My Great-Great Grandmother: Mary Elizabeth Chapman Weddle
So I had the feeling I should do some genealogy work yesterday and I started rummaging through my drawer that has all of that in there, when I came across this story. I am waiting for a photo from my aunt to add to it, but the story is so very sweet and exciting, that I didn’t want to wait. I typed it up and attached it to her name in family tree. Now when anyone pulls up her name, her story will be right there too. And when I get a photo, I’ll add that to family tree and here to the blog. My grandfather typed the story up (I guess), as he had it written in her hand so the first and last paragraphs are his, but the story is hers. Enjoy reading it, she is an amazing, faith-filled woman. (No photos yet, just the story and doing some research, I would guess this is about 1864 or 65–She was married to Henry in 1860. If the dates are correct, she was 17. And their little Jimmy was born in 63, when she would have been 20.)
This is the story as told to me (OB Biggs) by my Grandmother–of her life and some of her trials as lived in Missouri and Kentucky at the beginning of and during the War between the States. Mary Elizabeth Weddle told many interesting stories of those trying days, none of which impressed me as much as this one.
Back in Missouri, we lived a happy little family of five. My husband had been married and had a little boy–his Billy. I also had been married and had a son of my own–George. We were very happy when our little boy, Jimmy, came along. We farmed and owned our own place. A colored family lived in the corner of the yard and the woman, Eliza would help me with the children and also with the general work around the house. Her man, Ned, helped my husband in the field.
My mother, father, and a sister, Emmelyn, lived near to us. We had lovely neighbors and everyone was happy. Then the terrible war broke out and my husband had to leave. What grief for me to make a living for three little boys! I had had no experience in much of anything except caring for my babies and home. I spent sleepless nights and walked the floor day by day. However, we had a big supply of meats, lard, beans, and cornmeal; also a barrel of sugar and plenty of coffee. I thought surely the war would be over soon, but at the end of three months, my husband, Henry, got a furlough to come home and see how we were getting along. Oh, the happiness that I knew when I saw him coming, for I thought surely the war was over. On the contrary, he brought the sad news that the war would last three or four years. I tried to be very brave and told him we would get along somehow. I had to learn to do so many things that I didn’t understand, but with all my brave ado, my husband was very sad because he didn’t know when he left that time when he would see his family again, if ever. I just couldn’t realize it was so bad–we didn’t have newspapers or telephones to tell us how bad it really was.
My husband left and promised to try and get another furlough as soon as he could, but it was six months before he came home again and then it was for only two days. He told us then how bad it really was and what we could expect.
He got busy, took up the kitchen floor and dug a big hole where he buried our food and told us not to let anybody know that we had hid it there. We only left a small supply in the house and after we had stored most of it in the hole, he nailed the floor back down. Henry told us that we had better have mother, father, and my sister come live with us, for there was a bunch of men called Bushwhackers going through the country robbing the houses of all the food they could lay their hands on and for us to be very careful who we talked to when he was gone again. We didn’t know whether we would ever see him again or not, but we had to carry on.
I had a nice fat little mare which I dearly loved and my husband told me to keep her hid out in a big thicket not too far from the barn, so I took my side saddle out there and hid them both. We got along alright for a while and then it was rumored that the Bushwhackers were doing a lot of meanness in the country again so my father decided that it wasn’t safe for him to stay at the house. He was quite old, but could get around pretty good. There was a big cave in the side of a mountain about a mile from the house so he decided that that was where he would hide out. Neither my mother, sister, or I could get down to where he was to take him some food. We had a neighbor living about two miles from us whose man was in the army, but they had two boys about twelve and fourteen who volunteered to take father’s meals to him. This arrangement went on for some time and when a stranger would come and ask for the man of the house, we would just say that he had gone to look for the oxen or he had gone rabbit hunting and hope that that would be the last bunch to come through the country. My mother was worrying herself sick, so afraid that they would find him and besides, he was getting mighty feeble from staying in the damp cave.
Just about this time, we heard that there was a band coming through the country stealing and burning as they went. We were very afraid early one morning when mother saw a man come riding down the road real fast. She went to crying and saying she knew they had found Papa, but I got her quieted before he got to the door and wanted to know where the old man was. I began to tell him the old story about him out looking for the oxen and mother began to cry saying look on his bridle. The man said, like hell he is, look here. He reached down pulled at the resilett and the nebuie mother had knit for him to wear in the cave. He said, we have found him and mean to kill him but will bring him home before we do. The neighbor woman whose two boys were carrying food to the cave had told where he was. They brought Papa up to the house and had him chained. There were a lot of women with this gang and while the men took up the floor and found our food the women ransacked the house and took all of my pretty linens and keepsakes off the mantle. Then they went to the barn and found the trail I had made going to the thicket to feed my little mare. There was a young fellow that had a very young girl on an old horse and side saddle. He took her off and saddled my mare and put her on her. I was ready to fight then and grabbed the bridle. The young fellow said, drop that or I’ll kill you. I looked at my father sitting there and he shook his head to me to let them alone so I did. They were taking all our food so my father asked them to please leave the old woman and children a mess of meal. One man gave him a kick and said, well, I shouldn’t but I will, so he poured out a small pan full and set it on the table.
Then they took my father out and set fire to the house and all we could get out was just what we could carry out while the house burned. My mother was crying and took the pan of cornmeal and held it in her lap. They carried my father about a half mile down the road and crossed a small stream of water. On the far bank, he knelt and was praying, they shot him and walked off. It took my sister to care for my mother so I ran down to where I heard the shots and saw him across the creek. Not thinking how deep the water might be, I jumped in and it was up to my arms before I got over and I couldn’t swim a lick. But in those days, I didn’t think of myself, though I only weighed ninety-eight pounds and hardly five feet tall.
I ran up on the bank and laid my father back on the ground, put a little piece of wood under his head and took out his red bandanna handkerchief and tied it around his head. Then I almost fainted for his brains come out on my hand so I knew there wasn’t anything I could do but stand it. I went in search of a neighbor woman to help me carry him to the place where the house had burned. In those days fo[u]r or five miles was a close neighbor, but I got help. We nailed two boards together and put him on it. We had to walk a half mile down the creek and cross with the body over where a big tree had fallen across the stream. Me and this good woman dug a grave under a big Elm tree, wrapped my father in the new quilts my mother had made and laid him to rest.
We moved into our smoke house and the problem for me then was to find something for my three little boys, mother, and sister to eat. The next morning I took the old horse that had been left in place of my little mare and started out. I had heard of a crib of corn about forty miles from where we lived and I didn’t know when I bid my little family good-bye when I would ever see them again, but it was that or see them starve. Some how I made it there and back and took the corn the next day to the mill and had it ground. In all this time I had not heard from my Henry, but I knew we had to leave Missouri, so we began to make arrangements to move to Texas. All the women for miles around began to make plans for the move and mother would be sitting around crying. She was so poorly that I thought I would lose her before we got started. But the day came when it was time to start. I had two sacks of corn meal and had dug up the dirt in the smoke house, poured water over it and then boiled it down to make my salt. So the day came when we started our long drive through to Texas.
There were twenty-three wagons of women and children–they called it the wagon train. And what a mixed bunch it was!! Some cussed all the time and some prayed—some had to be sick and depend upon others. My older sister, Jane, that lived about a hundred miles south of us, joined the wagons as we passed. Her husband was evading the war and we didn’t think much of him. It made me mad to think of what my Henry was going through and we had to get along without his help. It did make me proud of my Southern soldier husband. Henry’s stepmother had her wagon with us–she was very old and had a little colored boy named Joey that drove her oxen. We had been on the road some time and hadn’t found any corn or other food and I was getting worried. One evening a man rode up–we were always meeting horse-back riders, some Northern and Southern soldiers and I wouldn’t talk to them unless they mentioned food. This man asked how our crew was holding out and I told him how hard up we were. He told me that the next day we would come to a barn where a big bunch of hogs bed up at night and that we could have one if we could kill it. We camped the next evening and after dark, when the hogs had got bedded down, I went out with my butcher knife and took the little negro boy, Joey, with me. I picked out a small pig that I thought we could handle, knocked it in the head and stuck it. Then Joey and I grabbed it and drug it over the fence before the other hogs knew what was going on. There were a lot of big hogs in there and they could’ve given us plenty of trouble.
All the women began saying we will all be murdered. Grandma Tucker was mighty mad but I let little Joey eat with us that night and the next morning. Grandma sat by herself and ate her bread and drank her water. But the next morning she came and said, well Lizzie, we weren’t bothered last night so you can give me Joey’s part of the meat! We hung up the hog up on a limb and skinned it—that was the only way we had to dress it. Some of the women went out and caught little pigs that night, although they pretended to be so afraid that they would be caught with meat in the wagons. Then the next few days we met some men that told us that in about twenty miles we would come to a big crib of corn and they told me how I could find the road leading to it about twenty miles off our route.
The next morning I saddled the old horse—not knowing if he could carry me and a sack of corn or not–but about noon I came in sight of the large barn, a big double log one. I saw four horses tied there and as I came closer, I saw four men sitting on a blanket playing cards. I was scared to death but couldn’t give up and me so close to that crib of corn. I thought of my three little boys and rode up on them. They jumped up and threw the blanket over the cards and one of them asked me if I came for a sack of corn and I said yes I did. He told me to just sit still and they would get it for me. They shucked and shelled a sack of corn in about thirty minutes, brought it and tied it to my saddle. I left there not knowing whether or not I would make it or not. It seemed to me that the poor old horse would stagger with his burden at times. While I had been gone, there had come up a thunder storm and several of the little creeks were up, it was getting dark and I tried to hurry the old horse up. Lightening had struck a tree and it had fallen across the road, but we were too close to our family to let that stop us. The good old animal gave a big leap and cleared the tree. I am sure if a picture could have been taken of that jump, I would never have appeared more graceful in my life. After that I came to love the critter and felt that some of my prayers had been answered.
My mother was so glad to see me for she thought when I would leave to get food, she might never see me again. Most of the women were afraid that we might be killed for taking things like that, but it was that or starve. The corn was left because the houses had been burned but they would not burn the barn where the corn was. One day we passed a cane patch and decided to camp there. The cane was ripe and I cut some of it and twisted it for enough juice to boil down and make syrup. The little boys were so happy they cried and said they sure would have some syrup on their bread that night. Oh, the grief of those days but it made my faith stronger than ever.
We traveled for days and days–the women complaining and crying for bread. Every once in a while a wagon would drop out. You know our wagons had wooden axles and if they were loaded too heavy they would catch on fire. We were traveling along one evening when six or eight men rode up and wanted to know how we were getting along. They noticed our wagons and one of them said that we would come to a pine grove the next day and that if we would gather the pine knots and put them on a flat rock, cutting a little trench in the rock, then build a fire on the pine knots, we would get enough tar to grease our wagons. Some of the women laughed about it, but just the same, the next day we came to the grove and I began to gather the pine knots. Next morning I had a nice can of tar to grease my wagon axles. They begged for some to grease their wagons but, as they had had the same chance that I had had they didn’t get any of mine.
Then we began to have trouble with our oxen. They took some kind of sickness that we couldn’t do anything about, so when a wagon lost its oxen the train had to go on and leave it behind.
All of this time I had not heard a word from my husband. My brother-in-law would dart in and out to see my sister but we didn’t have anything to do with him. He would bring coffee for my sister and my mother would smell it cooking and cry because she only had parched corn to makeshift coffee with. We had been traveling for weeks and our corn meal was running out and I was so worried for everything in that part of the country was gone. However, one evening we came to a big pumpkin patch and I began to gather them and put them in the wagon–as many as we could hold. By this time, the salt that I had made was gone and the corn meal was out so we lived on stewed pumpkin for one week. Then we came to an old barn where a house had been and we camped there. The next morning about four o’clock I heard a rooster crow. I got up and ran him down and we had stewed chicken. The following day was very damp and rainy so we stopped under a big tree. Shortly after we made camp three men rode up and asked us how our food was holding out and we told him that it wasn’t holding out at all. They told us that about noon the next day we would come to a big plantation that the governor had left to feed the widows and orphans and they told us to stop there and ask for something. I could not sleep that night, just hoping and praying that nothing would happen until we could reach this place. My little boys had begun showing signs of the one week stewed pumpkin diet and they were entitled to a change.
We were up and off at day break. Sure enough, about noon we came in sight of the big house which stood about a hundred yards off the road. I told my sister to take care of the oxen and I would go up to the house and ask for food. Now I want to tell you just how I looked and I remember right. I had on a cotton check dress and shoes—something I had not had in a long time. My feet were sore from having to walk beside the oxen. I didn’t look any too good. I knocked on the door and an old lady answered it and I told her what I wanted and what we had lived on for the past two weeks. She said, you poor child, for she thought I was. When I told her about my three little boys she could hardly believe it. She seemed very worried for some reason then she said if her son came to the door before his wife did that we would get something, but if she came to the door then we wouldn’t get anything. I sure began to pray that her son would get there first. She sent a little colored boy on the run to the field to bring her son and pretty soon he came and he gave me a bushel of ground corn meal and told me to take it to the wagon and hurry back. I almost ran to the wagon and when I came back, he gave me a big middlen of meat and he asked me if I could carry that much and I told him I sure could because I didn’t want him to cut any off. He helped me steady it on my head and I made it to the wagon. The three children met me yelling that now they would have ham for supper. The man told me to hurry back for some salt and the dear old Grandmother said she would give me some milk and butter. By this time I was getting very weak and as I came out the gate with the sack of salt a lady in a double buggy with a colored driver came up and tried to make me take the salt back. Just as soon as I got back we started the wagon for I was afraid that she would come and make us take the meal and meat back. We didn’t camp until some time after dark. By this time, we didn’t have very many wagons in the train and we were nearing the Red River. We had been told that the crossings were very dangerous and I was worried, wondering if we would ever make it. We came into the river three days later and one of my oxen died. I still had the horse and rode three days trying to find an oxen I could trade him for. I decided to try the river before I let him go and rode across and then took the wagon over. We were in Texas! But, where to go, I didn’t know. By this time our food was running low again. One evening about three o’clock, a shower came up and we stopped under a tree for shelter. There were only two wagons left now. We were waiting there for the shower to pass when two men rode up and got under the tree also to get out of the rain. One of the men looked at my little stepson and said there was a man in a train on wagons hauling food for the army that that little boy belongs to–the man’s name is Henry–and he has often wondered if you still had the little boy or if you had sent him to his sister. I told him it couldn’t be my Henry because he would know better than that. My husband had got word some how that we had left Missouri but did not know where we were headed for.
My little stepson that I often speak of had been born with a hairlip and it was easily noticeable. This man said that he knew it was him and if you will camp tomorrow night at a lake which you will come to early in the evening, I’ll send him to you. What a joy it was to even think that it might be Henry, but it had been eighteen months since I had heard from him and couldn’t believe it. The children were over joyed and even Mother was happy! But I was afraid to hope because I was almost at the end of my rope.
We were up before daylight the next morning—little Billy was so excited and kept telling me get up, that we would see Papa that day. We traveled all day and late that evening I saw a man coming down the road on a mule and I knew it was my Henry, but I couldn’t say a word. He rode up and jumped off and took me in his arms.
Mother began to cry and tell him about Father and all the little boys holding to his pants leg. He picked me up in his arms and sat down on a rock beside the road and then the tears began to run down my face. He camped with us that night and told us that he had been wounded and that was why he was driving the wagon of food to the front.
He took us to a small house that was on his line of travel and he came by once a month and would bring us food and stay all night. It was there we lived until the war was over and he came home for good.
(The story of my Grandmother–Mary Elizabeth Weddle–written in her own words. What a wonderful faith in God she had–a great and heroic woman—one among many during those trying days. OB Biggs)