Katie Rowe

Oklahoma Writers' Project


[HW: (photo)]

[Date stamp: AUG 16 1937]


Age 88 yrs.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

I can set on de gallery, whar de sunlight shine bright, and sew a

powerful fine seam when my grandchillun wants a special purty dress

for de school doings, but I ain't worth much for nothing else I


These same old eyes seen powerful lot of tribulations in my time, and

when I shets 'em now I can see lots of l'il chillun jest lak my

grandchillun, toting hoes bigger dan dey is, and dey pore little black

hands and legs bleeding whar dey scratched by de brambledy weeds, and

whar dey got whuppings 'cause dey didn't git out all de work de

overseer set out for 'em.

I was one of dem little slave gals my own self, and I never seen

nothing but work and tribulations till I was a grown up woman, jest


De niggers had hard traveling on de plantation whar I was born and

raised, 'cause old Master live in town and jest had de overseer on de

place, but iffen he had lived out dar hisself I speck it been as bad,

'cause he was a hard driver his own self.

He git biling mad when de Yankees have dat big battle at Pea Ridge and

scatter de 'Federates all down through our country all bleeding and

tied up and hungry, and he jest mount on his hoss and ride out to de

plantation whar we all hoeing corn.

He ride up and tell old man Saunders--dat de overseer--to bunch us all

up round de lead row man--dat my own uncle Sandy--and den he tell us

de law!

"You niggers been seeing de 'Federate soldiers coming by here looking

purty raggedy and hurt and wore out," he say, "but dat no sign dey


"Dem Yankees ain't gwine git dis fur, but iffen dey do you all ain't

gwine git free by 'em, 'cause I gwine free you befo' dat. When dey git

here dey going find you already free, 'cause I gwine line you up on de

bank of Bois d' Arc Creek and free you wid my shotgun! Anybody miss

jest one lick wid de hoe, or one step in de line, or one clap of dat

bell, or one toot of de horn, and he gwine be free and talking to de

debil long befo' he ever see a pair of blue britches!"

Dat de way he talk to us, and dat de way he act wid us all de time.

We live in de log quarters on de plantation, not far from Washington,

Arkansas, close to Bois d' Arc Creek, in de edge of de Little River


Old Master's name was Dr. Isaac Jones, and he live in de town, whar he

keep four, five house niggers, but he have about 200 on de plantation,

big and little, and old man Saunders oversee 'em at de time of de War.

Old Mistress name was Betty, and she had a daughter name Betty about

grown, and then they was three boys, Tom, Bryan, and Bob, but they was

too young to go to de War. I never did see 'em but once or twice 'til

after de War.

Old Master didn't go to de War, 'cause he was a doctor and de onliest

one left in Washington, and purty soon he was dead anyhow.

Next fall after he ride out and tell us dat he gwine shoot us befo' he

let us free he come out to see how his steam gin doing. De gin box was

a little old thing 'bout as big as a bedstead, wid a long belt running

through de side of de gin house out to de engine and boiler in de

yard. De boiler burn cord wood, and it have a little crack in it whar

de nigger ginner been trying to fix it.

Old Master come out, hopping mad 'cause de gin shet down, and ast de

ginner, old Brown, what de matter. Old Brown say de boiler weak and

it liable to bust, but old Master jump down off'n his hoss and go

'round to de boiler and say, "Cuss fire to your black heart! Dat

boiler all right! Throw on some cordwood, cuss fire to your heart!"

Old Brown start to de wood pile grumbling to hisself and old Master

stoop down to look at de boiler again, and it blow right up and him

standing right dar!

Old Master was blowed all to pieces, and dey jest find little bitsy

chunks of his clothes and parts of him to bury.

De wood pile blow down, and old Brown land way off in de woods, but he

wasn't killed.

Two wagons of cotton blowed over, and de mules run away, and all de

niggers was scared nearly to death 'cause we knowed de overseer gwine

be a lot worse, now dat old Master gone.

Before de War when Master was a young man de slaves didn't have it so

hard, my mammy tell me. Her name was Fanny and her old mammy name was

Nanny. Grandma Nanny was alive during de War yet.

How she come in de Jones family was dis way: old Mistress was jest a

little girl, and her older brother bought Nanny and give her to her. I

think his name was Little John, anyways we called him Master Little

John. He drawed up a paper what say dat Nanny allus belong to Miss

Betty and all de chillun Nanny ever have belong to her, too, and

nobody can't take 'em for a debt and things like dat. When Miss Betty

marry, old Master he can't sell Nanny or any of her chillun neither.

Dat paper hold good too, and grandmammy tell me about one time it hold

good and keep my own mammy on de place.

Grandmammy say mammy was jest a little gal and was playing out in de

road wid three, four other little chillun when a white man and old

Master rid up. The white man had a paper about some kind of a debt,

and old Master say take his pick of de nigger chillun and give him

back de paper.

Jest as Grandmammy go to de cabin door and hear him say dat de man git

off his hoss and pick up my mammy and put her up in front of him and

start to ride off down de road.

Pretty soon Mr. Little John come riding up and say something to old

Master, and see grandmammy standing in de yard screaming and crying.

He jest job de spur in his hoss and go kiting off down de road after

dat white man.

Mammy say he ketch up wid him jest as he git to Bois d' Arc Creek and

start to wade de hoss across. Mr. Little John holler to him to come

back wid dat little nigger 'cause de paper don't kiver dat child,

'cause she old Mistress' own child, and when de man jest ride on, Mr.

Little John throw his big old long hoss-pistol down on him and make

him come back.

De man hopping mad, but he have to give over my mammy and take one de

other chillun on de debt paper.

Old Master allus kind of techy 'bout old Mistress having niggers he

can't trade or sell, and one day he have his whole family and some

more white folks out at de plantation. He showing 'em all de quarters

when we all come in from de field in de evening, and he call all de

niggers up to let de folks see 'em.

He make grandmammy and mammy and me stand to one side and den he say

to the other niggers, "Dese niggers belong to my wife but you belong

to me, and I'm de only one you is to call Master.

"Dis is Tom, and Bryan, and Bob, and Miss Betty, and you is to call

'em dat, and don't you ever call one of 'em Young Master or Young

Mistress, cuss fire to your black hearts!" All de other white folks

look kind of funny, and old Mistress look 'shamed of old Master.

My own pappy was in dat bunch, too. His name was Frank, and after de

War he took de name of Frank Henderson, 'cause he was born under dat

name, but I allus went by Jones, de name I was born under.

Long about de middle of de War, after old Master was killed, de

soldiers begin coming 'round de place and camping. Dey was Southern

soldiers and dey say dey have to take de mules and most de corn to git

along on. Jest go in de barns and cribs and take anything dey want,

and us niggers didn't have no sweet 'taters nor Irish 'taters to eat

on when dey gone neither.

One bunch come and stay in de woods across de road from de overseer's

house, and dey was all on hosses. Dey lead de hosses down to Bois d'

Arc Creek every morning at daylight and late every evening to git

water. When we going to de field and when we coming in we allus see

dem leading big bunches of hosses.

Dey bugle go jest 'bout de time our old horn blow in de morning and

when we come in dey eating supper, and we smell it and sho' git


Before old Master died he sold off a whole lot of hosses and cattle,

and some niggers too. He had de sales on de plantation, and white men

from around dar come to bid, and some traders come. He had a big stump

whar he made de niggers stand while dey was being sold, and de men and

boys had to strip off to de waist to show dey muscle and iffen dey had

any scars or hurt places, but de women and gals didn't have to strip

to de waist.

De white men come up and look in de slave's mouth jest lak he was a

mule or a hoss.

After old Master go, de overseer hold one sale, but mostly he jest

trade wid de traders what come by. He make de niggers git on de stump,

through. De traders all had big bunches of slaves and dey have 'em all

strung out in a line going down de road. Some had wagons and de

chillun could ride, but not many. Dey didn't chain or tie 'em 'cause

dey didn't have no place dey could run to anyway.

I seen chillun sold off and de mammy not sold, and, sometimes de mammy

sold and a little baby kept on de place and give to another woman to

raise. Dem white folks didn't care nothing 'bout how de slaves

grieved when dey tore up a family.

Old man Saunders was de hardest overseer of anybody. He would git mad

and give a whipping some time and de slave wouldn't even know what it

was about.

My uncle Sandy was de lead row nigger, and he was a good nigger and

never would tech a drap of likker. One night some de niggers git hold

of some likker somehow, and dey leave de jug half full on de step of

Sandy's cabin. Next morning old man Saunders come out in de field so

mad he was pale.

He jest go to de lead row and tell Sandy to go wid him, and start

toward de woods along Bois d' Arc Creek wid Sandy follering behind. De

overseer always carry a big heavy stick, but we didn't know he was so

mad, and dey jest went off in de woods.

Purty soon we hear Sandy hollering and we know old overseer pouring in

on, den de overseer come back by his self and go on up to de house.

Come late evening he come and see what we done in de day's work, and

go back to de quarters wid us all. Then he git to mammy's cabin, whar

grandmammy live too, he say to grandmammy, "I sent Sandy down in de

woods to hunt a hoss, he gwine come in hungry purty soon. You better

make him a extra hoe cake," and he kind of laugh and go on to his


Jest soon as he gone we all tell grandmammy we think he got a

whipping, and sho' nuff he didn't come in.

De next day some white boys find uncle Sandy whar dat overseer done

killed him and throwed him in a little pond, and dey never done

nothing to old man Saunders at all!

When he go to whip a nigger he make him strip to de waist, and he take

a cat-o-nine tails and bring de blisters, and den bust de blisters

wid a wide strap of leather fastened to a stick handle. I seen de

blood running out'n many a back, all de way from de neck to de waist!

Many de time a nigger git blistered and cut up so dat we have to git a

sheet and grease it wid lard and wrap 'em up in it, and dey have to

wear a greasy cloth wrapped around dey body under de shirt for

three-four days after dey git a big whipping!

Later on in de War de Yankees come in all around us and camp, and de

overseer git sweet as honey in de comb! Nobody git a whipping all de

time de Yankees dar!

Dey come and took all de meat and corn and 'taters dey want too, and

dey tell us, "Why don't you poor darkeys take all de meat and molasses

you want? You made it and it's your's much as anybody's!" But we know

dey soon be gone, and den we git a whipping iffen we do. Some niggers

run off and went wid de Yankees, but dey had to work jest as hard for

dem, and dey didn't eat so good and often wid de soldiers.

I never forget de day we was set free!

Dat morning we all go to de cotton field early, and den a house nigger

come out from old Mistress on a hoss and say she want de overseer to

come into town, and he leave and go in. After while de old horn blow

up at de overseer's house, and we all stop and listen, 'cause it de

wrong time of day for de horn.

We start chopping again, and dar go de horn again.

De lead row nigger holler "Hold up!" And we all stop again. "We better

go on in. Dat our horn," he holler at de head nigger, and de head

nigger think so too, but he say he afraid we catch de devil from de

overseer iffen we quit widout him dar, and de lead row man say maybe

he back from town and blowing de horn hisself, so we line up and go


When we git to de quarters we see all de old ones and de chillun up in

de overseer's yard, so we go on up dar. De overseer setting on de end

of de gallery wid a paper in his hand, and when we all come up he say

come and stand close to de gallery. Den he call off everybody's name

and see we all dar.

Setting on de gallery in a hide-bottom chair was a man we never see

before. He had on a big broad black hat lak de Yankees wore but it

din't have no yaller string on it lak most de Yankees had, and he was

in store clothes dat wasn't homespun or jeans, and dey was black. His

hair was plumb gray and so was his beard, and it come way down here on

his chest, but he didn't look lak he was very old, 'cause his face was

kind of fleshy and healthy looking. I think we all been sold off in a

bunch, and I notice some kind of smiling, and I think they sho' glad

of it.

De man say, "You darkies know what day dis is?" He talk kind, and


We all don't know of course, and we jest stand dar and grin. Pretty

soon he ask again and de head man say, No, we don't know.

"Well dis de fourth day of June, and dis is 1865, and I want you all

to 'member de date, 'cause you allus going 'member de day. Today you

is free, Jest lak I is, and Mr. Saunders and your Mistress and all us

white people," de man say.

"I come to tell you", he say, "and I wants to be sho' you all

understand, 'cause you don't have to git up and go by de horn no more.

You is your own bosses now, and you don't have to have no passes to go

and come."

We never did have no passes, nohow, but we knowed lots of other

niggers on other plantations got 'em.

"I wants to bless you and hope you always is happy, and tell you got

all de right and lief [TR: sic] dat any white people got", de man say,

and den he git on his hoss and ride off.

We all jest watch him go on down de road, and den we go up to Mr.

Saunders and ask him what he want us to do. He jest grunt and say do

lak we dam please, he reckon, but git off dat place to do it, less'n

any of us wants to stay and make de crop for half of what we make.

None of us know whar to go, so we all stay, and he split up de fields

and show us which part we got to work in, and we go on lak we was, and

make de crop and git it in, but dey ain't no more horn after dat day.

Some de niggers lazy and don't git in de field early, and dey git it

took away from 'em, but dey plead around and git it back and work

better de rest of dat year.

But we all gits fooled on dat first go-out! When de crop all in we

don't git half! Old Mistress sick in town, and de overseer was still

on de place and he charge us half de crop for de quarters and de mules

and tools and grub!

Den he leave, and we gits another white man, and he sets up a book,

and give us half de next year, and take out for what we use up, but we

all got something left over after dat first go-out.

Old Mistress never git well after she lose all her niggers, and one

day de white boss tell us she jest drap over dead setting in her

chair, and we know her heart jest broke.

Next year de chillun sell off most de place and we scatter off, and I

and mammy go into Little Rock and do work in de town. Grandmammy done


I git married to John White in Little Rock, but he died and we didn't

have no chillun. Den in four, five years I marry Billy Rowe. He was a

Cherokee citizen and he had belonged to a Cherokee name Dave Rowe, and

lived east of Tahlequah before de War. We married in Little Rock, but

he had land in de Cherokee Nation, and we come to east of Tahlequah

and lived 'til he died, and den I come to Tulsa to live wid my

youngest daughter.

Billy Rowe and me had three chillun, Ellie, John, and Lula. Lula

married a Thomas, and it's her I lives with.

Lots of old people lak me say dat dey was happy in slavery, and dat

dey had de worst tribulations after freedom, but I knows dey didn't

have no white master and overseer lak we all had on our place. Dey

both dead now I reckon, and dey no use talking 'bout de dead, but I

know I been gone long ago iffen dat white man Saunder didn't lose his

hold on me.

It was de fourth day of June in 1865 I begins to live, and I gwine

take de picture of dat old man in de big black hat and long whiskers,

setting on de gallery and talking kind to us, clean into my grave wid


No, bless God, I ain't never seen no more black boys bleeding all up

and down de back under a cat o' nine tails, and I never go by no cabin

and hear no poor nigger groaning, all wrapped up in a lardy sheet no


I hear my chillun read about General Lee, and I know he was a good

man, I didn't know nothing about him den, but I know now he wasn't

fighting for dat kind of white folks.

Maybe dey dat kind still yet, but dey don't show it up no more, and I

got lots of white friends too. All my chillun and grandchillun been to

school, and dey git along good, and I know we living in a better

world, what dey ain't nobody "cussing fire to my black heart!"

I sho' thank de good Lawd I got to see it.

Katie Dillon Katie Rye facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail