Author Fay Risner To Speak At Athena Club Nov. 8, 2010

Nov. 8, 2010, the Belle Plaine, Iowa Athena Club has invited me to speak about my Civil War book – Ella Mayfield’s Pawpaw Militia – A Civil War Saga In Vernon County Missouri. ISBN 1438235461. Sold on Amazon, ebay and It seems only fitting that today’s members in a club that was founded in the 1800’s would be interested in history from that era.

Awhile back, I signed up on a website for Iowa authors. Iowa Center for the Book – This is the site the Athena Club looked on to find an author. They found my name and list of books.


I’m getting prepared for the Athena Club meeting. I kept my bulletin board from the book sale at a Civil War reenactment last year. A hand drawn map of Missouri points out Vernon County’s location. The map is covered with statistics like how many battles and scrimmages were fought in Missouri. Across the top of the map is the definition for bushwhacker and jayhawker, plus pictures of a bushwhacker and two Union soldiers stones which are my great grandfathers buried in the Montevallo Cemetery and a picture of a woman’s grave who was a slave before the war and lived to be almost 100. Montevallo’s only black citizen after the war, Isabel Taylor was my parents neighbor in the 1930’s. In plastic covers, I have a copy of my great grandfather’s discharge paper, a picture and a story about Isabel Taylor from the Nevada Daily News. I’ll set out a stack of business cards so the club members know how to contact me later for future sales and a box of my other books to go through for those that like my different genres (Amish, mystery, western or Alzheimer’s themes) while I talk.

Bushwhacker Ella Mayfield’s story was an easy one to write. History provided me with details and dates of battles and towns burned by Union soldiers. The 1887 Vernon County History book supplied information about the Mayfield family. The authors point of view about the Civil War others wouldn’t know that didn’t live in that area until I wrote this book and talked about the era. My book is considered fact based fiction. The conversations and some of the details I added were my imagination because I wasn’t there.

An added plus for me, my parents grew up near Montevallo. We went there to visit family and friends often when I was a child so I know the landscape well. For many years, I’ve revisited that area, traveling in the same places that my parents and Ella lived.

Women, who homesteaded with their husbands, were sturdy, hardworking individuals. They could shoot a squirrel rifle, ride a horse, wield an ax and hold on to the reins of work horses or mules struggling to pull a small plow across unbroken sod. All the while, they had just delivered a baby or were expecting another one. It’s no wonder, these same women were able to hold their own among men in Ozark bushwhacker bands. The Mayfield family were considered heroes in Vernon County during the war. They suffered as much as any other family. Ella lost two husbands, two brothers and two brother-in-laws to Union soldiers and in the end was burned out of the timbers that hid her and her band so well.

Homesteaders weren’t interested in slavery. They had large families to help farm the 160 acres they signed up for. To keep that land, they had to build a cabin and plant crops for five years then the farm belonged to them. When the war started, family members, women, children and elderly were left behind to protect their homes and land. They fought to stay on the land they had put so much sweat into making their home. Years later, bushwhackers that come to mind are the James brothers and Younger brothers. Living in a land completely destroyed by fire and battles, these men chose to be outlaws rather than make an honest living. That was not how the bushwhackers of Vernon County began. Early on, the men came home from battles, disillusioned by battle losses, death of friends and relatives. The battles they were sent to fight were too far from home to protect their families. These men chose to become bushwhackers and fight at home to try to keep the Kansas Jayhawkers and the Union soldiers from burning their homes and killing their families. Angered by raids made on what belonged to them, the bushwhackers raided in Kansas, burning and killing. Ft. Scott Union soldiers tracked them back into Vernon County. Hit and run fighting was easy for the bushwhackers with vast timbers to disappear into, caves to hold up in and creeks to ford to hide their tracks. By the end of the war, the few women, children and old men left in their homes ran out of food to give the bushwhackers. The Union soldiers saw to that by destroying extra food, gardens and taking away milk cows to keep starving settlers from giving aide to the militias. The sympathizers had to move away from the areas to survive. That didn’t stop the bushwhackers. They were afraid to shoot what little game was left for fear the soldier patrols would hear a shot. Instead, they lived on berries, nuts, persimmons and pawpaws. Finally, the Union General, Thomas Ewing, in Kansas City issued Order No. 11. Burn Cass, Jackson, Bates and most of Vernon county south of Kansas City to run off all the southern sympathizers and what was left of the bushwhackers. That did it. In the smoky haze of spreading fire, Vernon County citizens and the last of Confederate solders fled to Arkansas.

That’s when Ella and her second husband gave up the fight. A few months after they arrived in Arkansas, Ella’s husband was killed. I tried to find out what happened but so far don’t know the answer. Ella came back to Vernon County, married a man farming not far from where her family’s farm had been. She used her first name, Amanda, which as time passed helped others forget her involvement in the war. After so many hardships, Ella had a normal life. She farmed with her husband, moved to Oklahoma later in life and is buried there beside her husband.

Now thoughts about summers -Yesterday and Today

Last Thursday was my husband’s birthday. I brought his 89 year old mother out for the day. In he afternoon, one of his sisters brought her two grandchildren that think coming to our place is like visiting a zoo. Our son joined us after he got off work. It was a super day with low humidity and warm sunshine that made our ash trees shade feel good. This was a day reminiscent of days in the Ozarks when I was small. In those days, my family spent many hot afternoons under a large maple tree, sipping real lemonade and Kool Aid. Our fan, compliments of a feed store, was a small piece of cardboard with a tongue depressor like handle. Many weekends when relatives came to visit, the grownups sat in the shade while the kids played. Dad bought a 50 pound block of ice which he busted up in a gunny sack, and everyone including the kids took turns cranking on the ice cream maker. We didn’t seem to mind the heat in those days. Maybe because we didn’t have air conditioning, we were acclimated to Missouri’s humid heat.

Many a summer evening, my family sat outside until bedtime. We had a porch swing. When my younger brother and I were small, my parents sat in it with us while Dad told us stories about what it was like when he was a kid or the Civil War stories his father told him about his grandfather. When we outgrew the swing, we sat on an old quilt in the grass. Dad bought a telescope. He pointed out stars and constellations, told us the names and let us look at them. The moving star that traveled from North to South was Russia’s Sputnik.

The house stayed hot through the night. We slept on the floor in front of the front porch screen door with a small, old fan stirring the air some. I was agile enough in those days not to mind the hard floor. The only reason I’ve thought twice about those days was Mom’s story about the large black snake that crawled under the screen door and slithered across the floor. The creature was looking for a cool place, too. At night for a summer or two, we slept sideways on an old iron bed out in the yard. Summers tended to be hot and dry so my parents didn’t worry about the old mattress getting wet. If a shower came up and passed through, the sun came out. The mattress was baked dry by bedtime. We lived on a blacktop road, but no one came by after ten o’clock to see us sleeping outside. That was the whole neighborhood’s bedtime so traffic was nonexistent until morning. My parents woke up at daybreak to milk cows. When passerbys drove by during the day, they probably thought the bed was a trampoline for the kids.

Now it’s summer in Iowa. The heat index of 104 one Wednesday was enough to drive my husband and I out of our un-air conditioned house that evening until the sun set. Not much of a view from our yard these days with ten feet tall corn plants all around us. One night, we watched four hot air balloons float near our house, turn and go back the way they came, but that Wednesday night and since then it has been too hot or stormy for balloons.

Another evening, my husband made the mistake of digging out a dandelion near my clematis vine which housed a minature nest of baby red headed finches. The frightened birds flew out into the lawn and bushes. After the surprise wore off, they decided they weren’t ready to leave home just yet. From several directions, the young birds made a clicking sound, trying to talk their mother into coming for them. Finally, my sympathetic husband hunted each baby up and put them back in the nest so their mother could find them. That quieted them down.

Most summer afternoon and evenings, we’re content to watch panting sparrows and warbling jenny wrens. How do those tiny birds muster up such a loud song? As you can see if my husband and I have any kind of breeze, plenty of shade, a refillable glass of tea and song birds entertaining us, we’re easy to please. Maybe it’s because we know what winter will bring.