From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Southern Spirit

The fly cannot be driven away by getting angry at it.

African proverb

I remember spending my summers down in Woodstation, Georgia, riding my horses in a big field in front of grandmother’s house. She would sit on her front porch in her rocking chair and watch me canter through the tall fescue. I rode constantly, in the heat of muggy days and into the evening to the cicadas’ serenade. When it became too dark to see, I’d climb off my horse, go sit with Grandma and listen to her stories of the past.

More than once, Grandma told me that loving horses ran in our family. Some of the men in our family had ridden in the cavalry. But the story I liked best was the one about her grandmother who had lived through the Civil War.

The days and nights must have been long for Matilda Arnold Seabolt while her husband McKinley fought along with the Georgia 23rd Infantry regiment up north. A young mother in her twenties, Matilda lived with her parents in Naomi, Georgia, a small community tucked in the valley next to the long and low-slung Taylor’s Ridge. She cared for her small daughter, Addie, and doted on her favorite horse, a fine gray mare she called Snip.

Matilda had heard stories about a band of irregulars called the Gatewood Scouts who terrorized the area and took whatever they could—hogs, chickens, eggs, flour and horses. In rural areas of the South, mules and horses were especially valuable because they were the only way to get around. Horses and mules also helped fight the Civil War and many died in battle or from disease.

Hearing the Gatewood Scouts were in the area and fearing for her mare’s safety, Matilda hid Snip in the deep woods near Taylor’s Ridge.

Soon the band of Scouts arrived at Matilda’s family farm and stole bushels of potatoes and fruit, syrup, tobacco and hogs. When one of them took little Addie’s red bucket, she cried. Seeing her tears, the Scout relented and gave it back. By the time they were ready to depart, the Scouts had rounded up several horses they wanted but before they left, they somehow found out about the mare in hiding. They demanded the horse be brought to them at once. When Matilda refused, they threatened to burn down her family’s house. Fearing the loss of her home, she asked her father, Billy Arnold, to retrieve Snip from the woods. When he returned, the Scouts announced that they were taking the horse and heading south to Calhoun, about fifteen miles away.

To everyone’s surprise, Matilda jumped up on Snip’s wide back and told the soldiers she would ride the horse herself. The Scouts asked her to dismount but she refused, saying that wherever her horse went, so did she. She told them she intended to stay with the horse to ensure she was cared for properly. So off they rode, a ragtag group; the band of men and one very determined southern woman aboard her mare. They headed up Taylor’s Ridge into the twilight.

Through the long night they rode, the men pleading with her to get off her horse. She wouldn’t budge. The men told her they didn’t want to hurt her but that she had to get off and return home. She clung on to Snip’s long mane and kept up with the Scouts’ pace.

By the time dawn approached, the Scouts must have realized they had never seen such a stubborn woman. Fearing that daylight would reveal them to the locals, the Scouts finally gave up and rode away, leaving Matilda behind, still aboard her mare. Her determination had paid off. She wheeled her horse around and headed home.

Later, she would mourn for her husband who was killed in the cornfield at the Battle of Antietam. And still later, she was saddened when the South lost the war. But through it all, her courage and resolve kept her beloved Snip close and safe.

I have never seen a picture of Snip but I have seen one of my great-great-grandmother. Her pretty face is full of energy and confidence. I would have liked to have known her so I could have thanked her for the legacy she left, tenacity and a spunky Southern spirit.

Janie Dempsey Watts

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