Cara Belle Keeth was the first-born child of Jefferson Davis Keeth and Mary Gray. She was born December 20th 1884 in Panola County, MS.
She was only one generation from the War of Northern Aggression.
Her grandfather, William Jasper Keeth perished at Rossville, GA after the battle of Chattanooga, TN. Her father was only an infant and never knew his father. The family coped with all the horrors of the War and the Reconstruction period following.
She told the story that her mother sent her to the spring to fetch a pail of water and she eloped and married John Dee Evans on September 22nd 1903 in Tuscaloosa County AL just prior to her nineteenth birthday. She had made plans to be married and had secreted clothes to carry with her. She stated that she returned some two weeks later and her mother asked, “Cara, where is my water?”
Cara and John Dee had planned this wedding since Jeff Keeth was planning to return to Arkansas. He had moved the family to Arkansas from Mississippi when Cara was only a small girl. This trip was made on a wagon train from near Sardis, Mississippi to the area of England, Arkansas. They later moved to Grant County, Arkansas.
The wagon train crossed the Mississippi River in the area where the bridge now crosses to Helena, Arkansas. When they reached the river the men of the wagon train unloaded their wagons of all their household goods then secured the beds of the wagon to the frames. They drained the water barrels, replaced the bungs and tied the barrels to the wagons to act as floats. Many trips were required to make the river crossing carrying only a small amount of goods each trip. Cara stated the mules swam and often were a mile downstream by the time they crossed this river of almost a mile in width. The mules had to be rested prior to making the return trip so progress was very slow. She said it took about two weeks for the wagon train to make the crossing and a great many possessions were left on the eastern riverbank.
Jeff Keeth was consumptive and finally died of TB in December of 1911 and was buried in Morris II Cemetery, Grant County Arkansas.
Cara had born much of the burden of rearing her siblings until she married.
All the families of her siblings in Arkansas speak of Cara in reverence.
She is almost legend in the Keeth family for the care and sacrifice she made for her brothers and sisters. Cara had a love and concern for her Arkansas family that lasted all her life. All her life she would ride the Greyhound bus to visit them if no other means of travel was available.
Cara didn’t escape responsibility when she married Dee Evans, if anything it increased.
She gave birth to Lovie Belle Evans, the first of her twelve children some sixteen months after she married. The frail baby died shortly and Cara bore another, Marvin Dee Evans, about twenty months later. She then lost her third child, Theo Estelle Evans, just a little over a year later.
This pattern of bearing a child every year to eighteen months continued until she had born nine more children.
The twelve children are as follows;
1. Lovie Belle Evans
2. Marvin Dee Evans
3. Theo Estelle Evans
4. Euel ( Howard Euel) Evans
5. Ethel Irene Evans
6. Willie Lee Evans
7. Rufus Brewster Evans
8. Cliff (Clifton Coger Byron) Evans
9. Neva Mae Evans
10.Louise ( Annie Louise) Evans
11.Evelyn ( Vista Evelyn) Evans
12. Lizzie ( Lela Elizabeth) Evans
Cara lived in an era and area of poverty and constant toil. In addition to her child bearing and homemaking work she also assisted Dee in eking out a living for their ever-growing family.
On December 13th, 1925 at the age of forty-one Cara was left a widow with ten children aged three to nineteen. John Dee Evans at the age of forty-four suffered an apparent aneurysm and was brought home by his mule team after hauling a load of logs to mill. He perished shortly thereafter never regaining consciousness.
When she had buried Dee at Liberty Hill Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, known as Evanstown, she set out to keep her family together.
No man has ever worked harder than this lady worked during these years.
The poverty that was across Tuscaloosa County, Al was compounded some four years later as the “Great Depression” hit America and the world.
Cara said she could hardly tell the difference she was so poor already.
A cousin of Dee’s, Tullie Evans, convinced Cara that she could take her brood to Arkansas and “pull” cotton rather than pick it and make a lot of money. This was an ill-fated move and did more to disrupt her family than any thing before. The older children began to marry rather than make this trip, so the one’s left to work the cotton fields were not able to make a living. The move to the area of Des Arc and Cotton Plant, Arkansas was a disaster for the family and Cara was forced to return to Alabama.
Cara labored at farming and growing goods that she could trade with the “rolling store” to feed and clothe her family. The sacrifices she made for her family are beyond measure. She made the younger children do without some things in an effort to “keep the boys at home” and to salvage what work she might get from them. This ploy only worked for a time though and she found her family making their way into marriages and her still with young ones to raise. The older children gave what assistance they could when they married but the full brunt of the load was Cara’s. Times and the economy were such that not much help came her way.
Cara lived the Depression until the beginning of World War II.
The last of her children married as the war started and Cara accompanied some of them to Mobile, Al where she found herself a job at “public work”
This wartime economy opened doors for Cara and her family that they had not had before. There was a demand for people to work in defense work and Mobile, AL was a Mecca for people off the farm who had never had a paying job. Cara found employment at fifty-eight years of age with the Bemis Bag Factory, making paper bags on an assembly line.
Cara worked the war years and then returned to Tuscaloosa County, AL with all her extended family and relatives because, “ Mobile was going to be a ghost town!” Mobile of course did not become a ghost town but the ghosts of the past, poverty, haunted Cara and her family for years after they returned to Tuscaloosa. Times weren’t as hard as before the war but Cara found herself “scrapping out” cotton to make quilts and doing other menial tasks to aid her and her growing family to live. ”Scrapping out” cotton was the task of going to neighbors fields after they had harvested their crop and salvaging what little bit of cotton that was left in the field.
Cara would “card” the cotton removing seed and making batts of the lint.
These batts she used for insulation in the quilts made in varying patterns she had pieced from scraps of cloth. Quilting was a labor of love for her.
Cara never maintained a home after her youngest child married and moved away but she warmed the homes of all her children as she “ visited.”
Grandchildren were in great abundance in those days and Cara loved and enjoyed them all. All the grandchildren were taught not just by their parents but also by that great matriarch, Mama Carrie. That is the title that she had grown into over the years as the grandchildren came along.
She was a fountain of knowledge and love for all around her. Even though she had a minimal education she had, through reading and study, educated herself far beyond many of her peers who had formal education. The greatest education she had though was the life she had lived, worked, endured and yes, enjoyed.
Love, honesty, thrift, manners, proper behavior, caring for others, she taught these and many other things to five generations of children, from her siblings to her great grand’s.
Here we have a lady that took what life dealt her and used it to make the world a better place for all who knew her. I knew her and loved her from my earliest memory. As a youngster I often tried her patience and she would tell me that if I didn’t straighten up and do right I would be dead or in jail before I was forty years old. This was told to me in love of course and I reminded her of it a short time before she died. She said, “ Ah yes but you got yourself straightened out.” I did, but with some guidance from her.
When I married she took Jane as one of her own and loved her just like she did all the other grand’s. My children, though they were young, have fond memories of Mama Carrie for she loved and taught them as she had done with so many others before.
She went from wagon train trips to watching men land on the moon and took it all in stride never surprised by the world but ofttimes disappointed by it. Even with the challenges she faced during her life she never gave in to self pity but was always up to the task at hand, be it running a middle-buster plow or changing and consoling a baby. Cara loved life and all it gave her. She lived for the family that God gave her.