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Person Interviewed: George Kye
Location: Fort Gibson, Oklahoma
I was born in Arkansas under Mr. Abraham Stover, on a big farm about twenty miles north of Van Buren. I was plumb grown when the Civil War come along, but I can remember back when the Cherokee Indians was in all that part of the country
Joe Kye was my pappy’s name what he was born under back is Garrison County, Virginia, and I took that name when I was freed, but I don’t know whether he took it or not because he was sold off by old Master Stover when I was a child. I never have seen him since. I think he wouldn’t mind good, leastways that what my mammy say.
My mammy was named Jennie and I don’t think I had any brothers or sisters, but they was a whole lot of children at the quarters that I played and lived with. I didn’t live with mammy because she worked all the time, and us children all stayed in one house.
It was a little one room log cabin, chinked and daubed, and you couldn’t stir us with a stick. When we went to eat we had a big pan and all ate out of it. One what ate the fastest got the most.
Us children wore homespun shirts and britches and little slips, and nobody but the big boys wore any britches. I wore just a shirt until I was about 12 years old, but it had a long tail down to my calves. Four or five of us boys slept in one bed, and it was made of bowed legs with rope laced acrost it and a shack mattress. We had stew made out of pork and potatoes, and sometimes greens and pot liquor. and we had ash oaks mostly, but biscuits about once a month.
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In the winter time I had brass toed shoes made on the place, and a cloth cup with car flaps.
The work I done was hoeing and plowing, and I rid a horse a lot for old Master because I was a good rider. He would send me to run chores for him. like going to the mill. He never beat his Negroes but he talked mighty cross and glared at us until he would nearly scare us to death sometimes.
He told us the rules and we lived by them and didn’t make trouble, but they was a neighbor man that had some mean Negroes and he nearly beat them to death. We could hear then hollering in the field sometimes. They would sleep in the cotton rows, and run off, and then they would catch the cat-o-nine tails sure nuff. He would chain them up. too. and keep them tied out to trees, and when they went to the field they would be chained together in bunches sometimes after they had been cutting up.
We didn’t have no place to go to church, but old Master didn’t care if we had singing and praying, and we would tie our shoes on our backs and go down the road close to the white church and all set down and put our shoes on and go up close and listen to the service.
Old Master was baptized almost every Sunday and cussed us all out on Monday. I didn’t join the church until after freedom, and I always was a scoundrel for dancing. My favorite preacher was old Peter Gonway. He was the only ordained colored preacher we had after freedom, and he married me.
Old Master wouldn’t let us take herb medicine, and he got all our medicine in Van Buren when we was sick. But I wore a buckeye on my neck just the same.
When the war come along I was a grown man, and I want off to serve because old Master was too old to go, but he had to send somebody anyways. I served as George Stover, but every time the sergeant would call out “Abe Stover”, I would answer “Here”.
They had me driving a mule team wagon that Old Master furnished, and I sent with the Sesesh soldiers from Van Buren to Texarkana and back a dozen times or more. I was in the War two years, right up to the day of freedom. We had a battle close to Terarkana and another big one near Van Buren, but I never left Arkansas and never got a scratch.
One time in the Terarkans battle I was behind some pine trees and the bullets cut the limbs down all over me. I dug a big hole with my bare hands before I hardly knowed how I done it.
One time two white soldiers named Levy and Brigge come to the wagon train and said they was hunting slaves for some purpose. Some of us black boys got scared because we heard they was going to Squire Mack and get a reward for catching runaways, so me and two more lit out of there.
They took out after us and we got to a big mound in the woods and hid. Somebody shot at me and I rolled into some bushes. He rid up and got down to look for me but I was on t’other aide of his horse and he never did see me. When they was gone we went back to the wagons just as the regiment was pulling out and the officer didn’t any nothing.
They was eleven Negro boys served in my regiment for their masters. The first year was mighty hard because we couldn’t get enough to eat. Some ate poke greens without no grease and took down and died.
How I knowed I was free, we was bad licked, I reckon. Anyways, we quit fighting and a Federal soldier come up to my wagon and say: “Whose mules?” “Abe Betover’s mules.” I says, and he tells me then, “Let me tell you, black boy, you are as free now as old Abe Stover his own salf!” When he said that I jumped on top of one of them mules’ back before I knowed anything!
I married Sarah Richardson, February 10, 1870, and had only eleven children. One son is a deacon and one grandson is a preacher, I am a good Baptist. Before I was married I said to the gal’s old man, “I’ll go to the mourners bench if you’ll let me have Sal.” and sure muff I joined up just a month after I got her. I am head of the Sunday School and deacon in the St. Paul Baptist church in Muskogee now.
I lived about five miles from Van Buren until about twelve years ago when they found oil and then they run all the Negroes out and leased up the land. They never did treat the Negroes good around there anyways.
I never had a hard time as a slave, but I’m glad we was set free. Sometimes we can’t figger out the best thing to do, but anyways we can lead our own life now, and I’m glad the young ones can learn and get somewhere these days.