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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Lock (03/06/06)

TITLE: Locked In


The United States Pension Office sent me a fat envelope of copies documenting my great-great-grandfather’s service in the 6th Union Kentucky Cavalry during the Civil War. The file also contained something even more interesting - twenty years of letters headed “Declaration for Dependent Widow’s Pension” from the determined, spirited woman that was my great-great-grandmother.

Elizabeth Caroline Pemberton’s early adult life could have easily come out of one of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. She married Franklin Pemberton August 7th, 1878. They loaded a covered wagon and headed west through Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, finally settling in southern Missouri.

Things may have been different if a generation separated the couple from the American Civil War instead of only a decade. The Boon family lived in northern Illinois. Richard Boon’s father-in-law was a staunch abolitionist whom Richard supported and admired. He didn’t trust the new farm hand from Kentucky (even if he had served in the Union Cavalry). Kentucky had been a slave state. No! Richard Boon would not approve of the marriage.

Love and devotion to Franklin took precedence over family loyalties for young Caroline. A covered wagon west broke her ties with the Illinois farm and her family. Would her choice have been different if she knew Franklin had a hidden past? We will never know. What remains in our family history is records of the rough life this woman locked herself into with that decision.

Franklin never stayed long enough in one place to stake a claim under the Homestead Act though that was suppose to be his purpose for heading west. Four of their nine children died before they finally settled down in southern Missouri. September 19, 1899 Franklin died leaving Caroline a widow with five children, the youngest only two months old. She applied for her widow’s pension, but that became an up hill fight that last twenty years. The war department had no record of her husband’s service. Caroline’s next step was to write the Pemberton family in Kentucky.

Her heart must have broke as she read the letter from her brother-in-law dated May 24, 1900. Franklin was her husband’s middle name – not his first! Uriah got into serious trouble with a certain party in Casey County, Kentucky and chose to go by his middle name after leaving the area. Family history has lost the identity of the “serious trouble” if Caroline’s in-laws ever divulged its nature. Her in-laws offered to take the children but wanted nothing to do with Caroline. Caroline could not (or would not) ask help from her family after marrying and leaving against her father’s wishes.

The marriage license did not include her husband’s first name. The War Department did not recognize his middle name. What was she to do? Caroline took in laundry, weaved rugs, cleaned houses and continued writing annual letters to the War Department. When the older children were old enough they hired out to neighboring farms. The one thing Elizabeth Caroline Pemberton did not do was to give up.

Years later she received her widow’s pension. A Missouri Congressman went to bat for her, and finally the checks began coming. She was locked into a very bad situation but left a legacy of faith and determination for the generations that would follow.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jessica Schmit03/13/06
What a powerful story1
Jan Ackerson 03/15/06
This has "novel-to-be" written all over it. Do it!
Debbie Sickler03/16/06
Your grandmother's story is definitely interesting. I had a hard time with the names in this being a little confusing (which I guess is a bit ironic). I had to reread parts to know who you were talking about. Glad that her checks finally came in the end for her.