Indian Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma
Date: October 25, 1937
Name: Bell Haney Airington
Post Office: Durant, Oklahoma
Residence address: W. Evergreen
Date of Birth: April 3, 1837
Place of Birth: Arkansas Other information: Chickasaw Indian
Father: Bill Labor Place of Birth: Spain Information on father:
Mother: Precia Labor Place of birth: Mississippi Information on mother: Chickasaw
Field Worker: Lula Austin
Interview with Belle Haney Labor Airington Broken Bow, Oklahoma Born April 3, 1830, Cove, Arkansas Father=s name, William Labor Mother=s name, Preacy Interviewer Hazel. B. Greeie Indian-Pioneer History S-149 July 17, 1927
Mrs. Airington said her mother=s name was Preacy, but did not know what her maiden name was, nor where she died or is buried. Father probably buried close to Caddo. She refused to tell the names of her two last husbands because those two marriages were, to quote her, Afailures.@
Mrs. Airington came out on the porch, greeted us and asked us to come in, dragged a chair around for me to have a seat. She gets around pretty well, but her eyesight has been pretty bad ever since she got a bad bump on her head about twenty years ago. She has never worn glasses, and never learned to read and write, never having gone to school. Her hair is as white as snow, and thin, she is nearly bald. Her lips are as pink as if slightly rouged. She attributes her palsied state to having been frightened by a big rattlesnake. She said there were lots of big rattlesnakes on Mountain fork river when she lived there fifty years ago. The house she lived in had a stick and dirt chimney and it had holes in it where the dirt had fallen out in places. One day she came in the house, barefooted and nearly stepped upon a rattlesnake. She said she begun shaking then and had never quit. She calls it nervousness. AI didn=t want to kill it in the house. I went out and got a hoe, and chased it around and around, but I was so hemmed up I was afraid. It would look at me and lick out its tongue, and look up the chimney, then it would look at me. Finally I got mad and chased it out of the house, got it around the chimney corner and hacked it to pieces.@
She says she has not gone barefoot much lately, not much since she was a hundred, her feet got too tender or the rocks are sharper.
She was born, (according to information in the Welfare Office in Idabel,) near Cove, Arkansas, on April 3, 1830. However, she says she believes that she is only a hundred and six. Her father was William Labor. She said he was one-half Choctaw and one half Spanish. She said her mother was a white woman, and her name was Preacy.
Mrs. Airington said she did not remember when or where her father died, or where he was buried. She said he died in a well. He was digging a well and was told to come out for supper. He replied that he wanted to dig just a little more, then they looked down in there and he was dead. Said she didn=t know whether he was properly buried or not. She was so far away that she didn=t get to go to the funeral. She said she lived up around Durant somewhere, probably where Caddo is now or near there.
Her brother is John LABOR, who lives just beyond Bennington, on the road to Cherokee Lake, just off the Highway.
It seems that she moved off up about Durant or Caddo, and lost touch with relatives, because Mrs. Osborne WILSON, who lives out two miles south of Broken Bow, saw her picture and a little write-up in the semi-weekly farm news, and wrote to Leroy Airington, her son, at Durant, to know if she were her aunt. She was, and Mrs. Wilson had her come and live with her. She was only a hundred and three then. She has been making her home with the Wilsons ever since. Says she hates towns. They tire her. Leroy Airington is the only one out of her children living. Asked how old he is, she didn=t know, but said he was getting pretty gray. One of the five died young. The others lived to be grown, but died.
She said she was nearly thirty years old when she married, soon after the war started. Said she was grown enough to cook and wash for the southern soldiers. Said she had been hired out to work for years then, two years each to two different women and three years to another, and was working for another when her father was sent home on an old blind mule.
Belle Haney Labor was married to Bill AIRINGTON, one half Choctaw Indian. He died when he was about fifty and was buried near Caddo, Indian Territory. She was married twice more, but said they were failures and did not count, and refused to tell the names of the husbands.
I was sixteen when they first hired me out to work for other people, there were nine of us and we all had to work. I worked two years for one woman, two years for another and three years for another. Just regular servants work, and they all promised pay but they never paid me, and I=d get tired spinning and weaving every day except Sunday and getting no money for it. Just my board and a few clothes. So I=d quit and try another. So I was working in the fields at home till about the time the war started, then after they took my father away, I got married, but was working for a Dutch woman, Mrs. ASHFORD, when he was sent home. I just dropped my work when I heard that he was home. That old woman talked so funny, and she just fussed when I dropped my work on the floor.
All the time the war was going on the women cooked and washed for the men who were scouting around to keep from going to the war. The Northern soldiers killed all the Southerners they could fond, especially the men. They scouted around in the woods in daytime and would slip up to the windows at night to get something to eat and clean clothes. Those were scary times. They hid their best quilts and coverlets in cellars and sacks of flour in hollow trees. Also fiddles, guns and anything they prized in order to keep the Northern soldiers from getting them. Father said he saw dead men so thick that they walked on them. They walked on the dead and dying and wounded.
Father said he knew one man named William DALTON who was lying wounded in the sun, and all he could do was to give him a drink of water and turn him over on his stomach so the sun would not shine in his face, and he had to move on. I imagine Dalton died with no one to do anything for him. Father said he knew the Northern soldiers cut the ears and nose off of another one [of] them before they killed him. It is possible there are as many mean people now as them. They just took advantage of being soldiers on a rampage to ravish, torture and steal, but no doubt there were plenty of fine men in the Northern army, same as the South, but naturally we sided with the South.
There were no schools when I was growing up and after the war I was married and busy keeping house and raising my children and working in the field and just anywhere my man worked. I never went to town and got what we needed. Once I thought I was going to die. We were going to the field. I had my baby on my hip, and a quilt over my arm, when I was seized with violent cramping. I threw my baby down on that pallet, and my husband had to carry it to the house, while I followed all bent over with my hands on my knees; too sick to talk, even, and I was sick for three or four months, with that soreness and pain in my side and stomach. Had to hire a cook, first time in my life I had to be waited upon. I wait upon myself now a lot. I can wash dishes, but I don=t see very well and am afraid I=ll knock some of them down. I don=t try to cook when some of the young ones are around, nor do they want me to. I was sure proud to come to the country to live, I like all sorts of greens and garden stuff, right out of the garden.
I like to see the woods and trees. I don=t like town at all. I especially like turnip greens and poke salad and corn bread. I have the most of my teeth yet and can eat nearly anything. That time I was sick they said I had acute indigestion, but I=ll bet if my old grandmother had been there to doctor me, I would have got well quicker. As it was they just gave me some turpentine; I guess that helped, though.
I think hard work all my life had helped me to live so long. I have smoked since I was ten years old, but don=t know that has helped me any. I wish I had never started it, it is too much trouble. I started it lighting the pipe for my blind grandmother. I smoke my pipe every day.
After my man died I had to work harder than ever, and it looked like somebody was ready to steal from me all of the time. I=d hire men to make a crop or work on the halves and they would sell my part and theirs, too, and put it all in their pockets; then tell me I had no part. I=ve been broken up three or four times and was burned out once. I kept telling them I smelled smoke and finally I went out to go to the spring and saw a little blaze in the roof. It could have been put out with a bucket of water if some one had been there with a ladder, but they didn=t put it out and everything I had burned. Now it looks like the Lord is providing for me. I have a good home and plenty of everything I want. I like it here.
We used to weave fine, wool coverlets, and cotton ones, too; the wool ones were the warmest. I wish I had kept some of my home-spun cloth just to show, but we didn=t think any thing about it then. I know once a girl came up close to our house across the river and hollered across that she wanted to trade a coverlet for meat, and that she was going to stay right there till we gave her some meat for that coverlet and finally we traded her two middlings of hog meat for that fine wool home spun coverlet. Very likely it would sell for twelve or fifteen dollars now. She just kept saying that she meant to stay there till we gave her some meat. (a kind of a strike for meat, 75 years ago.) I wish I had saved some of my home spun-cloth and coverlets.
We used to coler [color] thread with hickory bark and alum cotton thread. We used black sumac for black, white sumac for purple. Shana hawes colored things black, too. It was a weed and grew in a bunch. It was better for wool, then sumac. We had to be careful not to put too much copperas in our dyes. Too much would rot the material. There was a bloom that grew on the prairie, I=ve forgotten the name of it, but it dyed red if set with soapsuds. Red oak bark, set with copperas, dyed black.
We used to make coffee substitutes out of parched rye and wheat, and even sweet potatoes. We=d parch them right brown, grate them first, and sometimes parch corn and meal to make a substitute for coffee. We called it ALincoln Coffee.@ Sometimes on Sunday mornings we would have coffee and biscuits.
We broke wild horses, there were lots of them in the woods and on the prairie, and when we could trap some we would break a bunch of them. We milked wild cows, too. We=d have to set the dogs on them to get them in the pen, after the men would drive them up. Some of them remained so wild that I would have to milk them through a crack in the fence. We had pole fences. Nails were too much hard work to make.
I never rode on a train but once and I don=t want to any more. No ma=am, I=ve never been in an airplane, and I ain=t too gentle with these automobiles.@
I=ve never bobbed my hair nor had a permanent wave.@ My head hurts enough without having my hair pulled out by the roots. It has hurt ever since a wild cow that I was milking kicked me in the head and knocked me over, and nearly put my eye out. I finished milking and started to the house with the bucket of milk on my head when I couldn=t see my way and fell down. I spilled that milk all over me, and after awhile I got up and went to the house. I don=t know how long I lay there, but my head has hurt ever since. I guess that has been fifty years ago. It was long after my man died and all my children were gone. Some are married and some dead.
Interview Bell Haney Airington, October 25, 1937 A Chickasaw Indian W. Evergreen St. Durant, Oklahoma Lula Austin, Investigator
My mother was a Cherokee. I was born in Arkansas and moved with my parents near Caddo in the Caddo hills.
During the war we had to keep our food and bedding hidden as the soldiers would take everything. I would help my mother cook for the Southern Soldiers; we would get word the day before and we would cook bread and meat all day. The soldiers would pass in single file and take a piece of meat and bread but we would never have enough for all. One day we had cooked some turnips and had them hidden in the cellar when the Northern Soldiers came by and ate them all. We parched meal and wheat to make our coffee and also parched sweet potato hulls.
I remember my grandmother lived with us and at night she would help put us children to bed and would always warm a linsey wool quilt before the fire before spreading it over us.
I used to hoe in the garden with my grandmother. She always wore her hoops, even when working in the garden; the only time she did not wear them, was when it was stormy; she said the steel would draw lightning. My sister and I made a pair of hoops from briar branches, cutting the briars off.
We beat our hominy meal for breakfast. Everyone at our house was up at four in the morning. One morning I was pushing corn in the hopper and sister was beating it with a pestle and she hit me on the head nearly killing me and another time she accidentally cut my head open with a hoe when I stepped in front of her while she was chopping corn. I nearly bled to death before they got a doctor to sew the wound up.
My mother would go to neighbors and wash for them. I used to go with her and at one place the children all had sore eyes. They had two springs they used water form, one for drinking and the other for washing. I was so afraid the children washed in the spring that we were supposed to drink from that I went down into the pasture and dug a spring and when it settled, I would lie down on my stomach and drink from it.
At one place where Mother went to wash, they had an upstairs to their log house and we stayed all night and I slept upstairs. I didn=t sleep, I was so afraid. That was the first and last time I ever slept upstairs.
When I was married my husband took me to a little log house he had prepared for me; the floor was made of split logs; our bed was a scaffold, with one leg, built in the corner. We used oxen to plow with and made our own tools to work with.
When we were first married Father gave us a small piece of bacon and said, ANow, you build on that.@ We never worried about meat as there was plenty of wild game; sometimes my husband would kill two deer a day and call me to help him bring them in. Some deer had such big horns that he would have to cut them off before we could drag the deer through the timber. Mr. Airington would dress the deer and take it to Caddo and sell what we didn=t need and on many mornings he has killed eight turkeys before breakfast. He would sell them dressed for a dollar and sometimes less.
I used to make pets out of the little fawns and they would stay around the house with the stock. I had planted some beans and I told my husband I guessed the rabbits were eating them but we watched and it was my pet fawns.
Turkeys were so fat that one day my husband killed one and it fell into the creek and the skin popped open.
I spun and made my clothes, but when I was married and tried to make my husband a pair of pants, I almost wore the pocket out trying to sew it in. I made my soap and never knew what it was to buy it; I helped saw timber and worked in the field. I have helped to lay many a rail fence.
We always used spring water, and had a barrel in which to catch rain water. I used flint to start my fire and many times I have knocked the skillet with a knife and put a piece of cotton on top so it would catch the spark. I Abroke@ cows for the use of the milk and some of them were so wild that I would tie them and then milk them through the rail fence; they kicked like mules.
I rode horseback up until 1905 and many times I have had my face skinned when my horse would run away through the timber jumping as he went.
A Mr. ASHFORD near Caddo used to furnish melons to the Comanche Indians if they would come and dance for him; everyone would go. I went to one of these dances and was sitting in the wagon with my baby on my lap when one of the Indians jumped on the wagon and began to feel my shoes and my dress which had a design of large red flowers. I was frightened but I just sat there. Another Indian rode up and the first Indian jumped on the horse and left with him.
They had a young Indian girl all dressed in white with jewels on her arms and limbs and they were offering to trade her for nine cows and calves, but no one traded for her.
Our chimney to the house was built of sticks and dirt and there were many holes between the logs and chimney. I was sitting there spinning, barefooted, one evening when I heard a rattling and looked up to see a large rattlesnake that was ready to spring on me. I ran for a hoe and killed it.
My husband=s half-sister, Mrs. WILLIS, was going to see her mother to take her some quilt pieces; her husband sent a man and boy with her and said he would come later. She disappeared and a week later her body was found lodged on a rock in Little River. It was very plain that her husband had had her killed, but nothing was done about it.
Abstracted and submitted by Cindy Young <CindyYoung@aol.com> 03-99