Letter to Martha “Matt” Gamble Rhea from Johnnie Coker Maas, 1933


Every family has mysteries, old mysteries of whispered tales overheard by children, secrets hidden by time, family legend passed down through the years.

When I started genealogy over ten years ago, I remember that my mother had been interested in family history also.  I overheard a conversation between her and a family friend, when I was a child, and the friend told my mother not to look back into family history, because you could find something bad, very bad, that could change your life and you would never be the same.  Some of the old South families found that they were mixed race.  Some of the black families found that THEY were mixed race.  One black friend told me years later that the saddest day of her life was when she found the white people.  I suppose your reaction just depends on your perspective.  Whatever the reason for your genealogy search, I found that we are the sum of all our parts, and all these little parts, good and bad, are what they are, and we just need to deal with it.

One of my great-great-grandmothers was Ruth Gamble Collins.  I found her on the 1880 Blount County, Tennessee, census on June 9, 1880, listed as a widow.  Later, through the magic of the internet and the genealogy message boards, my BigBroBob found a man in Mobile, Alabama, who claimed that his grandmother was Ivy Collins Coker, one of Ruth’s children.  But Ivy reported that she was born on March 14, 1881, and indeed she is not listed on the 1880 census.  Ivy also reported that her father was Deadrick Collins, who indeed was married to Ruth Gamble.  I suppose it is possible that Ruth was pregnant with Ivy and that Deadrick became deceased right before the census was taken.  There is no record of his death, and the man in Mobile said that one of his uncles told of whispered stories that he overheard when he was a small boy.  An uncle from the west was visiting, and the family was wondering if he would be recognized even though he’d been gone so long,  and could his visit remain a secret, for there was talk that he had been in trouble with the law, which was why he’d left to go west in the first place.  When I heard this part of the story, I became confused.  Was Deadrick in trouble also, like his son, and they’d both had to leave?  We’ll probably never know.

This I do know:  I found another cousin in Texas who sent me a packet of old letters regarding some of the Gamble family that moved west out of East Tennessee.  They ended up in Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Oregon.  One of the letters was written by Johnnie B. Coker Maas (who married Charles Sidney Maas) to her aunt Martha “Matt” Gamble Rhea.  Johnnie B. turned out to be the sister of the small boy who heard the whispered stories, and remember that the story of the small boy came from a man in Mobile, Alabama.  Yet the letters came from Texas from someone who did not know about the man in Mobile.  Strange how life weaves us together.

So the man in Mobile copied the letter *written by his own aunt* almost 65 years prior and sent it to her brother, the last remaining sibling of that family, who was in a nursing home in the last years of his life, who just happened to be the same small boy who overheard the whispered stories. 

Mrs. Charles S. Maas

Demopolis, Ala.

Nov. 14, 1933

Dear Aunt Matt:-

                I know you will be surprised to hear from a neice (sic) you have never seen, but I want to get a little information concerning Uncle Hugh Gamble or the one of your brothers who was in the Confederate Army – I want to join the UDC and I understand I am eligible to join if I can prove that a great Uncle or Grandfather was in the Confederate Army.  Mama said she knew that two of the boys were in the Confederate Army and that you might be able to tell me more about it – who they were with, where they enlisted and anything else that might help me to prove my eligibility.  Maybe some of the other folks out there know some thing or do you know of any one back in Tenn. who might know I would certainly appreciate any information.

                We are all well again.  Guess some of the children wrote about Mama’s operation.  She was operated on in July for a tumor and stood the operation just fine.  She says she feels better than she has in years and very often threatens to make you all a visit.

So far our winter has been very mild, just a frost or two but with no rain.  Every thing is so dry.

                Hope all of you are well and I will certainly appreciate any information you might give me.

                With love to you all,

                Johnnie B Coker

                Box 13

                Demopolis, Ala

                (Mrs. C. S. Maas)


And the Confederate uncle that she was searching for??  It was Larkin Boling Gamble, who had moved to Arkansas, then Oregon, after serving in the Union Army.  It seems that East Tennessee was predominantly Union.  I wonder if Johnnie ever found out that she couldn’t get into the United Daughters of the Confederacy using that line.  What she couldn’t know was that her mother’s “father” was Deaderick A. Collins, a sergeant in the Confederate Army, but remember that her mother was born after her father was reported deceased. 

Indeed, when researching family history, you might just find out something you didn’t want to know.

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