Southern Spirits: Ghostly Voices from Dixie Land
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TEXAS SLAVE NARRATIVE:
LOUIS EVANS

Born in Grand Coteau, Louisiana

This is an extract from material collected by the United States Government during the 1930s -- probably the Federal Writers' Project. I have been unable to locate the original source of publication and would welcome any help with identification. Notice Louis Evans's mention of Virginia Native American ancestry -- this admixture was quite common among ostensibly African American root work practitioners. Explanatory material appears [in brackets].

Evans, Louis

Louis Evans of 858 Porter Street, Beaumont, Texas, born August 15, 1853, was formerly the slave of John Smith of Grand Coteau, La.

[Interviewer's notes.] He is a man of average size and height, and was dressed in a gray felt hat, the band of which was somewhat tattered, a faded blue shirt, and comparatively new overalls, with tan laced leggins and shoes well shined. His mustache was iron gray as was the small amount of close cut hair showing beneath his hat, while his unusually prominent cheek bones were characteristic, doubtless inherited from his Indian grandfather. His bearing was kindly and his voice quite low, at times to the point of indistinctness. There were a few white splotches on his face, and except for a few small brown spots his hands were entirely white. He says his Indian blood caused his skin to turn white. [This sounds like vitiligo to me.]

"When I was born on de fifteenth of August, dey take me to de priest to be christen'. When dey do dat, de priest didn't write down my ma and pa name. He register 'Louis, belonging to John Smith'. He take all de little slaves to be christen.

"My pa and ma and my brother George dey all come from Virginny, but old Marster buy 'em in New Orleans. Pa and ma was married in Virginny and George was born there, and 'cause he's de oldest, he have to look after de other chillun what was born after Marster buy ma and pa. All de chillun on de place, white and cullud, play 'round together.

"In Virginny, ma and pa say white folks give de slaves Friday and Sat'day and Sunday for demselves, and dey have a teacher what teach de slaves how to talk. We didn't have no teacher, and Marster work his slaves 'ceptin' Sunday, and dat's on 'count of Church Law.

"Old Marster was a Catholic and I's Catholic too. He let us have big holiday at Easter. He give us holiday at Christmas too. We had a big time den.

"Dey was 'bout ten slaves on de place. Dey was my pa Tom Evans, and my ma. Her name was Rachel. Dey had five chillun. My oldest brother was George. He went off in de Yankee army. De rest of de chillun was born after Marster buy pa and ma. Den dere was two or t'ree other slaves, but I jist 'member Julian. Old Marster buy him separate, and he was jist naturally a runaway.

"De slaves live in a house what look like a barn. It 'bout twenty foot wide and 'bout thrity foot long, and there warn't no floor to it, jist dirt. De furniture was common home-made furniture. Dey had boxes or whatever you could get to sit on. Dey had a bedstead and moss mattres in a striped tick like what dey has now. Dere was plenty of kivers to keep 'em warm.

"Marster live in a sawed plank house. It was a long house disaway. Dere was a long wide porch in front and behind dat was two big rooms. De back side what would ha' been de back porch was made into four rooms, two behind each of de front rooms. De house was jist one story with a attic. It was 'bout t'ree foot off de groun', on cypress pillars.

"My marster was John Smith and Mistis name was Carmellite. Dey had one boy and three girls. Alexson was de boy's name and he was de oldest chile. De girls names was Irene, Corinne, and Cora Lee. De boy went off to de War. Old Marster didn't go. I 'member when he die. Dat before de war over.

"Marster had 'bout a hundred and forty acres of clear land and some more what warn't cleared. He raise mostly corn and cotton and 'taters. He raise vegetables to eat and a little sugar cane. Den he had 'bout a hundred and ten head of cattle and 'bout de same in horses and mules.

"My ma was de cook and housekeeper. She cook plenty for de white folks and de slaves. De slaves all go up to de big house and eat in de kitchen. Dey had jist 'bout de same to eat as old Marster's folks had.

"Dey make all de cloth on de place. Dey had a loom to weave it on. De little slaves all wore long dresses, both boys and girls. When de boys git big 'nough dey give 'em pants.

"Old Marster never whip de slaves 'thout good cause. He never whip 'em much. Some of de cullud folks was hard-head' and need whipping. Den dere was some of de marsters what was bad to dere slaves. When freedom come dem as had bad marster was glad. De rest didn't care whether dey was free or not.

"Some of de slaves hire demselves out on Sunday and make money. Some of de marsters 'low 'em to have a piece of land dey could work and make money on. I knowed one slave Harry what b'long to Mist' Joe Guidry. He make 'nough money to buy hisself free. Den he buy some land either from he marster or else he git some public land.

"De way I know so much 'bout him was disaway. After de War I was agent for Vincent Boiney. [I suspect his surname was spelled Burney; the dropped "r" and transformation of "u" to "oi" is characteristic of Mississippi delta speech.] Dey run him away for something he done. Well in de War time one of de Guidry boys desert from de army. Dey sent men after him to punish him. When dey git tired of punishing him dey say next time dey gwineter kill him. Den old Mist' Guidry borrow some money from Boiney. I t'ink he a Jew. After de War Boiney take Mist' Guidry land for de money he borrow 'cause his son desert. Boiney took all de land 'cept de place what b'long to Henry.

"When de slave want to marry dey ax Marster. Den he give 'em a paper to take to de priest. Dat was de license and den de priest marry 'em. If dey couldn't 'gree 'mongst demselfs dey quit and dey free to marry again, but dey have to consider de first one dey marry de wife. Dey suit demselfs but dere warn't much separating in dem days, not near so much as dere is nowadays. When young Marster git marry dey took me along to de church.

"My pa says in Virginny Injun's marry slaves. His pa' was a Injun and his ma come from Africy and dey marry in Virginny.

"When a slave die dey put him in a home-made coffin. It lined nice inside and outside. It get black cloth on de outside. Dey put de dead man in de coffin. Den dey take two chairs and put de coffin with de 'ceased in it on dem chairs. De folks come in to comfort de mourners. 'Bout evening time a good many 'gin to come round to set up wid de mourners. Dey have supper and all of 'em set up all night. On de Catholic farms dey jist set up at night. I t'ink on some of de other places dey sing and pray but dey didn't do it on Marster's place. Next day dey have de burying. 'Round Grand Coteau most of de buryings was in de same grave yard where de white folks was bury and de priest bury 'em.

"When de slaves want to go hunting dey ax Marster for a gun and go hunt. Dey kill mostly duck, and 'possum, and coon. De place was mostly prairie and dere wasn't no big game 'round dere. Dey went fishing a lot too. Dey kotch more fish dan dey could eat. Dey mostly fry 'em.

"When de slaves want a dance dey ax de white folks. Dey never make no objection. De dances was always hold on Sunday afternoon, and dey all have to be back to dere quarters by sundown. Dey do de dancing in a slave house. Dey move de chairs and t'ings out of de way so dey have plenty of room. Dere was always somebody what could play de violin for 'em to dance by. De slaves from de other places 'round was ax to come. Dey come in dey ordinary clothes 'cause dey didn't have no other kind. Sometimes de white folks come to see de fun. Dey go and stand by de windows outside and look in. Dey seem to enjoy it right smart too.

"I heerd 'bout de patter rollers but dey never bother us. We stay at home or else we git a pass when we go off de place.

"When I was 'bout t'ree year old Marster 'gin taking me 'round de place wid him. He put me up in de saddle in front of him. He want me along to hold his horse or git him a drink of water and sich. He and me was both good horsemen.

"When he die I was in de house wid him. He say, 'If you got to have a sale and 'vide up de place I want Alexson to have Louis, and if Louis ever have need I want you to help him.' He treat me like his own son. Old Mistus she t'ink lots of me too. Before she die when she was gitting old she come to see me. Dat was a long time atter I was married. She say she want to see my chilluns. When she die she tell 'em not to let Louis suffer.

"Dey always make me keep myself nice. I was 'round de house. I had to have my hair comb' and my face wash' and be nice dress' up every morning.

"Some of de marsters had chilluns by dere slave wimmins. De priest he preach against dat. De nice masters sorter look down on dem what had mulatto chilluns.

"I was 'bout eight years old when de war come. General Alexson Mouton was de man what was getting up soldiers for de War. He make speeches to encourage 'em.

"During de war dere was a fight 'bout as far as from here to Orange from way I live den. Dey was plenty of Yankees and I see plenty of our men too. Dere was Yankees closer'n dat too. Dey git up in a tree and dey could see God know how far. We used to go up in de attic but dey got shooting 'round so we couldn't go dere no more. Dey might shoot us. We had to stay down close to de ground.

"De fight start up at Vicksburg. When it come to Grand Coteau our people been drive back long ways but dey wouldn't give up. Dey dig places in de ground to fight in. My pa help make de fort.

"At Fort Hudson the Yankees undermined de fort. Dey couldn't take it no other way. Dere was t'ree logs bolt together and de Yankees couldn't git free. So dey put a barrel of gunpowder under it and blow it up. Den was when General Mouton git killed.

"De Yankees general tell Gen. Mouton he was whip' and tell him he want him to go back home to his family. He say 'No, I fight till I's whipped. When he raise his flag again dey shot him. He was a brave man, I tell you.

"Dey sent me to look after young Marster when he in de army sick at Ft. Hudson. Dey put me in charge of some man and we went in de wagon. I do his washing for him on de way. When I git dere I look after young Marster and tend to him. He wasn't sick long. When he git well I have to go back. I dis'member how I got back.

"Dey had a big fight at Grand Coteau. I seed de bombshell jist like a candle in de night. I went dere where dey fit a day or two after it was over. It was a awful sight. De men and de doctors was going 'round over de field. When dey come to a dead one dey didn't bother. When dey find live ones dey pick 'em up and put 'em in de wagon jist like dey put a hog in a wagon. Dey take 'em up by de arms and feet and throw 'em in. Some of 'em holler and moan. Some call for dere mother or wife or little chillun. Some was bad shot. Some had a place on dere side where piece of a shell what bust out into 'em and you could see dere insides. Dere was hosses wid dere entrails hanging out and dragging de ground. Dey run 'round and after while dey git so weak dey fall down. Some had dere legs shot off and try to git up on de stumps what was left. Oh, it was awful, awful. Dey dig a big grave 'bout size of dat house yonder (20' X 25') and dat where dey bury em.

"Dey Yankees come to old Marster house two or t'ree times. Dey take anyt'ing dey want. Dey go up in de loft and take de money what hid up there. Dey take de corn. Dey kill a calf and take what dey want and give de rest to de cullud folks.

"De Yankees come t'ree times into de parish of Opelousas and Grant Coteau after dat battle.

"When freedom come dey read a paper what said de cullud people free, and set a time to turn 'em loose. I t'ink it was some time in June. I was thirteen year old when peace come.

"Madame told de niggers not to stay on de place, dat she couldn't take care of 'em, so dey went to work for de neighbors on shares. But dey kept me to help 'vide up de stock 'cause dey didn't know 'bout de brands and de calfs. Dey took care of me right along. Young Marster come back home after de war and later on git marry.

I heerd 'bout de Koo Klux I t'ink dey was de cullud folkses' friend. Dey treat de white folks like dey did de cullud folks. Dey never bother nobody.

"I seen plenty of soldiers coming back from de war. Most of 'em look like dey didn't had 'nough to eat. Some of 'em lost a arm or a leg and some what had both legs was limping 'cause dey been shot in de leg. Dere was a man what used to live round here what was shot in his ankle. De hole never did heal up and dere always was a little bit of water leaking from it. He die from it 'bout eighteen year ago.

"After de war while de old ones live we done all right but when de young ones got grown dey was spoiled.

"After freedom all de cullud men voted what want to. Dey was some what vote before dey was twenty one. I didn't vote de fust 'lection. I could ha' vote. I vote de next time. Dey had de 'lection on de porch of a man's house. Dere warn't no soldiers 'round but dere was two or t'ree men to keep de count. De whites and de cullud all vote at de same place. Dey had men dere to help de cullud folks vote. Dey couldn't read. Dey go and git de ballot and take it to de man and tell him how dey want to vote. Den he fix de ballot and put it in de box. One time dere was 'bout twenty five or thirty waiting to git de man to fix dere ballot. Whole lots of de cullud folks vote Democrat and some vote 'publican.

"De fust time I vote I vote for Col. Duson for sheriff. I didn't vote much. I didn't like to vote 'mongst sich a passel of men what sell deyself for little or nothing. Dey broke dat up when Nicholls was governor.

"I got married when I was twenty one year old. I marry Cora Gindry. She was a quadroon. Her pa was Old Dr. Gindry. We just had a quiet marriage. We went to Father Abadie. He was de priest, and he marry us. We had nine chillun, five boys and four girls.

"My oldest girl she nurse for a doctor. One boy work on de railroad. Another one work all kind of engine work. One of 'em farm. I live here wid my daughter now.

"It curious 'bout my gran'chillun. Dis girl what I living wid now had twins t'ree time. Two of de boys had twins. Louis had t'ree twin. De boy in Louisiana, Edgar had twins twice. All my chillun when dey git to be parents had chillen every two year. I don't b'lieve I lost four gran'chillun.

"Nary one of my chillun was ever 'cused of stealing or meddling or anything of dat kind. Neither them nor me ever in jail.

"Back in dem times. I 'member one song dey used to sing---

Swing Sam Davis on a sour apple tree,
Swing Sam Davis on a sour apple tree,
Swing Sam Davis on a sour apple tree,
And we went marching home.

[This song is usually song of Jeff Davis, the former head of the Confederacy; the melody is "John Brown's Body," otheriwse known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."].

"I never pay no 'tention to hoo-doo, but I tell you what I saw. One of my sisters was a working girl. A good-for-nothing feller name Bob Schraff seem like he got jealous of her. Her husband went and got friendly to him to try to find out what he up to. She say a cunjur man 'vite her to his house but she wouldn't go. Bob Schraff say she ought to go for to be polite if she didn't go for nothing else. He put something in a chair and she sit in de chair. After while she fall sick. She say she b'lieve Bob put something on her. After six months she took to de bed complaining of pain in her side. After a time she git up but four months later she take to her bed again. I sent for a old Injun and he come and put a plaster on her. It draw it to a head and it bust after a week or two. A lizard come out when it bust but de lizard only had t'ree feet. De other foot come out after t'ree or four hours. It seem like it start twixt her thigh and knee and work sorter on her side close de middle of her back. It stay wid de skin and bone.

[Here we have a classic case of Native American "Live Things In You," narated by a tri-racial informant and complete with an "old Injun" (Native American) "cunjer man" or hoodoo doctor. The cure is atypical, though, with the use of a plaster rather than an emetic draught and a bowl of water in which to vomit.]

"Den dere was a feller sick. Right here in de side of his head was a little black bug. It do him so bad he turn de mule and plow loose right dere in de field and come hollering to de house. My Injun taught me what to do to draw it out. What you reckon it take? De white of t'ree egg and gunpowder. Dat de strongest poultice I know to put on a sore or swelling. I put it on dat nigger and it bring it out no longer dan de next day.

"Ghosts? I seen my old Marster. I most make 'em all leave de house. You know how a China tree come out wid branches all 'round de stump when it cut down. I was playing 'round one evening 'bout dusk and see him setting on dat stump right by de window. When I see him I say, 'Here's pap.' I call him dat. He was dress all in black. Old Mistus go to de window and pull down de shade and move de chairs 'round in de house, and do other t'ings like she want to git her mind off de subject.

"I lives here wid some of my people. Sometime I don't git 'nough to eat. If I git 'nough to eat I kin work in de garden. If I don't git 'nough to eat I feel bad de next day. A old man like me need to have 'nough to eat."

This material is reprinted from

UNKNOWN -- presumably Texas ex-slave narratives.
Interviewer's name unknown.
Any further information would be greatly aoppreciated.
I am guessing that this came from a collection with a title much like this:

Texas Narratives.
Ex-Slave Stories Prepared by the Federal Writers' Project
of the Works Progress Administration
for the State of Texas

Another electronic copy can be found at

Aframerindian Slave Narratives
http://www.people.virginia.edu/~pnm3r/afram/Evans.htm

which was the source for this version, which i have edited and annotated.

SOUTHERN SPIRITS: GHOSTLY VOICES FROM DIXIE LAND
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