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Interviewer: Archie Koritz
Person Interviewed: John Eubanks
Location: Gary, Indiana
Place of Residence: 2713 Harrison Boulevard, Gary, Indiana
Archie Koritz, Field Worker 816 Mound Street, Valparaiso, Indiana Federal Writers’ Project Lake County, District #1 Gary, Indiana
EX-SLAVES INTERVIEW WITH JOHN EUBANKS, EX-SLAVE
John Eubanks, Gary’s only negro Civil War survivor has lived to see the ninety-eighth anniversary of his birth and despite his advanced age, recalls with surprising clarity many interesting and sad events of his boyhood days when a slave on the Everett plantation.
He was born in Glasgow, Barron County, Kentucky, June 6, 1839, one of seven children of a chattel of the Everett family.
The old man retains most of his faculties, but bears the mark of his extreme age in an obvious feebleness and failing sight and memory. He is physically large, says he once was a husky, weighing over two hundred pounds, bears no scars or deformities and despite the hardships and deprivations of his youth, presents a kindly and tolerant attitude.
“I remembah well, us young uns on the Everett plantation,” he relates, “I worked since I can remembah, hoein’, pickin’ cotton and othah chohs ’round the fahm. We didden have much clothes, nevah no undahweah, no shoes, old ovahalls and a tattahed shirt, wintah and summah. Come de wintah, it be so cold mah feet weah plumb numb mos’ o’ de time and manya time-when we git a chanct-we druve the hogs from outin the bogs an’ put ouah feet in the wahmed wet mud. They was cracked and the skin on the bottoms and in de toes weah cracked and bleedin’ mos’ o’ time, wit bloody scabs but de summah healed them agin.”
“Does yohall remembah, Granpap,” his daughter prompted, “Yoh mahstah-did he treat you mean?”
“No,” his tolerant acceptance apparent in his answer, “it weah done thataway. Slaves weah whipt and punished and the younguns belonged to the mahstah to work foah him oh to sell. When I weah ’bout six yeahs old, Mahstah Everett give me to Tony Eubanks as a weddin’ present when he married mahstah’s daughtah Becky. Becky would’n let Tony whip her slaves who came from her fathah’s plantation. ‘They ah my prophty,’ she say, ‘an’ you caint whip dem.’ Tony whipt his othah slaves but not Becky’s.”
“I remembah” he continued, “how they tied de slave ’round a post, wit hands tied togedder ’round the post, then a husky lash his back wid a snakeskin lash ’til hisn back were cut and bloodened, the blood spattered” gesticulating with his unusually large hands, “an’ hisn back all cut up. Den they’d pouh salt watah on hem. Dat dry and hahden and stick to hem. He nevah take it off ’till it heal. Sometimes I see marhstah Everett hang a slave tip-toe. He tie him up so he stan’ tip-toe an’ leave him thataway.
“I be twenty-one wehn wah broke out. Mahstah Eubanks say to me, ‘Yohall don’ need to run ‘way ifn yohall want to jine up wid de ahmy.’ He say, ‘Deh would be a fine effin slaves run off. Yohall don’ haf to run off, go right on and I do not pay dat fine.’ He say, ”nlist in de ahmy but don’ run off.’ Now I walk thirty-five mile from Glasgow to Bowling Green to dis place-to da ‘nlistin’ place-from home fouh mile-to Glasgow-to Bowling Green, thirty-five mile. On de road I meet up with two boys, so we go on. Dey run ‘way from Kentucky, and we go together. Then some Bushwackers come down de road. We’s scared and run to the woods and hid. As we run tru de woods, pretty soon we heerd chickens crowing. We fill ouah pockets wit stones. We goin’ to kill chickens to eat. Pretty soon we heerd a man holler, ‘You come ’round outta der’-and I see a white man and come out. He say, ‘What yoh all doin’ heah?’ I turn ’round and say, ‘well boys, come on boys,’ an’ the boys come out. The man say, ‘I’m Union Soldier. What yoh all doin’ heah?’ I say, ‘We goin’ to ‘nlist in de ahmy.’ He say, ‘Dat’s fine’ and he say, ‘come ‘long’ He say, ‘git right on white man’s side’-we go to station. Den he say, ‘You go right down to de station and give yoh inforhmation. We keep on walkin’. Den we come to a white house wit stone steps in front so we go in. An’ we got to ‘nlistin’ place and jine up wit de ahmy.
“Den we go trainin’ in d’ camp and we move on. Come to a little town… a little town. We come to Bolling Green … den to Louiville. We come to a rivah … a rivah (painfully recalling) d’ Mississippi.
“We weah ‘nfantry and petty soon we gits in plenty fights, but not a scratch hit me. We chase dem cavalry. We run dem all night and next mohnin’ d’ Captain he say, ‘Dey done broke down.’ When we rest, he say ‘See dey don’ trick you.’ I say, ‘We got all d’ ahmy men togedder. We hold dem back ’til help come.’
“We don’ have no tents. Sleep on naked groun’ in wet and cold and rain. Mos’ d’ time we’s hungry but we win d’ war and Mahstah Eubanks tell us we no moah hisn property, we’s free now.”
The old man can talk only in short sentences and his voice dies to a whisper and soon the strain became evident. He was tired. What he does remember is with surprising clearness especially small details, but with a helpless gesture, he dismisses names and locations. He remembers the exact date of his discharge, March 20, 1866, which his daughter verified by producing his discharge papers. He remembers the place, Vicksburg, the Company-K, and the Regiment, 180th. Dropping back once more to his childhood he spoke of an incident which his daughter says makes them all cry when he relates it, although they have heard it many times.
“Mahstah Everett whipt me onct and mothah she cried. Then Mahstah Everett say, ‘Why yoh all cry?-Yoh cry I whip anothah of these young uns. She try to stop. He whipt ‘nother. He say, ‘Ifn yoh all don’ stop, yoh be whipt too!’ and mothah she trien to stop but teahs roll out, so Mahstah Everett whip her too.
“I wanted to visit mothah when I belong to Mahst’ Eubanks, but Becky say, ‘Yoh all best not see youh mothah, or yoh wan’ to go all de time’ then explaining, ‘she wan’ me to fohgit mothah, but I nevah could. When I cm back from d’ ahmy, I go home to mothah and say ‘don’ y’know me?’ She say, ‘No, I don’ know you.’ I say, ‘Yoh don’ know me?’ She say, ‘No, ah don’ know yoh.’ I say, ‘I’se John.’ Den she cry and say how ahd growd and she thought I’se daid dis long time. I done ‘splain how the many fights I’se in wit no scratch and she bein’ happy.”
Speaking of Abraham Lincoln’s death, he remarked, “Sho now, ah remembah dat well. We all feelin’ sad and all d’soldiers had wreaths on der guns.”
Upon his return from the army he married a young negress he had seen some time previous at which time he had vowed some day to make her his wife. He was married Christmas day, 1866. For a number of years he lived on a farm of his own near Glasgow. Later he moved with his family to Louisville where he worked in a lumber yard. In 1923, two years after the death of his wife, he came to Gary, when he retired. He is now living with his daughter, Mrs. Sloss, 2713 Harrison Boulevard, Gary.