Byrd, Emmett Augasta
The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
"I was born in Washington County, Missouri. I'm eighty-three years old. Mother's owner was William Byrd. He got killed in a dispute over a horse. A horse trader shot him. His name was Cal Dony.[TR: There is a mark that may be a line over the 'o' or a tilde over the 'n'.] Father's owner was Byrd too. Mother was Miss Harriett Byrd's cook. Yes, I knowed her very well. I was nine years old when I was stole.
"Me and my older brother was both stole. His name was Hugh Byrd. We was just out. It was in September. A gang out stealing horses stole us. It was when Price made his last raid to Missouri. It was some of the soldiers from his gang. We was playing about. They overtook us and let us ride, then they wouldn't let us git off. They would shot us if we had. In a few days we was so far off. We cried and worried a heap.
"It was eighteen years before I see my mother. The old snag I was riding give out and they was leading so they changed me. I cried two or three days. They didn't pay my crying no 'tention. They had a string of nigger men and boys, no women, far as from me 'cross to that bank. I judge it is three hundred yards over there.
"After the battle of Big Blue River my man got killed and another man had charge of me and somebody else went off with my brother. I never seen him. That battle was awful, awful, awful! Well, I certainly was scared to death. They never got out of Missouri with my brother. In 1872 he went to St. Louis to my mother. She was cooking there. My father went with the Yankees and was at Jefferson Barracks in the army during the War. He was there when we got stole but she went later on before he died. He was there three months. He took pneumonia. They brought me in to Kansas and back by Ft. Smith.
"Talking about hard times, war times is all the hard times I ever seen. No foolin'! It was really hard times. We had no bread, shoot down a cow and cut out what we wanted, take it on. We et it raw. Sometimes we would cook it but we et more raw than cooked. When we got to Ft. Smith we struck good times. Folks was living on parched corn and sorghum molasses. They had no mills to grind up the corn. Times was hard they thought. Further south we come better times got. When we landed at Arkadelphia we stayed all night and I was sold next day. Mr. Spence was the hotel keeper. He bought me. He give one hundred fifty dollars and a fine saddle horse for me. I never heard the trade but that is what I heard 'em say afterwards. Mr. Spence was a cripple man. John Merrican left me. He been mean to me. He was rough. Hit me over the head, beat me. He was mean. He lived down 'bout Warren, down somewhere in the southern part of the state. I never seen him no more. Mr. Spence was good to me since I come to think about it but then I didn't think so. We had plenty plain victuals at the hotel. He meant to be good to me but I expected too much I reckon. Then it being a public place I heard lots what was said around. I come to think I ought to be treated good as the boarders. Now I see it different. Mr. Spence walked on a stick and a crutch. He couldn't be very cruel to me if he had wanted to. He wasn't mean a bit. I was the bellboy and swept 'round some and gardened.
"In 1866, in May, I run off. I went to Dallas County across Ouachita River. I stayed there with Matlocks and Russells and Welches till I was good and grown. Mr. Spence never tried to find me. I hoped he would. They wasn't so bad but I had to work harder. They never give me nothing. I seen Mr. Spence twice after I left but he never seen me. If he did he never let on. I never seen his wife no more after I left her. I didn't see him for four years after I left, then in three more years I seen him but the hotel had burned.
"Mr. Spence told me I was free. I didn't leave. I didn't have sense to know where to go. I didn't know what freedom was. So he went to the free mens' bureau and had me bound to him till I was twenty-one years old. He told me what he had done. He was to clothe me, feed me, send me to school so many months a year, give me a horse and bridle and saddle and one hundred fifty dollars when I was twenty-one years old. That would have been eight or nine years. Seemed too long a time to wait. I thought I could do better than that. I never done half that good. I never went to school a day in my life. I was sorry I run off after it was too late.
"I heard too much talking at the hotel. They argued a whole heap more than they do now. They set around and talk about slavery and freedom and everything else. It made me restless and I run off. I was ashamed to be seen much less go back. Folks used to have shame.
"In 1868 I lived with John Welch one year. I seen the going out and coming in. I heard what they was doing. I wasn't afraid of them then. I lived with one of 'em and I wasn't afraid of 'em. I learned a good deal about it. They called it uprising and I found out their purpose was to hold down the nigger. They said they wanted to make them submissive. They catch 'em and beat 'em half to death. I heard they hung some of 'em. No, I didn't see it. I knew one or two they beat. They took some of the niggers right out of the cotton patch and dressed them up and drilled 'em. When they come back they was boastful. Then they had to beat it out of 'em. Some of 'em didn't want to go back to work. Since I growed up I thought it out that Mr. Spence was reasonably good to me but I didn't think so then. It was a restlessness then like it is now 'mong the young class of folks. The truth is they don't know what they want nor what to do and they don't do nothing much no time.
"I went to see my mother. I wrote and wrote, had my white folks write till I found my folks. I went back several times. Mother died in 1902. We used to could beat rides on freight trains—that was mighty dangerous. We could work our way on the boats. I got to rambling trying to do better. I come to Phillips County. They cut it up, named it Lee. I got down in here and married. I was jus' rambling 'round. I been in Lee County sixty-one years. I married toreckly after I come here. I been married twice, both wives dead. I was about twenty-three years old when I married. I had four children. My last child got killed. A limb fell on him twenty years ago in April. He was grown and at work in the timber.
"I farmed all my life—seventy years of it. I like it now and if I was able I would not set up here in town a minute. Jus' till I could get out there is all time it would take for me to get back to farming. I owned two little places. I sold the first fifty acres when my wife was sick so I could do for her. She died. My last wife got sick. I was no 'count and had to quit work. Mr. Dupree built that little house for me, he said for all I had done for 'im. He said it would be my home long as I live. He keeps another old man living out there the same way. Mr. Dupree is sick—in bad health—skin disease of some sort. We lives back behind this house. Mr. Dupree is in this house now. (Mr. Dupree has eczema.) I used to work for him on the farm and in the store.
"I never was a drunkard. That is ruining this country. It is every Saturday night trade and every day trade with some of them. No, but I set here and see plenty.
"The present times is better than it used to be 'cause people are cleverer and considerate in way of living. A sixteen-year-old boy knows a heap now. Five-year-old boy knows much as a ten-year-old boy used to know. I don't think the world is going to pieces. It is advancing way I see it. The Bible says we are to get weaker and wiser. Young folks not much 'count now to do hard work. Some can.
"I get eight dollars and I work about this place all I am able. It keeps us both going."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives