Interview # 1236
Field Worker: May 4, 1937
Name: Mr. Van Cockran
Residence: Wynnewood, Oklahoma
Date of Birth: 1849
Place of Birth: John Cockran Plantation, Louisianna
Father: Bob Cockran
Mother: Tempie Cockran
I was about fifteen years old at the close of the Civil War. I was
owned by Master John Cockran. When the war was over, Master John called all his
slaves to his big house and told us we were free to go any place we wanted to. My
father didn't want to leave Master John and told him so. Master John owned a hundred
and fifteen Negroes at the close of the Civil War and they all liked him. He owned
thousands of acres of land, so he said those that wanted to stay might, and they could
farm for themselves. He furnished everything and gave them one third of what they
raised. They all stayed but one family and everything went on just like it did
before the War, except that Master John laid down his whip.
I stayed with Master John until he died in 1890. Then I came to the
Indian Territory and settled at Wynnewood in the Chickasaw nation. I had more money
when I came here with my wife and three children than I have ever had at one time since.
I had nine hundred dollars when we got off of the train at Wynnewood and I remember
the time quite well. I went to a big store on the corner and there I met Mr. Crump,
a white man who ran the store. I asked him to help me locate a farm and he
sent me to several big farmers. Late that evening I met Mr. Noah Lael, a little man,
but a fine one, and he told me he would give me a job and I could farm for him. There were
several families of colored people living in Wynnewood, so I moved in with a colored
family. the next day I gave Mr. Crump fifteen dollars for a lot in Wynnewood.
Then I went tot he lumber yard and bought twenty dollars worth of lumber and by sun
down that day I had a one-room house built and moved in. I still live in the same
house, but I have added two more rooms on to it.
I went to work for Mr. Lael. There was lots of corn raised then but
very little cotton. The first big cotton raised around Wynnewood was in 1893, and
they surely did raise a fine crop. White men would come to my house every evening
wanting me to bring my family and pick for them as I had been raised to pick three hundred
pounds a day.
Mr. Noah Lael was the biggest cattle owner around here. I saw about
ten thousand head of his cattle stampede one time. It took his cow hands about five
hours to quiet them down. When these cattle came to a fence they just laid it flat
and they wrecked three houses also. No one was hurt.
Just across the street from where I live there was a Negro church.
Every Sunday morning I have seen as many as a hundred and fifty colored people at
that church. Now on Sunday morning there aren't twenty people there.
Mr. Lael would pay his men off every Saturday at noon. He would come
to town in his buggy and in front of Mr. Crump's store would pay all his help. He
would pay out over five hundred dollars every Saturday.
The first big cotton crop raised around Wynnewood brought forty dollars a
bale. Corn was ten to fifteen cents a bushel and there was plenty of work.
Every day some one would come around selling beef and you could buy enough for
three or four meals for twenty-five cents. It was fresh, as they would kill their
beef every morning.
My wife made more money then washing for the cow-hands who worked for Mr.
Lael than I did. I knew all of the cowhands and on Saturday evening after they got
paid, there would be eight or ten of them ride down to my house for my boy to shine their
boots. They would give him twenty-five cents for each pair of boots.
There were no saloons at Wynnewood but you could get plenty of whiskey.
Though on Saturday and Saturday nights you wouldn't see as many drunks as you can
see today. There was always a big dance given at some house around there, every
Sometimes there would be some shooting take place. I saw Mr. John
Walner kill Bill Lewis on the street in Wynnewood and I saw Bob Walner kill John Walner.
Bob was John Walner's nephew. There wasn't much trouble around here then, but
if you were looking for trouble you surely could get your hand called.
People trusted one another then more than they do now. I could go to
any of the stores and get anything I wanted. It made no difference whether I had the
money or not. I have heard women talk of how high dress material is today.
Well, gingham is about twenty cents a yard today and then it was about ten cents a
yard. The difference in, then, a woman had to have about eight yards to make
a dress and that would cost her about eighty cents. Today, the same sized woman will
get four yards and make her a dress, and she pays about eighty cents for it so there isn't
Mr. Lael furnished beef for several families around here, but he didn't
know it as he owned so many cattle he couldn't miss them.
I used to raise geese and chickens for the market. I would get forty
cents a piece for fat geese and from ten to fifteen cents for a frying chicken. Eggs
were ten cents a dozen. You could catch a big mess of fish any time you wanted to go
to the Washita River. There weren't very many turkeys around Wynnewood when I came
here but in Wild Horse bottom there were plenty.