Never Take A Whale Bone Corset to an Indian Fight
Doing research for my new book, I came across an amazing story of a woman with a steel backbone … and ribs to match!
Juliet Constance Ewing was born in Ireland, date unknown. On September 17, 1839, she and her brother, William G. Ewing, entered Texas as immigrants. And it was women like her who gave the state its reputation.
Juliet had the misfortune to suffer firsthand Texas’ change in policy toward Indians. Under the earlier leadership of Sam Houston, the Republic had few problems with the tribes, as he understood and respected them. His successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, did not. He promised the extermination of the Comanches.
On July 18, 1840, Juliet married station manager Hugh Oren Watts. This same year, talks with the Comanches broke down and 35 braves were massacred by US troops. The tribe hit the warpath with a vengeance. Shockingly brutal attacks ensued, ending with the “Great Comanche Raid” that Texans still talk about today.
Just like Sherman would march through Georgia decades later, the Comanche thundered across Texas, burning, scalping, raping, and pillaging. When they attacked the small community of Linnville, where Juliet and William resided, the town was completely unprepared. Panicked, running for their lives, the townsfolk made a bee line for the boats in the bay, thinking to float out of reach of the marauders.
Only, William suddenly realized he’d left behind a gold watch. And went back for it. Juliet in tow. I don’t know which one was dumber.
William was killed and scalped. Juliet was taken captive. The Comanche spent most of the day pillaging the community, setting ransacked buildings on fire, and, no kidding, trying to figure out how to get Juliet out of her steel-boned corset.
Running out of time and exasperated by the infernal garment, the Indians tied Juliet to a tree and shot an arrow into her breast. Only, the steel ribbing and thick material slowed the arrow down enough so that it didn’t kill her. Merely lodged in her breast bone.
From his eye witness report, Robert Hall recalled, “A little further on I found Mrs. Watts. They had shot an arrow at her breast, but her steel corset saved her life. It had entered her body, but Isham Good and I fastened a big pocket knife on the arrow and pulled it out. She possessed great fortitude, for she never flinched, though we could hear the breastbone crack when the arrow came out.”
Clearly, Juliet was one tough customer. This should have been a big hint to her second husband.
She married Dr. James Stanton in 1842, but divorced him five years later – the first divorce in the new state of Texas. Oddly, the woman demanded nothing short of complete fidelity from her husband. He didn’t see it her way and for the disagreement, got to hand over to her the hotel the couple had opened. One of his better decisions.
Juliet’s third, and, thankfully, final, husband was a Dr. Richard Fretwell. They were married until her death in 1878.
I’ve no doubt Juliet was buried wearing her corset. Steel ribs to match her steel spine.
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Posted on December 28, 2015, in Heather Blanton, Ladies in Defiance and tagged American women, comanche, Great Comanche Raid, indian fights, juliet constance ewing watts stanton fretwell, pioneer women, Texas History, women in american history, Women in Texas History. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.