(September 9, 1936 – September 16, 2009)
Greg Cheek comments at her funeral service on the 20th of September, 2009:
Frances has left her mark on me as you can see by the way I am dressed today. We both shared a passion for the Civil War, or as many of us call the War Between the States.
I came to know Frances when my family and I moved to Yadkin County in 1999. My first impressions of her were true. She was a very straightforward person, a straight talker, with the ability to get to the point, with a no nonsense approach to everything. I have a great respect for that.
But it was her passion for Yadkin County History that struck me most. I soon got involved in the Historical Society, and then the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Yadkin Gray Eagles. Her son, Danny Casstevens was the commander at the time, and Frances always gave her undying support to the camp through her participation in the Bonnie Blue Belles.
After reading her first book regarding the War, The Civil War and Yadkin County North Carolina, I was hooked. Like all of her books, it is written in easy to understand, common language. That was Frances. In all, she wrote 7 books on the Civil War in less than 10 years.
What inspired her to write? Maybe the preface from this book can help us understand a little (excerpt from the first paragraph of the preface on page 1).
“I HAVE COMPILED this book because I love my county, my state, and my country. I am a historian and a genealogist - the two disciplines are really inseparable. This book is not so much a history of the Civil War as a portrait of the political, religious, socio-economic, and genealogical history of the people of Yadkin County, North Carolina, who lived through some of the worst years in the history of our nation. To the scholarly historical and genealogical research, I have added the oral history and traditions of Yadkin County.”
On occasion, I accompanied Frances on speaking engagements regarding the War. Sometimes however, she would put me on the spot by asking me to do the speaking. I was honored, but always felt uncomfortable doing so, knowing that she was the one with the knowledge.
I began to understand more and more that she preferred to speak more through the written word.
After joining the 21st NC Troops Reenacting unit in 2003, which was based in Forsyth and Guilford County, she pressed me to know why we did not do more events and living histories in Yadkin County. Her question rung in my ears for several months and finally led some of us to consider and start another unit in Yadkin to do this very thing. We now portray the 28th NC Troops, of which there were 2 full companies from Yadkin County, Co. I - Yadkin Stars and Co. F - Yadkin Boys. When the unit was started in August of 2006 in Marti Utter’s back yard, Frances was present and announced that she was going write a book about the 28th. A year later the book was available on bookshelves, and is now serving as a great resource for anyone researching the history of this unit.
I also learned that day that her ancestor, Sgt Samuel Speer Harding, served in Co. I of the 28th NC. The flag on her casket today is a reproduction of the flag of the 28th NC that was captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 during “Picket’s Charge”. He was present and survived the battle that day, but was later killed in action at Reams Station in August of 1864.
Frances was also THE key player in getting 6 Civil War Trail Markers placed in Yadkin County, spending countless hours and days chasing down sponsors and money, gathering pictures, and writing the text for the markers. This was a giant step in putting this part of Yadkin County’s history literally on the map. Her hope was that this would stir future generations of Yadkin to have a deeper understanding and appreciation of it all.
I think it is appropriate to conclude with something else that Frances wrote (excerpts from the epilogue on page 125).
“IN THE LATE 1990’s, Yadkin County is still a wonderful place in which to live. It is still rural and it is beautiful. Nestled near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the air is clean and the water is pure. But the face of Yadkin County is changing. There are many new homes, mobile home parks, schools, businesses, industries, and churches. Almost daily, the land is being cleared of forest to make room for new construction. Yet, in many ways, it remains distinct from its neighboring counties, and the people of Yadkin County want it that way. Although farming is still an important part of the economy of the county, it is no longer the principle source of income. Most of the population hold jobs outside the county in Winston-Salem, or other nearby cities, to which they commute daily in new cars over superhighways, and where they spend much of their income. After work, they return to the peace and quiet of their homes and communities in Yadkin County."
"We are beginning to feel the stress of the environmental problems of the late twentieth century. There is a need for a countywide water and sewer system, and when that comes, there will be more industry and greater economic and population growth. What the county will be in 200 years after the American Civil War in 2065 is impossible to predict. One thing is certain: neither Yadkin County nor the rest of the country will ever be anything like it was on that day in April of 1861, when Confederate guns fired on Fort Sumter, or as it was four years later on another spring day when the guns were stacked at Appomattox.”
With her passing, Frances has not surrendered though. In fact, she has only begun. Her passion for history has affected and inspired many of us here today. As we all know, she had many hopes also for the future of Yadkin County and its people.
A friend of mine once said, “How can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?” Frances has certainly done her part in helping us to know where we’ve been.
We will miss her ...she was a great lady and friend.