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Kate Stone’s Civil War: The dirtiest people

July 12, 2013

KS25

From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

Stone hated and pitied the people of Texas. Barefooted women, evidently ignorant of the latest Southern fashions, still wore outdated “hoops.” The roads all the looked the same. She gagged at the sight of unshaven men sitting at her dinner table. She lost her appetite when she witnessed dusty slaves washing dishes “in the duck pond” before dinner. The Texas heat was punishing. The seeming normality of violence horrified her.

But the natural beauty of Texas gradually entranced her.

July 12, 1863

Lamar County, Texas

We made our first visit in Texas yesterday. We went to a protracted meeting being carried on nine miles from here at an old schoolhouse called — it must be in mockery — “Paradise.” After the meeting we went by invitation to spend the evening and night with some real nice people, settlers from Virginia, the McGleasons. They are a pleasant family and exceedingly hospitable. We came back this morning after a ride of nearly eighteen miles, having missed our road three times. The prairie roads are so much alike it is impossible for strangers to distinguish the right from the wrong.

The congregation was much more presentable than the Gray Rock crowd. We saw several nice-looking families, but all were in the fashions of three years ago. If they would only leave off their tremendous hoops, but hoops seem in the very zenith of their popularity. Mamma and I were the only women folks without the awkward, ungraceful cages. No doubt the people thought us hopelessly out of date. We have not worn them for a long time. Nothing looks funnier than a woman walking around with an immense hoop barefooted.

Mamma and I went several days ago to Tarrant in Hopkins County. The road ran part of the way over a lovely rolling prairie, dotted with clumps of trees and covered with the brilliant, yellow coreopsis in full bloom and gemmed with countless little mounds of bright green, like emeralds set in gold. Tarrant is the hottest looking, new little town right out in the prairie not a tree.

We tried to eat dinner at the roughest house and with the dirtiest people we have met yet. The table was set on a low, sunny gallery and half a dozen dirty, unshaven men took their seats in their shirt sleeves at the dirtiest tablecloth and coarsest ware. We saw the Negro girl wash the dishes at the duck pond right out in the yard. That was too much for me, but Mamma and Mr. Smith managed to swallow down something. …

The prairie we are living on is called a thicket prairie. There are clumps of dwarf dogwood, spice trees, and plums, tangled together with wild grape and other vines and alive with snakes. The plums are just in season, a sour, red variety just like the swamp wild plums, and are nice for jelly. The prairie is a mass of flowers, one variety covering it at a time. Before you realize it, that color has faded away and another has taken its place, and this succession of flowers and colors goes on until frost comes and spreads a brown sheet over all. There are many familiar garden flowers: blue salvia, coreopsis, verbenas, larkspur, standing cypress, and now as far as the eye can reach the prairie is a mass of waving purple plumes, “French pinks,” the natives call them. …

We hear no news now but accounts of murders done and suffered by the natives. Nothing seems more common or less condemned than assassination. There have been four or five men shot or hanged within a few miles of us within a week. No one that we have seen seems surprised or shocked, but take it as a matter of course that an obnoxious person should be put to death by some offended neighbor. A few evenings ago a captain in the army had just reached home on a furlough three hours before when he was shot at through his window. He was killed and his wife dangerously wounded. The authorities are trying to find the men who did it. It is supposed to be one of his company who had vowed vengeance against him. The other miscreants go unwhipped of justice.

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4 Comments
  1. I love that in the middle of the horror of war, she still worries about fashion and looking out of date. For some reason, that really humanizes her. Very interesting.

  2. Washing dishes in the duck pond? I’m not a stickler for hygiene, but that’s even too much for me.

  3. Thank you kindly, for bringing history to life in this way. It was fascinating reading, albeit difficult. Racism, sexism, classism… our country’s history is certainly mired in it all.

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