A Little History

Oklahoma Slave Narrative

  Eliza Bell

I seen many a trouble hour since I was born in them long gone days away back in March 1851, just at the time of year when old Master Joe Wiley took the shoes off his slaves, sending the slaves to work barefoot and putting the shoes away in the storage waiting for winter to come again before they'd be give out to the feets that fit 'em easiest.  The Wiley plantation was in the timbered lands of Pontiac County, Mississippi. That's where my mother and father lived when I was born and they stayed with the old master, or one of his married daughters until after the war was over and the slaves set free.  Frebry Wiley was mothers name. She come from the Alabama country, while my father was from Georgia and from what he said there was no place like Georgia. Always talking about it when he had a chance to talk, but I'se so old now can't remember all the things he talked about. His name was Dennis Wiley.  Also I remembers about my grandmother, but not her name. She was plenty troubled when Mary, the master's daughter, married and got ready to move to Fort Smith. That was away over in Arkansas and granny was mighty sad at her leaving. On the day Miss Mary went away, granny said to her: "Miss Mary, you done married, but please don't move away. I'se got a feeling that we ain't going to never see you no more.  Of course the white folks didn't pay no mind to the old colored lady and Miss Mary just laughed at her like it was something funny. But after awhile I reckon they done believe old granny knew something was going to be wrong.  The master said one morning he was going to visit with Miss Mary. He called the overseers to him, there was two or three of them to look after all the slaves, and told them what he wanted done on the place while he's gone. Then he started out on his saddle horse.  I was setting in the house close by Mistress Mary Wiley when Master come back. He didn't say nothing, just walked into the house and humped himself down in a chair. He covered his face with hands that couldn't hide his grief.  The mistress went over and asked him what's the matter. The master didn't look at her, just answered, "Mary's dead!"  Then long months after all the children was playing the yard. The mistress and her two girls, Emma and Lucy, was in the yard too, when somebody pointed to the front-yard gate and called, "Look yonder! Look, Mistress, at the gate!  Everybody stopped, looking to see who is coming to visit. The mistress said, "It's Mary!" There she was, standing by the gate post, something bright shining around her head, and the folks knewed they was seeing a ghost. Reckon everybody was too scared to say anything and whatever it was that was Miss Mary didn't say nothing either. The form just kinder melted through the gate and run to the house. Then we heard music from the house, just like when Miss Mary was at home, always playing the piano. But the house was empty.  Aunt Betty (the cook) run to call Master Joe and we all followed him into the house, but the music had stopped when we got to the porch and wasn't heard no more. The master and mistress led the way to the parlor, nobody there. Then us all went around to the different rooms but never saw nobody so we went back to the front yard only there was nothing more we could see. I am an old granny woman myself now, but I can still see her now just like when she come back from the dead.  Old master owned a heap of colored people. They all had two room cabins built of logs, but the back room was just a shed that everybody called the lean-to. That was the kitchen and after working until dark and sometimes later, I remember lots of times carrying a pine torch for my pappy to see by, the grown-ups come to the cabins and get ready the vittles. Everybody eat just about the same things, vegetables seasoned with fat and lean pork, some corn bread and buttermilk. All the slave families had a garden spot for they ownself, take out what they need whenever they need it. The master was always good to the slaves, never kick unless they don't eat enough!  In them days a bed stead was what the white folks slept in.  The slaves had a bed frame made of split logs (my pappy split lots of logs for the master), set in the corner of the front room. The slats was sometimes rope and sometimes planks, piled up with straw for a mattress and covered with an old quilt or maybe a cow hide.  In the fields they used oxen for plowing and when the cotton was ready for the market the old master would tell my pappy off to take it to town. The oxen was hitched to the wagon and they'd poke off down the road slow as a terrapin crawling in the shade.  In times before the war my mother and Aunt Betty would help the mistress weave cloth at night. They made all the work clothes for the field hands - good coarse, heavy stuff for winter and light weight for the hot days.  The first time I was in the master's big house was with mother when she went to the loom room. The master's house was a big frame building. Eight rooms it was, with a hall in between the rooms. The parlor - where Miss Mary played the piano after she died - was the biggest room. The bedrooms was cool and fixed up like the mistress wanted them, with big cherry-wood beds that always made me tired and sleepy ever time I see 'em.  I never saw the war nor heard much about it. Young Bill Wiley, son of the master, went to the war and stayed until it was over. My Uncle Lack (Wiley) went with him, just to take care of him during the fighting and neither of 'em got hurt all the time they was gone.  One day the Yankees come to the master's house while I was setting on the end step of the porch. They wore blue coats brighted up with brass buttons. Soon as I saw them buttons I wanted one, but while one of the soldiers was talking to the mistress on the porch, old Aunt Betty took me by the ear and pulled me into the house - (she said they might start to shooting!) - before I could ask for one of them brass buttons. So I never got one.  About that time the line riders (patrollers) was busy all around the country. Looking for negroes and seeing did they have a pass. If they did it was alright, but if the slave was out without one somebody sure to get flogged mighty hard when they get caught.  Everybody was glad when young Master Billie come back from the war, but when he told us the slaves was free nobody knew what to do about it. Just like turning chickens out of a coop to scratch and nothing there to scratch for!  Our family stayed with the old master long time after that. Father worked on the farm and made lots of crops for the master who give him part of the crop to sell or else sell it and give us the money.  After a pretty good crop year my father fixed up to leave for Texas. The old master give him a horse and a cow when we left and with a wagon we moved to Verona (Texas). Hitched the horse and cow to the wagon and when we got to farming at Verona them two animals pulled the plow on the first crop.  That's where I was married, at Verona. To Jim Bell who's been dead fifty year or more. A white preacher married us and we stayed with my folks to help farm, for my older brother had died and father needed us to help on the farm.  After I got married and had several children (don't know how many, "but seven lived to grown-up"), I got my first schooling. Just barely learned to read through the second reader and write my name.  I am glad slavery is over and I remember the folks talking about Lincoln, the man who was born in a log cabin and who freed the slaves. That was the right thing to do.  That's what God wants everybody to do. Treat everybody right and believe everything that's right, that's what God wants us to do, and to keep the Sabbath holy.  Religion, that was another thing the old master didn't mind us having. Oak Hill church. There was the first church I went to and it was in slave times. Nothing like the fine churches we got now. Just a little one room log house, with a dirt floor, but it was a place to worship the Lord and nobody worried about what there was to walk on. Just the dirt, but it was God's earth, the same earth that Jesus walked on and we was all glad to be there.  Come Sunday morning and the old master would have one of the boys bring out a horse. Always it was a black mare, and he would let mother ride it to the church meeting, with me on behind holding tight. It was five miles from the farm, down through the timber.  I still remember the old master calling when we go through the gate: "Don't lose your pass, Frebry, the patrollers get you, stead of the Devil!  But the line riders didn't get us because we was careful with the pass, and we live right so's the Devil don't get us when we die. I reckon that would please the old master if he knew.