Well, Uncle Mark, I have been asked to get the story of your early life for our government. Will you favor me by answering a few questions?
No indeed, I feel pround and honored and will be glad to.
Now Uncle Mark, what is your full name and where were you born?
My name is Mark Anthony Discus and I was born on the old Bidstrap place. Bidstrap is the present owner of the Jeff Montgomery place, where I was born.
Hit is just about four five miles from here and my first master, was a Presbyterian preacher, his name was Jeff Montgomery. My Pappy's name was Hardin Montgomery and my Mammy was Susan Montgomery.
Uncle Mark, did you have any brothers or sisters?
Yessuh, there was ten children of we'uns and we was all separated. I was sold when I was four years old, they said, for three hundred and fifty dollars. Wish I had the money now, Uncle Mark said with a chuckle, I could shore use hit good.
Do you know when your birthday is, Uncle Mark?
Yes Suh ree. I was born on Chris'mus day and will be eighty-eight (88) years old this Chris'mus (1937). I know this is so 'cause my master had a boy born the same year and he allus said it was so.
Did you ever see any of your brothers or sisters or your parents
after you were sold?
Yes Suh, sometimes I did. I seen my brothers and sisters but they had different names. Then I heard my Pappy had died. I don't remember him. My Mammy was sold down South and I never seen her again 'til after the war was over. She came back here and died at South Greenfield, about thirty-five years ago.
Tell me, Uncle Mark; they say when slaves were marketed off they were sold like cattle, is that right?
Well now, I kain't remember much about hit only what I was told. I remember my Mammy cryin' and I was scared. They stood me on a big stump and auctioned me off. They told me they stuck pins in the older ones felt their muscles and looked at their teef, but I kain't remember that.
Is it true, Uncle Mark, that they greased the bodies of the older ones before they sold them?
Yes Suh, they did. And they fed'em up and didn't work 'em for awhile. They took wool cards and combed the kinks outer their hair too.
Uncle Mark, do you know who bought you first?
Yes Suh, a man by the name of Miller bought me first and then I was sold to ol' master Ned Discus. This sale was just a trade, so I just changed homes, so to say.
Did you go to school?
Lawsy no, chile. I just worked. I don't know nothin' bout larnin. When I was nine years old I cut all the corn stalks offen a forty-acre
field with a hoe. We had to work from sun up 'til dark too.
Did your master ever whip you?
Yes Suh, sometimes. Once I remember he whooped me 'til the blood run offen my heels for breakin' an axe handle. We knowed to step when he yelled at us.
Did you have plenty to eat?
We had 'nough of what we got, but hit was just course grub.
Did you have meat and, what kind, if any?
Yes Suh, we allus had fat meat but none of the ham.
Do you remember how many slaves your master owned?
No Suh, I don't know how many the first master owned, but my last master did not have more than twelve or fifteen.
Did you live in the house with your master or did you all have separate homes?
Married folks lived in log cabins, but the single folks lived in the big house. I lived in the big house. I slept on a pallet on the floor in the kitchen and every mornin' the ol' master would holler, "Mark, Mark light that fire". And if I didn't git right up I got a cane over my head.
Were the negroes married legally?
What do you mean?
Well, did they get a license and get married like white folks.
No Suh, st first they just had a ceremony and a preacher or some officer married 'em, but after awhile they made 'em, get a license.
I don't think my Pappy and Mammy had a license but their master was a preacher as I said, and he married them alright.
Do you remember, Uncle Mark, how they dressed when married?
No, I don't.
How were you dressed at your marriage?
Oh, I was fine. I got me a suit of clothes at Springfield that cost forty dollars and I had a biled shirt and a stiff colar. My coat was swallow tail and I looked fine. A short fat negro with a swell swallow tail strutin' his stuff, that was me, Uncle Mark said with a chuckle.
Now, Uncle Mark getting back to slavery days; how did your master dress you?
We just wore a one piece garment called a skift. It was a hol' lot like a long night shirt. It was the coarsest of cotton stuff an' had no collar.
Didn't you have anything else to wear?
Well, in the winter we had 'ol' clothes of the master's family.
Of course, you had shoes?
No we didn't! Only in the coldest of weather we had split leather shoes without any linin'. I have had my feet freeze and crack open on the heels and bleed. Didn't do us no good to complain neither.
Did you ever have any fun or play games?
Not much. Sometimes we'ud get a little time offen from work if the weather was too bad or on Sunday. We mostly tried to see who could lift
the mos'. We would rassel too. Sometimes we pitched horse shoes, and sometimes we went possum huntin'.
Did you like possum Uncle Mark?
Yes Suh, I sure did and still do. Possum wif sweet taters am fine, but my teef are gone now till I kain't eat it any more.
Did you ever attend religious' services?
Mos' allus in the fall, after the crops was laid by and the white folks had camp meetin's an', of cose, us colored-folks went too.
What are some of your favorite songs?
I like "Old Time Religion" best.
What did the colored folks think of Abraham Lincoln and freedom?
They wanted to be free and prayed for the war to stop. And I think Lincoln was the greatest, man that ever lived.
Who of all men do you think is the greatest?
Did you vote for Dewey?
No Suh, I don't vote no more. I'm too old, but I think he is a great man.
Do you remember seeing any runaway slaves?
No Suh, but I heard some talk about 'em, and seen some men huntin' some.
Uncle Mark, do you recall seeing any soldiers during the war?
Yes Suh. We lived right on the road and I saw men of both sides pass by. I heard the cannons and seen where they had shot off whole trees during a battle with Price's men, but I didn't see the fight.
Which side did your master favor?
He didn't take aides much, but he thought the confederates was right. 0l' master wanted to see us free when he saw how things was goin', but his oldest son had took charge of things and he said "No". Hit was right funny. 0l' master had refused to sell me for twelve hundred dollars, so young master' loaded me and four others of the best slaves in a wagon and linked our hands together and started South with us to sell us. We got within twelve miles of the Texas line when we met some' soldiers and they said to turn the niggers loose. Freedom had come. That made young master mad as a hornet but he let us go right there and then.
What did you do then?
Well, I come back here and hired out to first one and then another for twenty-five cents a day till I saved up enough to buy me a mule. Then I rented forty acres of land from a man by the name of Brown and farmed. Every time I could get away from my work I worked out and saved my money. I bought stock and after awhile I got enough together to buy forty acres where I live now.
How much did you pay for the forty, Uncle Mark?
I raid three hundred dollars, but I had to put a mortgage on it for one hundred and fifty dollars an' I never could qet it paid. After I got so I couldn't work anymore I couldn't pay the interest and they sold hit. The man that bought hit told me we could live here as long as we
lived and I'm certainly thankful for that.
Did your master ever help you any?
No Suh, he didn't.
You were a real good worker were you not?
Yes Suh, I allus could get plenty of work. People got me to cradle their grain before binders were used. I could cut and bind from three to five acres a day by myself.
Did you build this house?
Yes Suh, but our first house was a log cabin. I bought hit an' moved hit, here. This house I mean. Hit cost me twenty dollars. My children use to live here too. We had three; two boys and one girl. One boy died about thirty years ago and the other boy, Elmer, lives with us now an' takes care of us. Our girl is married. She is Mrs R.H. Triplett and has three children. Elmer has one boy.
My woman lost her eye sight about sixteen years ago and she gets a blind pension. We need more than that to live on though, for Elmer kain't go out and work much and wait on us all the time.
The white folks is awful good to us. When we was married fifty years they made a great to do about hit. We been married now fifty-three years. We had a license and a white preacher married us.
(We are indebted to Mr. Howard M. Farmer, Route #1, Greenfield, Missouri, for material assistance in securing this story.)