Lyrics from Cotton Land
JOHN CHARLES McNEILL
Drawings by A. B. Frost, E. W. Kemble, and photo
graphs by A. M. Kibble
THE STONE & BARRINGER COMPANY
CHARLOTTE, X. C.
, V" : :"*: *./ Copyright, 1907
& BARRINGER COMPANY
PUBLISHER S NOTE
MANY of these verses have been published in
the Charlotte Observer, some in the Century
Magazine, and the others appear first in this book.
To the Observer and the Century are due thanks
for their permission to republish.
THE story of a rare, gifted soul is difficult to
write. The commonplace man is usually the re
sultant of forces that can be calculated. The
measuring line can be laid to his life ; dates, places
and movements assume great significance. But it
is not so with the man who approaches genius.
His soul is a mystery ; its birth and growth defy
explanation ; dates and circumstances mean little.
To write a true biography of such a man, inci
dents and experiences must be known that lie be
yond the research of the scientific student. Such
a man was the author of the poems contained in
this volume. And, although custom compels to
write the usual facts of birth and movement, they
are written briefly, in the knowledge that they
have little significance for the life of the gifted
spirit which sang these .songs to men.
(John Charles McNeill was the second son of
Duncan and McNeill, and /Cvas born at their
country place, near Laurinbufg, in Richmond
county, North Carolina, on the 26th of July, 1874.
He grew to manhood on his father s farm, living
the free, happy, normal life of the country boy. On
the surface these early years seem to have been
uneventful ; they were marked by no unusual ex
periences or incidents. Work, study, and play
seem to tell the story. But the achievements of
his maturer years show these early days to have
been the determining, formative period of his life.
A careful and sympathetic examination of his
writings discovers the fact that almost all the
dreams, visions, loves, adorations and ecstasies to
which he gave such beautiful expression, came
to him in the honest work, clean, healthful play
and idle roaming about wood and field, in those
early and, always to him, happy days. He knew
an4 loved all the sights, voices and moods of na
ture) he was nature s child, and was true through
all after years to this Mother of the Mystery.
In 1893 McNeill entered Wake Forest College.
The college records show that he was an unusual
student, and in English his work was little less
than brilliant. He was tutor in this department
in his first year, won the Dixon medal, given to
the best essayist of each year, and was editor-in-
chief of the "Wake Forest Student." He gradu
ated valedictorian of his class in 1898. The pe
riod immediately following his graduation seems
to have been one of uncertainty and unhappiness
to him. He returned to Wake Forest to take his
master s degree, worked as instructor in English,
and studied law. During the year 1899-1900, he
filled the Chair of English in Mercer University,
at Macon, Georgia, in the absence of the profes
sor of English, and did admirable work. In 1900
he returned to North Carolina and began the
practice of law at Lumberton. He often said to
the writer that he was happy in none of these
things. He was evidently striving to find himself.
McNeill had some success in the practice of his
profession, and he was elected to represent the
people of his county in the State Legislature.
But his heart was in other things. He would
often shut his office door to friend and client and
try to write out some vision that floated in his
soul. The "Century Magazine" accepted and pub
lished some of his productions and asked for other
contributions. He did work for a local paper
and wrote occasionally for various papers and
journals. More and more he came to find his joy
in self-expression; and his writing began to at
tract the attention of the public.
In 1904 the "Charlotte Observer" discovered
the promise in this gifted man, and gave him his
chance. He was attached to the staff of that
paper and given perfect liberty of action. He
could write what he pleased and when he pleased,
and received for his work a regular and adequate
compensation. Under such treatment he found
himself. His soul seemed to burst into blossom ;
and during the three years of his connection with
the "Observer" he gave to the world almost all
his best work. In 1905 he was awarded the Pat
terson Cup, and a year later published his first
volume of poems under the title "Songs, Merry
and Sad." Although this volume was published
by a local firm, it found ready sale and the edi
tion was soon exhausted.
In the early months of 1907 some disease, baf
fling to friends and physicians alike, began to take
hold upon him. For months he fought a brave
fight against it and seemed for a while to be re
gaining his strength. But, suddenly, almost with
out warning, acute nephritis attacked him and he
fell its victim, dying on the I7th of October, 1907.
McNeill was a man of unusual physical appear
ance; his tall, straight, slender figure, his thick
iron-gray hair and handsome features made him a
marked man in any company. His eyes were re
markable. In his careless moods there was noth
ing unusual in them; but when his soul was
aflame v/ith some inner vision, his eyes glowed
with a light that was both beautiful and com
pelling in its magnetism.
He had the open, free and cordial manner o*
the gentleman born and reared in the country.
He knew little and cared less for social conven
tions. There was about him that charming un
consciousness of self that one so often sees in the
people who live close to and love the genuine
things of nature. It is the estimate of all who
knew him well that McNeill was one of the most
lovable of men. His unselfishness, his freedom
from cant and pretension, his love of and joy in
life, his perfect candor and his power to love and
be interested in the people about him, made him
a peerless friend. And in many the sorrow for
the loss to the State and Nation of this fine, rare
and gifted spirit, was overshadowed by a sense
of personal bereavement.
THE PATTERSON MEMORIAL CUP.
Magnificent Trophy as an Incentive to the De
velopment of Literary Talent in North Carolina.
Philadelphia, March 24. As a memorial to her
father, the late Colonel William Houston Patter
son, of this city, and as an incentive to the devel
opment of the literary talent of the sons and
daughters of the Old North State, Mrs. Lindsay
Patterson, of Winston-Salem, has had manufac
tured here one of the most massive and magnifi
cent loving cups that Philadelphia jewelers have
ever seen. This cup is to be presented to the
North Carolina Historical Society, and by that
society is at the end of the year to be turned over
to that resident, native North Carolina writer who
shall have achieved the greatest literary success
during the year. At the end of ten years, it is to
become the property of the person who shall have
won it the greatest number of times.
Because of its extraordinary beauty, and be
cause of the story of filial love behind it, it has
attracted great attention.
THE PATTERSON MEMORIAL CUP
The cup is of gold and of massive construction.
It stands 16 inches high, and is seven inches in
diameter. On the bases of the three handles are
the coats of arms of North Carolina, Pennsyl
vania and the Patterson family. It is studded
with forty-nine precious stones, all being North
Carolina gems, selected by Mrs. Patterson from
over 400 specimens. It bears the inscriptions:
"The William Houston Patterson Cup," and "Cor
Cordium" (Heart of Hearts). Philadelphia Cor
respondent to "Charlotte (N. C.) Observer."
PRESENTATION OF PATTERSON
IN the Senate Chamber in the State Capitol,
Thursday morning, October 19, 1905, President
Theodore Roosevelt, representing the North Car
olina Literary and Historical Association, pre
sented to Mr. John Charles McNeill, of Charlotte,
the Patterson Memorial Cup, awarded him for
having published during the preceding twelve
months work showing "the greatest excellence
and the highest literary skill and genius." Lieu-
tenant-Governor Winston, representing the Gov
ernor, presented the newly-elected President of
the Association, ex-Governor C. B. Ay cock, who
then stated the object of the Cup and the condi
tions of the award. According to the notes fur
nished by Mr. Loeb, the President said :
"MR. McNEiLL : I feel, and I am sure all good
Americans must feel, that it is far from enough
for us to develop merely a great material pros
perity. I appreciate, and all of us must, that it is
indispensable to have the material prosperity as
PRESENTATION OF PATTERSON MEMORIAL CUP
a foundation, but if we think the foundation is
the entire building, we never shall rank as among
the nations of the world ; and therefore it is with
peculiar pleasure that I find myself playing a
small part in a movement, such as this, by which
one of the thirteen original States, one of our
great States, marks its sense of proper proportion
in estimating the achievements of life, the achieve
ments of which the Commonwealth has a right to
be proud. It is a good thing to have the sense
of historic continuity with the past, which we get
largely through the efforts of just such historic
societies as this, through which this Cup is
awarded to you. It is an even better thing to try
to do what we can to show our pleasure in and
approval of productive literary work in the pres
ent. Mr. McNeill, I congratulate you and North
Mr. McNeill s reply follows:
"Mr. President, my joy in this golden trophy is
heightened by the fortune which permits me to
take it from the hand of the foremost citizen of
the world. To you, sir, to Mrs. Lindsay Patter
son, our gracious matron of letters, and to the
committee of scholars whose judgment was kind
to me, all thanks."
MR. NIGGER ..................................... j
SPRING ..................................... 4
HARDIHOOD ............................... 6
A PROTEST ...................................... 7
PREACHERLY PREFERENCE ....................... 8
SPRINGTIME ...................................... 9
T AIN T LONG ................................... , 3
NIGGER DEMUS .................................. 15
WISHING ......................... jg
THE CATFISH .................................... 20
FOLK SONG ...................................... 23
THREE HYPOTHESES ............................. 24
A MODEST PLOUGHMAN ......................... 26
THE AUGUST MEETING .......................... 29
SALUTATIONS .................................... 32
Po BABY ........................................ 33
*LIGION ................................... 34
A FEW DAYS OFF ............................... 35
NOONTIME ....................................... ^
A TAR HEEL 41
EVERY MAN S WAY 42
A SUMMER RESORT 43
THE TRICKSTER TRICKED 45
BE SHAME 50
A DREAM OF You 51
POSSUM TIME AGAIN 55
NOAH S ARK 56
A MONOLOGUE 62
DE THREE FROSTIES , 63
WEATHER SIGNALS 66
THE RACCOON 68
THE CROW S SHADOW 70
IN A CANOE 72
NAMING THE ANIMALS 75
THE RED SHIRTS 77
POOR OLD BEN 79
FOR CORN SHUCKINGS 81
ONE DAY 82
A HINDRANCE 84
A PALLET SLEEPER 86
BEDTIME 8 9
BELIEVING WHERE WE CANNOT PROVE " 94
BABY S NOGGIN.
TOT AND TED
THE PERSIMMON TREE .......................... 9I
: CANNOT PROVE " ......
CONVENIENT THEOLOGY ......................... 95
BLACK MOLASSES ................................ 8
OLD AUNT PLEASANT
THE CROWN OF POWER ......................... I03
THE REJECTED SCOTSMAN ....................... I04
A SOFT SNAP ................................... I09
AMBITION ........................... 1IO
THE SIESTA ............................. a 1I2
THE DIEDIPER II4
MYSTERIES .................. z lg
BABY S LEGS .................................... ,, 9
GR ASS... ............................. ........... 120
THE VARMINT CONVENTION ..................... I2I
THE COON FROM THE COLLEGE TOWN. 124
BOYS VISIONS .........................
HOLDING OFF THE CALF ....................... I33
WHEN THE CALVES GET OUT
To ALFONSO XIV .............................. 14I
A TOMTIT MESSENGER ................... I44
To ONE WHO Is GOOD 146
RACE SUICIDE 148
THE FIRST FLOWER 150
OLD JIM SWINK 156
THE DOODLE BUG 159
THE THREE TOTS 165
AT THE DANCE 167
DESERTED 1 73
THE CASTLE BUILDER 175
A CHOICE 179
THE IRON DOOR 181
THE TENANT 183
IN THE WOODS 186
To SLEEP.. . 188
How could we do without you,
Could we not talk about you,
We d have to quit our politics,
T would put our papers in a fix,
We d have to start and learn new tricks,
Ah, ragtime would be sadly misst,
There d be no elocutionist,
The coon-song s flow would then be checked,
The minstrel show would soon be wrecked
And writers of your dialect,
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
I cannot see, if you were dead,
l : 3\flr ( . : Nigger,
JH6.W ojratprsL could earn their bread,
For they could never hold the crowd
Save they abused you long and loud
As being a dark and threatening cloud,
But plough my land and barn my crop,
I 11 furnish sorghum for your sop,
And see you earn your money s worth,
Else, when dull times possess the earth,
I 11 burn you to excite the North,
You re a vast problem to our hand,
Your fame is gone throughout the land,
The heart of all this mighty nation
Is set to work out your salvation,
But don t you fear expatriation,
I AXED de chillun fer de joke
Dat made em laugh en run.
"It ain t no joke," dey says ; "we s jis
Er-natchly havin fun."
I axed a rooster mockin bird,
When I had cotch his eye,
"Why does you sing all day en night?"
Says he, "I dunno why."
I axed a yearlin why he pawed
De dust up in de lane.
He bellered out his sass, "Boo-boo!
I feels lak raisin cain!"
En den de chillun, bird, en kef
Axed why I felt so good.
S I, "Don t ax me. Kerwhoop !" says I.
"It ssupp n inmyblood!"
DE drouf hit pahched our crap at fust
En de rain done drown it now,
But whe r it freshet or whe r it dust
De crabgrass gwine a grow,
De crabgrass gwine a grow.
De cawn jis want some scuse to quit,
En cotton s a reg lar chile,
But de sun kin scawch en de rain kin spit,
But de crabgrass wear a smile,
De crabgrass wear a smile.
DE cawn is drapped en civered
Fer de crow to grabble out.
De shoat he fin s de tater bed
Befo dey gins to sprout.
De hen hatch out her chickens
Whilst de hawk bees lookin on,
En J fo de cherries ripens good
De birds is got em gone.
Dey all steals fum de nigger man,
But if de nigger steals
Dey putts him on de chaingang
Wid a weight behin his heels.
I LAKS to plough in a stubble fiel
Among de dews en damps,
Whar now en den yo plough turns up
A passle er fox-fire lamps.
De dirt slide off er de turn-plough whing
En rumple in turnin over,
Wid de dead crab-grass en de dead peavines
En a few green clumps er clover.
But keep me out er de new-groun Ian ,
Ca se I s a preacher, boss,
En no preacher wa n t made fer no new-groun
Benin no fidgity hoss.
De roots, en switches, en stumps, en hoi s,
En de briers I tells you plain,
When I ploughs sich new-groun Ian , it gives
My ligion a powerful strain !
O CATFISH in de eddy,
When de moon is in de full !
O watermillion ready
Mongs yo dewy leaves, to pull !
O choofies, sugar-rooted !
Us women en us men
Is all done back bar footed,
Ca se de springtime s come again.
De bullbat gins to beller
Across de shimmery hill.
T ain t long befo a feller
Kin hear de whuppoorwill.
De hawk sets roun en watches
De biddies wid de hen,
Er-scratchin in de doodle dust,
Ca se springtime s come again.
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
Dirt-daubers soon be squealin ,
Shapin up deir mud,
En a sort er sleepy feelin
LI git gwine along yo blood,
Till you lose yo holt, en dozes,
En jerks, en wakes up den
De fus thing dat you knows is
Dat de springtime s come again.
Is I boun to keep de Sabbath day,
When de hawk goes free ?
Is I boun to set in my yahd en pray
En let dem crows in de cawn-patch stay
En grabble en tote my cawn away?
Hit s funny to me !
If de varmints 11 knock-off working too,
En set in de sun,
I ll rest en pray de whole day thoo ;
But, if dey goes loose en is gwine a do
Wut dey pleases, den tain t Shoo, shoo !
But it s Bang! wid de gun.
It s mighty po rest to be shet in a stall,
Lak you got no sense;
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
It s mighty po prayin when de watch-crow call
Fum de scare-crow s head, en de chicken squall;
En it s mighty po ligion when Sunday s all
Dissideer de fence!
T AIN T LONG
TIE a new cracker
Upon de ol lash;
Roll up de log heaps
En burn all de trash ;
Scooter de newgroun ,
Dreen out de pon ;
Bone off fer cotton
En bed up fer cawn.
T ain t long fo drappin
De seed in de groun ;
T ain t long fo choppin
En sidin aroun ;
T ain t long fo tassels
En blooms gits in prime ;
Uh-uh ! it ain t long
To layin -by time !
BUZZIN white-nose bumblebee,
Buzz en buzz yo whing;
Dart off faster n I kin see,
En shoot back whar you used to be.
You can t putt no bluff on me :
You don t tote no sting !
Adder, hissin at my toe,
You ain t got no p ison !
Draw yo head en strack yo blow.
Spread yo jaws wide out, jis so.
You can t fool me. You don t know
Who you got yo eyes on.
Dis is anudder Sunday when I done fugit my
I 11 hatter pen , my bruddern, pon de memb -
ance er de tex .
N if you-all wants a snow-white tent up hyander
in de skies
You better keep de Scripters in yo head, en not
Now, while de hat is pas aroun by Bill en Poly
I s gwine a tell you supp n bout dat gre t man,
But watch de hat, my bruddern, when dey goes
to make deir change:
Dey s good folks, but in spite er dat don t give
em too much range.
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
Or Nigger Demus come by night, as we is sem-
bled now ;
He didn have time to come by day, beca se he
had to plough ;
En Jawn de Baptis met him en he ax him whar
he s gwine,
En Demus say he want to know wut chu ch he
Jawn watch a cloud across de moon, en study
En den he turnt to Demus en he says, "You makes
Says e, "De Baptis chu ch," he says, " s de
chu ch you otter jine,
Ca se, glory halleloolyer ! in de fus place, it is
"En den," says e, "it s natchel : de dog he lacks
But it take a sight er creepin fo you git to
NIGGER DEM US
De tarpin he look up en see a shower comin on,
En chook! he dive fum off his log deep down
into de pon ."
"Dat s so," says Demus dat a-way "I laks to
dive myse f,
But fo de rain kin ketch me, Jawn, I sho runs
out er bref.
So some day when it s good en warm en de
sun come out to shine,
You tell me whar yo chu ch is at, beca se I ten s
He didn know no doctrine, but he knowed a sign
En so he went wid Jawn one day, en Jawn he
putt him under.
En dat s why Sal en Bill en Ben en Heck en ol
Br er Remus
En all de niggers jine de chu ch jis same as
I WISHT I wus a hummin bird.
I d nes in a wilier tree.
Den noth n but supp n wut goes on wings
Could ever git to me.
I wisht I wus a snake. I d crawl
Down in a deep stump hole.
Noth n u d venture down in dar,
Into de dark en col .
But jis a nigger in his shack,
Wid de farlight in de chinks
Supp n kin see him ever time
He even so much as winks.
It s a natchel fac dat many a time
I wisht I wus supp n wil ;
A coon or a owl or a possum or crow
Leas ways, a little while.
I d lak to sleep in a holler gum
Or roost in a long-leaf pine,
Whar nothin Vd come to mess wid me
Or ax me whar I s gwine.
WHEN de nights is warm en de moon is full,
You kin ketch mo cats dan you cares to pull.
No trouble bout de bait ;
A grub 11 do or a HT fat meat,
Fer all he wants is supp n to eat,
En he ain t no han to wait.
Ner dar ain t no trouble bout luck wid him.
You kin tie yo line to a swingin limb,
En when you goes to look,
You ll fin dat limb a-dodgin roun ,
En bubbles risin en floatin on down,
En a catfish on yo hook.
But I chooses to take a pole in mine
En git in a splotch er bright moonshine
I LETS HIM SHOW HIS MAN
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
En fish dar wid my ban ;
I knows, den, when he hits his lick
(He swallows de hook; you needn be quick),
En I lets him show his man.
When I slings him out on de good dry grass,
He don t complain, but he s full er sass.
He kicks a little while,
Den lays dar, wid a pleasing look,
En, while I s rippin out de hook,
He takes it wid a smile.
IF you don t b lieve dat train kin run,
If you don t b lieve dat train kin run,
Come en lemme tell you wut de train done done,
It lef Savanner at de settin er de sun,
It lef Savanner at de settin er de sun,
En it fotch me home by half-pas one,
IF Marse Adam wus white, Rose Anner,
If Miss Eve wus white lak him
Dat s how de pictures makes em;
De Scriptur s a leetle dim),
Den whar did de nigger come fum?
T wus a pine wid a simmon limb ;
If Marse Adam wus white, Rose Anner,
En Miss Eve wus white lak him.
If Nora wus white, my honey
(Nora wut built de ark)
Den de nigger s a sort er a bluebird
Hatch out fum de egg er a lark.
But dat don t never happen,
En dat question still bees dark,
If Nora wus white, my honey,
En his chill tin in dat ark.
I is a sunburnt white man,
F a minner s a little trout.
You mus go deeper n dis here hide
To git de nigger out.
F you skint me slam fum head to heel,
New nigger-hide u d sprout.
Yas; Fs a sunburnt white man
F a minner s a little trout.
A MODEST PLOUGHMAN
WHEN crabgrass gits a half a show,
Count er some rainy days, to grow
En fuzzes green along de row,
T ain t wuth while den to try to hoe
Dat whole plantation clean.
De bes way is de way dat s cheap,
En I kin take a two-inch sweep,
Runnin at p int two inches deep,
En kill out Gineral Green.
Yes ; gimme sich a plow as dat
N I 11 hoi my upright frame plum flat,
En whar dat grass wus sich a mat
A MODEST PLOUGHMAN
You couldn tell whar a hoe been at,
I 11 wrop dat cotton roun
As neat en cool wid fresh black dirt
As a man s body fits his shirt,
En reg lar not right here a spurt
En hyander grassy groun .
Farmers is got a heap to Tarn
To dey gits wut s comin to deir barn.
If, stid er har n hoe-han s en har n
Plough-han s wut ain t wuth a darn,
Dey d all git men lak me,
Dis county d brag de bigges sales
Er cotton seed en cotton bales,
Spite er spring drouth en noctial gales,
On dis side er de sea.
En dis ain t whoopin up myse f.
De crabgrass rtatchly hoi its bref
When I comes long; ca se dat means de f ;
It knows dar ain t none gwine be lef,
LYRICS FROM COTTON LAND
Whar I has made my tracks.
I says dis jis beca se it s so.
I kinder thought you d lak to know.
Don t think I s tryin to brag en blow ;
I allus deals in fac s.
THE AUGUST MEETING
IT wus at our Augus meetin
When dar wa n t nigh room fer seatin
All de sinners en de saved wut come to it ;
But dar wa n t no pride en poutin ;
Dey fell in line to shoutin
Lak dey s gwine git all de ligion dey could git.
I ain t er-tryin to fool you,
But when Heck bawl, "Halleloolyer !"
All dem niggers bounce right up en gin to
En when ol Heck would holler
Den dem common coons would f oiler,