Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Twenty Mules, Grandpa and Me

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The timing could not have been worse.  As I answered the phone and learned that my Grandma Ganus had died, my heart dropped. The sadness of loosing her was compounded by the fact that I was expecting our third child any day and would not be able to travel the nearly 800 miles to attend her funeral and say goodbye.  Although for a second I was tempted to make the trip, I knew better, and in the end, it was a good thing because I delivered our baby the very next day.

Grandpa Ganus
Grandma & Grandpa Ganus at the hospital
I remember that achy, sad feeling that came over me as I realized that she was really gone.  I would never again visit her in her little house in Colorado.  We wouldn't ever have her fried chicken or lemon pie again.  My Grandpa Ganus had died 21 years earlier and so, while I was sure that Grandma was ready to go, I was equally sure that we were not quite ready to give her up just yet. 

A few months later, as my father and his sister cleaned out  Grandma’s house, they called me and asked me if there was anything that I wanted.  I did not hesitate for even a second.  I wanted the mule train.  The mule train had been in Grandma's house for long as I could remember and I had always loved it. 

While growing up we had  lived some distance from my grandparents and so we would generally visit yearly.  On those visits, I remember so clearly walking through her house and just looking.  I would look at her buffet in the dining room and her dishes.  I would look at her Nick-knacks that she had collected over the years and the family pictures, along with all of the other little familiar things that defined Grandma's home.  I was always so glad to be there.

imageWithout a doubt, my favorite of Grandma's treasures was the model mule train.  Although it was positioned high above a door way so that I could not inspect it closely, I had never seen anything like it and it had always intrigued me.  In addition, I knew at least some of the story and that story made me feel close to Grandpa who had died when I was just a little girl.  

While living in Colorado, Grandpa was diagnosed with emphysema.  As the illness progressed, it was difficult for him to breath in the high San Luis Valley, and so Grandpa went to stay with his brother, Ernest, in Oklahoma hoping that the lower elevation would help.  Grandma was teaching school and so remained for a time in Colorado. The lower altitude did help, so Grandma joined Grandpa in Oklahoma where they lived nearly ten years.  It was while Grandpa was ill and living  in Oklahoma that he built the mule train.

While Grandma and Grandpa had initially moved to Okmulgee, Grandma later got a job teaching in Supulpa, so they loaded up their car and moved there.  For the move, the wagon train was placed in the back window of their car in the sweltering hot days before air conditioning.  It was there that the wagons were melted by the hot Oklahoma sun.  I wonder if Grandpa felt a pang of disappointment when he discovered how the sun had warped the side of the wagons?

imageI was thrilled when my dad delivered the mule train to me.  I could not believe that I was lucky enough to actually become its new owner.  I remember inspecting it carefully and crying as I thought of Grandpa building the wagon train and of Grandma keeping it all those many years.  And then I saw it.  Rolled up and laying in the back of the last wagon was a little piece of paper.  As I carefully unrolled the paper, I discovered the names of the mules written in Grandpa’s own hand !




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Mule’s names 
Jack & Jill
Pat & Mike
Chick & Chuck
Tom & Jerry
Mat & Kitty
Dock & Chester
Mack & Jim
Dick & Nell
Dan & Mable
Liz & Lew
Skinner,  Borax Bill

We have moved several times since that day, but I have always carefully chosen a special place in my home for my cherished treasure.   I am sure that when Grandpa built that wagon train more than fifty years ago, he had no idea that someday it would be a source of great joy and serve as a link between him and  his only grand daughter. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

“For One of the Jury Saw it Done”



I love to read old newspapers.  Newspapers played such an important role in the communities of our ancestors and allow us to take a glimpse into the world that they lived in.  I love discovering the events that took place during my ancestors'  lifetimes.

I stumbled upon the article below about five years ago and it never fails to make me smile.  Initially it caught my eye because of my family surname, Gurganus, but it's the florid, descriptive writing that makes me pull it out and re-read it time and again.  From the description of Ephraim Sykes and his actions preceding his testimony to the jury's verdict,  I feel that I can imagine the entire scene. I am sure you will be just be as shocked as I was when you realize that a member of the jury was also a witness to the crime.   (Sadly, I think I tend to overlook the the fact that Nicodemus was accused of committing a horrible crime because the writing is so entertaining.)

 Read on.
The Defendant stood before a Jury of his Country, indicted under the name and style of Nicodemus Gerganus for an assault and battery on the body of Stephen Simpkins. Declining for the present to answer the charge directly, he plead a misnomer, suggesting that his true baptismal name was Nicholas Ganus, and by no means Nicodemus Gerganus, as erroneously charged in the Bill. This preliminary and somewhat collateral issue was submitted to the Jury.  Ephraim Sykes, a sallow, lantern-jawed dweller of the coast, of such remarkable length and sinuosity of person, that calomel never could find its way through him, was brought to the stand as a witness to prove by what name the Defendant ought to be called in legal proceedings, and handed down to posterity. In reply to a question proposed by the Defendant’s Counsel, he hitched up his trowsers, spit on the floor; drew his broad foot over it, and answered . I have hearn him called Nicholas Gerganus and Nick Gerganus. some folks calls him Nicodemus Gerganus, and some calls him Nicodemus Ganus. Sometimes his neighbors calls him Mr. Ganus, and I don’t know if I hav’nt sometimes hearn him called Mr. Gerganus but I, in ginerally, calls him Nick Ganus.  The Jury retired and brought in a verdict that the defendant was a poor shoat any how, and it was not worth while to be bothering themselves about his name: as to his name, it is one of those small things about which the law careth not. He had done little for posterity, and posterity would care precious little about him. He had undoubtedly gouged Simpkins, for one of the Jury saw it done. So they had agreed to bring him in guilty of the charge in manner and form. 
Stokes & Stokes Reporters, From the Fayetteville Observer, North Carolina, March 27, 1844, Issue 1399, Col F.

 Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Swift Justice—Moonshiners in Court - Part 3

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Tuscaloosa Court House used for U.S. District Court1

The jury needed only twenty minutes to deliberate on the charges facing Marion W. Gurganus, William Isaac Gurganus, John T. Morgan and Johnnie Gurganus.  In my mind, I can envision the judge reading the verdict and all straining to hear every word.  What did they hope to hear?   Did they consider it even a possibility that the men might go free or was their only hope for leniency?  

According to the newspapers, both Marion and young Johnnie had confessed that there had been a conspiracy and that they had indeed shot at the revenuer and the Marshall.  Newspaper accounts also indicated that Marion had not hired legal counsel and that he had been totally open in court about his role in the shooting and the part others had played. How would his confession impact their sentence? 

Justice was swift in this case.  The initial incident had taken place on April 13, 1910 and court convened on the evening of Thursday, June 10, 1910 and finished the following morning.  The entire process had taken a relatively short amount of time by today’s standards. 

As the verdict was read, both John T.Morgan’s wife and mother began to weep.    Marion and John broke down as they were removed from the courtroom.

According to several newspaper reports, Marion Gurganus, Isaac Gurganus and John T. Morgan were given ten years each on the charge of “conspiring to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties,”  and, in addition, on the second charge, which was “conspiracy to interfere with or injure an officer of the government in the discharge of his duties,”  Marion and Isaac were given twenty years and John T. was given ten years.  The three would serve their time in the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta.   Johnnie, however, being only 14 years old was sentenced to ten years in the Federal Reform School in Washington D.C. 

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Federal Penitentiary Atlanta 1920 postcard2


I tried to find a written opinion from court records regarding the case in various legal subscription databases (with a little help from friends in the legal profession), but was not successful.  I  had hoped to find microfilmed court records at the Family History Library in Salt Lake, but could not.   Consequently, I have instead relied on newspaper articles  from The Atlanta Constitution3 and Montgomery Advertiser4.

If I had left things at that, I would have gone on assuming that  Marion and his boys went to prison for the charges listed in the newspaper.  But while  searching on Ancestry, I found Marion listed on  the U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index5.   His index entry indicated that Marion was incarcerated on 13 June 1910 and was released on 23 Oct 1925, which meant he actually served a total of about 15 years. In addition, according to that record,  his crime was “conspiracy to murder.”   While this charge made sense to me, the newspaper articles had not suggested that they were ever charged or tried on murder.  A search on the National Archives site, Southeast Region, Atlanta,  brought up the index “Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Inmate Case Files, 1902-1921.  The information recorded there confirmed what I had found on Ancestry.  Marion, William Ike, and John Morgan were all listed, along with their crime of  “Conspiracy to Murder.” 

Without definitive court records, it is difficult to determine exactly what the charges actually were. It is strange to me that all of the newspaper articles indicated that they were charged and found guilty of conspiracy to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his duties, without any mention of them being charged with conspiracy to murder, although certainly the murder of the revenuer was at the center of everything that happened.  Oh how I wish I had a copy of those court records in order to know exactly what occurred.

I wonder what happened to each of the men once they were released? How had the event and their imprisonment changed them?  Did young Johnnie spend the entire ten years in the reform school as originally dictated?  I wonder if Marion and the others replayed the events of April 13th, thinking how they could have made different choices and achieved a better outcome.  It always amazes me how quickly things can escalate and how rapidly things can evolve into something so different from what was originally planned.

According to  the 1930 census, Marion returned to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He was listed as a widower and living with him were several daughters, a son-in-law and a grand daughter.  His occupation was listed as farmer and he was living within a few homes of other family members.  By all appearances, he resumed his life, but I wonder if it ever was really the same.  I also wonder if he ever again was tempted to make an extra dollar making moonshine. 


UPDATE: A distant cousin recently shared a picture of this family, which can be found HERE

1.   Wikipedia Commons, in Public Domain

2.   Wikipedia Commons, in Public Domain

3.  Newspaper articles:
“Trio Given Sentences,” Montgomery (Alabama), Montgomery Advertiser,  11 June, 1910, p. 7, Digital images, Genealogy Bank, Genealogybank.com

“Found Guilty of Conspiring to Interfere With Rights of American Citizen,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution, 11 June, 1910, p. 9 col. 3, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com)

“Marion Comes to Prison,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution, 13 April, 1910, p. 2 col. 3, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com)

“Revenue Agent Surber is Back After Raid,” Atlanta (Georgia), The Atlanta Constitution,  17 April, 1910,  p. 15, col. 1, digital image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com)


4.   “Trio Given Sentences,” Montgomery (Alabama), Montgomery  Advertiser,     11  June, 1910, p. 7, Digital images, Genealogy Bank, http://Genealogybank.com

5.  Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, ca 1880-1922, Ancestry.com



Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2013