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Helen Viola Jackson, the last known widow of a Civil War veteran, passed away on December 16, 2020, marking the end of an era in American history. Born in 1919, just after the conclusion of World War I, Helen grew up in the small town of Niangua, Missouri, surrounded by the simple rhythms of rural life. She was the seventh of ten children born to Thursa and James Jackson, a hardworking farmer and Independent Order of Odd Fellows member.

James Bolin, a Civil War veteran and twice-married widower, also lived in Niangua, living a solitary existence in a modest home near the railway tracks. Bolin served with distinction in the 46th Missouri Infantry and later the 14th Missouri Cavalry and was a familiar figure in the community. Despite the lack of significant combat during his service, Bolin played a crucial role in guarding important routes against Confederate guerrillas in the tumultuous aftermath of the war.

The spring of 1865 saw Bolin and his fellow cavalrymen tasked with securing the Wire Road in Missouri, a strategic lifeline vulnerable to raids by Confederate sympathizers. Even after Robert E. Lee’s surrender, the region remained volatile, with lingering pockets of resistance threatening peace and stability. Bolin’s service in this volatile period highlighted the enduring scars of the Civil War, shaping his life and the lives of those around him for generations to come.

Helen Viola Jackson’s connection to James Bolin forged through the bonds of marriage, offered a poignant glimpse into the enduring legacy of America’s bloodiest conflict. As the last widow of a Civil War veteran, her passing marked the end of a chapter in American history, reminding us of the sacrifices and struggles of those who came before us.

Helen Viola Jackson’s marriage to James Bolin was born out of practicality and mutual respect rather than romantic love. Struggling to make ends meet during the hardships of the Great Depression, Helen found solace and support in James, who had fought for the Union during the Civil War. Despite their age gap and differing backgrounds, James cared deeply for Helen and saw in her a chance for a better future.

Living in Missouri at the time, Helen faced economic challenges that were all too common during the tumultuous 1930s. James, recognizing Helen’s plight, made a heartfelt promise to leave her his pension after his death, ensuring she would have some financial security in the years to come. However, Helen, wary of appearing opportunistic, never applied to receive James’s pension after he passed away in 1939.

Throughout her life, Helen remained steadfast in her commitment to James’s memory, choosing not to remarry and keeping their relationship largely private. It wasn’t until 2017, at the age of 98, that she spoke publicly about her marriage to James Bolin, shedding light on a remarkable chapter in American history.

Helen’s passing in December 2020 marked the end of an era, as she was recognized as the last surviving widow of a Civil War veteran. Her story serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of America’s past conflicts on the lives of ordinary people, and the quiet heroism found in unexpected places.

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