For just a few days, I imagined a well thought out plan for what I was going to do to promote my Civil War book at the Athena Club meeting in Belle Plaine, Iowa last night. That all changed last Tuesday with a sizable dent in my car’s driver door. My door won’t open until the repair work is done so I’m stuck with driving the car like it is. Until that happy moment when I can get in and out of my car like any other driver, I’m getting in on the passenger side and squeezing between the gear shift lever and arm rest one leg at a time. There went the idea of wearing my full skirted, floor length homesteader dress. It’s hard enough to double up and maneuver myself into and out of the driver’s seat in slacks. Not that this little inconvenience dimmed my enthusiasm for talking about my books. I slipped on my pioneer bonnet and told the audience I wore it to get in the mood. That got me a chuckle from everyone which put them in a good mood as well I hope.
But I didn’t go to the meeting with just a bonnet and my book. I took the Vernon County Missouri 1887 history book that tells about the Mayfield family Bushwhackers, pictures of Bushwhackers, tombstones I’ve taken and death certificates. Also, I have a picture of my Great Grandfather Charles Wesley Bullock, a Union soldier, sitting beside a former bushwhacker, a picture of my Great Grandfather’s drug store and information that tells that my Great Grandfather was probably in Sherman’s March To Atlanta and a copy of his discharge paper. I tied Vernon County’s connection to Iowa together with the fact that Iowa Calvary was sent to Ft. Scott, Kansas to catch all lawbreakers which included Jayhawkers as well as Bushwhackers. I had a 1903 plat map that showed the sections around Montevallo and a terrain map that gave the audience an idea about the rugged timber, caves, rolling hills and creeks that made it easy for the Bushwhackers to hide from the soldiers.
I can’t imagine how girls in the thirties had any freedom to be adventuresome, wearing dresses. My mother-in-law was a teenager in Arkansas at the time. Mom assures me I’m wrong. Women wore dresses no matter what they did on the farm. They didn’t know any different. In fact, when the first two women in the area dared to put on slacks, they were considered sinners. However soon after that the fad caught on and northern Arkansas had many sinners wearing slacks.
In the middle of my struggle to get from one seat of my car to the other, it reminds me of sitting on a horse’s saddle while I sit on the hump with the gear shift lever in front of me. I asked Mom if she ever rode a horse in a dress. Turns out at fourteen, she was riding one of her father’s work horses bareback with a bit and reins. She is only 4 feet eleven inches tall but could grab the horse’s mane, give a leap and straddle that large animal. I asked, "How did your dress work out for you then?" She said it wasn’t a problem. Dresses were longer in those days. Was she adventuresome? Oh yes! She met up with a group of boys from school at a little used country road and together they raced to the other end. Now I know this lady likes to be the best she can at anything she does so I asked if she ever won the races. She smiled cagily when she told me it wasn’t that kind of race. They just ran the horses for the fun of it. Sounds like a smart woman to me. At fourteen years old, she had figured out to let the boys win the race.
Last night at the meeting, I talked about another woman with a competitive nature. During the Civil War, Ella Mayfield, lady Bushwhacker, was determined to fight to the end for her cause. Not only was she a crack shot, she rode her horse better than most men. While hiding from Union Soldiers in the Ozark timbers of Vernon County, Missouri, a messenger found Ella to deliver a message from a friend that lived near Ft. Scott, Kansas. The doctor needed to see Ella right away. It was a matter of life and death. This was 3 in the afternoon. Ella raced west and arrived at the friend’s house at dusk. She found out the problem was the doctor had sent her mother a picture of a Union soldier that killed Ella’s two brothers. One brother’s widow had put a bounty on that soldier’s head. Now the rough men in Kansas wanted that picture so they would know who to shoot for the bounty. If the doctor didn’t give them the picture in 24 hours, they were going to kill him. Ella rested an hour, got back on her horse and headed back to Montevallo, Mo. She arrived at her mother’s cabin, explained the doctor’s dilemma, secured the picture and raced back to the doctor’s house. She made it in the 24 hour time limit and had rode at break neck speed for 125 miles with only two hours break. As well as Ella knew the land, traveling at night had to be dangerous for many reasons. What if her horse stumbled in a gully or stream? What if the Union patrols, camped all over the area, were alerted by their horses knickering at Ella’s mount? Her only warning when she came near a camp was smelling smoke or seeing the flicker of a campfire. If Ella came too close to a cabin in the dark, she could have gotten shot by a homesteader that thought she was a murderous Jayhawker. Wild animals were plentiful such as wolves, bobcats and mountain lions. Those night predators could have easily pounced on Ella. Not only was she in good shape physically, but her horse must had very good stamina. However once Ella rejoined her Bushwhacker band in the timber camp, I can imagine she and her horse took a well deserved rest. Oh yeah, and she did all that in men’s trousers.
That’s just one of the stories I told last night about Ella’s brave deeds from the book Ella Mayfield’s Pawpaw Militia – A Civil War Saga In Vernon Co. Mo. It was a fun meeting with a very interested audience. I enjoyed myself, and I hoped the Athena Club did, too.
Now I have to get back to my November writing contest story. I’m doing all right so far with word count, but the month is young.