Person Interviewed: Chaney Richardson
Location: Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
I was born in the old Caney settlement southeast of Tahlequah on the banks of Caney Creek. Off to the north we could see the big old ridge of Sugar Mountain when the sun shine on him first thing in the morning when we all getting up. I didn’t know nothing else but some kind of war until I was a grown woman, because when I first can remember my old Master, Charley Rogers, was always on the lookout for somebody or other he was lined up against in the big feud.
My master and all the rest of the folks was Cherokees, and they’d been killing each other off in the feud ever since long before I was borned, and jest because old Master have a big farm and three-four families of Negroes them other Cherokees keep on pestering his stuff all the time.
Us children was always afeared to go any place less’n some of the grown folks was along. We didn’t know what we was a-feared of, but we heard the Master and Mistress keep talking ’bout “another Party killing” and we stuck close to the place.
Old Mistress’ name was Nancy Rogers, but I was a orphan after I was a big girl and I called her “Aunt” and “Mamma” like I did when I was little. You see my own mammy was the house woman and I was raised in the house, and I heard the little children call old mistress “mamma” and so I did too. She never did make me stop.
My pappy and mammy and us children lived in a one-room log cabin close to the creek bank and jest a little piece from old Master’s house. My pappy’s name was Joe Tucker and my mammy’s name was Ruth Tucker. They belonged to a man named Tucker before I was born and he sold them to Master Charley Rogers and he just let them go on by the same name if they wanted to because last name didn’t mean nothing to a slave anyways. The folks jest called my pappy “Charley Rogers’ boy Joe.” I already had two sisters, Mary and Mandy. when I was born, and purty soon I had a baby brother, Louis.
Mammy worked at the Big House and took me along every day. When I was a little bigger I would help hold the hank when she done the spinning and old Mistress done a lot of the weaving and some knitting. She jest set by the window and knit most all of the time. When we weave the cloth we had a big loom out on the gallery, and Miss Nancy tell us how to do it. Mammy eat at our own cabin, and we had lots of game meat and fish the boys get in the Caney Creek.
Mammy bring down deer meat and wild turkey sometimes, that the Indian boys git on Sugar Mountain. Then we had corn bread, dried bean bread and green stuff out’n Master’s patch. Mammy make the bean bread when we git short of corn meal and nobody going to the mill right away. She take and bile the beans and mash them up in some meal and that make it go a long ways. The slaves didn’t have no garden ’cause they work the old Master’s garden and make enough for everybody to have some anyway.
When I was about 10 years old that feud got so bad the Indians wan always talking about getting their horses and cattle killed and their slaves harned. I was too little to know how bad it was until one morning my own mammy wont off somewhere down the road to git some stuff to dye cloth and she didn’t come back.
Lots of the young Indian bucks on both sides of the feud would ride around the woods at night, and old Master got powerful oneasy about my mammy and had all the neighbors and slaves out looking for her, but nobody find her.
It was about a week Leter that two Indian zen rid up and ast old naster wesn’t his gal Rath gone. He says yes, and they take one of the slaves along with a wagon to show where they seen her. They find her in some bushes where she’d been getting bark to set the dyes, and she been dead all the time. Somebody done hit her in the head with a club and shot her through and through with a bullet too. She was so swole up they couldn’t lift her up and jest had to make a deep hole right along side of her and roll her in it she was so bad mortified. Old Master nearly go crazy he was so med, and the young Cherokee men ride the woods every night for about a month, but they never catch on to who done it. I think old Master sell the children or give them out to somebody then, because I never see my sisters and brother for a long time after the Civil war, and for me. I have to go live with a new mistress that was a Cherokee neighbor. Her name was Hannah Ross, and she raised me until I was grown. I was her home girl, and she and me done a lot of scinning and weaving too. I helped the cook and carried water and milked. I carried the water in a home-made pegging set on my head. Them peggings was kind of buckets made out of staves set around a bottom and didn’t have no handle. I can remember weaving with Miss Hannah Ross. She would weave a strip of white and one of yellow and one of brown to make it pretty. She had a reel that would pop every time it got to a half skein so she would know to stop and fill it up again. We used copperas and some kind of bark she bought at the store to dye with. It was cotton clothes winter and summer for the slaves, too, I’ll tell you. When the Civil War come along we seen lots of white soldiers in them brown butternut suits all over the place, and about all the Indien men was in it too. Old master Charley Rogers’ boy Charley went along too. When protty soon, it seem like about a year, a lot of the Cherokee men come back home and say they not going back to the war with that General Cooper and some of them go off the Federal side because the captain go to the Federal side too. Somebody come along and tell me my own pappy have to go in the war and I think they say he on the Copper side, and then after while Miss Hannah tell me he git kilt over in Arkansas. I was so grieved all the time I don’t remember much what went on, but I know pretty soon my cherokee folks had all the stuff they had et up by the soldiers and they was jest a few wagons and mules left. All the slaves was piled in together end some of the grown ones walking, and they took us way down across the big river and kept us in the bottoms a long time until the war was over. We lived in a kind of a camp, but I was too little to know where they got the grub to feed us with. Most all the Negro men was off somewhere in the war. Then one day they had to bust up the camp and some Federal soldiers go with us and we all start back home. We git to a place where all the houses is burned down and I ask what is that place. Miss Hannah say: “Skullyville, child. That’s where they had part of the war.” All the slaves was set out when we git to Fort Gibson, and the soldiers say we all free now. They give us grub and clothes to the Negroes at that place. It wasn’t no town but a fort place and a patch of big trees. Miss Hannah take me to her place and I work there until I was grown. I didn’t git any money that I seen, but I got a good place to stay. Pretty soon I married Ran Lovely and we lived in a double log house here at Fort Gibson. They my second husband was Henry Richardson, but he’s been dead for years, too. We had six children, but they all deed but one. I didn’t went slavery to be over with, mostly because we had the war I reckon. All that trouble made me the loss of my mammy and pappy, and I was always treated good when I was a slave. When it was over I had rather be at home like I was. None of the Cherokees ever whipped us, and my mistress give me some mighty fine rules to live by to git along in this world, too. The Cherokee didn’t have no jail for Negroes and no jail for themselves either. If a man done a crime he come back to take his punishment without being locked up.
None of the Negroes ran away when I was a child that I know of. We all had plenty to eat. The Negroes didn’t have no school and so I can’t read and write, but they did have a school after the war, I hear. But we had a church mede out of a brush arbor and we would sing good songs in Cherokee sometimes. I always got Sunday off to play, and at night I could go git a piece of sugar or something to eat before I went to bed and Mistress didn’t care. We played bread-and-butter and the boys played hide the switch. The one found the switch got to whip the one he wanted to. When I got sick they give me some kind of tea from weeds, and if I et too many roasting ears and swole up they biled gourds and give me the liquor off’n them to make me throw up. I’ve been a good church-goer all my life until I git too feeble, and I still under and talk Cherokee language and love to hear songs and parts of the Bible in it because it make me think about the time I was a little girl before my mammy and pappy leave me.