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Three Little Sisters

 A little over a year ago Papa Bear and I were returning  from a weekend in South Central Texas when we came across the fire-gutted remains of a large two-story granite building out on the prairie in the middle of nowhere.  We were so intrigued by this strange sight that we had to drive over and inspect it. It turned out to be a former county courthouse that once marked the center of a little town called Stiles, which has vanished entirely. I wrote about it in The Town That Disappeared
 
Two weekends ago we once again found ourselves travelling up the lonely rural highway near the ghost town of Stiles. We both wanted to stop once again, something draws us there. This time we followed signs to the small cemetery about a half-mile from the courthouse which was in use when the town of Stiles was thriving many years ago, and continues to serve as a final resting place for area ranchers and their families today.

It was a very cold January day, and getting close to sunset when we arrived. We didn't have warm jackets or much time to walk among the scattered headstones, but we quickly spotted the row of the three narrow grave markers pictured above, off to the right and very close together.  As we read the inscriptions the reality of  the story they told began to set in. 
 
The first marker says... Sallie A. Moody - Dau. of Jas. & M.E. Moody - Born Oct. 5, 1897 -  Died Aug. 12, 1904 - Beloved one, farewell.  Sallie was close to being seven years old. County death records state that she died of "Illio Colitis."
 
The second reads... Ruth L. Moody -  Dau. of Jas. & M.E. Moody - Born Sep. 4, 1903 - Died Aug. 16, 1904 - Gone, but not forgotten.  Ruth was just three weeks short of being a year old. Death records state that she also died of "Illio Colitis".
 
The third is inscribed... Eunice B. Moody - Dau. of Jas. & M.E. Moody - Born Jan. 2, 1901 -  Died Aug. 20, 1904 - Budded on earth to bloom in Heaven.  Eunice was three and a half years old.  It is recorded that she died of an "abscess in throat."
 
Doing a bit of online research I learned that Ileocolitis is a mixed bacterial infection characterized by diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal distress. Streptococcus is typically present.  It usually occurs in infants and young children and is most often attributed to a contaminated milk supply.  The disease occurs more frequently in hot weather.  It I quite possible that Eunice died of a strep infection also related to Ileocolitis.
 
While the cause of these deaths is indeed tragic, the horror of the story sets in when one realizes that these little girls were sisters ranging in age from one to seven. Ruth died just four days after Sallie, and Eunice just four days after Ruth. James and M.E. Moody lost their three daughters in succession, over a period of just eight days. As a mother, I cannot imagine watching your children grow sick and die one by one; I cannot imagine surviving such a terrible loss.
 
At present I have not been able to find any information or records for the girls' parents, James or M.E. Moody.  Death records for the children list their place of residence as Irion County, Texas, which is approximately fifty miles distant from the little town of Stiles, and the cemetery where their remains are interred.  Many unanswered questions remain.  Did their parents have other children? Did they remain in Irion County following the deaths, or did they move on to some place further away from such painful memories?  Most of all I wonder about their mother, did she die of a broken heart?
 
If possible, I hope to return to Stiles Cemetery in the middle of August this year and place some flowers on the graves of Sallie, Ruth and Eunice. Perhaps their mother's spirit will be lingering near, and it might comfort her to know that someone knows her story and weeps for the three little lives that ended all too soon.
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This story was written for Two Shoes Tuesday
where the theme choices this week are row and round

24 comments:

  1. Oh wow....this kind of thing fascinates me, and heartbreaks me at the same time. I know some consider it a 'morbid past time' but I enjoy walking through old cemeteries. So much history there. I would love to know more of this story and I was wondering, before you mentioned not knowing about the parents, what became of them?

    When I was on my road trip, I came across a couple of ghost towns. That was another fascination. How does an entire town, albeit small, just completely dry up?

    Loved this, and bringing flowers...that is so sweet. I know the mother would be so grateful.

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    1. I enjoy cemetery walks always, Carrie, they are peaceful places! I love reading the various inscriptions, calculating ages, and such. I remember one in particular that I visited when I lived in Germany. Ready ME's comment below, she did a wonderful job of tracking down the rest of the story for us!

      I stand on what remains of the courthouse square in Stiles and try to imagine the bustling little town with a store, church, school, and houses. And now, it has all vanished completely to dust.

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  2. What a tragedy, and what a lovely thought - to take flowers for them.

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    1. Indeed, Altonian, what a heartbreaking story for any mother, anywhere. To lose one child is unthinkable, to lose three, and so closely together, would be more than I could bear. Children love bright-colored flowers. It is good to celebrate the little lives that once were!

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  3. So sad. You made me weep for that poor mother. Thank you for sharing such a poignant story.

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    1. It was incredibly sad to note these inscriptions Mary and to piece together what it meant. Imagine being the parents returning to the same spot three times in less than two weeks to inter yet another little coffin. It really tore at my heart.

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  4. This kind of tragedy and sadness was common place not that many years ago. Those generations had physical and mental strength we could not imagine. Three sisters died and all from disease which would be so simply treatable today.

    Wonderful post.

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    1. That is so true, Joe. Diseases swept thru and wiped out families, and even communities, almost unstoppable with such limited medical knowledge and supplies. Imagine how helpless one must have felt as a parent!

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  5. I am thinking the same lines as Joeh. Such tragedy and sadness and hardships were commonplace in earlier generations. It's so heartbreaking. And makes me very glad to live when I do, despite the many things that upset me.

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    1. It was all too common, Christine. I've been to cemeteries where you will see row after row of children who all died at about the same time, signifying that some deadly illness swept through. Total devastation. I am with you, I do not love all that our medical science has done, but at least we have the tools, knowledge, and physicians to cure a host of what are now minor problems as opposed to them being life-ending in generations past.

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  6. My Sweetie found a private burial plot of an old, abandoned plantation when he was doing archaeology. So many were very young. It's painful, and even more so that the whole family plot had been abandoned.

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    1. That always bothers me too Mimi, it is not uncommon in rural areas to find family cemeteries where many rest, and yet they have been completely abandoned, no one left to care for them or care to share their stories. I suppose it is the way life is supposed to be, but it seems so sad. When we visited the gravesites of Papa Bear's grandparents on our trip last fall, it was clear that it had been many years since anyone else had been by, and one day soon there will be no one left who cares to find them.

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  7. What a beautiful tribute to these girls and their parents. The way that you told the story would bring tears to anyone's eyes. In those days and before death was always lurking and we have become quite complacent today that most of our ailments can be cured. Your return to the Stiles cemetery may well reveal more stories to tell, Josie.

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    1. Thank you Old Egg. I felt compelled to share this story, to bear witness to the hardships of life on the dusty plains of West Texas a hundred years ago. You are right that modern medicine affords us some complacency, contagious or epidemic diseases can most often be brought under control quickly before they result in death, much less decimate families.

      I can't wait to return to Stiles again, on a nice warm afternoon with time to spend. I want to walk more, and to spend some time just being there in that place, absorbing what stories are shared by the energy that remains.

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    1. Most certainly it is, M.E! I have always been drawn to tales of ordinary lives.

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  9. JTS
    I was so fascinated with this situation that I went to researching this family. Here is what I found
    James and Mollie(M.E.) Burton Moody were married in 1895+/- a year. It seems that James was probably married once before and had children when he married Mollie. The age difference was about 22yrs.
    1900 census(Coke County, TX) James, Mollie, Sallie-2(Mollie's), Esther-13, Ella-11
    1910 census (Tom Green county, TX) James,Mollie, Bernace-4, James--2, Adopted children-2 Stanford & Elmore
    1920 census(Somerton, Yuma, AZ) James, Molly, Bernice-14, James-11, Thomas J.-7
    1930 census(Cucamonga, San Bernardino, CA) James-73, Mollie E., Bernice-24, Thomas J.-17
    1940 census(Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA) Mollie-61, Thomas-27

    Deaths:
    James ---after 1930 assumed to be in California
    Mollie Elizabeth Burton Moody died at 79 yrs--1957 in CA
    Thomas died at 88 yrs old
    Bernice died at 85 yrs old
    Esther died at 86 yrs old

    The adopted children were handed off to their stepfather after the Moody's moved to Arizona

    Not sure what happened to Ella or James

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    1. Wow, M.E.! You did a WONDERFUL job of tracking down the backstory to these little graves! I was so pleased to know more about this family, and I appreciate your efforts so much. Life then wasn't all sweet and simple like "Little House on the Prairie", there was so much hardship. I was glad to read that there were additional children that survived to adulthood. Still, I'm sure that Mollie carried the grief of losing her daughters in her heart forever. I can understand why this story touched your heart. HUGS

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  10. uh...what a story. What a lovely tribute as well... wow...Im speechless thinking about that kind of devastation...

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    1. We were left very quiet following that visit too, Zoe. There was too much emotion to put it into words. Such horrible sadness that week had to be for this family.

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  11. Cool, spooky. I think I know where I am going to spend next Halloween! LOL, jk! : )

    I think that's nice that you wanted to give those girls flowers. I think that is sad when I see grave stones of children...

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    1. The old courthouse building is a rather "spooky" place, Joseph, there is a strong sense of spirit presence there. I am not sure I would want to be there at night.

      You are right that it is sad when children die young, never having had the chance to live out their lives. I am certain that they return to a good place, but the parents are left behind with holes in their hearts.

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  12. We visited Stiles last weekend and were struck by the heartbreak in the same set of headstones. Also, there were many children who died in 1903 and 1904. Here are the pictures from our weekend.

    https://m.facebook.com/demachmo/albums/10204709680726316/?ref=bookmark

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  13. We really appreciate the research you have done. My husband found those graves today and it broke his heart.

    Thank you for the answers you provided. KH

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Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)