UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Mrs. Julia Anne Griffin
Dr. Samuel Proctor (I)
DATE: October 23, 1973
I: Julie, we're starting an oral history interview. It's part
of the Cherokee Indian Oral History Project. We're here in
the Cherokee Council House in Cherokee, North Carolina, and
this is Wednesday. What's the date today?
G: Tuesday, the twenty-third.
I: Is it Tuesday, October 23. This is Tuesday afternoon. Give
me your full name, Julie, please.
G: Julia Anne Griffin.
I: Where were you born?
G: In Cherokee Hospital, Swain County,at the Birdtown Community.
G: February 14, 1942.
I: Have you lived here all your life, Julie?
G: Yes, I have, sir.
I: Julie, I want to talk to you a little bit about your family.
How much Indian are you?
G: I'm half-Cherokee.
I: Which half?
I: I mean, what is it? Are you Indian on your mother's side?
G: My mother was a full-blooded Indian, and my father is a white
man, so I get half of my mother's and none of my father's.
I: Let's talk about your mother's side of the family. First of
all, what was her name?
G: Caroline Ledford.
I: Where was your mother from?
G: Allman, North Carolina, about fifty-eight miles from here.
I: She was born and raised there?
I: Had her family always lived in this area as far as you know?
I: And what about her mother?
G: Her mother's name was Polly Greybeard.
I: Polly Greybeard. Did you grow up in a house where your grandparents
G: Yes. With my grandfather I stayed a lot when I was a young girl.
I: Where was this?
G: In the Birdtown Community.
I: How did it happen you were staying at your grandfather's house
a good bit?
G: My grandfather was sick a lot, and the lady he was married to wasn't
Polly Greybeard; it was another woman. She had died, and he had
I: Polly had died?
G: Yes. He had remarried, and this lady just couldn't seem to cope
with him alone. I was twelve at the time, and my mother suggested
I go stay with them through the summer months when I wasn't in
school. So I went to live with them.
I: Julie, what did this mean, now? How close were you to your grand-
G: I was real close to my grandfather.
I: Did he talk to you a lot about old times?
I: Tell us some of the things that he told you.
G: He used to tell me a long time ago about riding a wagon train
from Allman Post Office into the Birdtown Community for visiting
with relatives. He talked about riding horseback. He talked
about visiting the sick on horseback.
I: He was not a doctor, though, was he?
G: No, he was not a doctor. But I remember one time when he had to
go get the doctor on horseback, and him and the doctor rode back
to the patient's house. And I remember my mother telling me
different things about horse and buggy days. There were no cars,
and she used to have to walk ten miles to school.
I: Where was that school?
G: They lived in a rural area, and they attended school in Allman.
Then they moved to Cherokee, and my mother went to Cherokee
I: What brought them here to Cherokee?
G: Mainly, [it] was to get closer to the tribal council and to
G: They were interested in living on the reservation. I'm not sure
if Allman was part of the reservation. To my understanding, I
think it is. But one main reason my mother wanted on the reser-
vation was to be closer where she could go to school.
I: What about your father? What kind of work did he do?
G: Well, I'm not familiar with my father, so I couldn't say too
much about him because I didn't know him. I was very young.
I: When he left home or did he die?
G: When he left home.
I: Have you stayed in touch at all with the white part of your
G: No, I have not.
I: So you don't know anything about your grandparents or your
father's side of the family at all?
G: No, sir.
I: Your contacts have been with the Indian relatives, your mother's
G: With my mother's family I'm very close.
I: How did it happen that your mother would marry a white man?
G: Well, I'm not familiar with that subject either.
I: I just wondered if it was somebody she had met in school or
G: No, I don't think so. It was an all-Indian boarding school here
in Cherokee where she attended, about a hundred blocks from here.
I: Was this a great-grandmother or a grandmother, this Polly Greybeard?
G: That was my grandmother. I'm not familiar with my great-grand-
mother. I don't remember Polly's mother's name.
I: Well, do you remember Polly?
G: No, I was very young when she died, too. I was just very small.
I: What about the Greybeard family? Where were they from?
G: Allman, North Carolina.
I: All of them from Allman, North Carolina.
I: That was an old family?
G: Yes. All full-blooded Indians I'm told.
I: How'd your grandfather make his living?
G: He was a farmer, just a dirt farmer of crops--corn, beans, peas....
I: After your father left, did this mean that your grandfather
took care of the family?
G: Yes. My grandfather raised my mother, and then my mother
moved into a home of her own where she cared for an elderly
sick man, Samson Owl. His daughters were all away at school,
and my mother moved in with him, with payment from the welfare,
to help pay our way and help take care of him also.
I: And your mother went to the boarding school here in Cherokee?
I: Did she graduate from here?
G: Yes, I think she graduated. But then the ninth grade was all
they had--no tenth.
I: What did she do with her education? Did she continue to be a
G: She continued to be a housewife and a mother to us children.
I have three sisters.
I: You are one of four girls and no boys?
G: Four girls and no boys.
I: And you were born in 1942?
I: And tell me about your growing up here. You've lived all your
life in Cherokee?
G: Yes, I live about two miles from here in the Birdtown Community,
and I lived on Owl Branch for the first twelve years of my life.
Then we moved to Birdtown where I have resided for the rest of
my life. My husband is from this community, and that's where I
met him. We have been married for thirteen years.
I: Is he an Indian?
G: Yes, my husband is Indian.
G: No, sir. 1/32.
I: 1/32 Indian?
G: 1/32 or 1/64. I'm not quite sure just how much it is. I'll
have to check the records.
I: What is your earliest memory of Cherokee, Julie?
G: When I was six years old, the first day I started to school.
I: And where was the school?
G: In Cherokee about a hundred blocks from here.
I: Try to remember that first day in school.
G: Well, it was just a small school. I think they had only twelve
classes. They had the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, on
through to the twelfth. And there was about twenty-one children
in my class. It was strange. I mean, I never had been in a
group of children this large. And they taught us reading and
writing, which I didn't know then.
I: Try to remember that very first day. Who took you to school?
G: My oldest sister took me to school and showed me where my room
was. And I remember it was the longest day of my life. I guess
I cried a whole lot because I had never been away from home--never
been away from my mother.
I: But your family lived right here in Cherokee?
I: You don't have any memories of playing and visiting before you
were six years old?
G: Well, I probably do, but I'd have to go way back. I know that
we visited my grandpa a lot. And my mother has three brothers
and four sisters, and I know we visited them a lot.
I: From here, how did you get to Allman to visit your grandfather?
G: Well, in the meantime my grandfather had moved to Cherokee.
[That] was how my mother got up here to be close to the tribal
council. And we walked. We ran or we walked because when I
was real young there were no cars hardly on the road. All you'd
see was horseback. But I do remember cars, taxis. I do remem-
ber one taxi my mother used to have take us home when we'd walk
to the hospital or when we'd walk to the grocery store.
I: Julie, remember your first Christmas and tell me about it.
G: My first Christmas. Well, I guess I was about four or five.
And we all four received a rag doll. That's about all I can
remember except it snowed a lot.
I: You had Christmas trees?
G: Yes, I think we did.
I: Do Cherokees now or then celebrate Christmas in any special
kind of way?
G: None that I know. I know everybody was pretty poor.
I: Did children believe in Santa Claus?
G: I did.
I: There was no special kind of giver of gifts that was associated
with Cherokee tradition?
G: None that I can remember.
I: In other words, the Cherokee children believed in Santa Claus
just like non-Cherokee children.
I: Was there any special ceremonies in the house or dishes that a
Cherokee family served associated with that holiday?
G: Well, mostly bear meat, maybe squirrel, rabbit, bean bread, and
I: Were these things special for Christmas?
G: For us it was.
I: Now, what about bear meat? Where would that come from?
G: From the mountains. The bears come down off the mountains
hunting for something to eat.
I: And who would trap those?
G: The men in the community.
I: There would be a bear hunt before Christmas?
G: Well, we have two persons in Birdtown now that hunt all winter
long for bears, and they store the meat and sell it to us. Back
then they would give it to us. We didn't have to buy it.
I: Well, was this kind of a special thing where the mann n the zom-
munity would go out and get the meat for Christmas for the families
in the community?
G: I'm not sure if they just did this to give it to us, or whether
at Christmas we were just one of the luck persons that got it give
to my mother.
I: Do you remember how you got it?
G: Luther Murphy gave us our first piece of bear meat. He just brought
it as a gift for Christmas. And Bill Murphy was always a-killing
squirrels and rabbits and bringing them to our house that we could
I: How did your mother fix bear meat?
G: Well, she just started a big kettle of water, put the meat in, and
let it boil for about three and a half hours. And when it was done,
we just ate it like stew beef.
I: Sort of like a simmer as a stew?
G: Like a stew beef.
I: You put vegetables into it?
G: No, not then. We just ate the meat and the broth.
I: Was bear meat considered a delicacy?
G: Yes, it still is.
I: How does it taste?
G: Like beef.
I: No stronger?
G: No stronger. It tastes better than beef.
I: Is it tougher?
I: I've never eaten bear meat so I'm just kind of curious. And
who killed the squirrels?
G: Bill Murphy and Luther Murphy. And my Grandpa Riley killed a
lot of squirrels when he was able to go, but then he wasn't
too able after he was sick a lot.
I: As a child you don't remember being poor or having anything that
was less than anybody else in the community, do you?
G: Not right offhand.
I: In other words, everybody was poor.
G: Everybody was poor just about.
I: What about the bearskins? What happened to those?
G: Well, usually they were nailed to a big piece of board and tacked
on a wall to save for winter. When they dried out, we used them
for robes, or we sold the bear hides. We got a lot of money when
we sold a bear hide.
I: Where'd you sell them?
G: Different traders coming through in the summer time would purchase.
I: Have you any idea how much they went for?
G: No, I'm not sure. I never did have any opportunity to be around
when they sold the bear hides.
I: Did they trap deer in those days?
G: They shot deer; I don't think they trapped them. But deer
is one of the animals that we're not familiar with. We don't
have a large variety of deer. Bears, squirrel, coon, rabbits,
quail, and pheasants--this is mostly what we have here on the
I: Are these things still hunted and still eaten today?
I: Now we're going toward Thanksgiving. Is there any particular
food associations with that?
G: Well, everybody in this day and time tries to have turkey, but
back then at my first 'giving [Thanksgiving] we usually had bear,
squirrel, or rabbit--the same thing we had at Christmas.
I: I know today people go to the grocery and buy turkey. I'm just
trying to figure out how they did then.
G: We just ate the wild meat--bear, rabbit, squirrel, or pheasant.
I know my mother used to like to eat pheasants.
I: Julie, you were talking about did you say bean bread?
G: Bean bread and chestnut bread.
I: Were those special for holidays, or did you often have those?
G: We had them often. It was something like you would have rolls
for lunch. We had bean bread at every supper meal.
I: Now what is bean bread?
G: It's corn meal and pinto beans made into something similar to a
mush. You take it and roll it into bean balls with hot water,
drop it into a pan of boiling water, let it boil for about forty-
five minutes to an hour, and it's ready to eat with fatback and
I: You fix bean bread in your home now?
I: What are pinto beans?
G: Pinto beans is a dried bag of beans you can pick up at the
supermarket, but we call them pinto beans.
I: How do you prepare that for the bread?
G: You look at the beans real good to get all the stones out and the
rocks and dirt. You wash them about three times. You bring them
to a boil and boil them for, oh, three or four minutes. Then you
take them out, rinse them again, put them back on, and let them
boil completely done. And you would mix the boiling hot beans
with your cornmeal, roll them into bean balls, and drop them into
your hot kettle of bean soup that you already have prepared, sitting
there next to you in another individual pot. You bring them to a
boil for about forty-five minutes to an hour, and they're ready
I: Now what was the other bread?
G: Chestnut bread.
I: Tell me about that.
G: Now, chestnut bread's a little bit harder to make. It's something
like hickory nuts. It grows on a tree out in the wilderness.
I: Who gathers the chestnuts?
G: The women, the men, children--anybody knows what chestnuts look like.
I: I see, and they grow all through this area?
G: We have a few. But the blight hit our chestnuts back some ten,
twelve years ago, and we don't have very many. But, fortunately,
we still have a few. We go out and gather these, and they come
in a big green burr.
I: Is this in the fall you gather them?
G: Yes, right along about now. They have big green burrs, and then
they turn brown. And when they turn brown, the sticker burr falls
off, and you take out the little chestnut, similar to a buckeye.
If you didn't know what a chestnut looked like, you might
be gathering buckeyes. But this is what they look like.
You take them home, crack the shell, and take the goodie out.
I: Do you have to let them dry before you crack the shell?
G: No. Just crack the shell and take the goodie out. The
shell is very thin, so it don't take too long. You boil
your chestnuts until you think they're completely done.
You can test them by sticking a fork down in them.
I: You boil them in salt water or something?
G: No, you boil them in just plain water. Then you take and dice
them. When they're through boiling, you dice the chestnuts up,
put in cornmeal, and make chestnut bread similar to the bean
bread. Only at the end you kind of shape them in the size of
a Moon Pie, I guess you'd call it. And you wrap these in corn
fodder that you gather at this time of year just before the
frost hits and turns 'em brown. You use the corn fodder while
they're still green. You can gather this and hang it up, and
it'll keep all winter to roll your chestnut bread in.
I: Now, tell me what Moon Pies are, Julie.
G: Moon Pies are something I first remember buying when I went
to the store for a nickel--Moon Pie and a RC Cola. It's just
a chocolate pie with filling on the inside.
I: Oh, I know.