| Chap. 1 | Chap.
2 | Chap. 3 | Chap.
4 | Chap. 5 | Chap.
6 | Chap. 7 | Chap.
8 | Chap. 9
CHAPTER TWO: Slavery
in the Antebellum West
The following chapter explores the peculiar institution in
the West. The first vignettes, Texas: An Empire for Slavery
and A Texas Slave's Letter to Her Husband, 1862, describe
bondage in the western state with the vast majority of the
region's slaves. Yet black slavery existed among the Five
Civilized Nations as seen in the vignettes Slaves and Free
Blacks in Indian Territory and Resettlement in the West. The
curious role of government in ransoming slaves is profiled
in The Comanches, the Federal Government and the Slave Trade
and Ransoming: The Johnson Family Saga. Some Indians combined
with blacks to resist slavery in Indian Territory. Their saga
is depicted in Gopher John and the Fate of the Seminoles,
The Seminoles, the Blacks and Slavery, and Wild Cat and the
Journey to Mexico. On black servitude in the Far West see
Slavery in the California Mines and Slavery in Oregon: The
Lou Southworth Narrative. Black slavery existed elsewhere
in the region as seen in The Mormons and Black Slavery which
describes how this major religious denomination came to accept
black slavery and ideas of black inferiority, and The End
of Slavery in Utah which describes the quiet demise of the
institution in the only territory west of the Rocky Mountains
to legally embrace African American servitude.
Terms for Week Two:
Trail of Tears
John Cowaya (Gopher John or John Horse)
Hacienda de Nacimiento
1842 Cherokee Slave Revolt
Isaac and Jane James
Holmes v. Ford
Judge George A. Williams
TEXAS: AN EMPIRE FOR SLAVERY
In the introduction to his 1989 book, An Empire for Slavery,
historian Randolph B. Campbell reconciles the state's self-projected
"western" image with its "southern" heritage
of human bondage. Part of that introduction appears below
There is a widespread popular misconception, particularly
in Texas, that somehow the institution of Negro slavery was
not very important in the Lone Star state. This is not really
surprising in that may historians, writers, and creators of
popular culture have preferred to see Texas as essentially
western rather than southern. The state thus become part of
the romantic West, the West of cattle ranches, cowboys, and
gunfighters and seemingly less compelling moral issues such
as destruction of the Indians. So long as Texas is not seen
as a southern state, its people do not have to face the great
moral evil of slavery and the bitter heritage of black-white
relations that followed the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865.
Texans are thus permitted to escape a major part of what C.
Vann Woodward called the "burden of Southern History."
It is true that slavery had a relatively brief history in
Texas. As an Anglo-American institution, it lasted about fifty
years...from 1816 or so until 1865, whereas in an original
southern state such as Virginia its history extended from
the mid-seventeenth century to the close of the Civil War,
a period of more than two hundred years. Texas had a small
fraction of the total slave population of the United States,
less than 5% of the census of 1860, while, by comparison,
Virginia had 12% and Louisiana, Texas's closest neighbor to
the east, had more than 8%. Also, slavery spread over only
the eastern two-fifths of the Lone Star state before it was
ended in 1865.
The limited nature of Texas's historical experience with
slavery, however, belies the vast importance of the institution
to the Lone Star state. The great majority of immigrants to
antebellum Texas come from the older southern states (77%),
and many brought with them their slaves and all aspects of
slavery as it had matured in their native states. More than
one-quarter of Texas families owned slaves during the 1850s,
and bondsmen constituted approximately 30% of the state's
total population. Proportions of slaveholders and slaves in
the populations of Texas and Virginia during the last antebellum
decade were closely comparable. In this sense, then, slavery
was as strongly established in Texas, the newest slave state,
as it was in the oldest slave state in the Union.
In 1850 and 1860, more than 93% of Texas's free population
and 99% of its slaves live east of a line extending from the
Red River at approximately the 98th meridian southward to
the mouth of the Nueces River on the Gulf of Mexico. The area
of slaveholding, although covering only the eastern two-fifths
of Texas, as large as Alabama and Mississippi combined. Even
without further expansion to the west, it constituted virtually
an empire for slavery.
Antebellum Texans considered slavery vital to their future.
The first settlers in Stephen F. Austin's colony brought slaves,
and Austin himself, although not particularly devoted to slavery
in the abstract, concluded by 1833 that "Texas must be
a slave country. Circumstances and unavoidable necessity compels
it..." As Texas moved from Mexican colony to independent
republic to statehood, Austin's opinion was frequently repeated....
"We want more slaves--we need them," wrote Charles
DeMorse, Massachusetts-born editor of the Clarksville Northern
Standard. "We care nothing for...slavery as an abstraction--but
we desire the practicality; the increase of our productions;
the increase of the comforts and wealth of the population;
and if slavery, or slave labor...ministers to this, why that
is what we want..." John Marshall, editor of the Austin
Texas State Gazette, argued in 1858 that Texas was destined
to become the "Empire State of the South," provided
that the African slave trade could be reopened. Slavery was
growing, but too slowly, Marshall wrote, "an until we
reach somewhere in the vicinity of two millions of slaves,
it is equally evident that such a thing as too many slaves
in Texas is an absurdity." Texas..slavery's frontier
during the late antebellum period…held the promise of
growth and vitality for years to come...
Source: Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The
Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 Baton Rouge, 1989),
A TEXAS SLAVE'S LETTER TO HER HUSBAND, 1862
Because most slaves could not read and write only rarely
do we have the opportunity to read the thoughts expressed
by someone in bondage. Fanny Perry, a Harrison County, Texas
slave woman has provided one such opportunity with the letter
she wrote to her husband, Norfleet Perry, the personal servant
of Theophilus Perry, who at the time was serving with the
28th Texas Cavalry in Arkansas. Here is Fanny's letter of
December 28, 1862. We do not know if she and Norfleet were
ever reunited during or after the Civil War.
Spring Hill, Dec. 28th 1862
My Dear Husband,
I would be mighty glad to see you and I wish you would write
back here and let me know how you are getting on. I am doing
tolerable well and have enjoyed very good health since you
left. I haven't forgot you nor I never will forget you as
long as the world stands, even if you forget me. My love is
just as great as it was the first night I married you, and
I hope it will be so with you. My heart and love is pinned
to your breast, and I hope yours is to mine. If I never see
you again, I hope to meet you in Heaven. There is not time
night or day but what I am studying about you. I haven't had
a letter from you in some time. I am very anxious to hear
from you. I heard once that you were sick but I heard afterwards
that you had got well. I hope your health will be good hereafter.
Master gave us three days Christmas. I wish you could have
been here to enjoy it with me for I did not enjoy myself much
because you were not here. I went up to Miss Ock's to a candy
stew last Friday night, I wish you could have been here to
have gone with me. I know I would have enjoyed myself so much
better. Mother, Father, Grandmama, Brothers & Sisters
say Howdy and they hope you will do well. Be sure to answer
this soon for I am always glad to hear from you. I hope it
will not be long before you can come home.
Your Loving Wife
Source: Randolph B. Campbell and Donald K. Pickens, "'My
Dear Husband,' A Texas Slave's Love Letter, 1862," Journal
of Negro History 65:4(Fall 1980):361-364.
RUNAWAY SLAVES IN MEXICO
Hundreds of black Texas slaves made their way to freedom
in Mexico in the years before the Civil War. Here is a brief
glimpse of the lives of fugitive slaves in Mexico written
by Fredrick Law Olmstead following his famous journey across
Texas in the mid-1850s.
Very few persons were moving in the streets, or engaged in
any kind of labor... As we turned a corner near the bank,
we came suddenly upon two negroes, as they were crossing the
street. One of them was startled, and looking ashamed and
confounded, turned hesitantly back and walked away from us;
whereas some Mexican children laughed, and the other negro,
looking at us, grinned impudently--expressing plainly enough--"I
am not afraid of you." He touched his hat, however, when
I nodded to him, and then, putting his hands in his pockets,
as if he hadn't meant to, stepped up on one of the sand-bank
caverns, whistling. Thither, wishing to have some conversation
with him, I followed. He very civilly informed me, in answer
to inquiries, that he was born in Virginia, and had been brought
South by a trader and sold to a gentleman who had brought
him to Texas, from whom he had run away four or five years
ago. He would like...to see old Virginia again, that he would--if
he could be free. He was a mechanic, and could earn a dollar
very easily, by his trade, every day. He could speak Spanish
fluently, and had traveled extensively in Mexico, sometimes
on his own business, and sometimes as a servant or muleteer.
Once he had been beyond Durango, or nearly to the Pacific;
and, northward, to Chihuahua, and he professed to be competent,
as a guide, to any part of Northern Mexico. He had joined
the Catholic Church, he said, and he was very well satisfied
with the country.
Runaways were constantly arriving here; two had got over,
as I had previously been informed, the night before. He could
not guess how many came in a year, but he could count forty,
that he had known of, in the last three months. At other points,
further down the river, a great many more came than here.
He supposed a good many got lost and starved to death, or
were killed on the way, between the settlements and the river.
Most of them brought with them money, which they had earned
and hoarded for the purpose, or some small articles which
they had stolen from their masters. They had never been used
to taking care of themselves, and when they first got here
they were so excited with being free, and with being made
so much of by these Mexican women, that they spent all they
brought very soon; generally they gave it all away to the
women, and in a short time they had nothing to live upon,
and, not knowing the language of the country, they wouldn't
find any work to do, and often they were very poor and miserable.
But, after they had learned the language, which did not generally
take them long, if they chose to be industrious, they could
live very comfortably. Wages were low, but they had all they
earned for their own, and a man's living did not cost him
much here. Colored men, who were industrious and saving, always
did well... The Mexican Government was very just to them,
they could always have their rights as fully protected as
if they were Mexican-born. He mentioned to me several negroes
whom he had seen, in different parts of the country, who had
acquired wealth, and positions of honor. Some of them had
connected themselves, by marriage, with rich old Spanish families,
who thought as much of themselves as the best white people
in Virginia. In fact, a colored man, if he could behave himself
decently, had rather an advantage over a white American, he
thought. The people generally liked them better. These Texas
folks were too rough to suit them.
I believe these statements to have been pretty nearly true;
he had no object, that I could discover, to exaggerate the
facts either way, and showed no feeling except a little resentment
towards the women, who probably wheedled him out of his earnings.
They were confirmed, also, in all essential particulars, by
every foreigner I saw, who had lived or traveled in this part
of Mexico, as well as by Mexicans themselves, with whom I
was able to converse on the subject. It is repeated as a standing
joke--I suppose I have heard it fifty times in the Texas taverns,
and always to the great amusement of the company--that a nigger
in Mexico is just as good as a white man, and if you don't
treat him civilly he will have you hauled up and fined by
an alcalde. The poor yellow-faced, priest-ridden heathen,
actually hold, in earnest, the ideas on this subject put forth
in that good old joke of our fathers--the Declaration of American
The runaways are generally reported to be very poor and miserable,
which, it is natural to suppose, they must be. Yet there is
something a little strange about this. It is those that remain
near the frontier that suffer most; they who have got far
into the interior are said to be almost invariably doing passably
well. A gang of runaways, who are not generally able to speak
Spanish, have settled together within a few days' walk of
Eagle Pass, and I have heard them spoken of as being in a
more destitute and wretched condition than any others. Let
any one of them present himself at Eagle Pass, and he would
be greedily snatched up by the first American that he would
meet, and restored, at once, to his old comfortable, careless
life. The escape from the wretchedness of freedom is certainly
much easier to the negro in Mexico than has been his previous
flight from slavery, yet I did not hear of a single case of
his availing himself of this advantage. If it ever occur,
it must be as one to a thousand of those going the other way.
Dr. Stillman (Letters to the Crayon, 1856) notices having
seen at Fort Inge a powerful and manly-looking mulatto, in
the hands of a returning party of last year's filibustering
expedition, who had been three times brought from beyond the
Rio Grande. Once, when seized, his cries awoke his Mexican
neighbors, and the captor had to run for it. Once, after having
been captured, and when the claim to him had been sold for
fifty dollars, he escaped with a horse and a six-shooter.
Once, again, he escaped from the field where his temporary
holder had set him at work on the Leona. In revenge for this
carelessness, a suit was then pending for these temporary
The impulse must be a strong one, the tyranny extremely cruel,
the irksomeness of slavery keenly irritating, or the longing
for liberty much greater than is usually attributed to the
African race, which induces a slave to attempt an escape to
Mexico. The masters take care, when negroes are brought into
Western Texas, that they are informed (certainly never with
any reservation, and sometimes, as I have had personal evidence,
with amusing extravagance) of the dangers and difficulties
to be encountered by a runaway.
There is a permanent reward offered by the state for their
recovery, and a considerable number of men make a business
of hunting them. Most of the frontier rangers are ready at
any time to make a couple of hundred dollars, by taking them
up, if they come in their way. If so taken, they are severely
punished, though if they return voluntarily they are commonly
pardoned. If they escape immediate capture by dogs or men,
there is then the great dry desert country to be crossed,
with the danger of falling in with savages, or of being attacked
by panthers or wolves, or of being bitten or stung by the
numerous reptiles that abound in it; of drowning miserably
at the last of the fords; in winter, of freezing in a norther,
and, at all seasons, of famishing in the wilderness from the
want of means to procure food.
Bravo negro! Say I. He faces all that is terrible to man
for the chance of liberty, from hunger and thirst to every
nasty form of four-footed and two-footed devil. I fear I should
myself suffer the last servile indignities before setting
foot in such a net of concentrated torture. I pity the man
whose sympathies would not warm to a dog under these odds.
How can they be held back from the slave who is driven to
assert his claim to manhood?...
Source: Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey Through Texas--Or,
a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier, (New York, Mason
Brothers, 1859), pp. 323-327.
SLAVE AND FREE BLACKS IN INDIAN TERRITORY
The Five Civilized Tribes, the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokees
Creeks and Seminoles all developed black slavery in their
native homes stretching from North Carolina to Mississippi.
Upon their removal to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in the 1830s,
they brought slaves with them. In the account below Daniel
and Mary Ann Littlefield describe the status and treatment
of African Americans, slave and free, among the Five Tribes.
The greatest population, by far, was among the Seminoles.
Between 1838 and 1843, nearly 500 blacks, both slave and free,
removed with them. Many were freed by voluntary acts of their
Seminole masters. Some....were free by virtue of their assistance
to the United States as informers, guides, and scouts. The
Seminoles had no laws restricting free blacks, who, like the
Seminole slaves, were allowed to own property and carry weapons.
Because they spoke English as well as the Indians' native
tongue, several of the free blacks served as interpreters.
A number of free blacks also lived among the Creeks. Decades
before their removal to the West, the Creeks had written laws
which provided for the manumission of slavery by individual
owners. A census of 1832 showed 21,762 Creeks and 502 slaves
with only a few Creeks owning more than ten slaves. Among
the Creeks were several free blacks who were heads of households.
The free blacks were removed with the Creeks, and by the time
the Civil War began some of them owned businesses such as
boarding houses and stores....
There were fewer free blacks among the Cherokees despite
large numbers of slaves among them. In 1835, on the eve of
removal, there were 16,543 Cherokees and 1,592 slaves. By
1859 the number of slaves in the Cherokee Nation had reached
4,000. Slavery among the Cherokees was little different from
that in the white South and the status of slaves and free
blacks declined as laws became more severe.... All persons
of "negro or mulatto parentage" were excluded from
holding office. The Cherokee Council [governing legislature]
prohibited the teaching of slaves and free blacks not of Cherokee
blood to read and write....and in the aftermath of a slave
revolt in 1842, [it] ordered all free blacks, not freed by
Cherokee citizens, to leave the nation by January 1, 1843.
Fewer slaves lived in the Choctaw Nation. An 1831 census
listed 17,963 Choctaws, 512 slaves [and] eleven free blacks.
In 1838 the Choctaws forbade cohabitation with a slave, the
teaching of a slave to read or write without the owner's consent
and the council's emancipating slaves without the owner's
consent. Other laws prohibited intermarriage and persons of
African descent from holding office.
The Chickasaws did not hold large numbers of slaves before
removal. But at that time many Chickasaws sold their homes
in invested in slaves whom they moved to the West [and] opened
large plantations [using] their blacks in agricultural labor....
The Chickasaws....regarded their slaves in the same manner
as white owners. In the late 1850s the Chickasaws forbade
their council from emancipating slaves without the owner's
consent....County judges were authorized to order [free] blacks
out of their respective counties. Those who refused to go
were to be sold....as slaves....
Source: Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., and Mary Ann Littlefield,
"The Beams Family: Free Blacks in Indian Territory,"
Journal of Negro History, 61:1 (January 1976), pp. 17-21.
GOPHER JOHN AND THE FATE OF THE SEMINOLES
In the following account historian Susan Miller introduces
"Gopher John" Cowaya, [also known as John Horse]
the black interpreter for the Seminole nation during the negotiations
for its removal from Florida to Indian Territory in 1841.
"Gopher John" Cowaya, agriculturalist, businessman,
military commander, and interpreter, had abandoned some ninety
head of cattle in Florida, lent the United States emigration
agent fifteen hundred dollars to meet the expenses of his
removal party in 1842, and had another fifty head of cattle
at risk on the Deep Fork (Indian Territory) in 1844.... In
the course of his career he was known by a variety of names.
Cowaya, the name he used in the Indian country, was a variant
of the name of his Seminole owner, Charley Covalla or Charles
Cohia, Cowaya, Covalla, and Cohia, along with Cowiya, Coheia,
and Coil, all appear to be English spellings of Muskogee renderings
of the Spanish name Caballo, "Horse." He was Juan
Caballo in Mexico and some of his descendants in Texas use
the name Horse. United States military men in Florida knew
him as John Warrior or Gopher John...
Reportedly the son of a Negro mother with some Indian blood
and of an Indian father with a trace of Spanish ancestry,
he arrived September 5, 1842, with a removal party at the
Creek Council Grounds on the Deep Fork. He was then about
thirty-five years old. His family of three had preceded him
west, while he served the United States Army in Florida...
Mention is scarce of Cowaya's relations with other blacks
in the Indian country before 1845.... Evidence abounds, though,
of his collaboration with Wild Cat and other Seminoles in
the Cherokee Nation.... He was present when the delegation
to Washington was decided at Richard Fields's place on Bayou
Manard on April 9, 1844, and he signed the letter prepared
by the delegation's lawyers in Washington. Although N. Sayer
Harris labeled him "the interpreter," and the lawyers
to the Seminole delegation labeled him a "witness,"
it would be vain to assume that he was so passive in those
dealings, especially with his advantage of being able to talk
with everyone involved. A good many reported interviews, therefore,
between Americans and Seminoles, involving Cowaya as an interpreter,
might rather have been three-way interactions with Cowaya
representing the interest of the Seminole blacks, or of some
of them. In other cases, chroniclers failed altogether to
mention his presence, although he had the ear of the confidence
of participants who could hardly have communicated without
That is not to say that all Americans and Seminoles wished
him well. After his return to Fort Gibson with the delegation,
reports went to Washington that a Seminole hostile to him
had shot at him but only killed his horse. His mission to
Washington may have drawn the fire. Cowaya felt sufficiently
threatened at Deep Fork to abandon his property there and
move his family to the Fort, where [they were given] asylum.
Source: Susan A. Miller, "Wild Cat and the Origins of
the Seminole Migration to Mexico," (M.A. Thesis, University
of Oklahoma, 1988), pp. 80-83.
RESETTLEMENT IN THE WEST
Black slaves and freedpeople among the Indian nations were
part of the removal to the West (Indian Territory) in the
1830s and early 1840s. In the account below we see a brief
description of the new settlements among the black Seminoles
in the Little River region in the southwest portion of the
In all, twenty-seven Seminole towns settled in the Little
River region in 1845.... The blacks settled in towns separate
from the Seminoles as they had done before [in Florida]....
A few black towns were on a small tributary of the Canadian
[River]. Trails connected these Seminole and black sites.
Many of the these black towns must have been Seminole black
settlements, but others may not have been. It would be interesting
to know when and how the blacks moved to Little River and
the form of their economic relations with the Seminoles, but
no such record exists.
The new Seminole tract embraced a felicitous mixture of prairie
land and postoak-blackjack forest. The Seminoles could live
more as the pleased at Littler River, because its isolation
from American population centers allowed less interference
by white people. Hunting was better there than near Fort Gibson,
and farming and stock-raising flourished there, although the
climate could be harsh. Trade afforded the Seminoles new opportunities,
open as it was to anyone who could deal with Plains tribes.
The people built their homes near the streams, planting in
the bottomlands. There, "in the southwestern corner of
the Creek Nation, and upon the verge of the immense prairies
that extend from there to the Rocky Mountains," they
began building cabins, clearing fields, and assembling herds.
A typical cabin was furnished with "a stool or two, pestle
and mortar, 'hominy baskets,' two or three pots and kettles,
with 'sokley' [sokfy] spoons, and a beef hide in the corner,
which served as a bed...." Once homes were built and
crops planted [the Seminoles] turned their attention to...diplomacy
and trade. Although United States agents frowned on the annual
"hunt" of the Kickapoos, Delawares, Shawnees, and
others, considering it uncivilized, it was a necessary element
of a successful seasonal adaptation to the Little River environment....
Trade was a major object of the hunt as practiced at Little
River. Stores there and at Fort Smith and Van Buren [Arkansas]
advanced supplies and trade goods that the hunters took onto
the Plains. Many of the pelts the Indians brought back were
taken in trade from Plains peoples.
Source: Susan A. Miller, "Wild Cat and the Origins of
the Seminole Migration to Mexico," (M.A. Thesis, University
of Oklahoma, 1988), pp. 104-106, 109-110.
THE COMANCHES, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND THE SLAVE TRADE
In the following account Susan Miller explores the curious
relationship between the Comanches and the Federal Government
in the "ransoming" of captives Texas captives in
Indian Territory between the 1840s and 1860s. Miller surmises
that blacks were less likely to be ransomed than whites. While
that is generally true, the next vignette shows that the freedom
of some African Americans temporarily held in captivity by
the Comanches was purchased by the U.S. Government, and when
Texas seceded from the Union, by Confederate government officials.
The Comanches had found profit in trading in kidnapped Texans,
Mexicans, and black slaves stolen from Texans, as well as
in stolen mules and horses. The other parties to this trade
were the United States government, represented by officers
at Fort Gibson and other frontier posts, and traders operating
out of the permanent trading houses at the southern Plains
frontier. As early as 1820, Plains Indians were stealing mules
and horses from the Spanish lands and selling them to traders
from the American frontier, which was then in Arkansas. United
States national interests were engaged when, by 1836, a traffic
developed in Angloamerican captives, largely from Texas.
By 1845 the trade worked typically like this: A member of
a war party of Comanches would steal a child from a homestead
in Mexico or in the Republic of Texas, and, if he did not
keep it, would either take it to a frontier trading post or
turn it over to a trader who had journeyed onto the Plains.
The price would usually be American manufactured goods worth
several hundred dollars. The trader might then either keep
the captive or sell it into slavery, especially if it was
a Mexican or black child. If it was a white child, he would
offer to redeem it for ransom at the fort. This made a tricky
diplomatic problem for the United States officials, engaged
in annexing Texas and wishing to appear responsive to the
desperate appeals of Texas families and their friends and
relatives in the United States, for recovery of lost children.
The cold truth of the United States ransoming brokering was
that it stimulated trade in kidnap victims, encouraging the
kidnapping. On the other hand, it likely discouraged some
killing of prisoners by Plains Indians.
Source: Susan A. Miller, "Wild Cat and the Origins of
the Seminole Migration to Mexico," (M.A. Thesis, University
of Oklahoma, 1988), pp. 111-112.
RANSOMING: THE JOHNSON FAMILY SAGA
As historian Kenneth W. Porter once remarked, the Comanches,
Kiowa and other Plains Indians made no distinctions between
blacks and whites on the frontier. Their raids often resulted
in the death of the males and captivity for women and children
which led to temporary slavery and occasionally ransomed freedom.
In the account below the ransoming of captured members of
the Britt Johnson family are profiled. Three members of the
family were captured (along with other blacks) during a Comanche
raid on their Young County, Texas ranch in October, 1864.
No men were at the ranch that day in what became known as
the Bragg ranch battle. Consequently Milly Susanna Carter
Durkin, a 21-year old black woman, led the defense of the
women and children. Durkin was killed along with Britt Johnson's
five-year old son who attempted to flee the ranch. The following
account describes the ransoming of some of the survivors nine
months later. Despite the reuniting of his family in 1865,
the Texas frontier continued to prove dangerous. In 1871 Britt
Johnson and two other African American men were killed by
the Kiowa while delivering freight in Parker County, Texas.
Sometime in 1865 Negro Britt Johnson is reported to have
ridden into Indian Territory to bargain for his wife and to
retrieve his family... It seems plausible that he would make
a journey searching north of the Red River. In accounts by
those who knew him, there can be no doubt that he was fearless
and brave. One writer...summed it up when he wrote, "He
was a brave and fearless Indian fighter; no one stood higher
in the country in which he lived..." Contrary to several
memoirs (of whites) he did not "rescue" Elizabeth
Ann FitzPatrick, which he has been credited with doing by
outstanding historians. He did not "rescue" Lottie
Durkin; and he did not "rescue" his family.
Britt's family now consisted of his wife and two children,
who were taken captive, and an infant son born while Mary
[his wife] was in captivity. And then there was the nearly
grown daughter of Britt's who survived the Bragg ranch battle.
When four of the Johnsons were located in Chief Silver Broach's
Comanche camp during early June, 1865...they were retrieved
or rescued from their captors by Comanche Chief Milky Way
(Asa-Havey), a well-known peacemaker, and delivered to the
agents in charge of Indian Affairs. At the peace overtures...(August
15), Britt's family, accompanied by Milky Way and interpreter
John S. Smith...was turned over to agents at Camp Napoleon,
Oklahoma, and were, in turn, delivered to Decatur, Texas.
There they were met by representatives from the office of
Brigadier General James W. Throckmorton. Throckmorton was
commander of the Frontier Department of Texas and was at that
time Confederate Commissioner to the Indians.
There is no doubt that a substantial ransom was negotiated
for their release. The prevailing custom and policy precedent
at this time was to pay money. It is known that Chief Milky
Way was once paid fifty horses as a ransom, and as late as
1870 he delivered to Indian Quaker Agent Tatum a white captive,
Martin B. Kilgore, for a sum of one hundred dollars. Negro
Britt was notified and he traveled from...Parker County [Texas]
where he lived at that time [serving as] a teamster, freighter,
and skinner of buffalo hides.
Also delivered by Chief Milky Way to the agent was another
Texas captive, Charlotte Elizabeth "Lottie" Durkin.
Lottie, like the Johnsons, had been in captivity for nine
months. Searches, although not extensive, were still being
made by the U.S. military for her grandmother and her sister,
Milly Jane. Lottie, too, had been discovered while she was
among Chief Silver Broach's bands at the northern edge of
Comanche country... The Indians had tattooed a blue moon about
the size of a dime into her forehead, and had tattooed her
arms, marking her for the remainder of her short life.
The release of Mary Johnson, her three children, and Lottie
Durkin was a stroke of luck because there were difficult times
ahead with the Indians of the Southwest. The Kiowa and Comanche
were being harassed by Anglo emigrants, "Bluecoats,"
and the "Iron Horse" as they spearheaded a drive
across their...ancestral lands.
Source: Barbara A. Neal Ledbetter, Fort Belknap Frontier
Saga: Indians, Negroes and Anglo-Americans on the Texas Frontier
(Burnet, Texas, 1982), pp. 135-137.
THE SEMINOLES, THE BLACKS AND SLAVERY
In the following vignette Susan Miller describes the growing
dilemma faced by black Seminole "slaves" who saw
their autonomous place in Seminole society increasingly infringed
upon by Seminole, Creeks, Cherokees and EuroAmerican slaveowners.
Eventually their plight would cause some of them to join Seminole
leader Wild Cat (1810-1857), in an attempt to establish a
new home in Mexico.
John Cowaya was an energetic and capable man. Had his political
status been different, he might have spent his considerable
personal resources towards more productive and fulfilling
ends. As it was, the peculiar institution filled his life
with chores at once tedious, expensive, and stressful. In
1845 or 1846, the half-Seminole owner of his sister Wannah,
sold two of her children to [Creek slave trader] Siah Hardage,
and a long dispute over their custody followed. In 1847, Cowaya
was obliged to seek documentation of his mother's freedom
and, in 1848, of his own manumission. Also in 1848 he sought
to buy his wife and children. Free blacks being barred from
the Creek country, Cowaya had to carry a document signed by
an officer at Fort Gibson, demanding that he be allowed "to
pass and repass from the Seminole country...to any other portion
of the Indian country where his necessary business might take
him." The Creeks were trying to enforce a law that would
have denied him the use of his horses and guns. He and his
family and friends were always vulnerable to kidnapping and
transport to a slave market outside the territory.
Slave raids against Seminole blacks had subsided during the
treaty negotiations of 1844, but resumed once the treaty was
made. Neither black nor Seminole defenders could resist this
progressive destruction of black families and communities.
John Cowaya's efforts to negotiate a removal of Seminole blacks
from the Indian country were ineffective, for he had no leverage
and could only appeal to sympathetic military officers. The
fate of the Seminole blacks was well beyond their own reach.
The President, empowered by the treaty to determine the blacks'
legal status, did nothing about it for three years while interested
parties jockeyed for position to influence his decision.
The Seminole leadership was obliged to defend a cherished,
embattled institution of their social system. The Seminole
institution of slavery, older even than the Seminole institution
of black slavery, was integral to the Seminole culture, bound
by the roles of slaves in the Seminole subsistence, status
determinations, and kinship. Black slaves, as military allies,
interpreters, and consultants, played crucial roles in Seminole
institutional relations with whites. The Seminoles had resolutely
upheld their slavery institution in a series of stands. First,
in Florida they had held out for the assurance--as a condition
of their removal--that they would not be deprived of their
slaves.... Then upon arriving in the West, they had resisted
the plan to settle them among the Creeks, fearing loss of
their slaves to Creek claimants. [But] Seminoles' leverage
was whittled away in the years of conflict and bargaining.
From Little River the Seminole chiefs made another stand to
preserve their slavery institution. To do so was to preserve
the structural integrity of their way of life.
The Army officers concerned with the case were uniformly
protective of blacks' interests. The highest ranking officer
involved was Major General Thomas S. Jesup, whose expedient,
if sympathetic disposition of the blacks in Florida had created
the present ambiguity in their legal status. Although his
formal relation to the case had ended, he used his influence
with officers…on behalf of the blacks.
The officers stationed in the West cooperated with Jesup's
efforts to help the blacks. From Second Military District
headquarters at Fort Smith, Brevet Brigadier General Mathew
Arbuckle carried out Jesup's requests as though they were
official directives. The series of commanders of Fort Gibson
under Arbuckle's command acted accordingly, twice even issuing
rations to cushion the blacks from hunger. Regardless of their
personal attitude towards the blacks--and attitudes varied
widely--the officers in the West never broke ranks in promoting
Source: Susan A. Miller, "Wild Cat and the Origins of
the Seminole Migration to Mexico," (M.A. Thesis, University
of Oklahoma, 1988), pp. 124-128.
WILD CAT (COACOOCHEE) AND THE JOURNEY TO MEXICO
The following vignette describes the remarkable journey of
Indians and blacks to their new home.
About November 10, 1849, Wild Cat and John Cowaya and their
bands left the Indian country to find a home in the South.
Twenty to twenty-five men and their families made up the band,
perhaps a hundred or a hundred twenty-five persons. The blacks
comprised a party of about the same size.... Most of the people
with John Cowaya were claimed as slaves by Seminoles, Creeks,
or Cherokees. The Creeks feared that their escape would trigger
a general migration of Creek slaves. The Creek agent went
so far as to suggest that Wild Cat and Cowaya planned to murder
and rob gold rush immigrants or Indian settlers friendly to
the United States... [Wild Cat] always said that he left the
Indian country because the United States, having promised
him a homeland in the West, had forced him to live among the
Creeks, who had harassed him and his people intolerably. He
was more ambiguous about his destination, saying sometimes
that he was going to Mexico and sometimes that he would prefer
to live in Texas.
With no Indian Office appointee assigned to track their movements,
the Seminoles' passage through Texas was incompletely and
sometimes inaccurately reported by government officials and
newspapers. In a leisurely journey lasting seven to eight
months...the Seminole emigration [had] the appearance of a
long winter hunt. Not so the blacks' escape which had drawn
the immediate notice of the Creeks and their agent. Wild Cat
later denied involvement with the black hegira, except for
having permitted them to join his company that winter. He
said he had no authority to obstruct their passage to Mexico.
In the late winter or spring of 1850, the Seminoles passed
through San Antonio on their journey to the Rio Grande. When
they reached a major river they would camp long enough to
make rafts of logs tied together with rope, for the women,
children and belongings. The young men would swim the river
to pull the rafts across from the far bank.... The Seminoles
joined with a band of Kickapoos, perhaps on the Llano River
about 125 miles south of Austin where they made a semi-permanent
camp and planted corn.... About a hundred Kickapoo men and
their families encamped with the Seminoles on the Llano were
member of the several bands not occupying the Kickapoo reservation
in Kansas.... These cultural kinfolk of the Shawnees and Delawares
were known for their skills as horsemen, hunters and fighters.
The Comanche "hate them cordially," wrote Texas
Indian Agent John Rollins, "but are afraid to make war
During the spring and early summer Wild Cat traveled the
Rio Grande basin, acquainting himself with the border country
and its inhabitants... On a hot summer day at Fort Duncan,
just above the town of Eagle Pass, the journalist Cora Montgomery....sat
sipping chocolate. From her vantage, she witnessed the arrival
of Wild Cat's band:
Emerging from the broken ground in a direction that we know
was untraversed by any but the wild and hostile Indians, came
forth a long procession of horsemen. The sun flashed back
from a mixed array of arms and barbaric gear, but as this
unexpected army....drew nearer it grew less formidable in
apparent numbers, and opened upon us a more pacific aspect.
Some reasonably well-mounted Indians circled round a dark
nucleus of female riders, who seemed objects of special care.
But the long straggling rear-guard...threw Falstaff's regiment
altogether in the shade. Such an array of all manners and
sizes of animals, mounted by all ages, sexes and sizes of
negroes, piled up to a most bewildering height, on an among
such a promiscuous assemblage of blankets, babies, cooking
utensils, and savage traps...never were or could be held together
on horseback by any beings on earth but themselves and their
Montgomery was present when Wild Cat called on the commander
in company with John Cowaya, Nocosa Emathla and some other
men. Speaking through Cowaya, he presented himself as a pacific
statesman who had for the past six months traveled among the
diverse tribes of the frontier, urging peace with the whites.
Wild Cat's company lived for a time on the north bank of
the Rio Grande, where they established ties with persons on
the Mexican side of the river while Wild Cat negotiated with
officials in Coahuila for a permanent homesite. Agreement
was reached in late June, but the United States Commander
at Eagle Pass denied him permission to cross the Rio Grande
for the purpose of settling in Mexico. Characteristically,
Wild Cat moved his people across the river anyway... They
settled first at the Colonia Militar de Guerrero (present
Guerrero, Coahuila) just across the river. By July 12 the
Kickapoos were at San Fernando de Rosas (present Zaragoza),
and late that month, Wild Cat, Cowaya, and the Kickapoo chief
Papiqua met with Colonel Juan Manuel Maldonado, sub inspector
of the Colonia, to request land, tools, livestock, arms, and
the services of a gunsmith. They received tentative approval,
pending confirmation by the central government, and were allowed
to occupy certain sites in the region of Eagle Pass. [In February
1851] the land grant was approved and Wild Cat was appointed
Judge, and commissioned colonel in the Mexican Army.... The
black migration [to the colony] continued for some time. Although
several groups of blacks were massacred on the Plains by the
Comanches, about a hundred reached the Mexican colony.
The Seminoles first permanent land grant in Mexico encompassed
some thirty-five thousand acres at the head of the Rio San
Rodrigo and another thirty-five thousand acres at the head
of the Rio San Antonio. In July, 1852, Wild Cat and Papiqua
exchanged that land for about seventeen thousand acres at
the Hacienda de Nacimiento at the head of the Rio Sabinas
on the latifundio of the Sanchez Navarro family. From that
site in the Santa Rosa Mountains the Seminole and black alliance
cooperated with Mexican authorities for another five years.
In 1859 and 1861, with relations degenerating between Seminoles
and Mexican officials, the Mexican Seminoles returned to the
Indian country.... The blacks remained in Mexico with John
Cowaya (Juan Caballo), who died there in 1882. In 1870 the
black leader John Kibbits (Chitto Tastenaki) led some of them
across the Rio Grande to Fort Duncan, Texas, where the men
served as scouts in the United States Army until their unit
was disbanded in 1914. Today there are communities of Seminole
blacks at Nacimiento de los Negros near Muzquiz, Coahuila,
and at Brackettville and Del Rio, Texas.
Source: Susan A. Miller, "Wild Cat and the Origins of
the Seminole Migration to Mexico," (M.A. Thesis, University
of Oklahoma, 1988), pp. 134-176.
SLAVERY IN THE CALIFORNIA MINES
In the following account by historian Rudolph Lapp, we get
a brief glimpse of slavery in Gold Rush California.
Eastern newspapers published rumors of large numbers of slaves
and many slaveholders coming to California. Available evidence
suggests, however, that the great majority of those who entered
California as slaves came with their masters in groups of
three at the most... It is reasonable to estimate that there
were at any given time in the early 1850s between 200 and
300 black men and women in the mining country held as slaves.
Including those who returned to the slave states, there were
probably between 500 and 600 slaves in the gold rush. This
guess is ventured cautiously because...some slaveholders,
worried about the possible loss of their human property, tried
to stay out of sight. One Mississippi white with his slave
was advised to seek remote mining areas in order not to be
seen using slave labor...
Slave expectations must have varied with time and type of
master in this unusual journey. Most of those who left their
native states with their owners before it was known that California
would become a free state must have viewed their journey for
gold as of no greater importance than a long trip between
cotton plantations, although a bit more interesting. Some
were told that hard work at gold mining could result in their
freedom. This statement was repeated with greater frequency
by masters after they learned California had been declared
a free state. They continued to come, although contemporary
comments suggests that the larger number of slaves were brought
between the first news of the gold rush and the adoption of
the constitution in November 1849... The most plausible explanation
for the continuing immigration of Southerners with slaves
to the mining areas is that the slaveholders could easily
calculate that the gamble was worth the possible profit. A
few years of lucky gold mining with a slave might far exceed
in profits one black man's entire working life in Southern
Little is known about the black men who came as slaves to
the mining country and returned to slave states. More is known
about those who achieved freedom in California and remained
to become permanent residents... It is certain that many slaves
were kept in bondage by force... In one case a slave was encouraged
by nearby antislavery miners to tell his master that he was
a free man in California and ask for a grubstake so that he
might go on his own as a miner. The master then publicly announced
that he was going to whip the slave for this effrontery, and
that if any of his white friends wished to take up cudgels
for the black man, he was ready for them. No one stepped forward
and the slave was whipped...
The only black member of the prestigious Society of California
Pioneers, Alvin Coffey, came to California in 1849 as a slave.
He was twenty-seven years old, the property of Dr. Bassett,
a Missourian. Freedom purchase was obviously in Coffey's mind.
He dug gold to the value of $5,000 for Bassett, and, in his
spare time over a two year period, earned $700 washing clothes
for nearby miners. However, Dr. Bassett decided to return
to Missouri and Coffey had to go with him... Evidently Bassett
did not have any sympathy for black men who yearned for freedom,
and so he sold Alvin Coffey to another Missourian, after taking
Coffey's $700 from him. The new master seems to have been
a different kind of Missourian. He allowed Coffey to return
to California to mine gold for his freedom. This Coffey did,
paying $1,500 for himself and, in time, similar amounts to
Dr. Bassett for his wife and daughters, who eventually joined
him in California. He did all this by placer mining around
Redding and Red Bluff...
Source: Rudolph M. Lapp, Blacks in Gold Rush California,
(New Haven, 1977), pp. 64-70.
THE MORMONS AND BLACK SLAVERY
By 1852 Utah had become the only territory to legalize both
black and Indian slavery. Lester Bush, Jr., a member of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described the
evolution of Mormon doctrines on blacks and slavery against
the background of the antebellum slavery controversy. Part
of his account is reprinted below.
There once was a time, albeit brief, when a "Negro problem"
did not exist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. During those early months in New York and Ohio....the
Gospel was for "all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples...."
A Negro, "Black Pete," was among the first converts
in Ohio... W.W. Phelps opened a mission to Missouri in July,
1831, and preached to....Negroes among his first audience.
The following year another black, Elijah Abel, was baptized
in Maryland. [Abel was later named a priest in the church
and lived for a time in Prophet Joseph Smith's home.]
This initial period was brought to an end by the influx of
Mormons into the Missouri mission in late 1831 and early 1832....In
less than a year a rumor was afoot that [the Mormons] were
"tampering" with the slaves. In the summer of 1833,
W.W. Phelps published an article....Missourians interpreted
as an invitation "to free negroes from other states to
become 'Mormon' and settle among us." The local citizenry
immediately drafted a list of accusations against the Saints,
prominently featuring the anti-slavery issue.... In response
Phelps issued an "Extra" explaining that he had
been 'misunderstood'....and declared [no blacks] "will
be admitted into the Church." The Mormons, in spite of
their repeated denials, continued to be charged with anti-slavery
activity in Missouri. In response, the next issue of the Messenger
and Advocate, [the Church newspaper] was devoted to a rebuttal
of abolitionism.... However, far from professing divine insight
the authors [including Joseph Smith] made it expressly clear
that these were their personal views.
The Mormon exodus to the Salt Lake Valley did not free the
Saints from the slavery controversy, for much of the national
debate was focused on the West.... The constitution of Deseret
was intentionally without reference to slavery and Brigham
Young declared "as a people we are adverse to slavery
but we do not wish to meddle in the subject." Though
no law authorized....slavery in Utah, there were slaves in
the territory. They were fully at liberty to leave their masters
if they chose. Slaveowning converts were instructed to bring
their slaves west if the slaves were willing to come, but
were otherwise advised to "sell them" or let them
go free. The first group of Mormons to enter the Salt Lake
valley were accompanied by three Negro "servants."
By 1850 nearly 100 blacks had arrived, approximately two-thirds
of whom were slaves.
The "laissez-faire" approach to slavery came to
an end in 1852. In his request for legislation on slavery
Governor Brigham Young....declared "while servitude may
and should exist...and [there are] those who are naturally
designed to occupy the position of 'servant of servants'....we
should not....make them beasts of the field, regarding not
the humanity with attaches to the colored race....nor elevate
them....to an equality with those whom Nature and Nature's
God has indicated to be their masters."
Source: Lester E. Bush, Jr., "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine:
An Historical Overview," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought, 8:(1973), pp. 11-25.
THE END OF SLAVERY IN UTAH
Slavery existed legally in only one far western Territory,
Utah. Yet, given the distance from Texas, and the Indian Territory,
and the close scrutiny of the local government by a divided
Congress that was suspicious of the territory's political
leadership, it never obtained a firm hold. The black slave
population in Utah was minute, only twenty-six were counted
in the 1850 Census, along with twenty-four free blacks, and
the slave population declined during the remainder of the
decade. Slavery's death in the far west territory is explained
below by historian Ron Coleman.
In 1860 there were twenty-nine slaves in Utah Territory.
They like slaves throughout the United States gained their
freedom during the course of the Civil War. When the war first
began, Mormons viewed it as the fulfillment of Joseph Smith's
revelation... Later Mormon leaders viewed it as the Lord's
revenge for the death of Joseph Smith and the injustices placed
upon the Saints by the United States government. Mormons also
believed that zealots in the North and South were responsible
for the loss of lives and the destruction of the Union. According
to Brigham Young, "One portion of the country wish to
raise their negroes or black slaves, and the other portion
wish to free them, who cares? I should never fight one moment
about it for the cause of human improvement is not in the
least advanced by the dreadful war... Ham will continue to
be the servant of servants, the Lord has decreed, until the
curse is removed."
Although President Young did not care about slavery and black
freedom, Sam Bankhead, a slave in Utah Territory was continually
inquiring about the cause of the war. On one occasion he was
heard to comment, "My God, I hope de Souf get licked."
The legal sanctions for slavery in Utah ended in the spring
of 1862 [when Congress outlawed slavery in the territories].
The record is unclear as to whether all Utah slave owners
immediately complied with the federal statute. The Emancipation
Proclamation of 1863 received coverage in the Utah newspapers.
Some owners may have waited until then, or 1865, when involuntary
servitude was abolished throughout the United States.
By 1860 the black population in Utah had changed from being
predominately slave to an almost even ratio between slave
and free... It is significant that the settlement of the James
family provided Utah with a free black population from its
beginning in 1847. Before they met in Nauvoo, Isaac and Jane
James were members of the Latter-day Saints Church. Jane had
lived and worked in the home of Joseph and Emma Smith. After
Smith's death she resided in Brigham Young's home, and during
this time she married Isaac. Their family left Nauvoo with
other Saints early in 1846. At the time of their departure,
Jane was pregnant with her son Silas, who was born at Hogg
Creek, Iowa.... In the spring of 1848 Isaac and Jane became
the parents of a daughter, MaryAnn, who was the first black
child born in Utah. Five more children were added to the family
The manumission of some slaves and the subsequent birth of
children increased the free black population. James Valentine
had come to Utah in 1855 with William and Talitha Dennis,
and in 1860, Valentine was freed and lived in Salt Lake County
near Green Flake [the black man who accompanied Brigham Young
into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847] Green and Martha Flake
were freed during the 1850s and by 1860 they were the parents
of two children, Lucinda and Abraham.... It appears that Brigham
Young freed Green without informing Agnes Flake [his owner]...
Elijah Abel, his wife Mary Ann, and their three children
arrived in Utah in 1853. Elijah was baptized [into the Church]
in September 1832, and ordained an Elder in the Melchizadek
Priesthood in 1836. He continued to hold the priesthood despite
the evolution of a policy denying [it] to black males. After
arriving in Utah, Abel worked as a carpenter in the L.D.S.
public works program. By 1860, two additional children were
born increasing the family to seven...
Source: Ronald Gerald Coleman, "A History of Blacks
in Utah, 1825-1910," (PhD. Dissertation, University of
Utah, 1980), pp. 54-59.
SLAVERY IN OREGON: TWO NARRATIVES
The following vignette draws on two narratives which reflect
the existence of black bondage in Oregon Territory despite
the laws which prohibited slavery. The first narrative is
of Lou Southworth was brought to Oregon as a slave in 1851
and finally purchased his freedom from the gold he mined in
Southern Oregon in 1858. The second is the story of Amanda
Gardner Johnson who was brought to Oregon in 1853 and became
free with the Civil War.
Southworth: The brethren wouldn't stand for my violin, which
was all the company I had most of the time. They said it was
full of all sorts of wicked things and that it belonged to
the devil. And it hurt me a good deal when they told me that
playin' a fiddle is a proceedin' unbecomin' to a Christian
in the sight of the Lord. So I told them to keep me in the
church with the fiddle if they could, but to turn me out if
they must, for I couldn't think of parting with my old-time
friend. They turned me out and I reckon my name isn't written
in their books here any longer, but I somehow hope it is written
in the Big Book up yonder in the land of golden harps where
they aren't so particular about the old man's fiddle.
And I know, friends, you won't think hard of me and give
me the cold shoulder for loving my fiddle these many years.
I sometimes think that when you go up yonder and find my name
to your surprise in the Big Book, you'll meet many a fellow
who remembers the old fiddler who played 'Home Sweet Home,'
'Dixie Land,' 'Arkansas Traveler,' 'Swanee River,' and other
tunes for the boys who were far from home for the first time.
And some of the fellows will tell how the poor, homesick boys
listened to the fiddle during the long winter evenings until
they forgot their troubles so they could sleep as they had
slept under their mothers' roofs at home. And they'll talk
over the days when there was no society for men like us out
West: when there wasn't any Bible, and hymn books were unknown,
when playin' poker and buckin' faro were the only schoolin'
a fellow ever got; when whiskey ran like water and made the
whites and Indians crazy; when men didn't go by their right
names and didn't care what they did, and when there [was]
no law and the court was the man who carried the best sixshooter.
And when they talked over those early days, the fellows will
"Where'd we all been and what'd we all done in the mines
but for Uncle Lou's fiddle, which was the most like church
of anything we had?" For the boys used to think the good
Lord put a heap of old-time religious music into my fiddle;
and the old time religious music is good enough for the old
man who's done some mighty hard work in 85 years.
But I forgot the work I've done and the years I've lived
when my bow comes down soft and gentle-like and the fiddle
seems to sing the songs of slavery days till the air grows
mellow with music and the old-time feelin' comes back, and
I can hear familiar voices that are no more.
There are things a plain old man can't tell in words, and
there are feelin's that won't fit into common everyday talk
like mine. When there's plenty of rosin on the bow and the
player's feeling fine, and the fiddle pours out great torrents
of music that calm down till he hears the bob white's whistle
and the rustlin' of corn, and the whippoorwill and mockin'
bird come to sing for him, and he forgets what he ought not
to remember and he wants to make everybody glad--then it is
that a plain man has feelin's he can't describe. But he knows
he's happier and better, and his next day's work is easier.
He has a smile and a kind word for every one he meets, and
every one has a smile and a kind word for him. The world is
heavenly to that man, and his feelin's are nigh on to religious...
Johnson: I am not much accustomed to being interviewed, but
I will do the best I can to answer your questions. I was born
at Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, August 30, 1833. My father
and mother were born at Louisville, Kentucky. No, sir. I was
never sold nor bartered for. I was given as a wedding present
to my owner's daughter. I belonged to Mrs. Nancy Wilhite.
She was married, after her first husband's death, to Mr. Corum.
Mrs. Corum was the grandmother of Miss Maud Henderson, who
answered your knock at the door, and the great-great-grandmother
of Mrs. E. M. Reagan, whose husband owns the Albany Herald.
I have known seven generations of the family...
In 1853 my owners decided to come to Oregon. A merchant,
hearing that my master was to go to Oregon Territory, were
slaves could not be held, came to Mr. Deckard and said, "I
will give you $1200 for Amanda. You can't own her where you
are going, so you might as well get what you can out of her.
I had been given to Miss Lydia, his wife, when I was seven,
and I was 19 then. Mr. Deckard said, "Amanda isn't for
sale. She is going across the plains to the Willamette Valley
with us. She has had the care of our four children. My wife
and the children like her. In fact, she is the same as one
of our family, so I guess I won't sell her..."
It took us six months, to a day, to travel by ox team from
Liberty, Missouri to Oregon City. We started from Clay County,
March 13, 1853, and got to our destination September 13. When
I think back nearly 70 years to our trip across the plains
I can see herds of shaggy-shouldered buffaloes, slender-legged
antelopes, Indians, sagebrush, graves by the roadside, dust
and high water and the campfire of buffalo chips over which
I cooked the means... No, I don't suppose there are many other
colored people in Oregon who have been slaves but I have been
free since I was 20, and that's nearly 70 years ago...
Sources: George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite
Autobiography Volume 2, Arkansas, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri,
Oregon and Washington Narratives (Westport, Ct: 1977), pp.
273-275; Fred Lockley Conversations with Pioneer Women (Eugene,
Oregon: Rainey Day Press, 1981), pp. 208-211.