Thursday, January 01, 2009

The last letter from my great-great-grandmother

I came across the following letter at my late grandmother's house. I wanted to preserve the text online, so it wouldn't be forgotten. It was written by my great-great-grandmother Hannah Amanda Nash Dyer to my great grandmother Mary Ella Dyer Elliott, the wife of Henry Machen Elliott. I have maintained the line spacing and the spelling and punctuation faithfully from the original.

Letter postmarked Cheneyville, LA, Apr. 16, 1918 at 3 P.M. The three-cent stamp bears the image of George Washington

"My last letter from Mother" is written above the address "Mrs. H.M. Elliott, Pawnee, Louisiana" ("Box 54" is in the lower corner).


Cheneyville, LA
April 16, 1918

Dear daughter,
I need to write
you a few lines this eav.
I am at Marvins cant go
home Jack taken sick
last Saturday eavning about
9 O'clock in the eavning
with a hard chill. his
feevor went to one hundred
an six by 12 or 1 O'clock
Sunday evening at 6 he died.
we are all under Quarien
tined I am so nervous I
cant write to think I am
in such a fix the Doctors will
not let me leave hear
[overleaf blank]

2 [second leaf] until till the
Danger is over I may
never get away. The Lord
knows & dont I hope and
trust he may pray for me and all the reast
that that we may miss
the terrible disease
minnigitis. it is an awful
thing. Marvin Willie
Machen & other men
is gone out through [Bee-
rier?] Creek hills to
burry him at the Paul
grave yard. Could not
carry him to Glenmora
Machen house is under
Quarintine I dont now
how many more

3 [overleaf] George Raborn
has got the Same
disease. Taken it first
The Doctors think maby he
will get well. They have
had 6 Doc with him.
Marvin had two. Jack
died so quick. no chance to
Save him. Marvin called
Machen to get the Doc
he went in had no Idier
what he was getting into
it taken the second Doc to
find out what was the
matter so to day the two
big Army Doctors from
the Hospittle came hear
and taken the marrow from
Jack's Back bone after he

4 [third leaf] had been dead 15 hours
and they came back and
said it was a genuine case
of spinal minnegitis. So
they went to work and
taken evry ones Culture
and we all have to use
a Spray 5 times a day in the
mouth and nose. if that
dont keep it off we will
all bee in an awful bad
fix soon Machen had 2
sick all last week Walter
and Irene Walter is in a
bade shape. poor Mach is
worn out. before Jack got sick if the Doc dont
kill out the germs before
we get sick it is good by

5 [overleaf] I am afraid to severel
of us. I am so nervous I
cant sleep or eat but wee
have got to stay hear live
or die I had no Idier of such
a thing when I left home I
am sorry I left home when
I did Loney[?] was out there
and I came home with him
and now I cant help my
self. Ella if I die there
is money in Lealony[?] Bank
Go after it. Some of it will
bee for you. Mollie and
Baby is hear. Sceard nearly
to death to think my whole
family ecept you are hear
exsposed to such a dreadful
disease & it is awful

6 [fourth leaf] I am sorry for Jennie
and Marvin to have to
give up ther last little Boy
They need him. they will need
his help Jennie said tell
Milton all the schools
near are stoped. There was
an areplane passed over
hear and come to the
ground at Loyd and the
whole Country run to see
rise again it was on the
ground all Knight George
Raborn was there and
taken sick the next day is
the trouble with a good many
it is so bade. if we can
all miss it with the treat-
ment I will thank the

7 [overleaf] Lord the reast of
my days. may the Lord
help us I pray. Ella
I want to see you but
I cant. hope I will
live to see you again
may the Lord be
with us all I pray.
[script changes]
[14 or 17?] well I sleep very well last
eat breakfast. I am going to get out
in the yard to day: get fresh air. if
wee havent got the germ from Jack
I think I think maby the spray
will keep it off hope so. Dr Smith
will let hear this week if any in
the family has got the germ. I will
let you hear soon as I can. Your
Mother Amanda Dyer

This was to be the last letter she wrote to her daughter Ella. Hannah Amanda Nash Dyer died four days later: April 20, 1918. But Machen Dyer, Virginia "Jennie" Kennedy Dyer, and John Marvin Dyer all survived and lived to old age, as did Mollie and Irene. In fact, Marvin was the protagonist in a much more amusing family story I also heard this week, which I would also like to preserve.

It turns out that Marvin Dyer went on to become a deputy sheriff [possibly U.S Marshall] in Glenmora, La. And it also turns out that Ella Dyer Elliott's husband Henry Machen Elliott had a sister Ella Eliza Elliott, who married one Calvin Grantham (pronounced "GRANT-HAM," not "GRAN-them"). "Uncle Calb," as my grandmother called him, was apparently quite a character. He was a short man with bright red hair and a matching red handlebar mustache, who also had a fondness for drink. To a woman, my mom and all of her sisters came up with the same image for the stories they heard of Uncle Calb: Yosemite Sam. Much like Yosemite Sam, Uncle Calb would get roaring drunk on Saturday nights and ride his horse down Main Street shooting a pair of pistols in the air, and Uncle Marvin would be responsible for rounding him up and dragging him to jail to "sleep it off."

For some reason, I find it comforting that the man who had to confront the loss of his child and mother within days of each other ended up being an honest-to-God "white hat" for a small town. I don't think it makes the narrative above any less chilling, but the fact that Marvin went on to be a good man ought to count for something. At least, I hope it does.