A Little History

Oklahoma Slave Narrative

  Henry Henderson

 In the war time, when the Captain give the charge order, I would pick me out one of the enemy for my own personal fight and while I was making for him I would always say: 'Bayonet to bayonet, skull to skull, if you ain't faster than I is, I get you in the rib!' - and then I would let him have it!  I use to be a fighting man and a strong Southern soldier, until the Yank's captured me and made me fight with them. I don't know what the year was, but there was some Southern Indians took in the same battle and they fought with the North too. There was whole regiments deserted from the South, but I was captured; never figured on running away from my own people. Some of the Cherokee Indians who fought with the North were Bob Crittenden, Zeke Proctor and Luke Six Killer. Luke's father was with the South and got killed; some of the folks said young Luke killed his own father in the war.  Some of the time I was fighting in Virginia against Lee's army, and there I saw many a man ripped with the bayonet and fall dead on the ground. I still got the bayonet I used in the war; the gun is gone. A white man borrowed it to take a picture of the old gun and he ain't never come back with it yet. He's a Muskogee man, but I forgot his name.  That's what I do best,  forgets names. I done forgot my own mother's name and steppappy's, too. But I recollects that old Harriett Vann was my great grandmother. I was born with the Vann's and stayed with the Vanns until the war come along and I went with soldiers.  I was born June 4, 1843, on the Martin Vann place near Tullahassee. A. Vann was my father and he run a steamboat on the Arkansas river, away down into Arkansas past Van Buren. He take a load of cotton that he gather up all the way between Fort Gibson and Van Buren to the Mississippi river where he would load it on old Ben Johnson's boat the negroes all called the 'Cotton Planter.' old Ben's boat hauled lots and lots of slaves from Louisiana in her hull on the way back for another load of cotton.  I done forgot my Cherokee that I heard when I was young. I been living around with the Creeks so long that I picked up some of their words, like 'Lag-ashe' when they mean to set down or take a chair; 'Hum-buc-sha' is the call for meals or come eat; 'Pig-ne-dee' is the Creek way of saying good morning, and 'Car-a-she' is corn bread.
The Vann family was always going to someplace new and I can't remember the different places. The slaves was all divided among the Vanns; Joe, Martin, Sena and Clarena was some of their names. Altogether the Vanns owned hundreds of slaves and thousands of land acres all over the country from Webbers Falls to Tullahassee on to the north around Bible's Prairie near Vinita.  They bought and sold slaves, raised corn and cotton and run the steamboat. They always treated their slaves good, only whipped the mean ones who wouldn't work. Master Martin Vann would tell the overseer: 'Take them negroes out for to cut up some wood, pile up the chips and keep them working good, then when Saturday night come around you all go to the corral for rations and do what you want until Monday morning, just so you stay on the farm.'  The Vann home at Webbers Falls was built of logs cut by the slaves. The cracks was made solid with small chunks of burr oak, daubed over with a mix of hay and clay mud. The outside was then covered with burr oak planks maybe six inches thick to make the house warm.  When I got old enough to work around the farm my job was to care for the sheep, until I got still older enough to work on the river boat. With them sheep I had a bobtail bull dog, a brindle colored animal, who went with me all the time. Help to bring them back to the barns at night and round up the strays if they get lost in a hollow.  In them days I wore a long tailed shirt, hickory stripe, bed tick style. The cloth was made out of the cotton and sheep's wool right on the Vann place, and when the shirt get dirty I soak it up in board or wood tubs, then lay it out on a bench and smack the dirt out with a paddle. That was the kind of wash machine we had in the old times.
Some of the slave owners built log pens on their place for keeping a negro should he get mean or do something wrong. They called it the bull ring. Maybe some slave man get off his own place without the master giving him a pass. A neighbor pick him up and bring him home. The master put that slave in the bull ring and lay on with the lash. When the whipping is over the master say: 'Now go do that again!' Most always the man didn't do it again.  My father died about two years before the war started. I had four half brothers; Sam, Jimmie, Billie and Dave McCurtain (mixedblood Creek negroes), and a half sister Elmira, of the same blood. All of them dead now, just me left here to do nothing but draw my pension check.  I guess Lincoln was a good man to free the slaves, but I was getting along alright anyway. It suited me, what I got to eat and wear, and there was always plenty of both before the war.  Lincoln was alright, like I said, but right now we got the best President we ever had, that's all I got to say.