This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Steve E. McKellar
Interviewer: Emma Echols
August 28, 1993
Steve E. McKellar is a Cherokee Indian who married Billie Ann,
Arzada Sanders daughter. He gathers clay and burns the pots for
Arzada. ie talks about his attempts to find more clay reserves
Interviewee: Steve McKellar
Interviewer: mma Echols
Date Interview: August 28, 1993
E: This is Emma Reid Echols, 5150 Sharon Road, Charlotte, North
Carolina. I am down on the reservation. I am working on
the oral history of the Catawba Indians. This is August 28,
1993. I am working with the University of Florida, Dr.
Samuel Proctor. I have got an interesting thing I have
never had before. This gentleman knows where the clay is
along the river. He has been out and dug the clay and
brought it in. He is going to tell you a lot about the
clay, and about the pottery makers that he knows down here.
Now, lets get your name and address.
M: I am Steve McKellar and I live on 1543 Tom Steven Road in
Rock Hill [South Carolina], which is on the reservation.
E: You are part Cherokee [Indian], I believe?
M: Yes, I have Cherokee in me on my momma's side.
E: Then you married a Catawba Indian who is Arzada Sanders'
M: Yes, that is right.
E: How long have you been married?
M: We have been married twenty-six years.
E: When did you become interested in the making of pottery?
M: I became interested in it when I first married Billie Ann.
I saw the pottery that her grandmother made. I was very
interested in it then; I started buying pottery from her
then and questioned her about the pottery, and how it was
made. I wanted to learn how it was made, how it was fired,
how you got the different colors, and find out about the
different kind of clays. Over the years, I more or less
watched her and learned some from her and also Billie Ann's
uncle, which was Arzada's son. I watched him dig clay and
burn the pots, and stuff like that. And [I] also [learned]
from my mother-in-law, Catherine Canty.
E: Now tell us, you have been on the Nisbet farm digging clay.
Tell me where that was and how you got to digging that.
M: Billie Ann and I carried her grandmother, Arzada, over to
get some clay, and she showed us where the clay was at when
we went down the road and went out on the river bottoms.
/ When we stopped on the road to get the clay, there is a
little creek it runs down. Wellshe stepped off so many
steps up that creek bank and went up the creek bank across
/ the bottom. Nowthis had been taught to her [by] her
mother. They [would] step off so many steps and they had
one place there that they dug, and they said that was the
best clay. So she walked up through there so many steps.
/ She counted them, and told me to start digging. t that
time, I really did not know what kind of clay [it was]. I
knew kind of what the clay looked like, but I did not know
how you could tell if the clay was the right kind of clay.
So once I got down, probably six feet deep in the ground, I
would hand her the clay as I would dig and let her check it.
She would rub it between her fingers and look at it.
Finally I told her, "Granny," I said, "if I keep on digging
I am going to go to hell before I get you the right kind of
clay." She said "No, you will not go that deep. Just keep
digging." So I dug a few more feet and then handed her the
clay, and she checked it and said that was the right kind of
clay. At that time I asked her, "Well, how do you know that
that clay is better than the clay that I have been giving
you before," because it all looked the same to me. At that
point she took the clay and she rubbed it between her
fingers, and she showed it to me and she said, "If you rub
it between your fingers and hold it out to the light, you
will see it shine." It has a waxy-like film to it, and that
way you know that the clay is good stiff clay and it will
hold up. Also you can tell that it does not have any grit
in the clay. So that is how I learned to find and to check
the clay, when you are digging it out of the ground, to tell
if the clay is any good.
E: Now, the newspapers have an article on you with your
picture, digging along the banks until you found some other
clay. Tell me about that.
M: I was out behind our house and I had been just walking
around looking in the creek banks because I really feel like
there is good clay on the reservation, if we can ever find
it. I just happened to step down into the creek bank and
was just walking up the creek a little bit, and I looked
down and I saw this clay and I picked it up. I felt it and
I knew it was good clay. I got a little bit of it and I
brought it back here to the house and worked it up with my
mother-in-law, and she made some pots out of it. They all
turned out really good. I carried a few more people down
there and they kind of dug down in the place that we found
the clay. There is a small amount there. There is not a
large amount or anything; it is more or less a small pocket
of clay in that one little section. I guess she has made
probably a dozen pieces out from down there on the creek.
E: Are these all dark or have they any light spots along it?
M: They do have light spots on them too. She has made one that
I think she has got down at her house. She and I did not
/ notice it, but another Indian looked at it and saidA"If you
* look into the base, the wais urned, it looks like
spirits dancing on the side." He said, "It looks like
people in there and they are doing a dance inside of a fog."
We did not ever notice until that was pointed out to us,
then we got to looking at it and sure enough. The clay
burned black. It came out with spots on it, and also it
came out with a smokey-gray tint to it.
E: You and Earl Robbins have found some other clay, have you
M: Earl found the clay down on Bo Waters' land, which is just
down the river here.
E: There is an abundance of clay to use at the present time.
M: Well, the clay that we are getting down there now is not a
good grade of clay. It will do to make pots, but they do
not hold up as good as the clay from over at Nisbet's. The
Sclay is not as pure ; it has got a lot more dirt in it .
E: Nowyou have some interesting pieces of Arzada's, one of
them the old owl, and several of her old pieces. You fired
that owl yourself, did you not?
M: Yes, I did.
E: That is the most unusual. They did not used to have owls
because they thought they brought them bad luck. But Arzada
made squirrels and rabbits and owls. She made one that I
always liked called the "laughing frog". She made frogs in
different poses. You have seen some of her's like that?
M: Yes, I have.
E: It is so interesting that you are so interested in the
Catawba language, culture, and the pottery, and you keep on
being interested. What do you see for the future of these
M: The way I feel as far as my grandchildren, and my children,
and my great-grandchildren, if I live that long, I want them
to know everything that is possible to find out about the
Catawba Indians. Any knowledge that they can get about the
Catawba Indians, I want them to be able to sort that
knowledge and be able to put it to good work. [They should]
know what their ancestors have done, know how their
ancestors did it, and to keep on passing it on and on and
on, so we will never run out.
E: Do you think the younger generation are proud of their
heritage, more so than they used to be?
M: I think that the last two generations that have come along
are more proud of being an Indian than their mothers, their
grandmothers, and their great-grandmothers were.
E: We are thankful that you are so interested. You will pass
on what you know to your children, will you not?
M: I sure will.