It’s Week 33 and the theme is Family Legend.
Every family has at least one legend, one story that has been passed down without any sort of substantiation. Folks just take them for granted and accept them as the gospel truth.
For example, nearly every family has three brothers who immigrated to the Colonies together. One went south, one went west, and one stayed along the east coast. Almost never true. Nearly every family has an “Indian Princess” in there somewhere (we certainly do, a couple of times). There’s even less likelihood for there to be even a germ of truth or drop of native blood in that one.
But, here’s one that I actually tried to figure out whether or not it could be true.
Lida was a strong, strong woman. But she came from a strong, strong family. Her parents had gone to Africa as missionaries in 1856. Her father served as a Chaplain and then a Captain of Infantry in the Civil War. Her mother kept the family while her husband was away at war and while they moved across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas serving churches and working to evangelize the Native Americans in west and central Texas.
Lida and Will and their children moved to southeast Oklahoma shortly after statehood, where Will worked in the newspaper business. When he died at a relatively early age, leaving young children at home, Lida picked up and did what she needed to. She taught school and continued the work at the newspaper. When her son’s wife died shortly after the birth of her first child, Lida stepped in to help raise that little boy and to travel west with her son as he pursued work. She just kept on through lots of difficult circumstances.
But what of the legend. First, you need to know that Lida’s actual given name was Eliza Johnson Cason. Where in the world did that come from? No one in the family was named Johnson, much less Eliza. In fact, this part of the family has had a long tradition of Betties. Well, in Lida’s father’s Bible, there was a notation that Lida was named for the woman who nursed her father back to health after he lost his arm in the Battle of Bean’s Station in the Civil War.
That sounds like it needs a little background. Lida Cason Higgs’ father was Rev. Jeremiah H. Cason. J.H. Cason was born in 1832 in Wilson County, Tennessee. He answered the call to preach when he was just nineteen years old. He and his wife Bettie Cooper Cason were part of the first supply of missionaries that the Baptist church sent to the Yoruba Country in Africa.
After his return, he served churches in Tennessee and Mississippi. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a Chaplain. After a short time, he resigned and then reenlisted in the Infantry, quickly rising to become Captain of Co. C, 41st Alabama Infantry, a part of Gracie’s Brigade.
In December, 1863, J.H. Cason was indeed a part of the Battle of Bean’s Station in east Tennessee. And he lost his arm in this battle due to a bullet wound. His left arm was amputated above the elbow, but he survived and lived another fifty years. Jere Cason died in 1915 in Royse City, Texas.
So, if the notes in the Bible detailing how and where Jere lost his arm were right, could there be some truth to the idea that Eliza Johnson nursed Jere back to health? I am not sure how certain we can be, but here’s what I have found.
The Battle of Bean’s Station took place near the town of Bean’s Station in Grainger County, Tennessee on 14 December 1863. On a hunch, I took a look in the census for that area in 1860, as close as we can get to the date of the battle.
Sure enough, according to the Census, Larkin Johnson lives near the site of the battle and he has an unmarried 26-year-old woman, presumably his daughter, named Eliza, living in his household. Looking backward, we find the same family in place in 1850 as well.
By looking at the estate records for Grainger County, we find that Larkin died in 1865. In 1870, we find Eliza, still unmarried living in the household of a William Johnson who is a few years her junior. The 1860 Census lists a William (presumably a younger brother) in the house then, too. So it looks like Eliza is living with her younger brother and his family. Both she and he show up on the Agricultural Schedule of the 1870 census as farm owners, presumably from the (missing) distribution of their father’s property.
In 1880, we again find Eliza, still unmarried, listed as sister-in-law to John G. Brown. His wife is Elizabeth and there is an Elizabeth Johnson in the family in 1860.
What does all of this tell us? Well, it can tell us that this family really is a family. It can tell us that Eliza Johnson really lived, lived adjacent to the battlefield at the right time. Can it tell us that she served as a battlefield nurse? No. Can it tell us that she tended J.H. Cason after he was wounded? No. Can it give us circumstantial evidence that this legend could be true? Absolutely! The story talks about a person that we likely have found. And one thing I have found to be true. When Jeremiah H. Cason wrote something down or said something, it was by-golly the gospel truth. So, in true Mythbusters style, I would call this family legend proved “Probably True”.
Now, if I can only find those three brothers and where they went….