Nathan Bedford Forrest, Bedford as he was called, was born in the backwoods of Tennessee on July 13, 1821 with a twin sister named Fanny to William and Mariam Beck Forrest. His parents were simple folk. William was a Blacksmith and Mariam performed all the necessary chores and functions that kept her family fed and clothed on the wild frontier. In Tippah County, Mississippi, Nathan's father died in 1837. The family was large. Besides Nathan, the eldest, Mariam would bear six sons and one daughter to William Forrest, and after six years of widdowhood, bore bore three more sons and a daughter to Jospeh Luxton. Only six boys lived to adulthood.
Mariam Beck Mentally and physically was a remarkable woman and was considered to be the source of Nathan's power. Mariam was of Scotch-Irish blood and Presbyterian faith. She was described as almost six feet tall, of large muscular frame, and weighed about 180 pounds. Her hair was dark, her eyes a bluish gray, her expression gentle and kind but possessed great force of character, a determination of will, and unusual courage. Hers was the ruling spirit of the household and, although strict and severe with her children, it was said she won their affectionate love and retained it throughout her life. (3)
The frontier that Nathan grew up in was wild and untamed. You learned to survive at an early age. Hunting and tracking were not a sport but a necessity to survive. Bedford’s education did not come from the classroom. While he did attend some school, he was needed at home to help his Father support the family. Young Bedford was self educated using the wilderness and his life on the frontier as his classroom and teacher. He learned to live by his instincts and wits. Violence was part of everyday life and Bedford had his share at an early age Nathan learned to fend for himself. One story has young Bedford being intimidated by a group of young toughs at his Uncles tailor shop. The boys seemed intent on harassing the younger boy and continued to taunt him. Finally, Nathan had enough, grabbed a pair of shears and sprang from his seat towards his antagonist. The boys ran in fear. This taught young Bedford a valuable lesson: He could intimidate and disarm an apparently superior foe. (4) During this period of his life, Bedford honed his skills in marksmanship and horsemanship. He also enjoyed gambling. Each of these skills would benefit him greatly in the future . Bedford married, sired children and became a successful businessman. He was a planter and Slave trader at a time when dealing in Human’s was not only lawful, but made men wealthy. Bedford had one desire, that his family never know the poverty in which he had as a youth. It was reported that Bedford, whenever possible, kept slave families together. He clothed and fed them well and gave them better than expected medical treatment. (5)
3. Robert S. Henry, First With The Most (New York, 1944) [hereafter referred to as Henry 1], p. 20-25, 473-
474; Wyeth, p. 4;
4. Henry, p. 20-25; ; Jack Hurst, Nathan Bedford Forrest, A Biography (New York, 1993) [hereafter referred to as
Hurst], p. 20; Willis, p. 10.
5. Eddy W. Davison, Nathan Bedford Forrest, In search of the Enigma (Pelican, 2007) [hearafter referred to as
Davison], p. 27; Henry 1, p. 26; Hurst, p. 38; Wyeth, pp. 20-21.