The Story of Mattie Hester
Thursday, January 8, 2015
MATTIE GET YOUR GUN
The Story of Mattie Hester
The Story of Mattie Hester
Mattie Hester was a combination of Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane and a pony express rider. A headstrong woman in a male dominated world, Hester could hold her own with the strongest of brutes. This is a tale of one remarkable woman and her brief moments of fame. Martha "Mattie" Hester was born about the year 1868. Her parents, John and Mary Hester, lived in the southeastern part of Laurens County on the east side of the river in what is still known as Smith's District.
Mattie grew up in an era when mail delivery was intermittent and slow. Condor was established as a post office in 1878. Two years later, an office was established further south along the River Road at Tweed. Most of the mail coming into Laurens County first came into Dublin for distribution to other places throughout the county. It was about 1890 when Mattie was given the job of carrying the mail from Dublin to Condor where she began her route. From Condor, she traveled south three days a week along the Old River Road to Lothair in what was then Montgomery, but which now lies in Treutlen County.
Female mail carriers were rare. The forty-five-mile route was often isolated. Any miscreant looking to steal cash or a valuable document could easily rob a carrier along the road. But Mattie would not be deterred. She hitched a Texas broncho to her small road cart to allow her to outrun any thieves. Her horse, faster than a hemidemisemiquaver in a John Phillip Sousa march, never failed Mattie.
She always got the mail to its destination on time or well ahead of its scheduled arrival. If she was accosted, Mattie was as fearless as anyone. To insure her safety, she carried a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in her side pocket. Mattie was considered a crack shot, and no one who knew her would ever contemplate trying to take any mail or in anyway impede her delivery schedule. Lacking no doubt about her ability to defend herself against any highwayman or tramp in her path, Mattie Hester held little respect for members of her own sex who feared to venture out into public without an escort.
A prime example of Mattie's determination occurred during a winter rainy spell. After nearly a week of constant rainfall in the summer of 1890, the creeks and streams along the mail route had swollen beyond their banks. Messer's (Mercer's) Creek, which serves as the boundary line between Laurens and Montgomery (now Treutlen) counties had become a raging torrent. The long bridge, usually dependable for most crossings, was in danger of being swept away at any moment. Its abutments were already gone. Upon her arrival at the bridge, Mattie surveyed the perilous situation. Recognizing the danger ahead, but acknowledging the necessity of the mail being delivered, Mattie decided to plunge ahead. "If there is any possible chance to cross, I intended to cross, even if I have to swim," said Mattie. Mattie whipped the hind of her trusty bronco and plunged into the turbulence. Her horse found itself tangled in a patch of vines in five feet of water. Instinctively Mattie cut the helpless horse from its harness. Battling shoulder deep raging currents Mattie persevered, all the time dragging the cart until she could reach the bridge which by then was cover with water itself, but still standing. She managed to make it across and did her pony. After a moment or two of rest, Mattie hitched the drenched horse to the wagon and resumed her journey, albeit she excusably took nearly an hour to travel the remaining seven miles to Lothair.
Mattie's duties at home and the pittance of a salary she received from the Postal Service led to her resignation as a postal carrier. One might think that this fiercely independent, pistol packing and hard charging woman might have a manly image. To the contrary, Mattie was described a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution as "a beauty of a real southern type, wavy black hair, deep blue eyes, beautiful figure and complexion with the whitest teeth imaginable." "Her jaunty air and pretty face never failed to attract the attention of strangers, as she rattled swiftly by in her cart, never looking to the right or to the left, but attending strictly to business," the reporter continued. I
n addition to her admirable qualities of dedication to her work and striking beauty, Mattie was considered to be an astute businesswoman. Following her father's death at a relatively young age in 1890, Mattie took over the management of the family farm. Mattie took part in all phases of the farming operation, from cultivation to planting and from harvesting to marketing to the highest bidder, the latter of which were among her greatest talents. Always looking for a way to improve the income from her home place, Mattie ventured into the woods behind her house and saw money in the trees. She cut some of the trees and personally assembled them into a raft. In the process she had to wade throughout the swamp, sometimes with water up to her waist. Mattie's brother took over at that point and piloted the timber raft down the treacherous waters of the Oconee and Altamaha rivers to the port city of Darien, where the logs were sold at a handsome profit. The venture became so lucrative that Mattie saved a few of the trees and invested some of the income into constructing a split rail fence around the Hester farm. By the best count available, Mattie cut about five thousand rails during her first five years of managing the farm. Mattie spent her spare time teaching young people how to shoot. She also a talent for penmanship and drawing.
Mattie's marksmanship came in handy when someone needed defending. On an early December evening in 18906, a Mr. Palmer was giving a dance party in his home in the Martha community near Tweed. Mattie's entrepreneurial abilities included the sale of spiritous liquors. It was said she sold her stock freely among the male party goers, many of whom found themselves under the influence of Mattie's liquor. As more and more whiskey was consumed, tempers began to flare. Mattie found herself engaged in a heated argument with Henry McLendon. Maggie drew her pistol and shot her antagonist. Mattie's brother rose to her defense, but was brutally beaten about the face with a pair of brass knuckles. Alfred Shell, a steam mill owner, was also shot and seriously wounded.
Mattie seemed to disappear after that. Was she forced to leave the community? If so, where did she go? Did this beautiful and fiercely independent woman ever marry? Maybe one day we will know.