him down. Old Mistress said "No", and used it for an excuse to whip his Mammy. Uncle George remembers that, too.
They crossed her wrists and tied them with a stout cord. They made her bend over so that her arms was sticking back between her legs and fastened the arms with a stick so's she couldn't straighten up.
He saw the Mistress pull his Mammy's clothes over her head so's the lash would reach the skin. He saw the overseer lay on the whip with hide busting blows that left her laying, all a shiver, on the ground, like a wounded animal dying from the chase.
He saw the Mistress walk away, laughing, while his Mammy screamed and groaned—the old Master standing there looking sad and wretched, like he could feel the blows on Mammy's bared back and legs as much as she.
The Mistress was a great believer in the power of punishment, and Uncle George remembers the old log cabin jail built before the War, right on the plantation, where runaway slaves were stowed away 'till they would promise to behave themselves.
The old jail was full up during most of the War. Three runaway slaves were still chained to its floor when the Master gave word the Negroes were free.
They were Prince, Sanovey (his wife), and Henry, who were caught and whipped by the patrollers, and then brought back to the plantation for another beating before being locked in jail.
The Mistress ordered them chained, and the overseer would come every morning with the same question: "Will you niggers promise not to runaway no more?"
But they wouldn't promise. One at a time the overseer would loosen the chains, and lead them from the jail to cut them with powerful blows from the lash, then drag them back to be chained until the next day when more lickings were given 'cause they wouldn't promise.
The jail was emptied on the day Master Roll called together all the men, women and children to tell them they wasn't slaves no more. Uncle George tells it this way:
"The Master he says we are all free, but it don't mean we is white. And it don't mean we is equal. Just equal for to work and earn our own living and not depend on him for no more meats and clother." [TR: clothes?]
Food was scarce before the War; it was worse after the shooting and killing was over, and Uncle George says: "There wasn't no corn bread, no bacon—just trash eating trash, like when General Sherman marched down through the country taking everything the soldiers could lug away, and burning all along the way.
"Wasn't nothing to eat after he march by. Darkies search 'round the barns, maybe find some grains of corn in the manure, and they'd parch the grains—nothing else to eat, except sometimes at night Mammy would skit out and steal scraps from the Master's house for the children.
"She had lots of hungry mouths, too. They was seven of us then, six boys and a girl, Eliza. The boys was Wesley, Simeon, Moses, Peter, William and me, George. This pappy's name was Griffin.
"But they was other pappys (Mammy told him) when Eva was born long before any of us, and Laura come next, but from a white daddy. Mammy lost them when she was sold around on the markets.
"The Klan they done lots of riding round the country. One night the come down to the old slave quarters where the cabins is all squared round each other, and called everybody outdoors. They's looking for two women.
"They picks 'em out of the crowd right quick and say they been with white men. Says their children is by white men, and they're going to get whipped so's they'll remember to stay with their own kind. The women kick and scream, but the mens grab them and roll them over a barrel and let fly with the whip."
It was a long time after the Civil War that Uncle George got his first schooling or attended regular church meetings. Like he says:
"Getting up at four o'clock in the morning, hoeing in the fields all day, doing chores when they come in from the fields, and then piddling with the weaver 'til nine or ten every night—it just didn't leave no time for reading and such, even if we was allowed to."
And religion, that came later too, for during the old plantation days Uncle George's white folks didn't think a Negro needed religion—there wasn't a Heaven for Negroes anyhow.
Finally, though, the Master gave them right to hold meetings on the plantation, and old Peter Coon was the preacher. The overseer was there with guards to keep the Negroes from getting too much riled up when old Peter started talking about Paul or some of the things in the Old Testament. That's all he would talk about; nothing 'bout Jesus, just Paul and the Old Testament.
His Mammy went to every meeting. Like he says: "She knew them good things was good for her children and she told us about the Bible."
Like his old Mammy, Uncle George is a firm believer in the power of the word. "Prayers are saving!" Uncle George says, "But they's lots of folks' don't know how to pray."
That's why he has prayers for sale—and he knows they are never failing, "If you tack 'em up on the wall and say 'em over and over every day they's sure to be answered."
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 19 1937]
MARTHA KING Age 85 yrs. McAlester, Oklahoma
"They hung Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree! They hung Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree! They hung Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree! While we go marching on!"
Dat was de song de Yankees sang when they marched by our house. They didn't harm us in any way. I guess de War was over then 'cause a few days after dat old Master say, "Matt", and I say, "Suh?" He say, "Come here. You go tell Henry I say come out here and to bring the rest of the niggers with him." I went to the north door and I say, "Henry, Master Willis say ever one of you come out here." We all went outside and line up in front of old Master. He say, "Henry". Henry say, "Yes sah". Old Master say, "Every one of you is free—as free as I am. You all can leave or stay 'round here if you want to."
We all stayed on for a long time 'cause we didn't have no other home and didn't know how to take keer of ourselves. We was kind of scared I reckon. Finally I heard my mother was in Walker County, Alabama, and I left and went to live with her.
My mother was Harriet Davis and she was born in Virginia. I don't know who my father was. My grandmother was captured in Africa when she was a little girl. A big boat was down at the edge of a bay an' the people was all excited about it an' some of the bravest went up purty close to look at it. The men on the boat told them to come on board and they could have the pretty red handkerchiefs, red and blue beads and big rings. A lot of them went on board and the ship sailed away with them. My grandmother never saw any of her folks again.
When I was about five years old they brought my grandmother, my mother and my two aunts and two uncles to Tuskaloosa from Fayettesville, Alabama. We crossed a big river on a ferry boat. They put us on the "block" and sold us. I can remember it well. A white man "cried" me off just like I was a animal or varmint or something. He said, "Here's a little nigger, who will give me a bid on her. She will make a good house gal someday." Old man Davis give him $300.00 for me. I don't know whether I was afraid or not; I don't think I cared just so I had something to eat. I was allus hungry. Miss Davis' grandmother and one of my aunts and uncles. Old man Davis bought the rest of us. Uncle Henry looked after me when he could. I could see my mother once in awhile but not often.
I had a purty easy time. I didn't have to work very hard 'till I was about ten years old. I started working in the field and I had to work in the weaving room too. We made all our own clothes. I spun and wove cotton and wool. Old Master bought our shoes. We made fancy cloth. We could stripe the cloth or check it or leave it plain. We also wove coverlids and jeans to make mens suits out of. I could still do that if I had to.
We all went to church with the white folks. We didn't have no colored preachers. The niggers would get happy and shout all over the place. Sometimes they'd fall out doors.
The Big House was a double log, two story house, not very fine but awful comfortable. They was four big fireplace rooms downstairs and two upstairs. Then they was two sort of shed rooms. There was a big piazza across the front. The kitchen was a way off from the house, seems like it was 200 feet at least. Our quarters were close by at the back. He didn't have many slaves and they was nearly all my kinfolks. There was Aunt Emmy and Phillis, Uncles Henry, Mitchell, Louis and Andy, and the others were Uncle Logan and Uncle Nathan. They was old Mistress' slaves when she done married.
Old Master and old Mistress had three boys, Eli, Billy and Dock. They had to go to war and old Mistress sho' did cry. She say they might get killed and she might not see 'em any more. I wonder why all dem white folks didn't think of that when they sold mothers away from they chillun. I had to be sold away from my mother. Two of her boys was badly wounded but they all come back.
Abe Lincoln done everything he could for the niggers. We lost our best friend when he got killed.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves
GEORGE KYE Age 110 yrs. Fort Gibson, Okla.
I was born in Arkansas under Mr. Abraham Stover, on a big farm about twenty miles north of Van Buren. I was plumb grown when the Civil War come along, but I can remember back when the Cherokee Indians was in all that part of the country.
Joe Kye was my pappy's name what he was born under back in Garrison County, Virginia, and I took that name when I was freed, but I don't know whether he took it or not because he was sold off by old Master Stover when I was a child. I never have seen him since. I think he wouldn't mind good, leastways that what my mammy say.
My mammy was named Jennie and I don't think I had any brothers or sisters, but they was a whole lot of children at the quarters that I played and lived with. I didn't live with mammy because she worked all the time, and us children all stayed in one house.
It was a little one room log cabin, chinked and daubed, and you couldn't stir us with a stick. When we went to eat we had a big pan and all ate out of it. One what ate the fastest got the most.
Us children wore homespun shirts and britches and little slips, and nobody but the big boys wore any britches. I wore just a shirt until I was about 12 years old, but it had a long tall down to my calves. Four or five of us boys slept in one bed, and it was made of hewed logs with rope laced acrost it and a shuck mattress. We had stew made out of pork and potatoes, and sometimes greens and pot liquor, and we had ash cake mostly, but biscuits about once a month.
In the winter time I had brass toed shoes made on the place, and a cloth cap with ear flaps.
The work I done was hoeing and plowing, and I rid a horse a lot for old Master because I was a good rider. He would send me to run chores for him, like going to the mill. He never beat his negroes but he talked mighty cross and glared at us until he would nearly scare us to death sometimes.
He told us the rules and we lived by them and didn't make trouble, but they was a neighbor man that had some mean negroes and he nearly beat them to death. We could hear them hollering in the field sometimes. They would sleep in the cotton rows, and run off, and then they would catch the cat-o-nine tails sure nuff. He would chain them up, too, and keep them tied out to trees, and when they went to the field they would be chained together in bunches sometimes after they had been cutting up.
We didn't have no place to go to church, but old Master didn't care if we had singing and praying, and we would tie our shoes on our backs and go down the road close to the white church and all set down and put our shoes on and go up close and listen to the service.
Old Master was baptized almost every Sunday and cussed us all out on Monday. I didn't join the church until after freedom, and I always was a scoundrel for dancing. My favorite preacher was old Pete Conway. He was the only ordained colored preacher we had after freedom, and he married me.
Old Master wouldn't let us take herb medicine, and he got all our medicine in Van Buren when we was sick. But I wore a buckeye on my neck just the same.
When the War come along I was a grown man, and I went off to serve because old Master was too old to go, but he had to send somebody anyways. I served as George Stover, but every time the sergeant would call out "Abe Stover", I would answer "Here".
They had me driving a mule team wagon that Old Master furnished, and I went with the Sesesh soldiers from Van Buren to Texarkana and back a dozen times or more. I was in the War two years, right up to the day of freedom. We had a battle close to Texarkana and another big one near Van Buren, but I never left Arkansas and never got a scratch.
One time in the Texarkana battle I was behind some pine trees and the bullets cut the limbs down all over me. I dug a big hole with my bare hands before I hardly knowed how I done it.
One time two white soldiers named Levy and Briggs come to the wagon train and said they was hunting slaves for some purpose. Some of us black boys got scared because we heard they was going to Squire Mack and get a reward for catching runaways, so me and two more lit out of there.
They took out after us and we got to a big mound in the woods and hid. Somebody shot at me and I rolled into some bushes. He rid up and got down to look for me but I was on t'other side of his horse and he never did see me. When they was gone we went back to the wagons just as the regiment was pulling out and the officer didn't say nothing.
They was eleven negro boys served in my regiment for their masters. The first year was mighty hard because we couldn't get enough to eat. Some ate poke greens without no grease and took down and died.
How I knowed I was free, we was bad licked, I reckon. Anyways, we quit fighting and a Federal soldier come up to my wagon and say: "Whose mules?" "Abe Stover's mules," I says, and he tells me then, "Let me tell you, black boy, you are as free now as old Abe Stover his own self!" When he said that I jumped on top of one of them mules' back before I knowed anything!
I married Sarah Richardson, February 10, 1870, and had only eleven children. One son is a deacon and one grandson is a preacher. I am a good Baptist. Before I was married I said to the gal's old man, "I'll go to the mourners bench if you'll let me have Sal," and sure nuff I joined up just a month after I got her. I am head of the Sunday School and deacon in the St. Paul Baptist church in Muskogee now.
I lived about five miles from Van Buren until about twelve years ago when they found oil and then they run all the negroes out and leased up the land. They never did treat the negroes good around there anyways.
I never had a hard time as a slave, but I'm glad we was set free. Sometimes we can't figger out the best thing to do, but anyways we can lead our own life now, and I'm glad the young ones can learn and get somewhere these days.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: NOV 5 1937]
BEN LAWSON Age 84 yrs. Oklahoma City, Okla.
I was born in Danville, Illinois. De best I can get at my age I is 84 years old. My father dey tell me was name Dennis Lawson and died before I was born. My mother's name was Ann Lawson, who I saw once. I was given by her to my Mistress, Mrs. Jane Brazier, when a kid and she was too. My mother raised me, she and her son to manhood. I got no brothers or sisters to my knowledge. I was de only slave dey had and dey raised me to be humble and fear dem as a slave and servant. As I was de only slave I slept in de same room wid my Mistress and her son who was grown, her husband and father being dead.
I worked on the farm doing general farm work, hoeing, plowing, harvesting the crop of wheat, corn, barley, oats, rice, peas, etc. To make and harvest the crops dey would hire poor white help and as dey was grown and I was a lad, dey kept me in a strain in order to keep up wid dem for if I didn't it was just too bad for my back. So's dere would be work for me to do during the bad days of winter dey built a pen under a shed and dey would lay a cloth on de ground covering the ground in the pen and wid small mesh wire on top of de pen on which de wheat was laid and wid a wooden maul I would pounder out wheat all day long, even though dey could have thrashed it as dey did de biggest part of it.
At meal time dey would give me what was left of de scraps off dey table in a plate, which I would eat most de time on de back porch in warm weather and in de kitchen in winter.
For summer I wore a lowell shirt and for winter I wore de same old lowell shirt only wid outing slips and a pair of brogan shoes or a pair of old shoes dat was thrown away by my Mistress' son.
Their house was a 3-room log house unpainted, wid only one bed room and a dining room and kitchen.
The plantation had 'bout 160 acres and was worked by my Mistress' son and myself plus poor white hired help, my being de only slave.
I was treated most harshly 'mongst a group of just white people and who seemed to think me de old work ox for all de hardest work. De nearest other Negro slaves were 'bout 15 or 20 miles from me.
When I was grown I ran away one night and walked and rode de rods under stage coaches to Paducah, Kentucky. I got me a job and worked as a roustabout on a boat where I learned to gamble wid dice. I fought and gambled all up and down de Mississippi River, and in de course of time I had 'bout $3,000, but I lost it.
I don't know de month or de year I was born in but I can 'member de sinking of de biggest circus show in de Mississippi River at Mobile, Alabama when I was 10 to 14 years old, I ain't sure which.
There wasn't no children for me to play with and it seem like I never was a child but was just always a man. I wasn't never told dat I was free, and I didn't know nothing 'bout de War much dat brought my freedom. Dey kept all of dat away from me and I couldn't read or write so I didn't know.
I've been married only once. My wife is 54 years old, and her name is Hattie Lawson. We have no children. Since we married after freedom there wasn't nothing unusual at our wedding.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]
MARY LINDSAY Age 91 yrs. Tulsa, Oklahoma.
My slavery days wasn't like most people tell you about, 'cause I was give to my young Mistress and sent away to Texas when I was jest a little girl, and I didn't live on a big plantation a very long tine.
I got an old family Bible what say I was born on September 20, in 1846, but I don't know who put de writing in it unless it was my mammy's mistress. My mammy had de book when she die.
My mammy come out to the Indian country from Mississippi two years before I was born. She was the slave of a Chickasaw part-breed name Sobe Love. He was the kinsfolks of Mr. Benjamin Love, and Mr. Henry Love what bring two big bunches of the Chickasaws out from Mississippi to the Choctaw country when the Chickasaws sign up de treaty to leave Mississippi, and the whole Love family settle 'round on the Red River below Fort Washita. There whar I was born.
My mammy say dey have a terrible hard time again the sickness when they first come out into that country, because it was low and swampy and all full of cane brakes, and everybody have the smallpox and the malaria and fever all the time. Lots of the Chickasaw families nearly died off.
Old Sobe Love marry her off to a slave named William, what belong to a full-blood Chickasaw man name Chick-a-lathe, and I was one of de children.
De children belong to the owner of the mother, and me and my brother Franklin, what we called "Bruner", was born under the name of Love and then old Master Sobe bought my pappy William, and we was all Love slaves then. My mammy had two more girls, name Hatty and Rena.
My mammy name was Mary, and I was named after her. Old Mistress name was Lottie, and they had a daughter name Mary. Old Master Sobe was powerful rich, and he had about a hundred slaves and four or five big pieces of that bottom land broke out for farms. He had niggers on all the places, but didn't have no overseers, jest hisself and he went around and seen that everybody behave and do they work right.
Old Master Sobe was a mighty big man in the tribe, and so was all his kinfolks, and they went to Fort Washita and to Boggy Depot all the time on business, and leave the Negroes to look after old Mistress and the young daughter. She was almost grown along about that time, when I can first remember about things.
'Cause my name was Mary, and so was my mammy's and my young Mistress' too. Old Master Sobe called me Mary-Ka-Chubbe to show which Mary he was talking about.
Miss Mary have a black woman name Vici what wait on her all the time, and do the carding and spinning and cooking 'round the house, and Vici belong to Miss Mary. I never did go 'round the Big House, but jest stayed in the quarters with my mammy and pappy and helped in the field a little.
Then one day Miss Mary run off with a man and married him, and old Master Sobe nearly went crazy! The man was name Bill Merrick, and he was a poor blacksmith and didn't have two pair of britches to his name, and old Master Sobe said he jest stole Miss Mary 'cause she was rich, and no other reason. 'Cause he was a white man and she was mostly Chickasaw Indian.
Anyways old Master Sobe wouldn't even speak to Mr. Bill, and wouldn't let him set foot on the place. He jest reared and pitched around, and threatened to shoot him if he set eyes on him, and Mr. Bill took Miss Mary and left out for Texas. He set up a blacksmith shop on the big road between Bonham and Honey Grove, and lived there until he died.
Miss Mary done took Vici along with her, and pretty soon she come back home and stay a while, and old Master Sobe kind of soften up a little bit and give her some money to git started on, and he give her me too.
Dat jest nearly broke my old mammy's and pappy's heart, to have me took away off from them, but they couldn't say nothing and I had to go along with Miss Mary back to Texas. When we git away from the Big House I jest cried and cried until I couldn't hardly see, my eyes was so swole up, but Miss Mary said she gwine to be good to me.
I ask her how come Master Sobe didn't give her some of the grown boys and she say she reckon it because he didn't want to help her husband out none, but jest wanted to help her. If he give her a man her husband have him working in the blacksmith shop, she reckon.
Master Bill Merrick was a hard worker, and he was more sober than most the men in them days, and he never tell me to do nothing. He jest let Miss Mary tell me what to do. They have a log house close to the shop, and a little patch of a field at first, but after awhile he git more land, and then Miss Mary tell me and Vici we got to help in the field too.
That sho' was hard living then! I have to git up at three o'clock sometimes so I have time to water the hosses and slop the hogs and feed the chickens and milk the cows, and then git back to the house and git the breakfast. That was during the times when Miss Mary was having and nursing her two children, and old Vici had to stay with her all the time. Master Bill never did do none of that kind of work, but he had to be in the shop sometimes until way late in the night, and sometimes before daylight, to shoe peoples hosses and oxen and fix wagons.
He never did tell me to do that work, but he never done it his own self and I had to do it if anybody do it.
He was the slowest one white man I ever did see. He jest move 'round like de dead lice falling off'n him all the time, and everytime he go to say anything he talk so slow that when he say one word you could walk from here to way over there before he say de next word. He don't look sick, and he was powerful strong in his arms, but he act like he don't feel good jest the same.
I remember when the War come. Mostly by the people passing 'long the big road, we heard about it. First they was a lot of wagons hauling farm stuff into town to sell, and then purty soon they was soldiers on the wagons, and they was coming out into the country to git the stuff and buying it right at the place they find it.
Then purty soon they commence to be little bunches of mens in soldier clothes riding up and down the road going somewhar. They seem like they was mostly young boys like, and they jest laughing and jollying and going on like they was on a picnic.
Then the soldiers come 'round and got a lot of the white men and took them off to the War even iffen they didn't want to go. Master Bill never did want to go, 'cause he had his wife and two little children, and anyways he was gitting all the work he could do fixing wagons and shoeing hosses, with all the traffic on de road at that time. Master Bill had jest two hosses, for him and his wife to ride and to work to the buggy, and he had one old yoke of oxen and some more cattle. He got some kind of a paper in town and he kept it with him all the time, and when the soldiers would come to git his hosses or his cattle he would jest draw that paper on 'em and they let 'em alone.
By and by the people got so thick on the big road that they was somebody in sight all the time. They jest keep a dust kicked up all day and all night 'cepting when it rain, and they git all bogged down and be strung all up and down the road camping. They kept Master Bill in the shop all the time, fixing the things they bust trying to git the wagons out'n the mud. They was whole families of them, with they children and they slaves along, and they was coming in from every place because the Yankees was gitting in their part of the country, they say.
We all git mighty scared about the Yankees coming but I don't reckon they ever git thar, 'cause I never seen none, and we was right on the big road and we would of seen them. They was a whole lot more soldiers in them brown looking jeans, round-about jackets and cotton britches a-faunching up and down the road on their hosses, though. Them hoss soldiers would come b'iling by, going east, all day and night, and the two-three days later on they would all come tearing by going west! Dey acted like dey didn't know whar dey gwine, but I reckon dey did.
Den Master Bill git sick. I reckon he more wore out and worried than anything else, but he go down with de fever one day and it raining so hard Mistress and me and Vici can't neither one go nowhar to git no help.
We puts peach tree poultices on his head and wash him off all the time, until it quit raining so Mistress can go out on de road, and then a doctor man come from one of the bunches of soldiers and see Master Bill. He say he going be all right and jest keep him quiet, and go on.
Mistress have to tend de children and Vici have to take care of Master Bill and look after the house, and dat leave me all by myself wid all the rest of everything around the place.
I got to feed all the stock and milk the cows and work in the field too. Dat the first time I ever try to plow, and I nearly git killed, too! I got me a young yoke of oxens I broke to pull the wagon, 'cause Vici have to use the old oxens to work the field. I had to take the wagon and go 'bout ten miles west to a patch of woods Master Bill owned to git fire wood, 'cause we lived right on a flat patch of prairie, and I had to chop and haul the wood by myself. I had to git postoak to burn in the kitchen fireplace and willow for Master Bill to make charcoal out of to burn in his blacksmith fire.
Well, I hitch up them young oxen to the plow and they won't follow the row, and so I go git the old oxens. One of them old oxens didn't know me and took in after me, and I couldn't hitch 'em up. And then it begins to rain again.
After the rain was quit I git the bucket and go milk the cows, and it is time to water the hosses too, so I starts to the house with the milk and leading one of the hosses. When I gits to the gate I drops the halter across my arm and hooks the bucket of milk on my arm too, and starts to open the gate. The wind blow the gate wide open, and it slap the hoss on the flank. That was when I nearly git killed!
Out the hoss go through the gate to the yard, and down the big road, and my arm all tangled up in the halter rope and me dragging on the ground!
The first jump knock the wind out of me and I can't git loose, and that hoss drag me down the road on the run until he meet up with a passel of soldiers and they stop him.
The next thing I knowed I was laying on the back kitchen gallery, and some soldiers was pouring water on me with a bucket. My arm was broke, and I was stove up so bad that I have to lay down for a whole week, and Mistress and Vici have to do all the work.
Jest as I gitting able to walk 'round here come some soldiers and say they come to git Master Bill for the War. He still in the bed sick, and so they leave a parole paper for him to stay until he git well, and then he got to go into Bonham and go with the soldiers to blacksmith for them that got the cannons, the man said.
Mistress take on and cry and hold onto the man's coat and beg, but it don't do no good. She say they don't belong in Texas but they belong in the Chickasaw Nation, but he say that don't do no good, 'cause they living in Texas now.
Master Bill jest stew and fret so, one night he fever git way up and he go off into a kind of a sleep and about morning he died.
My broke arm begin to swell up and hurt me, and I git sick with it again, and Mistress git another doctor to come look at it.
He say I got bad blood from it how come I git so sick, and he git out his knife out'n his satchel and bleed me in the other arm. The next day he come back and bleed me again two times, and the next day one more time, and then I git so sick I puke and he quit bleeding me.
While I still sick Mistress pick up and go off to the Territory to her pappy and leave the children thar for Vici and me to look after. After while she come home for a day or two and go off again somewhere else. Then the next time she come home she say they been having big battles in the Territory and her pappy moved all his stuff down on the river, and she home to stay now.
We git along the best we can for a whole winter, but we nearly starve to death, and then the next spring when we getting a little patch planted Mistress go into Bonham and come back and say we all free and the War over.
She say, "You and Vici jest as free as I am, and a lot freer, I reckon, and they say I got to pay you if you work for me, but I ain't got no money to pay you. If you stay on with me and help me I will feed and home you and I can weave you some good dresses if you card and spin the cotton and wool."
Well, I stayed on, 'cause I didn't have no place to go, and I carded and spinned the cotton and wool and she make me just one dress. Vici didn't do nothing but jest wait on the children and Mistress.
Mistress go off again about a week, and when she come back I see she got some money, but she didn't give us any of it.
After while I asked her ain't she got some money for me, and she say no, ain't she giving me a good home? Den I starts to feeling like I aint treated right.
Every evening I git done with the work and go out in the back yard and jest stand and look off to the west towards Bonham, and wish I was at that place or some other place.
Den along come a nigger boy and say he working for a family in Bonham and he git a dollar every week. He say Mistress got some kinfolks in Bonham and some of Master Sobe Love's niggers living close to there.
So one night I jest put that new dress in a bundle and set foot right down the big road a-walking west, and don't say nothing to nobody!
Its ten miles into Bonham, and I gits in town about daylight. I keeps on being afraid, 'cause I con't git it out'n my mind I still belong to Mistress.
Purty soon some niggers tells me a nigger name Bruner Love living down west of Greenville, and I know that my brother Franklin, 'cause we all called him Bruner. I don't remember how all I gits down to Greenville, but I know I walks most the way, and I finds Bruner. Him and his wife working on a farm, and they say my sister Hetty and my sister Rena what was little is living with my mammy way back up on the Red River. My pappy done died in time of the War and I didn't know it.
Bruner taken me in a wagon and we went to my mammy, and I lived with her until she died and Hetty was married. Then I married a boy name Henry Lindsay. His people was from Georgia and he live with them way west at Cedar Mills, Texas. That was right close to Gordonville, on the Red River.
We live at Cedar Mills until three my children was born and then we come to the Creek Nation in 1887. My last one was born here.
My oldest is named Georgia on account of her pappy. He was born in Georgia and that was in 1838, so his whitefolks got a book that say. My next child was Henry. We called him William Henry, after my pappy and his pappy. Then come Donie, and after we come here we had Madison, my youngest boy.
I lives with Henry here on this little place we got in Tulsa.
When we first come here we got some land for $15 an acre from the Creek Nation, but our papers said we can only stay as long as it is the Creek Nation. Then in 1901 comes the allotments, and we found out our land belong to a Creek Indian, and we have to pay him to let us stay on it. After while he makes us move off and we lose out all around.
But my daughter Donie git a little lot, and we trade it for this place about thirty year ago, when this town was a little place.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves
MRS. MATTIE LOGAN Age 79 yrs. Route 5, West Tulsa, Oklahoma.
This is a mighty fitting time to be telling about the slave days, for I'm just finished up celebrating my seventy-nine years of being around and the first part of my life was spent on the old John B. Lewis plantation down in old Mississippi.
Yes, sir! my birthday is just over. September 1 it was and the year was 1858. Borned on the John B. Lewis plantation just ten mile south of Jackson in the Mississippi country. Rankin County it was.
My mother's name was Lucinda, and father's name was Levi Miles. My mother was part Indian, for her mother was a half-blood Cherokee Indian from Virginia.
There was children a-plenty besides me. There was Sally, Julia, Hubbard, Ada, Ira, Anthony, Henry, Amanda, Mary, John, Lucinda, Daniel and me, Mattie. That was my family.
The master's family was a large one, too. Six children was born to the Master and Mistress. Her name, his first wife, was Jennie, the second and last was named, Louise. The children was, Rebecca, Mollie, Jennie, Susie, Silas, and Begerlan. They kind of leaned to females.
My mother belonged to Mistress Jennie who thought a heap of her, and why shouldn't she? Mother nursed all Miss Jennie's children because all of her young ones and my mammy's was born so close together it wasn't no trouble at all for mammy to raise the whole kaboodle of them. I was born about the same time as the baby Jennie. They say I nursed on one breast while that white child, Jennie, pulled away at the other!
That was a pretty good idea for the Mistress, for it didn't keep her tied to the place and she could visit around with her friends most any time she wanted 'thout having to worry if the babies would be fed or not.
Mammy was the house girl and account of that and because her family was so large, the Mistress fixed up a two room cabin right back of the Big House and that's where we lived. The cabin had a fireplace in one of the rooms, just like the rest of the slave cabins which was set in a row away from the Big House. In one room was bunk beds, just plain old two-by-fours with holes bored through the plank so's ropes could be fastened in and across for to hold the corn-shuck mattress.
My brothers and sisters was allowed to play with the Master's children, but not with the children who belonged to the field Negroes. We just played yard games like marbles and tossing a ball. I don't rightly remember much about games, for there wasn't too much fun in them days even if we did get raised with the Master's family. We wasn't allowed to learn any reading or writing. They say if they catched a slave learning them things they'd pull his finger nails off! I never saw that done, though.
Each slave cabin had a stone fireplace in the end, just like ours, and over the flames at daybreak was prepared the morning meal. That was the only meal the field negroes had to cook.
All the other meals was fixed up by an old man and woman who was too old for field trucking. The peas, the beans, the turnips, the potatoes, all seasoned up with fat meats and sometimes a ham bone, was cooked in a big iron kettle and when meal time come they all gathered around the pot for a-plenty of helpings! Corn bread and buttermilk made up the rest of the meal.
Ten or fifteen hogs was butchered every fall and the slaves would get the skins and maybe a ham bone. That was all, except what was mixed in with the stews. Flour was given out every Sunday morning and if a family run out of that before the next week, well, they was just out that's all!
The slaves got small amounts of vegetables from the plantation garden, but they didn't have any gardens of their own. Everybody took what old Master rationed out.
Once in a while we had rabbits and fish, but the best dish of all was the 'possum and sweet potatoes—baked together over red-hot coals in the fireplace. Now, that was something to eat!
The Lewis plantation was about three hundred acres, with usually fifty slaves working on the place. Master Lewis was a trader. He couldn't sell of our family, for we belonged to Mistress Jennie. Negro girls, the fat ones who was kinder pretty, was the most sold. Folks wanted them pretty bad but the Mistress said there wasn't going to be any selling of the girls who was mammy's children.
There was no overseer on our place, just the old Master who did all the bossing. He wasn't too mean, but I've seen him whip Old John. I'd run in the house to get away from the sight, but I could still hear Old John yelling, 'Pray, Master! Oh! Pray, Master!', but I guess that there was more howling than there was hurting at that.
My uncle Ed Miles run away to the North and joined with Yankees during the War. He was lucky to get away, for lots of them who tried it was ketched up by the patrollers. I seen some of them once. They had chains fastened around their legs, fastened short, too, just long enough to take a short step. No more running away with them chains anchoring the feets!
There wasn't any negro churches close by our plantation. All the slaves who wanted religion was allowed to join the Methodist church because that was the Mistress' church.
A doctor was called in when the slaves would get sick. He'd give pills for most all the ailments, but once in a while, like when the children would get the whooping cough, some old negro would try to cure them with home made remedies.
The whooping cough cure was by using a land turtle. Cut off his head and drain the blood into a cup. Then take a lump of sugar and dip in the blood, eat the sugar and the coughing was supposed to stop. If it did or not I don't know.
And that makes me think about another cure they use to tell about. A cure for mean overseers. And I don't mean kill, just scare him, that's all. They say the cure was tried on an overseer who worked for Silas Stien, who was a slave owner living close by the Lewis plantation.
It seems like this overseer was of the meanest kind, always whipping the slaves for no reason at all, and the slaves tried to figure out a way to even up with him by chasing him off the place.
One of the slaves told how to cure him. Get a King snake and put the snake in the overseer's cabin. Slip the snake in about, no, not about, but just exactly nine o'clock at night. Seems like the time was important, why so, I don't remember now.
That's what the slaves did. Put in the snake and out went the overseer. Never no more did he whip the slaves on that plantation because he wasn't working there no more! When he went, when he went, or how he went nobody knows, but they all say he went. That's what counted—he was gone!
The Yankees didn't come around our plantation during the war. All we heard was, 'They'll kill all the slaves,' and such hearing was a-plenty!
After the war some man come to the plantation and told the field negroes they was free. But he didn't know about the cabin we lived in and didn't tell my folks nothing about it. They learned about the freedom from the old Master.
That was some days after the man left the place. The Master called my mother and father into the Big House and told them they was free. Free like him. But he didn't want my folks to leave and they stayed, stayed there three year after they was free to go anywhere they wanted.
The master paid them $200 a month to work for him and that wasn't so much if you stop to figure there was two grown folks and thirteen children who could do plenty of work around the place.
But that money paid for an 80-acre farm my folks bought not far from the old plantation and they moved onto it three year after the freedom come.
I think Lincoln was a mighty good man, and I think Roosevelt is trying to carry some of the good ideas Lincoln had. Lincoln would have done a heap more if he had lived.
The young negroes who are living now are selfish and shiftless. They're not worth two cents and don't have the respect for other folks to get along right. That's what I think.
I been married three times, but no children did I have. The first man was Frank Morris, the next was Jim White, and the last was John Logan. All gone. Dead.
From Mississippi I come to Idabel, Oklahoma, in 1909, two year after statehood. I moved to Muskogee in 1910, staying there while the times was good and coming to Tulsa some years ago.
I'm pretty old and can't work hard anymore, but I manage to get along. I'm glad to be free and I don't believe I could stand them slavery days now at all.
I'm my own boss, get up when I want, go to bed the same way. Nobody to say this or that about what I do.
Yes, I'm glad to be free!
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]
KIZIAH LOVE Age 93 Colbert, Okla.
Lawd help us, I sho' remembers all about slavery times for I was a grown woman, married and had one baby when de War done broke out. That was a sorry time for some poor black folks but I guess Master Frank Colbert's niggers was about as well off as the best of 'em. I can recollect things that happened way back better than I can things that happen now. Funny ain't it?
Frank Colbert, a full blood Choctaw Indian, was my owner. He owned my mother but I don't remember much about my father. He died when I was a little youngun. My Mistress' name was Julie Colbert. She and Master Frank was de best folks that ever lived. All the niggers loved Master Frank and knowed jest what he wanted done and they tried their best to do it, too.
I married Isom Love, a slave of Sam Love, another full-blood Indian that lived on a jining farm. We lived on Master Frank's farm and Isom went back and forth to work fer his master and I worked ever day fer mine. I don't 'spect we could of done that way iffen we hadn't of had Indian masters. They let us do a lot like we pleased jest so we got our work done and didn't run off.
Old Master Frank never worked us hard and we had plenty of good food to eat. He never did like to put us under white overseers and never tried it but once. A white man come through here and stopped overnight. He looked 'round the farm and told Master Frank that he wasn't gitting half what he ought to out of his rich land. He said he could take his bunch of hands and double his amount of corn and cotton.
Master Frank told him that he never used white overseers, that he had one nigger that bossed around some when he didn't do it hisself. He also told the white man that he had one nigger named Bill that was kind of bad, that he was a good worker but he didn't like to be bothered as he liked to do his own work in his own way. The white boss told him he wouldn't have any trouble and that he could handle him all right.
Old Master hired him and things went very well for a few days. He hadn't said anything to Bill and they had got along fine. I guess the new boss got to thinking it was time for him to take Bill in hand so one morning he told him to hitch up another team before he caught his own team to go to work.
Uncle Bill told him that he didn't have time, that he had a lot of plowing to git done that morning and besides it was customary for every man to catch his own team. Of course this made the overseer mad and he grabbed a stick and started cussing and run at Uncle Bill. Old Bill grabbed a single-tree and went meeting him. Dat white man all on a sudden turned 'round and run fer dear life and I tell you, he fairly bust old Red River wide open gitting away from there and nobody never did see hide nor hair of him 'round to this day.
Master Colbert run a stage stand and a ferry on Red River and he didn't have much time to look after his farm and his niggers. He had lots of land and lots of slaves. His house was a big log house, three rooms on one side and three on the other, and there was a big open hall between them. There was a big gallery clean across the front of the house. Behind the house was the kitchen and the smokehouse. The smokehouse was always filled with plenty of good meat and lard. They would kill the polecat and dress it and take a sharp stick and run it up their back jest under the flesh. They would also run one up each leg and then turn him on his back and put him on top of the house and let him freeze all night. The next morning they'd pull the sticks out and all the scent would be on them sticks and the cat wouldn't smell at all. They'd cook it like they did possum, bake it with taters or make dumplings.
We had plenty of salt. We got that from Grand Saline. Our coffee was made from parched meal or wheat bran. We made it from dried sweet potatoes that had been parched, too.
One of our choicest dishes was "Tom Pashofa", an Indian dish. We'd take corn and beat it in a mortar with a pestle. They took out the husks with a riddle and a fanner. The riddle was a kind of a sifter. When it was beat fine enough to go through the riddle we'd put it in a pot and cook it with fresh pork or beef. We cooked our bread in a Dutch oven or in the ashes.
When we got sick we would take butterfly root and life-everlasting and boil it and made a syrup and take it for colds. Balmony and queen's delight boiled and mixed would make good blood medicine.
The slaves lived in log cabins scattered back of the house. He wasn't afraid they'd run off. They didn't know as much as the slaves in the states, I reckon. But Master Frank had a half brother that was as mean as he was good. I believe he was the meanest man the sun ever shined on. His name was Buck Colbert and he claimed he was a patroller. He was sho' bad to whup niggers. He'd stop a nigger and ask him if he had a pass and even if they did he'd read it and tell them they had stayed over time and he'd beat 'em most to death. He'd say they didn't have any business off the farm and to git back there and stay there.
One time he got mad at his baby's nurse because she couldn't git the baby to stop crying and he hit her on the head with some fire-tongs and she died. His wife got sick and she sent for me to come and take care of her baby. I sho' didn't want to go and I begged so hard for them not to make me that they sent an older woman who had a baby of her own so she could nurse the baby if necessary.
In the night the baby woke up and got to crying and Master Buck called the woman and told her to git him quiet. She was sleepy and was sort of slow and this made Buck mad and he made her strip her clothes off to her waist and he began to whip her. His wife tried to git him to quit and he told her he'd beat her iffen she didn't shut up. Sick as as she was she slipped off and went to Master Frank's and woke him up and got him to go and make Buck quit whipping her. He had beat her so that she was cut up so bad she couldn't nurse her own baby any more.
Master Buck kept on being bad till one day he got mad at one of his own brothers and killed him. This made another one of his brothers mad and he went to his house and killed him. Everybody was glad that Buck was dead.
We had lots of visitors. They'd stop at the stage inn that we kept. One morning I was cleaning the rooms and I found a piece of money in the bed where two men had slept. I thought it was a dime and I showed it to my mammy and she told me it was a five dollar piece. I sho' was happy fer I had been wanting some hoops fer my skirts like Misstress had so Mammy said she would keep my money 'til I could send fer the hoops. My brother got my money from my mammy and I didn't git my hoops fer a long time. Miss Julie give me some later.
When me and my husband got married we built us a log cabin about half-way from Master Frank's house and Master Sam Love's house. I would go to work at Master Frank's and Isom would go to work at Mister Sam's. One day I was at home with jest my baby and a runner come by and said the Yankee soldiers was coming. I looked 'round and I knowed they would git my chickens. I had 'em in a pen right close to the house to keep the varmints from gitting 'em so I decided to take up the boards in the floor and put 'em in there as the wall logs come to the ground and they couldn't git out. By the time I got my chickens under the floor and the house locked tight the soldiers had got so close I could hear their bugles blowing so I jest fairly flew over to old Master's house. Them Yankees clumb down the chimbley and got every one of my chickens and they killed about fifteen of Master Frank's hogs. He went down to their camp and told the captain about it and he paid him for his hogs and sent me some money for my chickens.
We went to church all the time. We had both white and colored preachers. Master Frank wasn't a Christian but he would help build brush-arbors fer us to have church under and we sho' would have big meetings I'll tell you.
One day Master Frank was going through the woods close to where niggers was having church. All on a sudden he started running and beating hisself and hollering and the niggers all went to shouting and saying "Thank the Lawd, Master Frank has done come through!" Master Frank after a minute say, "Yes, through the worst of 'em." He had run into a yellow jacket's nest.
One night my old man's master sent him to Sherman, Texas. He aimed to come back that night so I stayed at home with jest my baby. It went to sleep so I set down on the steps to wait and ever minute I thought I could hear Isom coming through the woods. All a sudden I heard a scream that fairly made my hair stand up. My dog that was laying out in the yard give a low growl and come and set down right by me. He kept growling real low.
Directly, right close to the house I heard that scream again. It sounded like a woman in mortal misery. I run into the house and made the dog stay outside. I locked the door and then thought what must I do. Supposing Isom did come home now and should meet that awful thing? I heard it again. It wasn't more'n a hundred yards from the house. The dog scratched on the door but I dassent open it to let him in. I knowed by this time that it was a panther screaming. I turned my table over and put it against the opening of the fireplace. I didn't aim fer that thing to come down the chimbley and git us.
Purty soon I heard it again a little mite further away—it was going on by. I heard a gun fire. Thank God, I said, somebody else heard it and was shooting at it. I set there on the side of my bed fer the rest of the night with my baby in my arms and praying that Isom wouldn't come home. He didn't come till about nine o'clock the next morning and I was that glad to see him that I jest cried and cried.
I ain't never seen many sperits but I've seen a few. One day I was laying on my bed here by myself. My son Ed was cutting wood. I'd been awful sick and I was powerful weak. I heard somebody walking real light like they was barefooted. I said, "Who's dat?"
He catch hold of my hand and he has the littlest hand I ever seen, and he say, "You been mighty sick and I want you to come and go with me to Sherman to see a doctor."
I say, "I ain't got nobody at Sherman what knows me."
He say, "You'd better come and go with me anyway."
I jest lay there fer a minute and didn't say nothing and purty soon he say, "Have you got any water?"
I told him the water was on the porch and he got up and went outside and I set in to calling Ed. He come hurrying and I asked him why he didn't lock the door when he went out and I told him to go see if he could see the little man and find out what he wanted. He went out and looked everywhere but he couldn't find him nor he couldn't even find his tracks.
I always keep a butcher-knife near me but it was between the mattress and the feather bed and I couldn't get to it. I don't guess it would have done any good though fer I guess it was jest a sperit.
The funniest thing that ever happened to me was when I was a real young gal. Master and Miss Julie was going to see one of his sisters that was sick. I went along to take care of the baby fer Miss Julie. The baby was about a year old. I had a bag of clothes and the baby to carry. I was riding a pacing mule and it was plumb gentle. I was riding along behind Master Frank and Miss Julie and I went to sleep. I lost the bag of clothes and never missed it. Purty soon I let the baby slip out of my lap and I don't know how far I went before I nearly fell off myself and jest think how I felt when I missed that baby! I turned around and went back and found the baby setting in the trail sort of crying. He wasn't hurt a mite as he fell in the grass. I got off the mule and picked him up and had to look fer a log so I could get back on again.
Jest as I got back on Master Frank rode up. He had missed me and come back to see what was wrong. I told him that I had lost the bag of clothes but I didn't say anything about losing the baby. We never did find the clothes and I sho' kept awake the rest of the way. I wasn't going to risk losing that precious baby again! I guess the reason he didn't cry much was because he was a Indian baby. He was sho' a sweet baby though.
Jest before the War people would come through the Territory stealing niggers and selling 'em in the states. Us women dassent git fur from the house. We wouldn't even go to the spring if we happened to see a strange wagon or horsebacker. One of Master Sam Love's women was stole and sold down in Texas. After freedom she made her way back to her fambly. Master Frank sent one of my brothers to Sherman on an errand. After several days the mule come back but we never did see my brother again. We didn't know whether he run off or was stole and sold.
I was glad to be free. What did I do and say? Well, I jest clapped my hands together and said, "Thank God Almighty, I'se free at last!"
I live on the forty acres that the government give me. I have been blind for nine years and don't git off my bed much. I live here with my son, Ed. Isom has been dead for over forty years. I had fifteen children, but only ten of them are living.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves
DANIEL WILLIAM LUCAS Age 94 yrs. Red Bird, Okla.
I remember them slave days well as it was yesterday, and when I get to remembering the very first thing comes back to me is the little log cabin where at I lived when I was a slave boy back 'fore the War.
Just like yesterday—I see that little old cabin standing on a bit of hill about a quarter-mile from the Master's brick mansion, and I see into the cabin and there's the old home-made bed with rope cords a-holding up the corn shuck bedding where on I use to sleep after putting in the day at hoeing cotton or following a slow time mule team down the corn rows 'till it got so dark the old overseer just naturally had to call it a day.
And then I see the old baker swinging in the fireplace. That cooked up the corn pone to go with the fat side meats the Master Doctor (didn't I tell you the Master was a doctor?) give us for the meals of the week day. But on a Sunday morning we always had flour bread, excepting after the War is over and then we is lucky do we get anything.
Just like yesterday—I hear the old overseer making round of the cabins every day at four, and I means in the morning, too, when the night sleep is the best, and the folkses tumbling out of the door getting ready for the fields.
All the mens dressed about the same. Just like me. Wearing the grey jeans with the blue shirt stuck in loose around the belt, brogan shoes that feels like brakes on the feet about the hot time of day when the old sun's a-grinning down like he was saying: "work, niggers, work!" And the overseer is saying the same thing, only we pays more attention to him 'cause of the whip he shakes around when the going gets kinder slow down the row.
Now I sees them getting ready for the slave auction. Many of 'em there was. The Master Doctor done owned about two hundred slaves and sometimes he sell some for to beat the bad crops.
There they'd stand on the wooden blocks, their faces greased and shiny, their arms and bodies pretty well greased too; seemed like they looked better and stronger that way, maybe some other reason, I dunno. And when the auction was over lots of the slaves would try to figger out when would the next one be and worry some afraid they'd be standing up there waiting for the buyers to punch and slap to see is they sound of limb and able to do the days work without loafing down the rows.
There's the old white preacher who tried to tell the slaves about the Lord. He had a mighty hard job sometimes, 'cause of the teaching was hard to understand. And then—then he'd just seem to be riled with anger and lay down the law of the Lord between cuss-words that all the slaves could understand. So finally I guess everybody was religionized even it was cussed into 'em right from the pulpit!
That old preacher always makes me think of haunts, 'cause every evening when I drive up the cows for milking, there's a old, old log cabin right on the way that I pass every night—and it's so haunted won't nobody pass it after the darkness covers in the daylight.
I didn't always get by 'fore then, and the sounds I hear! Like they was people inside jumping and knocking on the floor, maybe they was dancing, I dunno. But they was a light in the big room. Wasn't the moon a-shining through the windows either, 'cause sometimes I would stop at the gate and say HELLO, then out go the light and the noises would stop quick, like them haunts was a-scairt as me—and then, then I run like the old preacher's Devil is after me with all his forks.
Then along come the War. The slaves would go around from cabin to cabin telling each other about how mean and cruel was the master or the overseer, and maybe some of them would make for the North. They was the unlucky ones, 'cause lots of times they was caught.
And when the patrollers get 'em caught, they was due for a heavy licking that would last for a long time.
The slaves didn't know how to travel. The way would be marked when they'd start North, but somehow they'd get lost, 'cause they didn't know one direction from another, they was so scairt.
Just like yesterday—I remember the close of the War. Nothing exciting about it down on the plantation. Just the old overseer come around and say:
"The Yankees has whipped the Rebels and the War is over. But the Old Master don't want you to leave. He just wants you to stay right on here where at is your home. That's what the Master say is best for you to do."
That's what I do, but some of them other slaves is kinder filled up with the idea of freedom and wants to find out is it good or bad, so they leave and scatter round.
But I stays, and the Master Doctor he pays me ten dollars every month, gives me board and my sleeping place just like always, and when I gets sick there he is with the herb medicine for my ailment and I is well again.
It's long after the War before I leaves the old place. And that's when I gets married in 1885. That was my first licensed wife and we is married in Holly Springs. Her name was Josephine and we has maybe eight-ten children, I dunno.
And I is thankful they ain't none of my children born slaves and have to remember all them terrible days when we was ruled by the whip—like I remember it, just like it was yesterday.
Oklahoma Writers' Project Ex-Slaves [Date stamp: AUG 19 1937]
BERT LUSTER Age 85 yrs. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
I'll be jest frank, I'm not for sho' when I was born, but it was in 1853. Don't know the month, but I was sho' born in 1853 in Watson County, Tennessee. You see my father was owned by Master Luster and my mother was owned by Masters Joe and Bill Asterns (father and son). I can remember when Master Astern moved from Watson County, Tennessee he brought me and my mother with him to Barnum County Seat, Texas. Master Astern owned about twelve slaves, and dey was all Astern 'cept Miriah Elmore's son Jim. He owned 'bout five or six hundred acres of ground, and de slaves raised and shucked all de corn and picked all de cotton. De whites folks lived in a big double log house and we slaves lived in log cabins. Our white folks fed us darkies! We ate nearly ever'thing dey ate. Dey ate turkey, chickens, ducks, geese, fish and we killed beef, pork, rabbits and deer. Yes, and possums too. And whenever we killed beef we tanned the hide and dere was a white man who made shoes for de white folks and us darkies. I tell you I'm not gonna lie, dem white folks was good to us darkies. We didn't have no mean overseer. Master Astern and his son jest told us niggers what to do and we did it, but 50 miles away dem niggers had a mean overseer, and dey called him "poor white trash", "old whooser", and sometime "old red neck", and he would sho' beat 'em turrible iffen dey didn't do jest like he wanted 'em to.
Seem like I can hear dem "nigger hounds" barking now. You see whenever a darky would get a permit to go off and wouldn't come back dey would put de "nigger hounds" on his trail and run dat nigger down.
De white women wove and spin our clothes. You know dey had looms, spins, and weavers. Us darkies would stay up all night sometime sep'rating cotton from the seed. When dem old darkies got sleepy dey would prop their eyes open wid straws.
Sho', we wore very fine clothes for dem days. You know dey dyed the cloth with poke berries.
We cradled de wheat on pins, caught the grain, carried it to de mill and had it ground. Sho', I ate biscuits and cornbread too. Keep telling you dat we ate.
We got de very best of care when we got sick. Don't you let nobody tell you dem white folks tried to kill out dem darkies 'cause when a darkey took sick dey would send and git de very best doctors round dat country. Dey would give us ice water when we got sick. You see we put up ice in saw dust in winter and when a slave got sick dey give him ice water, sometimes sage tea and chicken gruel. Dey wanted to keep dem darkies fat so dey could git top price for 'em. I never saw a slave sold, but my half brother's white folks let him work and buy hisself.
I was about 14, and I milked the cows, packed water, seeded cotton, churned milk up at de Big House and jest first one chore and den another. My mother cooked up at de Big House.
Dey was a lot of talk 'bout conjure but I didn't believe in it. Course dem darkies could do everything to one another, and have one another scared, but dey couldn't conjure dat overseer and stop him from beating 'em near to death. Course he didn't flog 'em till dey done sumping.