A Plucky Little Widow: 1884

widow in long veil

THE LITTLE WIDOW BRIGGS.

A span of ponies attached to an emigrant wagon, containing a woman and three children and various household goods, halted on Grand River avenue yesterday to have a blacksmith set a shoe for one of the horses. As the woman seemed to be alone, or at least had no man in sight, the smith asked:

“Old man sick?”

“No, sir; I buried him up the country a year ago.”

“Then you are a widow?”

“I reckon I am, and my name is Briggs.”

“Which way are you jogging?”

“Going southwest—may be into Indiana.”

“Got sick of Michigan?” continued the smith as he pared away at the hoof.

“Well, the State is good enough,” she slowly answered. “Some mighty fine land, good schools and tolerable weather, but I had to get out of where I was. I lost a pound a week right along for the last three weeks.”

“Ague?”

“Humph! I’d like to see the ague upset us! No, sir! My husband wasn’t cold before I had an offer of marriage! It wasn’t a month before I had three of ’em. Why, it wasn’t six months before their tracks were as thick around my house as cat trails on the snow!”

“Had your pick, eh?”

“Pick! I could have married anybody from my hired man up to a chap who owned a section of land and four saw-mills. They came singly and in droves. They came by day and by night.”

“And you—you—?”

“Say, you!” she exclaimed as she drew herself up, “do I look like an idiot?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Well, when I fling my three children at the head of a second husband and give up the $800 in cash in my pocket you can call me an idiot. No, sir! I repelled ’em.”

“And they got?”

“They had to. Susan, hand me that second husband repeller. It’s in the back end of the wagon.”

The girl hunted around and fished up a hickory club four feet long, and the woman held it out for inspection and said:

“There’s hairs of six different colors sticking in the splinters, and these blood-stains are the pure quill. You can judge whether they sat there and made love, or tore down the front fence in their hurry to reach the woods.”

”By George!” whispered the smith after a long inspection. “Well, I guess you don’t want to marry.”

“K’rect, sir. If you have any old widowers in this town, or if you know any one between here and Indiana who wants a headache that will last all winter without any letting up, just put ’em up to begin to ask me if my heart don’t yearn for love and my soul rattle around for some one to call me darling!”

Sawed-off Sketches: Humorous and Pathetic. Comprising Army Stories, Camp Incidents, Domestic Sketches, American Fables, New Arithmetic, Etc., Etc., Etc. C.B. Lewis (“M. Quad”) 1884

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the humourist “M. Quad” before, in an amusing discussion of “fiends for a funeral.”  A Haunted Ohio blog story on a phantom attacker gives a decent biography and sketch of his character.

In the literature of the period, so rife with “Merry Widows” in indecent haste to remarry, Mrs Briggs is a startling exception. A 1904 joke voices a common sentiment: “It’s a poor variety of widow’s weeds that won’t bear orange blossoms.”

While married women’s property acts were in place in many parts of the United States, in practice it was all too easy for a husband to appropriate his wife’s assets. Mrs Daffodil has been told of an American Civil War widow who expressed her reasons for not considering remarriage thusly: “I won’t give up my pension. Not for any man.” Mrs Daffodil applauds the plucky little widow Briggs’s sentiments—she was a merry widow in a very different sense—and that lady’s practical method for literally beating suitors off with a stick.

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