There are some stories that never make it into the history books. It really is a shame. They are left in the silent pages of dusty journals, faded photos, and family stories. Yet it doesn’t mean they are any less important. The small, tiny, anonymous moments of life don’t always get recorded, but the pieces that are left show the rich, inspiring lives those before me have led. Pieced together, photos and stories tell the best stories, the ones that should really be in history books.
For example, Isabella Christina Draper. She was raised in the south – the Deep South, in the middle of the Civil War.
Isabella Christina Draper was born under unusual circumstances. She was born literally in the middle of war. Her parents were farmers in Tennessee, and when War between the states broke out, Tennessee was a split state with the Middle and West Tennessee regions favoring the Confederacy, and East Tennessee taking a strong Union stand. Isabella’s parents farmed smack along the border where the Union and confederate loyalties clashed (oral history of Cheryl Bowman Nesmith).
Living in Fear
Even if you don’t remember a lot from their 8th grade American History class, it is clear – growing up in the middle of war is harrowing. Often, it is the women and children that suffer the most. An entry retold by her great-great granddaughter shows the trials of growing up in war.
“She was 6 years old when the War broke out and with her father fighting for the Confederacy, that left her mother and the kids at home to survive the best they could. She would often tell my grandmother (Isabella’s daughter) how they would keep watch on the farm because at any time they would spot a Union or Confederate troop coming through for food and would have to quickly hide what little they had. No matter which side, when the troopers or soldiers left, they took everything in sight that could be eaten and anything else that struck their fancy, leaving the family with basically nothing. It didn’t matter the color of uniform the raiders were wearing, the family was seen as a target of opportunity. As the war progressed and the situation became more dire, bush-whacker gangs (guerrilla soldiers) became a terrible threat to the farmers, as well as Home Guard units, which often times were no better than the bush-whackers. These killers would steal, murder and burn any home they took a mind to just because they could. Every time little Belle turned around, she was running for her life, hiding the family’s pitifully scant supply of food or taking the one hog or two chickens she had into the woods hoping to keep them from being confiscated. Particularly in the latter part of the war, the family would run for cover simply to avoid being tortured and killed for information on husbands, sons, or brothers off fighting. Belle was 10 years old when the War finally ended. From age 6 to age 10, this is how Belle lived her life.”
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live through such conditions. The untold fear, nightmares, and hunger. What would it be like to never experience a sense of normalcy?
The Aftermath of War
Her great-granddaughter, Cheryl Bowman Nesmith continues, “Immediately after the War, the situation worsened. There was no rail ticket for former soldiers to return to their families, therefore sons, husbands and brothers who had fought in the War oftentimes took months to return home, if they had a home to return. All the while, the bushwhackers ran rampant, destroying what little was left of the countryside and murdering anyone who crossed their paths. Add to this the shameful actions of the northern “carpetbaggers” who soon flooded the southern states scooping up large sections of land and farms that w foreclosed due to lack of payment on taxes. And the living conditions for the hundreds of starving local people continued to go downhill. The so-called “Reconstruction Years” imposed on the southern states were almost as brutal as the War itself. From the age of 10 until she married at 18, Belle and her family endured this horrible time.”
On 2 Oct 1873 Isabelle or “Belle” married Cicero Constantine Stone, or C.C. stone. She was 18 years old, he was 23.
Cheryl Bowan Nesmith says:
In 1873, animosities between the two loyalties still raged in Putnam County and when Belle married C.C. Stone, she came into the marriage from a Confederate family, he from a Union one. His family had to leave Tennessee immediately after the War due to their staunch Union affiliations and it was two to three years before the Stone family returned to Middle Tennessee. I’m sure discussions between the two got quite lively at times. Add to this the fact that C.C. was raised a Catholic and Belle was raised Church of Christ, one might say that even more “fuel was added to the fire”. My grandmother used to laugh at this because Bell raised every one of her kids, including my grandfather, in the Church of Christ. With C.C. being gone most of the time, I guess it never was a huge issue between them. C.C. worked for the U.S. government as an Internal Revenue Ranger, breaking up moonshine still operations in the hills and mountains. He was gone from home a lot over the years and under constant threat of life. After spending decades wondering whether Belle would ever see her husband alive again, raising eight kids basically alone and running a hotel, again basically alone…” Belle had lived through a lot.
“At the turn of the century, C.C. retired from the U.S. government, he and Belle sold the hotel and they with four of their remaining children moved west settling in Dexter, Chaves County, New Mexico Territory. You would think by now, after moving away, that events would settle down and perhaps Belle could find things to smile about. But, in 1909, when C.C.’s father, Enoch Stone, passed away, C.C. returned by train to Tennessee for the burial.
Word got out that C.C. was coming back to Tennessee and the threat was made by some of the mountaineering families that he would be killed as soon as he got off the train. He told them “bring it on; I’ll be there to meet ya”. Again, Belle was left wondering if she would ever see her husband alive again and this was hardly something to smile about. Fortunately, nothing happened; C.C. tended to his business and returned safely to New Mexico” ( Cheryl Bowman Nesmith).
Despite the hardships of her life, Belle lived to old age.
In fact, she lived to be over 100 years old.
If you ever think your life is hard, just look at history. There you will found countless stories of perseverance, courage, and true grit. Belle Draper, is one of those stories. She endured hunger, pillaging and hardship. She also practically single-handedly raised 8 children and ran a large hotel, all while constantly fearing for her husband’s life. She may not be in the history books, but her story is in my book – never to be forgotten.