Person Interviewed: Lou Smith
Location: Platter, Oklahoma
Occupation: Nursing Young
Sho’, I remembers de slavery days! I was a little gal but I can tell you lots of things about dem days. My job was nussing de younguns. I took keer of them from daylight to dark. I’d have to sing them to sleep too. I’d sing:
By-lo Baby Bunting
Daddy’s gone a-hunting
To get a rabbit skin
To wrap Baby Bunting in.”
Sometimes I’d sing: Rock-a-bye baby, in a tree top
When de wind blows your cradle’ll rock.
When de bough breaks de crad’ll fall
Down comes baby cradle’n all.”
My father was Jackson Longacre and he was born in Mississippi. My mother, Caroline, was born in South Carolina. Both of them was born slaves. My father belonged to Huriah Longacre. He had a big plantation and lots of niggers. He put up a lot of his slaves as security on a debt and he took sick and died so they put them all on de block and sold them. My father and his mother (my grandma) was sold together. My old Mistress bought my grandmother and old Mistress’ sister bought my grandma’s sister. These white women agreed that they would never go off so far that the two slave women couldn’t see each other. They allus kept this promise. A Mr. Covington offered old Master $700 for me when I was about ten years old, but he wouldn’t sell me. He didn’t need to for he was rich as cream and my, how good he was to us. Young Master married Miss Jo Arnold and old Master sent me and my mother over to live with them. I was small when I was took out of old man McWilliams’ yard. It was his wife that bought my grandmother and my father. My mother’s folks had always belonged to his family. They all moved to Texas and we all lived there until after the surrender. Miss Jo wasn’t a good Mistress and mother and me wasn’t happy. When young Master was there he made her treat us good but when he was gone she made our lives a misery to us. She was what we called a “low-brow.” She never had been used to slaves and she treated us like dogs. She said us kids didn’t need to wear any clothes and one day she told us we could jest take’em off as it cost too much to clothe us. I was jest a little child but I knowed I oughten to go without my clothes. We wore little enough as it was. In summer we just wore one garment, a sort of slip without any sleeves. Well, anyway she made me take off my clothes and I just crept off and cried. Purty soon young Master come home. He wanted to know what on earth I was doing without my dress on. I told him, and my goodness, but he raised the roof. He told her if she didn’t treat us better he was going to take us back to old Master. I never did have any more good times ‘cepting when I’d get to go to visit at old Master’s. None of our family could be sold and that was why old Master just loaned us to young Master. When old Master died, dey put all our names in a hat and all the chilluns draw out a name. This was done to ‘vide us niggers satisfactory. Young Master drawed my mother’s name and they all agreed that I should go with her, so back we went to Miss Jo. She wouldn’t feed us niggers. She’d make me set in a corner like a little dog. I got so hungry and howled so loud they had to feed me. When the surrender come, I was eleven years old, and they told us we was free. I ran off and hid in the plum orchard and I said over’n over, “I’se free, I’se free! I ain’t never going back to Miss Jo.” My mother come out and got me and in a few days my father came and lived with us. He worked for young Master and the crops was divided with him. Miss Jo died and we lived on there. My mother took over the charge of the house and the chillun for young Master and we was all purty happy after that.
They was a white man come into our settlement and bought a plantation and some slaves. My, but he treated them bad. He owned a boy about fifteen years old. One day he sent him on a errand. On the way home he got off his mule and set down in the shade of a tree to rest. He fell asleep and the mule went home. When he woke up he was scared to go home and he stayed out in de woods for several days. Finally they caught him and took him home and his master beat him nearly to death. He then dug a hole and put him in it and piled corn shucks all around him. This nearly killed him ’cause his body was cut up so with the whip. One of the niggers slipped off and went to the jining plantation and told about the way the boy was being treated and a bunch of white men came over and made him take the child out and doctor his wounds. This man lived there about ten years and he was so mean to his slaves ’til all the white men round who owned niggers finally went to him and told him they would just give him so long to sell out and leave. They made him sell his slaves to people there in the community, and he went back north. My mother told me that he owned a woman who was the mother of several chillun and when her babies would get about a year or two of age he’d sell them and it would break her heart. She never got to keep them. When her fourth baby was born and was about two months old she just studied all the time about how she would have to give it up and one day she said, “I just decided I’m not going to let old Master sell this baby; he just ain’t going to do it.” She got up and give it something out of a bottle and purty soon it was deed. ‘Course didn’t nobody tell on her or he’d of beat her nearly to death. There wasn’t many folks that was mean to their slaves. Old Master’s boys played with the nigger boys all the time. They’d go swimming, fishing and hunting together. One of his boys name was Robert but everybody called him Bud. They all would catch rabbits and mark them and turn them loose. One day a boy come along with a rabbit he had caught in a trap. Old Master’s boy noticed that it had Bud’s mark on it and they made him turn it loose. Old Master was his own overseer, but my daddy was the overlooker. He was purty hard on them too, as they had to work just like they never got tired. The women had to do housework, spinning, sewing and work in the fields too. My mother was housewoman and she could keep herself looking nice. My, she went around with her hair and clothes all Jenny-Lynned-up all the time until we went to live with Miss Jo. She took all the spirit out of poor mother and me too. I remember she allus kept our cabin as clean and neat as a pin. When other niggers come to visit her they would say, “My you are Buckry Niggers (meaning we tried to live like white folks).” I love to think of when we lived with old Master. We had a good time. Our cabin was nice and had a chimbley in it. Mother would cock and serve our breakfast at home every morning and dinner and supper on Sundays. We’d have biscuit every Sunday morning for our breakfast. That was something to look forward to. We all went to church every Sunday. We would go to the White folks church in the morning and to our church in the evening. Bill McWilliams, Old Master’s oldest boy, didn’t take much stock in church. He owned a nigger named Bird, who preached for us. Bill said, “Bird, you can’t preach, you can’t read, how on earth can you get a text out of the Bible when you can’t even read? How’n hell can a man preach that don’t know nothing?” Bird told him the Lord had called him to preach and he’d put the things in his mouth that he ought to say. One night Bill went to church and Bird preached the hair-raisingest sermon you ever heard. Bill told him all right to go and preach, and he gave Bird a horse and set him free to go anywhere he wanted to and preach. Old Master and old Mistress lived in grand style. Bob was the driver of their carriage. My, but he was always slick and shiny. He’d set up in front with his white shirt and black clothes. He looked like a black martin (bird) with a white breast. The nurse set in the back with the chillun. Old Master and Mistress set together in the front seat. Old Master and Mistress would come down to the quarters to eat Christmas dinners sometimes and also birthday dinners. It was sho’ a big day when they done that. They eat first, and the niggers would sing and dance to entertain them. Old Master would walk ’round through the quarters talking to the ones that was sick or too old to work. He was awful kind. I never knowed him to whip much. Once he whipped a women for stealing. She and mother had to spin and weave. She couldn’t or didn’t work as fast as Ma and wouldn’t have as much to show for her days work. She’d steal hanks of ma’s thread so she couldn’t do more work than she did. She’d also steal old Master’s tobacco. He caught up with her and whipped her. I never saw any niggers on the block but I remember once they had a sale in town and I seen them pass our house in gangs, the little ones in wagons and others walking. I’ve seen slaves who run away from their masters and they’d have to work in the field with a big ball and chain on their leg. They’d hoe out to the end of the chain and then drag it up a piece and hoe on to the end of the row.
Times was awful hard during the war. We actually suffered for some salt. We’d go to the smoke house where meat had been salted down for years, dig a hole in the ground and fill it with water. After it would stand for a while we’d dip the water up carefully and strain it and cook our food in it. We parched corn and meal for coffee. We used syrup for sugar. Some folks parched okra for coffee. When the war was over you’d see men, women and chillun walk out of their cabins with a bundle under their arms. All going by in droves, just going nowhere in particular. My mother and father didn’t join them; we stayed on at the plantation. I run off and got married when I was twenty. Ma never did want me to get married. My husband died five years ago. I never had no chillun. I reckon I’m a mite superstitious. If a man comes to your house first on New Years you will have good luck; if a woman is your first visitor you’ll have bad luck. When I was a young woman I knowed I’d be left alone in my old age. I seen it in my sleep. I dreamed I spit every tooth in my head right out in my hand and something tell me I would be a widow. That’s a bad thing to dream about, losing your teeth. Once my sister was at my house. She had a little baby and we was setting on the porch. They was a big pine tree in front of the house, and we seen something that looked like a big bird light in the tree. She begun to cry and say that’s a sign my baby is going to die. Sho’ nuff it just lived two weeks. Another time a big owl lit in a tree near a house and we heard it holler. The baby died that night. It was already sick, we’s setting up with it. I don’t know where they’s hants or not but I’se sho heard things I couldn’t see. We allus has made our own medicines. We used herbs and roots. If you’ll take poke root and cut it in small pieces and string it and put it ’round a baby’s neck it will cut teeth easy. A tea made out of dog fennel or corn shucks will cure chills and malaria. It’ll make ’em throw up. We used to take button snake root, black snake root, chips of anvil iron and whiskey and make a tonic to cure consumption. It would cure it too.