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Mules and Men

Chapter 5

  1. Big Talk
  2. The First Colored Man in Massa's House
  3. What Smelled Worse
  4. The Fortune Teller
  5. How the Negroes Got Their Freedom
  6. The Turtle-Watch
  7. "From Pine to Pine Mr Pickney"
  8. "God an' de Devil in de Cemetery"
  9. Praying for the Rain
  10. Kill the White Folks
  11. "'Member Youse a Nigger"

"Y'all ever hear dat lie 'bout big talk?" cut in Joe Wiley. "

Yeah we done heard it, Joe, but Ah kin hear it some gin. Tell it, Joe," pleaded Gene Oliver.

During slavery time two ole niggers wuz talkin' an' one said tuh de other one, "Ole Massa made me so mad yistiddy till Ah give 'im uh good cussin' out. Man, Ah called 'im everything wid uh handle on it."

De other one says, "You didn't cuss Ole Massa, didja? Good God! Whut did he do tuh you?"

"He didn't do nothin', an' man, Ah laid one cussin' on "im! Ah'm uh man lak dis, Ah won't stan' no hunchin'. Ah betcha he won't bother me no mo'

"Well, if you cussed 'im an' he didn't do nothin' tuh you de nex' time he make me mad Ah'm goin' tuh lay uh hearin' on him. ,

Nex' day de nigger did somethin'. Ole Massa got in behind 'im and he turnt 'round an' give Ole Massa one good cussin' an Ole Massa had 'im took down and whipped nearly tuh death. Nex' time he saw dat other nigger he says tuh 'im. "Thought you tole me, you cussed Ole Massa out and he never opened his mouf." "Ah did." "Well, how come he never did nothin' tuh yuh? Ah did it an' he come nigh uh killin' me.'

"Man, you didn't go cuss 'im tuh his face, didja?"

"Sho Ah did. Ain't dat whut you tole me you done?"

"Naw, Ah didn't say Ah cussed 'im tuh his face. You sho is crazy. Ah thought you had mo' sense than dat. When Ah cussed Ole Massa he wuz settin' on de front porch an' Ah wuz down at de big gate."

De other nigger wuz mad but he didn't let on. Way after while he 'proached de nigger dat got 'im de beatin' an' tole 'im, "Know whut Ah done tuhday?"

"Naw, whut you done? Give Ole Massa 'nother cussin'?"

"Naw, Ah ain't never goin' do dat no mo'. Ah peeped up under Ole Miss's drawers."

"Man, hush yo' mouf! You knows you ain't looked up under ole Miss's clothes!"

"Yes, Ah did too. Ah looked right up her very drawers."

"You better hush dat talk! Somebody goin' hear you and Ole Massa'll have you kilt."

"Well, Ah sho done it an' she never done nothin' neither. "

"Well, whut did she say?"

"Not uh mumblin' word, an' Ah stopped and looked jus' as long as Ah wanted tuh an' went on 'bout mah business."

"Well, de nex' time Ah see her settin' out on de porch Ah'm goin' tuh look too."

"Help yo'self."

Dat very day Ole Miss wuz settin' out on de porch in de cool uh de evenin' all dressed up in her starchy white clothes. She had her legs all crossed up and de nigger walked up tuh de edge uh de porch and peeped up under Ole Miss's clothes. She took and hollored an' Ole Massa come out an' had dat nigger almost kilt alive.

When he wuz able tuh be 'bout agin he said tuh de other nigger, "Thought you tole me you peeped up under Ole Miss's drawers?"

"Ah sho did."

"Well, how come she never done nothin' tuh you? She got me nearly kilt."

"Man, when Ah looked under Ole Miss's drawers they wuz hangin' out on de clothes line. You didn't go look up in 'em while she had 'em on, didja? You sho is uh fool! Ah thought you had mo' sense than dat, Ah claire Ah did. It's uh wonder he didn't kill yuh dead. Umph, umph, umph. You sho ain't got no sense atall." TOP

"Yeah," said Black Baby, "But dat wasn't John de white folks was foolin' wid. John was too smart for Ole Massa. He never got no beatin'!"

De first colored man what was brought to dis country was name John. He didn't know nothin' mo' than you told him and he never forgot nothin' you told him either. So he was sold to a white man. Things he didn't know he would ask about. They went to a house and John never seen a house so he asked what it was. Ole Massa tole him it was his kingdom. So dey goes on into de house and dere was the fireplace. He asked what was that. Ole Massa told him it was his flame 'vaperator.

The cat was settin' dere. He asked what it was. Ole Massa told him it was his round head.

So dey went upstairs. When he got on de stair steps he asked what dey was. Ole Massa told him it was his jacob ladder. So when they got up stairs he had a roller foot bed. John asked what was dat. Ole Massa told him it was his flowery-bed-of-ease. So dey came down and went out to de'lot. He had a barn. John asked what was dat. Ole Massa told him, dat was his mound. So he had a Jack in the stable, too. John asked, "What in de world is dat?" Ole Massa said: "Dat's July, de God dam."

So de next day Ole Massa was upstairs sleep and John was smokin'. It flamed de 'vaperator and de cat was settin' dere and it got set afire. The cat goes to de barn where Ole Massa had lots of hay and fodder in de barn. So de cat set it on fire. John watched de Jack kicking up hay and fodder. He would see de hay and fodder go up and come down but he thought de Jack was eatin' de hay and fodder.

So he goes upstairs and called Ole Massa and told him to get up off'n his flowery-bed-of-ease and come down on his jacob ladder. He said: "I done flamed the 'vaperator and it caught de round head and set him on fire. He's gone to de mound and set it on fire, and July the God dam is eatin' up everything he kin git his mouf on."

Massa turned over in de bed and ast, "Whut dat you say, John?"

John tole 'im agin. Massa was still sleepy so he ast John agin whut he say. John was gittin' tired so he say, "Aw, you better git up out dat bed and come on down stairs. Ah done set dat ole cat afire and he run out to de barn and set it afire and dat ole jackass is eatin' up everything he git his mouf on."

Gene Oliver said: "Y'all hush and lemme tell this one befo we git to de mill. This ain't no slavery time talk."

Once they tried a colored man in Mobile for stealing a goat. He was so poorly dressed, and dirty--that de judge told him, "Six months on de country road, you stink so."

A white man was standing dere and he said, "Judge, he don't stink, Ah got a nigger who smells worser than a billy goat." De judge told de man to bring him on over so he could smell him. De next day de man took de billy goat and de nigger and went to de court and sent de judge word dat de nigger and de billy goat wuz out dere and which one did he want fust.

The judge told him to bring in de goat. When he carried de goat he smelled so bad dat de judge fainted. Dey got ice water and throwed it in de judge's face 'til he come to. He told 'em to bring in de nigger and when dey brung in de nigger de goat fainted. TOP

Joe Wiley said: "Ah jus' got to tell this one, do Ah can't rest.

In slavery time dere was a colored man what was named John. He went along wid Ole Massa everywhere he went. He used to make out he could tell fortunes. One day him and his Old Massa was goin' along and John said, "Ole Massa, Ah kin tell fortunes. "  Ole Massa made out he didn't pay him no attention. But when they got to de next man's plantation Old Massa told de landlord, "I have a nigger dat kin tell fortunes." So de other man said, "Dat nigger can't tell no fortunes. I bet my plantation and all my niggers against yours dat he can't tell no fortunes."

Ole Massa says: "I'll take yo' bet. I bet everything in de world I got on John 'cause he don't lie. If he say he can tell fortunes, he can tell 'em. Bet you my plantation and all my niggers against yours and throw in de wood lot extry."

So they called Notary Public and signed up de bet. Ole Massa straddled his horse and John got on his mule and they went on home.

John was in de misery all that night for he knowed he was gointer be de cause of Ole Massa losin' all he had.

Every mornin' John useter be up and have Old Massa's saddle horse curried and saddled at de door when Ole Massa woke up. But this mornin' Old Massa had to git John out of de bed.

John useter always ride side by side with Massa, but on de way over to de plantation where de bet was on, he rode way behind.

So de man on de plantation had went out and caught a coon and had a big old iron wash-pot turned down over it.

There was many person there to hear John tell what was under de wash?pot.

Ole Massa brought John out and tole him, say: "John, if you tell what's under dat wash pot Ah'Il make you independent, rich. If you don't, Ah'm goin' to kill you because you'll make me lose my plantation and everything I got."

John walked 'round and 'round dat pot but he couldn't git de least inklin' of what was underneath it. Drops of sweat as big as yo' fist was rollin' off of John. At last he give up and said: "Well, you got de ole coon at last."

When John said that, Ole Massa jumped in de air and cracked his heels twice befo' he hit de ground. De man that was bettin' against Ole Massa fell to his knees wid de cold sweat pourin' off him. Ole Massa said: "John, you done won another Plantation fo' me. That's a coon under that pot sho 'nuff.?

So he give John a new suit of clothes and a saddle horse. And John quit tellin' fortunes after that.

Going back home Ole Massa said: "Well John, you done made me vast rich so I goin' to Philly-Me-York and won't be back in three weeks. I leave everything in yo charge.

So Ole Massa and his wife got on de train and John went to de depot with 'em and see 'em off on de train bid 'em goodbye. Then he hurried on back to de plantation. Ole Massa and ole Miss got off at de first station and made it on back to see whut John was doin,.

John went back and told de niggers, "Massa's gone to Philly- me-York and left everything in MY charge. Ah want one of you niggers to git on a mule and ride three miles north, and another one three miles west and another one three miles south and another one everybody to come here-there's goiter three miles cast. Tell everybody to come here, there's gointer be a ball here tonight. The rest of you go into the lot and kill hogs until you can walk on 'em." 

 So they did. John goes in and dressed up in Ole Massa's  swaller-tail clothes, put on his collar and tie; got a box of Ole Massa cigars and put under his arm, and one cigar in his mouth.

When the crowd come John said: "Y'all kin dance and Ah'm goin' to call figgers."

So he got Massa's biggest rockin, chair and put it up in Massa's bed and then he got up in the bed begin to call figgers: 

'"Hands up! Four cirde right." "Half back," "Two ladies change." He was puffing his cigar all de time. '

Bout this-time John seen a white Couple come in but they looked so trashy he figgered they was piney woods crackers, so he told 'em to g'wan out in de kitchen and git some barbecue and likker and to stay out there ' where they belong. So he went to callin' figgers agin. De git Fiddles' was raisin' cain over in de corner and John was callin ,

"Choose yo' partners. Couples to to YO 'Places like horses Swing Miss Sally 'round and 'round and bring her back to Mel!

Just as he went to say "Four hands up," he seen ole Massa comin, out the kitchen wipin' the dirt off his face.

Ole Massa said: "John, just look whut you done done! I'm gointer take you to that persimmon tree and break" yo' neck for this-killing up all my hogs and havin, all these niggers in my house?"

John ast, "Ole Massa, Ah know you gointer killme but can Ah have a word with my friend Jack before you kill me."

"Yes, John, but have it quick."

So John called Jack and told him;  says: "Ole Massa is gointer hang me under that persimmon tree. Now you get three matches and get in the top of the tree. Ah'm gointer pray and when You hear me ast God to let it lightning Ah want you to strike matches."

Jack went on out to the tree. Ole Massa brought John on out with the rope around his neck and put it over a limb.

"Now, John," said Massa "have you got any last words to say?"

"Yes sir, Ah want to pray.

"Pray and Pray damn quick. I'm dean out of patience with you, John."

So John knelt down. "0 Lord, here Ah am at de foot of de Persimmon tree. If you're gointer destroy Old Massa tonight, with his wife and chillun and everything he got, lemme see it lightnin'."

Jack up the tree, struck a match. Ole Massa caught hold of John and said: 'John, don't Pray no More.

John said, "Oh Yes, turn me loose so Ah can pray. 0 Lord, here Ah am tonight callin' on Thee and Thee alone. If You are gointer destroy Ole Massa tonight his wife and chillun and all he got, Ah want to see it lightnin.

Jack struck another match and Ole Massa started to run. He give John his freedom and a heap of land and stock. He run so fast that it took a express train running at the rate of ninety miles an hour and six months to bring him back, and that's how come niggers got they freedom today.TOP

Well, we were at the mill at last, as slow as we had walked. Old Hannah  was climbing the road of the sky, heating up sand beds and sweating peoples. No wonder nobody wanted to work. Three fried men are not equal to one good cool one. The men stood around the door for a minute or two, then dropped down on the shady side of the building. Work was too discouraging to think about. Phew! Sun and sawdust, sweat and sand. Nobody called a meeting and voted to sit in the shade. It just happened naturally.

Jim Allen said, "Reckon we better go inside and see if they want us?"

" Oh hell, naw! " shouted Lennie Barnes. "We ain't no millhands nohow. Let's stay right where we is till they find us. We got plenty to do-lyin' on Ole Massa and slavery days. Lemme handle a li'l language long here wid de rest. Y'all ever hear 'bout dat nigger dat found a gold watch?"

"Yeah, Ah done heard it," said Cliff, "but go on and tell it, Lonnie, so yo' egg bag kin rest easy."

"Well, once upon a time was a good ole time.

Monkey chew tobacco and spit white lime."

A colored man was walking down de road one day and he found a gold watch and chain. He didn't know what it was, so the first thing he met was a white man, so he showed the white man de watch and ast him what it was .

White man said, "Lemme see it in my hand."

De colored man give it to him and de white man said, "Why this is a gold watch, and de next time you find any thing kickin' in de road put in yo' pocket and sell it."

With that he put the watch in his pocket and left de colored man standing there.

So de colored man walked on down de road a piece further and walked up on a little turtle. He tied a string to it and put de turtle in his pocket and let de string hang out So he met another colored fellow and the fellow ast him says: "Cap, what time you got?

He pulled out de turtle and told de man, "It's a quarter past leben and kickin' lak hell for twelve." TOP

Larkins White says: "Y'all been wearin' Ole Massa's southern can out dis mornin'. Pass him over here to me and le handle some grammar wid him."

"You got him, Ah just hope dat strawboss don't come sidlin' 'round here," somebody said.

"Ah got to tell you 'bout Old Massa down in de piney woods. "

During slavery uh nigger name Jack run off from his marster and took and hid hisself down in de piney woods.

Ole Massa hunted and hunted but he never could ketch dat nigger.

But Jack had uh good friend on de plantation dat useter slip 'im somethin' t' eat and fetch de banjo down and play 'im somethin' every day so's he could dance some. Jack wuz tryin' to make it on off de mountain where Old Massa couldn't fetch 'im back. So Ole Massa got on to dis other nigger slippin' out to Jack but he couldn't ketch 'im so he tole 'im if he lead 'im to where Jack wuz he'd give 'im a new suit uh clothes. So he said, "All right."

So he tole Old Massa to follow him and do whutever he sing. So Ole Massa said, "All right."

So dat day de nigger took Jack some dinner and de Banjo. So Jack et. Den he tole him, say: "Jack I got uh new song fuh yuh today. "

Play it and lemme dance some."

It's about Ole Massa."

Jack said, "I don't give uh damn 'bout Ole Massa. Ah don't b1ong tuh him no mo'. Play it and lemme dance."

So he started to playin'.

"From pine to pine, Mister Pinkney. From pine to pine, Mister Pinkney."

Jack was justa dancin' fallin' off de log and cuttin' de pigeon wing?(diddle dip, diddle dip??diddle dip) "from pine to pine Mr. Pinkney.

White man coming closer all de time. "Now take yo' time Mister Pinkney. Now take yo' time Mister Pinkney." (Diddle dip, diddle dip, diddle dip, diddle dip) "Now grab 'im now Mister Pinkney Now grab 'im now Mister Pinkney." (Diddle dip, diddle dip, diddle dip, diddle dip) "Now grab 'im now Mister Pinkney."

So they caught Jack and put uh hundred lashes on his back and put him back to work.  TOP

"Now Ah tole dat one for myself, now Ah got to tell one for my wife."

"Aw, g'wan tell de lie, Larkins, if you want to. You know you ain't tellin' no lie for yo' wife. No mo' than de rest of us. You lyin' cause you like it." James Presley put in. "Hurry up so somebody else kin plough up some literary and lay-by some alphabets. "

Two mens dat didn't know how tuh count good had been haulin' up cawn and they stopped at de cemetery wid de last load 'cause it wuz gittin' kinda dark. They thought they'd git thru instead uh goin' 'way tuh one of 'em's barn. When they wuz goin' in de gate two car uh cawn dropped off de waggin, but they didn't stop tuh bother wid 'em, just then. They wuz in uh big hurry tuh git home. They wuz justa vidin' it up.

"You take dis'n an Ah'll take dat'un, you take dat'un and Ah'Il take dis'un."

An ole nigger heard 'em while he wuz passin' de cemetery an' run home tuh tell ole Massa 'bout it. 

"Massa, de Lawd and de devil is down in de cemetery 'vidin' up souls. Ah heard 'em. One say, 'you take that 'un an' Ah'll take dis'un'."

Ole Massa wuz sick in de easy chear, he couldn't git about by hisself, but he said, "Jack, Ah don't know whut dis foolishness is, but Ah know you lyin'."

"Naw Ah ain't neither, Ah swear it's so."

"Can't be, Jack, youse crazy."

"Naw, Ah ain't neither; if you don' believe me, come see for yo'self."

"Guess Ah better go see whut you talkin' 'bout; if you fool me, Ah'm gointer have a hundred lashes put on yo' back in de mawnin' suh."

They went on down tuh de cemetery wid Jack pushin' Massa in his rollin' chear, an' it wuz sho dark down dere too. So they couldn't see de two ears uh cawn layin' in de gate.

Sho nuff Ole Massa heard 'em sayin' "Ah'll take dis'un," and de other say, "An' Ah'Il take dis'un." Ole Massa got skeered hisself but he wuzn't lettin' on, an'Jack whispered tuh 'im, "Unh hunh, didn't Ah tell you de Lawd an' de devil wuz down here 'vidin' up souls?"

They waited awhile there in de gate listenin' den they heard 'em say, "Now, we'll go git dem two at de gate."

Jack says, "Ah knows de Lawd gwine take you, and Ah ain't gwine let de devil get me?Ah'm gwine home." An' he did an" lef' Ole Massa settin' dere at de cemetery gate in his rollin' chear, but when he got home, Ole Massa had done beat 'im home and wuz settin' by de fire smokin' uh seegar. TOP

Jim Allen began to fidget. "Don't y'all reckon we better g'wan inside? They might need us."

Lonnie Barnes shouted, "Aw naw-you sho is worrysome. You bad as white folks. You know they say a white man git in some kind of trouble, he'll fret and fret until he kill hisself. A nigger git into trouble, he'll fret a while, then g'wan to sleep. "

"Yeah, dat's right, too," Eugene Oliver agreed. "Didja ever hear de white man's prayer?"

 "Who in Polk County ain't heard dat?" cut in Officer Richardson.

'"Well, if you know it so good, lemme hear you say it," Eugene snapped back.

 "Oh, Ah don't know it well enough to say it. Ah jus' know it well enough to know it."  

The White Man's Prayer

 "Well, all right then, when Ah'm changing my dollars, you keep yo' pennies out."

"Ah don't know it, Eugene, say it for me," begged Peter Noble. "Don't pay Office no mind."

Well, it come a famine and all de crops was dried up and Brother John was ast to pray. He had prayed for rain last year and it had rained, so all de white folks  sembled at they church and called on Brother John to pray agin, so he got down and prayed:

"Lord, first thing, I want you to understand that this ain't no nigger talking to you. This is a white man and I want you to hear me. Pay some attention to me. I don't worry and bother you all the time like these niggers-asking you for a whole heap of things that they don't know what to do with after they git 'em,so when I do ask a favor, I want it granted. Now, Lord, we want some rain. Our crops is all burning up and we'd like a little rain. But I don't mean for you to come in a hell of a storm like you did last year kicking up racket like niggers at a barbecue. I want you to come calm and easy. Now, another thing, Lord, I want to speak about. Don't let these niggers be as sassy as they have been in the past. Keep 'em in their places, Lord, Amen. "

Larkins White burst out:

And dat put me in de mind of a nigger dat useter do a lot Of prayin' up under 'simmon tree, durin' slavery time. He'd go up dere and pray to God and beg Him to kill all de white folks. Ole Massa heard about it and so de next day he got hisself a armload of sizeable rocks and went up de 'simmon tree, before de nigger got dere, and when he begin to pray and beg de Lawd to kill all de white folks Ole Massa let one of dese rocks fall on Ole Nigger's head.

It was a heavy rock and knocked de nigger over. So when he got up he looked up and said: "Lawd, I ast you to kill all de white folks, can't you tell a white man from a nigger?"TOP

Joe Wiley says:"Y'all might as well make up yo' mind to bear wid me, 'cause Ah feel Ah got to tell a lie on Ole Massa for my mamma. Ah done lied on him enough for myself. So Ah'm gointer tell it if I bust my gall tryin'."

Ole John was a slave, you know. And there was Ole' Massa and Ole Missy and de two li' children--a girl and a boy.

Well, John was workin' in de field and he seen de children out on de lake in a boat, just a hollerin'. They had done lost they oars and was 'bout to turn over. So then he went and tole Ole Massa and Ole Missy.

Well, Ole Missy, she hollered and said: "It's so sad to lose these 'cause Ah ain't never goin' to have no more children

Ole Massa made her hush and they went down to de water and follered de shore on 'round till they found I em. John pulled off his shoes and hopped in and swum out and got in de boat wid de children and brought 'em to shore.

Well, Massa and John take 'em to de house. So they was all so glad 'cause de children got saved. So Massa told 'im to make a good crop dat year and fill up de barn, and den when he lay by de crops nex' year, he was going to set him free.

So John raised so much crop dat year he filled de barn and had to put some of it in de house.

So Friday come, and Massa said, "Well, de day done come that I said I'd set you free. I hate to do it, but I don't like to make myself out a lie. I hate to git rid of a good nigger lak you."

So he went in de house and give John one of his old suits of clothes to put on. So John put it on and come in to shake hands and tell 'em goodbye. De children they cry, go. So John took his bundle and put it on his stick and hung it crost his shoulder.

Well, Ole John started on down de road. Well, Ole Massa said, "John, de children love yuh."


"John, I love yuh."


"And Missy like yuh!"


"But 'member, John, youse a nigger.


Fur as John could hear 'im down de road he wuz hollerin', "John, Oh John! De children loves you. And I love you. De Missy like you."

John would holler back, "Yassuh."

"But 'member youse a nigger, tho!"

Ole Massa kept callin' 'im and his voice was pitiful. But John kept right on steppin' to Canada. He answered Ole Massa every time he called 'im, but he consumed on wid his bag.  TOP