13 December 2011


Circa 1900 : Luther Hinton Saunders, Stephen Decater Saunders, Belvadier Walker Saunders, (on her lap) John B. Carl Saunders, Clarence Steve Saunders, girls: May Etta Saunders & Berti Florence Saunders. From the Honnoll family genealogy site. 

English (especially Yorkshire) and Scottish: occupational name for a fuller, Middle Englishwalkere, Old English wealcere, an agent derivative ofwealcan ‘to walk, tread’." 

Today in family history (an ongoing series)

Today was another day of freezing fog and hidden ice patches everywhere. The landscape is closing down for winter, but it feels like winter has made it here early yet again. It’s a time to light fires and look for the first sign that the days are starting to lengthen again.

No one in the immediate line was up to much on Dec. 12, but Dec. 13 brings us to a heartbreaker.

13 Dec 1901: Belvadier Walker Saunders dies in Altus, Oklahoma, at the age of 29, 10 days after being gored by a bull. She was part of the Walker exodus from Itawamba, Mississippi, via Arkansas to Altus. This was a one-way trip with wagons—not romantic prairie schooners, but utilitarian wagons carrying whole households. Generally the people walked. And walked. The quilt I now have made this trip in one of those wagons.

Belvy was the oldest child in the family; my great-grandmother Mossie was the second child, and the infamous Clovis was the youngest. There were 7 others, a total of 9. The youngest 3 were not born in Mississippi, so the trek must have started after 1884 but before 1887. In 1884, Belvy would have been 12. In 1892, at the age of 19, not quite 20, she married Stephen Decatur Saunders in Altus and started what would become a family of 5 children.

She doesn’t look as if life was easy in any way. Altus was a frontier town then, and Oklahoma was not yet a state (that would not happen until 1907). They were homesteaders, farmers, not ranchers, and the enmity between the two groups was fierce. Belvy looks as if she could tackle anything and do everything except smile. I hope that is nothing more than an artifact of the photograph pose.

I cannot find where she is buried. She is not listed in Victory Cemetery at the geometrically straight crossroads outside Altus, as are her parents and some of her siblings. And cousins. And in-laws. There are 730 people here and I may be related to them all, as was Belvy, at least once. 

Stephen remarried, and raised 3 more children with Lillie Brisbin, whose brother Henry—keep up, now—married Belvy’s little sister Mittie Florence Walker. I am working out some complex descendancies here. It was an outpost town, with relatively few families but lots of children in those families. Mossie married Newt Brooks, and George Aster Walker married Nettie Melinda Brooks—siblings marrying siblings. Oddly, Nettie also died at the age of 29, leaving 5 children.

I don’t have any pictures of my great-grandmother at 29, but I suspect that she and Belvy faced the world with that same expression.  They could run a homestead, build a half-dugout, and carve out a living on a dry and trackless frontier. They took their Methodism straight and walked roads we would not be able to see today. In the end, the dangers of their world--livestock for one, a tornado for another--were too much. I have lit a candle for Belvy today. It's too cold without one. 

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I've really enjoyed your posts and a look back in history. All the best in the New Year and I look forward to more in 2012!