Phyllis Petite

Oklahoma Writers' Project



Age 83 yrs.

Fort Gibson, Okla.

I was born in Rusk County, Texas, on a plantation about eight miles

east of Belleview. There wasn't no town where I was born, but they had

a church.

My mammy and pappy belonged to a part Cherokee named W. P. Thompson

when I was born. He had kinfolks in the Cherokee Nation, and we all

moved up here to a place on Fourteen-Mile Creek close to where Hulbert

now is, 'way before I was big enough to remember anything. Then, so I

been told, old master Thompson sell my pappy and mammy and one of my

baby brothers and me back to one of his neighbors in Texas name of

John Harnage.

Mammy's name was Letitia Thompson and pappy's was Riley Thompson. My

little brother was named Johnson Thompson, but I had another brother

sold to a Vann and he always call hisself Harry Vann. His Cherokee

master lived on the Arkansas river close to Webber's Falls and I never

did know him until we was both grown. My only sister was Patsy and she

was borned after slavery and died at Wagoner, Oklahoma.

I can just remember when Master John Harnage took us to Texas. We went

in a covered wagon with oxen and camped out all along the way. Mammy

done the cooking in big wash kettles and pappy done the driving of the

oxen. I would set in a wagon and listen to him pop his whip and


Master John took us to his plantation and it was a big one, too. You

could look from the field up to the Big House and any grown body in

the yard look like a little body, it was so far away.

We negroes lived in quarters not far from the Big House and ours was a

single log house with a stick and dirt chimney. We cooked over the hot

coals in the fireplace.

I just played around until I was about six years old I reckon, and

then they put me up at the Big House with my mammy to work. She done

all the cording and spinning and weaving, and I done a whole lot of

sweeping and minding the baby. The baby was only about six months old

I reckon. I used to stand by the cradle and rock it all day, and when

I quit I would go to sleep right by the cradle sometimes before mammy

would come and get me.

The Big House had great big rooms in front, and they was fixed up

nice, too. I remember when old Mistress Harnage tried me out sweeping

up the front rooms. They had two or three great big pictures of some

old people hanging on the wall. They was full blood Indians it look

like, and I was sure scared of them pictures! I would go here and

there and every which-a-way, and anywheres I go them big pictures

always looking straight at me and watching me sweep! I kept my eyes

right on them so I could run if they moved, and old Mistress take me

back to the kitchen and say I can't sweep because I miss all the dirt.

We always have good eating, like turnip greens cooked in a kettle with

hog skins and crackling grease, and skinned corn, and rabbit or possum

stew. I liked big fish tolerable well too, but I was afraid of the

bones in the little ones.

That skinned corn aint like the boiled hominy we have today. To make

it you boil some wood ashes, or have some drip lye from the hopper to

put in the hot water. Let the corn boil in the lye water until the

skin drops off and the eyes drop out and then wash that corn in fresh

water about a dozen times, or just keep carrying water from the spring

until you are wore out, like I did. Then you put the corn in a crock

and set it in the spring, and you got good skinned corn as long as it

last, all ready to warm up a little batch at a time.

Master had a big, long log kitchen setting away from the house, and we

set a big table for the family first, and when they was gone we

negroes at the house eat at that table too, but we don't use the china


The negro cook was Tilda Chisholm. She and my mammy didn't do no

out-work. Aunt Tilda sure could make them corn-dodgers. Us children

would catch her eating her dinner first out of the kettles and when we

say something she say: "Go on child, I jest tasting that dinner."

In the summer we had cotton homespun clothes, and in winter it had

wool mixed in. They was dyed with copperas and wild indigo.

My brother, Johnson Thompson, would get up behind old Master Harnage

on his horse and go with him to hunt squirrels so they would go 'round

on Master's side so's he could shoot them. Master's old mare was named

"Old Willow", and she knowed when to stop and stand real still so he

could shoot.

His children was just all over the place! He had two houses full of

them! I only remember Bell, Ida, Maley, Mary and Will, but they was

plenty more I don't remember.

That old horn blowed 'way before daylight, and all the field negroes

had to be out in the row by the time of sun up. House negroes got up

too, because old Master always up to see everybody get out to work.

Old Master Harnage bought and sold slaves most all the time, and some

of the new negroes always acted up and needed a licking. The worst

ones got beat up good, too! They didn't have no jail to put slaves in

because when the Masters got done licking them they didn't need no


My husband was George Petite. He tell me his mammy was sold away from

him when he was a little boy. He looked down a long lane after her

just as long as he could see her, and cried after her. He went down to

the big road and set down by his mammy's barefooted tracks in the sand

and set there until it got dark, and then he come on back to the


I just saw one slave try to get away right in hand. They caught him

with bloodhounds and brung him back in. The hounds had nearly tore him

up, and he was sick a long time. I don't remember his name, but he

wasn't one of the old regular negroes.

In Texas we had a church where we could go. I think it was a white

church and they just let the negroes have it when they got a preacher

sometimes. My mammy took me sometimes, and she loved to sing them

salvation songs.

We used to carry news from one plantation to the other I reckon,

'cause mammy would tell about things going on some other plantation

and I know she never been there.

Christmas morning we always got some brown sugar candy or some

molasses to pull, and we children was up bright and early to get that

'lasses pull, I tell you! And in the winter we played skeeting on the

ice when the water froze over. No, I don't mean skating. That's when

you got iron skates, and we didn't have them things. We just get a

running start and jump on the ice and skeet as far as we could go, and

then run some more.

I nearly busted my head open, and brother Johnson said: "Try it

again," but after that I was scared to skeet any more.

Mammy say we was down in Texas to get away from the War, but I didn't

see any war and any soldiers. But one day old Master stay after he eat

breakfast and when us negroes come in to eat he say: "After today I

ain't your master any more. You all as free as I am." We just stand

and look and don't know what to say about it.

After while pappy got a wagon and some oxen to drive for a white man

who was coming to the Cherokee Nation because he had folks here. His

name was Dave Mounts and he had a boy named John.

We come with them and stopped at Fort Gibson where my own grand mammy

was cooking for the soldiers at the garrison. Her name was Phyllis

Brewer and I was named after her. She had a good Cherokee master. My

mammy was born on his place.

We stayed with her about a week and then we moved out on Four Mile

Creek to live. She died on Fourteen-Mile Creek about a year later.

When we first went to Four Mile Creek I seen negro women chopping wood

and asked them who they work for and I found out they didn't know they

was free yet.

After a while my pappy and mammy both died, and I was took care of by

my aunt Elsie Vann. She took my brother Johnson too, but I don't know

who took Harry Vann.

I was married to George Petite, and I had on a white underdress and

black high-top shoes, and a large cream colored hat, and on top of all

I had a blue wool dress with tassels all around the bottom of it. That

dress was for me to eat the terrible supper in. That what we called

the wedding supper because we eat too much of it. Just danced all

night, too! I was at Mandy Foster's house in Fort Gibson, and the

preacher was Reverend Barrows, I had that dress a long time, but its

gone now. I still got the little sun bonnet I wore to church in Texas.

We had six children, but all are dead but George, Tish, and Annie


Yes, they tell me Abraham Lincoln set me free, and I love to look at

his picture on the wall in the school house at Four Mile branch where

they have church. My grand mammy kind of help start that church, and I

think everybody ought to belong to some church.

I want to say again my Master Harnage was Indian, but he was a good

man and mighty good to us slaves, and you can see I am more than six

feet high, and they say I weighs over a hundred and sixty, even if my

hair is snow white.

Phoebe Henderson Pick Gladdeny facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail