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Interview with Amanda Swimmer [2]

Swimmer, Amanda [2]
Gardner, Susan
Date of Interview: 
Native American history; American Indians; Cherokee history; Qualla Boundary; Native American crafts and customs; tribal dancing; boarding school; child rearing; tribal council
This interview with Amanda Swimmer, a follow-up to an interview conducted in October 1995, serves to clarify some facts in the original interview and expand on some stories that Ms. Swimmer did not touch on during the first interview. She discusses more of her upbringing in detail – including some stories that were omitted from the transcript at her request – and answers questions Ms. Gardner had come up with since the first interview.
Michigan; Mexico; Big Cove, North Carolina; Qualla Boundary; 1930’s – 1990’s
Interview Setting: 
Qualla Boundary, North Carolina
Native Carolinians and Indian Elders Collection
SG: I see that, on the first page, I gave you seven children, and later on, you've got nine children.
AS: I had nine children, but I lost two, two boys.
SG: So the information--because I got it from that information, this part, that they had at the Arts & Crafts store, and it was there they said--
AS: Yeah--
SG: "Seven children," but then you had told me nine, so I thought, Wait a minute...
AS: There were nine if I didn't lose those two. You see, I had nine, but I lost two, and then seven's living.
SG: So the one in New Mexico is--
AS: He's next to the oldest. And the oldest ones died, you know, older than my oldest boy. He was the first one; he was born in 19-1935. And he was born April the--no, May the 3rd, and he was a eight month baby, he was supposed to be born in June. So I rode a open truck, and it bounced me up and down, and I've got my pains started so early, so it jest came too early. And the doctor told me it was jest eight months baby. 'Cause he wouldn't cry, when they were--they laid it down. Just grunted, and I just had to pick it up and feed it. But it ate good! I didn't know what's the difference. I said, "Look's like a eight month baby lived, instead of seven." He said, "If you're a seven months baby, it live." And he knew it wasn't going to live. I just kept it about three weeks after he was born--
SG: Oh, my...
AS: So then the other one came, that's in Michigan, he's the oldest that's living. And then that's in Mexico, that's the third one. And then the fourth one that you was talking to today, Vergil. And then the girl came, and then I had another boy after I had this girl. Name's Ronald. He lived to be four years old. We don't know what was wrong with him; he jest didn't feel like doing nothing, and he wouldn't get out and play, he'd just set around in the house all the time. But he--I asked him one day, I went out to the garden, I said, "I'm going to the garden now, see, you sit right here until I get back," I said, " I'm going get some beans to cook for supper." He said, "I'll just sit right here"; the house was facing that way. He set on the porch. I come back, he said, "Let me help you fix beans." I said, "All right." So I asked him, I said, "What's--where do you hurt when you don't want to get up and play?" "I don't hurt nowhere, Mama, I jest get tired [tard]." And he just laid around, you know, time he wanted to change his clothes everyday, and he lived to be four years old, and then he just went on fast. That was after my girl, my first girl was born; I had two more girls after that. Then those two--[name, and Marina] and then I had Don just about two years after that. That was my last one. So--after they were--they all growed up, grew away and got married...
SG: We've already talked about the house on fire, straightened that one out... You were talking about--let's see--your mother having grandbabies at home, and when your brother-in-law--after his wife died, he wanted to marry someone else, and your mother said, "Well, he wants to get married, it's up to him," and he did... He married this girl, and wanted to take the kids, and your mother said, "Well you don't take all of them, you just take your own, that one I'm keeping"... What--does that mean--I couldn't figure out which one she wanted to keep--
AS: Well, my sister--he married two of my sisters, and see, after he lost his first one, she had three boys. And maybe lived about a year after his mama died. And then so these other two growed up. And whenever he got married, I think, one of them was about eight, or six years old, or somewhat like that. I just don't remember. And when they were--he married after he lost his first wife, he just stayed around Mom's, and Mom took care of the boys, fed him, cooked for him. So then--we didn't know he was trying to go with my other sister. She was there, she wasn't married. And my other sister had a boy belongs to somebody else. So that was the way it was. And then so--when he married this girl, then she had another boy by him. So this other one's his stepson. And that's the one--and when his wife died, his sister came up here, and that little baby was about a year old, and she asked [Marone?], she said, "[Maron], so why don't you let me have the baby? And I'll raise it?" She said, "I don't have no kids," she didn't have no kids. She'd been married a long time. And he said to ask Ma--Miz Sequoyah--for him, "She's the one watching over him." So she come in there and ask Mama if it was all right for her to take the baby. "I'll raise it. And you can come see it anytime you want to." And Mama said, "Well, if it's all right with the daddy, he's the father of the baby"; "Well, he's the one told me to ask you, what you think." "Well," she said, "Well, guess it'd be all right." They packed his clothes and she took the baby home. And she raised that boy. And after she raised that boy, when he was old enough to work [walk?] around a little bit, then she started having her own! She had about five! And she loved this boy so, she raised just like her own. I think she was worried to death when they brought him in; he had died in New York, I don't know what he was doing up there, and they said someone says that somebody had killed him [clock drowns out the next words; ten story high?] at the window. And when they brought him in, she was pretty sick, then, that was his ain’t anyway. Lizzie Smith was her name. She's the one. And she was sick, boy, she took it hard, when she seen this boy. And her son, this other husband's son, was telling me that he thought that that boy's the one that took her on, so she died jest about a couple months after they buried my nephew. And he said, "Now [ ], that's what made her worse, when she's worried about Emanuel." 'Manuel, his name's 'Manuel. And so this other boy, now that was his half-brother. They just had one mother and different daddies. That's why Mama told him, "You don't take this boy, you have to let him stay, 'cause sometimes you might have trouble between you and your other wife if you just got married." And she told Lizzie Smith, [s]he said, "This is not [Marone's], so I'll just keep him, and I'll just raise him." So she raised this other boy. So that's why she didn't let Lizzie Smith take it, 'cause he didn't belong to Marone. Then he lost his second wife, then he got married again!
SG: What a lady-killer!
AS: Um-hum, he even had about ten kids, too, with his third wife.
SG: Wow!
AS: Yeah, and after she died, so--jest one of them stepsons, only one's living now--after his wife died the second time.
SG: That clears it up a bit, I was mixed up as to who was who, so that's cleared up... And then there was the--let's see--I'm surprised how much we did talk about, actually! [AS laughs.] We got a lot covered then. I got mixed up about English and Cherokee--you said that when you were in school you were taught English, arithmetic, geography, all that stuff... And then--where I got mixed up was, you said, "I didn't learn how to talk English till I was ten years old; I talked my own language around here"? But then I've got, "And my mother taught me English"--but you meant "Indian", I think...
AS: No, I didn't learn my English just until I got around these white kids up here, our neighbors, up here? That's where I learned how to talk; they'd come down here, and stay around with the white kids, and that's where I picked up how to talk English. So I didn't talk English before, when I was jest about nine or ten years old. And then when I went to school, I just went to fourth grade. My daddy got me out. So I didn't go no further than fourth grade.
SG: Why did he take you out?
AS: He didn't want me to go to school 'cause it was hard for me to go, and he was alone by hisself [PORTION OMITTED AT MRS. SWIMMER'S REQUEST]. That time when he took me out. So I didn't go on to school, I never finished high school, I just quit. I just wanted to learn how to work in the house, do cooking and all that stuff. [SECTION OMITTED AT MRS. SWIMMER'S REQUEST] So that's the way I was raised then, so this--this boy, that Mama raised, me and him was the only ones here. Until we went to boarding school, and they took us down there and put us in the boarding school. And I didn't like it. And I was so lonesome, and I just told Daddy to come get me. He came 'n' got me, 'n' I went to day school. Down here at this big church down there, by Holiness Church? It's about four mile from here, yeah, 'n' I walked to school... I didn't like it in boarding school. I missed my daddy, too. So, "It's all right, you can stay home, you don't have to go to school." I just quit.
SG: It doesn't sound like many people liked boarding school...
AS: No... And we didn't get to come home except for summer time and vacation time, the only time we'd get to come home. So--that's the way it was when I growed up.
SG: Was that the boarding school that was in Cherokee?
AS: Um-hum, yeah...
SG: Oh, that's cruel, when you're so close to home--
AS: Yeah, we had to go all the way to Cherokee and stay in boarding school. [PORTION OMITTED AT MRS. SWIMMER'S REQUEST]
AS: Well, one time I come here, and they was a girl in my bedroom, I had to call the police! I went to the store that afternoon about this time, and I just went down there and back, and I come back, and I come in and walk down the hall to put my coat up--it was in wintertime!
SG: Oh, how scary!
AS: I didn't look in that little bedroom, where my granddaughter, she was staying with me then, she said she was going with her mama, it was on Saturday. Well, I said, "You can go," I said, "I'll be back in a little while." So then when I went down the hall, and I--the third time I went down, I happened to look in there, and there's somebody laying in there, and I looked and--"She must've not went with her mama." Well, I didn't go and look first, and then I went back down the hall again, and there was a big woman--a person laying there, big old hump there... "Ah, that's not Vina," I told, cause she's skinny, you couldn't even tell if she was in the bed, as little as she was. That's not her." I jest went walking in there and raised the covers up; she grabbed the covers and said, "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!" I said, "Who are you? What're you doing in my bed, here?" I told her. Big old face layin' thar, I didn't know her, but [ ] all that time till they got 'er out 'n' I knew who she was. She was raised over here in Big Cove, she lived on [Shell?] Creek. And she wouldn't let me take the car--I said, "Get up there! I'll take you home! "Leave me alone!" she said, and she just put her covers on, rolled up, and I looked down at the floor--she laid her tennis shoes, she 'as all muddy and I guess they jest said she just crawled into bed with her dirty clothes on. And I just come to the phone and called the police. That time my boy was on the job while he was working, on duty, I mean. And they said they'll be right up, I said, "They's somebody in my bed, and I don't know who she is." And she looked like she can't hardly tell where she's at.
SG: Was she passed out?
AS: She were asleep! Until I raised the covers up, and she pulled the covers back down! They wasn't long, they come, and they went in there and said, "Get out of here, this is not your home." And they was Irene Cooker!
SG: And what was she doing?
AS: They brought her here, someone dropped her off; she come in my house, and I forgot to lock my door. And she crawled in my bed! And when they took her home, Don said they took her to the house, 'n' it wasn't about ten minutes, they was calling police back up there, she had took some pills after she got home.
SG: Oh, poor thing!
AS: And then they had to go get her, and take her to the hospital. Overdosed herself... And so, he said, "We jest took her back to to the hospital, and then we went to get her."
SG: That must have been frightening...
AS: Yeah, I was! I always lock my door when I go out.
SG: You had mentioned something about--I had asked if there were doctors around here, and you said that there was one down--I wonder if you meant Whittier? I didn't catch the name.
AS: Yeah, he had to come from Whittier. They didn't have no doctors. We didn't have no hospital [hospel], either.
SG: A lot of this I now--just knowing you longer, I know what I didn't catch--ah, you were talking about sisters, you were talking about your family. That there were 12 of you, and you were the youngest, and your sister lives over there--you said they died young? One sister died of--did you say meningitis? OK, then I got it right... And the other one, maybe TB?... And you were talking about [what I heard as] "John West Long", weren't you? Was that the name? I heard it as "Wesley Long." But you were talking about the dancing?
AS: Oh, Will West- -
SG: Will West Long- -
AS: Uh huh. Will West Long. He was the one--the leader of the dances here, and dancers gather up at his home, and he was a good dancers; he sang, too.
SG: And you were talking about the different dances; bird dance, booger dance, fellowship dance, eagle dance, and was there a beaver dance?
AS: Um-hum...
SG: That's the one I didn't hear.
AS: And knee-deep dances.
SG: "Knee-deep", that's what it was called?
AS: Some knee-deep dances they danced.
SG: What did they do? Did they have to dip down?
AS: No, they just swimmed around, make a ring 'round back and forth.
SG: And you said your mother was wearing all those shells and keeping them moving--were those turtle shells?
AS: Um-hum, yeah. She was, ah--her and, her and two ladies, all wear the shells for them. My mother danced lot of time, with the dancers.
SG: I wish I could have seen her. I'll bet it was really something!
AS: Yeah!... [Yawns]
SG: I'm almost done, I won't keep you any longer! There's just these words that I didn't quite--but it was the tape as much as anything. You're talking about [leafing through] the old people, and that's all clear... We talked a lot about the village, and what you were doing there... We were talking about the Council, and how--they didn't always know the rules, and weren't behaving right on the Council, is that right?
AS: Um-hum.
SG: Oh, we were talking about the land, yeah, and whether they could take it away or not.
AS: You see, they--they done away with that old constitution, when these old--the new ones came in, a younger Council member? And constitution we had, the old one, had a lot of rules to that, jest like if we had it now, we wouldn't have so many mixed up, people didn't hear it like they have Mexican, 'n' then gurls goes out 'n' marry a white man, 'n' the man comes in, marries a Indian. And the constitution they had written down that, if a man married a Indian, that she had to go with him to his land. That was the way it was. He couldn't come in here on the reservation and live, he had to go take her to his land. Then if a woman--if a woman married Indian boy, she was welcome to stay on the reservation. 'Cause she was married to this boy.
SG: Which constitution was that?
AS: It was, ah, John ( ) made that constitution way back.
SG: But that's been changed now, hasn't it?
AS: Well, they done away with them, and they said they didn't have none, they didn't have nothing in Washington, and they went up there and got this constitution. They been trying to get it into the Council members, and they wouldn't even vote for it! It got too much rules in there, like they ain't supposed to do while on the reservation.
SG: And then we talked about when you went to Connecticut... Oh, you told me that story, it was so funny, about a man who came up in the village, in the Council house, and asked, "What do you Indians think about these colored people?" and she said, "We don't worry about them, it's your worry, you're the one who brought them over here." Who was talking?
AS: Elsie Martin. She was the one told him! [Laughs] "It's not our worry," she told him, "It's y'all's worry! You's the one got them over!"
SG: That's it! Those were the questions I had...
AS: Yeah... [Laughs]
SG: It wasn't much, but I wanted to make sure that I had it right... And that's it!