Collected by the Federal Writers Project, Works Progress Administration
R S. Taylor
Sixty-four* years ago there was born near Canton, in Madison County, Mississippi, a slave child that was destined to show the possibilities of every American-born child of any race. It was a boy. His mother was subject to the unhallowed conditions of that time. That her son was to be numbered among the leaders of his generation was not to be thought of; that he should become the largest planter and land owner of his race and state seemed impossible; that as a merchant and all-round business man, owning and operating the finest and one of the largest mercantile establishments in his state was not to be dreamed of; that at the advanced age of 61 he would erect and operate successfully the largest excavating plant of its kind in Arkansas and one of the only two in the entire southland was beyond conception. Yet, these things and many others equally remarkable have been accomplished by the little Mississippi-born slave boy whose history these pages recount.
At the age of eighteen months, little Scott, removed with his mother to Collierville, Fayette County, Tennessee, and at the age of five years removed with his mother and step-father, William Bond, to the Bond farm, Cross County, Arkansas. The question of "States' Rights' was uppermost in the mind of the American people. Mighty things were to happen that would settle forever this vexatious question. The south was drawing farther and farther from the north. The north was declaring "Union forever."
Bleeding Kansas! Forensic battles in the Congress of the United States! John Browns Raid! Then in April, 1861, the first shot of the civil war crashed against the solid granite walls of old Fort Sumpter. What has all this to do with some little obscure mulatto boy born on an obscure plantation somewhere down in Dixie? Just this: Had these tremendous events not transpired and ended as they did, the country would have still kept in bondage a race of men who have in fifty years - years of oppression and repression - shown to the world what America was losing. Booker T. Washington would not have revolutionized the educational methods of the world. Granville T. Woods would not have invented wireless telegraphy. There would have been no Negro troops to save the roughriders on San Juan Hill. There would have been no Negro soldiers to pour out their lifeblood at Carrizal. There would be no black American troops to offer to bare their dusky bosoms in the fiery hell beyond the seas today in the mighty struggle for world democracy. Scott Bond would have had no opportunity to prove to the world that if a man will he may.
*(This obviously should be 'eighty-four.' Editor's note.)
Scott Bond's Mother
I have said little about my mother. She was a slave and as such was housemaid. This brought her in close contact with the white people and gave her training not common to the masses of colored women of her day. Her duties were such however, that she could give but little attention to me. Still her sympathy and love for me was as great as any woman ever bore in her bosom for a son. I can remember on one occasion when I was quite small my heels were chapped. In those days, Negro boys were not allowed to wear shoes until 12 or 14 years of age. When I would walk early in the morning or late in the evening, blood that would ooze from the cracks in my feet, would mark my tracks.
On one occasion when my mother had finished her task as maid in the house she came to me late at night and took me from my bed to look at my feet. In those days, tallow was the cure all. One of my heels was so chapped and cracked open that one could almost lay his finger in the opening. She got some tallow and warmed it in a spoon and having no idea how hot it was poured it into the crack in my heel. As I held my heel up and my toe on the floor, the hot tallow filled the crack and ran down over my foot to my toes. I cried because of the intense pain the hot grease caused. My mother quieted me as best she could and put me to bed. When she got up next morning she examined my foot and to her amazement the hot tallow had raised a blister full length of my foot as large as one's finger. When she saw this she cried as if her heart would break and said as the tears streamed down her cheeks: "I did not mean to burn my child. I did not dream the tallow was so hot."
As mentioned before, slave boys rarely wore shoes until they were 12 or 14 years of age. It was great fun to go "possum and coon hunting in those days or rather nights. Young Scott would take long trips through the woods and swamps with the other slaves and would risk all the dangers of briars and of being bitten by poisonous reptiles because of his bare feet.
On one occasion when the dogs had treed a "possum little Scott was the one to climb the tree and shake him out. The "possum was away out on the end of a limb. The boys and men on the ground assured him the limb would not break. He let go the body of the tree and started out on the limb, which broke under the added weight and there was a squirming mixture of limb, boy, "possum and snapping dogs on the ground. Fortunately he was not bitten. Scott came out of the scrimmage victorious with a fall and a "possum.
On another occasion his mother had secured a pair of old boot tops and had a pair of shoes made for him. The first time he went out his mother insisted that he wear the shoes. He put them on and started out. When he reached the woodpile he pulled off the shoes and hid them in the woodpile because their unfamiliar weight cumbered his progress.
It was on one of these hunting excursions that he so sprained his ankle that the next morning his foot was as large as two feet. An old slave woman advised him to hold his foot in cold water. He accordingly crawled to the well where the mules were watered and put his foot in the tub of water standing there. One of the hands rode up to water his mules and compelled the boy to take his foot out of the tub. The mules drank all the water and left the tub empty.
Scott put his foot back into the tub and shortly another man came along, drew water for his mules and then filled the tub for Scott's benefit. About this time the overseer came along and asked him what he was doing. Scott withdrew his foot from the water and showed him his swollen ankle. When asked about it he explained the cause of the accident. The overseer called one of the hands and had him empty the tub and fill it with fresh water for Scott and told him that was the best thing he could do.
His mother was away above the average slave woman, in her training being a housemaid and seamstress in the days before the sewing machine. She came in daily contact with the most cultured and refined white women and was thereby immensely benefited. She had no time to give to her boy except late at night when her daily work was through and most other people were in bed. For this reason, Scott missed his mother's kindly ministrations in the years when most needed.
Poultry wire was unknown, the poultry yards were fenced with rails to keep the hogs from devouring the young fowls. Imagine if you can, a rail fence built tight enough to keep the hogs out and little goslings, turkeys and chickens in. It was one of little Scott's principal duties to march around the poultry yard and look after the young fowls. In cold weather the frost would bite his bare feet in rainy weather he acted as a brooder. Boys in those days wore single garments, a long sack-like slip with holes cut for head and arms. When it rains, goslings will stand with their heads up and drown in a short time if left to themselves. Little Scott would gather little goslings under his slip as the hen hovers her brood and thus protect them from the falling rain. It must have been a ticklish task to have a half hundred little geese under one's single garment scrounging and crowding for warmth.
After the war when his stepfather started out on his own hook, Scott's mother continued in the same line that she had been trained. It was Scott's duty to see after the fowls and at times to look out for the welfare of the sitting hens. His mother would mark the eggs, which she would put under the hen ready to set. Scott would have to keep the nests in repair and keep fresh eggs from the sitters' nests. Upon one occasion, Scott in his round, found a nest out of repair. He removed the hen, took the eggs from the nest and put them on the ground. He repaired the nest, put the hen back on the nest and left the eggs on the ground. The next morning his mother discovered the eggs on the ground and took the boy to task for his absent-mindedness. Drawing him across her 1ap, she took her slipper and was applying the treatment in the most approved way. That the operation was painful to Scott, goes without the saying. His mother told him she was not punishing him for the value of the eggs, but because of his forgetfulness; and seeing far into the future she told him further that his absent mindedness was the only thing that would ever "misput' him in life. Scott noticing the tone of her voice looked up and found her crying. He says, that from that moment, he felt no further pain from the slipper as his mother continued for some little time to wield it.
Scott Bond Hunts His Father
"As I grew older and found that he was only my stepfather, I began to inquire who was my father, and where he lived. My Aunt Martha told me I was born in Madison County, Mississippi, twelve miles from Canton, the county seat, at a little town called Livingston. That my father was a man, Wesley Rutledge, the nephew of Win. H. Goodlow.
"After I had gotten started out in life and had accumulated a little spare money, I thought I would like to visit the place of my birth and, if possible, find my father, and if he was in need, help him.
"My mother had a large chest, which, in those days, was used as a trunk. I had often seen her going through the things in that old chest. She would take out her calico dresses, which we people called "Sunday Clothes.' She would hang them out to air on Sundays. Among the things she would take from the chest was a pair of little red shoes and a cap, and would say to me: "These are the shoes your father gave you. " Being only a child, I thought she referred to my stepfather.
"I purchased a nice suit of clothes, then paid a visit to the barber and got neatly shaved and trimmed up, and pulled out for Canton, Miss., where arrived at night. The next day was a rainy, drizzly day. It was March, but the people were bringing into Canton onions, lettuce and other early vegetables. I was surprised to see this and thought they were being shipped in from farther south. I went to the livery stable the next day and introduced myself to the livery man as Bond from Arkansas. I told him I wanted to drive to Livingston, sixteen miles away. The liveryman, thinking I was white, said, "All right Mr. Bond, the horse and buggy and nipper to drive you will cost you three dollars.
"We drove about two and one-half miles and opened a gate to the enclosed farm of Mr. Goodlow. The old colored man who was driving was as active as a boy, although his hair was as white as cotton. This old gentleman took me to be a white man, and as he had never asked me I did not make myself known to him. He used these words:
"'White folks, I have been in the country since I was a boy, and since that time I saw the man you are going to visit, harness up a hundred and fifty mules to be used on this farm. In those days the water almost boiled in this country. When you went to bed at night you could hear the blood hounds, and in the morning when you would wake up, you could hear them running colored people. The white folks said the music they made was the sweetest music in the world. There was once a runaway slave who had been chased at different times for four years. At last a set of patrolers came in with their dogs and said they were determined to catch him. They ran him for two days. Once in a while he would mislead the dogs and make them double on their tracks and he would gain a little rest. Eventually they would again pick up the trail and you could hear the hounds as they ran; say, here he goes sing-a-ding; there he goes, sing-a-ding. At last, finding that he could not escape, he ran deliberately into a blazing furnace and was burned to death rather than be caught and suffer the tortures that awaited him.'
"He told me that many a time he would be so tired from his day's work that he would not wake up in the morning until the horn blew for work. He would not have time to cook himself any bread, and that he would run to the meal bowl and put a handful or two of meal in his hat and run with his bridle and catch his mule and while the mule was drinking, he would take water and mix the meal. Then when he got to the field he would go to a burning log-heap, when the overseer was not looking, and rake a place in the ashes and hot embers, put his cake in and cover it. Later, when chance permitted, he would take out his ashcake and eat it as he plowed. Thus he would work until dinnertime.
"After telling me many other stories of the hardships of the slave, he said that after all, the things that looked hardest to him, were really blessings in disguise. These hardships had developed his self-reliance and resourcefulness, and now that he was a free man and a citizen, he could see a benefit, even in the hardships he had undergone. He said that he knew he was a Christian and that he was respected by all his neighbors, black and white.
"He stopped in front. I got out, and as I passed up the walk, knowing this to be my birthplace, I felt that I was at home. I rang the bell. It was answered by a large gentleman, who had a perfect bay window of a stomach. He was so large that he was unable to tie and untie his shoes.
"As I walked into the parlor over elegant Brussels carpets, I could see myself reflected from the mirrors on either side of the hall. The furniture was rare and elegant, and was typical of the splendor of the old time southern mansion. I was invited to sit down and for the next hour answered a rain of questions about Arkansas.
"At that time wild life in the state had not been much disturbed. Bears, wolves and panthers were plentiful. Arkansas at that time bore the reputation of being a paradise for murderers and other criminals fleeing from justice. Hence, Mr. Goodlow was interested to learn from me all he could about these things, as well as about the climate and country in general.
"I proceeded: "Ann gave birth to a child while she was your servant. It is said that Mr. Rutledge, who was your nephew and manager of your farm at that time, was the father of this child. It is further said that Mrs. Goodlow dressed the child and called it Scott Winfield."
"It would be impossible to describe the scene that followed this greeting. Tears were shed, words were spoken that came from deep down in our hearts. A more touching and sincere greeting rarely comes to one in a lifetime.
"One who does not know the south, can form no conception of the extreme hardships some of the slaves had to undergo; the many peculiar situations that would arise, nor can he have the faintest idea of the deep regard, and at times, even real affection that existed between the master and the favored slave. It is a reflex for this regard that is the basis of all the helpful things the better class of southern white people are now doing to help the Negro better his condition to rise to higher planes of manhood.
"I told him that prior to the war, there were many people who were wealthy. Many of these were greatly impoverished by changed conditions. I had come to find my father, and if he was in need to help him.
"I was informed by Mr. Goodlow that he was very sorry he would have to tell me that my father was dead. That he had moved to Texas twelve years before, and had died two years later. He also informed me that he had three children living and doing business in Canton, Miss.
"When I was ready to leave, Mr. Goodlow had me driven to Canton in his magnificent carriage. I called on the children in Canton and introduced myself as Bond from Arkansas. I congratulated them on their business but did not make myself known to them, so that all they ever knew of me was "Bond from Arkansas.
This brings up a thought. It has been stated by some careful statisticians that there are about 10,000,000 ____-blooded Negroes in the United States. Without accepting or rejecting this estimate, we will say that there are enough of that part of our population mixed-blood to at least keep the pot from calling the kettle black, in point of moral rectitude.
Settling A Strike
On one occasion Charley claimed on Monday morning to be sick. I went to the gin, fired up and attempted to run the engine myself. I had been watching Charley pretty closely in order to get an idea as to how to handle the engine.
I raised steam, put on two gauges of water, oiled up and opened the throttle to start. The engine failed to turn. I closed the throttle and examined the engine to the best of my ability. I could find nothing wrong. I then turned on the steam slowly until I had the throttle wide open, still the engine would not move. I closed the throttle and had the boys help me turn the flywheel over. Five men put on all their strength and yet they failed to move the flywheel.
I was at a loss to know what to do. I walked off and sat down on a bench. The more I studied over it, the worse shape I found myself in. I called for my horse, which was hitched to the fence, jumped into my saddle. I went half a mile past Charley's house and a half mile father to my own house.
He came. I said to him, "Come here, Charley." I moaned the gate. "Get on up the road to the gin house," I ordered. He wanted to go back and get his hat. I told him they did not bury men with their hats on.
"This was your own contract--to help me set up the engine and run the gin for the season for a dollar and a half a day. Now, Charley, I am going to give you $2.00 per day and I want steam at five o'clock every morning from now on."
Scott Bond Moves To Madison
Scott Bond moved to Madison, St. Francis County, Ark., with his stepfather, who had bargained to buy a farm, in 1872, and remained with him until he was 21 years of age. He then undertook to vouch for himself. His stepfather contracted with him to remain with him until he was 22 years of age. His pay was to be one bale of cotton, board, washing and patching. He thought the pay was small, but for the sake of his little brothers, that they might have a home paid for, he remained that year. The next year he walked eighteen miles to the Allen farm, having seen the possibilities in the fertile soil of that place in the two years he had worked on it with his stepfather. He decided that would be the place to make money. He rented 12 acres of land at $6.50 per acre. He had no money, no corn, no horse, nothing to eat, no plows, no gears; but all the will power that could be contained in one little hide. In 1876 he rented 35 acres and hired one man. In 1877 he married Miss Magnolia Nash of Forrest City. The Allen farm, as stated elsewhere, contained 2,200 acres. The proprietor lived in Knoxville, Tenn. She sent her son over the next autumn, who insisted on Scott Bond renting the whole place. This he refused to do on the ground that he was unable to furnish the mules, feed, tools and other stock sufficient to cultivate it. Mr. Allen took a letter from his pocket that read: "Now, Scott, I have told Johnnie to be sure and do his uttermost to rent you this place, and as I am sure it would be quite a burden on you financially, you may draw on me for all the money that is required to buy mules, corn and tools." And at the bottom: "Scott, I think this will be one of the golden opportunities of your life." This lady was near kin to Scott Bond's former owner. He grasped the opportunity. There were all sorts of people living on the Allen farm. Some half-breed Indians, some few white families and some low, degraded colored people. The whites were no better than the others. The first thing Scott Bond had to do was to clean up the farm along those lines. He then secured axes, cross cut saws, and built a new fence around the entire farm - something that had not been done for 20 years. When the crops were gathered and disposed of, Scott paid Mrs. Allen and everyone else for the rent and all other obligations. He received from Mrs. Allen, the owner of the farm, who lived in Knoxville, Tenn., a fine letter of thanks and congratulations for the improvements on the farm. The net profits, all bills paid, were $2,500, in addition to the gains on cotton seed. This farm is situated right at the east base of Crowley's Ridge, 42 miles due west of the Mississippi River. There were no levees in this county at that time, and when the overflows came we had a sea of water spread out from the Mississippi to the ridge. Mr. Bond said the next winter there came the biggest overflow he had ever seen. He took his boat and moved all the people, mules, cattle, hogs and horses to Crowley's Ridge. He lived about a mile and a half from Crowley's Ridge and owing to a deep slough or bayou between him and the ridge he was compelled to use a boat. There was perhaps no more exciting time in Mr. Bond's life than when with his boat he would brave the dangers of the murky flood and with the help of his crew scout the country over hunting out and rescuing people and stock from the rising, rushing waters. It is said by those who know, that Scott Bond saved the lives of hundreds of people, white and black. In this particular overflow he had 7,000 bushels of corn and 10,000 pounds of meat that he had killed and cured. He saved all this by putting it in the lofts of the different buildings on the place. Having secured his own people and property, he spent his time looking out and helping his neighbors. He lived in the great house on the Allen farm. He took flour barrels, placed planks on them for a scaffold to put his cooking stove and bed on. The next day he ran his dugout into the house and tied it to his bedpost. Three days later he was compelled to get another set of barrels to raise his scaffold a little higher. On the third evening he arrived at home between sundown and dark with all his boatmen in dugouts. It was impossible to get in the door on account of the water. They ran the boats in through the windows, each man to his sleeping place. Every one of them was as wet as rats. They would have to stand on the head end of their boats to change their wet clothing before getting into their beds. The cook and his helper, who looked after things in the absence of the boats, were brave to start in with and promised to stay with Scott Bond as long as there was a button on his shirt, but when they saw the boats coming in through the top sash of the window their melts drew up. They said, "Mr. Bond, we like you and have always been willing to do anything you asked us to do, but this water is away beyond where we had any idea it would be. We are going to leave tomorrow morning."
They had all changed and put on dry clothing, and as a matter of course felt better. The next call was supper and dinner combined. A big teakettle full of strong, hot coffee, spare ribs, backbones, hog heads, ears and noses. There was some shouting around that table. Mr. Bond says he did not attempt to pacify the cook and hostler until after all had finished supper, as the time to talk to an individual is when he has a full stomach.
"The next day when we started out," says Mr. Bond, "I instructed my men to 'do as you see me do.' If a cow jumps over board, follow her and grab her by the tail and stick to her until you come to some sapling or grape vine; grab it and hold to it until help arrives. Any man can hold a cow by the tail or horn in this way."
All Mr. Bond's people were comfortably housed on Crowley's Ridge. In those days people did not need the assistance of the government to take care of them. They had plenty of corn, meat and bread they produced at home. Six months later you could not tell that there ever had been an overflow from the looks of the corn and cotton.
"But to return to the boys who were getting frightened at the ever-increasing flood," said Mr. Bond, "we all loaded our pipes and you may know there was a smoke in the building. 'Twas then I said, 'Boys, all sit down and let's reason with one and another. The water will be at a standstill tomorrow evening. Really know what I am talking about, because the stage of the river at Cairo always governs the height of the water here. That is a thing I always keep posted on. While this, the great house, is two-thirds full of water, you must remember that this is the eddy right along here, and anyone of you take your spike pole and let it down to the floor and you will find from 8 to 10 inches of sand and sediment.'
"One man said, 'I know he is right, because whenever an overflow subsides I have to shovel out from ten to twelve inches of sand. This house is built out of hewn logs, 46 feet long and the biggest brick stack chimneys in the middle I ever saw. Now, boys with all this meat and other things piled on this scaffold you are perfectly safe. I am feeding you boys and paying you well. I am only asking you to do what you see me do. This satisfied them and we stuck together."
Starting a Negro School
In 1886, a northern gentleman, Mr. Thorn, was renting the Bond farm. He was very kindly disposed toward the colored people. He wrote to Memphis for a teacher for a colored school. The parties to whom he wrote, referred him to Miss Celia Winchester. She accepted the school.
When the boat arrived at Wittsburg, Mr. Thorn, not knowing the customs of the south, secured a room at the hotel for Miss Winchester, who was an Oberlin, Ohio, graduate. She had attended school with the whites at that famous seat of learning. She too, was ignorant of the customs prevailing in the south.
Sitting On A Snake
There was a woman named Julia Ann on our plantation, who, one day at dinnertime, went to a tree where she had hung her dinner bucket. She reached up and got the bucket and backed up to the tree and sat down between its protruding roots to eat her dinner. When she got up, she found she had been sitting on a rattlesnake. The snake was killed. He had fifteen rattlers and a button on his tail. Ann fainted when she saw the snake. She said that she had felt the snake move, but thought that it was the cane giving way beneath her.
I heard of an instance where a man built a house on a flat, smooth rock on a piece of land that he had bought. It was in the autumn when he built his house. When the weather grew cold he made a fire on the rock. There had been a hole in the rock, but the man had stopped it up.
One night he had retired, and late in the night, his child, which was sleeping between him and his wife, became restless and awakened him. He reached for the child and found what he supposed was his wife's arm across the child. He undertook to remove it and to his consternation, found he had hold of a large snake. He started to get out of bed, to make a light, and the whole floor was covered with snakes. He got out of the house with his wife and child.