These are the Jeffries women. These were the original steel magnolias. They were women of fortitude. They were from Tennessee by way of North Carolina and Virginia. Obedient Wright Jeffries is the lady sitting in the middle on the front row holding the Holy Bible in her hands. She was born in Overton County, Tennessee in 1817, the daughter of Joshua Foster Wright and Sarah Lamar. She married the Rev. James Jasper Jeffries. She is my 3rd great grandmother.
Her daughter, my 2nd great grandmother, is the second woman to the left on the top row and her name is Rachel Elizabeth Jeffries Ford. The other women were sisters to Rachel and daughters of Obedient, who was called “Middie.”
Forgive these women their severe, homely looks. There was little time for primping back in those days. These women were strong, resilient females who brought up their children in the ways of the Lord. When they moved from Tennessee to Arkansas they had no moving vans. They traveled in covered wagons if they were lucky. They had to dodge Indians and outlaws and wild animals and unpredictable weather on the way across.
There were no modern conveniences of any sort along the way back in those days…. no refrigerators or Holiday Inns. No cell phones, no telegraphs, no way of communicating to someone faraway instantaneously. There were few roads but there were worn pathways and passes through the mountains. If the babies were sick there were no Nannies to take over, the women had only each other to help if they were in a group of families. They typically moved in family groups, providing safety and comfort in numbers.
There were no welcome wagons waiting for them at their destinations. Early settlers may have gone ahead to provide simple settlements but usually these families moving to Northwest Arkansas found a hardscrabble existence awaiting them. Apple farming was king in the latter years but when most of my ancestors were settling in to the little towns and villages around Bentonville, Arkansas most families kept large gardens to provide for their families’ needs. They kept livestock for the same reason. Sam Walton’s ancestors had moved west to Oklahoma. He wouldn’t wake up the prettiest corner of Arkansas for a century.
This is Oscar and Avis Wilhelmina Drew Mackey, my second great grandparents, who moved from a small town near Buffalo, New York to Kansas, then to Oklahoma and finally to Bentonville, Arkansas in the years after the Civil War. Oscar James Mackey served in the Union Army during the Civil War and before that in New York he worked as a farmer, a tanner, and a cigar maker. In Oklahoma Avis and Oscar were owners of the Mackey Brothers Ranch in Woodward County, OK. In Bentonville, Oscar and Avis were the owners of the Mackey Cider Company. Eventually their land fell into Sam Walton’s hands and became his private home.
These women carried on when their husbands served with the Confederate Armies in the Civil War and they knew hard times unlike any we know today. I mean hard times, Britney. Not bad hair days. Not one of those days when you wake up and you just want to call in sick and stay in bed. None of that. No sir. These were H A R D times with an emphasis on the R.
These women had to keep home and hearth going when the men were gone to war and they had to load a gun and stand down the outlaws who tried to rob them of the remaining money or food that was left after the many months and years the war had left them with nothing. So many in the hills of Northwest Arkansas had been affected by the Civil War, there were battles and skirmishes all around, the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern or as the Yankees called it The Battle of Pea Ridge was nearly in the back yard of many of my ancestors.
“Bentonville suffered terribly from the ravages of the Civil War. Southern sympathizers killed a soldier left behind by retreating Union forces in 1862. When federal troops heard of the death, they returned the next day and burned 36 buildings.”
Think of the terror this brought to the families. Bentonville is still a small town. To burn 36 buildings even today would be a disastrous event.
My great grandmother, Kathryn Ozy Ford Mackey, the granddaughter of Obedient told me a story when I was a little girl about her mother having to hide her injured confederate soldier father in a cave to keep him safe from the bushwackers. If there wasn’t the fear of Yankees there was the fear of Bushwackers or other outlaws making mischief or worse.
Sometime during her life, Obedient Wright Jefferies moved with her family to Arkansas and lived a long life, giving birth to sixteen children. She died January 22, 1894 in Cash Hollow, Arkansas.
Obedient and her daughters were the bearers of the family history and it was uniquely American. The legacy handed down to us from Obedient Wright Jeffries was not only written in the obituary in the newspaper, it was written on the hearts of her children and her grandchildren and especially on the heart of her precious granddaughter, Kate Ford Mackey. I was lucky to know my dear great grandmother for nineteen years and I benefitted from all the stories she told me of her life long ago.
Grandma Morrison (as we called her) told me about what it was like to be a young woman growing up in the late 1890s. She and her fellow sisters and their mothers were no shrinking violets ordered around by men as sociologists and historians would have us think. They had just as much autonomy in the family unit as the men if not more. When my great grandfather, Frank O’Dell Mackey, Kate’s husband took a notion to move the family from Bentonville to British Columbia with his brother, Gilbert, she put a stop to that, saying, “I’m not taking my children up there.” They never did.
Obedient’s obituary was published in the paper, The Benton County Democrat. This was back when papers were vital to their communities and none of the publishers would ever think of taking a walk or a mule or a train to Washington D.C. with hat in hand to ask for a bailout.
On the evening of the 22nd day on Jan., 1894, a sainted mother in Israel, Mrs. Obedient Jeffries passed from sorrows and pain of this world to her reward in Heaven.
She had been confined to her bed ten weeks, but bore her afflictions with the fortitude and grace of a christian, patiently waiting the will of her Heavenly father, ever relying upon his blessed promises.
She was born in Overton Co., Tennessee, the daughter of Joshua Foster Wright and Sarah Lamar. She married James Jasper Jeffries of Overton Co., Tennessee. With a family of nine children they emigrated to this country after which seven more children were borne to them, making sixteen in all. Twelve of the 16 children, 44 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, a brother with a host of other relatives and friends are left to mourn her demise.
All of her children except two are christians and one of the two promised to meet her in Heaven. May the other one be one in that happy union beyond the river.
Can a mother’s love be supplied? Can a mother’s place be filled? No; a thousand times no. And true to nature, her eight girls and four sons feel that both their morning and evening star has passed out with her precious life.
Heaven imprinted in a christian mother’s face something that draws the minds of her children to the sweet beyond, something that claimed indeed the divine love.
Deeply has the divine wooing been imprinted on the hearts of these children and friends, by her peaceful, quiet, Christian faith which always sustained and comforted her under the shadows as well as the sunshine of her life.
Though she is gone from them they know where to find her, and we would beg them “to weep not, to miss her from earth’s weary shore; earth has an angel less, Heaven one more.”
She had been a member of the Methodist church for a long, long time and enjoyed her relationship with the church militant, but today she is enjoying the association of the church triumphant.
Her home was always with her youngest daughter, Mrs. J.B. Ford, who with her husband and little daughter, Bessie, are left alone, sad and heart broken.
All during her sickness her sons and daughters, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law gave her all the care and attention that loving hands could give, thus fully demonstrating that she was a mother indeed.
May their lives be like hers, their change as peaceful.
A precious one from us is gone
A voice we loved is stilled
A place is vacant in her home
Which never can be filled.”
FANNIE RUTLEDGE, a friend
[Benton County Democrat 2/1/1894]
Obedient Wright was born in 1817, just 41 years after our nation declared its independence from Great Britain. She and other pioneer women like her settled our country with their husbands and families. These women were full-on helpmates; running the farms, keeping the stores, as well as instructing and caring for the children.
These women experienced natural childbirth at home, usually without the benefit of a family doctor. Obedient managed to do that sixteen times and successfully so.
People didn’t find that strange back then as they do today. When I imagine how much work that must have been for her it fills me with awe. She managed to make ends meet along with her husband and family. She didn’t turn to the government for help. That would have been seen as shameful back then as it should be seen today.
Women of fortitude lived during the century between our founding and our flourishing. They quietly provided the strong frameworks for those of us who still want to raise our families in the ways of the Lord and in freedom.
And yes, I left my lights on in memory of them.