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‘The Buzzards Fly Down On His Shoulder’ – Former Slaves Speak on the Ku Klux Klan in Texas (Part 2)

This week, we’ll return to Texas to hear tales of the Ku Klux Klan as told by former slaves. Again we’ll see the varieties of experiences former slaves had with the Klan. Some saw brutal lynchings and were personally targeted, while others actually supported or even accompanied the Klan for a night.

Formed in Tennessee in 1866, the Klan spread quickly to the surrounding states, and then all across the South. These terrorist operations lasted until 1874, when they were disbanded in name. 1More about the founding of the Klan can be found here.

Nearly sixty years later, these former slaves were interviewed by the Federal Writers Project. The project interviewed over 2,300 black Americans living in most of the former slave states. Many were asked a nearly identical series of questions, including: “Do you remember the Ku Klux Klan?” 2It must be kept in mind that most of the former slaves were young when the first incarnation of the Klan came into existence. Most were probably under fifteen; some were probably as young as five. Additionally, it should be remembered that when interviewed in the 1930s, most were between 75 and 85. With all the decades in between, the memory certainly suffered. That said, while the accounts vary, many are nearly identical.

In this post, the second of two due to the volume of testimonies, we’ll look at the answers given in Texas – a state that saw an early rise of the Klan in its eastern portions. These are their replies. 3While almost all of the former slave were asked the Klan question, many claimed to have had no contact with them. Those who said little or nothing have not been included. Still, there are some included who claimed to have little contact with the Klan, and reaped a benefit for that distance.

Jerry Moore, Marshall, TX:
“My father told me about old Col. Alford and his Kluxers taking Anderson Wright out to the bayou. They told him, ‘You’d better pray.’ Wright got down on his knees and acted like he was praying till he crawled to the bank and jumped off in the bayou. The Klux shot at him fifty or sixty times, but he got away. The Loyal League give him money to leave on and he stayed away a long time. He came back to appear against Alford at his trial and when the jury gave Alford ninety-nine years, Anderson was glad, of course.”

John Moore, Beaumont, TX 4Mr. Moore was speaking of his post-war experiences when he lived in Louisiana.:
“I heard lots about the Kuu Klux. Sometimes they want a nigger’s place and they put up notice he better sell out and leave. If he go see a lawyer, the lawyer wouldn’t take the case, because most of them in with the Klux. He tell de nigger he better sell.”

William Moore, Dallas, TX:
“I got married and had three children, cute, fetching little children, and they went to school. Wasn’t no trouble about school then, but was when emancipation come. My brother Ed was in school then and the Ku Klux come and drove the Yankee lady and getleman out and closed the school.”

Andy Nelson, Moser Valley, TX:
“For ten, twelve years after the war, the Klux gets after the niggers who is getting into devilment. The colored folks sure quavered when they thought the Klan was after them. One nigger crawls up the chimney of the fireplace and that nigger soon gets powerful hot and has to come out. You should of seen that nigger. He weren’t human looking. He is all soot, fussed up, choked and scared. They weren’t after him but wants to ask him if he knows where other niggers is hiding. I was too young to get in no picklement with the Klux.”

Margrett Nillin, Fort Worth, TX:
“After freedom we see the Klux and they is around our place but they not come after us. They comes across the way about a nigger called Johnson, and him crawls under him house, but they makes him come out and gives him some licks and what a bellow come from that nigger! Him had got foolishment in him head and they come to him for that.”

John Ogee, Jefferson County, TX:
“I remember then the Ku Klux come and when that happen I come to Texas. They never did get me but some they got and killed. I knowed several men they whip pretty bad. I know Narcisse Young, they tell him they was coming. He hid in the woods, in the trees and he open fire and killed seven of them. There was a colored man with them and after they goes, he comes back and asks can he get them dead bodies. Narcisse let him and then Narcisse he left and goes to New Orleans.”

George Owens, Marshall, TX:
“I always pronounced the patterrollers and the Klu Kluxers about the same. For as seeing them, I ain’t. I think they done good to the country. They didn’ bother nobody except them what was out of their place. If they had some now it might do good.”

Henderson Perkins, Fort Worth, TX:
“We had good times in slavery, but I likes my freedom. The Marster always give us a pass on Sunday and some nights when we has dance and such. But iffen you went out without a pass, then the patterollers before the War or the Klux after the War would come looking for you. Them niggers without the pass sure makes the scatterment, out the window or up the chimney. But when we is free, we goes anywhere we wants to.”

Lee Pierce, Jefferson, TX:
“I stayed with Marse Fowler till the Ku Klux got to raging. The Yankees run it out of business. That Ku Klux business started from men trying to run the niggers back to their farms. They near all left their masters and didn’t have nothing or nowheres to go. The colored folks was scared of them Kluxers. They come round the house and had some kind of rigging so they could drink several buckets of water.

“A colored man at Jefferson, named Dick Walker, got up a colored militia to keep the Klux off the niggers. The militia met here in the old African Methodist Church. Marse Fowler done got up a bunch of thirty men to break up that colored militia, and he organized his bunch at our place. I helped saddle the hosses the night they went to take the church. Ben Biggerstaff, he was one the main white leaders. They kilt several of the militia and wounded lots more. That’s after the Yankees done leave.”

Laura Redmoun, Dallas, TX 5Ms. Redmoun lived in Memphis, Tennessee during and after the war, during the Ku Klux days.:
“In them times the Ku Klux got to skullduggering around and done take Mr. Scruggs and give him a whipping, but I never heard what it had to do about. He don’t like them none, noways, and shuts himself up in the house. He a curious kind of man, it appear to me, if I’s to tell the plain out truth. I don’t think he was much but kind of trashy.”

Unidentified Klansman, 1870.
Unidentified Klansman, 1870.

Aaron Russel, Fort Worth, TX 6Mr. Russel, another slave from Louisiana, was speaking of the time before he moved to Texas.:
“Us gets along good, because us stay on massa’s place and he instructs us what to do. He say to stay out of the mess and keep working. For long time us never leave the place, after the war, because of trouble going on. There am times it wasn’t safe for no colored person to go off the plantation. Some foolish niggers what listen to some foolish white folks gets the wrong instructions. They comes to think they can run the white folks. Now, when they starts such, of course the white folks don’t allow such. Some of them stubborn niggers has to be educated by the Ku Klux Klan. That am the tough education and some of them niggers never get over the lesson. Them that do never forget it!”

Clarissa Scales, Austin, TX:
“There was a school after freedom. Old Man Tilden was the teacher. One time a bunch of men they calls the Ku Klux come in the room and say, ‘You get out of here and get away from them niggers. Don’t let us catch you here when we comes back.’ Old Man Tilden sure was scared, but he say, ‘You all come back tomorrow.’ He finishes that year and we never hears of him again.”

George Simmons, Beaumont, TX:
“And the Kluxes they range around some. They soon plays out but they took most the time to scare the niggers. One time they comes to my daddy’s house and the leader, him in the long robe, he say, ‘Nigger, quick you and get me a drink of water.’ My daddy, he brung the white folks drinking gourd and that Klux, he say, ‘Nigger, I say get me a big drink — bring me that bucket. I’s thirsty.’ He drinks three buckets of water, we thinks he does, but what you think we learns? He has a rubber bag under his robe and is putting that water in there!”

James W. Smith, Fort Worth, TX:
“When the Klux come, the colored organization made their scatterment. Plenty gets whipped around our place and some what wasn’t entitled to it. Then soldiers comes and puts order in the section. They has trouble about voting. The colored folks in them days was non-knowledge, so how could they vote intelligent? That am foolishment to insist on the right to vote. It the non-knowledge what hurts. Myself, I never voted and am too far down the road now to start.”

Jordon Smith, Marshall, TX:
“In Ku Klux times they come to our house and I stood trembling, but they didn’t bother us. I heard them say lots of niggers was took down in Sabine bottom and Kluxed, just because they wanted to get rid of them. I think it was desperados what done that, instead of the Ku Klux. That was did in Panola County, in the Bad Lands. Bill Bateman and Hulon Gresham and Sidney Farney was desperados and would kill a nigger just to get rid of him. Course, lots of folks was riled up at the Kluxers and blamed ’em for everything.” 7It’s interesting to see that, at least for Mr. Smith, another word for “lynched” was “Kluxed.”

Susan Smith, ___________, TX 8Ms. Smith was speaking of when she lived in Iberia, Louisiana.:
“I saw the Ku Klux. Poor Cajuns and redbones, I calls them. They ought to be sleeping. One time I saw a man hanging in the wood when I was picking blackberries. His tongue hanging out and the buzzards fly down on he shoulder. The breeze set him to swinging and the buzzards fly off. I tells the people and they takes him down to bury. He a fine, young colored man. I don’t know why they done it. That after peace and the Yankees done gone back home.”

Lucy Thomas, Marshall, TX:
“Them days, the Ku Kluxers was running around and I saw big bunches of niggers with their heads tied up, going to report the Kluxers to the Progee Marshal.”

Aleck Trimble, Veth, TX:
“After while the Ku Kluxers got after the colored folks. Then they make a song:

“‘Run nigger run, the Ku Klux get you.’

“Lots of time they come on Sunday. One place there was a big plum thicket along the road and they dodge in there and catch people. Lots of colored folks have to pass by there to get where they going. In the daytime them Ku Kluxes was just in their common clothes, but when they come in the nights they did figure themselves with them high point hats and white things wrapped around them.”

William Watkins, _________, TX 9Mr. Watkins was originally from Virigia, where the event described took place.:
“The first time we sees the Ku Klux is right after the war. They whips the slaves what leaves the plantations, they don’t want them to be free.”

Lulu Wilson, Dallas, TX:
“My ma was in her cabin with a week old baby and one night twelve Ku Kluxses done come to the place. They come in by ones and she whopped them one at a time.”

Willis Winn, Marshall, TX ((Mr. Winn is probably talking about events that happened when he lived in Louisiana (or possibly Arkansas).:
“I’s been catched by them Ku Kluxers. They didn’t hurt me, but have lots of fun making me cut capers. They pulls my clothes off once and make me run about four hunerd yards and stand on my head in the middle the road.”

Louis Young, Fort Worth, TX:
“I done forget to tell you about the Klux. Them devils causes lots of trouble. They done their dirty work at night, come and took folks out and whip them.

“Some colored folks am whipped so hard they in bed several weeks and I knowed some hanged by their thumbs. Maybe some of them colored folks gets out of their places, but most of them I knows gets whipped for nothing. It just the orneriness of them Klux. It so bad the colored folks afraid to sleep in their house or have parties or nothing after dark. They starts for the woods or ditches and sleeps there. It get so they can’t work for not sleeping, from fear of them Klux. Then the white folks takes a hand and soldiers am brung and they puts a stop to them devils.”

__________________

The recorded Slave Narratives of Texas span four volumes, the third and fourth were used for this post. Those can be read here:
Vol. 3
Vol. 4

References   [ + ]

Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.