Your idea has merit - it's possible husband and wife had a lengthy separation for any one of a dozen reasons . . .
On the LDS/Family Search site I found this: Charity Obedience BROWN, died 7/23/1953 in Ranger, Eastland Co., TX. female, white, died at 79 years, 4 mos & 15 days, birth date March 8,1874 in Georgia. Married. Father - James Butts. Housewife. Burial 7/25/1953 Evergreen Cemetery. film:4165508
Charity had an estimated DOB as about 1873 (age 7) in the 1880 census.
James P Butts shown in 1910 census (Eastland Co., TX)
as age 38 <1872> and in 1930 (Upton, TX) at age 54 <1873> in 1880 at age 8 <1872>.
Rose Ella in 1880 is age 10 years <1870>, another possible "match" for her on LDS site gave a DOB as 12/25/1869 which lines up with the 1880 census info to some degree.
Found two possible sons of hers & Thomas Jefferson COX: Willie Jack Cox born 9/7/1900 in Gorman, TX & died at age 65 on 1/1/1966. Another possible son, Oldren Carnot Cox - didn't take down that data but can always go back and find it again if needed.
Also, weren't many of those years following the Civil War spent in rebuilding the South and reviving trade ????? Perhaps James was somehow involved in that recovery.
Need to get some "shut eye" - Thursday is here but, thankfully, it's still dark outside . .
Really enjoy working with you on this!!! Thanks!!!