Cornelius Neely Nave
Cherokee Freedman

Cornelius Neely Nave was interviewed in 1938 at the age of 70 years. Though born after the Civil War he is the son of a slave, and learned much about Cherokee culture through his father, who had been fathered by a Cherokee-Henry Nave during slavery. He is enrolled as a Cherokee Freedman on card no. 138.

I was born after the War, about 1868, and what I know 'bout slave times is what my pappa told me, and maybe that not be very much. Two year old when my mamma die so I remember nothing of her, and most of my sisters and brothers dead too. Pappa named Charley Nave; mamma's name was Mary Vann before she marry and her papa was Talaka Vann, one of Joe Vann's slave down around Webber's Falls.

My father was born in Tahlequah just about where the colored church stands on Depot Hill. His master Daniel Nave, was Cherokee. In the master's yard was the slave cabin, one room long, dirt floor, no windows. I think I hear 'em say mamma was born on Bull Creek; that somewhere up near Kansas, maybe near Coffeyville.

Vinita was the closest town to where I was born; when I get older seem like they call it "the junction" on account the rails cross there, but I never did ride on the trains just stay at home.

I remember that home after the war brought my pappa back home. He went to the war for three years wid the Union soldiers. But about the home--it was a double-room log house with a cooling-off space between the rooms, all covered with a roof, but no porch, and the beds was made of planks, the table of pine boards, and there was never enough boxes for the chairs so the littlest children eat out of a tin pan off the floor.

That house was on the place my papa said he bought from Billy Jones in 1895. The land was timbered and the oldest children clear the land, or start to do the work while Pappa go back to Tahlequah to get my sick mamma and the rest of the family. Because mamma was sick then he brought her sister Sucky Pea and her husband, Charley Pea, to help around wid him.

We lived there a long time, and I was old enough to remember setting in the yard watching the river (Grand River) go by, and the Indians go by. All Indians lived around there, the real colored settlement was four mile from us, and I wasn't scared of them Indians for pappa always told me his master Henry Nave, was his own father; that make me part Indian and the reason my hair is long, straight and black like a horse mane.

Some of the Indian families was Joe Dirt Eater, Six Killer (some of the Six Killers live a few miles SE of Afton at this time, 1938), Chewey Noi, and Gus Buffington. One of the Six Killer women was mighty good to us and we called her "mammy", that a long time after my mammy die though.

Pappa got the soldier fever from being in the War; no, I don't mean like the chills and fever, but just a fever to be in the army, I guess for he joined the regular U.S. Army after a while, serving five years in the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill during the same time John Adair of Tahlequah and John Gallagher of Muskogee was in the army.

Coming out of the army for the last time, Pappa took all the family and moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, but I guess he feel more at home wid the Indians for pretty soon we all move back, this time to a farm near Fort Gibson.

I never would hear much about the war that my father was in, but I know he fought for the North. He didn't tell us children much about the War, except he said one time that he was in the Battle of Honey Springs in 1863 down near Elk Creek south of Fort Gibson. That sure was a tough time for the soldiers, for father said they fought and fought before the "Seesesh" soldiers finally took off to the south and the northern troops went back to Fort Gibson. Seem like it take a powerful lot of fighting to rid the country of them Rebs.

Another time his officer give him a message; he was on his way to deliver it when the enemy spy him and cry out to stop, but father said he kept on going until he was shot in the leg. Then he hide in the bushes along the creek and got away. He got that message to the captain just the same.

When father was young he would go hunting the fox with his master, and fishing in the streams for the big fish. Sometimes they fish in the Illinois river, sometimes in the Grand, but they always fish the same way. They make pens out in the shallow water with poles every little ways from the river banks. They'd cut brush saplings, walk out into the stream ahead of the pen and chase the fish down to the riffle where they'd pick em up. Once they catch a catfish most as big as a man; that fish had eggs big as hen eggs, and he made a feast for twenty-five Indians on the fishing party.

Florence Smith was my first wife and Ida Vann the second. All my children was from the first marriage: Thomas, Dora, Charley, Marie, Opal, William, Arthur, Margaret, Thadral and Hubbard. The last one was named for Hubbard Ross; he was related to Chief John Ross and was some kin to Daniel Nave, my father's master.