Person Interviewed: Della Fountain
Location: McAlester, Oklahoma
I was born after de war of de Rebellion but I ‘member lots o’ things dat my parents told me ’bout slavery.
My grandmother was captured in Africa. Traders come dere in a big boat and day had all sorts of purty gew-gaws — red handkerchiefs, dress goods, beads, bells, and trinkets in bright colors. Dey would pull up at de shore and entice de colored folks onto de boat to see de purty things. Befo’ de darkies realized it dey would be out from shore. Dat de way she was captured. Fifteen to twenty-five would pay dem for de trip as dey all brought good prices.
I was born and raised in Louisiana, near Winfield. My mother’s Master was John Rogers and his wife was Miss Millie. Dey was awful good to deir slaves and he never shipped his grown niggers.
I ‘member when I was a child dat we didn’t have hardly anything to keep house wid, but we got along purty well I guess. Our furniture was home-made and we cooked on de fireplace.
We saved all our oak-wood ashes, and would out a barrel on a slanting scaffold and put sticks and shucks in de bottom of de barrel and den fill it wid de ashes. We’d pour water in it and let it drip. Dese drippings made pure lye. We used dis wid cracklings and meat scraps to make our soap. Father took a good-sized pine long and split it open, plumed it down smooth and bored holes in de bottom and drove pegs in dem for legs; dis was our battling bench. We’d spread our wet clothes on dir and rub soap on ‘em and take a paddle and beat de dirt out. We got ‘em clean but had to be careful not to wear ‘em out wid de paddle.
We had no tubs either, so father took a hollow log and split it open and put partitions in it. He bored a hole in each section and drove a peg in it. He next cut two forked poles and drove ‘em in de ground and rested de ends of de hollow log in dese forks. We’d fill de log trough wid water and rinse our clothes. We could pull out de pegs and let de water cut. We had no breeches either, so we made brush brooms to sweep our floors.
Dere was lots of wild game near our home. I ‘member father and two more men going out and killing size deer in jest a little while. Dey was plentiful, and so was squirrels, coon, possums and quall. Dere was lots of bears, too. We’d be in de field working and hear de dogs, and father and de boys would go to ‘em and maybe dey’d have a bear. We liked bear meat. It was dark, but awful good and sweet.
De grown folks used to have big times at log-rollings, corn-shuckings and quiltings. Dey’d have a big supper and a big dance at night. Us children would play ring with home-made rag dolls, or we’d take big leaves and pin ‘em together wid thorns and make hats and dresses. We’d ride saplings, too. All of us would pull a sapling down and one would climb up in it near de top and git a good hold on it, and dey would turn it loose. It took a purty good holding to stay wid it. I can tell you.
All de ladies rode horseback, and dey rode side-saddles. I had a purty side-saddle when I growed up. De saddle seat was flowered plush. I had a purty riding habit, too. De skirt was so long dat it almost touched de ground.
We spun and wove all our clothes. I had to spin three broaches ever night before bedtime. Mother would take bark and make dye to give us different colored dresses.
Red oak and sweet gum made purple. Bois d’ are made yellow or orange. Walnut made a purty brown. We knitted our socks and stockings. too.
We celebrated Christmas by having a big dance and egg-nog for ever’ body.
During slavery young colored boys and girls didn’t do much work but just growed up, care-free and happy. De first work boys done was to learn to hitch up de team to Masser’s carriage and take de young folks for a drive.
My older brothers and sisters told me lots of things dey done during slave days. My brother Joe felt mighty big after freedom and strutted about. One day he took his younger brother. Ol wid him to where father was building a house. Dey played ’bout de house and come up to where a white man and father was talking. De white man was rolling a little ball of mud in his hands and he just pitched it over on Ole’s foot. It didn’t hurt him a mite, but Joe bridled up and he started to git smart, and father told him he’d break his neck if he didn’t go on home and keep his mouth shut. Father finally had to whup Joe to make him know he was black, He give father and mother lots of concern, for dey was afraid the Ku Kluxers would git him. One day he was playing wid a axe and shopped off brother Ol’s finger. Mother told him she was going to kill him when she caught him. He took to de woods. His three sisters and two neighbor girls run him nearly all day but couldn’t catch him. Late in de evening, he come up to a white neighbor’s house and she told him to go in and git under de bed and day couldn’t find him. Curtains come down to de floor and as he was tired he decided to risk it. He hadn’t much more dan got hid when he heard de girls coming. He heard de woman say. “He’s under de bed.” He knowed he was caught, and he put up a fight, but dey took him to mother. He got a whupping, but he was shocked dat mother didn’t kill him like she said she was. He didn’t mind de whupping. He growed up to be a good man, and was de apple of my mother’s eye.
Father knowed a man that stole his Master’s horse out and rode him to a dance. For some reason de horse died. De poor man knowed he was up against it, and he let in to begging de men to help him git de horse on his back so he could put him back in his stable and his Master would think he died dere. Poor fellow, he really did think he could tote dat horse on his back. He couldn’t git anybody to help him, so he went to the woods. He was shot by a patroller ’cause he wouldn’t surrender, Dey captured him but he died.
Paul Castleberry was a white preacher. De colored would go to church de some as de whites. He give de colored instructions on obeying Masters. He say. “while your Master is going f’om pillar to post, looking after your entrusts, you is always doing some devilment.” I ‘spect dat was jest about de truth.
My sister played wid Miss Millie’s little girl. Mollie. De big house was on a high hill and at de foot of de hill. Nearly a half-mile away was a big creek wid a big wooden bridge across it. Soldiers come by aver’ few days, and you could hear deir horses when dey struck de bridge. Sister and Mollie would run upstairs and look down de hill, and if it was Confederate soldiers dey would run back and tell Miss Millie and dey would start putting out de best food dey had. If dey saw Yankee soldiers, dey would run down and tell ‘em and dey’d start hiding things.
De Yankees come through dere and took ever’ body’s horses. Lots of people took deir horses and cows and hid ‘em in some low place in de deep wood.
Miss Millie had a young horse and she had ‘em take him to de wheat field and hide him. De wheat was as high as he was. De Yankees come by, and a men had stopped dere just before dey come. He was riding an old horse, and he was wearing a long linen-duster, a duster was a long coat dat was worn over de suit to protect it from de dust.
Dis smart-aleck hid behind de house and as de soldiers rode up he shot at ‘em. Dey started shooting at him and he started running, and his coat was sticking straight out behind him. De soldiers surely wasn’t trying to hit him, but dey sure did scare him plenty. Miss Millie was certain dey was going to find her horse, but dey didn’t.
Master John Rogers was good to all his slaves, and they all loved him and would a died for him. One day he was sitting in his yard and Mollie come running down stairs and told him de Yankees was coming. He never say nothing, but kept sitting dere. Dat morning he had a big sack of money and he give it to my mother to hide for him. She ripped her mattress, and put it in de middle of it and sewed it up. She den made un de bad and put de covers on it. De Yankees searched de house and took de jewelry and silverware and old Master’s gold mug, but dey didn’t find his money.
My parents lived close to de old plantation dat they lived on when dey was slaves. De big house was still dere, but it was sure dilapidated. Ever’body was poor after de war, whites and blacks alike. I really think de colored was de best off, for they knowed all ’bout hardships and hard work and de white folks didn’t.
At first some of ‘em was too proud to do drudgery work, but most of ‘em went right to work and build up deir homes again. Food, clothes, and in fact everything needed, was scarce.
Mother always say, “If you visit on New Years, you’ll visit all de year.” We always had black-eyed peas and hog jowl for New Year’s dinner, for it brought good luck.
The Nineteenth of June was Emancipation Day, and we always had a big picnic and speeches.
I knowed one woman who was a conjur woman. Lots of people went to her to git her to break a evil spell dat some one had over them. She’d brew a tea from herbs and give to ‘em to drink, and it always cured ‘em.
I’ve seen people use all kinds of roots and herbs for medicine, and I also seen ‘em use all kind of things for cures. I’ve knowed ‘em to put wood lice in a bag and tie ‘em ’round a baby’s neck so it’d teeth easy.
Black-haw root, sour dock, bear grass, grape root, bull nettle, sweet-gum bark and red-oak bark boiled separately and mixed, makes a good blood medicine.