James Henry Nelson
Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person interviewed: James Henry Nelson
1103 Orange, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
"I member all about the war--why of cose. I saddled many a cavalry hoss.
I tell you how I know how old I am. Old master, Henry Stanley of Athens,
Alabama, moved to Palaski, Tennessee and left me with young mistress to
take care of things. One day we was drivin' up some stock and I said,
'Miss Nannie, how old is you?' And she said, 'I'm seventeen.' I was old
enough to have the knowledge she would know how old I was and I said,
'How old am I?' And she said, 'You is seven years old.' That was durin'
"I remember the soldiers comin' and stoppin' at our building--Yankees
and Southern soldiers, too. They fit all around our plantation.
"The Yankees taken me when I was a little fellow. About two years after
the war started, young Marse Henry went to war and took a colored man
with him but he ran away--he wouldn't stay with the Rebel army. So young
Marse Henry took me. I reckon I was bout ten. I know I was big enough to
saddle a cavalry hoss. We carried three horses--his hoss, my hoss and a
pack hoss. You know chillun them days, they made em do a man's work. I
studied bout my mother durin' the war, so they let me go home.
"One day I went to mill. They didn't low the chillun to lay around, and
while I was at the mill a Yankee soldier ridin' a white hoss captured me
and took me to Pulaski, Tennessee and then I was in the Yankee army. I
wasn't no size and I don't think he would a took me if it hadn't been
for the hoss.
"We come back to Athens and the Rebels captured the whole army. Colonel
Camp was in charge and General Forrest captured us and I was carried
south. We was marchin' along the line and a Rebel soldier said, 'Don't
you want to go home and stay with my wife?' And so I went there, to
Millville, Alabama. Then he bound me to a friend of his and I stayed
there till the war bout ended. I was getting along very well but a older
boy 'suaded me to run away to Decatur, Alabama.
"Oh I seen lots of the war. Bof sides was good to me. I've seen many a
scout. The captain would say 'By G----, close the ranks.' Captains is
right crabbed. I stayed back with the hosses.
"After the war I worked about for this one and that one. Some paid me
and some didn't.
"I can remember back to Breckenridge; and I can remember hearin' em say
'Hurrah for Buchanan!' I'm just tellin' you to show how fur back I can
remember. I used to have a book with a picture of Abraham Lincoln with
an axe on his shoulder and a picture of that log cabin, but somebody
stole my book.
"I worked for whoever would take me--I had no mother then. If I had had
parents to make me go to school, but I got along very well. The white
folks taught me not to have no bad talk. They's all dead now and if they
wasn't I'd be with them.
"I'm a natural born farmer--that's all I know. The big overflow drownded
me out and my wife died with pellagra in '87. She was a good woman and
nice to white folks. I'm just a bachin' here now. I did stay with my
daughter but she is mean to me, so I just picked up my rags and moved
into this room where I can live in peace. I'm a christian man, and I
can't live right with her. When colored folks is mean, they's meaner
than white folks.
"I'm gettin' along very well now. I been with white folks all my
day--and it's hard for me to get along with my folks.
"In one way the world is crueler than they used to be. They don't
appreciate things like they used to. They have no feelin's and don't
care nothin' bout the olden people.
"Well, good-bye, I'm proud of you."
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