From: More Arkansas
Interviewer: Miss Irene Robertson
Person interviewed: Hammett Dell, Brasfield, Arkansas
[-- -- 1937]
[TR: Some word pronunciation was marked in this interview. Letters
surrounded by  represent long vowels.]
"I was born in Tennessee, 10 miles from Murfreesboro. They call it now
Releford. I was born October 12, 1847. I stayed wid old master till he
died. I was bout thirty-five years old. He lernt me a good trade, brick
layin'. He give me everything I needed and more. After the war he took
me by the old brass lamp wid twisted wick--it was made round--and lernt
me outer the Blue Back Speller and Rithmetic. The spelling book had
readin' in it. Lady ain't you seed one yit? Then I lernt outer Rays
Rithmetic and McGuffeys Reader. Old master say it ginst the law to teach
slaves foe the war. Dat what he said, it was ginst the law to educate a
nigger slave. The white folks schools was pay foe the war.
"My old master had a small farm. His wife died. He never married no
more. I caint member her name. She died when I was a little bitter of a
boy. They had a putty large family. There was Marion, William, Fletcher,
John, Miss Nancy, Miss Claricy, Miss Betsy. I think that all. The older
childern raised up the little ones. My master named Mars Pleasant White.
Long as I stayed wid him I had a plenty to eat an' wear an' a dollar to
spend. I had no sense to save a cent for a old day. Mars White was a
good man if ever one lived. He was a good man. Four old darkies all Mars
White had. They was my mama, grandma, papa, auntie. My name I would lack
it better White but that is where the Dell part come in; papa b'long to
the Dells and b'fo the war he talked to me bout it. He took his old
master's name. They call him Louis Dell White. He didn't have no
brothers but my mama had two sisters. Her name was Mary White. Them was
happy days b'fo the war. The happiest days in all my life. Bout at the
beginnin' of the war Mama took cole at the loom and died. We all waited
on her, white folks too. She didn't lack for waitin' on. Something white
folks et, we et. We had plenty good grub all time long as Mars White
"How'd I know bout to git in war? I heard white folks talkin' bout it.
One time I heard Mars White talkin' to my folks bout takin' us away. We
was happy an' doin' well an' I didn't lack the talk but I didn't know
what "war" was. No mam that was two years foe they got to fightin' down
at Murfreesboro. Mars White was a ruptured man. He never left our place.
I never heard bout none of my folks bein' sold. Mars White aired
(heired) all us. My papa left and never come back. I d[o]n[o] how he got
through the lines in the army. I guess he did fight wid the Yankees.
"Papa didn't speak plain. Grandma couldn't speak plain. They lisp. They
talk fast. Sound so funny. Mama and auntie speak well. Plain as I do
now. They was up wid Mars White's childern more. Mars White sent his
childern to pay school. It was a log house and they had a lady teacher.
They had a accordion. Mars Marion's neighbor had one too. All of em
"White women would plat shucks an' make foot mats, rugs and horse
collars. The white women lernt the darkie women. There was no leather
horse collars as ever I seed. I lernt to twist shucks and weave chair
bottoms. Then I lernt how to make white oak split chair bottoms. I made
all kinds baskets. We had all sizes and kinds of baskets. When they git
old they turn dark. Shuck bottom chairs last longer but they kinner ruff
an' not so fancy.
"Well when they started off fightin' at Murfreesboro, it was a continual
roar. The tin pans in the cubbord (cupboard) rattle all time. It was
distressful. The house shakin' all time. All our houses jar. The earth
quivered. It sound like the judgment. Nobody felt good. Both sides
foragin' one bad as the other, hungry, gittin' everything you put way to
live on. That's "war". I found out all bout what it was. Lady it ain't
nuthin' but hell on dis erth.
"I tole you I was ten miles from the war and how it roared and bout how
the cannons shook the earth. There couldn't be a chicken nor a goose nor
a year of corn to be found bout our place. It was sich hard times. It
was both sides come git what you had. Whole heap of Yankees come in
their blue suits and caps on horses up the lane. They was huntin'
horses. They done got every horse and colt on the place cepin one old
mare, mother of all the stock they had on the place. Young mistress had
a furs bout her and led her up the steps and put her in the house.
"Then when they started to leave, one old Yankee set the corner of the
house on fire. We all got busy then, white folks and darkies both carry
in' water ter put it out. We got it out but while we doin' that, mind
out, they went down the lane to the road by the duck pond we had dug
out. One old soldier spied a goose settin' in the grass. She been so
scared she never come to the house no more. Nobody knowed there was one
on our place. He took his javelin and stuck it through her back. She
started hollowin' and flutterin' till the horses, nearly all of em,
started runnin' and some of em buckin'. We got the fire bout out. We
couldn't help laughin' it look so funny. I been bustin' I was so mad
cause they tried take old Beck. Three of em horses throwd em. They
struck out cross the jimpson weeds and down through the corn patch
tryin' to head off their horses. Them horses throwd em sprawlin'. That
was the funniest sight I ever seed.
"We got our water out of a cave. It was good cold limestone water. We
had a long pole and a rope with a bucket on the end. We swing the pole
round let it down then pull it back and tie it. They go to the other end
and git the bucket of water. I toted bout all the water to both places
what they used. One day I goin' to the cave after water. I had a habit
of throwin' till I got to be prutty exact bout hittin'. I spied a
hornets nest in a tree long the lane. I knowd them soldiers be long back
fer sompin else, pillagin' bout. It wasn't long show nuff they come back
and went up to the house.
"I got a pile of rocks in my hands. I hid down in the hazel nut bushes.
When they come by gallopin' I throwd an' hit that big old hornets nest.
The way they piled out on them soldiers. You could see em fightin' far
as you could see em wid their blue caps. The horses runnin' and buckin'.
I let out to the house to see what else they carried off.
"I tole Mars White bout how I hit that hornets nest wid the first rock I
throwd. He scolded me, for he said if they had seen me they would killed
me. It scared him. He said don't do no more capers like that. That old
hornets nest soon come down. It was big as a water bucket. Mars White
call me son boy. I tole him what terrible language they used, and bout
some of the horses goin' over the lane fence. It was made outer rails
piled up. Mars White sho was glad they didn't see me. He kept on sayin'
son boy they would killed you right on the spot. Don't do nuthin' to em
to aggravate em.
"It look lack we couldn't make a scratch on the ground nowhere the
soldiers couldn't find it. We had a ash hopper settin' all time. We made
our soap and lye hominy. They took all our salt. We couldn't buy none.
We put the dirt in the hopper and simmered the water down to salt. We
hid that. No they didn't find it. Our smoke house was logs dobbed wid
mud and straw. It was good size bout as big as our cabins. It had
somepin in it too. All the time I tell you.
"You ever eat dried beef? It is fine.
"I say I been to corn shuckins. They do that at night. We hurry and git
through then we have a dance in front of Mars White's house. We had a
good time. Mars White pass round ginger bread and hard cider. We wore a
thing on our hands keep shucks from hurtin' our hands. One darkie sit up
on the pile and lead the singin'. Old Dan Tucker was one song we lernt.
I made some music instruments. We had music. Folks danced then more they
do now. Most darkies blowed quills and Jew's harps. I took cane cut four
or six made whistles then I tuned em together and knit em together in a
row like a mouth harp you see.
[TR: there is a drawing of the whistles, something like this:
- - - - - -
Two lines across all the whistles may indicate strings.]
Another way get a big long cane cut out holes long down to the joint,
hold your fingers over different holes and blow. I never had a better
time since freedom. I never had a doctor till since I been 80 years old
"Later on I made me a bow of cedar, put one end in my mouth and pick the
string wid my fingers while I hold the other end wid this hand. (Left
hand. It was very peculiar shaped in the palm.) See my hand that what
caused it. I have been a musician in my time. I lernt to handle the
banjo, the fiddle and the mandolin. I played fer many a set, all over
the country mostly back home (in Tennessee).
"We had a heap of log rollins back home in slavery times. They have big
suppers spread under the trees. We sho know we have a good supper after
a log rollin'.
"We most always worked at night in winter. Mama worked at the loom and
weaved. Grandma and old mistress carded. They used hand cards. Auntie
spun thread. I reeled the thread. I like to hear it cluck off the hanks.
Papa he had to feed the stock and look after it. He'd fool round after
that. He went off to the war at the first of it and never come home.
"The war broke us up and ruined us all but me. Grandma married old man
soon after freedom. He whooped and beat her up till she died. He was a
mean old scoundel. They said he was a nigger driver. His name was Wesley
Donald. She died soon after the war. Mama was dead. Auntie married and
went on off. I was 18 years old. When freedom come on Mars White says
you all set free. You can leave or stay on here. I stayed there. Mars
White didn't give us nuthin'. He was broke. All he had was land.
"Come a talk bout Lincoln givin' em homes. Some racketed bout what they
outer git. That was after freedom. Most of em never got nuthin'. They up
and left. Some kept on workin'. They got to stealin' right smart. Some
the men got so lazy they woulder starved out their families and white
folks too. White folks made em go to work. The darky men sorter quit
work and made the women folks do the work. They do thater way now. Some
worse den others bout it.
"Me and Mars White went to work. We see droves darkies just rovin'
round. Said they huntin' work and homes. Some ask for victuals. Yes they
give em something to eat. When they come in droves they couldn't give em
much. Some of em oughter left. Some of the masters was mean. Some of em
"Me and Mars White and his boys rigged up a high wheel that run a band
to a lay (lathe). One man run the wheel wid his hands and one man at the
lay (lathe) all time. We made pipes outer maple and chairs. We chiseled
out table legs and bed post. We made all sort of things. Anything to
sell. We sold a heap of things. We made money. If I'd had sense to keep
part of it. Mars White always give me a share. We had a good livin' soon
as we got over the war.
"I farmed. I was a brick layer. Mars White lernt me that. When he died I
followed that trade. I worked at New Orleans, Van Buren, Jackson,
Meridian. I worked at Lake Villiage with Mr. Lasley, and Mr. Ivy. They
was fine brick layers. I worked for Dr. Stubbs. Mr. Scroggin never went
huntin' without me but once over here on Cache River. He give me land to
build my cabins. I got lumber up at the mills here. Folks come to my
cabins from 23 states. J. Dall Long at St. Louis sent me a block wid my
picture. I didn't know what it was. Mr. Moss told me it was a bomb like
they used in the World War. I had some cards made in Memphis, some
Little Rock. I sent em out by the telephone books tellin' em it was good
"J. Dall Long said when I go back home I send you somethin' nice. That
what he sent in the mail.
"It was ugliest picture of me in a boat an' a big fish holt my britches
leg pullin' me over out the boat. He had me named "Hambones" under it. I
still got my block. I got nuther thing--old aunties bonnet she wore in
"I quit keepin' club house. I kept it 27 years. I rented the cabins,
sold minnows and bates. They give me the land but I couldn't sell it.
Old woman everybody call "Nig" cook fer me. I wanter live like Nig and
go up yonder. I ainter goner be in this world long but I want to go to
heben. Nig was not my wife. She was a fine cook. She cooked an' stayed
at my cabins. This little chile--orphan chile--I got wid me was Nig's
grandchild. When Nig died I took him. I been goin with him to pick
cotton. I want er lern him to work. Egercation ain't no good much to
darkies. I been tryin' to see what he could do bettern farm. They ain't
nuthin'. I set down on the ground and pick some so he will pick. He is
six years old. When it rain I caint pick and set on the wet ground.
"The onlies sperience I had myself wid the Ku Klux was one night fo
Grandma and auntie left. Somebody wrap on our cabin door. They opened
it. We gat scared when we seed em. They had the horses wrapped up. They
had on white long dresses and caps. Every one of em had a horse whoop
(whip). They called me out. Grandma and auntie so scared they hid. They
tole me to git em water. They poured it some whah it did not spill on
the ground. Kept me totin' water. Then they say, "You bin a good boy?"
They still drinkin'. One say, "Just from Hell pretty dry." Then they
tole me to stand on my head. I turned summer sets a few times. They
tickled me round wid the ends of the whoops. I had on a long shirt. They
laugh when I stand on my head. Old Mars White laughed. I knowed his
laugh. Then I got over my scare. They say, "Who live next down the
road?" I tole em Nells Christian. They say, "What he do?" I said, "Works
in the field." They all grunt, m-m-m-m. Then they say, "Show us the
way." I nearly run to death cross the field to keep outer the way of the
white horses. The moon shining bright as day. They say Nells come out
here. He say "Holy Moses." He come out. They say "Nells what you do?" "I
farms." They say "What you raise?" He say "Cotton and corn." They say
"Take us to see yo cotton we jess from Hell. We ain't got no cotton
there." He took em out there where it was clean. They got down and felt
it. Then they say "What is dat?", feelin' the grass. Nells say "That is
grass." They say, "You raise grass too?" He said, "No. It come up." They
say "Let us see yo corn." He showed em the corn. They felt it. They say
"What this?" Nells say, "It grass." They say, "You raise grass here?"
They all grunt m-m-m-m everything Nells say. They give him one bad
whoopin' an' tell him they be back soon see if he raisin' grass. They
said "You raise cotton and corn but not grass on this farm." They they
moan, "m-m-m-m." I herd em say his whole family and him too was out by
day light wid their hoes cuttin' the grass out their crop. I was sho
glad to git back to our cabin. They didn't come back to Nells no more
that I herd bout. The man Nells worked for muster been one in that
crowd. He lived way over yonder. No I think the Ku Klux was a good thing
at that time. The darkies got sassy (saucy), trifling, lazy. They was
notorious. They got mean. The men wouldn't work. Their families have to
work an' let them roam round over the country. Some of em mean to their
families. They woulder starved the white out and their selves too. I
seed the Ku Klux heap a times but they didn't bother me no more. I herd
a heap they done along after that. They say some places the Ku Klux go
they make em git down an' eat at the grass wid their mouths then they
whoop em. Sometimes they make em pull off their clothes and whoop em. I
sho did feel for em but they knowd they had no business strollin' round,
vistin'. The Ku Klux call that whoopin' helpin' em git rid of the grass.
Nells moster lived at what they called Caneville over cross the field.
"The way that Patty Rollers was. The mosters paid somebody. Always
somebody round wantin' a job like that. Mars White was his own overseer.
All round there was good livers. They worked long wid the slaves. Some
of the slaves would race. Papa would race. He wanted to race all time.
Grandma cooked for all of us. They had a stone chimney in the kitchen.
Big old hearth way out in front. Made outer stone too. We all et the
same victuals long as Mars White lived. Then I left."
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