The following data is extracted from Arkansas Slave Narratives.
Interviewer: Mary D. Hudgins Person interviewed: Aunt Clara Walker Aged: 111 Home: "Flatwoods" district, Garland County. Own property.
Story by Aunt Clara Walker
"You'll have to wait a minute ma'am. Dis cornbread can't go down too fas'. Yes ma'am, I likes cornbread. I eats it every meal. I wouldn't trade just a little cornbread for all de flour dat is.
Where-bouts was I born? I was born right here in Arkansas. Dat is it was between an on de borders of it an dat state to de south-yes ma'am, dat's right, Louisiana. My mother was a slave before me. She come over from de old country, she was a-runnin' along one day front of a-a-dat stripedy animal-a tiger? an' a man come along on an elephant and scoop her up an' put her on a ship.
Yes ma'am. My name's Clara Walker. I was born Clara Jones, cause my pappy's name was Jones. But lots of folks called me Clara Cornelius, cause Mr. Cornelius was de man what owned me. Did you ever hear of a child born wid a veil over its face? Well I was one of dem! What it mean? Why it means dat you can see spirits an' ha'nts, an all de other creatures nobody else can see.
Yes ma'am, some children is born dat way. You see dat great grandchild of mine lyin' on de floor? He's dat way. He kin see 'em too. Is many of 'em around here? Lawsey dey's as thick as ****-ants. What does dey look like? Some of 'em looks like folks; an' some of 'em looks like hounds. When dey sees you, dey says "Howdy!" an' if you don't speak to 'em dey takes you by your shoulders an dey shakes you. Maybe dey hits you on de back. An' if you go over to de bed an lies in de bed an' goes to sleep, dey pulls de cover off you. You got to be polite to 'em. What makes 'em walk around? Well, I got it figgured out dis way. Dey's dissatisfied. Dey didn't have time to git dey work done while dey was alive.
Dat greatgrandchild of mine, he kin see 'em too. Now my eight grandchildren an' my three children what's alivin' none of 'em can see de spirits. Guess dat greatgrandchild struck way back. I goes way back. My ol' master what had to go to de war, little 'fore it was over told me when he left dat I was 39 years old. Somebody figgured it out for me dat I's 111 now. Dat makes me pretty old, don't it?
There was another fellow on a joinin' plantation. He was a witch doctor. Brought him over from Africa. He didn't like his master, 'cause he was mean. So he make a little man out of mud. An' he stick thorns in its back. Sure 'nuff, his master got down with a misery in his back. An' de witch doctor let de thorn stay in de mud-man until he thought his master had got 'nuff punishment. When he tuck it out, his master got better.
Did I got to school. No ma'am. Not to book school. Dey wouldn't let culled folks git no learnin'. When I was a little girl we skip rope an' play high-spy (I Spy). All we had to do was to sweep de yard an go after de cows an' de pigs an de sheep. An' dat was fun, cause dey was lots of us children an we all did it together.
When I was 13 years old my ol' mistress put me wid a doctor who learned me how to be a midwife. Dat was cause so many women on de plantation was catchin' babies. I stayed wid dat doctor, Dr. McGill his name was, for 5 years. I got to be good. Got so he'd sit down an' I'd do all de work.
When I come home, I made a lot o' money for old miss. Lots of times, didn't sleep regular or git my meals on time for three-four days. Cause when dey call, I always went. Brought as many white as culled children. I's brought most 200, white an' black since I's been in Hot Springs. Brought a little white baby-to de Wards it was-dey lived jest down de lane-brought dat baby 'bout 7 year ago.
I's brought lots of 'em an' I ain't never lost a case. You know why. It's cause I used my haid. When I'd go in, I'd take a look at de woman, an' if it was beyond me, I'd say, 'Dis is a doctor case. Dis ain't no case for a midwife. You git a doctor.' An' dey'd have to get one. I'd jes' stan' before de lookin' glass, an' I wouldn't budge. Dey couldn't make me.
I made a lot of money for ol' miss. But she was good to me. She give me lots of good clothes. Those clothes an my mother's clothes burned up in de fire I had a few years ago right on dis farm. Lawsey I hated loosin' dose clothes I had when I was a girl more dan anything I lost. An' I didn't have to work in de fields. In between times I cooked an' I would jump in de loom. Yes, ma'am I could weave good. Did my yards every day. I weave cloth for dresses-fine dresses you would use thread as thin as dat you sews wid today-I weaves cloth for underclothes, an fo handkerchiefs an for towels. Den I weaves nits and lice. What's dat-well you see it was kind corse cloth de used for clothes like overalls. It mas sort of speckeldy all over-dat's why dey called it nits and lice.
Law, I used to be good once, but after I got all burned up I wasn't good for so much. It happened dis way. A salt lick was on a nearby plantation. Ever body who wanted salt, dey had to send a hand to help make it. I went over one day-an workin' around I stepped on a live coal. I move quick an' I fall plum over into a salt vat. Before dey got me out I was pretty near ruined.
What did dey do? Dey killed a hog-fresh killed a hog. An' dey fry up de fat-fry it up wid some of de hog hairs an' dey greesed me good. An' it took all de fire out of de burns. Dey kept me greezed for a long time. I was sick nearly six months. Dey was good to me.
An one day, young miss, she married. Ol' miss give me to her 'long of 23 others. Twenty four was all she could spare an' keep some for herself an save enough for de other children. We went to California. Young Miss was good, but her husband was mean. He give me de only white folks whippin I ever had. Ol' miss never had to whip her slaves. I was tryin' to cook on an earth stove-dat's why it happen. Did you ever hear of an earth stove? Well, dey make sort of drawers out of dirt. You burn wood in 'em. After you git used to it you kin cook on it good. But dat day I was busy an' I burned de biscuits. An' he whip me.
I run off. I knew in general de way home. When I come to de Brazos river it looked most a mile across. But I jump in an' I swim it. One day I done found a pearl handled pocket knife. A few days later I meet up wid a white boy. An' he say its his knife, an' I say, 'White boy, I know dat ain't your knife, an' you know it ain't. But if you'll write me out a free pass, I'll give it to you.' An' so he wrote it. After dat, I could walk right up to de front gates an ask for somthin' to eat. Cause I had a paper sayin' I was Clara Jones an' I was goin' home to my ol' mistress Mis' Cornelius. Please paterollers to leave me alone. An' folks along de way, dey'd take me in an' feed me. Dey'd give me a place to stay an fix me up a lunch to take along. Dey'd say, "Clara, you's a good nigger. You's a goin' home to your ol' miss, so we's goin' to do for you."
An' I got within five miles of home before dey catch me. An' my ol' miss won't let me go back. She keep me an' send another one in my place. An' de war kept on, an ol' massa had to go. An' word come dat he been killed.
Yes, 'em, some folks run off, an' some of 'em stayed. Finally ol' miss refugeed a lot of us to California. What is it to refugee. Well, you see, suppose you was afraid dat somebody go in' to take your property an' you run 'em away off somewhere-how you come to know.
When de war was over, young miss she come in an she say, 'Clara, you's as free as I am.' 'No, I ain't.' says I. 'Yes, you is,' says she. 'What you goin' to do?' 'I's goin' to stay an' work for you.' says I. 'No' says she, 'you ain't cause I can't pay you.' 'Well,' says I, 'I'll go home to see my old mother.' 'Tell you what,' says she, 'I ain't got nuff money to send you, only part-so you go down to whar' dey is a'pannin' gold. You kin git a Job at $2.00 per day.'
Many's a day I've stood in water up to my waist pannin' gold. In dem days dey worked women jest like men. I worked hard, an' young miss took care of me. When I got ready to come home I bought my stage fare an' I carried $300 on me back to my ol' mother.
De trip took six weeks. Everywhere de stage would stop young miss had writ a note to somebody and de stage coach men give it to 'em an dey took care of me-good care.
When I got home to my mother I found dat ol' miss had give all of 'em somthin' along with settin 'em free. My mother had 12 children so she git de mos'. She git a horse, a milk cow, 8 killin' hogs and 50 bushels of corn. She moved off to a little house on ol' miss's plantation and make a crop on halvers. She stay on dar for three-four years. Den she move off into another county where she could go to meetin without havin' to cross de river. An' I stayed on wid her an help her farm-I could plow as good as a man in dem days.
Finally I hear dat you could make more money in Hot Springs, so I come to see. My mother was dead by dat time. De first year I made a crop for Mr. Clay-my granddaughter cooks and tends to children for some of his folks today. When I went to town an I washed at de Arlington hotel. It wasn't de fine place it is today. It was jest boards like dis cabin of mine. An I washed at another hotel-what was it-down across de creek from de Arlington. Yes ma'am, dat's it. De Grand Central-it was grand too-for dem days. An' I cooked for Dr. McMasters. An' I cooked for Colonel Rector-de Rectors had lots of money in dem days. I could make a weddin' cake good as anybody-with, a 'gagement ring in it. I could make it fine-tho I don't know but two letters in de book an' thoses is A and B.
I married Mr. Walker. He was a hod carrier when dey built de old red brick Arlington. I remember lots of things dat happened here. I remember seein' de smoke from de fire-dat big one. We was a livin' near Picket Springs-you don't know whare dat is. Well, does you know where de soldier's breast work was-now I git you on to remembering.
Den, later on we moved out an' got a farm near Hawes. I traded dat place for dis one. Yes, ma'am I likes livin' in de country. Never did like livin' in town.
I don't right know whether culled folks wanted to be free or not. Lots of 'em didn't rightly understand, Ol' miss was good to hers. Some of 'em wasn't. She give 'em things before an she give 'em things after. Of course, we went back an' we washed for 'em. But one mortal blessin. Ol' miss had made her girls learn how to cook an' wait on themselves.
Now take de Combinders. Dey was on de next plantation. Dey was mean. Many a time you could hear de bull whip, clear over to our place, PLOP, PLOP. An' if dey died, dey jest wrapped 'em in cloth an' dig a trench, an' plow right over 'em. An' when de war was over, dey wouldn't turn dey slaves loose. An de Federals marched in an' marched 'em off. An' ol' Mis' Combinder she holler out an she say, 'What my girls goin' to do? Dey ain't never dressed deyselves in dey life. We can't cook? What we do?' An' de soldiers didn't pay no attention. Dey just marched 'em off.
An' ol' man Combinder he lay down an' he have a chill an' he die. He die because day take his property away from him.
Yes, ma'am, Thank you for the quarter. I's goin' to buy snuff. I gets along good. My grandson he hauls wood for de paper mill. An' my granddaughters dey works for folks cooks an takes care of children. I had a good crop dis year. I'll have meat, I got lots of corn, an' I got other crops. We're gettin' along nice, mighty nice. Thank you ma'am."
Source: Arkansas Slave Narratives