Interview with James Boyd, Milford Texas.
"I was born in Phantom Valley, Indian Territory, Oklahoma in an Indian hut. My father was name Blue Bull Bird and my mother was Nancy Will. She come with Santa Anna from Mississippi. My father was raised in de Indian Territory. He had nine brothers an sisters, and dey are all dead as far as I knows. I don't 'member nottin 'bout my grand pa and ma 'cause I was lost from my folks when I was real little feller. A man be de name of Sanford Wooldrige stole me w'ile I was a-fishin' on de Cherokee Ribber. You see de white folks an de Indians had 'em a fight 'bout dat day, de white folks say it was jes' a small skermish, but it shore seemed bad to me. I was 'way down on de creek an' I herd yellin' an shootin' an' folkses runnin' an I slipt into some thickets right by de creek. By-me-bye, I didn't hear nuffin' more, an' I slip out. Den come a white man an' he say: 'Everybody kilt, nigger, an' de Indians gwin kill you ef dey cotch you. Come go wid me, an' I won't let 'em hurt you.' He wouldn't let me go to our hut, 'case he say de Indians dere an' dey gwine kill me shore. So I goes wid him.
"I split rails, drove oxen wagons an' odder jobs 'bout de place. I nebber did pick much cotton an' I nebber earnet much money, efen I did, an' was cotched wid eny money it was tooken 'way from me an' sometimes de boss gibe me a whuppen 'case he thought I had more money dan I really had.
"Us all cooked ober a camp fire, such as fish, 'possums an' bear meat. Dey ground corn wid water mills. On Sunday a special treat, us had cotton seed meal to eat. It wasn't good but w'en your hongry anything eats very well. Dere was spinnin' wheels an' looms an' de nigger women spun thread and wove cloth to make our clothes out of. I wore jes what de res' did, cotton clothes in winter an' summer, but us had some heavy cover clothes when it got real cold. I mus' ha-been 'bout eighteen when I got my first shoes. Dey was brogan shoes an' dey had brass tips on de toes. I shore thought I was fixed up to go meetin' den.
"I was 'bout thirty-six years old when de Freedom War broke. Marster allus teased me 'cause I didn't marry an' he allus tell my age. I fit in dat Freedom War 'long side my Marster Sanford, an' I got shot durin' de war. De bullet went through my breast an' out my back an' dere's a scar on my breast an' back to dis good day to show fer it. I was wounded six months. De first battle I was in was at Halifax, North Carolina. Marse Rube Hargrave was de Captain. Us got de news of freedom and dat de war was over when us was at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Mos' us niggers was 'fraid to say much, dat is, de ole ones was, but de new ones thought de goverment gwine give dem a span of mules a farm an' dey would be rich an' wouldn't have to work. But dey has learned a lot dese past fifty-six years. Us is shore slaves now to hard work an lucky if we git work.
"I been married eight times. My first wife was a Mexican. Her name was Martina an I married her in 1869 down in Matamoras, Mexico. I went dere atter de Freedom War. Thought I could git more money dere. Us had four children. She died an' was buried in Matamoras.
"I was kinder broke up an' drifted back to Huntsville, Texas. Dere I married Emma Smith an we only lived togedder 'bout a year an a half. Wasn't no chillun. Den I drifted to Fort Bend County an dere I married Mary McDowd. Us had two chillun. She died wid de yellow fever an off I went fer Burleson County. Dere I married Sally McDave an she quit me atter we had three chillun. Down in ole Washington County I married Frances Williams an us lived togedder till 1900. Dere was no chillun. Den I went to Austin atter she died and dere I maried Eliza Bunton in 1903. She died in 1911. Us had eight chillun. Den I comes to Hill County an marries Mittie Cahee in 1916. She quit me. In 1924, I married Hegar Price near Milford, Texas. We live togedder now, in Itasca, Texas. Us didn't hab no chillun, but dat don't matter 'case Ize de daddy of 'bout twenty-five already.
"I shore did like my ole marster, but look out fer mistis, she shore tough on niggers. Dere was 'bout 1600 acres in Marster's plantation and dey had a nice big home. Dey would whup de niggers fer stealin' and fer fallin' behind wid dere work. One time I seed Hugh McIntyre and Earl Browning whup two niggers, women, to death. No'm us didn't hab no jail dey didn't go to de trubble an'
expense of buildin' nigger jails, dey jes whupped us when dey wanted to. Yassum, Ize seed lots of slaves chained. When dey was movin' dem an ef de oberseer was a bad-un, de niggers would run 'way, and den dose kind ob overseers would chain de niggers. Den too, ef dey was gwine to sell a bunch of slaves, dey would chain dem togedder w'en dey took dem to market. On de march, ef one of de chained ones fell down, de odders lifted him up and drug 'em. On through creeks an all, dey had to keep walkin or git beat. Ef de water was deep, or de nigger little, he jes swum or else he did de bes he could. No'm, didn't meny drown, 'case nigger is worth more live dan he war dead.
"Dere was some churches on de plantations but us didn't hab one. Aaron Nelly was shore a good preacher an he could pray a fine prayer. Dey jes buried de dead mos' enywhere where dere was a good place, under a tree, on a hill, an like dat. De white folks buried all dere folks on dere 'special family buryin' groun' on dere plantation. Sometimes dey was buried in wooden boxes an sometimes both white and black was buried jes wrapped up. Dey wasn't no places to make things lak now an' no grave yeards. Dey did de bes dey could. Dey ust to sing lots of purty songs, but I jes can't 'member how dey goes now. I nebber was no fine singer noways.
"De slaves did run off an' try to go north, but nigger stealers mos' offen got dem an den dey would be sold again an maybe git worse hans holt of 'em. Mos' en general 'round our part of de country, effen a nigger want to run away, he'd light out fer ole Mexico.
Dat was nigger heaven dem days, dey thought, but soon as de Freedom come, I thought I'd try it an git me a rich Mex wife an live like a big bug, but all I got shore worked hard to get it.
"In slavery, on our place, we worked all day Saturday an sometimes on Sunday ef de crops was in a rush. De slave women sewed, washed an ironed fer demselves an dere families on Sundays an at night by a brush fire. On Christmas we allus had a big dinner, both black and white.
"Marster wasn't much on presents an money, but we did have warm clothes an plenty to eat an a dry place to live an dat's more dan lots of de niggers have now.
"Sometimes us'd have corn huskings and dere would be a dollar fer de one dat could shuck de mos' corn in a certain time. Us'd have a big dance 'bout twice a year, on Christmus an sometime durin' de summer. W'en de white folks had dere big balls we niggers would cook an' wait on de white folks an watch 'em dance, but we had lots of fun on de side. An' sometimes de visitin' white gemmans would give us clothes or money. But us didn't dare to keep de money. Now, ef it was prize money at a huskin' or pickin' cotton us could keep dat money to buy medicine or something we had to have.
"W'en a slave was sick, dere was some ole slave woman dat made a practice of nussin' dat helped wif de sick slaves, an' ef hit was too bad, de white folks had dere doctor come and de Marster doctored us some wid calomel an' quinine. De ole women slaves used dewberry roots, snake roots, slippery elm root, rosin weed an' odder 'erbs to doctor wid.
De first year atter de war of Freedom, I punched cattle on a ranch in South Texas. I drove cattle into Kansas, over what de white folks called de chisulm Trail. I worked lots wid cattle for Marse Woolridge and was what dey called a top hand. My real name was Scott Bird an I was born in snow time in January, don't know de day. I jes has my birf day on any Sunday in January dat de ole woman ken kill a checken and hab a cake. Got to have dat. I drifted into Mexico from dis ranch; I drove some cattle fer de white man dat I worked for. I married in Mexico an' did different kinds of work dere.
"In Hill County Ize farmed, 'case de cattle days dey done ober wid. Fer twelve years I worked fer Marse Claude Wakefield, near Milford, Ellis County, Texas. But I lives in Itasca, Hill County, Texas now. De ole man ain't due to live nowhere long, Ize gettin' 'bout ready to 'cross de ribber. My name up in de Territory was Scott Bird but atter freedom, I changed it to James Boyd 'cause I lived near Austin with a man named Boyd an' I changed to his name, 'case efen de white folks changed dere min' an we wasn't no more free, den I'd hab a good boss. Ize gwine be 108 years ole in January 1938 efen de Good Lord spares me dat long. Ize seen a hep o' deis here earth an de people in it but I tells you shore is hard times now. Us is ole an crippled an' efen de white folks an de gobernmen' don't help dis chile I don't know what he gwine do.
"When dey said we was free all us niggers throwed our hats in de air an hollered. Ole Marse say, 'How you gwine eat an git clothes an sech?' An' den we shore was scairt an mos ob us stayed near our white folks long as dey lived. When Marse Boyd got me to drive dem cattle to Mexico, he tolt me he wasn't well no more an fer me to sell de cattle, sen' him de money an den git me a job down dere 'cause he thought I could make more money dere. I didn't so much like dere but my wife was dem kind of folks an she didn't want to come to Texas so I stayed till she died. Yassum, guess lots of dem niggers figgered dey'd git dere master's land, but dey didn't, dey ought to of knowed dey wouldn't. No'm warn't no plantations ever divided dat I knows of, but dere was lots of white men dat give dere oldest slaves some stock an a little patch of land, some more dan odders.
"Dey was some mens in white clothes rid roun' some in our neighborhood down Austin way, but dey nebber boddered nobody dat I knows of, but I didn't meddle 'em none. Yassum, I voted de Democrat ticket straight like my white folks did. I didn't seen no use doin' noddin' else, case de white folks goin' do what dey wants anyhow. Dey do say some nigger man got to de big house on election, but none of our niggers ebber had no sense day way.
"Some dese young niggers gone plumb wild wid dere cyars and cigyars and truckin' an jazzin' an sech. An some gwine school an larn like white folks an teach an be real helpful. Talk 'bout workin' during slave time---twan't nothin' so hard as now. Den you fuss cause deres work, now you fuss case dere ain no work. But den us did eat and wear an hab a place to sleep, now us don't know one day what gwine fill us tomorrow, nor nuttin'.
"I likes to think of dem times when us fished all de hot day, or went huntin' or jes lazed 'round when de crops was laid by. I likes to shet my eyes an' be back in ole times an hear my mammy sing "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" or "Roll Jordan Roll." Dem's mighty good singin'. I likes my bread an lasses an baccky. Ole man ain't got no dime, can't you' gimme a dime fer baccky? Ize an ole man an I need help. Tank you' miss, tank yo'. No'm I cant sing. Now you knows caint no ole man sing what aint got no teef nor hair. Yassum, I ust to like to swing dat Ginniary (Virginia) Reel an I was 'sidere kinda spry back some few years.
"I mos allus wore black when I got married. Jes seemed more dressed up like. Oh, some my wives wore white, some wore odder colors, didn't make much difference, so dey was a likely lookin' gal fer me. Sometimes it was a preacher an sometimes it was de Justice ob de Peace but de first time, she was Catholic an you knows how dat is, it was a church mass an priest an all.
"Yassum, deres spirits an sech an I has talked wif de witch doctors, but it ain't fer twel de light gwine to shine ober yonder fer dis nigger an I ain't gwine to think of sech. I reads my Bible an prays, I does an I ain't gwine have no doin' wid no sech truck. In de ole days, we'd whistle like an owl or some animal when de oberseer was comin' and we'd try help one anodder to keep out'n a beatin' but our Marster was pretty good an we had a fair time of it. I shore like to shake Marse Boyd's hand agin an to hear him come singin' down de lane. Us could hear him sing or whistle a mile away an sometimes it was mighty good to see him. De slaves ust to allus say Ize gwine away tomorrow an I guess Ize gwine away pretty soon tomorrow.
Sheldon F. Gautier Abilene, Texas (September 12, 1937)
Boyd, Jazes -- Additional Interview
JAMES BOYD was born in Phantom Valley. Indian Territory, in an Indian hut. A man named Sanford Wooldrige stole him and brought him to Texas, somewhere near Waco. James does not know his age, but thinks he is a hundred years or more old. He now lives in Itasca., Texas.
"I's born in dat Phantom Valley, in de Indian Territory, what dey now call Oklahoma. Us live in a Indian hut. My pappy Blue Bull Bird and mammy Nancy Will. She come to de Indian Territory with Santa Anna, from Mississippi, and pappy raise in de Territory. I don' 'member much 'bout my folks, 'cause I stole from dem when I a real li'l feller. I's a-fishin in de Cherokee River and a man name Sanford Wooldrige come by. You see, de white folks and de Indians have de fight 'bout dat day. I's on de river and I heared yellin' and shootin' and folkses runnin' and I slips into so bresh right near. Den come de white man and he say, Everyone kilt nigger, and den Indians gwine kill you iffen day cotch you. Come with me and I kin't 'low dem hurt you.' So I goes with him.
He took me to Texas, but I don't know jus' where, 'cause I ?? 'bout dat place. Massa Sanford good to us, but look ?? for ?? tough on niggers. Dere 'bout 1,600 acres ?? big house an nice. When de niggers wouldn't ?? all weak and sometime Sunday, iffen de crops ?? presents or money but us have warm clothes ?? place to live, and dat more'n lots of ??.
"Sometime us have de corn huskin' and dere a dollar for de one what shuck de mos' corn. Us have de big dance 'bout twict a year, on Christmas and sometime in de summer. When de white folks have dere big balls us niggers cook and watch dem dance. Us have fun den.
"I likes to think of dem times when as fish all de hot day or hunts or jus' lazed 'round when de crops am laid by. I likes to shut de eyes and be back in old times and hear 'em sing. "Swing, low, Sweet Chariot.' I can't sing, now you knows can't no old men sin; what ain't got no teef or hair. I used to like to swim; dat 'Ginie Reel and I's spry and young den.
"Dere's lots I can't 'member, 'cause my mem'ry done gone weak like de res' of me, but I 'member when us free us throw de hats in de air and holler. Old massa say, 'How you gwine eat and git clothes and sech?' Den us sho' scairt and stays with us white folks long as us can. But 'bout a year after dat I gits de job punchin' catt'e on a ranch in South Texas. I draw cattle into Kansas, over what de white folks calls de Chissum Trail. I worked lots of cattle and is what dey call a top hand. I's workin' for Massa Boyd den, and he gits me to drive some cattle to Mexico. He say he ain't well no more and for me to sell de cattle and send him de money and git de job down dere. I goes on down to Mexico and do what he say. I marries a gal name Martina in 1869, down in Matamoras. Us have four chillen and she die. Dat break me up and I drifts back to Huntsville.
"I done change my name from Scott Bird, what it am up in de Territory, and make it James Boyd, 'cause I done work for Massa Boyd. I's gwine be 'bout 103 year old in next January, iffen de Lawd spare me dat long.
"After I been in Huntsville awhile, I marries Emma Smith but us only stay together 'bout a year and a half. Wasn't no chillen. Den I drifts to Fort Bend County and dere I marries Mary McDowd and as have two chillen. She die with de yellow fever and off I goes for Burleson County. Dere I marries Sally McDave and she quits me after us have three chillen. Down in old Washington County I marries Frances Williams and us lived together till 1900. Dere am no chillen dere. Den I goes to Austin after she die and marries Eliza Bunton in 1903. Us have eight chillen and she die in 1911. Den I comes to Hill County and marries Hittie Cahee in 1916. She suit me. In 1924 I marries Hegar Price close to Milford. Us live together now, in Itasca. Us didn't have no chillen, but dat don't matter, 'cause I's de daddy of 'bout twenty already.
"I mos' allus wore de black suit when I marries. Jes' seemed more dressed up like. Some my wives wear white and some colors, didn't make much diff'rence, so dey a likely lookin' gal for me. Sometime it am a preacher and sometime it am Justice of Peace, but de fust time it am Catholic and priest and all.
"Talkin' 'bout all dis marryin', I mos' forgit to show you my scar. I fit in dat freedom war 'long side Massa Sanford and got shot. Dat bullet go through de breast and out de back and keep me six months in de bed. De fust battle I's in am at Halifax, in North Car'lina. Us git de news of freedom when us at Vicksburg, in Mississippi. Mos' us niggers 'fraid say much. De new niggers 'spect de gov'ment give dem de span of mules and dey be rich and not work. But dey done larn a lot dese past years. Us am sho' slaves now to hard work, and lucky iffen us it work. Lots den niggers figgers day'd git dere massa's land, but dey didn't. Dey oughts of knowed dey wouldn't. Warn't no plantation ever divided I knowed of, but some de massa give de oldest slaves a li'l piece land.
"After be cattle days done gone, I farms in bill County. I works twelve year for Massa Claude Wakefield, right near Wellford, too. De old men ain't due to live nowhere long and I's gittin' 'bout ready to cross de river. I's seed a heap of dis here earth and de people in it, but I tells you it an sho' hard time now. Us is old and cripple' and iffen de white folks don't help as I don't know what us gwine do.
"Socie dese young niggers gone plumb wild with dere clears and cars and truckin' and jazzin' and sech. Some go to school and larn like white folks and teach and be real helpful. But talk 'boat workin' in slave time --- 'twarn't so hard as now. Den you fuss 'cause dere's work, now you fuss 'cause dere ain't no work. But den us have somethin' to eat and wear and a place to sleep, and now us don't know one day what gwine fill us tomorrow, or nothin'.
"I'd sho' like to shake Massa Boyd'a hand again and hear his come singin' down de lane. Us hear him sing or whistle long 'fore he git dere and it mighty good to see him. De slaves allus say. 'I's gwine 'way tomorrow,' and I guess I's gwine 'way pretty soon tomorrow.