Callie George Middleton
by Barbara Dietrich
She was a woman small in stature, but large in impact…a force in family and community.
Callie Minnie George was born November 8, 1868, in the troubled days at the close of the Civil War. She was the oldest daughter of John Hicks George, and Lavisa Adeline White of Sni-a-Bar Township, Jackson County Missouri, the fourth of twelve children.1.
Only two years earlier, her extended family had returned to their lands eleven months after the end of the hostilities.2. They found their properties ravaged, their homes and outbuildings burned, no fence post standing. During the conflict, both “Federals” (Union troops), and Jennison’s Jayhawkers, the Kansas Seventh Cavalry, had left a “Burnt District” in their wake across western Missouri. Devastation and ruin.
Callie’s father had been a Confederate cavalryman, away from home for long periods, in battles, tortured, wounded, imprisoned, starved, and stricken with malaria. Her mother had kept two very young older brothers alive during exile under Order # 11,3. planting corn on her own with oxen, and surviving a desperate existence.
Upon their return, the George family—uncles, aunts, and cousins—lived communally, working together to shelter themselves and rebuild their properties. They were forced to sell large parts of the 1250 acres the family had amassed before the war to pay the taxes levied during the war. They had to heal and restore their health as well.
Despite these hardships, Callie’s parents instilled positive attitudes in their children. A unique strength of character. A belief that all is survivable. Find a way. Get it done.
And…it would seem they instilled love of country, love for the United States of America. Callie wrote that her first memory was of a Fourth of July picnic, food and speeches and “the good old American flag flying.” She was about three at the time of the picnic.
She attended school first in Oak Grove about two miles away.4. To make the journey, she and a brother shared a horse, riding bareback. She wrote of a time, after spring rains, when the roads were “loblollies” and they slipped off into the mud.
Callie had a quick mind and excelled in school throughout. After finishing eight grades, she went to “Normal School” in Warrensburg (now University of Central Missouri). She graduated from the two-year course which qualified her to teach upper-level studies as well as the first eight grades. She spent the next decade after graduation teaching at Webb School on White Road just east of Horseshoe Creek, not far from her parents’ home.
Long years later, at her 50th wedding reunion, former students came to greet her, one after another, telling her how much they appreciated what she had taught them. When they asked, “Do you remember me?” she would recall something unique about each of them.
The man she would marry was both a classmate and one of her students for a brief period. She and Alfred Middleton were in the same grade for a time, but the pace of his education was slowed by work on his parents’ farm during the planting and harvesting seasons. Alfred later went on to complete one year at Warrensburg Teacher’s College himself. Alfred and Callie were matched in intellect, both life-long learners.
In 1895, Callie set out alone to the far west to visit an aunt she had never known. The youngest sister of Callie’s mother Lavisa lived in Yolo, California, not far from Sacramento. Her name was Anna White Tadlock. She had married there when Callie was nine months old. Details of Callie’s trip are unknown as are the reasons for it.5.
Later that year, on October 16, she married Alfred in a double wedding with her cousin, Pauline Adeline George, and Frank Fountain Conard. (Pauline’s parents were Hiram George and Mary White, brother and sister to Callie’s parents.)
The courtship of Alfred and Callie was a long one. The Panic of 1893 was the second worst depression in American history, lasting until the turn of the century. During those years, there was little money to start marriage (which makes the California trip more of a mystery).
Alfred and Callie started their life together on land given to her by her father. Forty acres at the south end of Johnston Lane in Sni-A-Bar Township, Lafayette County, Missouri. Alfred built a home. The oldest three of their six children were born there.
After Alfred’s father died in late 1899, he was able to purchase undeveloped land from his father’s estate. Callie and Alfred moved onto the property on Milam Road in 1903 and spent the next forty years building a fine farm and raising their family there.
Callie had many talents as a homemaker. She was an excellent gardener, and quickly laid out an extensive garden tract on the new property. During lean years ahead, when the markets for farm produce crashed, she was able to keep her family well fed with her green thumb and her talents in the kitchen. What the family didn’t eat immediately from her garden and the orchard Alfred planted, she canned or dried for later use.
Son Roy remembered with great fondness the ripening of the strawberries. “At the table, our mother would call for our plates to be passed to her. She would serve a homemade shortbread from the platter and top it with the berries and ladle on the juice. She made an occasion of it. It was hard to wait for all to be served before we began, but we did.”
She was also an excellent seamstress producing fine work both by hand and with her treadle sewing machine, work on full display in the early pictures of the older children. There is a photograph taken in 1903 of the first four children together. Tredgar wears a handsomely tailored suit with ascot. Ruby and Thelma have matching dresses with trim across the ruffles. Roy is in a baby dress of eyelet lace and wears two-toned shoes. The boys’ hair is properly combed, and older daughter Ruby’s hair is curled. Only Thelma’s hair is unexpected.
Callie had spent considerable time and effort preparing for the children’s visit to E. D. Fear’s Photography Studio in Odessa. However, on the morning of the visit while others were dressing, two-year-old Thelma decided she would give herself a new hairstyle. She found the sewing scissors and cut her hair! Her smile reflects her pride in her handiwork.
Callie was also a midwife, often in demand. When a call would come, she would saddle her horse and ride swiftly to help. She was the daughter of a cavalryman and could ride like one. As a son recalled years later, “She could ride in her side saddle at great speed, if need be, and jump fences when necessary. She could ride with a baby in her lap.”
If a call came at night, Alfred would get up with Callie and ready her horse as she dressed. Later he would wake their oldest daughter. Together they would take over preparing breakfast for the family and farmhands. Alfred cooked the meat and eggs, while little Ruby, standing on a box, stirred the gravy at the stove.
A granddaughter remembered a time when Callie, well into her sixties, was called to help with the delivery of twins.
Callie was deeply religious, a member of the Oak Grove Baptist Church. She was the first woman to serve on a church board in the community. Each May, their church prayer meetings were held at homes, often at the Middleton farm. To daughter Ruby’s dismay, the long meetings eclipsed her birthday, year after year.
Callie’s family did not drink or dance, through they did play lively games of cards—pinochle or pitch usually. No gambling. When church members criticized, she said she would rather have her children at home playing cards than elsewhere out of her watch.
Both parents set high standards for their children. Roy remembered sitting on the floor by his mother’s sewing rocker when he was very small. Callie was telling his older brother Tredgar that, if he could keep a promise not to drink or smoke until he was 21, she and Alfred would give him a gold pocket watch.
Roy asked, “Me too?” “Yes, you as well.” Roy’s gold watch was a proud possession. He could recite the serial number all his life. The watch stood for a promise kept. Brother Tredgar earned his watch too.
The Middleton children were expected to study hard and earn good grades at school, and they did. They were taught not to waste time. If they dawdled getting dressed for school, Callie sent them to the front porch to complete the job, no matter the weather. She taught them never to go anywhere with empty hands. Even little ones could carry in kindling from the woodpile. The family was a team. No one loafed while others worked.
Her children and grandchildren would remember that her hands and mind were never idle. Year after year, she was busy with trowel, paring knife, needle, or pen, tending her garden, preparing meals, sewing, writing letters. In the rare times when she did sit, her rocking chair had low arms, allowing her to hand-stitch or quilt or mend unimpeded.
There were two exceptions. Once she took time for herself when the oldest children were in high school. She had long yearned to see the land of her unknown forebearers. Where might her family have come from? All she knew was “somewhere in Virginia.” She traveled alone on a train to the Blue Ridge Mountains and stayed a few days to view the land in its varying colors at the different hours of the day—the blue haze of the mornings and the golden hours of the afternoons. She returned refreshed, bringing with her a framed photograph of the mountains. It hung in her home for the rest of her life.
The other time she sought a respite was in April 1920 after the two-year-long illness and death of daughter Pansy, followed by the unexpected death of her mother Lavisa George two weeks later. Roy was scheduled to work at home for that year in return for the tuition his parents paid for his high school education.6. He had been working in the fields since age nine with his father, but this year he worked in the house. Callie directed him in all activities—cooking meals, cleaning, gardening, family laundry, caring for chickens, helping his younger brother with his homework. She was able to recover her strength.
At the end of the 1920s, the family home burned to the ground. Treasured possessions were lost, but they had each other. In characteristic fashion, Callie set about turning the hen house into a temporary home to shelter them through the winter as Alfred began planning and building the new house. It was smaller than the one before it. By now, most of the children were leading lives on their own and building their families.
But, as always, their home was a place of welcome and gathering. Through the passing years, relatives, friends, and classmates, young and old, continued to drop by on Sundays after church, sometimes to eat, sometimes to visit after the meal. When her grandchildren would arrive, she would be at the door with open arms to embrace us.
The dinners were memorable. Three sittings to serve us all. The platters of fried chicken (which even included the feet!), the slices of ham, the green beans, the tomatoes, the fresh corn, the homemade cottage cheese, and finally the wonderful pies. All delicious!
During the summers of the 1930s, when her “city” grandchildren visited, she taught by example. We learned to slip the warm eggs gently out from under the sitting hens as she did. We saw the mother chickens “call” their chicks to eat when we scattered corn onto the ground. After a large meal, as she cleared plates into the bucket below the sink, and with only the briefest mention “This will feed the pigs,” she taught us that nothing was wasted on the farm. We learned to snap beans and shell peas and gather from the garden where she spent endless hours in her sun bonnet on her knees tending her vegetables.
She planted flowers too. Pansies were her favorite. Beautiful color after long winters.
In those Depression Era years, a granddaughter would say later, “There was no cash money.” Our gifts from our grandmother were of little monetary value, but priceless in love. A little jar decorated with leftover paint. A ball made of rolled-up white string, hand-sewn to place so it would not unravel. After 80 years it bounces.
Through many years, Callie was active in the community. As well as her church work, she served as president of the Sunshine Club which offered help to local families in need. She also presided over the Joseph Shelby Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Their mission was to aid the Confederate Home in Higginsville, where indigent Civil War veterans and their families went to live out their lives.
On club day, she would put on her Sunday clothes, hitch “Lady” to her buggy, and set off. Granddaughter June, who lived at the farm for a time, remembered a day when Lady refused to cooperate. Callie in her good dress and hat chased Lady around the horse lot for some time in the summer sun. After Lady was hitched and June and Callie were seated in the buggy, Callie cracked the whip—literally—telling her horse, “You wanted to run, now you’ll run!” And away they went. Promptness is a virtue!
In the early 1940s, Callie bought a stack of penny postcards, and began writing every relative in her father’s family she knew. “Tell me the names and dates of your family.”
Roy recalled that she wrote and received hundreds of letters and cards. For two years she collected and compiled the information. The result was a 74-page “Family History.” Son Tredgar had her hand-written notes typed and distributed to family, historical societies, and libraries, including the Missouri Historical Society Library. An invaluable resource.
The Christmas of 1941 was the last time all the children and grandchildren returned to be together. It was a warm sweet poignant time. Callie gave each of her six grandchildren handstitched piecings for a full-size quilt with a letter to each. And, without spoken words of explanation, she gave each grandchild a sawn piece of her father’s “hanging tree” where he was tortured by Union troops seeking information. She pasted a notation to each saying: “Piece of tree J. Hicks George hung on Aug 15, 1862. Dec 1941.” I believe she thought us capable of discovering the story on our own. And we did.
Sometime in the WWII years, Callie and Alfred sold the farm. No men were available to work it. Reluctantly, they moved to a small frame house at 1800 S. Broadway in Oak Grove. Family and friends still visited often. She still cooked delicious meals, now on a wood stove, as she had long years before. A granddaughter remembers a fine meal of stewed chicken with homemade noodles.
In 1945, Callie and Alfred celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there. On a cloudy October Sunday, much of the town stopped by to honor them. Pictures were taken.
In 1951, after Alfred’s death, the household belongings were split among the family, and Callie left went to live with daughter Ruby in Detroit. She was quite frail by then but was still of quick mind. As always, she kept up with news of the day. A card table was set up for her to write to her family and to continue her long correspondence with her US Congressman to share her thoughts.
She celebrated her 85th birthday in 1953 with family who traveled from Albuquerque and Kansas City to be with her. Two weeks after her 86th birthday, on November 23rd , she died peacefully in her sleep and went to meet her Lord. She was 86 years, 15 days old.
Her last earthly journey was back to her native Missouri. She lay in honor in the home of their youngest child Horace, who had stayed close for her and for Alfred through many years. The pews at the white frame Baptist Church at 1301 SW Clinton St. were filled for her funeral. Afterwards, Callie was laid to rest between Alfred and their beloved daughter Pansy in Oak Grove Cemetery in the shade of the old trees that line the lane.
After her death, the UDC women of the town sent a donation in her honor to the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. It is recorded in the books there.
In her lifetime, she traveled the length and breadth of the country, to far-away mountains and waters. She crossed the Sierra Nevada in California and walked the paths of the Blue Ridge in Virginia. She stood on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico near Alfred’s sister’s home in Anahuac Texas, and she looked out over the Great Lakes near Detroit. A rare feat in her day and age.
Callie George Middleton was a woman of great wisdom, initiative, and courage. She saw challenge as opportunity. She was a source of strength and inspiration for many who followed her.
Barbara Middleton Dietrich February 2022
Three of Callie’s brothers and sisters died as infants and one as a teenager. They are buried at the George Historic Cemetery. Throughout her life, Callie was close to all her surviving brothers and sisters, but particularly so with Henry, two years older, who became a physician, and her only sister, Melvie, thirteen years younger.
Though the Civil War officially ended in April of 1865, tensions ran so high in Jackson County that the George family did not feel safe to return until March 7, 1866. In the party who returned were Grandmother Nancy Bass George and eight of her nine surviving children with their spouses and children.
Order #11 was issued by Union General Thomas Ewing on August 25, 1863, forcing abandonment of rural areas in four counties in western Missouri. Rural residents had to leave their farms and move to another county. The severity of the Order’s provisions and
its enforcement alienated vast numbers of civilians. It was repealed in January 1864. Many consider it one of the cruelest acts of the Civil War.
After her parents moved to the intersection of South Morris and East Fricke roads, sometime in the 1880s, she attended Webb School on White Road.
Was the trip at the request of Lavisa, or simply because Callie wanted to meet a far-away aunt or see the Golden State? Who paid for the trip?
Callie’s aunt, Anna White, was born December 5, 1848, in Lafayette County, Sni-A-Bar Twp. Anny Burns White, Anna’s mother and Callie’s grandmother, died either in childbirth or shortly after. John White, Anna’s father and Callie’s grandfather, married Lucretia V. Williamson the next year on Christmas Day. John and Lucretia had ten children. Lucretia was twenty years younger than John and twenty years older than Anna.
Anna White left home and was married at age 20 to Elbert Tadlock in Sonoma County, California, on August 19, 1869, just three months after the famous “Golden Spike” ceremony in Utah Territory, marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Any trip to California in the 1800s, whatever the decade, was an arduous and unusual undertaking for a woman, especially one traveling alone, but it would seem that Callie and Anna shared an adventurous spirit.
Was Callie’s later interest in midwifery the result of meeting the child of the grandmother lost in or after childbirth?
Oak Grove did not have an accredited high school when the oldest children were of age to attend. They were given the choice of going to high school in town, or of attending Odessa High School which required tuition and money to board during the week. Ithey chose the latter, they would repay the family with a year’s work at home after graduation.