It’s understandable if some of you feel that some of our elected state leaders, wise though they are, sometimes seem hesitant to do anything to put a damper on the notion that the South might rise again.
It’s a disturbing concept supported by episodes like the current squabble over whether to remove the Texas Capitol’s “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque that says slavery was not an underlying cause of the Civil War.
But I’m here today to with some good and uplifting news about something our elected leaders did regarding the Confederacy: In a decisive action, the Legislature has erased the Confederate Pension Fund from state law.
OK, so it took a little while to get it done. The Civil War ended in 1865. The Legislature’s action concerning pensions payable to Confederate vets and their surviving spouses came in 2017. Do the math.
It’s right there in Senate Bill 1735 from the most recent legislative session.
To be precise, and to quote the Texas Legislative Council analysis of the bill, SB 1735 erased “part of the enabling legislation for state pensions for Confederate veterans and their surviving spouses.” The measure — billed as a cleanup bill — also abolished the pension fund for Texas Rangers (and their surviving spouses) who served prior to Sept. 1, 1947, and veterans (and surviving spouses) of the Texas Revolution, which ended in 1836.
In doing away with those pensions, the Legislature did so with a nod of thanks for those who had been eligible for them. Here’s state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, explaining his bill to the Senate State Affairs Committee on April 3, 2017: “There’s a number of pension-related statutes that just don’t apply anymore having to do with veterans from the War Between the States, the Texas Revolution and Texas Rangers serving before 1947 and that sort of thing. We’re thankful for these folks’ service (but) none of them are around to need the benefits anymore and so this would clean up and make our statutes more accurate.”
On the House side, the Pensions Committee heard from Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, the House sponsor of the measure. He fielded one question from the committee: How many Confederate widows are still drawing pension checks in Texas?
“None,” Springer replied, with the confidence of a man armed with reliable research. “Absolutely zero.”
And Springer said he’d told himself, “You better make sure there’s not one single person who’s remotely close to being associated with this. Everybody can find out where I live in my district, and they’d come find me.”
Committee Chair Dan Flynn, R-Canton, then asked the required: “Is there anyone who would like to testify on, for or against” the measure.
And just then, in one of the legislative session’s most dramatic moments, the door at the back of the hearing room opened and in wheeled a very, very old woman with a Confederate flag draped across her lap. She proceeded to protest, in no uncertain terms, against the state of Texas yanking the pension her Yankee-hating husband had earned those many years ago.
Nah. Didn’t happen, though it would have been awesome if it had.
The hearing ended, and the bill sailed through the House and Senate on the uncontested calendars that draw little attention from most legislators. It became law without Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. Read into that what you will.
Springer was right. There are no Confederate widows still drawing pension benefits in Texas. But the concept is not quite as outlandish as it sounds, thanks to the fact that some young Southern women (some in their teens) married elderly Confederate vets (some in the their 80s) long after the Civil War. I’m guessing some of those marriages were more for money than love.
Alberta Martin of Alabama died in 2004 at age 97. In 1927, a year after her first husband died, she married Confederate veteran William Martin. He was 81. She was 21 and had a son who could benefit from her husband’s the $50-a-month Confederate pension. And she had a second son 10 months after marrying Martin.
I love this quote from a 1998 interview in which Martin was asked if she had loved her elderly husband: “That’s a hard question to answer. I cared enough about him to live with him. You know the difference between a young man and an old man.”
Alas, William Martin died in 1931. Two months later, Alberta Martin married Charlie Martin, her deceased husband’s grandson. Close family, I guess. He died in 1983.
Maudie Hopkins of Arkansas died in 2008 at age 93. In 1934, then 19, she married Confederate vet William Cantrell, who was 86. Several obits credited her with being the last surviving Confederate widow.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office was unable to tell me when our state made its last pension payment from the Confederate Pension Fund, which had been amended to include the Ranger pension fund. The fund — officially Confederate Pension Fund 0005 — was “inactivated” in 2003, but it remained on the books until last year’s legislative action.
For the record, the last payment from the Ranger pension fund came on Feb. 25, 2010. It was for $200 to the estate of Mrs. Willie M. Koonsman of Columbus. She had been the last living recipient of a pension payment from that fund.
Last thing: If there any Confederate widows out there, please give me a call.