The Straley Family

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Mystery Child

In my family tree, there runs a line of romantic, volatile Spanish blood. No one knows where she came from, but the repercussions of her long ago arrival are still felt very strongly by many members of my family.

On a warm fall day in October of 1869 in Wayne County, Missouri, Thomas Medders was tending his horses when he found a beautiful little Spanish girl about four or five years of age. The poor girl was wandering around, lost, in his horse pasture. She couldn’t say where she came from or who her parents were. She only knew her name, Maria Cordoba. No one ever came looking for her, so Thomas and his wife Tabitha Elizabeth, took her in and raised her as one of their own children. They called her Mary Medders. The rest of the family hated her. This hatred sprang from the same foul source that so many southerners found within themselves in pre-civil war times; a hatred which enabled them to suppress anyone with dark skin.

William Henry Reed holding daughter Emily. Mary (Maria) Cordoba Medders Reed holding daughter Cora around 1886.

In February of 1883, Mary married William Henry Reed. William Henry adored her and together, they had four daughters, Emily Cordoba (my great grandmother), Cora Melverda, Clara Ellen and Margaret Henrietta. Poor Mary became ill after the birth of Margaret and suffered miserably for the next ten years. She left this world in July of 1903 at the age of 37. Her beloved William Henry placed a lovely headstone on her grave. He visited her grave until the end of his days.

Their oldest daughter, Emily, was always conscious of her dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. She was ashamed of her Spanish blood and never ventured outdoors without long sleeves and a wide brimmed hat. Emily never uttered her middle name. Emily never discussed her mother and no one dared to broach the subject.

In the mid to late 1960’s, one of Emily’s daughters, Laura Henrietta (nee Brown) Morrow showed her youngest sister Pauline (my grandmother) and her niece, Dorothy (my mother) the Reed Family Bible that she brought back from Missouri after Emily’s death in 1958. Both my grandmother and mother were saddened to see that someone had long ago scratched Maria Cordoba’s name out of the Family Bible. My grandmother knew in her heart that it was probably Emily who did this callous act. The Reed Family Bible has since disappeared.

In 2004, I traveled to Wayne County, Missouri to meet some of my Reed relatives, relatives that descend from William Henry Reed’s second wife, Eva James Barlow. I learned from an Arkansas cousin that Mary (Maria) was buried in Lowndes Cemetery, in Wayne County. She also told me that many years earlier, someone had removed her headstone. The cemetery is no longer active and the burial records were lost many years ago. If I ever learn where in the Lowndes Cemetery my dear great-great grandmother is buried, I and many others in the family will place another marker on her grave.

I cannot imagine my great-great grandmother’s pain. Maria Cordoba was abandoned by her own family at the age of four or five. She grew up in a hostile household in a prejudiced community. She was despised by her own daughter and erased from the family after her death. God rest her soul.


primrulle said...

I just wanted to say I enjoyed your story about your grandparents. I am from Missouri and my grandfather was William Henry Reed and his wife was Mary. They had a large family, but thought it was awesome that the family names were similar. Thank you for the sweet story.

Sally Caldwell said...

Your story saddened me as we haven't come far from this animosity in many circles. Wouldn't it be a treat to stumble upon the family bible tucked away in a quaint antique shop?! Blessings to you and your lovely family.