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Davis, Mary

Mary Davis, seventy-three, was born a slave on April 27, 1864, on the John Burleson cotton plantation, near Bastrop. Mary's parents were Oliver and Jane Burleson. Mary said that anyone working for the Burlesons, became a hard rough worker, "cause he was made tough by 'em." Mary, a tall, broad, heavy-set and very black complexioned woman, is a pleasant person to meet, despite the fact she is crippled from rheumatism. She is so large, that it seems her feet are unable to carry the load; she shuffles along in a stooped manner. It was a cloudy, rainy day in April, and Mary was resting on a small, white painted iron bed, in the dining room, her Bible at hand on the dining table. Mary is clean, and the interior of her large but ramshackle house, at 1001 Olive Street, Austin, shows that she is neat and a good housewife. She has been married twice to: Hannibal Davis and Anderson Davis; had one boy and three girls by Hannibal. Mary lives with her son, Freddie, and receives a monthly pension of nine dollars from the State of Texas. Her story:

"Oliver Burleson was my poppa. He was a tall black man. Oh, Lawd, he was good to us chillun. He was a lovin' man to us. Poppa had always been a hard field worker durin' slavery; but durin' de sebenties, I think it was, he was a constable in Hays County. Dis was long befo' I got married. Poppa died on March 30, 1901, from smallpox.

"Mothaw's name was Jane Burleson. Her grandmothaw was a full-blooded Injun, so she said. Even my mothaw had high cheek bones and a yaller skin. Her first mawster had been John Primm, at Primm's Lake, near Smithville. Mawster Primm den sold her to mawster Sam Craft, of Bastrop. She was sold to him when she was only seben years old. I don't remembah how much dat she said she was sold fo'. Den she was owned by John Burleson.

"She was married three times durin' slavery. Her first husband was Abraham McKinney. Dey had one child, Margaret, and she was only four months old when McKinney was sold. Margaret died later. Her next husband was Dick Craft; dey had three chillun - William, Susanna, and Richard. Her third husband was Oliver Burleson; dere was ten chillun - Oliver, Charlie, Phillip, Bob, Mary, Nellie, Lucinda, John, Harry, and Jane. Oliver was de oldest, and Jane was de youngest. Dere is only five of us chillun, all of us girls, still livin'; dey's f'om de last husband.

"When mothaw was a Craft, she was give to Aleth Craft, when Aleth got married. Aleth had a child and died, and den de baby died. Dat meant dat mothaw belonged to Aleth's husband, John Burleson. John was den killed by his brother-in-law, Wayne Barton. It was somethin' about fambly trubble. Wayne killed John's brother's dog, I believe. Dey had a fallin' out and on election day, in Bastrop, dey had a big argument. I think dat den Wayne shot John dead. Dat Wayne even hit his father-in-law, Ed Burleson, Sr., on de nose.

"Den Ed Jr., went and killed Wayne. I don't know whut dey done to him. I do know dat he got up and run away to Mexico. He den stayed in Mexico long enough to marry a Spanish woman; he always let folks know dat she wasn't no Mexican. He never did bring her back to Texas wid him; but dey had two boys, and I kain't remembah dere names, and he brought one of 'em wid him. He put de boy in school; den he sent him back to Mexico.

"When he run off to Mexico, Ed had done been married to Miss Emma Kyle. She was de mother of Colonel Albert Sidney Burleson.

"It was to de old General Edward Burleson fahm, in San Marcos, dat poppa was brought, when he was only ten years old. He was brought from Columbia, down in Brazoria County, and had been owned by Mawster Stapes Townsend. Poppa was bought by General Burleson in a land deal. I think dat is how he was bought - some land was bought, and poppa went wid it, somehow.

"After slavery, my folks rented some land f'om Mawster Ed Burleson, Jr. Dis fahm was on de head of de San Marcos River.

"It was while we was livin' dere dat Mawster Townsend's son, Spence, come to San Marcos, and was on his way to Mountain City, west of Kyle, where he went to buy some ranch land. He wanted to see poppa once mo'e. Him and poppa met on de road near San Marcos and dey didn't know each other. Poppa was drivin' a yoke of oxen, and was takin' a load of wood to town. He was comin' f'om de country to town to sell dis load of mixed wood - cedar, elm, oak and pinoak - fo' one dollah.

"Mothaw didn't know Mawster Spence when he rode up to de cabin. He told her who he was, and whut he was lookin' fo'. Mothaw told him that poppa was in town wid a load of wood.

"He said he'd wait till poppa come home dat night.

"He put up his flea-bitten gray hoss and had some coffee. A flea-bitten hoss is whut I called it, 'cause it had little red spots all over it.

"We had a log cabin dat had only two rooms. Mawster Spence slept on de bed in one of de rooms, and us chillun slept on pallets on de floor. He stayed wid us dat night.

"We done our cookin' all of de time out in de log smoke house. We had our meats out dere too. Dere was sausages, hams, hog meats, and pickled beef in a barrel.

"We'd take a barrel wid a good bottom, and den put chunks of raw meat into it. We'd mix some salt wid some saltpeter. Den we'd put a mixture of dat on de bottom. Den we'd put a layer of meat on dat, and den a layer of de mixture, till de barrel was filled. Den some rocks was put on top; dat helped to draw de blood out. Yo' could take a pinch of saltpeter and put it on a bone and all of de lean meat would turn red on it.

"I was Mary Burleson when I was a girl. I was bawn on April 27, 1864. I'm goin' to be sebenty-four years old soon.

"When I was a girl, I plowed de fields wid oxen, mules, and hosses. I hauled cotton to de gin. I helped clear de land of stumps, and in de fall, I helped burn de cawnstalks. I never was much of a cotton picker, and never could pick my two hunnert pounds a day. I picked cotton right on de place where de fish hatchery is in San Marcos.

"In January, 1881, I got married to Hannibal Davis. He was a fahmer and had moved to San Marcos, from Robertson County. I had been to some folks' house on de other side of de San Marcos River, when it stahted to rainin'. De river got up and I couldn't git back across. Hannibal come along on a mule and took me home. Dat was on a Thursday in September, and he cou'ted me till de next January, when we got married.

"Me and Hannibal had four chillun: Louanna, Bertha, Freddie Lee and Dora. All of dem is dead now 'cept Freddie Lee.

"Freddie Lee is now fifty, and he kain't even write his own name. He's jes' a laborer. He had a chance to go to school, but he was jes' a blockhead. Yo' know dat yo' kain't learn some boys nothin'. He went to school fi' awhile and de teachahs said dat he jes' wouldn't learn nothin'.

"All dat Freddie Lee wanted was his plows and mules. He liked to do nothin' but fahm. He could pick six hunnert pounds of cotton a day. Folks used to say dat if yo' wouldn't bother him in a field, he'd work lak a convict.

"'Freddie Lee,' I used to tell him, 'I want yo' to be a doctah, or a teachah.'

"'Oh, dere is too many of 'em now,' he'd say.

"When I was a girl I did learn to read and write. I go to night school now, when I feel lak it. Dey want me to learn how to talk good English plain, but it don't do no good. I forgit how to talk it in no time. I told 'em dat I was too old now to learn dat and dat de road is behind me. I am too old fo' dat.

"I kin read my Bible. Dere is days when I feel low in spirits I take my Bible, open it at any place, and ask de Lawd to give me some peace.

"Me and Hannibal stayed in Robertson County fo' about twenty-three years. Our fahm was near Calvert, between de Little and de Big Brazos rivers. We raised cotton dat had stalks on 'em so big dat a child could stand on 'em. Why, we had to take a ax and chop some of 'em down! De stalks in dem Brazos River bottoms got so big dat a pusson couldn't pick a row alone. It took one pusson to pick one side of de row, and another pusson to pick de other side.

Davis, Mrs. Ada, PW McLennan County, Texas District No. 8"

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