Mary "Polly" Campbell Thomas

by Glenn Twist


Family tradition has it that Polly was forced to suffer the heart-rending experience of helplessly standing by as "Backshooters" murdered her husband, Marchant Thomas. Polly's story of the event has it that, although several months pregnant, she and the boys rolled Marchant's body in a quilt and buried it in a shallow grave the boys had dug in the rocky soil of their homeplace; their sorrow being exceeded only by practical necessities of their situation.

If Polly remembered the circumstances of Marchant's death correctly, he died during the summer of 1865. Her unborn child would have been "Little Granny", Mary Elizabeth Thomas Hawkins.

Mr. Robert G. Winn, Civil War in the Ozarks - Personal Glimpses, Washington County [Arkansas] Historical Society describes, in vivid detail, the life-threatening circumstances that were the daily fare of Ozark mountain-folk, during the Civil War and for a short time afterwards. In the short, turbulent history of Arkansas Country, as it was known in those days, the Civil War period was a lawless era. Civil authority was ineffective. Military authority was non-existent. Bands of outlaws, bush-whackers, renegades, and deserters roamed the countryside at will, plundering, pillaging, stealing, ravishing and murdering wherever they went.

At best, Marchant and Polly's homeplace was a rocky, inhospitable plot. Sited almost squarely at the crest of Black Mountain, it towered over a lower area, well-known locally, then and now, as Hawkins Flat. Hawkins Flat and the higher ground that once was the Thomas homestead are both clearly visible from a stretch of ASH-23, near Turner's Bend just south of the Mulberry River Bridge.

Polly, possibly pregnant with her second child, Greenville, is thought to have made the trip from Breathitt County, Kentucky, mainly by river barge. The details of that trip and their daily life in Arkansas Country are lost because the Thomas family didn't leave written records. The number of children born to Polly isn't known, however, 8 are known to have survived beyond childhood. The 8 were: Anderson, Greenville, Isaac, Josephine, Lewis, Mary Elizabeth and their two half-sisters, Lorena [Florena] and Ellen.

A few years after her last child, Ellen, was born in 1877, Polly left her mountain homeplace to live out the remainder of her life in the home of "Tobe" and "Betty" Hawkins -- first at Hanson and later at Sallisaw, both in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. Her remains are buried... [near] those of Isaac, one of her sons, in the Fleetwood Cemetery at Hanson, Oklahoma.

Mountain people lived, not by clocks and calendars, but by the sun and seasons. Occupied with their daily routine necessary for survival, vital statistics and other items of a similar nature simply lacked relevance. It was likely that Polly wasn't born in l829, as shown on her headstone. Rather, she was probably born in l836.