The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Texarkana District FOLKLORE SUBJECTS Name of Interviewer: Cecil Copeland Subject: Social Customs-Reminiscences of an Ex-Slave Subject: Foods
This Information given by: Doc Quinn Place of Residence: 1217 Ash Street, Texarkana, Arkansas Occupation: None [TR: also reported as Ex-slave.] Age: 93 [TR: also reported as 94.] [TR: Information moved from bottom of first page.] [TR: Repetitive information deleted from subsequent pages.]
Several months ago, I called at 1217 Ash Street, Texarkana, Arkansas where I had been informed a voluble old negro lived. An aged, gray-haired, negro woman came to the door and informed me her father was in the wood shed at the back of the house. Going around to the wood shed I found him busily engaged in storing his winter supply of wood. When I made known my mission he readily agreed to answer all my questions as best he could. Seating himself on a block of wood, he told this almost incredible story, along with lengthy discourses on politics, religion and other current events:
"I wuz born March 15, 1843, in Monroe County, Mississippi, near Aberdeen, Mah Mahster wuz Colonel Ogburn, one ob de bigges' planters in de state of Mississippi. Manys de time he raised so much cotton dat dem big steamers just couldnt carry it all down to N'Awlins in one year. But den along came de Civil War an' we didn't raise nothin' fo' several years. Why? Becase most uf us jined the Confederate Army in Colonel Ogburn's regiment as servants and bodyguards. An' let me tell yo' somethin', whitefolks. Dere never wuz a war like dis war. Why I 'member dat after de battle of Corinth, Miss., a five acre field was so thickly covered wid de dead and wounded dat yo' couldn't touch de ground in walkin' across it. And de onliest way to bury dem wuz to cut a deep furrow wid a plow, lay de soldiers head to head, an' plow de dirt back on dem."
"About a year after de war started de Mahster got one ob dese A.W.O.L.'s frum de Army so we could come to Miller County, where he bought de place on Red River now known as de Adams Farm."
"When we fust came here dis place, as well as de rest ob de Valley, wuz just a big canebrake-nothin' lived in dere but bears, wolves, and varmints. Why de Mahster would habe to round up de livestock each afternoon, put dem in pens, and den put out guards all night to keep de wolves and bears frum gettin' em. De folks didn't go gallivatin' round nights like dey do now or de varmints would get them. But den we didn't stay here but a few months until de Mahster's A.W.O.L. wuz up, so we had to go back and jine de army. We fought in Mississippi Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina."
"When de war ended de Mahster moved us to Miller County, but not on de Adams farm. For de man whut used to own de farm said Uncle Sam hadn't made any such money as wuz paid him for de farm, so he wanted his farm back. Dat Confederate money wuzn't worth de paper it wuz printed on, so de Mahster had to gib him back de farm. Poor Massa Ogburn-he didn't live long after dat. He and his wife are buried side by side in Rondo Cemetery."
"Not long after de negroes wuz freed, I took 86 ob dem to de votin' place at Homan and voted 'em all straight Democratic. On my way back home dat evenin' five negroes jumped frum de bushes and stopped me. Dey 'splained dat I wuz too 'fluential wid de negroes and proceeded to string me up by de neck. I hollers as loud as I could, and Roy Nash and Hugh Burton, de election officers, just happen to be comin' down de road and hear me yell. Dey ran off de niggers and cut me down, but by dat time I had passed out. It wuz several weeks befo' I got well, and I can still feel dat rope 'round my neck. Iffen dey had known how to tie a hangmans knot I wouldn't be here to tell you about it."
"It wuzn't long after dis dat I jined Colonel' Baker's Gang for 'tection. 'Colonel' Baker wuz a great and brave man and did mo' fo de white folks of dis country den any other man. Why iffen it hadn't been fo' him de white folks couldn't hab lived in dis country, de negroes wuz so mean. Dey wuz so mean dat dey tied heavy plow shoes aroun' de necks ob two little white boys and threw dem in de lake. Yes suh. I wuz dere."
"And another time I wuz wid a bunch of niggers when dey wuz plannin' on killin a white man who wuz a friend ob mine. As soon as I could I slips away and tips him off. When I got back one ob dem niggers looks at me suspicious like and asks, "where yo been, nigger?" I wuz shakin' like a leaf in a storm, but I says: "I ain't been nowhere-just went home to get some cartridges to help kill dis white man."
"Not long after I jined Colonel Baker's Gang, we wuz comin' frum Fulton to Clipper through de Red River bottoms. De river wuz overflowin' an' as we wuz crossin' a deep, swift slough, Colonel Baker and his horse got tangled up in some grape vines. Colonel Baker yelled, and I turned my mule around and cut all de grape vine loose wid my Bowie knife. Dere ain't nothin' like a mule for swimmin'. Dey can swim circles aroun' any horse. As long as he lived, Colonel Baker was always grateful to me fo' savin' his life."
"De Colonel hated de sight ob mean niggers. We would ride up to a negro settlement, and tell de niggers we wuz organizing a colored militia to catch Cullen Baker and his gang. Most ob de negroes would join, but some ob dem had to be encouraged by Colonel Baker's big gun. De recruits would be lined up in an open field fo' drilling. And dey sho wuz drilled. Colonel Baker and his men would shoot them by the score. Dey killed 53 at Homan, Arkansas, 86 at Rocky Comfort, (Foreman) Arkansas, 6 near Ogden, Arkansas, 6 on de Temple place, 62 at Jefferson, Texas, 100 in North Louisiana, 73 at Marshall, Texas, and several others."
"All of de big planters wuz friendly to Cullen Baker. I have carried supplies many times frum de big plantations-Hervey, Glass, and others-to Cullen Baker. De Colonel always carried a big double-barrel shotgun. It must have been de biggest shotgun in de world, not less den a number eight size. He whipped 16 soldiers at Old Boston wid dis gun one time."
"I saw Colonel Baker killed. We had just arrived at his father-in-law's house and I wuz in the horse lot, about 50 yards from de house, when Joe Davis. Thomas Orr and some more men rode up."
"De Colonel wuz standin' by de chimney an did not see dem come aroun' de house. Dey killed him befo' he knew dey wuz aroun'. One ob de men asked Mr. Foster, "Where at dat d-n nigger?" I ducked down and crawled in under de rail fence and ran-I didn't stop 'til I wuz deep in the Sulphur River bottoms. Every minute my heart seemed like it wuz goin' to jump right out uv my mouth. I wuz the worst scared nigger that ever lived."
"I have lived many years since dat time. De times and ways of livin' have changed. I 'member killing deer where the Texarkana National Bank stands, way befo' Texarkana wuz even thought of. This place wuz one of my favorite deer stands. Nix Creek used to be just full ob fish. What used to be the best fishing hole aroun' here is now covered by the Methodist Church (Negro), in East Texarkana. Dr. Weetten had a big fine home out where Springlake Park is. He wuz killed when thrown by a buckin' horse. All of de young people I knew den have been dead many years."
The question of eating special food on a particular day immediately brings in mind Thanksgiving Day, when turkey becomes the universal dish. Perhaps no other day in the year can be so designated, except among a few religious orders when the eating of meat is strictly prohibited on certain days.
The belief that negroes are particularly addicted to eating pork is well founded, as witness the sales of pork to colored people in most any meat market. But who could imagine that cotton-seed was once the universal food eaten in this vicinity by the colored people? That, according to Doc Quinn, a former slave, and self-styled exmember of Cullen Baker's Gang, was the custom before and shortly after the Civil War.
The cotton-seed would be dumped into a hugh pot, and boiled for several hours, the seed gradually rising to the top. The seed would then be dipped off with a ladle. The next and final step would be to pour corn-meal into the thick liquid, after which it was ready to be eaten. Cotton-seed, it must be remembered, had little value at that time, except as livestock feed.
"Yes suh, Cap'n," the old negro went on to explain. "I has never eaten anything whut tasted any better, or whut would stick to your ribs like cotton-seed, and corn-meal cake. Rich? Why dey's nuthin dat is more nutritious. You never saw a healthier or finer lookin' bunch of negroes dan wuz on Colonel Harvey's place."
"I 'member one time tho' when he changed us off cotton-seed, but we didn't stay changed fo' long. No suh. Of all de grumblin' dem niggers did, becase dey insides had got so used to dat cotton-seed and corn-meal dey wouldn't be satisfied wid nothing else."
"One mornin' when about forty of us niggers had reported sick, de Mahster came down to de qua'ters. 'Whut ailin' ye' lazy neggers?' he asked. Dem niggers los' about fifty pounds of weight apiece, and didn' feel like doin' anything. 'Mahster,' I say. 'Iffen you'll have de wimmen folks make us a pot full of dat cotton-seed and corn-meal, we'll be ready to go to work.' And as long as I work fo' Colonel Harvey, one uv de bes' men whut ever lived, we always had cotton-seed and corn-meal to eat."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives