Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Woman with Steel Ribs to Match Her Steel Spine (or, You Don't Mess with a Girl's Corset)

By Heather Blanton
Doing research for a book (Hang Your Heart on Christmas), I came across an amazing story of a woman with a steel backbone ... and ribs to match! Fashion saved her life and I mean that in the most literal sense possible.
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. Nor did he care to.
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, pun intended. 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 followed him. I don’t know which of the two 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 the woman to a tree and shot an arrow into her breast. Only, the steel ribbing and thick material slowed the arrow enough so that it didn’t kill her. Merely lodged in her breast bone.
Hollywood wouldn’t even believe this, yet it is fact.
From his eye witness report, Private 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 [the arrow] 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 Texan. 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.
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.


Connie said...

Heather, How in the world did you find this gem of a story? However, I feel very sad that they all, Citizens and Native Americans, went through this. It is terrible that Sam Houston's beliefs and policies toward the Native Americans were not honored and enforced after he left office. Growing up and living most of my life in Texas, I have heard of the attacking Comanches and the Great Comanche Raid. I have never heard this story. If they made this into a film, I do not think people would believe it. As the saying goes - sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

Hi, Heather, what an interesting post and an even more interesting character! You made me chuckle. Amazing what those people went through!

Heather Blanton said...

Crazy-tough women!