Volume 31, Number 3 - Spring 1992

Nancy Elizabeth Holt
(m. Magness, Terry, Clark) (1836 - 1907)
by Hillary Brightwell and Lynn Morrow

Holt families from the East were among the first settlers in the ‘White River Valley. This article centers upon a woman whose southern upland forbearers migrated in typical fashion from Virginia westward.

Richard Holt (1740-?) a Virginian, had a son Fielding (1767-?) also born in Virginia. In 1806 Fielding’s family, including William H. Holt (1799-1860) moved into Cannon County, Tennessee, near Bradyville, where William and his wife Mary L. Stevens Holt reared most of their family. On July 27, 1836, William’s new daughter Nancy Elizabeth arrived. When Nancy was three years old the Holt family loaded a covered wagon, and traveled six weeks westward, stopping in Ozark County, Missouri.

The William Holt family settled on Little North Fork River in southwest Ozark County about three miles above modern Theodosia. They remained there for ten years until 1849 when they resettled southward into Marion County, Arkansas, above the mouth of Shoal Creek on White River.

Neighbors included the Joe and Patsy Magness family who arrived in 1827 and gave their name to the Magness Bottom on White River. As Nancy Holt became a woman during the early 1850s, Wilshire Magness courted her, they married, and the young couple began a family with the birth of their firstborn in 1854, another in 1857, and a daughter who died in infancy and was buried in the Joe Magness family graveyard. Wilshire and Nancy lived along Marion County’s Big Creek.

A half century later when Ozarks Chronicler Silas Turnbo interviewed Nancy, she recalled an incident from her youth involving Wilshire. Nancy spun and wove all the wearing apparel for her family including a pair of nice jeans for Wiltshire. She striped the cloth of his new pants with red and blue colors. Wiltshire donned his new threads and paid a visit to the Johnson blacksmith shop in Panther Bottom. While there Jim Johnson fancied the pants and ultimately purchased them for three dollars and fifty cents in silver. Wiltshire promptly gave Jim the pants and rode home in his drawers. The sight of Wiltshire's unusual arrival home frightened young Nancy. When she found out the truth, Wiltshire had to endure a tongue lashing from his wife for startling her so. Unfortunately, not long after, Wiltshire died in early 1859.

In 1860 Nancy married Tom Terry (whose first wife had been a sister to Wiltshire Mangoes). During a Sabbath day in the summer of 1861 Nancy proved she had more than just domestic skills. While her husband Tom and his two brothers searched for a bee tree, Nancy found her own colony of bees. When she called the men to her discovery they thought she was kidding them, but soon the men had to acknowledge one of the


Largest honey reservoirs ever found in the neighborhood. Nancy later bore a son to Tom in January 1862; that summer Tom Terry enlisted in the Union cause and paid dearly with his life in the conflict.

During Tom’s absence Nancy supported six children—two from her marriage with Wiltshire, three from Tom’s first marriage, and one that she and Tom had together. The Terries had a sizable cattle herd of 100 or more at the beginning of the war, but by 1862 the land pirates had stolen most of them. Nancy was able to keep a few milk cows that provided for the children. The cows were on the open range while their calves were penned in a cow lot near the family’s dogtrot house.

Nancy told Sills Turbo about her most anxious moments during the war when two armed men interrogated her in front of the house. They asked her for the whereabouts of rebels—she said she did not know; they asked about federalize—she still answered in the negative. The men slowly rode their horses away from the house, whispering to each other as they went. Nancy sensed foul play coming and directed the children to carry all domestic articles lying in the yard into the house and armed the older children and herself with an axe, hatchet, butcher knife and club.

Sure enough, the rascals returned driving the milk cows toward the penned calves intending to round up all the stock from the Terry farm. Instinctively, Nancy grabbed the dinner horn in the hall of the dog-trot, blew it fiercely a couple oftimes, and yelled at the top of her voice, "Here they are, come quick!" She repeated the sequence another time. The spooked bandits decided to retreat across the river while Nancy continued blowing the horn and yelling. Her bluff worked.

Nancy learned later that these men joined other southern men at a well known rendezvous in Marion County called Short Mountain. Surviving this desperate event, Nancy then moved her family northward into a Union region in Ozark County, Missouri, where she had better protection from roving guerrillas.

While on Little North Fork in Ozark County the war was never far away. In fall, 1864, Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederates failed in their invasion into Missouri, and Southerners retreated southward throughout the Ozarks. Nancy told Silas Turnbo of seeing these stragglers—partly clothed, barefoot, ragged and hungry—pass through her neighborhood. On one occasion she saw a grizzled group of men. One of them drove a boy, who carried a sack of corn, in front of the group. When the boy faltered from the physical effort, the brutish man would strike him on the shoulder with a club. Nancy confronted the men and gave some milk to the boy while the men voiced their displeasure at her generosity. Madam Rumor later reported that the straggling warriors murdered the boy farther south in the hills. While Nancy and her family enjoyed protection in Ozark County during the last couple of years of the war, she reported seeing others suffer the indignity of hunger and retreat from their Arkansas homes northward in search of asylum at Union-protected Springfield or elsewhere.

Patrick Henry Clark became acquainted with Nancy’s wartime husband Tom Terry while both served the Union army. It was Patrick who brought the news of Tom’s death in August, 1862, to Nancy. Patrick Clark remained in the region and by the end of the war Patrick and Nancy married. During this third marriage, Nancy bore five more children, two boys in Arkansas and three girls in Missouri—all in the White River country.

Besides these glimpses of another time, Nancy left evidence of her domestic art in the form of quilts and coverlets passed down to her children. One coverlet, woven on her loom during the late 1870s or early 1880s, is preserved by grandson Hillary Brightwell. The coverlet contains a most intricate


design rarely seen today. The Brightwells have found only one other coverlet with the same design mounted in the Golden Pond Museum, Land Between the Lakes state park, Kentucky. Even more rare are samples of the hand drawn templates that have miraculously survived. Nancy referred to these strips of paper while working at the loom. The origin of the coverlet pattern itself remains obscure. It is probably one of the many taken from newspapers of the day and circulated among neighbors. Does anyone know its name or origin? (See photograph.)

Nancy made this coverlet inside the Clark’s log house. The white is cotton and the brown is wool; Nancy used a homemade black walnut hull dye to color the wool. The coverlet is two halves of the same pattern sewed together. The cotton, of course, came from the family plot and was used after many tedious nights of extracting seeds from the cotton.

The Brightwell family will continue to treasure these artifacts of pioneer craft—a tangible legacy from Nancy who would be proud to see her descendants respect them as a symbol for the home they represent.

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