by Sam Behling
This autobiography was first published in 1931 by the author's son, Fenn A. Leaming, Enterprise Publishing Company, Mansfield, Louisiana, and sent to me by her great granddaughter, Jacque (Leaming) White.
I, Martha Caroline Rogers, in the family affectionately called Mattie, was born on December 4th, 1846, near Brownsville, Edmondson County, Kentucky. My father had one family of slaves, a man, his wife and two children. Aunt Maria was the woman's name; her husband was Lijah. When my mother was married, her father, Jesse Rountree had given her a young negro woman to take to her new home. My grandfather, Jesse Rountree, was a large slave owner, having always about one hundred slaves on his plantation at one time.
When I was about three years old, my father and mother made arrangements to move to Missouri, then a new state. My mother was said to be my grandfather's favorite daughter, so her parents concluded they also would move to Missouri, to be with her there.
The Rountree family included my grandparents, my Aunt Caroline, my Aunt Sallie and my Uncle Simeon. My own father and mother brought with them their children, James, Sarah, whom we all called Pussy, Mary Victoria and myself; also his four slaves. My mother was never able to get along with the slave girl her father had given her and she was sold. My grandfather brought only fifty of his one hundred slaves. Many of them had intermarried among the black people of his neighbors and these neighbors bought the ones who had married their slaves, that families should not be separated.
Two other Kentucky families came with the Rogers and Rountrees to Missouri, namely, the McClungs and the Brattons. My mother has told me we were fixed up in the best possible way for the trip to Missouri, which was made overland in carriages and wagons drawn by fine teams and oxen.
My father was in the mercantile businessas my grandfather, wanting to keep his daughter near him, she being only sixteen when she was married, had provided the funds to set him up in a business of his own.
Naturally, the trip from Kentucky to Missouri was a long and tiresome one. In one place in Illinois, a number of the white children came down with the measles, later some of the slaves; this necessitated a lengthy stop in this place; here a house was rented and the sick ones given time to recuperate. My grandmother was a fairly good physician, having always looked after her slaves in times of illness, and now for some time she was a very busy woman.
The party had taken what was called the "River Route," my parents and grandparents stopping to make their home in Lexington, Missouri, while the others went across to Warrensburg, Missouri. I think we must have lived in Lexington about two years, when we followed the others to Warrensburg. As there were no public schools at that time, for a year or two, both my father and mother taught school. Then my father again entered the mercantile business, though for some time longer my mother kept her private school.
After four or five years, my parents and their friends brought out from New England a maiden lady who conducted a Girls' School. An old gentleman later had a school for boys. This my brother James attended.
My oldest sister, Sarah or Pussy, later Mrs. J. M. Patterson, gave me music lessons. Who had been her teacher I do not remember.
Several years after coming to Warrensburg my father built a comfortable home. Two more children had been born into the family, Johnie, named for my father, and Elizabeth, affectionately called Lizzie. We were all at home now except my brother James, who attended a college in Lexington, and later was graduated in medicine from what is now the State University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor. Afterwards he served in the Union Army as physician and surgeon.
My parents were strong Union people and my father had always been averse to slavery. Mother has told me of reading Uncle Tom's Cabin behind locked doors, the book to be carefully hidden from the observation of passing neighbors, most of whom were bitter secessionists.
About 1859 my father failed in business, owing to the dishonesty of his partner. Father, who was the soul of honor, sold his home and converted into cash whatever he could to pay the debts contracted by this partner. Father was in poor health and physicians advised an overland trip and a milder climate, so the family started for Austin, Texas, expecting to locate there permanently.
We left for Texas in October, taking with us a large round tent with pole in the center and this was set up every night. In this tent we slept on feather beds. We had a large family carriage drawn by two fine horses. In this carriage rode my mother with her baby Lizzie and Sarah, my sister, with her baby son, John, my sister Mollie, my brother James driving. My father drove a small covered spring wagon, I sitting beside him. He had his gun with him and the prairie chickens were plentiful, so I drove at times, allowing him to bag his game. I remember hearing the older ones tell of the night when the men of the family picked some eighteen or twenty of these prairie chickens.
Then there was a large covered wagon, driven by my sister Sarah's husband, Mr. Patterson; with him on the driver's seat sat my second brother, Johnie; and one day as my father and I drove behind this large wagon, we saw Johnie fall out and under the wheels. Father stopped our team and hurried to my brother, fearing the worst, but found him absolutely unharmed.
In this large covered wagon was our bedding, trunks, boxes, cooking utensils, a sheet iron stove, and a small melodeon which had been in the family since my earliest recollection, though I recall in our home we also had a large square piano, which had been left behind. Each night a fire was started outside the tent, the stove being set up inside.
Going through the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, one of the men of the party always sat up during the night keeping watch, as Indians sometimes came along, often wanting to trade horses and occasionally making trouble.
Each morning we got an early start, and at night cooked a large piece of meat, bought at a store or from a farmer, that we might not need to stop during the day to cook. I have no idea how far we traveled in a day, but toward evening all eyes were on the look out for a pleasant camping place. When found, the tent was pitched and it was the chief concern of all that my mother and sister, Sarah, and their babies, be made comfortable.
My sister, Mary, whom we called Mollie, did the cooking. Each had his own particular job, mine being to help with the babies or younger children in any way possible.
Going south, we made few stops of any length, until we reached Round Rock, sixteen miles from Austin, Texas. Here a house was rented and most of the family remained, while father, mother, the baby Lizzie and I went on to Austin. My father intended to investigate this place for a permanent home. Here we stayed at a hotel and my father spent two days looking over the place. This year there had been a terrible drought, the Colorado River, of which we had heard so much, could be crossed on stepping stones. Father was bitterly disappointed in what he saw, the third day returning to Round Rock. We rested here a week or two and started on the return trip.
I was very proud of myself at this time, as I had a new pair of very stylish Congress gaiters and a blue silk polka dot dress, the latter was full skirt, short waist, little puffed sleeves and had a band around the rather low neck. I believe this was my first silk dress, and I was extravagantly proud of it and my Congress gaiters.
We had started south in October and now as we prepared for the return journey, I think it must have been toward the first of December.
We had heard of the Texas Norther, and on the day before my thirteenth birthday, December 4th, one struck us in all its fury. We were having trouble getting to the top of a steep hill, when the howling winds announced the approaching storm. The men hurriedly donned overcoats and after a few miles further driving, we came to a large frame building long deserted, doors and windows gone, partitions gone; inside of this the large circular tent, pole in the middle, was set up. At one end of this large room, were the remains of a fire place, and the tent was so placed that the opening was directly in front of this. The men went out with axes and cut down several nearby old rotten trees and a roaring fire was soon warming up and thawing us out.
We had reached this place about noon and we stayed here that night and the next day and night. As the blizzard raged around us, my mother with my baby sister, Lizzie sat on one side of the fire; and my sister Sarah sat on the other side, holding her small son John, named for my father.
In order to keep me warm and also, I imagine, that I might be out of the way in our restricted quarters, I was put on a feather bed in the end of the tent next to the fire, so that my head projected beyond the tent opening and I could use the light of the fire by which to read. Thus I spent my thirteenth birthday, oblivious of all but the book I was perusing, probably my first novel, called Wild Western Scenes, the author long since forgotten. During the day my father and brother James went to a nearby town for groceries; they saw long eared Jack rabbits sitting in fence corners, frozen stiff, and even hogs frozen to death in their pens. This was one of the severest blizzards known in Texas for many years.
My next recollection of the journey homeward was a stop at Bentonville, Arkansas. We had had beautiful autumn weather on the trip to Texas, going by way of Denison, McKinney, Dallas and Corsicana, but winter weather in Arkansas, the weariness of my mother, the fatigue of our animals, prompted my father to make a stay of several months in Bentonville, which stretched out to nearly a year. My mother was so exhausted from the long journey, it seemed as if she would never be able to go on again, and she was over joyed to settle down once more in a real house. My father sold the teams, carriages and wagons and bought the necessary articles of furniture with which to start housekeeping. While we lived in Bentonville, my sister, Pussy, and her husband and small son lived in Fayetteville, about twenty-five miles to the south of us.
Here my father met a first cousin, Morris Hobbs, like ourselves, originally from Kentucky. This cousin was a delightful man and most kind to us. I have heard my mother say that nearly every time he came to see us he brought a chair, a small table, some dishes or something he conceived would add to our comfort.
After several months my father felt the need of something to do so he bought a small store. This was now the winter and early spring of 1860. On all sides were heard rumblings of war. My father and mother, in spite of their rearing in the midst of slavery, became staunch Union people. They were not slow in expressing themselves; my father, particularly, liked to talk, and wanted to convert every one to his own way of thinking. This cousin, Morris Hobbs, told him many times he must not be so free in his speech and at last urged him to cease from such talk or his very life would be in danger. My father retorted, he wouldn't live in a place where he couldn't express what he felt. He was homesick for his old home, so in November 1860, they started again back to Missouri; my father having sold wagons and teams, hired men and teams to convey the family and their belongings to Warrensburg. On Thanksgiving night as we were camped in a pleasant grove before a roaring camp fire, the melodeon was brought out and I played and everyone sang the old songs we all knew, "Nellie Grey," "My Old Kentucky Home," When You and I Were Young, Maggie," and numerous others.
The next spring after our return to Warrensburg, the youngest daughter of the house was born, and she was named Maud Belle. This same spring war was declared. About a year later we moved to Sedalia, where we could be under the protection of the Federal troops, for my father's sentiments against secession were most unpopular with the majority of Missourians. He was called an abolitionist, a black Republican, and other equally opprobrious names, though some of his best friends were among the secessionists.
Later on during the war, when the so-called Bushwackers were committing depredations in the community, General Frank Cockrell, of the Confederate Army, took my father to his home and hid him there several days to protect him from their vengeance. This same General Cockrell later served several terms as United States Senator from Missouri. At this time the women were large hoop skirts and I have heard my mother tell that when the Bushwackers were making their raids she was in the habit of hanging on the inside of these hoop skirts, jewelry and trinkets of any kind, as well as small pieces of treasured linens or any valued object. Flour was bought by the barrel in those days and in here also mother used to hide away the silver, or any other specially-prized article.
It was while we were living in Sedalia that I attended a Young Ladies Seminary in Jefferson City, conducted by Miss Atterbury of Massachusetts. This school was attended by the aristocracy of the surrounding towns. I boarded at the home of an old friend of my father's the Attorney General of the State, Mr. Welch, who had a daughter of my own age, who also attended this school. Before leaving Warrensburg, my sister Mollie married John M. Neet. I remember the rain came down in torrents on her wedding night and that the next day they went to a little home of their own.
It was in the summer of 1863, when I was sixteen years old, that I went from Sedalia to Warrensburg, twenty or twenty-five miles away, to attend a Fourth of July picnic. Quite a party went up together, among others, Dr. McCluney and Maud McClung, who afterwards became his wife. The McClungs were one of the families who had come out from Kentucky with us.
At this time a Regiment of Federal soldiers was stationed in Warrensburg at Camp Grover, just across a deep ravine from our old home. Col. Phillips was the commanding officer, and also a good friend of ours. On the afternoon of the Fourth of July I was invited to tea at the home of Mrs. Bratton, an old time friend and another one of the party who came with us to Missouri from Kentucky. Among the Federal soldiers was a young Lieutenant, Rush G. Leaming, of LaPorte, Indiana, belonging to the 7th Missouri State Cavalry. He was recuperating from a severe illness at the home of Mrs. Bratton and it was here I met him, little dreaming that in about two years I would become his wife. Many years later I found in one of his diaries kept at that time this account of our meeting: "This afternoon I met Miss Mattie Rogers, a very pleasant young lady, but oh, so freckled!"
After a short time we were again living in the old home in Warrensburg, resuming the intimacy which had always existed between the Grover family and ourselves, interrupted by our short stay in Sedalia. My mother and Mrs. Grover were women of exceptional ability and far ahead of the thought of their own day. My mother was an ardent woman suffragist and a great worker for temperance, an omnivorous reader, an original thinker, and absolutely fearless as to expressing her convictions.
The Grovers had a family of children, whose ages ran parallel with our own. Sallie Grover, who afterwards married a cousin of ours, John Barrett, a newspaperman of much ability, as my sister Sarah's dearest friend. George was the age of my brother James, and Annie and I were born within a few weeks of each other and were loyal friends even through our long married lives. My fourth daughter was named Annie Grover. The father, Colonel Grover, was fatally wounded at the Battle of Lexington. The younger people of the Rogers, Grover and Foster families often met at one of the three homes for an evening's entertainment; euchre was played, I sang for them the popular songs of the day, as did Maggie Foster, sometimes all singing together. Often an evening was spent reading a poem or a new book. We were sometimes joined by the young officers from Camp Grover and before long it was quite a joke among these young officers that Lieutenant Leaming had worn a path across the ravine between the camp and the Rogers' home. It was many years later that I again read in Lieutenant Leaming's diary of that time: "I spent last evening with Miss Mattie and she gave me her heart, but alas, it was only a candy heart."
Lieutenant Leaming became a more and more frequent visitor at our home and our acquaintance ripened into friendship and then into love. It was not long after the above in regard to the candy heart had been entered in his diary that we became engaged.
Lieutenant Leaming was devoted to his family, and sometimes brought over letters to read to me from his mother and sisters. We often read together poetry or a poem, or a book of biography, for he was a great reader, and had a brilliant mind. Together we read Enoch Arden and Lalla Rookh and all through our married life he frequently quoted:
Oh, ever thus from childhood's hour,
I've seen my fondest hopes decay;
I never loved a tree or flower,
But 'twas the first to fade away.
I never loved a dear gazelle,
To glad me with its soft black eye,
But when it came to know me well
And love me, it was sure to die."
Lieutenant Leaming and I were married on May twenty-third, 1865, and because there was only one daily train to St. Louis, passing through Warrensburg at six in the morning, we were married at five o'clockan early hour indeed, but a beautiful time, on a bright spring day. For days the kitchen had been in pleasant confusion, redolent with appetizing odors from the baking of hams and cakes and preparation of other foods for the early wedding breakfast, served immediately after the ceremony. The faces of our black people shone with the heat of the kitchen and the joy of seeing their young Miss in the midst of her blissful romance.
The evening before the early wedding, the young people who had spent so many happy hours together, gathered in my house with the ostensible purpose of out-staying Lieutenant Leaming. Because of his always reserved and dignified bearing, George Grover had nicknamed him "Rebecca." I had told him of their secret plotting and now he sat quiet and apparently unconcerned, as the night wore on and I, for my part, grew sleepier and sleepier, for the day before one's marriage is never exactly an idle one. At last, my friend Annie Grover, seeing the futility of outstaying the bridegroom, and knowing my need for a few hours rest, marshaled the crowd out and away, Lieutenant Leaming, always most considerate and having won his point, soon followed the others.
We were married by the Chaplain of the Regiment, R. A. Foster, the father of our friends, Emory, Maggie, Mel and Morris. My wedding dress was a tan alpaca, today the color would be called beigemade with a redingote, trimmed in black cord and tassels and black buttons. My hat or bonnet, tan, trimmed in black strings to tie under the chin; black gloves and shoes; and I carried yellow roses. Lieutenant Leaming wore his full dress army uniform, consisting of a navy blue coat with its stripes and shoulder straps denoting his rank; light blue trousers with yellow cord down the outside seams. His hat was a wide black felt, encircled by a gold cord characteristic of the cavalry division.
The guests were all old friends of the family, including our crowd of young people and a number of officers, Lieutenant Leaming's friends, among the latter, Captain Sam Thurber and Lieutenant McElhaney. Most of the guests went to the station with us to see us board our train, Captain Thurber of the Artillery himself driving our carriage.
At the station came an embarrassing moment, when my reticule burst open and comb, brush, "lily white" and other articles fell out pell-mell over the platform.
We soon were on the train; at noon getting off at Jefferson City for dinnera good one, having as our dessert our first strawberry short cake of the season. We reached St. Louis about seven thirty, driving at once to the Lindell Hotel, then the leading hostelry of the city. After dinner we saw "The Merchant of Venice" given by the Ben De Bar stock company. Next morning we visited Shaw's Gardens, and that afternoon left for Chicago. Next morning we just had time to change trains for LaPorte, Indiana, our destination, the home of my husband's people. He had told no one of our marriage, so of course we were not met on arrival. We took a carriage to the home of Edward Leaming, Rush's brother. He himself was not at home, but his wife, Nellie, threw her arms around me, kissed me and made the young stranger very happy in her warm welcome. She sent their little boy Frank after his father, who at once left his office and hurried right over to greet us. Nellie soon had an appetizing breakfast for us and for the first time I ate chipped dried beef in cream gravy on toast. After visiting together for some time, Rush and Edward went out and came back in a carriage. Nellie, Little Frank and I got in with them and we were soon on our way into the countrythe old homestead being about three miles out from town. We found Father and Mother Leaming and Sister Charry just sitting down to their mid-day meal. They, too, gave us a warm welcome and that night Rush's brother Charles and his wife, Reta, their two children, Ella and Ernest, who had a large home a stone's throw away, came down to wish us happiness; also Mr. and Mrs. Darling, Nellie's parents, no farther away on the other side of Father Leaming's big substantial old home, which stands today, little changed after nearly or quite one hundred years.
Ten days after our arrival we were joined at the old home by another newly married pairRushs's youngest brother, Colonel Mack J. Leaming, who had been severely wounded at the Battle of Fort Pillow, and his bride, the former Louise Buck of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Several years later, I met my husband's other sister, Lucy, the wife of the author Benjamin F. Taylor, for whom our youngest boy was named; and two other brothers, Jude and Silas, both of whom were then living in Nebraska.
Fifty years later, in Sedalia, Missouri, where we had lived for more than thirty-five years, we celebrated our Golden Wedding.
Our children came from far and near. Mary, who had married Dr. James L. Holloway, and had three children, Ruth, Keith and James, came from Dallas, Texas. Ruth had married Melville Haley and had two little girls, Mary Lucille and Friedabelleshe lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and came bringing the small Friedabelle with her. Annie, the wife of Frank L. Warren, living in Holdenville, Oklahoma, brought her young sons, John and Bill with her. Fenn had married a Pennsylvania girl, Leila Barr, and had two children, Agnes and Rush, all of whom he left behind in Mansfield, Louisiana when he hurried up for the day and night of the Golden Wedding. Our youngest child, Frank, had been born in Sedalia and lived there with his wife, formerly Vinita Finley, and they and their children, Taylor and Kathryn, were of course with us.
Our old black Rachel, my standby through many years and through many reunions, was on hand. A turkey had been ordered from Kansas City and that with several chickens and a large ham were in readiness, while the five or six cakes had all been sent in as giftsmy sister Pussy bringing with her the wedding cake which she had baked, as she had done for the early morning wedding breakfast fifty years before.
Guests, all relatives, with one exception, came in on Saturday for the celebration, which was to be on Sunday, most of them leaving on Monday. In addition to our own children and grandchildren, they were Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Patterson, their two sons, William and George, and their granddaughter Catherine, daughter of the little baby who had made the journey to Texas with us so many years agone. My sister, Mrs. M. V. Neet, my brother, Dr. Rogers, his wife Jennie, their son, James Foote Rogers, and Mrs. Mattie McClung Peyton, an old friend of girlhood days.
All day of this second bright spring day, telegrams, flowers, gifts rolled infrom relatives, friends, business firms, from people with whom we had barely a bowing acquaintance. After the dinner, at which twenty-three sat down at one long table, a photographer came out to make a group picture of the gathering. The table had been reset after dinner, and through the evening different ones strolled into the dining room for a bite of something to eat before saying goodnightpart of the guests staying at the home of our son Frank, others at my brother's homeour own children, of course, with us. This was truly, in the words of a favorite modern song, "The End of a Perfect Day."
My husband and I spent fifty-six happy years togetheryears of sunshine and shadow, sharing together great joys and great sorrows.
Now, at the age of eighty-four, on this hot July day of 1931, in Holdenville, Oklahoma, I am harking back over these early experiences which are being transcribed as I relate them by my three daughters, Mary, wife of Dr. James L. Holloway, of Dallas, Texas; Ruth, wife of the late Melville Haley, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Annie, wife of Judge Frank L. Warren, of Holdenville, Oklahoma.
I feel these reminiscences may be of interest to them and their children, to my two sons, Fenn Alvord, who married Leila Barr, and my son, Frank, who married Vinita Finley; and also to Dr. George R. Twiss, who married our daughter Nellie Darling, who left us in her sweet young womanhood just twenty-eight years ago.
And now, perhaps there is no better way in which to close than in the words of Charles Dickens,
"God bless us every one," said Tiny Tim, "and so say I."
If you wish to exchange family information,
please e-mail Sam Behling.
Read about the emigrant, Christopher Leaming
Read about Jeremiah Leaming
Read about Matthias Leaming
Read about Judah Leaming
Read about Judah Leaming, the 2nd
Read the Diary Kept by Aaron Leaming
Read the Autobiography of Lydia Leaming Miller
Read the Biography of Dessie Elizabeth Hayter Leaming
See lineage of Leaming Family
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