Believe it or not, the last known widow of a Civil War veteran only just passed away last month at the age of 101.
Helen Viola Jackson of Marshfield, Missouri kept her astonishing story to herself for over eighty years before she went public with it in December of 2017.
“I never wanted to share my story with the public,” she said the next year. “I didn’t feel that it was that important and I didn’t want a bunch of gossip about it.”
Daily Mail reported that Jackson revealed that she was only 17 years-old when she married 93 year-old Civil War veteran James Bolin back in 1936. He was a friend of the family, and Jackson’s father had suggested that she help Bolin around the house in his old age.
Bolin could not afford to pay Jackson for her services, so he suggested that they get married so that she would be able to claim his Union pension. Jackson agreed on two conditions: that she could keep her maiden name and continue living on her family’s farm. Once Bolin agreed, they were married in a union that lasted until he died on June 18, 1939.
Jackson never ended up claiming Bolin’s pension after his daughter threatened to smear her reputation if she did so. She also never remarried, nor did she have any children.
“All a woman had in 1939 was her reputation,” she said of not claiming the pension. “I didn’t want them all to think that I was a young woman who had married an old man to take advantage of him.”
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War has confirmed both Bolin’s death and Jackson’s story. Bolin had enlisted in the military when he was 18 years-old, just as the Civil War was starting. He would go on to serve in both the 13th and 14th Cavalry, ending the war with F Company.
Though Missouri had both Confederate and Union forces, Bolin referred to his pension as his Union pension, which indicates that he fought with the Missouri State Militia 14th Cavalry. After the war, he married and had five children, with his wife dying in 1922 at the age of 79. He’s come up with the idea of marrying Jackson because he did not want to seem like a charity case after all the help she had given him with no payment.
“He said that he would leave me his Union pension,” Jackson explained. “It was during the Depression and times were hard. He said that it might be my only way of leaving the farm.”
“Mr Bolin really cared for me,” she added. “He wanted me to have a future and he was so kind.”
After this all came to light, Jackson became a local hero in her town, even serving as grand marshal in her hometown’s annual Independence Day Parade. She died on December 16 at Webco Manor Nursing Home in Marshfield, where she had lived for the past few years.
Jackson had been working on her own funeral arrangements in 2017, when she finally decided to tell the world her story.