Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ancestor Stories #1 Chaney's in the Civil War

I'm going to start periodically putting some posts about our ancestors on the blog from time to time so we can learn more about them and help remember them.

This first story is about Hezekiah Chaney and Parthena Poindexter. I don't have a picture of them but this is a picture of their son Jack Chaney and his wife Betty Wilson and their five children. The little girl in the middle is my grandmother Lura Chaney.

Now for the story about Hezekiah and Parthena. It happened during the Civil War in Missouri.

A Tragic Autumn in Civil War Days
by Ruth Bowler
from a Missouri newspaper clipping

Hezekiah Chaney and his wife, Parthenia, watched the rider disappear into a glow of yellow hickory and red sassafras. Parthenia clutched the sleeve of her husband's homespun jacket.

"You must leave the house," she told him, "and hide and stay clean away."

"But I can't leave you and the children," he protested. "Anyhow we aren't harboring any Confederate soldiers and haven't been."

"It won't do any good to talk to the Federals," she persisted. "He says someone's reported that we have been. The soldiers may be on their way here now. They won't believe you. If they don't kill you outright they'll take you and put you in prison. You must go. Quick, Hezekiah!"

"I won't leave you here to face them alone," he declared, gathering her tightly in his arms.
"But listen to me, Hezekiah," his wife insisted. "You must go. If they carry you off to prison there's no knowing when you will get tout. I can't live here with you gone. I couldn't keep wood for the fireplace with winter coming on. I couldn't make a crop or hunt game. I couldn't even hunt the sow on the range. The children are too little to take with me or to leave alone. The Federals may carry us off somewhere but they won't hurt us. We'd get back someday but if they get you we'd die here."

In the end he agreed. Carrying his riffle and power horn he set out. He would go an hour's walk but he would circle back and spend the night in the sumac ticket above the cabin. There might be a watcher posted somewhere. One never knew who he might trust in these fearful times of civil war. Men were close mouthed these days. The soldiers would shoot to kill if they thought a man to be the enemy. And Hezekiah knew of more dangers than even Parthenia realized in her being left alone. They had left all their kin far back in Tennessee. The day he first had seen those two high hills with the sale of good land between them and found the spring to furnish ample water he had said to her, "Those two mountains will make us better neighbors than some people." He had build the cabin there between those hills and the land furnished him plenty.

Before evening came the young pioneer had made a watching place within easy view of his home that was hidden by a curtain of sumac as rich in color as the draperies of a king's palace. He watched Parthenia go out with the gourd to milk the cow, and then gather the children on the doorstep and give them warm milk to drink and cornbread. he hoped that perhaps nothing would come of their fears.

When daylight began to show to the east of the Lead Hill Hezekiah left his bed among the sumacs and climbed up here the timber stood, tall and straight. A score of squirrels barked noisily in the trees above him. Quietly he brought down two with well aimed rocks. he had them dressed and waiting when he saw Parthenia coming to him, her apron gathered about her waist, stopping now and then to pick up a fallen branch of dead wood. In the apron she had brought his breakfast. And if an enemy were watching she made a perfect picture of a woman alone as she turned to the house, the squirrels hidden ion her apron, but laden with a great armload of crooked sticks for the breakfast fire.

However home and peace were not to be for long.

The sun was little more than an hour high when a dozen men in blue uniform rode up to the house and quickly encircled it. Parthenia stood in the doorway with the children peeping from behind her skirts. Her blue eyes met them squarely.

"Where's your man?" the leader asked.

"He's not here," she answered. "I'm alone with the children."

They made the accusation that Confederate soldiers were being harbored here. She told them that she and her husband had not done so and that they might search the premises if they did not believe her.

"We're Irish," she told them. "Our people came to Tennessee from Ireland. We're not Confederates."

They went away a short distance. The young woman began to wonder hopefully if she had convinced them until she saw that they were dismounting and tying their horses. The leader appeared at the door.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," he said, "but we'll give you just fifteen minutes to take what you want out of the house." She saw the others gathering up brush and her face went white as the full meaning of his words bore down on her.

Up the hill behind the crimson curtain of sumac cold sweat stood out on Hezekiah's forehead as he watched them pile the brush against the cabin and the new smoke house. And, when smoke began to rise he aimed his rifle only to lower it. If he resisted they would kill him, and the thought of Parthenia, a young widow alone with no kinfolks stayed his hand. There were bands of lawless men roving through the country who were even more heartless than these soldiers.

Under the old spreading elm Parthenia stowed the children, telling them that they must stay there, and they minded like little quails. With flying feet she brought out clothing, the sack of meal, the clock and the mirror. Hezekiah's parents had brought that clock and mirror with them from Ireland. These she must save. Such precious things could not be bought at a trading post.
She rushed back for bedding and in her distress her feet tripped on a quilt and she would have fallen but a hand stayed and helped her. She looked up to meet a pair of eyes as blue as her own and a soft black beard. A quiet voice said, "I came from Ireland too."

Her panic seemed to ease a trifle. She tucked the bedding tightly over the wagon canvas, - it might call their attention to the wagon where it lay with its axles flat against the ground, concealed in the blackberry thicket. From the smoke house she lugged two hams and carried potatoes from the cellar underneath. The officer in charge raised his hand and said, "That will do."

The brush piles were soon great flaming torches. It had been a dry fall and the clapboard shingles quickly were ablaze. Parthenia gathered the children about her and stood looking on. None ventured to speak to here and when they knew she could not hope to put out the roaring fire they rode away.

The sun rose again the next morning over the top of the Lead Hill. The little homestead was only smoldering ashes. Hezekiah and Parthenia tearfully had decided during the night to abandon it and seek safety in a new and far-away land. The wagon, its wheels and yoke of oxen had been assembled, and the family loaded the few remaining possessions and departed, leaving the cow behind. Some miles south along the trail Hezekiah said to his wife:

"We'll go to Arkansas and then on west. All the country we passed from Tennessee here to Missouri and all that our folks traveled to Tennessee after they got off the boat ain't but half of this big country. There's that much again to the West, and ours for the asking. We'll start over again. "Twon't be bad."

The day wore on and the oxen plodded slowly but surely to the south and, the family hoped, a safer territory. then Parthenia tipped her bonnet back the better to listen.

"There's riders coming. Hear them?"


"Let's turn off the trail somewhere."

"Twon't do no good," he said. "If they're a mind to they could track the wagon."

Galloping horses quickly gained on the slow-moving oxen, - men in blue again.

"Halt there, Chaney," came a sharp command. And they faced the officer. He was a man whom Hezekiah had know before. Among the men who drew rein Parthenia met those same blue eyes and soft black beard."

"There's a wagon train coming two miles on. We're going to give you your choice," the officer said. "You can go south as far as the ticks go or you can be guarded by that wagon train into Springfield. Think it over."

Parthenia sat very close to her husband. Carefully she shaped the words and whispered, "Go with the wagon train."

So the decision was made. They traveled with the wagon train. At night they made their own camp fire inside a circle of picket fires and cooked their ham and potatoes. They slept in the wagon and heard the measured tread of guards as they passed by in the dark.

"Why did you decide so quickly?" Hezekiah asked his wife.

"Because the last time we gathered at the meeting house I heard some women say that to go south as far as the ticks go meant they'd take you back in the woods and kill you.

"It's well we were to meeting that Sunday," he replied.

In Springfield Hezekiah joined the Union forces and became a cook in the army. At night he was permitted to take food home for his family. Parthenia helped in caring for sick and wounded soldiers and until she was a very old lady she used the medical knowledge that she gained there to care for the sick in her neighborhood.

Occasionally the young soldier with the deep blue eyes stopped by to visit his Irish friends. When he had a short leave into town he liked to trim his beard by the Chaney's mirror to look his best for a young lady in Springfield on whom he was paying calls as frequently as possible.

It was but six months until peace was made at Appomattox and the Chaneys returned to their homestead and rebuilt their cabin. The Lead Hill, so named because of mining operations there at one time, is east of Dunn on highway 60 not far from Mountain Grove. {Mountain Grove, Missouri is where my dad Keith Swift was born} Grandsons of Hezekiah Chaney still live in that neighborhood and in the valley that extends beyond the ridge to the south. They still treasure in their homes the old weight clock and the mirror. How many faces of the long ago has it reflected!

This is a picture of the house they rebuilt. Below is a sketch to show where they fit in the Family Tree.