Showing posts with label Gurganus Mary Ellen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gurganus Mary Ellen. Show all posts

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, March 4, 2015

Without Means of Support, Part 2

It was 1849 and Rebecca was living just outside of Macon with her husband David Gurganus.  Dependent on funds from the Pauper Account from Bibb County, Georgia, they got by.  David’s oldest daughter, widowed and in her fifties, had moved in with them.   

In the spring of 1849, an event occurred that changed everything.  David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen, was brutally murdered in their front yard and David was clubbed in the head with the butt of a rifle. (The complete story is told here.)

Rebecca, stood helplessly by as she witnessed the horrific scene. After the attacker fled, it was Rebecca's wails that brought a nearby neighbor running to help. Finding Ellen dead from a gunshot wound to the neck and 87 year old David, kneeling on the ground, bleeding head in his hands, the neighbor carried David into the house and then went for help.

By Harry French [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Rebecca testified at the trial of Ellen’s murderer in September of 1849, but David was not well enough to even attend the trial much less testify. Newspaper accounts indicated it was unlikely that he would ever recover. As predicted, he never did fully recover and passed away the following March.  In a relatively short time, Rebecca found herself completely alone.

Rebecca had no means to pay for David’s coffin. Inferior Court minutes show that E.B. Mims was reimbursed for the cost of David's coffin from the Pauper Account. It was also the Pauper Account that continued to sustain Rebecca.


According to the newspaper,The Macon Messenger, in July of 1850 there were three unclaimed letters addressed to Rebecca Gurganus at the post office. I can't help but wonder, who wrote her?   Did she have children from a previous marriage? Did she have living siblings that knew of her plight?  Did she ever pick up and pay for her mail and did she respond? 

What did Rebecca do next?  I will share what I know in next post. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Without Means of Support

Where would she turn next?  Alone and with limited means, Rebecca had to find a way to support herself. Her life had changed drastically in a few short years. 

It was 1852 in Macon, Georgia and Rebecca Gurganus was widowed and sixty nine years old.  If she and her deceased husband, David Gurganus, had children, there is no evidence of such and so, by all appearances, she was truly very alone.  

Rebecca had been married to David for thirty-six years.  She was 33 years old when she married David, a 53 year old widower with three boys at home. His boys James, David and John Wesley were all from his first marriage to Mary Swain and by 1830 were married and had moved away.

A Long Hard Winter, Library of Congress 1893 
In 1847, David had attempted to obtain his Revolutionary War pension, but like many applicants, he was unable to provide sufficient proof.  It had been 67 years since his first tour and while he remembered the names of a few men with whom he served, it had been almost 50 years since he lived in Pitt County, North Carolina where he entered the service. He then moved to Edgefield, South Carolina and later settled in Macon, Georgia.  It’s not difficult to imagine why he no longer had proof of his service and why none of the men with whom he had served were around to testify in his behalf.  


Beginning in 1849, David, aged, impoverished and with few options, turned to Bibb County for help.  From that time until his death, he and Rebecca appeared in the Inferior Court minutes on the Pauper Account, relying on the county for assistance.

Sometime in the early 1840s, David’s widowed daughter, Mary Ellen Pratt, who was in her early 50s, moved in with David and Rebecca and together they all lived about 4 miles from Macon, on the road to Forsyth.  Life was not easy, but they were together and for a time, that was enough.  Coming events would change Rebecca's life dramatically.

To see where Rebecca fits in, click on the Gurganus tab above and then select "David Gurganus Sr." 


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Friday, November 2, 2012

Murder in Macon--Final Chapter-- The Trial


The murder created incredible excitement in the community. Ellen had been murdered in her front yard with her father, David Gurganus and her step-mother, Rebecca, as eye witnesses. David was MY fourth great grandfather and so this was MY family and I was stunned as I uncovered the story. While I may not know all of the whys of the events, given the nature of the crime, the court records and newspapers provided rich detail about both the crime and the trial.

Tuesday May 29, 1849 Baldwin County, Georgia "Union Recorder" carried the following:
             COMMITTED FOR TRIAL
Elisha Reese, charged with the murder of Mrs. Pratt, in this county, on Wednesday last, was arrested the same evening by Messrs. Cumming Stephens, Ellis and others, some three miles from the scene of his crime, and lodged in prison.  On Thursday he was brought up before the Magistrates, Messrs. Grannis, Reid and Artope, and formally committed for trial.. . . . During the examination the accused showed but little concern.
The trial date was set to be held during the July Term 1849.  Minutes for the Bibb Superior Court provide many details, many of which I have already provided in the previous post.  A variety of individuals gave testimony, including Ellen's step-mother, Rebecca and neighbor James W. Armstrong. I couldn't help but notice the absence of  Ellen's father, David, who also was an eye witness.  I can only assume that the injuries he sustained, combined with the emotional trauma, prevented him from attending.

The defense's witnesses were primary individuals that testified to Reese's character.  Their testimonies helped me to anchor Reese to particular communities where he had previously lived, such as Habersham and Cass Counties.  The most interesting witness for the defense was his son, Frederick Reese.  Did his son provide true insight to his father's character or was he simply being a dutiful son?  Frederick indicated that his father was a man of "good character, a peaceable law abiding citizen."   He also said that he had "never known him to violate the laws of his country."  It is through Frederick's testimony that we learn that Reese was 50 years old. Frederick also indicated that he last saw his father January last in Cass County, but had not "known him since"  and that Reese had a family in Floyd County.

The evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the prosecution, with the defense only able to present individuals who knew him in his previous communities to testify of Reese's character.  Ultimately, Judge Floyd issued the verdict of guilty, and indicated that Reese was to be returned to the Common Jail of the County of Bibb.   The judge then said,
. . . . where you are to be kept in safe and close custody until Friday the Seventh day of September, Eighteen hundred and forty nine, when you are to be conducted to a gallows to be executed for that purpose in the County of Bibb outside of the corporate limits of the city of Macon, and within one mile of said Corporate limits, upon which said Gallows between the time of ten o'clock in the morning and four o'clock in the afternoon of said day, you are by the sheriff of said county of Bibb, or his lawful deputy to be publicly hung by the neck until you are dead! dead ! dead! And may God Almightly have mercy upon your soul.  

In "Reports of Cases of Law & Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia", is found the case of  Reese vs. The State of Georgia, in which the defendant moved for a continuance on several grounds.  The first was because two witnesses to Reese's character had not shown up, and secondly, because
"he could not safely go to trial, on account of the public excitement against him, from the transaction being recent, and of an unusual character, giving rise to exaggerated reports, tending to inflame the public mind, and insufficient time not having elapsed to allay such excitement, and to correct the strong prejudices produced by it."  

The court refused continuance.  The hanging was scheduled for the 7th of September, 1849.

The final newspaper article for this tragic story appeared in the Macon, Georgia newspaper, The Messenger on Wednesday, September 12, 1849.

EXECUTION OF REESE
Elisha Reese, convicted of the murder of Mrs. Ellen Pratt, was executed near this city on Friday, in the presence of some five thousand persons.  Before leaving the prison, he gave an imperfect sketch of his life and of the circumstances connected with the murder.  It is sufficient to say that his confession in every particular, corroborated the statement of the affair made through the columns of this paper at the time of the killing, and which was subsequently sustained by the testimony before the jury.
Reese deported himself with the most stoical firmness and composure.  He shed no tear, and heaved no sigh during the solemn ceremonies under the gallows.  He ascended the platform with a firm and steady step, and declined when requested by the Sheriff, to address any words to the assembled multitude.  The result of this exhibition,  has been to excite no little feeling among our people in favor of private executions, and the matter will, no doubt, be brought up before the next Legislature.  

What I would give to have a copy of Reese's life sketch along with his confession, however imperfect it was. I feel some disappointment in knowing not only that it was not recorded, but also in knowing that Reese showed no remorse and no regret for the crime.  While justice ultimately was served,  for both the Gurganus family and the Reese family, there were deep wounds that would never completely heal.  Newspapers reported that it was doubtful that David would ever fully recover physically from his injuries given his age.  While it is difficult to know to what extent David's injuries contributed to his death just ten months later, I feel sure that the emotional wounds were even deeper and  that the remainder of his days were filled with painful memories of that fateful day.

I never dreamed the day that I tediously searched the Bibb County Court records for anything about my family, that I would uncover a story of this nature.  I suppose none of us ever envisions a tragedy of this scope occurring in our own families. As we research and uncover the details of our ancestor's lives, we inevitably will find both the good and the bad, the joyous along with the tragic, with each piece of information ultimately helping us to gain compassion and understanding for those that went before.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Murder in Macon--Part 2




The murder of Ellen Pratt created considerable emotion and excitement in the community. Newspapers throughout the states reported the story, including  The Liberator  in Boston, MA  who carried the story as "The Bloody and Oppressive South,"  Shocking Murder. We can't help but wonder what events  led  to the murder of Ellen Pratt.

It had started out as a typical spring day in Macon, Georgia.  The Gurganus family lived about four miles from the court house on the road to Forsyth.  At about 11:00 a.m.,  David, Rebecca and Ellen were all sitting together out on their "piazza,"  likely trying to cool off a bit.  Ellen, a widow of about 60 years of age, was living with her father and her step mother.  It may have begun like a typical day, but soon things would take a horrible turn.

Bibb county map with the road to from Macon to Forsyth
(From Georgia Galileo)
 Elisha Reese, who was called simply "Reese" by the townspeople, had recently proposed marriage to Ellen, but she had rejected his proposal. What else may have transpired between them, we do not know, but what we do know is that her father was concerned and  had sworn out a peace warrant against Reese. Newspapers later reported that there had in fact been threats of violence made by Reese towards Ellen. When Reese learned that a peace warrant had been sworn out against him, it did not sit well.

According to court records,on the morning of May 16th, 1849,  Reese went to visit with the sheriff about the peace warrant and there was considerable discussion which ended with Reese storming off, declaring "it would only cost him what little he had and his life and he would see her out or die."   The sheriff begged him to leave her alone, but determined, Elisha set out for the Gurganus property.

Rebecca Gurganus, who was Ellen's step-mother, testified that Reese had come to their property that morning and, while standing at the gate, asked Ellen why she had told the lie.  When Ellen insisted that she had not told a lie, Reese opened the gate to enter their yard.  Ellen then said, "Reese, don't come in here," but  he continued anyway and so David got up from the piazza and walked towards the gate saying "Reese, what are you coming here interrupting us for?  We interrupt no body."  Newspaper articles referred to David as a "very aged Revolutionary soldier," and indicated that he was "scarce able to walk" and had begged Reese to go away and to not create any disturbance there.

It was then that Reese gripped the barrel of the gun with both hands, swung it at David and struck him in the head, knocking him to the ground.  Ellen, who had been standing in the piazza, immediately ran to her father to help him, at which time, Reese took aim and shot her in the neck at such close range, the wadding set her clothes on fire.  Ellen fell dead within a few feet of her father, who was still on the ground and bleeding. Within minutes Ellen was dead and David had received injuries from which he would never fully recover.  Reese turned and calmly walked away, leaving Rebecca standing there, no doubt in shock over what had just transpired.

A neighbor testified that he had seen a man pass by his property through the corn field with a rifle resting on  his shoulder.  Minutes later he heard the gun go off and the man passed back by.  The neighbor had been unsure as to what had transpired, but then heard Rebecca calling to him for help.  When he approached the Gurganus property, he discovered that Ellen was dead and that ninety year old David, whom he described as  an "old and infirm man,"  was on his hands and knees, his head was bleeding and he was delirious. The neighbor carried David into the house, put him onto his bed and then set off for the doctor and the sheriff.

What occurs next sounds like a scene from an old movie.  The neighbor went into town and found the sheriff and others, who brought dogs and set out, determined to find "Reese." Starting at the Gurganus house where they surveyed the grim scene, the dogs then picked up Reese's scent, began to circle and then took off in chase through the woods. In my mind, I can see a frantic Reese, running for his life through the woods with the barking dogs at his heels, and the men on horses in determined pursuit.  The chase was intense enough that the sheriff would later need to receive compensation for the injuries his horse sustained during the chase. Within about 30 minutes, the dogs and men were able to overcome Reese.  The men then tied Reese up and took him into town.  

I have read over the court documents and the numerous corresponding newspaper articles dozens of times, each time feeling a deep sadness.  My heart breaks for Ellen, who rejected a suitor without realizing the price that she and her father would ultimately pay, for David, my fourth great grandfather, who witnessed the murder of his daughter, something no parent should ever experience, and for Rebecca, who stood helplessly by as she watched the terrible scene unfold.  As with any event buried in the past, there is more to this story than I will ever know. Why did Reese, a 50 year old man pursue with such determination, 60 year old widowed Ellen, and feel so strongly about her rejection that he made threats of violence and eventually murdered her?  While I don't have all of the answers, I still have more to share, including Reese's trial and what ultimately happened to him, all of which I will include in my next post.    

Continue onto Part Three, Final Chapter, The Trail 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Murder in Macon - Part 1

The woman was screaming and sobbing as her father laid bleeding on the ground, but the man coldly lowered his rifle and aimed it directly at her. The gun went off.  Our daughter jerked awake ---who had been screaming?  Was a neighbor in trouble, or had it been a dream?  With her heart pounding, our daughter laid there in the pitch dark, and listened intently for any noise or sound that might tell her that it was real, but all was silent.  And then she remembered.  Hours earlier, she had been helping me transcribe some newly found court documents. Having returned from college for a weekend visit, she had become intrigued when I told her that I had found our ancestors involved in a murder trial and I was anxious to sort it all out. She had then suggested that she help me transcribe the lengthy court minutes, but little did either of us realize how chilling the details of Mary Ellen's murder were or just how much they would haunt us.

I knew that a Mary Ellen Gurganus had married Thomas Pratt in Bibb County, Georgia on the 28th of October 1838.  Dozens of times over the years I had run across the marriage entry when searching Bibb County records , but I didn't know for sure who she was.  I had a pretty good idea that she would prove to be related to David Gurganus, my fourth great grandfather, as that surname was not common in Georgia at that time,  but I could not seem to find anything more about her that would help identify just what her relationship was to my Gurganus family.  She and her husband had married and then seemingly just disappeared.

One day in total exasperation at the lack of information that I had on my Gurganus family during their time in Macon, Bibb County,  Georgia,  I decided to go through a microfilm of Bibb County Court records, slowly, page by page, looking for something....anything.  A mere five hours later something caught my eye. The sheriff  had applied for compensation for the injuries that his horse had sustained in the pursuit of Ellen Pratt's MURDERER!! I wondered- could this be Mary Ellen GURGANUS Pratt?  I quickly checked the dates and then turned to Bibb County Superior Court records and  there it was. The trial of Elisha Reese for the murder of Mary Ellen Pratt on 16 May 1849.  As I quickly scanned the court minutes, the name "Gurganus" popped off the page. The record indicated that Ellen Pratt was a widow and had been living with her aged father, David Gurganus!!!  Rebecca Gurganus, her step mother testified. This meant that she was a daughter to my fourth great grandfather David Gurganus and a sister to my third great grandfather, James Gurganus.  I could not believe my eyes.  As I had tried to imagine why I couldn't find anything further about Ellen Pratt, the possibility that she had been murdered had never entered my mind. What had happened?  Why would someone murder a sixty year old widow woman in her front yard in front of her father and stepmother?  It's a story I'm anxious to share in upcoming posts.

Continue onto Part Two of Murder in Macon

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