Mary Grayson Creek Freedwoman
Mary Grayson was interviewed in 1937 from her residence in Tulsa,
Oklahoma, where she lived with her daughter and son-in-law Robert and Jessie
Ligons. Her narrative has been described as one of the best narratives of the
WPA Slave narratives, because it is a "rare piece of autobiographical
writing against a vivid background in time and place," and that it also
contains "high literary merit." These remarks are those of Benjamin A.
Botkin who directed the Federal Writers Project in 1940. Her interview was also
published in "Lay My Burden Down" published by Botkin and also in
"Bullwhip Days" published by Mellon. The narrative with other
pertinent footnotes and references can be accessed in the work, "The WPA
Oklahoma Slave Narratives"
I am what colored people call a "native". That means that I didn't
come into the Indian country from somewhere in the Old South, after the War,
like so many Negroes did, but I was born here in the old Creek Nation, and my
master was a Creek Indian. That was eighty three years ago, so I am told.
My mammy belonged to white people back in Alabama when she was born---down in
the southern part I think, for she told me that after she was a sizeable girl
her white people moved into the eastern part of Alabama where there was a lot of
Creeks. Some of them Creeks was mixed up with the whites, and some of the big
men in the Creeks who come to talk to her master was almost white, it looked
like. "My white folks moved around a lot when I wa a little girl,",
When mammy was about 10 or 12 years old some of the Creeks begun to come out to
the Territory in little bunches. They wasn't the ones who was taken out here by
the soldiers, and contractor men---they come on ahead by themselves and most of
them had plenty of money, too. A Creek come to my mammy's master and bought her
to bring out here, but she heard she was being sold and run off into the woods.
There was an old clay pit, dug way back into a high bank, where the slaves had
been getting clay to mix with hog hair scrapings to making chinking for the big
log houses that they built for the master and the cabins they made for
themselves. Well, my mammy ran and hid way back in that old clay pit, and it was
way after dark before the master and the other man found her.
The Creek man that bought her was a kind sort of a man, mammy said, and wouldn't
let the master punish her. He took her away and was kind to her, but he decided
she was too young to breed, and he sold her to another Creek who had several
slaves already, and he brought her out to the Territory.
The McIntosh men was the leaders in the bunch that come out at that time, and
one of the bunch named, Jim Perryman, bought my mammy and married her to one of
his "boys" but after he waited and she didn't have a baby he decided
she was no good breeder and he sold her to Mose Perryman.
Mose Perryman was my master and he was a cousin to Legus Perryman, who was a big
man in the Tribe. he was a lot younger than Mose, and laughed at Mose for buying
my mammy, but he got fooled, because my mammy got married to Mose's slave boy
Jacob, the way the slaves was married them days, and went ahead and had ten
children for Mr. Mose.
Mose Perryman owned my pappy and his older brother, Hector and one of the
McIntosh men, Oona, I think his name was, owned my pappy's brother William. I
can remember when I first heard about there was going to be a war. The older
children would talk about it, but they didn't say it was a war all over the
country. They would talk about a war going to be "back in Alabama",
and I guess they had heard the Creeks talking about it that way.
When I was born we lived in the Choska bottoms and Mr. Mose Perryman had a lot
of land broke in all up and down the Arkansas river along there. After the War,
when I had got to be a young owman, there was quite a settlement grew up at
Choska (pronounced Choce-skey) right across the river east of where Haskell now
is, but when I was a child before the War all the whole bottoms was marshy kind
of wilderness except where farms had been cleared out. The land was very rich,
and the Creeks who got to settle there were lucky. They always had big crops.
All west of us was high ground, towards Gibson station and Fort Gibson, and the
land was sandy. Some of the McIntoshes lived over the way, and my Uncle William
belonged one of them.
We slaves didn't have a hart time at all before the War. I have had people who
were slaves of white folks back in the old states tell me that they had to work
awfully hard and their masters were cruel to them sometimes, but all the Negroes
I knew who belonged to Creeks always had plenty of clothes and lots to eat and
we all lived in good log cabins we built. We worked the farm and tended to the
horses and cattle and hogs, and some of the olders women around the owner's
house, but each Negro family looked after a part of the fields and worked the
crops like they belonged to us.
When I first heard talk about the War the slaves were allowed to go and see one
another sometimes and often they were sent on errands several miles with a wagon
or on a horse, but pretty soon we were all kept at home, and nobody was allowed
to come around and talk to us. But we heard what was going on.
The McIntosh men got nearly everybody to side with them about the War, but we
Negroes got word somehow that there were some Union people over there who would
help slaves to get away, but we children didn't know anything about what we
heard our parents whispering about, and they would stop if they heard us
listening. Most of the Creeks who lived in our part of the country, between the
Arkansas and the Verdigris, and some even south of the Arkansas, belonged to the
lower Creeks and sided with the South, and there was a good deal of talk about
them going with the North. Some of the Negroes tried to get away and go down to
them, but I don't know of any from our neighborhood that went to them.
Some Upper Creeks came up into the Choska bottoms talking around among the folks
there about siding with the North. They were talking, they said, for old man
Gouge, who was a big man among the Upper Creeks. His Indian name was
Opoethleyahola and he got away into Kansas with a big bunch of Creeks and
Seminoles during the War.
Before that time, I remember one night my uncle William brought another Negro
man to our cabin and talked a long time with my pappy but pretty soon some of
the Perryman Negreos told them that Mr. Mose was coming down and they went off
into the woods to talk. But Mr. Mose didn't come down. When pappy came back
mammy cried quite a while, and we children could hear them arguing late at
night. Then my uncle Hector slipped over to our cabin several times and talked
to pappy and mammy began to fix up grub, but she didn't give us children but a
little bit of it, and told us to stay around with her at the cabin and not go
playing with the other children.
The early one morning, about daylight, old Mr. Mose came down to them cabin in
his buggy, waving a shot gun and hollering at the top of his voice. I never saw
a man so mad in all my life, before nor since!
He yelled in at mammy to "git them children together and git up to my house
before I beat you and all of them to death." Mammy began to cry and plead
that she didn't know anything, but he acted like he was going to shoot sure
enough, so we all ran to mammy and started for Mr. Mose's house as fast as we
We had to pass all the other Negro cabins on the way, and we could see that they
were all empty, and it looked like everything in them had been tore up. Straw
and corn shucks all over the place, where somebody had tore up the mattresses,
and all the pans and kettles gone off the outside walls where they used to hang
At one place we saw two Negro boys loading some iron kettles on a wagon, and a
little further on was some boys catching chickens in a yard, but we could see
all the Negroes had left in a big hurry.
I asked mammy where everybody had gone and she said, "Up to Mr. Mose's
house, where we are going. He's calling us all in."
"Will pappy be up there too?" I asked her.
"No. Your pappy and you Uncle Hector and your Uncle William and a lot of
other menfolks won't be here any more. They went away. That's why Mr. Mose is so
mad, so if any of you younguns say anything about any strange men coming to our
place I'll break your necks!" Mammy was sure scared!
We all thought sure she was going to get a big whipping, but Mr. Mose just
looked at her minute and then told her to get back to the cabin and bring all
the clothes, and bed ticks and all kinds of cloth we had and come back ready to
"We're goin to take all you black devils to a place where there won't no
more of you run away!" he yelled after us. So we got ready to leave as
quick as we could. I kept crying about my pappy but mammy would say, "Don't
you worry about your pappy, he's free now. Better be worrying about us. No
telling where we all will end up!" There was four or five Creek families
and their Negroes all got together to leave, with all their stuff packed in
buggies and wagons, and being toted by the Negroes or carried tied on horses,
jack asses, mules and milk cattle. I reckon it was a funny looking sight, or it
would be to a person now; the way we was all loaded down with all manner of
baggage when we met at the old ford across the Arkansas that lead to the Creek
Agency. The agency stood on a high hill a few miles across the river from where
we lived, but we couldn't see it from our place down in the Choska Bottoms. But
as soon as we got up on the upland east of the bottoms we could look across and
see the hill.
When we got to a grove at the foot of the hill near the Agency Mr. Mose and the
other masters went up to the Agency for a while. I suppose they found out up
there what everybody was supposed to do and where they was supposed to go, for
when we started on it wasn't long until several more families and their slaves
had joined the party and we made quite a big crowd.
The little Negro boys had to carry a little bundle apiece, but Mr. Mose didn't
make the little girls carry anything and let us ride if we could find anything
to ride on. My mammy had to help lead the cows part of the time, but a lot of
the time she got to ride an old horse, and she would put me up behind her. It
nearly scared me to death, because I had never been on a horse before and she
had to hold on to me all the time to keep me from fallin' off.
Of course I was too small to know what was going on then, but I could tell that
all the masters and the Negroes seemed to be mighty worried and careful all the
time. Of course I know now that the Creeks were all split up over the War, and
nobody was able to tell who would be friendly to us or who would try to poison
us or kill us, or at least rob us. There was a lot of bushwhacking all though
that country by little groups of men who was just out to get all they could.
They would appear like they was the enemy of anybody then run across, just to
have an excuse to rob them or burn up their stuff. If you said you was with the
South they would be with the North and if you claimed to be with the Yankees
they would be with the South, so our party was kind of upset all the time we was
passing through the country along the Canadian. That was where old Gouge had
been talking against the South. I've heard my folks say that he was a wonderful
We all had to move along mighty slow, on account of the ones on foot, and we
wouldn't get very far in one day, then we Negroes had to fix up a place to camp
and get wood and cook supper for everybody. Sometimes we would come to a place
to camp that somebody knew about and we would find it all tromped down by horses
and the spring all filled in and ruined. I reckon old Gouge's people would tear
up things when they left or maybe some Southern bushwhackers would do it I don't
When we got down to where the North Fork runs into the Canadian we went around
the place where the Creek town was. There was lots of Creeks down there who was
on the other side, so we passed around that place and forded across west of
there. The ford was a bad one and it took us a long time to get across.
Everybody got wet and a lot of the stuff on the wagons got wet. Pretty soon we
got down into the Chickasaw country, and everybody was friendly to us, but the
Chickasaw people didn't treat their slaves like the Creeks did. They was more
strict, like the people in Texas and other places. The Chickasaws seemed lighter
color than the Creeks but they talked more in Indian among themselves and to
their slaves. Our masters talked English nearly all the time except when they
were talking to Creeks who didn't talk good English and we never did learn very
good Creek. I could always understand it and can yet, a little, but I never did
try to talk it much. Mammy and Pappy used English to us all the time.
Mr. Mose found a place for us to stop close to Fort Washita, and got us places
to stay and work. I don't know which direction we were from Fort Washita, but I
know we were not very far. I don't know how many years we were down in there,
but I know it was over two for we worked on crops at two different places, I
remember. The one day Mr. Mose came and told us that the War was over and that
we would have to root for ourselves after that. Then he just rode away and I
never saw him after that until after we had got back up into the Choska country.
Mammy heard that the Negroes were going to get equal right with the Creeks and
that she should go to the Creek Agency to draw for us, so we set out to try to
We started out on foot, and would go a little ways each day, and mammy would try
to get a little something to do to get us some food. Two or three times she got
paid in money, so she had some money when we got back. After three or four days
of walking we came across some more Negroes who had a horse, and mammy paid them
to let us children ride and tie with their children for a day or two. They had
their children on the horse, so two or three little ones would get on with a
larger one to guide the horse and we would ride a while and get off and tie the
horse and start walking on down the road. Then when the others caught up with
the horse they would ride until they caught up with us. Pretty soon the old people
got afraid to have us do that, so we just led the horse and some of the little
ones rode it.
We had our hardest time when we would get to a river or big creek. If the water
was swift the horse didn't do any good, for it would shy at the water and the
little ones couldn't stay on, so we would have to just wait until someone came
along in a wagon and maybe have to pay them with some of our money or some of
our goods we were bringing back to haul us across. Sometimes we had to wait all
day before anyone would come along in a wagon.
We were coming north all this time, up through the Seminole Nation, but when we
got ot Weleetka we met a Creek family of freedmen who were going to the Agency
too, and mammy paid them tot take us along in their wagon. When we got to the
Agency mammy met a Negro who had seen pappy and knew where he was, so we sent
word to him and he came and found us. he had been through most of the War in the
When he got away into the Cherokee country some of them called the
"PINS" helped tot smuggle him on up into Missouri and over into
Kansas, but he soon found that he couldn't get along and stay safe unless he
went with the Army. He went with them until the War was over, and was around
Gibson quite a lot. when he was there he tried to find out where we had gone but
said he never could find out. He was in the Battle of Honey Springs, he said,
but never wa hurt or sick. When we got back together we cleared a selection of
land a little east of the Choska bottms near where Clarksville now is, and
farmed until I was a great big girl.
I went to school at a little school called Blackjack school. I think it was a
kind of mission school and not one of the Creek nation schools, because my first
teacher was Miss Betty Weaver and she was not a Creek but a Cherokee. Then we
had two white teachers, Miss King and John Kernan, and another Cherokee was in
charge. his name was Ross, and he was killed one day when his horse fell off a
bridge across the Verdigris, on the way from Tullahassee to Gibson Station.
When I got to be a young woman I went to Okmulgee and worked for some people
near there for several years, then I married Tate Grayson. We got our freedmen's
allotments on Mingo Creek, east of Tulsa and lived there until our children were
grown and Tate died, then I came to live with my daughter in Tulsa.