Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pension File Stories: Louisa Ish Smathers, Disappearing Woman

“I am nearly 48 years old, a housekeeper…”

These are first words that Louisa Ish Smathers gives in a deposition taken by the Special Examiner, J.W. Downtain on January 2, 1889, in Hawk, Ohio. Louisa was deposed when she applied for a Widow's Civil War Pension after the death of her husband, Henry Smathers.

Though she was probably born sometime around 1841, the first time Louisa shows up in any public records is when she marries Henry Smathers on December 11, 1866. (Her last name is spelled Eish on the Affidavit for License.) There is no record of Louisa's existence in either the 1850 or the 1860 census.

Believed to be the daughter of John Ish and Susan Bishop, the Ish siblings were apparently sent to live with other local families after John married his second wife, Susannah Dinger in 1843. Rebecca, Peter W. and Washington Ish are all found living with separate families in German Township of Harrison County, Ohio, in the 1850 census. In all probability, Louisa is also living with another family and either was not enumerated or her last name was reported incorrectly

That she belonged to the Ish family of Harrison County is supported by her death certificate, which lists her place of birth as Harrison County. Unfortunately, the record does not list her parents.

The only real glimpse we have of Louisa's life is from the five- page deposition.

I am the widow of Henry Smathers, who was a pensioner under Certificate No. 51080 for loss of the left leg above the knee. I was married as Louisa Ish, to Henry Smathers in Jackson, Jackson County Ohio, December 11, 1866, by a pastor whose name I do not now remember. Neither myself or husband had been previously married. I can't give the names of any of the persons who were present at our marriage. Mr. Smathers was then on crutches, having lost his left leg, as I always understood, in Service at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia. From the time we were married until the next March, we lived at Buckeye Furnace, Jackson County Ohio.

We know that Louisa was not literate because it is recorded that she signed her name at the end of the deposition with an X.

Of her early years of marriage, Louisa says:
In March 1867, (we) commenced keeping house at Hamden Junction, Vinton Co. Ohio. While at Buckeye Furnace, he pounded ore, and wore what they called a peg leg, which was made at the Soldier's Home, Dayton. That one cut the leg so that he had to leave it off and it hurt the stump to wear it any way. He afterward secured an artificial leg in Cincinnati, at a cost of $175 - $75 of which was furnished by the Government, but he was never able to wear it on account of the stump hurting him so. It was even worst than the peg leg.

Louisa gives detailed information of how Henry suffered because of his injury.

He complained of the stump of the leg (it was) an awful sight, and would sometimes have me come and hold it down with both hands, and frequently it would fly up out of my hands. It would swell up and get tender, but there was no breaking out or running sores. I never knew any pieces of bone to come out from it, but he often told me that before he came home from the service a piece of bone did come out and showed me the scar. He often said he would rather a person would gouge his eye than to run against the stump, and he would sit and hold both hands over it to keep any one from running against it.

As part of the deposition, Louisa lists the names and dates of her children's births. Of this information, she says:

I had seven children by Mr. Smathers, six of whom were living when he died, only four of whom were under 16 years at that time…. I have no family record of the dates, but I have carried them in my mind all the time. I don't think I could possibly be mistaken as to the date of the birth of any of my children.

Probably the most telling part of the deposition is the matter of fact account that she gives of the events leading up to her husband's death.

On the night of the 30th of January, 1888, he was taken with a chill, in bed, and shook till 20 minutes after 1 o'clock. It was not an especially cold night, and the room was awful warm. We had set up until 11 o'clock. He had been about all winter, and that day, before he took the chill, said he felt better than he had for a long time. He had taken no medicine that winter, nor the preceding fall or summer. He said he had never had but one such chill before, and that was after his leg had been amputated and before he was discharged and the Doctor, he said called it a "digestive" chill. On this occasion, I had not gone to sleep, but he had, but woke up just as the clock was striking 12 and the chill was then coming on. He told me not to give him any water, as the old gray headed Doctor in the army had told him if he ever had another, it would be the last of him. That was on Monday night, and (he) died at 5 o'clock on Tuesday morning, one week after.

On Tuesday morning, I suppose 5 or 6 hours after the chill had tapered off, I put mustard drafts on his side, and when Dr. Ewing came he left them on, and on Wednesday when he came back, he put a fly blister on. Mr. Smathers had complained some of his side (the left) for a week before he took the last chill, but when I put the mustard draft on it, I did not notice any discoloration. He was conscious up to the time he died. I had him up at 12 o'clock on Monday night, and he talked to me as sensibly as he as he ever did, and he died at 5 o'clock, Tuesday morning, February 7, 1888. When I put the mustard drafts to his side, the pain seem to leave there and go to his head. He never could sleep on his left side, never from the time we were married. I was not present when he died, as I had laid down about an hour before.
Thomas Paul and Dinck (?) Gryden, and Lizzie Gryden and Getty Booth were all present when he died. So was Thomas Duffy. I think Bill Mayso, Tom Paul, and Bob Hutchinson prepared the body for burial. I have remained the widow of Henry Smathers, and have not cohabited with any other man.

This deposition is probably the closest I will ever come to knowing Louisa Ish Smathers and what her life with Henry was like. She died September 25, 1930. I have yet to find her in the 1930 census.
Until Next Time. . .

1. Deposition of Claimant, 2 January 1889, Louisa A. Smathers, widow's pension application no. 368863, certificate no. 279465, service of Henry Smathers (Pvt., Co. E, 53rd, Ohio Infantry, Civil War); Case Files of Approved Pension Applications, 1861-1934;Civil War and Later Pension Files; Department of Veteran Affairs, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

2. Jackson County, Ohio, Record of Marriages, Volume E, Page 49, Smathers-Eish 1866, Jackson County Probate Court, Jackson, Ohio.

Note this post first published online, March 2, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

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