The Slave Narrative Collection
An OKGenWeb Special Project
Age 85 Yrs.
Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
Old Master tell me I was borned in November 1852, at de old home place about five miles east of Webbers Falls, mebbe kind of northeast, not far from de east bank of de Illinois River.
Master's name was Joe Sheppard, and he was a Cherokee Indian. Tall and slim and handsome. He had black eyes and mustache but his hair was iron gray, and everybody like him because he was so good natured and kind.
I don't remember old Mistress name. My mammy was a Crossland Negro before she come to belong to Master Joe and marry my pappy, and I think she come wid old Mistress and belong to her. Old mistress was small and mighty pretty too, and she was only half Cherokee. She inherit about half a dozen slaves, and say dey was her own and old master can't sell one unless she give him leave to do it. Dey only had two families of slaves wid about twenty in all, and dey only worked about fifty acres, so we sure did work every foot of it good. We git three or four crops of different things out of dat farm every ear, and something growing on dat place winter and summer.
Pappy's name was Caesar Sheppard and Mammy's name was Easter. Dey was both raised round Webber's Falls somewhere. I had two brothers, Silas and George, dat belong to Mr. George Holt in Webber's falls town. I got a pass and went to see dem sometimes, and dey was both treated might fine.
The big House was a double log wid a big hall and a stone chimney but no porches, wid two rooms at each end, one top side of de other. I thought it was mighty big and fine.
Us slaves lived in log cabins dat only had one room and no windows so we kept de doors open most of de time. We had home-made wooden beds wid rope springs, and de little ones slept on trundle beds dat was home made too.
At night dem trundles was jest all over the floor, and in de morning we shoved em back under de big beds to git dem outn' de way. No nails in none of dem nor in de chairs and tables. Nails cost big money and Old Master's blacksmith wouldn't make none 'ceptin a few for old Master now an den so we used wooden dowels to put things together.
They was so many of us for dat little field we never did have to work hard. Up at five o'clock and back in sometimes about de middle of de evening long before sundown, unless they was a crop to git in before it rain or something like dat.
When crop was laid by de slaves jest work round at dis and dat and keep tol'able busy. I never did have much of a job, jest tending de calves mostly. We had about twenty calves and I would take dem out and graze-em while some grown-up negro was grazing de cows so as to keep de cows milk. I had me a good blaze-faced horse for dat.
One time old Master and another man come and took some calves off and Pappy say old Master taking dem off to sell I didn't know what sell meant and I ast Pappy is he going to bring em back when he git through selling them. In ever did see no money neither, until time of de War or a little before.
Master Joe was sure a good provider, and we always had plenty of corn pone, sow belly and greens, sweet potatoes, cowpeas and cane molasses. We even had brown sugar and cane molasses most of de time before de War, sometimes coffee, too.
De clothes wasn't no worry neither. Everything we had was made by my folks. My aunt done de carding and spinning and my mammy done de weaving and cutting and sewing , and my pappy could make cowhide shoes wid wooden pegs. Dey was for bad winter only.
Old Master bought de cotton in Ft. Smith, because he didn't raise no cotton, but he had a few sheep and we had wool mix for winter.
Everything was stripedy cause Mammy like to make it fancy. She dye with copperas and walnut and wild indigo and things like dat and made pretty cloth. I wore a stripedy shirt till I was about 11 years old and den one day while we was down in the Choctaw Country old Mistress see me and nearly fall off her horse. She holler, "Easter, you go right now and make dat big buck of a boy some britches!"
We never put on de shoes until about late November when de front begin to hit regular and split our feet up, and den when it git good and cold and de crop all gathered in anyways, they is nothing to do 'cepting hog killing and alot of wood chopping and you don't get cold doing dem two things.
De hog killing mean we gots lots of spare-ribs and chitlings and somebody always git sick eating to much of dat fresh pork. I always pick a whole passel of muskatines for old Master and he make up sour wine, and dat helps out when we git the bowel complaint from eating dat fresh pork.
If somebody bad sick he git de doctor right quick, and he don't let no negroes mess around wid no poultices and teas and sech things, like cupping-horns neither!
Us Cherokee slaves seen lots of green corn shootings and de like of dat but we never had no games of our own. We was too tired when we come in to play any games. We had to have a pass to go any place to have signing or praying, and den they was always a bunch of patrollers around to watch everything we done. Dey would come up in a bunch of about nine men on horses and look at all our passes, and if a negro didn't have no pass dey wore him out good and made him go home. Dey didn't let us have much enjoyment.
Right after the War, de Cherokees that had been wid the South kind of pestered the freedmen some, but I was so small dey never bothered me; jest de grown ones. Old Master and Mistress kept on asking me did de night riders persecute meany but dey never did.
Dey tole me some of dem was bad on negroes but I never did see none of dem night riding like some say dey did.
Old Master had some kind of business in Fort Smith, I think cause he used to ride into dat town about everyday on his horse. He would start at de crack of daylight and not git home till way after dark. When he get home he call my uncle and ask about what we done all day and tell him what we better do de next day. My uncle Joe was de slave boss and he tell us what de Master say do.
When dat Civil War come along I was a pretty big boy and I remember it good as anybody. Uncle Joe tell us all to lay low and work hard and nobdy bother us and he would look after us. He sure stood good with de Cherokee neighbors we had, and dey all liked him. There was Mr. Jim Collins, and Mr. Bell, and Mr. Dave Franklin, and Mr. Jim Sutton and Mr. Blackburn that lived around close to us and dey hall had slaves. Dey was all wid the south, bet day wa a lot of dem Pin Indians all up on de Illinois River and dey was wid de North and day taken it out on de slave owners alot before de War and during it too.
Dey would come in de night and hamstring de horses and maybe set fire to de barn, and two of em named Joab Scarrel, and Tom Starr killed my pappy one night just before the War broke out.
I don't know what dey done it for, only to be mean, and I guess they was drunk.
Them Pins was after Master all de time for a while at de first of de War, and he was afraid to ride into Ft. Smith much. Dey come to de house one time when he was gone to Fort Smith and us children told dem he was at Honey Springs, but they knowed better and when he got home he said somebody shot at him and bushwhacked him all the way from Wilson's Rock to dem Wildhorse Mountains, but he run his horse like de devil was sitting on his tail and dey never did hit him. He never seen them neither. We told him bout de Pins coming for him and he just laughed.
When de War come old Master seen he was going into trouble and he sold off most of de slaves. In de second year of de War he sold my mammy and my aunt dat was Uncle Joe's wife and my two brothers and my little sister. Mammy went to a mean old man named Pepper Goodman and he took her off down de river, and pretty soon Mistress tell me she died cause she can't stand de rough treatment.
When Mammy went old Mistress took me to de Big House to help her and she was kind to me like I was part of her own family. I never forget when they sold off some more negroes at de same time, too and put dem all in a pen for de trader to come and look at.
He never come until the next day, so dey had to sleep in dat pen in a pile like hogs.
It wasn't my Master done dat. He done already sold'em to a man and it was dat man was waiting for de trader. It made my Master mad, but dey didn't belong to him no more and he couldn't say nothing.
The man put dem on a block and sold em to a man dat had come in on a steamboat, and he took dem off on it when de freshet come down and de boat could go back to Fort Smith. It was tied up at de dock at Webbers Falls about a week and we went down and talked to my aunt an brothers and sister. De brothers was Sam and Eli. Old Mistress cried jest like any of de rest of us when de boat pull out with dem on it.
Pretty soon all de young Cherokee menfolks all gone off to de War, and de Pins was riding round all de time, and it ain't safe to be in dat part around Webber's Falls so old Master take us all to Fort Smith where they was a lot of Confederate soldiers.
We camp at dat place a while and old Mistress stay in de town wid some kinfolks. Den old Master get three wagons and ox teams and take us all way down on Red River in de Choctaw Nation.
We went by Webber's Falls and filled de wagons. We left de furniture and only took grub and tools and bedding and clothes, cause they wasn't very big wagons and was only single-yoke.
We went on a place in de Red River Bottoms close to Shawneetown and not far from de place where all de wagons crossed over to go into Texas. We was at dat place two years and made two little crops.
One night a runaway negro come across form Texasa and he had de blood hounds after him. His britches was all muddy and tore where de hounds had cut him up in de legs when he clumb a tree in de bottoms. He come to our house and Mistress said for us Negroes to give him something to eat and we did.
Then up come de man from Texas with de hounds and wid him was young Mr. Joe Vann and my uncle that belong to young Joe. Dey called young Mr. Joe "Little Joe Vann" even after he was grown on account of when he was a little boy before his pappy was killed. His pappy was old Captain "Rich Joe" Vann, and he had been dead ever since long before de War. My uncle belong to old Captain Joe nearly all his life.
Mistress try to get de man to tell her who de negro belong to so she can buy him, but de man say he can't sell him and he take him on back to Texas wid a chain around his two ankles. Dat was one poor negro dat never go away to de North and I was sorry for him cause I know he must have had a mean master, but none of us Sheppard negroes, I mean the grown ones, tried to get away.
After de War was over, Old Master tell me I am free but he will look out after me cause I am just a little negro and I ain't got no sense. I know he is right, too.
Well, I go ahead, and make me a crop of corn all by myself and then I don't know what to do wid it. I was afraid I would get cheated out of it cause I can't figure and read, so I tell old Master about it and he bought it off'n me.
We never had no school in slavery and it was agin' the law for anybody to even show a negro de letters and figures, so no Cherokee slave could read.
We all come back to de old place and find de negro cabins and barns burned down and de fences all gone and de field in crab grass and cockleburs. But de Big House ain't hurt cepting it need a new roof. De furniture is all gone, and some said de soldiers burned it up for firewood. Some officers stayed in de house for a while and tore everything up or took it off.
Master give me over to de National Freedmen's bureau and I was bound out to a Cherokee woman name Lizzie McGee. Then one day one of my uncles name Wash Sheppard come and tried to git me to go live wid him. He say he wanted to git de family all together agin.
He had run off after he was sold and joined de North army and discharged at Fort Scoot in Kansas, and he said lots of freedmen was living close to each other up by Coffeyville in the Coo-ee-scoo-wee District.
I wouldn't go, so he sent Isaac and Joe Vann dat had been two of Old Captain Joe's negroes to talk to me. Isaac had been Young Joe's driver and he told me all about how rich Master Joe was and how he would look after us negroes. Dey kept after me about a year, but I didn't go anyways.
But later on I got a freedman's allotment up in dat part close to Coffeyville, and I lived in Coffeyville a while but I didn't like it in Kansas.
I lost my land trying to live honest and pay my debts. I raised eleven children just on de sweat of my hands and none of dem ever tasted anything dat was stole.
When I left Mrs. McGee's I worked about three years for Mr. Sterling Scott and Mr. Roddy Reese. Mr. Reese had a big flock of peafowls dat had belonged to Mr. Scott and I had to take care of dem.
Whitefolks, I would have to go tromp seven miles to Mr. Scott's house two or three times a week to bring back some old peafowl dat had go tout and gone back to de old place!
Poor old master and mistress only lived a few years after de War. Master went plumb blind after he move back to Webber's Falls and so he move up on de Illinois River, about three miles from de Arkansas, and there old Mistress take de white swelling and die and den he die pretty soon. I went to see dem lots of times and they was always glad to see me.
I would stay around about a week and help em and dey would try to git me to take something but I never would. Dey didn't have much and couldn't make anymore and dem so old. Old Mistress had inherited some property from her pappy and dey had de slave money and when dey turned everything into good money after de War dat stuff only come to about six thousand dollars in good money, she told me. Dat just about lasted em through until dey died, I reckon.
By and by I married Nancy Holdebrand what lived on Greenleaf Creek, bout four miles northwest of Gore. She had belonged to Joe Hildebrand and he was kin to old Steve Hildebrand dat owned de mill on Flint Creek up in de Going Snake District. She was raised up at dat mill, but she was borned in Tennessee before dey come out to de nation. Her master was white, but he had married into de Nation and so she got a freedmen's allotment too. She had some land close to Catoosa and some down on Greenleaf Creek.
We was married at my home in Coffeyville, and she bore me eleven children right. We never had no church in slavery, and no schooling, and you had better not be caught wid a book in your hand even, so I never did go to church hardly any.
Wife belong to de church and all de children too, and I think all should look after saving their souls so as to drive de nail in, and den go about de earth spreading kindness and hoeing de row clean so as to clinch dat nail and make dem safe for Glory
Of course I hear about Abraham Lincoln and he was a great man, but I was told mostly by my children when dey come home from school about him. I always think of my old Master as de one dat freed me, and anyways Abraham Lincoln and none of his North people didn't look after me and buy my crop right after I was free like old Master did. Dat was de time dat was the hardest and everything was dark and confusion.
Contributed by M. Dawson, May 2002