George Kye

Oklahoma Writers' Project



Age 110 yrs.

Fort Gibson, Okla.

I was born in Arkansas under Mr. Abraham Stover, on a big farm about

twenty miles north of Van Buren. I was plumb grown when the Civil War

come along, but I can remember back when the Cherokee Indians was in

all that part of the country.

Joe Kye was my pappy's name what he was born under back in Garrison

County, Virginia, and I took that name when I was freed, but I don't

know whether he took it or not because he was sold off by old Master

Stover when I was a child. I never have seen him since. I think he

wouldn't mind good, leastways that what my mammy say.

My mammy was named Jennie and I don't think I had any brothers or

sisters, but they was a whole lot of children at the quarters that I

played and lived with. I didn't live with mammy because she worked all

the time, and us children all stayed in one house.

It was a little one room log cabin, chinked and daubed, and you

couldn't stir us with a stick. When we went to eat we had a big pan

and all ate out of it. One what ate the fastest got the most.

Us children wore homespun shirts and britches and little slips, and

nobody but the big boys wore any britches. I wore just a shirt until I

was about 12 years old, but it had a long tall down to my calves. Four

or five of us boys slept in one bed, and it was made of hewed logs

with rope laced acrost it and a shuck mattress. We had stew made out

of pork and potatoes, and sometimes greens and pot liquor, and we had

ash cake mostly, but biscuits about once a month.

In the winter time I had brass toed shoes made on the place, and a

cloth cap with ear flaps.

The work I done was hoeing and plowing, and I rid a horse a lot for

old Master because I was a good rider. He would send me to run chores

for him, like going to the mill. He never beat his negroes but he

talked mighty cross and glared at us until he would nearly scare us to

death sometimes.

He told us the rules and we lived by them and didn't make trouble, but

they was a neighbor man that had some mean negroes and he nearly beat

them to death. We could hear them hollering in the field sometimes.

They would sleep in the cotton rows, and run off, and then they would

catch the cat-o-nine tails sure nuff. He would chain them up, too, and

keep them tied out to trees, and when they went to the field they

would be chained together in bunches sometimes after they had been

cutting up.

We didn't have no place to go to church, but old Master didn't care if

we had singing and praying, and we would tie our shoes on our backs

and go down the road close to the white church and all set down and

put our shoes on and go up close and listen to the service.

Old Master was baptized almost every Sunday and cussed us all out on

Monday. I didn't join the church until after freedom, and I always was

a scoundrel for dancing. My favorite preacher was old Pete Conway. He

was the only ordained colored preacher we had after freedom, and he

married me.

Old Master wouldn't let us take herb medicine, and he got all our

medicine in Van Buren when we was sick. But I wore a buckeye on my

neck just the same.

When the War come along I was a grown man, and I went off to serve

because old Master was too old to go, but he had to send somebody

anyways. I served as George Stover, but every time the sergeant would

call out "Abe Stover", I would answer "Here".

They had me driving a mule team wagon that Old Master furnished, and I

went with the Sesesh soldiers from Van Buren to Texarkana and back a

dozen times or more. I was in the War two years, right up to the day

of freedom. We had a battle close to Texarkana and another big one

near Van Buren, but I never left Arkansas and never got a scratch.

One time in the Texarkana battle I was behind some pine trees and the

bullets cut the limbs down all over me. I dug a big hole with my bare

hands before I hardly knowed how I done it.

One time two white soldiers named Levy and Briggs come to the wagon

train and said they was hunting slaves for some purpose. Some of us

black boys got scared because we heard they was going to Squire Mack

and get a reward for catching runaways, so me and two more lit out of


They took out after us and we got to a big mound in the woods and hid.

Somebody shot at me and I rolled into some bushes. He rid up and got

down to look for me but I was on t'other side of his horse and he

never did see me. When they was gone we went back to the wagons just

as the regiment was pulling out and the officer didn't say nothing.

They was eleven negro boys served in my regiment for their masters.

The first year was mighty hard because we couldn't get enough to eat.

Some ate poke greens without no grease and took down and died.

How I knowed I was free, we was bad licked, I reckon. Anyways, we quit

fighting and a Federal soldier come up to my wagon and say: "Whose

mules?" "Abe Stover's mules," I says, and he tells me then, "Let me

tell you, black boy, you are as free now as old Abe Stover his own

self!" When he said that I jumped on top of one of them mules' back

before I knowed anything!

I married Sarah Richardson, February 10, 1870, and had only eleven

children. One son is a deacon and one grandson is a preacher. I am a

good Baptist. Before I was married I said to the gal's old man, "I'll

go to the mourners bench if you'll let me have Sal," and sure nuff I

joined up just a month after I got her. I am head of the Sunday School

and deacon in the St. Paul Baptist church in Muskogee now.

I lived about five miles from Van Buren until about twelve years ago

when they found oil and then they run all the negroes out and leased

up the land. They never did treat the negroes good around there


I never had a hard time as a slave, but I'm glad we was set free.

Sometimes we can't figger out the best thing to do, but anyways we can

lead our own life now, and I'm glad the young ones can learn and get

somewhere these days.

George Key George Lewis facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail