Maudie Cecilia Hopkins of Lexa Arkansas, one of the last known Confederate widows, died this afternoon at 3:10 p.m. at the Helena Medical Center, Helena, Arkansas. She was 93 years old, and would have been 94 in December, 2008.
Mrs. Hopkins’ story came to light in my Washington Times exclusive on June12, 2004 when the story of her marriage to Confederate veteran William Cantrell and the 19 year old girl was published. Cantrell had served in the 7th Virginia nfantry, and as an aging veteran first hired Maudie Hopkins to cook for him and do his laundry.
As time passed and he became more feeble, he asked her to move in with him, and when she declined for reasons of propriety, he suggested that they marry, saying he would deed his house and lot to her if she would. They were married in August of 1934 in Baxter County, Arkansas, when he was 86. Their married life continued for several years until he died.
Money was tight, she used to say, “we had a good life, but it was hard. He got a veteran’s pension. Sometimes it was twenty-five dollars a month; sometimes it just came every two or three months. That made life hard. But we were happy.”
Mrs. Hopkins accepted her new found fame gradually and with some reticence. It was a story she had never shared with her children, but when she learned others were interested in this living link to history, she came to enjoy being interviewed and photographed by journalists from as far away as England.
I met her later on that year in her home town when she was taken into the David O. Dodd Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in a ceremony attended by some 100 friends and relatives. She was a charming lady, with sparkling eyes who enjoyed meeting people and talking with them. By that time she was in a wheel chair most of the time, but loved seeing her daughters, Ida Mae Chamness and Opal Byrd. It was Ida Mae’s husband, Fred, who first brought the story of his mother-in-law to me several weeks earlier, saying he’d been trying to tell people about her for years, and no one seemed interested. I told him I was definitely interested. When the story broke in The Times, people suddenly were interested from one end of the country to the other. She also had two great grandsons of whom she was extremely proud.
She lived alone until three years ago, when she moved to an assisted living facility in Arkansas, and then as she further declined, into a full care facility. She stayed relatively alert, talking with her family members and friends, although in the last few months she became less and less able to converse.
Funeral will be handled by Roller-Citizens Funeral Home, 508 E. Plaza St., W. Helena, AR with a viewing on Tuesday evening from 6- 8 p.m. Private graveside service on Wednesday at Sunset Memorial Park in Barton, AR. Memorial contributions may be made to Lexa Baptist Church, 213 Cedar Street, Lexa, AR 72355.
While there are other Confederate widows in several areas of the country, Maudie will always go down in my memory as an outstanding lady who grudgingly accepted telling her story, and made more friends than she could have dreamed of in doing so.