A LOVE STORY RETOLD
by Harry Standefer
From: Montgomery Courier News, Mount Ida, Arkansas; pub. November 11, 1965.
Contributed by Fran Murders. Thank you, Fran!
The two sisters, Mary Elizabeth, the younger, and Sarah Ellen, two years her senior, had seated themselves tolerably comfortable after attending two babies each, and rearranging the household goods that had been trussed helter, skelter on the Flatboat after a harrowing trip eight miles through the “suck” and the “boiling pot” rapids of the treacherous Tennessee River. These Rapids had tossed their Flatboat about like a cork dashing it against the solid stone cliffs, while the mothers lay flat on the deck with a child in each arm.
Mary was the first to speak, “Thank God”, she said, “that we are safe through this terrible rapids, and that our children are safe, and that we have good husbands to protect us.” Mary, especially, had every reason to be thankful that she was with her family, and had a good husband. The mother of these two young mothers, widow Mahalia Hicks, was on the Flatboat with them, and the two brothers were along though aboard the accompanying Flatboat. About 1857 when Mary was eight years old the father had died with the measles, leaving his widow Mahalia and four young children to eke out a living on forty acres of former Cherokee Indian Land near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The country was in turmoil. The slavery question had neighbors hating each other, and widow Mahalia's lot was made even worse because of the lingering hate of many toward those of Cherokee Indian blood. The distraught mother became the easy victim of a wealthy and scheming woman named Harper who lived near Gadsden, Alabama, about 80 south of Chattanooga. They had met through a mutual acquaintance, and Mrs. Harper, through glowing promises of a good home prevailed on mother Mahalia to permit Mary to live with her. Mrs. Harper had an only daughter and Mary became the daughter’s maid and was treated no better than any other slave.
Mary told him her life with Mrs. Harper, and asked the soldier to help her return to her family. Bill was very sympathetic but explained to Mary that he would be in trouble if he took her away without her custodian’s consent. He told her that his destination was near Chattanooga—that he would contact her family to see what could be done. Mary insisted that she go with him even though it might be considered illegal. All Bill had been thinking what a lovely, good and sweet girl she seemed to be. Suddenly he said, “It would be legal for me to take you if you were my wife. Will you marry me?” Mary’s tears began flowing again when she said, “God has finally answered my prayers. I’ll marry you and live with you forever.” They were married immediately in Gadsden, Alabama. Bill took Mary, though they had to walk 80 miles to her family. The reunion was tearful, but a very happy one, and Mary received another thrill when she learned that her sister, Sarah Ellen, only a few weeks before, had become engaged to Samuel J. Standefer, who lived at Standefer Gap, a few miles east of Chattanooga. Sarah’s wedding took place November second, 1865. Sarah Ellen was eighteen and Mary Elizabeth was sixteen. Sarah Ellen as Mrs. Samuel J. Standefer became the mother of thirteen children, two of whom are still living – John C. Standefer of Pearcy, Arkansas, and Minnie Standefer Kinsey, of Bonnerdale, Arkansas. Mary Elizabeth as Mrs. Bill Chitwood became the mother of nine, only one of whom is still living—Mrs. Bob Massingill of Redlands, California. And what a dear family Mary Elizabeth was privileged to have. Her sometime soldier—husband spent his mature life as a Missionary Baptist preacher, and two sons, Edmund and Charles, became Baptists preachers. Faithfully keeping the promise she made at the spring, Mary Elizabeth remained at her husband’s side through life and rests beside him now in the cemetery on top of the hill at old Washita overlooking the beautiful Lake Quachita in Montgomery County, Arkansas. Her beloved sister, Sarah Ellen, sleeps beside her husband in the Howton Cemetery, also in Montgomery County.
This writer has fond memories of sitting beside the widow Mahalia Hicks, mother of Sarah Ellen and Mary Elizabeth, listening to her tell of the Indians, and sometimes I would help her with a coal from the fireplace to light her clay pipe. As a twelve-year-old boy I stood beside her bed when she passed on, in the home of Sarah Ellen on the old Dallas road near Meyers Creek, Lincoln Township, Garland County, Arkansas.
She was my beloved great grandmother, Mahalia Hicks.
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