Charley Williams

Oklahoma Writers' Project


[HW: (photo)]

[Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]


Age 94 yrs.

Tulsa, Okla.

Iffen I could see better out'n my old eyes, and I had me something to

work with and de feebleness in my back and head would let me 'lone, I

would have me plenty to eat in de kitchen all de time, and plenty

tobaccy in my pipe, too, bless God!

And dey wouldn't be no rain trickling through de holes in de roof, and

no planks all fell out'n de flo' on de gallery neither, 'cause dis one

old nigger knows everything about making all he need to git along! Old

Master done showed him how to git along in dis world, jest as long as

he live on a plantation, but living in de town is a different way of

living, and all you got to have is a silver dime to lay down for

everything you want, and I don't git de dime very often.

But I aint give up! Nothing like dat! On de days when I don't feel so

feeble and trembly I jest keep patching 'round de place. I got to keep

patching so as to keep it whar it will hold de winter out, in case I

git to see another winter.

Iffen I don't, it don't grieve me none, 'cause I wants to see old

Master again anyways. I reckon maybe I'll jest go up an ask him what

he want me to do, and he'll tell me, and iffen I don't know how he'll

show me how, and I'll try to do it to please him. And when I git it

done I wants to hear him grumble like he used to and say, "Charley,

you ain't got no sense but you is a good boy. Dis here ain't very good

but it'll do, I reckon. Git yourself a little piece o' dat brown

sugar, but don't let no niggers see you eating it--if you do I'll whup

your black behind!"

Dat ain't de way it going be in Heaven, I reckon, but I can't set here

on dis old rottendy gallery and think of no way I better like to have


I was a great big hulking buck of a boy when de War come along and

bust up everything, and I can 'member back when everybody was living

peaceful and happy, and nobody never had no notion about no war.

I was borned on the 'leventh of January, in 1843, and was old enough

to vote when I got my freedom, but I didn't take no stock in all dat

politics and goings on at dat time, and I didn't vote till a long time

after old Master passed away, but I was big enough before de War to

remember everything pretty plain.

Old Master name was John Williams, and old Mistress name was Miss

Betty, and she was a Campbell before she married. Young Missy was

named Betty after her mommy, and Young Master was named Frank, but I

don't know who after. Our overseer was Mr. Simmons, and he was mighty

smart and had a lot of patience, but he wouldn't take no talk nor

foolishness. He didn't whup nobody very often, but he only had to whup

'em jest one time! He never did whup a nigger at de time the nigger

done something, but he would wait till evening and have old Master

come and watch him do it. He never whupped very hard 'cept when he had

told a nigger about something and promised a whupping next time and

the nigger done it again. Then that nigger got what he had been

hearing 'bout!

De plantation was about as big as any. I think it had about three

hundred acres, and it was about two miles northwest of Monroe,

Louisiana. Then he had another one not so big, two--three miles south

of the big one, kind of down in the woodsy part along the White river

bottoms. He had another overseer on that place and a big passel of

niggers, but I never did go down to that one. That was where he raised

most of his corn and shoats, and lots of sorghum cane.

Our plantation was up on higher ground, and it was more open country,

but still they was lots of woods all around and lots of the

plantations had been whacked right out of de new ground and was full

of stumps. Master's place was more open, though, and all in the fields

was good plowing.

The big road runned right along past our plantation, and it come from

Shreveport and run into Monroe. There wasn't any town at Monroe in

them days, jest a little cross roads place with a general store and a

big hide house. I think there was about two big hide houses, and you

could smell that place a mile before you got into it. Old Master had a

part in de store, I think.

De hide houses was jest long sheds, all open along de sides and

kivered over wid cypress clapboards.

Down below de hide houses and de store was jest a little settlement of

one or two houses, but they was a school for white boys. Somebody said

there was a place where they had been an old fort, but I never did see


Everything boughten we got come from Shreveport, and was brung in by

the stage and the freighters, and that was only a little coffee or

gunpowder, or some needles for the sewing, or some strap iron for the

blacksmith, or something like dat. We made and raised everything else

we needed right on the place.

I never did even see any quinine till after I was free. My mammy

knowed jest what root to go out and pull up to knock de chills right

out'n me. And de bellyache and de running off de same way, too.

Our plantation was a lot different from some I seen other places, like

way east of there, around Vicksburg. Some of them was fixed up fancier

but dey didn't have no more comforts than we had.

Old Master come out into that country when he was a young man, and

they didn't have even so much then as they had when I was a boy. I

think he come from Alabama or Tennessee, and way back his people had

come from Virginia, or maybe North Carolina, 'cause he knowed all

about tobacco on the place. Cotton and tobacco was de long crops on

his big place, and of course lots of horses and cattle and mules.

De big house was made out'n square hewed logs, and chinked wid little

rocks and daubed wid white clay, and kivered wid cypress clapboards. I

remember one time we put on a new roof, and de niggers hauled up de

cypress logs and sawed dem and frowed out de clapboards by hand.

De house had two setting rooms on one side and a big kitchen room on

de other, wid a wide passage in between, and den about was de sleeping

rooms. They wasn't no stairways 'cepting on de outside. Steps run up

to de sleeping rooms on one side from de passageway and on de other

side from clean outside de house. Jest one big chimbley was all he

had, and it was on de kitchen end, and we done all de cooking in a

fireplace dat was purty nigh as wide as de whole room.

In de sleeping rooms day wasn't no fires 'cepting in brazers made out

of clay, and we toted up charcoal to burn in 'em when it was cold

mornings in de winter. Dey kept warm wide de bed clothes and de

knitten clothes dey had.

Master never did make a big gallery on de house, but our white folks

would set out in de yard under de big trees in de shade. They was long

benches made out'n hewed logs and all padded wid gray moss and corn

shuck padding, and dey set pretty soft. All de furniture in de house

was home-made, too. De beds had square posts as big around as my shank

and de frame was mortised into 'em, and holes bored in de frame and

home-made rope laced in to make it springy. Den a great big mattress

full of goose feathers and two--three comforts as thick as my foot wid

carded wool inside! Dey didn't need no fireplaces!

De quarters was a little piece from de big house, and dey run along

both sides of de road dat go to de fields. All one-room log cabins,

but dey was good and warm, and every one had a little open shed at de

side whar we sleep in de summer to keep cool.

They was two or three wells at de quarters for water, and some good

springs in de branch at de back of de fields. You could ketch a fish

now and den in dat branch, but Young Master used to do his fishing in

White River, and take a nigger or two along to do de work at his camp.

It wasn't very fancy at de Big House, but it was mighty pretty jest de

same, wid de gray moss hanging from de big trees, and de cool green

grass all over de yard, and I can shet my old eyes and see it jest

like it was before de War come along and bust it up.

I can see old Master setting out under a big tree smoking one of his

long cheroots his tobacco nigger made by hand, and fanning hisself wid

his big wide hat another nigger platted out'n young inside corn shucks

for him, and I can hear him holler at a big bunch of white geeses

what's gitting in his flower beds and see 'em string off behind de old

gander towards de big road.

When de day begin to crack de whole plantation break out wid all kinds

of noises, and you could tell what going on by de kind of noise you


Come de daybreak you hear de guinea fowls start potracking down at de

edge of de woods lot, and den de roosters all start up 'round de barn

and de ducks finally wake up and jine in. You can smell de sow belly

frying down at the cabins in de "row", to go wid de hoecake and de


Den purty soon de wind rise a little, and you can hear a old bell

donging way on some plantation a mile or two off, and den more bells

at other places and maybe a horn, and purty soon younder go old

Master's old ram horn wid a long toot and den some short toots, and

here come de overseer down de row of cabins, hollering right and left,

and picking de ham out'n his teeth wid a long shiny goose quill pick.

Bells and horns! Bells for dis and horns for dat! All we knowed was go

and come by de bells and horns!

Old ram horn blow to send us all to de field. We all line up, about

seventy-five field niggers, and go by de tool shed and git our hoes,

or maybe go hitch up de mules to de plows and lay de plows out on de

side so de overseer can see iffen de points is shart. Any plow gits

broke or de point gits bungled up on de rocks it goes to de blacksmith

nigger, den we all git on down in de field.

Den de anvil start dangling in de blacksmith shop: "Tank! Deling-ding!

Tank! Deling-ding!", and dat ole bull tongue gitting straightened out!

Course you can't hear de shoemaker awling and pegging, and de card

spinners, and de old mammy sewing by hand, but maybe you can hear de

old loom going "frump, frump", and you know it all right iffen your

clothes do be wearing out, 'cause you gwine git new britches purty


We had about a hundred niggers on dat place, young and old, and about

twenty on de little place down below. We could make about every kind

of thing but coffee and gunpowder dat our whitefolks and us needed.

When we needs a hat we gits inside cornshucks and weave one out, and

makes horse collars de same way. Jest tie two little soft shucks

together and begin plaiting.

All de cloth 'cepting de Mistress' Sunday dresses come from de sheep

to de carders and de spinners and de weaver, den we dye it wid

"butternut" and hickory bark and indigo and other things and set it

wid copperas. Leather tanned on de place made de shoes, and I never

see a store boughten wagon wheel 'cepting among de stages and de

freighters along de big road.

We made purty, long back-combs out'n cow horn, and knitting needles

out'n second hickory. Split a young hickory and put in a big wedge to

prize it open, then cut it down and let it season, and you got good

bent grain for wagon hames and chair rockers and such.

It was jest like dat until I was grown, and den one day come a

neighbor man and say we in de War.

Little while young Master Frank ride over to Vicksburg and jine de

Sesesh army, but old Master jest go on lak nothing happen, and we all

don't hear nothing more until long come some Sesesh soldiers and take

most old Master's hosses and all his wagons.

I bin working on de tobacco, and when I come back to de barns

everything was gone. I would go into de woods and git good hickory and

burn it till it was all coals and put it out wid water to make hickory

charcoal for curing de tobacco. I had me some charcoal in de fire

trenches under de curing houses, all full of new tobacco, and overseer

come and say bundle all de tobacco up and he going take it to

Shreveport and sell it befo' de soldiers take it too.

After de hosses all gone and most de cattle and de cotton and de

tobacco gone too, here come de Yankees and spread out all over de

whole country. Dey had a big camp down below our plantation.

One evening a big bunch of Yankee officers come up to de Big House and

old Master set out de brandy in de yard and dey act purty nice. Next

day de whole bunch leave on out of dat part.

When de hosses and stuff all go old Master sold all de slaves but

about four, but he kept my pappy and mammy and my brother Jimmie and

my sister Betty. She was named after old Mistress. Pappy's name was

Charley and mammy's was Sally. De niggers he kept didn't have much

work without any hosses and wagons, but de blacksmith started in

fixing up more wagons and he kept them hid in de woods till they was

all fixed.

Den along come some more Yankees, and dey tore everything we had up,

and old Master was afeared to shoot at them on account his womenfolks,

so he tried to sneak the fambly out but they kotched him and brung him

back to de plantation.

We niggers didn't know dat he was gone until we seen de Yankees

bringing dem back. De Yankees had done took charge of everything and

was camping in de big yard, and us was all down at de quarters scared

to death, but dey was jest letting us alone.

It was night when de white folks tried to go away, and still night

when de Yankees brung dem back, and a house nigger come down to de

quarters wid three--four mens in blue clothes and told us to come up

to de Big House.

De Yankees didn't seem to be mad wid old Master, but jest laughed and

talked wid him, but he didn't take de jokes any too good.

Den dey asked him could he dance and he said no, and dey told him to

dance or make us dance. Dar he stood inside a big ring of dem mens in

blue clothes, wid dey brass buttons shining in de light from de fire

dey had in front of de tents, and he jest stood and said nothing, and

it look lak he wasn't wanting to tell us to dance.

So some of us young bucks jest step up and say we was good dancers,

and we start shuffling while de rest of de niggers pat.

Some nigger women go back to de quarters and git de gourd fiddles and

de clapping bones made out'n beef ribs, and bring dem back so we could

have some music. We git all warmed up and dance lak we never did dance

befo'! I speck we invent some new steps dat night!

We act lak we dancing for de Yankees, but we trying to please Master

and old Mistress more than anything, and purty soon he begin to smile

a little and we all feel a lot better.

Next day de Yankees move on away from our place, and old Master start

gitting ready to move out. We git de wagons we hid, and de whole

passel of us leaves out for Shreveport. Jest left de old place

standing like it was.

In Shreveport old Master git his cotton and tobacco money what he been

afraid to have sent back to de plantation when he sell his stuff, and

we strike out north through Arkansas.

Dat was de awfullest trip any man ever make! We had to hide from

everybody until we find out if dey Yankees or Sesesh, and we go along

little old back roads and up one mountain and down another, through de

woods all de way.

After a long time we git to the Missouri line, and kind of cut off

through de corner of dat state into Kansas. I don't know how we ever

git across some of dem rivers but we did. Dey nearly always would be

some soldiers around de fords, and dey would help us find de best

crossing. Sometimes we had to unload de wagons and dry out de stuff

what all got wet, and camp a day or two to fix up again.

Purty soon we git to Fort Scott, and that was whar de roads forked

ever whichaways. One went on north and one east and one went down into

de Indian country. It was full of soldiers coming and going back and

forth to Arkansas and Fort Gibson.

We took de road on west through Kansas, and made for Colorado Springs.

Fort Scott was all run down, and the old places whar dey used to have

de soldiers was all fell in in most places. Jest old rackety walls and

leaky roofs, and a big pole fence made out'n poles sot in de ground

all tied together, but it was falling down too.

They was lots of wagons all around what belong to de army, hauling

stuff for de soldiers, and some folks told old Master he couldn't make

us niggers go wid him, but we said we wanted to anyways, so we jest

went on west across Kansas.

When we got away on west we come to a fork, and de best road went

kinda south into Mexico, and we come to a little place called Clayton,

Mexico whar we camped a while and then went north.

Dat place is in New Mexico now, but old Master jest called it Mexico.

Somebody showed me whar it is on de map, and it look lak it a long

ways off'n our road to Colorado Springs, but I guess de road jest wind

off down dat ways at de time we went over it. It was jest two or three

houses made out'n mud at dat time, and a store whar de soldiers and de

Indians come and done trading.

About dat time old Master sell off some of de stuff he been taking

along, 'cause de wagons loaded too heavy for de mountains and he

figger he better have de money than some of de stuff, I reckon.

On de way north it was a funny country. We jest climb all day long

gitting up one side of one bunch of mountains, and all de nigger men

have to push on de wheels while de mules pull and den scotch de wheels

while de mules rest. Everybody but de whitefolks has to walk most de


Down in de valleys it was warm like in Louisiana, but it seem lak de

sun aint so hot on de head, but it look lak every time night come it

ketch us up on top of one of dem mountains, and it almost as cold as

in de winter time!

All de niggers had shoes and plenty warm clothes and we wrop up at

night in everything we can git.

We git to Fort Scott again, and den de Yankee officers come and ask

all us niggers iffen we want to leave old Master and stay dar and

work, 'cause we all free now. Old Master say we can do what we please

about it.

A few of de niggers stay dar in Fort Scott, but most of us say we

gwine stay wid old Master, and we don't care iffen we is free or not.

When we git back to Monroe to de old place us niggers git a big

surprise. We didn't hear about it, but some old Master's kinfolks back

in Virginia done come out dar an fix de place up and kept it for him

while we in Colorado, and it look 'bout as good as when we left it.

He cut it up in chunks and put us niggers out on it on de halves, but

he had to sell part of it to git de money to git us mules and tools

and found to run on. Den after while he had to sell some more, and he

seem lak he git old mighty fast.

Young Master bin in de big battles in Virginia, and he git hit, and

den he git sick, and when he come home he jest lak a old man he was so


About dat time they was a lot of people coming into dat country from

de North, and dey kept telling de niggers dat de thing for dem to do

was to be free, and come and go whar dey please.

Dey try to git de darkeys to go and vote but none us folks took much

stock by what dey say. Old Master tell us plenty time to mix in de

politics when de younguns git educated and know what to do.

Jest de same he never mind iffen we go to de dances and de singing and

sech. He allus lent us a wagon iffen we want to borry one to go in,


Some de niggers what work for de white folks from de North act purty

uppity and big, and come pestering 'round de dance places and try to

talk up ructions amongst us, but it don't last long.

De Ku Kluckers start riding 'round at night, and dey pass de word dat

de darkeys got to have a pass to go and come and to stay at de dances.

Dey have to git de pass from de white folks dey work for, and passes

writ from de Northern people wouldn't do no good. Dat de way de

Kluckers keep the darkies in line.

De Kluckers jest ride up to de dance ground and look at everybody's

passes, and iffen some darkey dar widout a pass or got a pass from de

wrong man dey run him home, and iffen he talk big and won't go home

dey whop him and make him go.

Any nigger out on de road after dark liable to run across de Kluckers,

and he better have a good pass! All de dances got to bust up at about

'leven o'clock, too.

One time I seen three-four Kluckers on hosses, all wrapped up in

white, and dey was making a black boy git home. Dey was riding hosses

and he was trotting down de road ahead of 'em. Ever time he stop and

start talking dey pop de whip at his heels and he start trotting on.

He was so made he was crying, but he was gitting on down de road jest

de same.

I seen 'em coming and I gits out my pass young Master writ so I could

show it, but when dey ride by one in front jest turns in his saddle

and look back at tother men and nod his head, and they jest ride on by

widout stopping to see my pass. Dat man knowed me, I reckon. I looks

to see iffen I knowed de hoss, but de Kluckers sometime swapped dey

hosses 'round amongst 'em, so de hoss maybe wasn't hisn.

Dey wasn't very bad 'cause de niggers 'round dar wasn't bad, but I

hear plenty of darkeys git whopped in other places 'cause dey act up

and say dey don't have to take off dey hats in de white stores and


Any nigger dat behave hisself and don't go running 'round late at

night and drinking never had no trouble wid de Kluckers.

Young Mistress go off and git married, but I don't remember de name

'cause she live off somewhar else, and de next year, I think it was,

my pappy and mammy go on a place about five miles away owned by a man

named Mr. Bumpus, and I go 'long wid my sister Betty and brother

Jimmie to help 'em.

I live around dat place and never marry till old mammy and pappy both

gone, and Jimmie and Betty both married and I was gitting about forty

year old myself, and den I go up in Kansas and work around till I git

married at last.

I was in Fort Scott, and I married Mathilda Black in 1900, and she is

73 years old now and was born in Tennessee. We went to Pittsburg,

Kansas, and lived from 1907 to 1913 when we come to Tulsa.

Young Master's children writ to me once in a while and telled me how

dey gitting 'long up to about twenty year ago, and den I never heard

no more about 'em. I never had no children, and it look lak my wife

going outlive me, so my mainest hope when I goes on is seeing Mammy

and Pappy and old Master. Old overseer, I speck, was too devilish mean

to be thar!

'Course I loves my Lord Jesus same as anybody, but you see I never

hear much about Him until I was grown, and it seem lak you got to hear

about religion when you little to soak it up and put much by it.

Nobody could read de Bible when I was a boy, and dey wasn't no white

preachers talked to de niggers. We had meeting sometimes, but de

nigger preacher jest talk about bein a good nigger and "doing to

please de Master," and I allus thought he meant to please old Master,

and I allus wanted to do dat anyways.

So dat de reason I allus remember de time old Master pass on.

It was about two years after de War, and old Master been mighty porely

all de time. One day we was working in de Bumpus field and a nigger

come on a mule and say old Mistress like to have us go over to de old

place 'cause old Master mighty low and calling mine and Pappy's and

Mammy's name. Old man Bumpus say go right ahead.

When we git to de Big House old Master setting propped up in de bed

and you can see he mighty low and out'n his head.

He been talking about gitting de oats stacked, 'cause it seem to him

lak it gitting gloomy-dark, and it gwine to rain, and hail gwine to

ketch de oats in de shocks. Some nigger come running up to de back

door wid an old horn old Mistress sent him out to hunt up, and he

blowed it so old Master could hear it.

Den purty soon de doctor come to de door and say old Master wants de

bell rung 'cause de slaves should ought to be in from de fields,

'cause it gitting too dark to work. Somebody git a wagon tire and beat

on it like a bell ringing, right outside old Master's window, and den

we all go up on de porch and peep in. Every body was snuffling kind of

quiet, 'cause we can't help it.

We hear old Master say, "Dat's all right, Simmons. I don't want my

niggers working in de rain. Go down to de quarters and see dey all

dried off good. Dey ain't got no sense but dey all good niggers."

Everybody around de bed was crying, and we all was crying too.

Den old Mistress come to de door and say we can go in and look at him

if we want to. He was still setting propped up, but he was gone.

I stayed in Louisiana a long time after dat, but I didn't care nothing

about it, and it look lak I'm staying a long time past my time in dis

world, 'cause I don't care much about staying no longer only I hates

to leave Mathilda.

But any time de Lord want me I'm ready, and I likes to think when He

ready He going tell old Master to ring de bell for me to come on in.

Charley Watson Charlie Barbour facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail