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The Cabinet-Maker's Daughter 1
WHEN Maw and Paw came here to Chattanooga the place was just a steamboat landing on the Tennessee River. Now the city has expanded southward from the river till its borders touch Missionary Ridge, but at the time of the war Missionary Ridge was way out in the woods. It was certainly in the wilderness. The number of inhabitants in the straggling village couldn’t have been over fifteen hundred. There was a foundry here, a distillery, and a couple of gristmills,
Paw was a cabinet-maker and had a two-room shop. At first he did his work in one of the rooms, and he and Maw lived in the other room. Later they had a house about a mile from the shop, and Paw rode from there to his business on horseback each morning. He kept on with his cabinet-making all through the war. Maw and the children were left alone out at the house during the daytime, and when the war unsettled things Maw got a pistol and put up a mark and learned to shoot. We had a colored man that Paw had bought, and one day he told Maw he'd just seen thirty-two army wagons drive into our cornfield.
"Well," she said, "you go and put a saddle on a horse for me, and I'll ride over there."
"You can't drive those men out," he said. "They'll give you impudence."
But she had him saddle her horse and get on his own horse and go along with her. Niggers was reliable during slave-time — not like they are now. They got to the cornfield and found that several lengths of the rail fence had been taken down, and the wagons had driven right into the corn.
"Now, look hyar, you-all men," Maw said, "the last one of you turn your teams around and go out of that lot and put the fence up behind you."
They commenced to say something.
"No use to talk," she said, and showed her pistol. "If you don't go I'll blow your brains out."
"Well lady," they said, "we're not doing a thing except to get corn to feed our horses."
"And I'm trying to save it to make bread for my six children," she told 'em.
They came out of there and put up the fence, and we heard that when they got back to their tents they said to the other teamsters: "You better be careful how you go over onto that place. The woman there knows how to shoot."
Maw certainly was spunky. Paw often had to tell her not to talk so much or we'd all be sent North. But, you know, during the war, a woman could say a heap more things than a man.
When the Yankees bombarded the town Paw took a child under each arm and Maw did the same and carried the four children down the steps into the cellar. Then they came back and got the other two, and every moment they were expecting to be knocked over by a shell. Late in the day, the shells stopped flying, and Paw went out and milked the cows and tended to everything. We spent the night down in the cellar.
A few weeks later the Yankees took possession of the town. We had a good-sized house, and they quartered six or seven officers with us for a while. It was a trying time. They'd say things and Maw would talk back. Paw would look at her and shake his head, and sometimes she'd stop and sometimes she wouldn’t. Occasionally their talk was almost too much even for Paw. One morning, at breakfast, the officers were sitting there talking, and the nigger subject came up. "I think a nigger is as good as a white man," an officer said.
Afterward Paw told Maw: "If you hadn’t looked at me I'd 'a' laid that officer out. It was the bitterest pill I ever had to swallow, and I had to swallow it at my own table. But I give you fair warning I'm not going to do such a thing any more."
The officers left us presently, and we arranged to have a guard stationed at our house to protect us. We'd have been imposed on in all sorts of ways if it hadn’t been for him. Paw's mother lived on the other side of the town. She was an old lady. I expect she was about seventy-two. But the Union officers didn’t think anything of going there and putting her and her daughter out and putting some contraband negroes in. She'd send word to us, and our guard would go up there and tell the negroes to get out, and he'd put the old lady and her daughter back.
The Yankees would have got some negroes into our house if they could. An officer came one day and walked in and looked through the house and said he wanted a room for two colored women.
"I have no place in my house for niggers," Maw told him. "You can't get 'em in here"; and the officer went away.
The soldiers were camped all around, and if they saw anything in the yard that they wanted they came in and took it — they never asked for it. We had a Newfoundland dog, and he would bark at 'em. One time a soldier came into the yard to carry off something, and the dog rushed toward him barking. The fellow raised an ax to strike the dog, and Maw ran out and said, "That dog won't bite you."
"If he does bite me, I'll split his head open," the man said.
Such things as that used Maw up, and once she was sitting on the steps crying over the war and our losses. A little piece of ragged carpet was lying in the yard, and a soldier picked it up. "Lady," he said, "may I have this?"
"Well," she replied, "you've taken everything else without asking, and I suppose you can take that, too."
Just then an officer came around the corner of the house. "Put that down," he said.
"What authority have you got to give me orders?" the soldier asked.
The officer pulled out his sword and flourished it around. "Here's my authority," he said.
"I guess I was right mean," Mother told us afterward, "but I never was so anxious in my life to see a man's legs whacked off."
Oh! the war was just a regular tear-up here in Chattanooga.
1 She had been only a child when the rival armies contended in the vicinity, and so was not yet old. Indeed, as I talked with her in her city home, she still had the energy and vivacity that belong to youth.