Person Interviewed: Polly Colbert
Location: Colbert, Oklahoma
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I am now living on de forty-acre farm dat de Government give me and it is just about three miles from my old home on Master Holmes Colbert’s plantation where I lived when I was a slave.
Lawsy me, times sure has changed since slavery times Maybe I notice it more since I been living here all de time, but dere’s farms ’round here dat I’ve seen grown timber cleared off of twice during my lifetime. Dis land was first cleared up and worked by niggers when dey was slaves. After de War nobody worked it and it just naturally growed up again wid all sorts of tress. Later, white folks cleared it up again and took grown trees off’n it and now dey are still cultivating it but it is most were cut now. Some of it won’t even sprout peas. Dis same land used to grow corn without hardly any work but it sure won’t do it now.
I reckon it was on account of do rich land dat us niggers dat was owned by Indians didn’t have to work so hard as dey did in de old states, but I think dat Indian masters was just naturally kinder any way, leastways mine was.
My mother, Idea, was owned by de Colbert family and my father, Tony, was owned by de Love family. When Master Holmes and Miss Betty Love was married dey fathers give my father and mother to dem for a wedding gift. I was born at Tishomingo and we moved to de farm on Red River soon after dat and I been here ever since. I had a sister and a brother, but I ain’t seen dem since dem.
My mother died when I was real small, and about a year after dat my father died. Master Holmes told us children not to cry, dat he and Miss Betsy would take good care of us. Dey did, too. Day teak us in do house wid dem and look after us jest as good as dey could colored children. We slept in a little room close to them and she allus coon dat us was covered up good before she went to bed. I guess she got a sight of satisfaction from taking care of us ’cause she didn’t have no babies to care for.
Master Holmes and Miss Betsy was real young folks but dey was party well fixed. He owned about 100 acres of lead dat was cleared and ready for de plow and a lot dat was not in cultivation. He had do woods fall of hogs and cows and he owned seven or eight grown slaves and several children. I remember Uncle Skad, Uncle Idge, Aunt Chaney, Aunt Lissie, and Aunt Susy just as well as if it was yesterday. Master Holmes and Miss Betsy was both half-breed Choctaw Indians. Dey had both been away to school share in de states and was well educated. Dey had two children but dey died when dey was little. Another little girl was born to dem after de war and she lived to be a grown woman.
Dey sure was fine young folks and provided well for us. He allus had a smokehouse full of seat, lard, sausage, dried beans, peas, corn, potatoes, turnips and collards banked up for winter. He had plenty of milk and butter for all of us, too.
Master Holmes allus say, “A hungry man caint work.” And he allus saw to it that we had lots to eat.
We cooked all sorts of Indian dishes! Tom-fuller, pashofa, hickory-nut grot, Tom-budha, ash-cakes, and pound cakes besides vegetables and meat dishes. Corn or corn meal was used in all de Indian dishes. We made hominy out’s de whole grains. Tom-fuller was made from beaten corn and tasted sort of like hominy.
We would take corn and beat it like in a wooden mortar wid a wooden pestle. We would husk it by fanning it and we would dem put it on to cook in a big pot. While it was cooking we’d pick out a lot of hickory-nuts. He ’em up in a cloth and beat ’em a little and drop ’em in and cook for a long time. We called dis dish hickory-nut grot. Wham we made pashefa we beat de corn and cook for a little while and den we add fresh pork and cook until de meat was done. Tom-bucks was green corn and fresh meat cooked together and seasoned wid tongue or pepper-grass.
We cooked on de fire place wid de pots hanging over de fire on racks and dem we baked bread and cakes in a oven-skillet. We didn’t use soda and baking powder. We’d put salt in de meal and scald it wid boiling water and make it into pones and bake it. We’d roll de ash cakes in wet cabbage leaves and put ’em in de hot ashes and bake ’em. We cooked potatoes, and roasting cars dat way also. We sweetened our cur wid molasses, and dey was plenty sweet too.
Dey was lots of possums and coons and squirrels and we nearly always had some one of these to cat. We’d parboil de possum or coon and put it in a pan and bake him wid potatoes ’round him. We used de broth to baste him and for gravy. Hit sure was fine eating dem days.
I never had much work to do. I helped ’round do house when I wanted to and I run errands for Miss Betsy. I liked to do things for her. When I got a little bigger my brother and I toted cool water to do field for de hands.
Didn’t none of Master Holmes’ niggers work when dey was sick. He allus saw dat dey had medicine and a doctor iffen dey needed one. ‘Bout de only sickness we had was chills and fever. In do old days we made lets of our own medicine and I still does it yet. We used polecat grease for croup and rheumatism. Dog-fennel, but butterfly-root, and life-everlasting toiled and mixed and made into a syrup will cure palia and pleurisy. Puraley-weed, called squirrel physic, toiled into a syrup will cure chills and fever. Snake-root steeped for a long time and mixed with whiskey will cure chills and fever also.
Our clothes was all made of homespun. De woman done all de spinning and de weaving but Miss Betsy cut out all de clothes and helped wid de sewing. She learned to saw when she was away to school and she learnt all her women to saw. She done all the sowing for do children. Master Holmes bought our shoes and we all had ’em to wear in do winter. We all went bare-foot in de summer.
He kept mighty good teams and he had two fine saddle horses. He and Miss Betsy rode ’em all do time. She would ride wid him all over de farm and dey would go hunting a lot, too. She could shoot a gun as good as any man.
Master Holmes sure did love his wife and children and he was so proud of her. It nearly killed ’em both to give up de little boy and girl. I never did hear of him taking a drink and he was kind to everybody, both black and white, and everybody liked him. Dey had lots of company and dey never turned any body away. We lived about four miles from do ferry on Red River on de Texas Read and lots of travelers stopped at our house.
We was ‘lowed to visit de colored folks on de Eastman and Carter plantations dat joined our farm. Eastman and Carter was both white men dat married Indian wives. Dey was good to dey slaves, too, and let ’em visit us.
Old Uncle Kellup (Caleb) Colbert, Uncle Billy Hogan, Rev. John Carr, Rev. Baker, Rev. Hague, and old Father Marrow preached for de white folks all de time and us colored folks went to church wid den. Dey had church under brush arbors and we set off to ourselves but we could take part in de singing and sometimes a colored person would get happy and pray and shout but nobody didn’t think nothing ’bout dat.
De Pat rollers was de law, kind of like de policeman mew. Day sure never did whip one of Master Holmes’ niggers for ho didn’t allow it. He didn’t ship ’em hisself and he sure didn’t allow anybody else to either. I was afraid of de Ku Kluxors too, and I ‘spects dat Master Holmes was one of de leaders iffen de truth was known. Dey sure was scary looking.
I was scared of de Yankee soldiers. Day come by and killed some of our cattle for beef and took our meat and lard cut’n de smokehouse and dey took some corn, too. Us niggers was awful mad. We didn’t know anything ’bout dem fighting to free us. We didn’t specially want to be free dat I knows of.
Right after do war I want over to Bloonfield Academy to take care of a little girl, but I went back to Master Holmes and Miss Betsy at de and of two years to take care of de little girl dat was born to dem and I stayed with her until I was about fifteen. Master Holmes went to Washington as a delegate, for something for de Indians, and he took sick and died and day buried him dere. Poor Miss Betsy nearly grieved herself to death. She stayed on at de farm till her little girl was grown and married. Her nigger men stayed on with her and ranted land from her and dey sure raised a sight of truck. Didn’t none of her old slaves ever wander very far from her and most of them worked for her till dey was too old to work.
I left Miss Betsy purty soon after Master Holmes died and went back to de Academy and stayed three years. I married a man dat belonged to Master Holmes’ cousin. His mass was Colbert, too. I had a big wadding. Miss Betsy and a lot of white folks cone and stayed for dinner. We danced all evening and after supper we started again and danced all night and de next day and do next night. We’d cat awhile and den we’d dance awhile.
My husband and I had nine children and new I’ve got seven grandchildren. My husband has been dead a long time.
My sister, Chancy, lives here close to me bat her mind has got feeble and she can’t recollect as much as I can. I live with my son and he-is mighty good to me. I know I ain’t long for dis world but I don’t mind for I has lived a long time and I’ll have a lot of friends in de other world and I won’t be lonesome.