Wednesday, June 17, 2020

But wait! There's More--The murder of Mary Ellen Gurganus Pratt


murder, Rebecca Gurganus, David Gurganus, Mary Ellen Gurganus, Thomas Pratt, Bibb County, Elisha Reece
There is no question that Reece murdered Mary Ellen (Gurganus) Pratt, nor that he seriously injured Ellen's elderly Father David. The story is well documented and includes witnesses to not only the murder, but to the events leading up to the murder. In addition, Elisha Reece never denied either killing Ellen nor mortally wounding her elderly father, David Gurganus. 

The story about Ellen, sister to my fourth great grandfather James (Gur)Ganus, intrigued me. Research had led me to not only the court records about the murder trial and subsequent hanging but also to many newspaper articles that were widely published throughout the US. The details of the story created a great deal of excitement and the hanging reportedly attracted close to five thousand people who came to witness Elisha's death at the gallows.

Those who have followed my blog for a while may remember the sensational story I shared about the murder back in 2012, but for those who are new to my blog, I suggest that you read the full detailed story first, which can be found in three parts:




Despite a large amount of information I was able to originally find about the murder, I knew there was another side to the story. A line in the final newspaper article intrigued me and left me wanting to find more. Referring to Elisha, it read: 
"Before leaving the prison, he gave an imperfect sketch of his life and of the circumstances connected with the murder." 
Although I know we never fully know all the whys and wherefores of any event that occurred over 100 years ago, I wondered what Elisha had shared about his life and the circumstances of the murder and so I had attempted to find a place where his final words were recorded. 

Based on the testimony of witnesses, I wondered, was Elisha Reece really motivated to commit murder solely because Ellen rejected his proposal and swore out a peace warrant against him? Despite efforts to find more, what I shared in my blog eight years ago appeared to be all that was available about the story.....that is until recently. 

A few weeks ago, while looking for any new additions to newspaper collections that might provide added insight about my ancestors, I stumbled onto Elisha Reece's confession!!!  --a testament to the fact that things are always being added online and it's always worth the effort to check back. 

While the article is a bit lengthy, if you are as curious as I was about Elisha Reece's justification for killing Ellen and mortally wounding her father, you will find the following confession worth the read: 


Confession of Elisha Reece
The following is the confession of Elisha REECE, who was convicted at the July Term of Bibb Superior Court, 1849, of the murder of Mrs. ELLEN PRATT, in this county on the 16th of May last; made at his own request in the presence of THOMAS BAGBY, Deputy Sheriff; WILLIS H. HUGHES, County Jailor; Dr. R. McGoldrick, the County Surgeon, and taken down by W. K. DeGraffenreid, Esq., at half past 9 o’clock, on the morning of the day of his execution, Friday, September 7th, 1849— 
“I was born in York District, S. C., but left there and went to Mecklenburg County, N. C., where I married and remained some time. I finally left and came to Wilkinson county, in this State, where I remained for about twelve months, and then removed to the Cherokee country and remained there until the first of this year, when I came to Wilkinson County, in this State, where I remained for about twelve months and then removed to the Cherokee country and resided there until the first of this year, when I came to Bibb county, the place where I was living when the crime was committed, for which I am about to forfeit my life. I am the father of seven or eight children—have been twice married—my last wife is still living, and at her daughter’s in Floyd county. I came to this county on the 4th of January last and rented a house from JOHN H. DAVIS, near the residence of DAVID GURGANUS, the father of the unfortunate woman whom I murdered. This difficulty commenced by my having heard two mornings in succession, some person halloo at a camp near my house. The second morning I saw the woman, Mrs. ELLEN PRATT, leave her father’s house and walk up the road by the fence and go into the woods just above the camp and did not return until after sun-up. I went to Mr. GURGANUS’ well for water and whilst drawing the water she came out the woods to the house. I said to her, in jest, that I had seen a sight that morning.—She asked me what sight I had seen?—and I replied that it was useless to tell her, as she knew herself. Her father and her mother were present. This led to a quarrel and hard feelings between the family and myself. About a week afterwards, and on the day of the murder, I started to a blacksmith’s shop, to have some work done and to have it finished by the time I should call for it. On my return from the shop I stopped at Mr. GURGANUS’, to get some things I had left, and Mrs. PRATT saw me as I approached the gate. She told me not to come in, and abused me very much. After this I went home and commenced ploughing, and old Mrs. GURGANUS came, brought my things and threw them over the fence. I was drinking all this time, and when I quit ploughing, was quite overcome with liquor. I started to Mr. DAVIS’, to carry the plough home, and carried my flask to get it filled at the grocery, on my way to DAVIS’. I got the liquor, went to the workshop, and while there saw Mrs. PRATT pass, going towards home. It struck me that she had been to Esquire RILEY’S after a Warrant, as I had heard she had threatened to take me with one. I left the shop and went to Hop Davis, to see if she had the Warrant. DAVIS had told me that if she did take me, he would stand my security. DAVIS told me “she had got a Warrant for he went with her to get it.” I asked him what kind of a Warrant it was? –and he told me it was a Peace Warrant, I then asked DAVIS to take a dram—he refused—but I took one. I then told him that they (meaning old man GURGANUS and his family,) could but get what little I had and my life too.—After this I think I went home, got my gun, and on my way met Major ARMSTRONG. When I got near the gate, the old man came out and asked me what business I had there. I made some reply. The old man said something else—I jerked the gate open and struck him with the gun. Just at this time Mrs. PRATT ran out and I shot her. I went home—knew that I had done something wrong—thought I would escape, and started—but changed my mind, and was returning home when I was taken. If I had been sober it never would have occurred. I feel resigned to my fate, and hope it will be a warning to all who shall see me executed. Signed  ELISHA REECE.”  At bout half past 1 o’clock yesterday, REECE was executed, in the presence of several thousand persons, of all grades and both sexes. He met his fate, we learn, with the utmost fortitude. (1))

I had hoped that reading Elisha's side of the story would help establish the facts of the event, but once again, it seems to have created as many or more questions than it resolved. 

The article did provide some background, but it certainly didn't show either Elisha or Ellen in a very favorable light. For instance, I found it interesting that Elisha didn't know for sure how many children he had, stating that he had "seven or eight children." I also took note that his wife was living in Floyd County with her daughter and he had moved quite a few miles away to Bibb county and wondered about the story behind that decision. Elisha's revelations about Ellen's activities certainly weren't flattering to her and I wondered if there was truth to his claims about the fifty-year-old widow's actions that night prior to her murder or was his story an effort to get revenge for the scathing reports about him in the newspapers? Had Ellen acted out of anger because he called her character into question in front of her parents? Or was his action the result of the bitterness of a rejected suitor as she and others had claimed? Others testified that he was angry because she rejected his proposal and sought to retaliate. Was there truth to that story or was that simply the story she told? Regardless, certainly, his drinking had helped to escalate the situation, a fact he acknowledged when he said, "If I had been sober it never would have occurred."


justice, Murder in Macon, A southern Sleuth, Mary Ellen Pratt, Elisha Reece, Elisha Reese, Bibb County, hanging
Either way, in the end, Ellen was dead and justice was served when Elisha was executed. But the question remains, how much of Elisha's confession was true? We will never know. But finding the article underscores that there's always more to the story. 


1.  Confession of Elisha ReeceThe Southern Museum (Macon, GA.) 1848-1850, September 08, 1849, Image 3, Accessed on Georgia Historic Newspapers May 17, 2020. 


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2020, All rights reserved. 
  No use without permission 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Zombies are Not My Thing


Fayetteville, Georgia, Senoia, Ganus, genealogy, ancestry, North Georgia, CarrolltonFayetteville, Georgia. Tell people you are going there and some want to talk about the popular series "The Walking Dead"  filmed in nearby Senoia. In fact, knowing that the Ganus family lived in Fayetteville for many years, someone recommended that I watch the series so I could see the area where my family had lived. So, I gave it a try, but I didn't last ten minutes. Apparently, zombies are not my thing, but being a genealogist, dead people are.

On our October trip to Georgia, one morning we drove from Carrollton where we were staying, to Fayetteville to see the area where the James (Gur)Ganus family had lived for nearly 30 years. 

Driving through North Georgia helped me better understand a few things about my ancestors and their moves in the 1800s in Georgia. 

For instance, the distance from Fayetteville to Carrollton didn't seem like much when viewed on a map, but driving the fifty miles brought new perspective as I considered the difficulty of taking that same trip in wagons through the dense trees while also navigating either through or around the numerous rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. Driving the distance helped me understand at a different level that the 76-mile move from Fayetteville to Cedartown that James' son, John made about 1850 had not been a casual event, but an intentional move.

I loved seeing the homes tucked back in among the trees and the numerous churches and cemeteries everywhere we drove. I wondered if James' son, John Ganus heart had ached for the beauty of Georgia when he and his family moved to the flat wide-open farmland of the San Luis Valley, Colorado in 1886, and then onto the plains of Oklahoma about ten years later.

Starrs Mill, Fayette County, Georgia
Starrs Mill Fayette County 

A few miles from Fayetteville, we stopped at the beautiful Starrs Mill on Whitewater Creek. It was peaceful and serene there. Although the current mill isn't the original mill that was built in 1825, I wondered if the Ganus family had reason to go to the original mill or if they knew the family who owned it.   


Starrs Mill, Fayette County 


James and Betsy (McCluskey) Gurganus moved to Fayette County in time to be included in the 1840 census. I've always wondered what the push or pull was that influenced that move. Prior to Fayetteville, James and Betsy had lived in Bibb County where James' father David Gurganus and his stepmother Rebecca were living.

Fayette County Court House, research, genealogy
Fayette County Georgia Court House
The year 1838 was a pivotal year for the Gurganus family. That year, Mary Ellen (Gurganus) Pratt, sister to my 3rd great grandfather, James, was murdered. I shared that story HERE. That same year, James's brother, David was arrested in an unrelated incident, a story I shared HERE.

Is it just a coincidence or is it possible that either or both scandals contributed to James' move at about that same time and also contributed to the shortening of his name from Gurganus to Ganus?

Fayette County was created in 1825, so it was a relatively new county when the Ganus family first moved there. At that time the population was around 7,500 people and, "....there were two churches, two schools, three stores, five barrooms, a printing office, and a Division of the Sons of Temperance (or there probably would have been more barrooms)." (1)  Over the next thirty years, while Georgia continued to enlarge its borders and grow, James and Betsy worked on their farm and raised their children, ten in all. 

The Ganus family was living in Fayette County in  1862 when smallpox broke out. Impacted families who contracted the disease were quarantined as Fayetteville struggled to control the outbreak. 

The Ganus family was also in Fayette County when the War between the States broke out and they watched four sons go off to war, and one never came home. Although no large battles took place in Fayette County, it was the scene for several skirmishes and individuals have recorded some of the frightening experiences they experienced when Union soldiers came through. 

The Ganuses would have been among those who endured the challenges experienced during the years of reconstruction when basic commodities were scarce. "In 1867, the State of Kentucky sent corn and bacon to this (Fayette) County. The  Justices wrote . . . corn and bacon will be contributed to the suffering citizens of our County who are unable to support and help themselves."(2)

By 1870, Elizabeth had passed away and James moved in with their daughter Mary and her husband Burton Cook and that is the last record for James.  Although I feel confident that both were buried somewhere in Fayette County, there is no record of where either James or Betsy was laid to rest.

So this is my tie to Fayette County and why I was excited to pay a visit to The Fayette County Historical Society while there. The volunteers were so kind and eager to help. 


Fayette County Historical Society, Fayetteville, Fayette, Georgia
Fayette County Historical Society
Marriage records, genealogy, Fayette County Marriage Records, Book C
Fayette County Marriage Records, Book C

I was thrilled to learn that among their collection were marriage record books. James and Betsy's oldest child, Mary married Burton Cook in nearby Dekalb County and their son, John, my second great grandfather married Olivia Rainwater in Cedartown, Polk County. However, their children Margaret and David both married in Fayette County. Even though I already had the dates of their marriages, I loved being able to view their entries in the actual book. 



Margaret Ganus, James Blackmon, Fayette County Marriage records
Margaret Ganus and James Blackmon's marriage entry 



David Ganus, Malinda M. Davis, Fayette County Marriage records
David Ganus and Malinda M. Davis' marriage entry 
Not only did I not see any zombies while there, but I also didn't find any new information, yet I was so glad to have visited. A lot can be said about the experience we have of seeing the area where our ancestors lived and the feelings we experience as a result as well as the increase of understanding we gain in the process.

It was hard to leave Fayetteville that day and I couldn't shake that feeling that I had unfinished business there. Hopefully, someday I will return.  


1.  The History of Fayette County 1821-1971  published by the Fayette County Historical Society, Inc., First Edition, December 1977, The Fayette County Historical Society, p. 20

2. Ibid,  p. 20


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2020, All rights reserved. 
  No use without permission 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Rainwater Ford-I DID go there.



Joshua Rainwater, Mary Peterson, Olivia Rainwater, Tallapoosa, Rainwater Ford
Rainwater Ford on the Tallapoosa



Back in 2012 I wrote about my desire to someday visit Rainwater Ford, a landmark located outside of Tallapoosa, Georgia.   

I became aware of the property when I bought the book by Lois Owens Newman, "Haralson County, A History."  On page 222, I read the following:


"The Rainwater property, lot 157 lies along the Tallapoosa River and it is on this lot that the well known Rainwater Ford is located." (1990) 

A little research confirmed that my third great grandfather, Joshua Rainwater, had owned the property. In 1832, for the sum of $100.00 Joshua purchased Land Lot #57 in the 8th District of Haralson from Abner Carter. At the time, it consisted of 202 1/2 acres and was located in Carroll County, but due to boundary changes, the property now lies in Haralson County. 


genealogy, research, a southern sleuth, ancestry, family, Georgia
Rainwater Ford
Published by the U. S. Geological Survey 

Joshua was born on the 13th of November 1791 in South Carolina. He was the seventh of eleven children born to Solomon Rainwater and Ruth Felton. On January 20th, 1814, at the age of 23, Joshua volunteered to serve in Captain Alexander Morehead's Company, Col. Nash's Regiment in the battle that would be known as the "War of 1812." He survived his time in the army and returned home to South Carolina. Joshua married, moved his family to Georgia and later, after the passing of his wife Mary, he moved with sons John and Abner to Texas. There he applied for a pension and thanks to that document, we are able to see his signature. 



Joshua died on the 15th of August 1878 and is buried in Rock House Cemetery in Hamilton County, Texas. 

Visiting the location of Rainwater Ford had long been on my bucket list. I was so excited when in the fall of 2019, my husband and I decided to take a trip to Georgia. I pulled out my list of "must-sees" and we planned our trip. 

By plugging the longitude and latitude for Rainwater Ford provided on GA HomeTownLocator  into Google maps, we were able to find the location of Rainwater Ford. The area was beautiful, the dense trees lining the rushing water of the Tallapoosa and we could clearly see where the water was more shallow. 

Standing there on the bridge that spanned the river, I tried to imagine a time when Joshua and Mary and their children lived there. I imagined their sons and daughters fishing in the river and playing in the trees lining the river. I imagined the children cooling off in the water during the hot summer months.  I also imagined their daughter Olivia's delight when as a married woman, her husband John Monroe Ganus bought property adjacent to Joshua's. 

I wondered how many people took advantage of the shallow crossing there to cross the Tallapoosa and if the ford ever benefitted Joshua financially. 

It was a beautiful spot and I was thrilled that not only were we able to find it, but that finally, I could really say, "Rainwater Ford--I DID go there!" 


Rainwater Ford on the Tallapoosa 

To learn more about Joshua Rainwater, see the previous blog posts:





Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2020, All rights reserved. 
  No use without permission