Robert Odom was born on August 2, 1822, in Wayne County, Tennessee. It has been assumed by many of us that he was born during a family move from the east coast to Arkansas, perhaps in a “wagon train.” Robert’s name first showed up on a census in 1840 for Johnson County, Arkansas where he was listed as head of the household with no other males living in the house. There was, however, an older woman, presumably his mother, and a few other women about his age, presumably his sisters. So, we have come to the conclusion that his father was dead or had left the family by 1840. A few of my fellow researchers have also come to the conclusion that his mother’s name was perhaps Charity, although we have no hard evidence to support this hunch.
On August 22, 1844, Robert married Zerelda Angeline Swift in Harmony, Johnson County, Arkansas. Zerelda was the daughter of John Dean Swift and Hardenia Burnley Haybatley Siota Clough. Zerelda was born on February 18, 1828, in Henry County, Tennessee. Her family was also part of a “wagon train” moving from Louisa County, Virginia, to Johnson County, Arkansas.
In 1846, the United States entered the Mexican War and on June 10th, Robert enlisted with the U.S. Army in Clarksville, Arkansas. Robert is listed on the Muster Roll of Captain P.B. Collins. He served as a Private in Capt. Collins’ Company A in the Battalion of Arkansas Volunteers and was commanded by Captain William Gray. Robert served at the Fort Gibson Stockade in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma—which, ironically is only 10 miles from where I grew up! On October 23, 1846, he deserted his post and returned to his family in Johnson County, Arkansas. Because of his desertion, Robert received a dishonorable discharge.
On May 6, 1861, Arkansas seceded from the Union following the lead of several other Southern states on the heels of the fighting at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. On April 19, 1864, Robert enlisted in the 2nd Arkansas Infantry. This was a Union outfit, even though Arkansas was part of the Confederate States of America. He served in Company G as a Private. Robert served the Union at Lewisburg, Arkansas, which was located near present-day Morrilton, Arkansas. Robert deserted once again from the Army on August 10, 1864. The following is a transcription of a notation in Robert’s service record file from the Adjutant General’s Office in the War Department:
“The charge of desertion … against this man is removed as erroneous. He was tried before a Gen. C.M. which convened at Fort Smith, Ark., May 13, 1865 for Desertion. [Robert] did at Lewisburg, Arkansas about the 10th day of August 1864 desert his Company and Regiment and remained away ever since until arrested in Johnson Co., Ark. About the 1st of May 1865 was found guilty & sentenced to forfeit to the U.S. six months pay & allowance and be confined at hard labor for the term of six months … Fort Smith Ark. Was designated as the place of confinement … He was released from confinement July 31, 1865.”
Because the charge of desertion was removed from his record, Zerelda was later able to collect a pension from the U.S. Government.
Robert and Zerelda produced a total of 8 children that lived into adulthood. Here is a list of each child and his/her dates:
Charity H. Odom (1846-unknown)
Jacob K. Odom (1848-1923)
John Dean Odom (1850-1926)
Jesse E. Odom (1851-1894)
Richard Brown Odom (1854-prior to 1900)
George Washington Odom (1860-1952)
Edward Lee Odom (1863-1946)
William "Doc" Lenthicum Odom (1866-1946)
Robert died in Harmony, Johnson County, Arkansas, on March 11, 1881, and was buried in the Harmony Cemetery. Zerelda lived until July 9, 1908, when she was buried next to Robert. In 1906, she composed a short letter describing her life in which she stated that she was currently living with her daughter. Eventually, many of their children moved to Oklahoma around the time of the land rush right before statehood in 1906.