Monroe County obituaries offer glimpses of past
Story by Kevin McKinley | All Things Southern
The history of Southwest Alabama is like a patch work quilt composed of the lives of everyone who has called the area home.
Each patch of the quilt tells a story and adds color to our area’s history. No single area of this “quilt” tells a greater story than the history of Monroe County.
History would not be as interesting if it were only composed of dates and names. The story behind the history is always more fascinating and as Mark Twain once wrote; “truth (or fact) is always stranger than fiction.”
To that end, the Monroe Journal, the Claiborne Southerner, and several other papers have existed across different eras of the South’s history and reported the comings and goings of the people of the county. The Claiborne Southerner had many interesting feature articles during its existence. One article even gave advice to single males on what traits to look for in selecting a wife, hogs, and land.
Yet it is the assorted obituaries from June 1861 to 1925 which tell the story of a region ripe with hope and progress as well as industrial accidents, murder, passion, and transition. I found the following obituaries of great interest while doing related research in the area:
Joseph S. Green, of the Claiborne Guards, died shortly before June 12, 1861 while the Guards were doing garrison duty at Fort Morgan at the outset of the War Between the States (Civil War). The Claiborne Southerner reported Mr. Green’s death and many of the other Civil War related deaths during this era which was dominated by the Claiborne newspaper. Captain Goode, of Company C of the 5th Alabama died at Fairfax, Virginia on Sept. 25, 1861 from wounds received in combat.
War deaths were not the only obituaries covered by the paper. Sept. 7, 1861 notes the strange death of Mr. D.A. Cummins who was shot in his private room by Dr. A. B. Arthur (who was never tried for the shooting).
Following The War Between The States, Reconstruction saw an increase in violence as lawlessness spread over the land. Mr. Enoch Salter was killed by his former slave Brit March 22, 1868 near Burnt Corn. Another murder took place on Aug. 31, 1868, when James Lowrey was killed. G.P. Hammond and A. Bryant were arrested for the murder.
Several months later on June 30, 1868 G.W. Nettles was gunned down at Bells Landing by Duncan Powell. Landings could be dangerous places in that Mr. W.B. Morris was murdered at Lovetts Landing in September 1884.
Nov. 14, 1868 witnessed the shooting of S.E. Henderson at the race track by H.P. Smith.
The newspapers took time to note the passing of General Robert E. Lee on Oct. 12, 1870.
On Nov. 27, 1871 a violent duel occurred between Mr. J.B. Cotton and Enoch Riley when both men killed each other with double barreled shot guns at Pineville.
On January 24, 1872 Mrs. Files, wife of Dr. Files was murdered by a young man who struck her head with an axe. The papers never mentioned whether the perpetrator was apprehended or not.
Joe Martin was stabbed to death on March 29, 1873 by William Partin who was arrested in November of 1873 for the stabbing.
Other deaths in the era hinted at the dangerous working conditions present for day laborers. Mr. John Cross was killed on May 15, 1874 when he was crushed by heavy timbers during the construction of a gin house. Seventeen year old Osborne Edwards died on Oct. 25, 1874 near Monroeville when his gun discharged while he was crossing a fence.
Osborn Dailey died in 1882 after getting his hand caught in a gin. He died of lock jaw a few days later. Fred Stanton died in 1884 after being crushed to death in a log jam while rafting (this was most likely a timber industry related death).
Research in the obituaries and other newspaper articles often gives a clue as to the criminal justice system of the day. Mr. D.W. Rankin of Perdue Hill was shot and killed by Charles Roberts on July 21, 1879. Roberts was later acquitted of the murder.
Terry Locklin was killed April 4, 1881 by Fred Anderson who was hanged for the murder on June 24, 1881. Anderson’s hanging marks the first legal execution in Monroe County following The War Between The States.
Mob justice was sometimes the order of the day in the 1880s. Miss Carrie Boyer was murdered near Gainestown (Clarke County) in December 1885 by Alex Reed. On Dec. 24, 1885 an angry mob burned him alive for the murder.
Outlaws were common in this era and several were pursued through Monroe County. On March 24, 1894 Wyatt Tate is alleged to have murdered constable William Ikner and, on April 3, 1894, murdered Sheriff J.D. Foster. Tate met his demise several weeks later in Finchburg where on May 12 he was killed by Murdoch Fountain who was sent to apprehend Tate.
Health care was only as good as the local doctors and many of them fell to the diseases which they were treating at the time. Dr. H.L. Rankin of Monroe County died in the early fall of 1883.
He is listed as a casualty of the yellow fever outbreak which gripped Brewton at the same time. Russell Jones died of a hemorrhage of the lungs while on the river boat Tinsie Moore in route to Mobile on February 7, 1894.
Freak accidents found their way into the obituaries of the day as well. Ralph Blackwell died in April 1870 when a falling tree found its mark. It is unknown if this was a logging accident or perhaps a “widow maker” (a huge hanging branch) fell from the tree and took out Mr. Blackwell. John Gulsby died on June 24, 1888 when he was struck by lighting near Pleasant Ridge Church.
The continuity of history and our area’s rich past run together in the fabric that is Southwest Alabama; follow next week for more notable history from the area.