Della Fountain

Oklahoma Writers' Project





Age 69 years

McAlester, Oklahoma

I was born after de War of de Rebellion but I 'member lots o' things

dat my parents told me 'bout slavery.

My grandmother was captured in Africa. Traders come dere in a big boat

and dey had all sorts of purty gew-gaws--red handkerchiefs, dress

goods, beads, bells, and trinkets in bright colors. Dey would pull up

at de shore and entice de colored folks onto de boat to see de purty

things. Befo' de darkies realized it dey would be out from shore.

Dat's de way she was captured. Fifteen to twenty-five would pay dem

for de trip as dey all brought good prices.

I was born and raised in Louisiana, near Winfield. My mother's Master

was John Rogers and his wife was Miss Millie. Dey was awful good to

deir slaves and he never whupped his grown niggers.

I 'member when I was a child dat we didn't have hardly anything to

keep house wid, but we got along purty well I guess. Our furniture was

home-made and we cooked on de fireplace.

We saved all our oak-wood ashes, and would put a barrel on a slanting

scaffold and put sticks and shucks in de bottom of de barrel and den

fill it wid de ashes. We'd pour water in it and let it drip. Dese

drippings made pure lye. We used dis wid cracklings and meat scraps to

make our soap.

Father took a good-sized pine long and split it open, planed it down

smooth and bored holes in de bottom and drove pegs in dem for legs;

dis was our battling bench. We'd spread our wet clothes on dis and

rub soap on 'em and take a paddle and beat de dirt out. We got 'em

clean but had to be careful not to wear 'em out wid de paddle.

We had no tubs either, so father took a hollow log and split it open

and put partitions in it. He bored a hole in each section and drove a

peg in it. He next cut two forked poles and drove 'em in de ground and

rested de ends of de hollow log in dese forks. We'd fill de log trough

wid water and rinse our clothes. We could pull out de pegs and let de

water out. We had no brooms either, so we made brush brooms to sweep

our floors.

Dere was lots of wild game near our home. I 'member father and two

more men going out and killing six deer in jest a little while. Dey

was plentiful, and so was squirrels, coon, possums and quail. Dere was

lots of bears, too. We'd be in de field working and hear de dogs, and

father and de boys would go to 'em and maybe dey'd have a bear. We

liked bear meat. It was dark, but awful good and sweet.

De grown folks used to have big times at log-rollings, corn-shuckings

and quiltings. Dey'd have a big supper and a big dance at night. Us

children would play ring plays, play with home-made rag dolls, or we'd

take big leaves and pin 'em together wid thorns and make hats and

dresses. We'd ride saplings, too. All of us would pull a sapling down

and one would climb up in it near de top and git a good hold on it,

and dey would turn it loose. It took a purty good holding to stay wid

it, I can tell you.

All de ladies rode horseback, and dey rode side-saddles. I had a purty

side-saddle when I growed up. De saddle seat was flowered plush. I had

a purty riding habit, too. De skirt was so long dat it almost touched

de ground.

We spun and wove all our clothes. I had to spin three broaches ever

night before bedtime. Mother would take bark and make dye to give us

different colored dresses.

Red oak and sweet gum made purple. Bois d'arc made yellow or orange.

Walnut made a purty brown. We knitted our socks and stockings, too.

We celebrated Christmas by having a big dance and egg-nog for ever'


During slavery young colored boys and girls didn't do much work but

just growed up, care-free and happy. De first work boys done was to

learn to hitch up de team to Master's carriage and take de young folks

for a drive.

My older brothers and sisters told me lots of things dey done during

slave days. My brother Joe felt mighty big after freedom and strutted

about. One day he took his younger brother, Ol wid him to where father

was building a house. Dey played 'bout de house and come up to where a

white man and father was talking. De white man was rolling a little

ball of mud in his hands and he just pitched it over on Ol's foot. It

didn't hurt him a mite, but Joe bridled up and he started to git

smart, and father told him he'd break his neck if he didn't go on home

and keep his mouth shet. Father finally had to whup Joe to make him

know he was black. He give father and mother lots of concern, for dey

was afraid the Ku Kluxers would git him. One day he was playing wid a

axe and chopped off brother Ol's finger. Mother told him she was going

to kill him when she caught him. He took to de woods. His three

sisters and two neighbor girls run him nearly all day but couldn't

catch him. Late in de evening, he come up to a white neighbor's house

and she told him to go in and git under de bed and dey couldn't find

him. Curtains come down to de floor and as he was tired he decided to

risk it. He hadn't much more dan got hid when he heard de girls

coming. He heard de woman say, "He's under de bed." He knowed he was

caught, and he put up a fight, but dey took him to mother. He got a

whupping, but he was shocked dat mother didn't kill him like she said

she was. He didn't mind de whupping. He growed up to be a good man,

and was de apple of my mother's eye.

Father knowed a man that stole his Master's horse out and rode him to

a dance. For some reason de horse died. De poor man knowed he was up

against it, and he let in to begging de men to help him git de horse

on his back so he could put him back in his stable and his Master

would think he died dere. Poor fellow, he really did think he could

tote dat horse on his back. He couldn't git anybody to help him, so he

went to the woods. He was shot by a patroller 'cause he wouldn't

surrender. Dey captured him but he died.

Paul Castleberry was a white preacher. De colored would go to church

de same as de whites. He give de colored instructions on obeying

Masters. He say, "while your Master is going f'om pillar to post,

looking after your intrusts, you is always doing some devilment." I

'spect dat was jest about de truth.

My sister played wid Miss Millie's little girl, Mollie. De big house

was on a high hill and at de foot of de hill. Nearly a half-mile away

was a big creek wid a big wooden bridge across it. Soldiers come by

ever' few days, and you could hear deir horses when dey struck de

bridge. Sister and Mollie would run upstairs and look down de hill,

and if it was Confederate soldiers dey would run back and tell Miss

Millie and dey would start putting out de best food dey had. If dey

saw Yankee soldiers, dey would run down and tell 'em and dey'd start

hiding things.

De Yankees come through dere and took ever' body's horses. Lots of

people took deir horses and cows and hid 'em in some low place in de

deep wood.

Miss Millie had a young horse and she had 'em take him to de wheat

field and hide him. De wheat was as high as he was. De Yankees come

by, and a man had stopped dere just before dey come. He was riding an

old horse, and he was wearing a long linen-duster--a duster was a long

coat dat was worn over de suit to protect it from de dust.

Dis smart-aleck hid behind de house and as de soldiers rode up he shot

at 'em. Dey started shooting at him and he started running, and his

coat was sticking straight out behind him. De soldiers surely wasn't

trying to hit him, but dey sure did scare him plenty. Miss Millie was

certain dey was going to find her horse but dey didn't.

Master John Rogers was good to all his slaves, and they all loved him

and would a'died for him. One day he was sitting in his yard and

Mollie come running down stairs and told him de Yankees was coming. He

never say nothing, but kept sitting dere. Dat morning he had a big

sack of money and he give it to my mother to hide for him. She ripped

her mattress, and put it in de middle of it and sewed it up. She den

made up de bed and put de covers on it. De Yankees searched de house

and took de jewelry and silverware and old Master's gold mug, but dey

didn't find his money.

My parents lived close to de old plantation dat they lived on when dey

was slaves. De big house was still dere, but it was sure dilapidated.

Ever'body was poor after de War, whites and blacks alike. I really

think de colored was de best off, for they knowed all 'bout hardships

and hard work and de white folks didn't.

At first some of 'em was too proud to do drudgery work, but most of

'em went right to work and build up deir homes again. Food, clothes,

and in fact everything needed, was scarce.

Mother always say, "If you visit on New Years, you'll visit all de

year." We always had black-eyed peas and hog jowl for New Year's

dinner, for it brought good luck.

The Nineteenth of June was Emancipation Day, and we always had a big

picnic and speeches.

I knowed one woman who was a conjur woman. Lots of people went to her

to git her to break a evil spell dat some one had over them. She'd

brew a tea from herbs and give to 'em to drink, and it always cured


I've seen people use all kinds o' roots and herbs for medicine, and I

also seen 'em use all kind of things for cures. I've knowed 'em to put

wood lice in a bag and tie 'em 'round a baby's neck so it'd teeth


Black-haw root, sour dock, bear grass, grape root, bull nettle,

sweet-gum bark and red-oak bark boiled separately and mixed, makes a

good blood medicine.

Della Briscoe Della Harris facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail