State: Texas Slave Narrative Interviewee: Densen, Nelson Taylor

Submitted by

Jim Yarbrough

State: Texas Slave Narrative Interviewee: Densen, Nelson Taylor

Miss Effie Cowan, P. W. McLennan County, Texas District #8 (12/4/37)


"Strike the tent, the sun has risen, Not a vapor streaks the dawn, And the frosted prairies brightens, To the westward far and near.  


Prime afresh the trusty rifle, Sharpen well the hunting spear, For the frozen sod is trembling, And the noise of hoofs I hear." (Bayard Taylor)   


Nelson Taylor Densen was brought with his parents to Texas in 1854 by their owner Mr. Jim Densen, he saw the reaction of Texas from the Mexican War and served as body guard for his Master during the Civil War. His story follows:  


"I was born near Hamburg, Arkansas, in Ashley County, on the twenty second day of December, eighteen hundred and forty seven. I will be ninety years old this coming December. My mother was a Virginian, my father a Kentuckian. I was one of eight chillun, only four cum ter Texas with our parents. With their owner Mr. Jim Densen they settled about ten miles from Marlin in Falls County, Texas.  


"We stayed with this owner Mr. Densen until he became involved in debt and sold us ter Mr. Felix Grundy whose body-guard I was during the Civil War. He kept us until freedom was declared and part of us stayed with him and part worked fer the near-by neighbors after freedom.  


"I kin remember hearin' my parents tell of their life as slaves in their home state, and many incidents of their lives, they lived the average life of the plantation slaves, they were taught to read and write, hence my being able to be a minister of the Gospel.  


"My first clear memory is playing as a child on the banks of the river near whar I lived in Arkansas, and the work on the plantation, they raised little patches of cotton and grain, and lots of strawberries, apples, dewberries and blackberries, as well as other fruit and vegetables. Also cowpeas which they fed to the stock.  


"The timber made it a good place for cattle and hogs for at that time they run out in the woods free, and we did not have to buy our wood. The old Master had an easy livin' but the folks everywhar was a cumin ter Texas, the land was very clean an they was bringin' in settlers and colonizing the new state, so our Master decided to throw in his fortunes with it too.  


"Dis was right after the war with Mexico and dey was famblie dat would get together and all cum in the same crowd, in order to help protect each other against the Indians and wild animals like bears and some panther's. Dey cum in de spring an' if de rivers would be up den dey would sometimes have ter camp an' wait until hit run down 'specially if dey has ter ford hit. Some rivers if dey was small an' had rock beds dey forded an if dey was big like de Red River dey crossed in er ferryboat.  


"Sometimes dey had ter swim de horses an make several trips ter git dey things across, an den dey had de cattle ter git across too, an dey mos always swim de river's if dey not too big.  


"W'en dey make de camp de wagons was set in a circle an de camp fire in de center, dis was ter have a place ter keep a breaswork, in a way as protection from Indians, and de wild animals, de wolves was de worst ter smell de cookin an cum ter de camp. Sometime de camp guards would see two big eyes er lookin' out at dem from de trees an brush an' hit would be a wolf or bear, dey shoot de gun off an dat skeer dem away.  


"Sometimes hit not an animal but an Indian an den dey goes an makes de peace sign and dey sit down an has a pow-wow wid dem, pretty soon de Master get up an cum an git some beans er some bright dress goods er beads er maybe little gunpowder, fer dey had learned ter shoot by den, an trade wid dem fer moccasens er leather breeches somethin dat dey make.  


"De East, Texas Indians was called de Timber Indians, but dey was known mostly as de Cherekee's an de Alabama Tribes, de settlers crowed de Indians out an lots of dem had gone furder west, dey had about dis time given dem a Reservation in Polk County, of about a thousand acres of land. Some of dem are still dar to dis day.  


"De Plains Indians, among dem de Comanche, get so bold dat dey made raids in Texas, an de Texas Rangers was 'bout all dey was ter keep dem back, untill finally de Government built forts ter station de soljers an de Rangers ter live an be ready ter go after dem if dey made a raid, or watch fer dem, dey was not friendly like de Cherekees an de Alabama Tribes.  


"W'en we cum ter Texas in 1854, dey had jes started de Reservation in Polk County. I understan' dat in 1928 de white people helped dem ter buy more land an now dey has 'bout four thousand acres, dey still make de bows an arrows, baskets, mats, rugs, flutes, spoons an other things. Dis dey sell ter de white folks an dey works for de white people too.  


"I have learned too dat de Government had 'nuther Reservation at Ft. Belknap in Young County, an one on de Clear Fork ob de Brazos 'bout sixty miles from dis one, but hit did'nt work out bery well so dey moved dem ter de Indian territory dat we call Oklahoma now.  


"I has some dates of things dat happened, I has kept all dose years an one is 'bout Cynthia Ann Parker, how she was captured at Parkers Fort on May de nineteenth 1836, near de town of Groesbeck, Texas. Five Americans was killed an' four was taken prisoner's. Of de twenty from de fort dat escaped dey was six days in de wilderness without food, ceptin' what dey find in de woods. A Mrs. Kellog one of de prisoners was wid de Indians six months, Mrs. Plummer over a year an' her son 'bout six years, Cynthia Ann Parker twenty four years an her little brother if living is still wid dem at de time dis was written in 1878, in a Directory of Texas, Published at Austin.  


"Dis was in May befo' Santa Anna was placed on de Texas war schooner ter be sent ter Vera Cruz. A Company of volunteers dat had jes arrived at Velasco forcibly took him an brought him on shore. Dey gib him ter Gen Paaten of de army an dey takes him up de river ter a Dr. Phelps house whar dey kept him until a company of Bucheye Rangers cum an helped ter sneak him away ter de Mississippi river whar dey took de ship ter Washington an den President Jackson sent him ter Vera Cruz, Mexico.  


"Yer ask me ter tell yer things dat happened in de early days dat we talked 'bout den, dis was w'en we first cum ter Texas, an dey not talkin' den 'bout de slavery question so much as de Mexican an de Indians, but dey did have some trouble wid de Mexicans befo' de Civil War 'bout de slaves, de Mexicans would try ter git dem ter run away an stay across de border wid dem an some ob dem did, however de nigger mos' afraid ob de Mexicans an so dey 'fraid ter do dis much.  


"Dar was one Mexican name Jaun Cortena an his band dat robbed an stole from de Texas people until finally Gen Robert E. Lee of de United States Army run him back across de border. I hear dem talkin' bout dis in de war w'en Gen Lee was in command of de Confederate army.  


"Dar is one more date dat I would like ter tell yer 'bout dat dey talk 'bout w'en we cum ter Texas, an dat was 'bout de Rangers under Gen. George Erath havin' a fight wid de Indians in Robertson County dat not far from whar we lived an how dey killed Frank Childress and Davie Clarke, dis was de folks dat de town of Childress was named fer an de Clarkes ar one ob de oldest famblies in Marlin.  


"Den I could tell yer 'bout how dey talk 'bout de house of Mr. Morgan six miles above de falls ob de Brazos being attacked by dem, an five people killed. An' how Mr. Marlin, (fer whom de town ob Marlin named) on January 10, 1839 de Indians attacked Mr. Marlin's house, but dey drove de Indians back an den de white people followed under de command of Benjamin Bryant. Den on de twenty first of April dey had another battle between de whites an de Indians on Brushy Creek, in de Marlin country between Waco an Marlin, an some white men by de name of Jacob Burlerson, James Gilleland, Edward Blakie, an John Waters was killed.  


"Dis is 'bout all dat I have kept on de things dat happened near Marlin between de Indians an de white folks. But after dey quit being so much trouble de folks lived peacably an dey was more an' more settlers cumin in. Dey had an iron foundry at Rusk an Jefferson 'bout dis time, an at de penitentiary at Huntsville 'bout dis time dey had a mill dat dey make cotton an woolen goods fer de soljers, an de folks in Texas had ter wear some of de goods which helped dem ter have something widout havin ter spin de thread an weave de cloth like dey has ter do most places.  


"In de spring de bluebonnets an de Indian blanket flowers was in bloom w'en we cum ter Texas an we never saw dem befo' dey looked like beds of red an blue blankets an dey was everywhar in April an May. I kin remember how we liked ter fish an de sweet smell ob de pine trees w'en dey build de campfire out ob de brush, an how we boys hunted fer de wild haw, de red haw, de pecans an de walnuts dat grew in de woods ob East Texas as we cum thro' hit. Hit was all wonderful an beautiful ter us, jes ignorant little niggers, an if so ter us what must it have been ter de white settlers?  


"We did not have de Buffalo in dis part ob de county like dey had further west, an de Indians more plentiful out dar. W'en de white men begun ter kill de buffalo, (dis was de Indians meat dey eat), den dey commence ter fight sure e'nuff, dey do like mos' folks would fight fer dey life, an widout de buffalo dey think dat dey can't live.  


"Our ole Master stopped at Marshall, Texas first an decided dat he wants ter cum further south, so he cums ter Marlin or down near Marlin an lives dar de rest ob his life. De way dey all trabbel den was by wagon, de stage coach, an de boats on de rivers and de bayou's. In de northeast part ob Texas dey freighted dey cotton an grain ter Jefferson an den dey shipped by Cypress Bayou, an across Lake Caddo ter de Red River an from dar up North or maybe down ter New Orleans.  


"In South Texas de shippin was in an out ob de bayou's an de rivers ter de coast, an on de Brazos River Richmon' was de head 'Ceptin' w'en de river was up and den dey ship ter de ole town ob Washington on de Brazos, dey called hit. De steambots made regular trips between Galveston an Houston up Buffalo Bayou.  


"Whar dey was'nt any rivers fer de boats, den dey trabbel by de stage coach an dey was heavy an drawn by six or eight horses, dey jes went eight or ten miles an hour an fresh teams was ready fer dem ter change along de way. Dey had a line down thro Marlin from North, Texas, an we used ter watch hit cum in jes like de train or bus.  


"Texas people was jes begginnin' ter git over de Mexican war w'en we cum ter de state, dey talk 'bout de Alamo an Gen. Sam Houston, Travis, who was killed at de Alamo an Bowie, an de battle ob San-Jacinto, w'en dey celebrated dey freedom from Mexico. De Mexicans had dey own Catholic schools an churches dat was established in de days ob de rule by Mexico an de Missions dat de Spaniards had built W'en dey first discovered Texas.  


"De Baptist, Methodist an de Presbyrterians all had dey churches an some had started dey schools, but dey had not started de free schools until long time after dat. An' dey git ter know folks from other places at dem fer dey cum an camp two or three weeks. I has preached at dem an we felt dat de Lord was close ter us, w'en dey got religion dey git it ter de better an ter live right in dem days seem like we nearer ter God den we is now.  


"Well, dis de way dat we livin' in Texas in de year we cum in 1854. Dey talk 'bout sending General Sam Houston ter Washington he voted against slavery up dar, so in 1857 he run fer Governor against Runnels he was beat, dey say, on account ob his vote against slavery, fer Texas was a slave holding state.  


"W'en Runnels was Governor more an more immigrants cum ter Texas, but he was not popular an w'en he an General Houston run again in 1859 fer Governor General Houston beat Runnels.  


"De people of Texas thought dat General Houston would keep Texas from getting into de war, an dat he could make peace wid de Indians an' dat was why he was elected. I kin 'member how he tells dem in his first message dat "if dey dont stan by the union dat de nation be destroyed by war." An w'en Lincoln was made de President, Houston stilled tried ter keep Texas from gittin in de war, an keep hit in de Union, but dey had a Convention at Austin an voted fer Texas ter secede, dat was de twenty eighth day of January, 1861.  


"Den w'en he refused ter take de oath ter de Confederacy dey removes him from de Governer's cheer an he went back ter his home at Huntsville, an never does take hit, but his son Sam went an fought fer de rebels.  


"I was fourteen years old w'en Texas seceded, an w'en dey went ter de war my Master Mr. Felix Grundy went ter fight de Yankees, He was in General Hardemans Brigade an was in two or three battles den he cums back ter Texas on a fourlough an w'en dat is out an he goes back I goes with him as his body guard. De first firing he was in New Mexico, den he was transferred ter Louisiana an I was wid him.  


"I was sixteen years old by dat time an I kin remember de way hit all was at de battle ob Mansfield, April 9, 1863. We was camped on de Sabine rivers, on de Texas side, an de Yankees on de other side up a little ways, I kin remember de night befo' how de camp fires looked, hit was a quiet night an de whipperwills er callin' in de weeds, we was expectin de attack an ter keep us cheerfull we sing, "Tenting Ter Night on de Old Camp Groun'," an' den we sing,  


"Just befo' de battle, Mother, I am thinking most of you, While upon de fiel' we're watchin' Wid de enemy in view. Comrades brave are roun' me lying, Filled wid thoughts of home an' God, For well dey know dat on de morrow, Some will sleep beneath de sod.  


"We could see across de river de Yankees, an could hear dem, de night so still. In de hush befo' de battle every man was thinking of his mother, wife and fambly. W'en de bugle sounded taps, every head was bowed in prayer, I kin best describe de attack wid de last verse of song I has jes told yer dey sing.  


"Hark, I hear de bugles soundin', 'Tis de signal fer de fight, Now, may God protect you, Mother, As he ever does de right, Hear de "Battle Cry of Freedom." How hit swells upon de air, Oh, Yes w'ell rally roun' de standard, Or we'll perish nobly there.  


De Yankees sung de Battle Cry of Freedom, as dey charged on us an we could hear de band er playin' hit as dey cum, but hit jes made our boys fight de hardest, den we sing dis song,  


"Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, de boys are marchin'. Cheer up comrades dey will cum, And beneath de starry flag, We shall breathe de air again, In de freedom of our own beloved home.  


"Dey cum on an' on, an dey fights. Lord how dey fight's! I is a stayin' close ter my Master. I is jes as wild as any fer our boys ter win, yer can hear de clash of de bayonet w'en dey git gray uniforms as dey stood dey groun' an dey went down befo' dey would retreat,   


"In de battle front dey stood, W'en de fiercest charges was made,  


An' dey swept us off a hundred men an more, But befo' we reached dey lines, Dey was beaten back dismayed, An' we heard de cry of victory o'er an O'er.  


"De rebels, our boys in de grey, win's an captures 'bout er thousan' Yankees, after dis de Yankees was mos' of dem taken ter help General Grand at Richmon' an General Sherman on his march ter de sea.  


"De Captain of de company we was in at de battle of Pleasant Hill (near Mansfield), was John Dick Morris, dis company was organized near Marlin, Texas, was called Company B. General J. G. Walker was de District Division Commander, dey was made up in dis company from de town of Marlin an de country, among dem Captain Carter of Cameron was wounded in de battle we was in.  


"At Yellow Bayou de commanding officer of de brigade we was in was General Banks. Tom Green was killed at Blairs Landin' on Red River an General Hardeman took Tom Green's place.  


"Bout de last of de war de Yankees commenced ter use de nigger's dat had run away ter dey lines fer soljers. I don't know much 'bout dat, but I does know dat de slaves dat was left at home ter look after de wimmen an chillun dat mos of dem stayed an' kept de work on de place in de crops up an helped ter take keer of de ole men an de wimmen an chillun, dat dey was a whole lot more dat helped ter dis day dey was dat run away ter de Yankees.  


"De most of de slaves was happy on de plantations, an dey looked on de war like dis, dat de white man was er fightin' fer his principles, at least de ones dat understood did. I has seen so much in my long life dat I feels dat God is more an more de Great Ruler, an dat hit all works out fer de best.  


"I knows dat de old order has changed. Men now must be rich, it seems ter be powerful, once hit was not so. Once men held themselves more dearly dan dey held dey possessions. In de days of Ante-Bellum de attitude was fine an bright an glorious, folks believed in de virtues of truth, chastity, an' chivalry. Dey seem new ter be old fashioned words, whar is de chivalry dat dey lived in de days which yer is writin' about? Does dey help ter protect de wimmen like dey did in de days of old? No, dey worl' of finance will take away er womans home jes de same as er man's. Whar is de demand fer virtue? In de ole days de ole time southern gentlemen demands dat his wife be virtues er he would not marry her, does dey de dis now? No, sad ter say hit looks as if de loose wimmen are de ones dat is preferred.  


"Whar would dey grandmothers say ter dem smokin? Yes, de ole fashion way is out ob date, de curtain of smoke swept away, hit seems, de beauty of de past, de sound of de spinning wheel was lost in de machinery of a later day, jes as de stately minuet was lost in de jass dances of dese day's.  


"I hopes dat in de great windup dat in de words of de ole song hit will be dat "His truth will go Marchin' on."  


"Mine eyes have seen de glory of de cumin' of de Lord, He is tramplin' out de vintage whar de grapes of wrath are stored, He Hath loosed de fateful lightnin' of His terrible swift sword, His truth is marchin' on.  


State: Texas     Interviewee: Densen, Nelson Taylor

Miss Effie Cowan, P. W. McLennan County, Texas District #8 (12/4/37 (yes))  

State: Texas     Interviewee: Densen, Nelson Taylor

Densen, Nelson Taylor