Slave Narrative of Katie Arbery

Interviewer: Mrs. Bernice Bowden
Person Interviewed: Katie Arbery
Location: 815 W. Thirteenth, Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Age: 80

“I am eighty years old. My name ‘fore I was a Arbery was Baxter. My mother was a Baxter. Born in Union County.

“My mother’s first people was Baxter and my grandmother was a Baxter and they just went by that name; she never did change her name.

“The boss man—that was what they called our master—his name was Paul McCall. He was married twice. His oldest son was Jim McCall. He was in the War. Yes ma’am, the Civil War.

“Paul McCall raised me up with his chillun and I never did call him master, just called him pappy, and Jim McCall, I called him brother Jim. Just raised us all up there in the yard. My grandmother was the cook.

“There wasn’t no fightin’ in Union County but I ‘member when the Yankees was goin’ through and singin’

‘The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah
We’ll rally ’round the flag, boys,
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.’

(She sang this—ed.)

And I ‘member this one good:

‘Old buckwheat cakes and good strong butter
To make your lips go flip, flip, flutter.
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie land.’

“Pappy used to play that on his fiddle and have us chillun tryin’ to dance. Used to call us chillun and say, ‘You little devils, come up here and dance’ and have us marchin’.

“My cousin used to be a quill blower. Brother Jim would cut fishin’ canes and plat ’em together—they called ’em a pack—five in a row, just like my fingers. Anybody that knowed how could sure make music on ’em. Tom Rollins, that was my baby uncle, he was a banjo picker.

“I can remember a heap a things that happened, but ’bout slavery, I didn’t know one day from another. They treated us so nice that when they said freedom come, I thought I was always free.

“I heered my grandmother talk about sellin’ ’em, but I was just a little kid and I didn’t know what they was talkin’ about. I heered ’em say, ‘Did you know they sold Aunt Sally away from her baby?’ I heered ’em talkin’, I know that much.

“After freedom, our folks stayed right on Paul McCall’s place. My grandmother cooked for the McCalls till I was eight or nine years old, then she cooked for the McCrays—they was all relatives—till I was twenty-one. Then I married.

“Paul McCall first married in the Baxter family and then he married into the McCray family. I lived on the McCall place till I was grown. They all come from Alabama. Yes’m, they come befo’ the war was.

“Chillun in dem days paid attention. People raised chillun in dem days. Folks just feeds ’em now and lets ’em grow up.

“I looks at the young race now and they is as wise as rabbits.

“I never went to school but three months, but I never will forget that old blue back McGuffey’s. Sam Porter was our teacher and I was scared of him. I was so scared I couldn’t learn nothin’.

“As far as I can remember I have been treated nice everywhere I been. Ain’t none of the white folks ever mistreated me.

“Lord, we had plenty to eat in slavery days—and freedom days too.

“One time when my mother was cookin’ for Colonel Morgan and my oldest brother was workin’ some land, my mother always sent me over with a bucket of milk for him. So one day she say. ‘Snooky, come carry your brother’s milk and hurry so he can have it for dinner.’ I was goin’ across a field; that was a awful deer country. I had on a red dress and was goin’ on with my milk when I saw a old buck lookin’ at me. All at once he went ‘whu-u-u’, and then the whole drove come up. There was mosely trees (I think she must have meant mimosa—ed.) in the field and I run and climbed up in one of ’em. A mosely tree grows crooked; I don’t care how straight you put it in the ground, it’s goin’ to grow crooked. So I climb up in the mosely tree and begin to yell. My brother heard me and come ’cause he knowed what was up. He used to say, ‘Now, Snipe, when you come ‘cross that mosely field, don’t you wear that old red dress ’cause they’ll get you down and tear that dress off you.’ I liked the dress ’cause he had give it to me. I had set the milk down at the foot of the tree and it’s a wonder they didn’t knock it over, but when my brother heard me yell he come a runnin’, with a gun and shot one of the deer. I got some of the venison and he give some to Colonel Morgan, his boss man. Colonel Morgan had fought in the war.

“The reason I can’t tell you no more is, since I got old my mind goes this and that a way.

“But I can tell you all the doctors that doctored on me. They give me up to die once. I had the chills from the first of one January to the next We had Dr. Chester and Dr. McCray and Dr. Lewis—his name was Perry—and Dr. Green and Dr. Smead. Took quinine till I couldn’t hear, and finally Dr. Green said, ‘We’ll just quit givin’ her medicine, looks like she’s goin’ to die anyway.’ And then Dr. Lewis fed me for three weeks steady on okra soup cooked with chicken. Just give me the broth. Then I commenced gettin’ better and here I am.

“But I can’t work like I used to. When I was young I could work right along with the men but I can’t do it now. I wish I could ’cause they’s a heap a things I’d like that my chillun and grandchillun can’t get for me.

“Well, good-bye, come back again sometime.”

Federal Writers' Project. WPA Slave Narratives. Web. 2007-2024. The WPA Slave Narratives must be used with care. There is, of course, the problem of confusion in memory resulting from (73+ years) of the participants. In addition, inexperienced interviewers sometimes pursued question lines related to their own interests and perspectives and attempted to capture the colloquialism of the informant's speech. The interviews provide fascinating insight and surprisingly candid information, however.

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