Oklahoma Slave Narrative
My parents came from Georgia with the Cherokees. They came by boat I spect. I didn't know much about 'em, can't even remember my mother, she died when I'se so young. She belonged to Vina Ratliff. My father must have belonged to John Drew but he was sold and sent to Mississippi long before the war. I'se born in 1852 down below Tahlequah on the Ratliff Plantation. Yes, I'se born a Ratliff. I remember the big log house of my marster and the little one the slaves lived in. I got into Mart McCoys hands somehow. There was an attachment or bond or something. He was a sheriff down near Dwight Mission. I couldn't tell how come, we slaves didn't know nuthin' anyhow. Then Marster Ratliff got me back again. I'se there for a while and then sold to William Penn Adair . I remember the old Adair plantation. Marster Adair had his first wife then. They lived in a double log cabin. There was two big rooms with an entry in between. Didn't you never see a house with an entry? Well you go in just like this: - I walk in entry, I go this way and there's the door of one room, then I go that way and there's the door of the other room. You ask why they didn't have no bigger house. Why, they couldn't have done no better. They hadn't had time. They was drove here in '35 and I lived there in '62. They hadn't had much time to build much house, but it was warm. Them two rooms had rock fireplaces with a big rock hearth. They had big mantleboards like. You don't see none no more. They cooked on the kitchen fireplace; baked the bread in a skillet laid in the coals. Everybody had fireplaces; I never seen no stove till I got free up in Kansas. The bedsteads had curtains all around, I remember that too. And there was a trundle bed for the children. You slide it under the big bed in the daytime. Never see them no more either. Marster William had about ten slaves. I remember the names of five, Francis , Margaret , Tobe , and Bean , not countin' myself. Francis and Margaret washed, spinned and weaved. They wove lots and lots of goods. Didn't you never see no weavin'? They carded the wool first, make roll, then they put it, the cotton, on a wheel and spin it round and round like this. They use their feet too. They made bed-spreads, sheets, jeans for pants. Oh, we ain't no count now; we don't know how to do nothin'. We lived in the Joe Martin community. I've heard tell how mean he was. Lots of theCherokees had slaves. There was the Adairs , William Penn , my marster, Frank , John and George Washington , the Martins , the Drews , and old Dick Sanders . Most of the Cherokees was good to their slaves, but old Joe Martin wasn't. My last marster, William Penn Adair, was tall, slender man. He was pretty good looking, smart lawyer. Most of the time he was good to his slaves but crossed up with us sometimes. Mistress Sarah , his wife, she was good to us, yes, awful good to us. Them Adairs was all smart people. I used to go and visit old Aunt Suzanna McNair (she was a Bell) . We liked to talk over old times. Washington Adair got shot one time. His home was just a little way from marster Williams , all live close together. Well he set up his gun some way and it fell, shot him right through the leg. You just talk to some of his grandchildren. They tell you I'se tellin' the truth. We had plenty to eat on marster William's plantation, lots of wild stuff, turkeys, deers. We had a big smoke house where all the meat was kept. Kill forty or fifty hogs at one time. Livin' was good in them days, plenty of it. Folks don't know now what good things are. I'll say they don't. No more wild turkey, cooked on the hearth. Only rich folks can buy ham now, and store ham ain't like what we used to have. I never seen a lamp till I went to Kansas. Francis and Maragret would spin and weave by candlelight and now folks car even see by 'lectric light without they got their glasses on. We ain't no count no more. You ask me did I feel bad when my father was sold? I don't know if I did or not. I had to make the most of it, slaves did. They come and take you anytime, maybe husband, maybe children. When the war came on there's lots of fightin'. They broke up pretty much, this country. The North they got in power, you know how it is in a war. I'se nine or ten years old then. The Northern soldiers came and took Marster Williams prisoner and all us slaves up to Fort Scott, Kansas. I remember it. They come to the house one day and say, "You all get ready to go north." It was June in 1862. They take us in wagons and on horseback. They went to different plantations and take as many slaves as they could get. They did a lot of robbin' too; took an awful lot of stock. I can't remember going hungry on the trip, but we had an awful time gettin' water. Sometimes we drink muddy water out of the creeks. Don't know how long it took us, see I'se just a little girl, but I do remember how tired I got and sleepin' under a wagon at night. I didn't know what it's all about. Marster William was kept prisoner up there a while and then paroled. He came on back to the territory and was a colonel in Stand Watie's regiment. I've heard tell that he made a wonderful speech. Marster William , he was smart man. What did I do in Kansas during the war? They worked me out. I worked so many places, can't remember them all. I'll have to tell you a joke on myself, just to show you how ignorant I was. I didn't know nothin' cept what I'd learned on Marster William's plantation. First place I went the woman say, "You make a fire in the stove". I'd never seen a stove. I walked round and round that stove, didn't even know what it was. There wasn't no wood to make a fire with. All I could see was a pile of black rocks in a pail like. That woman say, "you no good, you can't even make a fire." I twisted my handkerchief up and came home cryin' to my sister. She say, "What you all come home for", and I says, "I can't make no white folks fire, I can't make no fire with rocks". She sent me back and the woman taught me how to make a fire in the stove with coal. Next day she say, "You put water in the reservoir, so it won't get dry." Lord, I'd never seen no reservoir. I looked around, but I couldn't see nuthin' goin' dry. Then she tell me to go put somethin' in the frigerator so it keep cold. I didn't know what a frigerator was. One day she give me some eggs and milk and stuff and say, "Now you malgamate this here." She mean mix it up, beat it, like this. How I know what malgamate mean? I didn't know white folks language. She tell me to go clean the lamps; I never seen no lamp before. Now you will laugh. One time after I'd been in Kansas quite a while I thought I'se educated in white folks ways, but I wasn't. I went to a new place to work. That woman says, "First thing you go and do something in the upstairs chamber". I can't remember what. I looked and looked and I couldn't find no chamber. How's I to know she meant the upstairs bedroom? They used so much different language, those northerners, I thought I'd never learn it. They tell me to go cook something in the spider. I always thought a spider was a varmint. They'd say, fortnight for two weeks, and shillun for I don't remember what, money of some kind. I never had no money so I don't remember how much it was. Yes, and they tell me go put something on the balcony. I didn't know what a balcony was. There was an army doctor named Dr. Redfield , he doctor us all when we get sick.
I got free while I'se in Kansas. We all knowed it was comin'. The colored folks never worried after they got up north. Which do I like best, the northerner or the southerner people? Now you ask me something I don't know how to answer. I like it the way I is, free. It's a good thing, freedom. Do I like the northern folks if I should go back to Ft. Scott, they'd have to haul me away, I'd die a cryin'. They was awful good to me up there. And I bet all those old timers are gone. And do I love my folks here? Well, I'se born down here, here's where I belong. You know how it is, when you go away from where you first belong, seems like something call you back. After the war was over we colored folks all had to go back to prove up; tell where you come from, who you belong to, you know, so we get our share of land. The government made a treaty with the Cherokees, if all the slaves come back they give 'em Cherokee citizenship, but we had to be back by '66'. I came to Melvin in a wagon. I drawed some money once and some land too. Later on. After a while I went back to Ft. Scott to work, I like it there so well. I'se always been a workin' woman, no matter where I is. In 1889 I came to Vinita and I been here ever since. I met up with Columbus McNair and he courted me. Oh, it was so foolishly, I can't tell about it. We got t' goin' to dances and then after while I married him. Before the war he belonged to Joe Martin' s sister, she was Hooley Bell' s aunt. Oh, them old-time dances, I could die a cryin' thinkin' of 'em. I'd put on my Sunday dress and Columbus would come and took me. There was awful lot of good violin music. Don't know how they learned it, but you know how colored folks can play. We'd dance the Georgia Minstrel. Didn't you never see the Georgia Minstrel? They don't never dance it anymore. They danced it with their feet and twist just like this. Sometimes we dance on a platform; sometimes just on the ground. Yes, I belong to a church. I'se been a Methodist member since long time ago. I was baptized in the creek, cause I wanted to. We had awful good baptizings. We's baptized with the water and the spirit; put you clear under. Now they just sprinkle little water on you and there ain't no spirit to it. We had nicer funerals too; they was more serious. Now, when someone die they pull 'em out the house before they's cold. I've heard folks say that these undertakers now don't even take off your underclothes. They just put on your outside dress and your body not even clean. When I die, lady, I want 'em take off all my clothes and wash me clean like they used to and then put on clean clothes from my hide out. They used to sit by 'em. They don't do that no more. Now, people isn't decent, no shame. Wimmen don't keep themselves like they used to. They'd go round with nothin' but a bracelet and a necklace and call theirselves dressed. Aunt Chaney gettin' old now. I'se seen one war but I hope I never sees next one. Another war come, they throw poison gas on us, burn us up. But it's comin'; Lord, yes, it's comin'. The scripture says, "There'll be war and more war." But we just keep on a goin' anyhow. One generation dies off and another one comes on, just like a crop of beans. But God has give us a big promise. He give us what we ask for; if we ask for more, he goin' give us more. Does I believe in Spirits? Sure I do. This old flesh and bones goin' back from what God made it, but our spirits never die. Sometimes the spirits of folks what's dead come back. I've heard of haunted houses where there was rappin's and the like, but I never did hear any myself. Tell you what I did see once, more than once. Back in Ft. Scott where I worked there's a little girl, beautiful little girl with long curls. I wondered why God made me black and ugly and that little girl so white. Before I left she died, I saw her lyin' in the casket. Longtime after she came to me in a dreamlike. I saw a little girl with curls, all dressed in white. Seemed like she was here a minute, then she walked out the door and was gone. She come more than once and stand right here in that door. Sometime that little girl goin' come back all dressed in white and take old Aunt Chaney out the door and I won't never come back. All just as Aunt Chaney gave it with the exception of the "Crop of beans." It sounded to me like peas or beans, maybe you can remember Mrs. Howland . I have had to change the order of things. In the interview she went out the door right at first. If the project continues I will send you some material on the Drews and William Penn Adair ; both were prominent Cherokees.
I am eighty-five years old, being born in slavery, near Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, June 1852. My father and mother belonged to Dick Ratcliff
, who lived southeast of Tahlequah, at a place called "Caney", and did his trading at Tahlequah. Dick Ratcliff
was the father of four sons and two daughters as follows: Daniel
. Mr. Ratcliff
was a very old man and his sons did all the bossing of the slaves about the field work. We raised wheat, corn and Hungarian Millet, and we gathered the blades off the corn and bound them in bundles for fodder, to take the place of hay as there was no wild hay growing near.
We had plenty to eat, good horses to ride and plenty of good whiskey to drink. Our masters were kind to us here in the Indian country and there were no restrictions set as to how much work we should do in a day. I was told that down in Texas the slave owners
set a rule that each slave was to do so much work each day and any who failed to come up to their rule received so many lashes when night came. Old man Ratcliff's
hobby was to have us little "Niggers" around him, sing "Polly Put The Kettle On", and many other old time songs and watch us dance. He would also have us wrestle, run races and do a lot of other foolish things to amuse the little ones, while the old folks were in the field.