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In this installment of "Where the Southern Cross the Yellow Dog," we take a sneak-peek look at an upcoming page that will eventually be on display to the public. As a Patreon supporter, you have access to the page one full year before the public does.

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Illinois Writers Project: "The Negro in Illinois"

"Indian" Herb Doctor
Mack Cleve Chauvous

by Beulah M. DeVard
Marion, Illinois,
November 10, 1941

[NOTE: This interview with the herb doctor Mack Cleve Chavous was conducted in 1941 by Beaulah M. DeVard for the Federal Writers Project, a department of the Works Progress Administration of the U.S. government that sought to keep authors employed during the Great Depression. Inteiews for "The Negro in Illinois,' were begun, but this book, like a number of others, was abandoned as World War Two absorbed the nation's resources and provided jobs of a different sort for writers. Work stopped on "The Negro in Illinois" in 1943, but the collected typescripts, many of them faded carbon copies, were saved and eventually donated to the Chicago Public Library, where they remain to this day. My thanks to the CPL for digitizing these fragile images, and to my husband, nagasiva yronwode, for transcribing them. It must be noted that this was a first draft of the article, with pencilled markings and quite a few typing errors. In the text that follows i have made some basic corrections to spelling, grammar, abd punctuation, and have broken a few overlong paragraphs into shorter blocks. I have also rearranged some of the paragraphs in order to create a more linear timeline. -- cat yronwode]


At 1000 S. Monroe St. [Marion, Illinois] is the home of Mack Cleve Chavous. It is a white three room house. A wire fence surrounds the yard where some vegetables are growing. There is a milk goat in the barn in the rear and two dogs in front. One is chained. On the front porch is a long bench, a small grist mill, a few odds and ends of interest to a man only, and a sign which reads: "I charge for advice. I credit no one."

"The doctor" ambles across the street from the home of a nearby neighbor. He is a brown skin [man of] medium height [who] wears a wide brim felt hat, an old leather coat, high top shoes, [and] clothing not so clean. We are invited in. As he seats himself and takes off his hat, we see that his hair is mostly gray, rather kinky, and worn in two braids which reach to his shoulders. He wears gold earrings in pierced ears. His brown eyes, which usually have a sort of quizzical expression, are over-hung by slightly drooping eye lids. His lips are rather thin, He still has most of his own teeth, which are stained by chewing tobacco. He cuts off a chew as he settles down for a nice, friendly little visit. In conversation he jumps from one subject to another but he likes to talk, and if you are patient and persevere you may get his life story.

He says he was born September 13, 1860, under an old ox-wagon in Indiana. His mother was Choctaw Indian and his father was Choctaw and French.

Mack "Cleve" Chavous would have been 81 years old when he was interviewed in 1941. His legal name was, according to census records, Augustus Monroe Chavous. His race was stated on those records to be "Negro" or "Mulatto," his birthplace Illinois, and his year of birth 1860. The fact that he was interviewed for the never-published book "The Negro in Illinois," as an "Indian" would indicate that his White interviewer, Beulah M. DeVard, considered him to be of mixed Native and Black descent, the latter possibly by way of being part "French" (Creole), as evidenced in his surname, but more likely because his ancestral Choctaw tribe had enslaved African people. The permanent enslavement of people of African descent was widely practiced among the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole tribes, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma even fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War to keep the enslavement of Africans legal.

The ox wagon before mentioned had "linchen" pins [linch pins] to keep the wheels in place and a tar bucket hung on behind. The family led a nomadic sort of life, going here and there about the country. Hunting, fishing, and trading were the chief occupations of his father. There were fourteen children in all, but Mack was the seventh son of a seventh child and therefore endued with knowledge above the average person. For this reason the mother, who was a sort of midwife, often took her precocious son with her on these important missions. Because he was her seventh son, she never chided him nor questioned what he did.

His grandfather was an Indian doctor. From him young Mack learned to know many herbs and their uses. His grandfather died at the ripe old age of one hundred and thirty-three years. He had been squirrel hunting, and when he failed to return in due time, was found dead sitting against a tree, his old flint lock and faithful dog still beside him.

The family finally settled down on a farm near Thompsonville, Illinois. The older children were not sent to school but young Mack learned to read and write through his [own] efforts and those of a little French girl who took an interest in him. He often says, "You can be just what you want to be." He appears to enjoy making some reference to the laws regarding the Indians, etc., and expressing surprise at your apparent lack of knowledge.

At the time the family settled down Mack was about thirteen years old [circa 1873]. He decided to go to some relatives by the name of Mitchell who lived in Oklahoma. He remained there about five years helping an Indian woman gather herbs and doing odd jobs.

Mack is not afraid of work and has followed many trades. He is a teamster by trade, a blaster of stone, built boilers, made shingles including those on his own house, mined coal, did janitor work, and [during the] last few years [he has] made and practiced medicine and preached.

He mined coal for forty years, and joined the union in Virginia for only twenty-five cents. He has done mining in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Illinois also. Here he has worked at Big Buddy, Watson 152, and Peabody [coal mines] but has been out eight or nine years now. Mr. Chas. Gent, former owner and operator of the mine at White Ash, says that "Cleve" Chavous was one of the best workers that he ever had. At that time he dressed the same as other miners, no long hair, etc.

The government became so impressed with his cleverness that at the age of thirty-two [in 1892] he was made [a] United States detective, signed for natural life. He exhibits a star for proof. He has been associated with Pinkerton, Nibbs, and other detective companies. He is a U.S. Marshal out of Washington D.C., and can give you full details of some of his successful catches.

He explains that one reason for his signal success is because: "I can go anywhere and listen to people talk and catch them because they think I'm just an old fool and don't pay any attention to me." "That's why I dress this way."

He spent four years at Four Forks, Virginia, and was converted all alone up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. "You don't have to have someone whoop and holler over you, sing, and pray long prayers over you before you can get converted." "If you want to pray, the Bible tells you to go into your closet" -- referring to Matthew 6:6.

He came to Saline County, Illinois, and had Cole Taborn, a colored Baptist preacher, to baptise him. Then he preached for fourteen years in the various Methodist churches throughout the country. He became disgusted with the hypocrisy of the laity and the preachers alike and quit preaching.

In 1896 he married America A. Chavous. as duly noted on the 1900 Federal Census, when they were living in Carrier Mills, Illinois. Their last name was misspelled Chavious, and his first name, Augustus, was missing, so Mack was known as Monroe then. His birthdate was off by a bit, but it would be rectified in later census reports.

Name: Monroe Chavious
Age: 41
Birth Date: Apr 1859
Birthplace: Illinois, USA
Home in 1900: Carrier Mills, Saline, Illinois
Race: Black
Gender: Male
Relation to Head of House: Head
Marital Status: Married
Spouse's Name: America A. Chavious
Marriage Year: 1896
Years Married: 4
Father's Birthplace: Tennessee, USA
Mother's Birthplace: Illinois, USA
Occupation: Farmer
Can Read: Yes
Can Write: Yes
Can Speak English: Yes
House Owned or Rented: Own
Home Free or Mortgaged: Mortgaged
Household Members (Name) Age Relationship
Monroe Chavious, 41, Head
America Chavious, 37, Wife
Lizzie Chavious, 9, Daughter
Millie Chavious, 4, Daughter
Monroe Chavious, 2, Son

In the Federal Census of 1920 his race was given as "Mulatto" and his occupation was General Farm Laborer. He was married to "Amorica" (America) Chavous and they owned their own home. With them was an adult son, John Chavous, and a grandson, Carl Rouse.

Name: Augustus M Chavous
Age: 60
Birth Year: abt 1860
Birthplace: Illinois
Home in 1920: Harrisburg, Saline, Illinois
House Number: Farm
Residence Date: 1920
Race: Mulatto
Gender: Male
Relation to Head of House: Head
Marital Status: Married
Spouse's Name: Amorica Chavous
Father's Birthplace: Tennessee
Mother's Birthplace: Illinois
Able to Speak English: Yes
Occupation: Laborer, General Farm
Home Owned or Rented: Owned
Home Free or Mortgaged: Free
Able to read: Yes
Able to Write: Yes
Household Members (Name) Age Relationship
Augustus M Chavous, 60, Head
Amorica Chavous, 57, Wife
John Chavous, 22, Son
Carl Rouse, 3, Grandson

In 1927 and 1928 he was listed in the City Directory of Marion, Illinois, and his occupation was "Miner." he was 67-68 years old.

He began to bootleg whiskey to the Indians [Prohibition started in January, 1920, when he was 59 years old] and was sentenced to [the Federal Penitentiary in] Leavenworth, Kansas for fourteen years.

His sentence was set t run until 1934. Bootleggers were not automatically released when prohibition ended in 1933, but he may have received an early parole.

In 1930 he was listed in the U.S. Federal census as a 70 year old widowed resident of Harrisburg, Illinois, living as a truck farmer with his son John Chavous, age 30.

Name: Augustus M Chavous
Birth Year: abt 1860
Gender: Male
Race: Negro (Black)
Age in 1930: 70
Birthplace: Illinois
Marital Status: Widowed
Relation to Head of House: Father
Home in 1930: Harrisburg, Saline, Illinois, USA
Street Address: 904 Wilmoth Addition
Age at First Marriage: 34
Attended School: No
Able to Read and Write: Yes
Father's Birthplace: Illinois
Mother's Birthplace: Illinois
Occupation: Farmer, Truck Farm
Household Members (Name) Age Relationship
John Chavous, 30, Head
Augustus M Chavous, 70, Father

He condemns the modern way of living of both women and men and joins Shakespeare in sentiment when he says, "What fools these mortals be." However he seems to be guilty of some folly himself so far as women are concerned.

At the age of twenty-two [in 1882] he married Henrietta Williams. They had two two children and separated.

When about forty-five years of age [in 1905] he married a show girl in East India[na] by the name of Stolia; three children were born to them. He stayed there for four years and finally left her because she would not come with him to Illinois. He asserts that he would like to go back to her but is afraid that she would try to kill him.

Wait. That would be bigamy! He had already married America A. Chavous and was married to her from 1896 until her death sometime between 1920 and 1930.

He claims to have had seven wives altogether and thirty children, but doesn't care to give you the names of all these wives. Some were black, white, and Indian but he has lost track of most of them.

He brings out a letter from a daughter in Chicago who signs herself Arpolia Chavous. She speaks of her brother and sisters as Etolia, Bernice, and Moses. She accuses him of non-support and asks for money. She will come for Christmas if he will send her the money. He doesn't support this wife because she was unfaithful to him.

With names like Arpolia, Etolia, and Moses Chavous and the location of Chicago, it was easy to find census records from 1930 and 1940 for Mack Chavous's children and his ex-wife (#4?) Alberta (who was married to Lee Reynolds in 1930, but single again in 1940). All of the members of this family were listed as "Negro," according the demographic naming conventions of that era. I simply started by searching for Arpolia Chauvous:

Arpolia Chavous in the 1930 United States Federal Census
Name: Arpolia Chavous
Birth Year: abt 1924
Gender: Female
Race: Negro (Black)
Age in 1930: 6
Birthplace: Illinois
Marital Status: Single
Relation to Head of House: [Step] Daughter
Street Address: 3948 Wells Street, Chicago, Cook, Illinois, USA
Attended School: Yes
Able to Read and Write: No
Father's Birthplace: United States
Mother's Birthplace: Kentucky
Household Members, Age, Relationship, Occupation
Lee Reynolds, 34, Head, born in Mississippi, Laborer, Acid Factory
Alberta Reynolds, 30, Wife, born in Kentucky, None
Moses Chavous, 11, Stepson, born in Illinois, None
Etalia Chavous, 10, [Step] Daughter, born in Illinois, None
Bernice Chavous, 8, [Step] Daughter, born in Illinois, None
Arpolia Chavous, 6, [Step] Daughter, born in Illinois, None
Roger Lee Reynolds, 1, Son, born in Illinois, None

Arpolia Chavois [Chavous] in the 1940 U.S. Federal Census
Age 16, born abt 1924
Birthplace: Illinois
Gender: Female
Race: Negro
Home in 1940: 132 Swann Street, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois
Household Members, Age, Relationship, Occupation
Alberta Chavois [Chavous], 40, Head, None
Moses E. Chavois [Chavous], 21, Son, Dish Washer, Restaurant
Etolia Chavois [Chavous] Besu, 20, Daughter, Maid, Private Service
Bernice Chavois [Chavous] 18, Daughter, None
Arpolia Chavois [Chavous] 16, Daughter, None
Roger Chavois [Chavous] 11, Son, None
Geraldine Chavois [Chavous] 2, Daughter, None
Mary F. Besu, 3, Granddaughter, None
William Besu Jr., 1, Grandson, None

Mack's ex-wife Alberta was 40 in 1940, and Moses, her oldest son with Mack, was 21. Allowing about a year for marriage and pregnancy, they would have married around 1919, when Alberta was 19 and Mack was 59, according to his timeline above.

Mack lives all alone in his three room house which is in fair condition. The wooden walls are painted gray. He wouldn't have them papered if [it] was free of charge. In the front room there is an old rusty stove; a large showcase displaying roots, leaves, scales, papers; and odds and ends of all kinds. An old kitchen safe sets in the corner; contents unknown. A black case containing Indian information from Washington, D.C., envelopes, etc. sets on the floor. A stone ax head is used for a door prop. Two mice play hide-and-go-seek with one another about the room. Through the open door a bed neatly made may be seen. He sleeps on the floor most of the time because soft beds make a softee of you. No, he doesn't feel sore or stiff the next morning.

On the wall of the front room is a long and rather complete list of the human ailments, with the down payment price and so much a week according to your estimated ability to pay. He claims to know the cure for these diseases listed. He will show you numerous letters in their original envelopes from people of many places asking him to cure them of some affliction.

When his fame first became known, people used to stand in [a] waiting line up to his door. They would do so now if he would be satisfied with mere promises to pay. On the wall of this room hangs a sign which reads:

"Our Best Friend.
One who patronizes us,
brings us new customers,
pays his bills promptly,
does not expect anything for nothing."

Another reads:

"Three promising customers.
No. 1 said I'll see you Monday. He's blind.
No. 2 said I'll pay you Tuesday, sure as I live. That bird died.
No. 3 said I'll pay up Wednesday or go to L. He's gone."

Mack is also a man of will power. He says "I do what my mind tells me (to do) not what some one else says." He gives as illustration that he sat in his own home a few years ago and influenced the decision of a jury in Centralia [Illinois]. He cures some diseases that way also, but uses herbs mostly.

He has a letter from Mr. C. T. Thorp, Cumberland, Maryland, 914 Lexington Ave. He says this is the man who offered him a mountain home near Rome, Maryland, and one thousand dollars to reveal the cure for cancer. He claims another man offered him $70,000 for one recipe.

He prefers a simple life and has no desire for riches, neither can he reveal his knowledge to another man. It must be revealed to a fit subject of the opposite sex. If his daughter comes [at] Christmas and takes an interest in these things, he may reveal this knowledge to her. Otherwise when he passes away it may be lost to posterity for ever.

Mack C. Chavous
Chas. Gent


These typewritten pages were prepared for the Illinois Writers Project and were donated to the Chicago Public Library as part of The Negro in Illinois Collection, Box 35, No. 21. The browning pages were digitized by the VPL and then transcribed by nagasiva yronwode and edited by cat yronwode in 2022.


According to her Find-A-Grave memorial page, the author of this text, Beulah Marguerite Lewis DeVard, was born September 30th, 1898 in Saline County, Illinois, and died February 13th, 2002, at the age of 103. She was a White woman, the daughter of Oliver and Anna (Jones) Lewis. Her father was a pharmacist at Stonefort, Illinois, and she donated many items of his pharmacy to the Williamson County Historical Society of Marion. She attended Southern Illinois Normal University of Carbondale, and started her working career about 1918, during WWI, as a schoolteacher in a one-room schoolhouse between Herrin and Culp. She then enrolled at Milton College in Wisconsin and while there, became involved in a bird-banding program that gathered information on bird habitat and migration patterns. She graduated in 1925 with a bachelor's degree of biology. Later in life, she returned to school to receive more education and became a Licensed Practical Nurse. She also worked as an A.D.C. social worker for the State of Illinois. She married Carl John DeVard Sr. in Chicago. They had three children. After Carl's death in 1958 she worked at the Marion Memorial Hospital until her retirement. She was a member of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church of Stonefort, attended the Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Marion, and volunteered at the Marion Senior Citizens Center. She is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery of Marion.