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Maudie Hopkins, 1914 - 2008

Last woman documented as a widow of a Confederate soldier

September 06, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Maudie Hopkins, who was the last publicly documented widow of a Confederate soldier, having married an elderly Civil War infantryman when she was a teenager, has died. She was 93.

Hopkins died Aug. 17 at a hospital in Helena-West Helena, Ark., according to media reports.

A cause of death was not given, but she had been in failing health for several years.

She remained largely silent -- even among her family -- about her link to the 19th century War Between the States until four years ago, when an Alabama woman died and was reported to be the last surviving Confederate widow.

"I have nothing to be ashamed of," Hopkins once said, but she had kept quiet about the marriage because she "didn't want people gossiping about my business."

Civil War historian Martha Boltz confirmed Hopkins' marriage using Confederate military records, a copy of the 1934 marriage-license application and other documents.

A few other Confederate widows are still living but do not want to be publicly identified, said Boltz, who is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Hopkins grew up in a family with 10 children and met her husband while living in the Ozark Mountains at the height of the Great Depression.

"It was hard times back then," Hopkins told the Associated Press in 2004. "My daddy couldn't make a living for us, and I didn't have no shoes."

William Cantrell was an 86-year-old widower when he hired Hopkins to clean his house for $12 a week. He soon realized he needed a full-time caretaker who could help with the chores.

The mores of the day prohibited an unmarried couple from living together, Boltz said in a 2004 interview on National Public Radio, so he asked Hopkins to marry him. In return, Cantrell promised to deed his home on 200 acres in Lone Rock, Ark., to her after his death.

Their marriage certificate -- signed Feb. 2, 1934 -- indicated that the groom was 86. She was 19.

A Confederate pension of $25 a month helped support the newlyweds, although Hopkins said the money didn't always show up.

Cantrell had enlisted in the Confederate Army at 16 and was captured by the Union Army after a Kentucky battle in 1863.

"Mr. C," as Hopkins called him, "was a good man, and I cared for him very much," she repeatedly said.

Three years into their marriage, Cantrell died after being thrown from a mule that had been frightened by a hog.

Hopkins was born Maudie Acklin in 1914, in Baxter County, Ark., and would marry three more times. With her second husband, she had three children, all of whom survive her. Her fourth husband, Milton Hopkins, died in 1997.

She eventually settled in the 1960s in the hamlet of Lexa, Ark.

The quiet Hopkins remained "quite unimpressed by her historical status," Boltz wrote in the Washington Times in 2004. "She was merely William Cantrell's wife."

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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