Slave Narratives

from the Rawick Papers, Series 5
Joplin, Missouri
As told by John A. Holt
to: Bernard Hinkle
June 1, 1937.

Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri

Story of John A. Holt (Ex-Slave and Civil War Fighter) Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri
Page 1
File No. 254

John A. Holt, ex-slave, and fighter of Civil War days, is still very much alive, up-to-date, and, while showing signs of his 91 years, is still mentally vigorous and alert.

Holt was born in slavery at Fayettesville, (Washington County,) Arkansas, October 16, 1847. At the time of his birth he was living with his mother at Polly Warmack's place, who owned his mother and him. John Holt, his father, was owned and lived with a family named Holt--hence his own name. His mother and father were legally united at the time, but after the war was over, they were remarried, according to a new law then put into effect regarding ex-slaves.

Life was very even and placid for John A. Holt, up until he was ten years of age, and then Mrs. Warmack, his owner, hired him out to neighboring farmers and planters, many of which were well-to-do land owners, while she, Mrs. Warmack, was not in very affluent circumstances.

Holt said: "I sure was worth ma' weight in gold' those days. My slave mamma use' to come over and collect five dollars in gold for my work, every month."

Mrs. Warmack's brother, one Carol Cleary was hung by the Union soldiers during the Civil War, but on that hangs an interesting tale, in which John A. Holt was an unwitting instrument.

One day, at the very beginning of the Civil War, John Holt and another Negro boy were cutting weed in a grove, near the edge of the farm, when they heard the thump, thump of many horses approaching, and presently, with a

Story of John A. Holt (Ex-Slave and Civil War Fighter) Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri
Page 2
File No. 254

startled glance, the two badly frightened Negro boys found themselves face to face with the first contingent of Union soldiers, on their way south. It turned out to be a heavy vanguard of Union Cavalry, (which later fought at the "Battle of Cane Hill", Arkansas, southward from where Holt lived.)

Under threat of capturing all the Negro boys in the neighborhood and selling them to Cuba, to pay the war debt, the Union officers sternly questioned Holt and his companion concerning the disposition of all the older slaves, who seemed to have been spirited away--which they were. Holt said: "I was too young to know how to lie good, so I up and tells them fierce looking 'bluecoats' dat "marse Cleary' had done taken 'em all south fer pertection from dem."

Enlistment at that time was for only one year, so, one year later, when Carol Cleary, Mrs. Warmack's brother, returned from the South, the Union soldiers picked him up and hung him.

Holt tells an interesting reaction of the Union soldiers, prior to, and during the "Battle of Cane Hill" (Arkansas), even in what, apparently, was a grave situation.

As John Holt put it: "This yer Union Cavalry and Infantry was so many it took two days for them to get through our place headed for Cane Hill. After the first of the column reached Cane Hill and began fighting, (we still had hundreds on our place, drinking and eating and laughing their heads off every time they hear a boom, boom of cannon and the rattle of musketry,) They dumped every apple in our cellar out on the ground and dem soldiers eat like hogs. Bee hives was turned over and men and dogs eat all our honey. Chickens heads went flying as they raided our flocks. Dey was sure a bunch of starved fighters".

Story of John A. Holt (Ex-Slave and Civil War Fighter) Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri
Page 3
File No. 254

Before the expiration of the Civil War, Holt, with a number of other boys, was made a member of the State Militia, and shipped to Fort Scott, Kansas.

He fought under Generals "Moonlight" and Blunt, at the "Battle of Fort Scott", in what is now known as "Price's Raid". Price, who was a Southern Confederate General, was badly defeated in this engagement. That was in 1864.

In later years, when the war was over, and the country at peace, John Holt, with this mother and father located in Joplin. For 26 years he was janitor at the old Central School, formerly where the Memorial Hall now stands. He also worked as a janitor at the Lincoln School, up until his retirement several years ago.

Today he is living over the war again, but this time, peacefully. He now resides at 1109 Hill Street, with his daughter, Mrs. W. M. de Moss, who is 50 years of age. His mother, Mrs. Holt "passed" some years ago, and his father, John Holt, only recently passed on at the ripe old age of 103 years.


Return to Slave Narratives main page.