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Owens, Henry

Henry Owens, 94, was born a slave on the Ben Owen's cotton plantation about four miles west of Liberty Hill, Williamson County, on April 15, 1843. His parents were Ben and Maria Owens. His grandfather was a Creek Indian. Maria lived until she was 104 years old; and Ben lived until he was 96.

Henry was a field hand, and lived the out-of-doors. He calls himself the "forest boy" because he likes to wander through the woods alone.

When he was 39, he married Zina Wright. They had ten children, seven of whom are living. Henry owns his home on R.R. 1, near Austin. He and his wife each receive a monthly pension of $10 from the State.

"Henry Owens is my name, and I was bawn on April 15, 1843. Dat makes me 94 years old, but I can still go out and chop wood all mawnin'. To dis day, I calls mysef de wood or forest boy, 'cause I do lak to wander round in de forests. I spend a lot ob my time dere. I figure dat I'se chopped up about 109 cords ob wood in dis section.

"I was bawn on Mawster Ben Owens' cotton plantation, which was about four miles west ob Liberty Hill, up in Williamson County.

"Mammy's name was Maria Owens. She done cookin' and field fo'

Mawster Ben Owens. Mammy done work wid steers; dere names, as I remember 'em was Turkey and Dime, and Frank and Roland. Dey was putty good steers, and done good work. Yo' know dat it was easier fo' a woman to work wid oxen or steers in de fields. Mammy was about ob the average height and sort ob heavy-set. She lived to be 104 years old, and died out in Californy only ten years ago. She is buried in Los Angeles.

"Fawthaw was Ben Owens and he died when he was 96 years old. His mothaw was a nigger woman, and his fathaw was a full-blooded Creek Indian. Fawthaw was ob average height and not heavy. He was a field worker and done most ob his work over on Mawster Clark Reed' cotton plantation nearby.

"When I was a kid, I had to help wid almost everything. I done field work, fed the hogs and chickens and done almost anything dat come along.

"Mawster Owens never did have no overseer fo' de older folks. De chillun was watched, though. I remember how one day Mawster Owens took some ob us chillum out into de field and told us to chop up everything dat was green. I told de other kids to go ahead and chop...and dey stahted in to choppin' up everything dat was green, includin' de young cawn.

"Mawster Owens come back and stahted hollerin', 'Hey, whut're yo'-all doin' dere? Stop choppin' up dat cawn!'

"Well,' I said, 'Yo' told us to chop up everything dat was green.

"'I know. I'm wrong. Now, go ahead and chop up all dem weeds.'

"Den we chopped yo de weeds lak he wanted us to. We thought dat we was goin' to git a whoppin' fo' whut we had done.

"De funny thing about Mawster Owens was dat, when a whoppin' was comin' to us, he'd ask us how many licks dat we wanted!

"One day Uncle Jack - he wasn't my uncle, but we called him dat - told me to go to de kill and git some red-skinned sweet potaters. De kill was a kind ob a dug out where the mawster kept his potaters for winter. I went ahead to de kill and was inside when the mawster come up.

"'Whut're yo' doin' in dere, Fice?'

"Mawster called me Fice, 'cause I was always so frisky; de other folks called me Pompy, 'cause I always had to be prompted to de somethin'.

"'I'se gittin' Uncle Jack some sweet potaters,' I said.

"'Well, why don't you come to me and ask fo' 'em?'

"'I don' know. Uncle Jack jes' told me to go ahead and not tell a soul whut I was doin', and den to take de sweet potaters to his cabin."

"'Oh, he did? Well, Fice, yo' take him some sweet potaters; git as many as yo' want, and den come on up to de big house.'

"I took dem sweet potaters to Uncle Jack, and den I went up to de big house. I knowed whut was comin'. Us little boys jes' wore long shirts called 'skips', and we never wore no pants. Mawster Owens den asked me how many licks dat I wanted.

"'Give me four licks!" I told him.

"I jes' lifted my 'skip' and I was nekkid behind. Den he paddled me. He had a special paddle jes' fo' us chillun, but I never did see him whoop de older folks. Jes' us kids, when we needed it. Mawster Owens would hit us wid two light licks and de last two was a little heavier. Den Mawster would set down and talk to us:

"'Fice," he would say, "always obey and yo' won't git into any trubble, and yo' won't git any whoopin'."

"I though about dat, and dat's why I obey folks to dis day.

"Mawster had a special saddle mule dat he called Beck. It was a sorrel mule, and it was all dat he rode. I never did see him ride a hoss. Sometimes, I was settin' behind Mawster Owens on de mule, when we'd be met by Injuns. Mawster would set dere and tell me:

"'Fice, now hold on tight and set steady, and ole Beck will carry us in."

"And ole Beck would do dat, yo know dat mules could scent Injuns comin' and dey could out run a hoss. Dat's why we'd always out run dem Injuns.

"A neighbor's name was Walford Johnson, and I remember how his wife and him went out visitin' one day. De Johnsons had three little girls. De oldest girl was settin' on de hoss behind her fathaw. His wife had a girl settin' on de hoss behind her fathaw. His wife had a girl settin' behind her on another hoss, and she was holding a baby in her arms. Den dey run into some Injuns. Johnson saw dat he had no chance and would be killed, so he shouted to his wife, and told her to go ahead and try to make it in. Den de Injuns killed him on de spot. De little girl behind him was killed too. His wife galloped away, but de girl settin' behind her got scared and slid off and ran into de bushes and made it home. De muthaw got scared and throwed her baby into a clump ob bushes. Den de Injuns killed de mothaw, but dey didn't see where she had throwed de baby. De next day was Sunday, and de folks heard about de killin' and some ob 'em thought dat dey could chase de Injuns and battle wid 'em, but de Injuns was never found. Den de little baby was found in dem bushes. I believe dat dat baby wasn't a year old, and she lived through de night. I always wondered why she wasn't bothered by dem varmints, 'cause dat country was full ob wolves, coyotes, wild cats and mountain lions, and den dere was plenty of rattlesnakes. I reckin dat God was in de plan, and he took good care ob dat child durin' dat night and de next day.

"Mawster Owens never did show us how to learn our A B C's durin' dem early days. I went to school a little bit after freedom, and I learned my A B C's. But I was always a sort ob wild boy and I never did learn much out ob books. I was always out somewhere ridin' a wild mustang. Dem mustangs or wild hosses jes' couldn't throw me off and away. Some ob dem hosses was putty hard to tame. I went out on de prairies and roped and tamed 'em and saddled 'em right dere. So, yo' see dat I never had time to study books. I jes' learned how to use good, common sense, hoss sense. I kain't even read or write today.

I jes' know de A B C's, and how to count. I used to run a little fillin' station here in front ob my place and I had to count money. I reckon dat I made only about two mistakes, but my granddaughter laughs when I tell her dat.

"We had to work putty hard durin' de early days, and dere was de time when de cotton pickers would sing out:

"I killed an old gray goose,

Ho-ho, put him on to cook-

Took eleven months to cook him,

Ho-ho, the old gray goose.

"And den another one:

"Its a crane,

De same old crane,

But a lame, tame crane,

De same old crane,

It's a crane,

De same old crane,

Lame, tame, crane!

"Mawster Ben Owens still owned us when freedom came. Mammy and me was milkin' de cows one mawnin' and I was tyin' up some ob de calves when Mawster walked up de road apiece, den he come back and said:


"Suh?" Mammy said.

"'Maria, yo' and yours is now as free as I am. Do yo' want to stay on here, or do yo' want to find yo' another home?

"'I want yo' to find me another home, Mawster Owens."

"De widder Scott lived about six miles f'om us. Dats where we went to live. We lived dere in a log cabin. We raised wheat and cawn. We made dat wheat and cawn wid out de help ob hosses or plows. We jes' dug holes and planted wid a hoe. De widder Scott give us about six acres to work, and we didn't have to give her anything. All we had to do fo' her was to keep de grass f'om dem six acres.

"Fathaw wasn't livin' wid us, 'cause he up and married another woman. He died up in Georgetown, Williamson County, when he was 96 years old.

We stayed wid widder Scott fo' about a year, and den we moved on up to Austin. We have lived here ever since. Dere was seben ob us chillun in de fambly, and I was de sebenth. I done near any kind ob job here in Austh. I would do anything dat I could git to do.

"I was thirty-nine years old when I was married on November 5, 1882, to Zina Wright. We had ten chullun, and seben ob 'em is still livin'. And den we had forty-seben grandchillun, and dere is still thirty-seven livin.

"Dey say dat my fathaw's uncle was chief Sitting Bull's second chief. His name was Roebuck. Gen. Custor caught Sitting Bull and he told 'em if dey would feed his warriors, he would never rebel again against de United States. De United States sent 'em to some reservation, and dat's where Roebuck died. Dat's whut I was told.

"Jes' lak I told yo' befo' I'se got Injun blood in me, and I'se still a forest boy. I lak 'em. I belong to 'em. I'se studied trees and kin tell yo' about de different timbers. Wanderin' around in de woods fo' so long, I'se found out dat;

"A rusty lizard won't made a nest on a smooth tree, 'cause she kain't hide her young lak she kin in a tree wid a rough bark.

"Sand-lizards kin be told apart lak dis: de male has green stripes runnin' along his belly; de female has only a white belly.

"Snakes kin be told apart dis way; de male has a broader and shorter head; de female has a longer and keener head.

"Yo' kin take de bark f'om a black-jack oak and boil it and make a ooze, and den add copperas yo' kin make any color dat yo' want. Us slaves made our own colors fo' de makin' of dyes.

"So yo' kin see dat I'se a wood-boy. I'se learned common sense in de forests, and I still go out in de mawnin's to chop some wood. Dere's a pen over yonder still has some wood in it dat I cut last winter. I had plenty ob wood when we had dat cold spell last January. It was cold, and de preachah and his wife livin' next door set here in our house fo' three days, 'cause he never had enough wood.

"Dat's de way we live. Me and my wife git ten dollahs apiece f'om de pens on, but dat ain't enough to help me buy some tin, so I kin cover my roof dis wintah. Dat shingle roof is in a bad shape. But I'se thankful dat we git as much as we do. It sure helps, and I'm goin' on 95 years old."

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