HOW A STOLEN COVERLET WAS RECOVERED
By S. C. Turnbo
On the 16 of August, 1906, I was shown a coverlet by Mrs. Sarah Matilda Cowan, daughter of Charley and Mary Ann (Hankins) Fritts. She was born near Wesley in Madison County, Arkansas, In 1876, and is the wife of Mr. Sanford Cowan. When I saw Mr. Cowan and his wife, they lived one mile northeast of Oneta Post Office, Indian Territory. The coverlet is known as the Missouri Trouble and the coloring is principally of indigo. Mrs. Cowans mother was raised an orphan. Her mother died in 1839 and she lived many years with William and Elizabeth Hankins, her grandparents on her mothers side. They lived on the mountain 4 miles south of Wesley and Mrs. Elizabeth Hankins wove this coverlet in Madison County in 1852 when her daughter, Mary Ann, was 14 years old. It was greatly prized by Mary Ann and after she was married to Charley Fritts she was careful to preserve the colors and when it was shown to the author it was clean and the colors looked almost as fresh as if it had just come from the hand loom. Mrs. Cowan informed me that after her and Mr. Cowan were married her mother made her a gift of it as a war souvenier. The coverlet was taken one night in war times by a band of thieves. The story of which was given me by Mrs. Mary Ann Fritts herself in these words.
"The robbers and guerrillas were overrunning the country in Madison County. It was nearly out of the question to gave provision and valuable articles. One night when I was living on our old farm on Richland Creek and near the village of Wesley a party of men rode up to the yard gate and dismounted and part of them entered the house. It was in the worst time of the war and robbery and death hung on every side. It was useless to plead with them to be allowed to save anything for they were bent on take all they could carry off on their horses and as soon as they got into the house they commenced gathering the household that they chose to take away. In fact we were afraid to protest against the plundering of the house for fear they might set the house on fire and we just kept out of their way while they were loading their booty on their horses and started off with it.
Among the articles of bed clothing taken by the band of marauders was the coverlet. The moon was shining bright and we watched the band pass from view followed by the report of gun shots and the distant clattering of horses feet until the sound was out of hearing distance. We were union people and we suffered from the depredations committed by those claiming to be on the southern side but they were not regular confederate soldiers but scoundrels and thieves of the worst type. Fortunately for our family a man of the name of Jim Sizemore who lived 5 miles from us belonged to the federal army and had recently returned home on furlough but it was poor pleasure to try to bewith his family for he was compelled to be on the dodge toprevent falling into the hands of the guerrillas and be shot.This same band of men had visited his house in the earlypart of the night to kill Sizemore and steal what he had,but they failed to catch sight of him for when he heard the noise of the horses feet approaching the house he fled intothe woods where his horse was hitched. Sizemore was well armed and getting his gun and pistols in good shape for shooting and when the robbers took their departure from his house he followed them until they reached our house and stopped on the bluff and riding into the timber away from the road he dismounted and hitched his horse and went down the bluff where my husband, Charley Fritts, little mill stood where he crossed the creek on the mill dam and concealed himself behind our blacksmith shop and waited until the robbers were coming out of the house with their stolen stuff and he went back across the creek on the mill dam without being seen by them and ascending the bluff in a different place from where he came down he lay down behind a log and waited for the bandits to pass along the road on the opposite side of the creek from him which lead in close gun shot range from where he was concealed. In a very short time the band of men with their ill gotten gains come riding along boasting in a loud way of what they had stole that night. Just as they got opposite of where Sizemore was behind the log he fired on them then a second and third shot wrang out which caused a precipitate flight of the band in confusion. They were so terribly scared that they urged their horses forward at their best speed, and unburdening their horses of their load of stolen goods as they galloped along and threw them down at the roadside. Mr. Sizemore said that It was very doubtful whether the bullets from his Pistols touched a man of them, "But I nearly laughed outright to see their retreating forms hurrying along the road to get out of range of my shots, It said he. On the following morning we went out and gathered up our beds and quilts and other stuff that the thieves had thrown down when Mr. Sizemore had shot at them and among the articles found was the coverlet which is much prized by my daughter as well as myself. In a few days after this the robbers found out who fired on them from the top of the bluff and they swore they would hunt him down (Sizemore) and kill him at all hazards. They planned many ways to kill him but he was brave and skillfull and eluded all the snares set for him except one and he fell into it and was captured, But fortunately the men that captured him were not personally acquainted with him and they did not recognize him and while the band was countilling together to decide how to dispose of their Prisoner Sizemore seizing an opportune moment Made a dash for liberty and escaped. Shot after shot were sent after him in rapid succession but the bullets did not touch him but they sung close to his ears. As the fleeing man ran at breakneck speed afoot he stopped a moment and faced his enemies and yelled out, "Oh you devils, you had Sizemore in your possession but you did not know him. Hes out of your clutches now. Catch him if you can." They did try to overhaul him but Sizemore soon got into rough ground where they could not pursue him on horses back and he out raced them and all they could do was to curge their ill luck and let him escape from their hands. Sizemore lived until in 1896 when he died on Richland Creek and is buried in the Ledbetter graveyard on the head of Lawless Creek."
Springfield-Greene County Library