Sister Ama

parker-ama-tintypeAma Elizabeth Parker was born 01 December 1882 in Arkansas (probably Logan County), and likely named after two of her father’s sisters, Ama and Elizabeth. William “Billy” James Parker was a physician who had moved from his native Tennessee with his wife California “Callie” Garton. Ama was their first child.

On Christmas Day of 1885, Ama became ill, and her father diagnosed her as having spinal meningitis. After several days of illness, she died between 5 and 6 in the morning of 29 December, having just turned three years old on the first of the month.

Callie's Letter to Her Parents
Callie’s Letter to Her Parents

Billy's Letter to His Parents
Billy’s Letter to His Parents

Callie and Billy each wrote a letter home to their parents with the news of Ama’s death. (You can click on each image above to get to a PDF.) These are heartbreaking to read, even more than 100 years removed. Callie’s letter states “Mother, I want you to take good care of her picture for it is just like her.” This may be the tintype pictured above, which has been passed down to my husband.

parker-ama-headstoneAma was buried in the Caulksville Cemetery in Logan County, which is just northwest of Little Rock. I have searched but can’t yet locate any official birth or death record.

This painting was made from the tintype. The flower in the hand is a typical treatment to indicate the painting was made after death.


Callie and Billy went on to have three more daughters and a son, in that order. The second of these three daughters was Zenna Hortense Parker, whose daughter Geraldine Parker Jones is my mother-in-law. Geraldine recounts her mother’s memories about this painting, which now hangs in Geraldine’s house.

The portrait of my mother’s sister Ama (that hangs in the dining room at Tyson Street) hung over the mantle in the parlor in my grandmother’s house. My mother would say “There’s not a thing in this house that I want except the picture of Sister Ama.” Well, my mother was long dead when the house was broken up, and her sisters said that my mother always wanted this picture and that it should come to me. That is how I came into the picture of Ama. My Aunt Pauline used to say that she used to go talk to the picture when people were mean to her. When Aunt Pauline wasn’t feeling very loved, she would go talk to “Sister Ama” and tell her about it.

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