Naomi Piker Bryant and the author.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 22, 2001

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aomi Piker Bryant may be the only person in Arkansas or the country who is the child of a Civil War veteran. Four state historians and a genealogist who were asked about that possibility said they had not heard of any other living person whose father had fought in that war.

            Bryant, who is now 92 years old and lives in the Jackson County community of Cross Roads, said that her father, John Peter Piker, was 16 years old when he joined the Union Army. His parents emigrated from Germany and settled in Indiana where he enlisted to replace his father in service.

            Bryant has a picture of her father in uniform when he was nearly 17 years old. When Bryant was born in 1909, he was already 63 years old and had been living in Arkansas for 14 years.

Text Box: John Peter Piker

            She doesn’t remember many of his war stories, but he spoke frequently of serving in the kitchen while on duty. He liked to cook and she thinks that cooking was definitely one of his duties. Bryant also remembers her father saying that after serving for a good while, he left the Army without permission. She explained that he was afraid the Army would come and get him, but like many on both sides, his absence was designated unofficial leave.

            In 1870, he married his wife Sarah, with whom he had five children. She died in 1885 at the age of 32 in Terre Haute, Ind. Late in 1886, Piker married Mary Alice Richards, Bryant’s mother.

            The family moved to Illinois in order for Piker to pursue a career in farming. He and Mary Alice had five children of their own before setting out for Arkansas in 1895.

            He inscribed in the family Bible, “Came to Ark. In covered wagon October 29, 1895.” The family settled in Bradford and Piker wrote to Levy Tull in Illinois stating: “We have plenty of work here, and wages are about the same as there.”

            He noted that Bradford was a fast-growing town where normally high-dollar commodities were inexpensive.

            Tull would later marry Piker’s oldest daughter Emma, who remained in Illinois. Tull had asked permission to marry Emma and received a letter from Piker stating, “For my part, I have nothing to say. I have always thought well of you and enjoyed your company. We had many a long walk together, and if I would have had any objections to make, then would have been my time. So if you and Emma agree, you have my best wishes, and hope you have a happy life together.”

            Bryant’s father’s service in the Union Army did not earn him many friends when he first arrived in Arkansas. “After a while, things got better,” she said.

            The family relocated to the Cross Roads area west of Bradford. The family did well farming. “We grew cotton, corn and hay,” Bryant said. “We had hogs, cattle, chickens, eggs, potatoes and beans. We didn’t have to buy much.”

            The Pikers became parents five more times after moving to Arkansas. Bryant was John Piker’s 15th and youngest child.

            She has good memories of him. He had only a second-grade education but read the Bible and knew it well. “He could tell us children where to find anything in the Bible that we wanted to know about,” said Bryant.

            He was one of the organizers of the Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, which met in the District 17 school building where Bryant attended school. She was about 12 years old when the congregation was formed, and she became a member during a revival at that time.

            Her father set high standards for the children. “He didn’t want us to play cards because it might lead to gambling,” she said. “And he didn’t want us to dance. I tried to live up to what he taught us.”

            At 16 years of age, Naomi married Lacy Bryant, who had been a classmate at the District 37 school. Their three-year relationship led to their marriage in 1925.

            Three years later, they bought the land where Bryant still lives. Aside from farming, Lacy drove trucks, at first transporting vehicles and later hauling produce.

            Bryant’s father was killed in 1927 by his son William. According to Bryant, William, her half-brother, had been a loving son and brother making her father’s death at his hands more tragic than it otherwise would have been.

            William had served in the Army during World War I. Upon returning home, he began to show signs of mental instability, such as waking his wife in the middle of the night to cook dinner. His mental instability proved to be fatal, slaying his father and wounding his two brothers, Newt and Lev.

            Bryant explained that William’s experiences in the war caused him to lose his mind. After the shootings, he spent more than 30 years in a state hospital for veterans.

            “He got out for awhile, then got sick and went back to the hospital,” Bryant said. He later died in the same hospital.

            She feels she has had a very good life.

            “I’ve enjoyed my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren,” she said.

            Several of them still live close to her and make sure she is getting along. They take turns staying with her.

            One of the most enjoyable days in her life was the day her husband quit driving a truck for a living and came home to stay with her permanently. That meant that when either one undertook an endeavor, they could do it together.

            Lacy would also be at home to help her in an emergency. Once when her husband was away before retiring, someone tried to break into their home. Bryant had to drive off the intruder by firing a rifle into the air. Lacy died in 1994.

            According to family figures, John Peter Piker had 78 grandchildren and more than 130 known great-grandchildren.

            Naomi Piker Bryant is doing well and has a devoted family. She enjoys the unique status of being the daughter of a Civil War veteran.

For more on John Peter Piker, see the 2002 edition of White County Heritage, published by the White County Historical Society.