Indian Territory Slaves...In Their Own Words
(Former Choctaw slave)
We danced everything that was on the fiddle. The Schottische, Polka, Mazurka, Waltz and the Quadrille. Sometime when the fiddle was all we could get for music, some of the boys would get a pair of bones, horse ribs or something of the kind and keep time beating on a chairback with them to make more time.
Then sometimes we'd have a banjo, too. Some would pat and some would whistle and we'd dance. Then sometimes somebody would get drunk and kill somebody and that would break up the dance.
After a few years of that, my husband and I decided that this ole world was wicked and that we'd better jine the church. So we jined up with the Missionary Baptist, and then we went to the big turn-outs and meetin's, with the big dinners. Hit got so you wasn't recognized unless you belonged to the church. They used to have big Tom Fuller dinners at them big meetin's.
(Former Cherokee slave)
The married folks lived in little houses and there was big long houses for all the single men. The young, single girls lived with the old folks in another big, long house.
The slaves who worked in the big house was the first class. Next, came the carpenters, yard men, blacksmiths, race-horse men, steamboat men and like that. The low class work in the fields.
Marster Jim and Missus Jennie wouldn't let his house slaves go with no common dress out. They never sent us anywhere with a cotton dress. They wanted everybody know we was Marster Vann's slaves. He wanted people to know he was able to dress his slaves in fine clothes.
We had fine satin dresses, great big combs for our hair, great big gold locket, double ear-rings, we never wore cotton except when we worked. We had bonnets that had long silk tassels for ties. When we wanted to go anywhere we always got a horse, we never walked. Everything was fine, Lord, have mercy on me, yes.
(Former Chickasaw slave)
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 Tishominge and we moved to de farm on Red River soon after dat and I been here ever since…
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…
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…Master Holmes allus say, "A hungry man caint work." And he allus saw to it that we had lots to eat.
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…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…He and Miss Betsy rode (horses) all do time…She could shoot a gun as good as any man…
I never did hear of him taking a drink and he was kind to everybody, both black and white, and everybody liked him…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 dem…
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.
(Former Cherokee slave)
De hog killing mean we gits lots of spare-ribs and chitlings, and somebody always git sick eating too much of dat fresh pork. I always pick a whole passel of muakatines for old Master and he make up sour wine, and dat helps out when we git the bowel complaint from eating dat fresh pork. If somebody bed sick he git de doctor right quick, and he don't let no Negroes ness around wid no poultices and teas and sech things like cupping-horns neither!
(Former Creek slave)
We all live around on then little farms, and we didn't have to be under any overseer like the Cherokee Negroes had lots of times. We didn't have to work if they wasn't no work to do that day.
Everybody could have a little patch of his own, too, and work it between times, on Saturdays and Sundays if he wanted to. What he made on that patch belong to him, and the old Chief never bothered the slaves about anything.
Every slave can fix up his own cabin any way he want to, and pick out a good place with a spring if he can find one. Mostly the slave houses had just one big room with a stick-and-mud chimney, just like the poor people among the Creeks had.
Then they had a brush shelter built out of four poles with a roof made out of brush, set out to one side of the house where they do the cooking and eating, and sometimes the sleeping too. They set there when they is done working, and lay around on corn shuck beds, because they never did use the log house much only in cold and rainy weather.
Old Chief just treat all the Negroes like they was just hired hands, and I was a big girl before I knowed very much about belonging to him.
(Former Cherokee slave)
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.
Dem Upper Creek took de marrying kind of light anyways. Iffen de younguns wanted to be man and wife and de old ones didn't care dey jest went ahead and dat was about all, 'cepting some presents maybe. But de Baptists changed dat a lot amongst de young ones.
The Fortitude and Charity of Oklahoma Slaves
Gaston Little provided these memorable accounts of early-mid 1800s black slave life and relations with Native slaveowners in Indian Territory in his multi-volume 1950s opus The History of Oklahoma.
Slavery had existed among the Southern Indians for some generations before their removal to the Indian Territory . . . The slaves, in most cases, were well treated, clothed and fed with little distinction as to their color. Wiley Britton, in his study on The Civil War on the Border, comments that “The Negroes brought up among the Indians were under such feeble restraint from infancy up that the owners and dealers in slaves in Missouri and Arkansas did not hesitate to acknowledge that Indian Negroes were undesirable because of the difficulty of controlling them.”
There were marked instances of fidelity on the part of the slaves, who as a rule were devoted to their Indian masters. One such instance is told by Henry C. Benson in his book, Life Among the Choctaws. The Reverend Benson tells of an immigrant Choctaw family that settled in the region between Skullyville and Fort Smith, where the Indian established a ferry across the Poteau River, near its mouth. The ferry boat was operated by a slave, called Uncle Phil, who had accompanied the Choctaw family to the West.
The Choctaw and his wife died suddenly, in 1843, leaving four orphaned children who ranged in age from four to 10 years. No provision had been made by the Indian for the rearing of these children; there were no relatives to whom they might be sent and a law providing for the appointment of guardians and for the care of orphans was not passed until some four years later.
The Negro, Uncle Phil, declined to seek his freedom, as he might have done, but elected to remain with the helpless children of his deceased master and to look after them. He provided the children with clothes and food, cultivated the little farm, and operated the ferry with the same fidelity he had displayed when his master and mistress were alive.
Another instance of the kindly treatment of Negroes by their Indian masters was recorded by the Fort Smith Herald, under the date of January 17, 1852. That issue of this reputable old paper told of the return of a runaway slave under the heading: “Something for Aboltionists to Read.”This account, which concerned one of the most prominent Cherokee families, is as follows:
“About four years ago, two negro men belonging to Mrs. Ridge, now dead, and the widow of Major Ridge, of the Cherokee Nation, ran away. Nothing had been heard from them since they left until a few days ago, when one of them, a large, likely fellow by the name of William, stepped into the house where he had left his mistress and voluntarily surrendered to Mr. Stand Watie, its present occupant, and administrator of the estate of Mrs. Ridge. Mr. W(atie) was very much surprised to see him, nor did he know that he was in the neighborhood until he had walked into the house and fell upon his knees. It appears that he had been a part of the time in Iowa, a free State, and came immediately from that place home. Here is an instance of a negro preferring slavery to freedom in a free State.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring preview video HERE.