History Comes Alive: United Daughters of the Confederacy

By Joyce Whitis

The ladies of the Major George B. Erath Chapter 2679, Stephenville Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, presented their Historical Drama and Fashions of the 1860s to the public recently. The Cowboy Church of Erath County provided the stage for this well-planned afternoon gala. Getting ready meant moving hundreds of comfortable single chairs to a back room while round tables arranged attractively in the sanctuary replaced the usual single-chair arrangement for worship services.

IMG_2281 Within a few hours of this transformation, members of the UDC chapter were joined by husbands, friends and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans 2nd Texas Frontier Camp #1904 to transform the vast room into “club” atmosphere. Later, dressed in Confederate uniform, the men would act as escorts for the ladies wearing fashions of the 1860s. The afternoon’s parade of models included 46 women and children with 15 SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) escorting them across the large seating area and to the flower-decorated stage and out again.

Guests were greeted at the door and then seated at tables with cloth covers and unique decorations suitable to that period in history. These items included old photos, antique hand fans, flower-decorated coffee cups and other unique and age-appropriate items. Other viewing tables held items from the 1860s including antique guns and other weapons and objects of interest.

Taking the name of the famous surveyor, Indian fighter, legislator, soldier at San Jacinto and Major in the Confederate Army, George B. Erath, this UDC chapter was chartered in 2009 with 24 members and now enjoys the collective works of 42 individuals with other applicants in the works.  The UDC is a non-political, non-profit organization with chapters in most of the 50 states both North and South. The Texas Division is one of the most active in the nation with headquarters housed at Judy and Ray Richey’s Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth.

The Fashion Show and Historical Drama originated with the Stephenville chapter and was the “brainchild” of Sheran Weible of Dublin. Sheran has served the chapter as Military Awards Officer and has recently been installed as the chapter’s president for 2016-2018. The idea for the show came from the need for a new idea to raise funds for the chapters’ objectives, which are Historical, Benevolent, Educational, Memorial and Patriotic. This chapter gives a $500 scholarship each year to a graduating high school senior, boy or girl, who is in good standing in school and is a descendent of one that fought for the Confederacy.

IMG_2550   Brent Graves, local businessman, agreed to be Master of Ceremonies at the podium and with current President, Joyce Whitis, at his side, the show began. And what a great show it was! Guests were greeted at the door by chapter members, Judy Wolfe and Alesa Hunt (Registrar-Treasurer) and were free to choose their tables where refreshments of cake and punch were served. Meanwhile, the beautifully styled dresses and the uniformed models were announced from the stage and guided into place by Vice President, Becky Bussey, who served as stage manager for the show.

The models’ entrances and exits were interspaced with trivia questions from Graves and correct answers from the audience were rewarded with prizes. Several “Historical Intervals” kept everyone eager to see what would come next.

Travis Priddy, local Pastor, portrayed James Edward Hanger, who was the first Confederate Soldier to receive an amputation. Hanger lost part of a leg in an early part of the war and finding the wooden leg that he was supplied with, very uncomfortable, fashioned a prosthetic leg that he whittled from barrel staves, rubber, and metal. It became known as the “Hanger Limb.” That company is still in existence today.

Rene Trosper Jones portrayed Loreta Velazquez, born in Cuba in 1842 and sent to school in New Orleans. At the age of 14 she eloped with an officer in the Texas army and when Texas seceded in 1861, she begged her husband to let her go with him to fight. He refused her plea so she had a uniform made, applied a fake mustache, and managed to disguise herself as a soldier and she fought in the Battle of First Manassas.

IMG_2167These portrayals of true heroes in the War Between the States, introduced at intervals between the parade of beautiful dresses and attention-getting army uniforms, included Stephanie Womack who carried a wealth of contraband concealed beneath her hoop skirt that went undetected by a Yankee guard. As bottles of medicine, bandages, blankets items of clothing and other goods were removed from beneath her voluminous skirt, the audience got some good laughs thinking about the ingenuity of those women during wartime.

Karley Goin, 2nd Vice President, demonstrated the “language of the fan” that a coy young lady might use in a courting scene with a gentleman. Sheran Weible, who incidentally designed and crafted the large majority of the beautiful dresses worn by the women and children, performed an amazing demonstration as she transformed a “day dress” into a “going out” dress before the eyes of her audience.

One dress in the show was worn by Joy Duncan from Dallas. It was an original made out of a collection of ribbons from the late 1870s.

Other members of the chapter helped behind the scenes in the kitchen, preparing and bringing food to guests and doing cleaning chores. Table decorations were made by Patsy Williams, Betty Leatherwood, and Sheran Weible. Rita Prosper took care of the gift bags for the trivia prizes.

IMG_2597 Three photographers from the chapter garnered photos of each model and participant in the event, and a video was later presented to each model in the show. Chapter photographers, Betty Leatherwood and Amanda Davies, submitted their photos for publication.

Photos by Amanda Davies Photography