Margaret Fuller Elam, Soldier’s Daughter: From the South Corner of Shiloh

Part Three by Edna Matthews Liggin

No evidence has been found in Margaret Elam’s life that she had the “second sight” or was psychic, which is perhaps a good thing. What courage would she have had to face life if she could have foreseen that at the age of 100 she would be living in a totally new world; that she would be blind and in a nursing home?

She was born February 3, 1874, across Middlefork Creek, south of Shiloh, the daughter of Alf and Melisa Fuller. She grew up during Reconstruction in the South, working hard on the farm of her parents as a girl. This hard work was the keynote to her life of courage as she grew from childhood to old age. She faced life on a daily basis. The days became years, and, finally, the years added up to a century.

Her parents had come as children to Union Parish from Alabama to marry after “Uncle Alf” returned from the Civil War where he fought in nine major engagements. When “Uncle Alf” was in his nineties, he boasted of only having a “ketch” in his back. Today Margaret Fuller Elam takes no pills, and beside her blindness, only complains of a “little back trouble.”

The Fullers settled in the Shiloh and Fellowship area, on both sides of Middlefork Creek, that was to have a bridge connecting the communities in the 1850s. When Uncle Alf’s grandmother, Cynthia Fuller, died in 1861 her will showed she left property, slaves, and ten children.

That vital element, pioneer courage, was strong in Margaret Fuller as a child, as it was in her father, although she never thought of herself in such a way as she grew up on the Fuller farm. She worked hard helping her father. In the family were her brothers and sisters: Tommy, Ida, the twins–Savanna and Cynthia–Nanny, Jeanne, William, and Beulah. The children went to school in the summer, to Fellowship Church School, walking and carrying a lunch of bread and teacakes.

Margaret Elam today remembers details of childhood with clarity, her memory still unclouded by age. One of her first teachers was J.R. Edwards, who later became a well-known preacher in the area. She remembers the well-known Professor C.A. Ives who taught at Fellowship, boarding, she says, with Levi and Drucilla Liggin. Later, he became well-known at LSU and wrote a book on education.

As a little girl, Margaret lived on a farm that raised sheep, goats, cows, cotton, corn, peanuts, geese, horses, and ducks, as was typical of a self-sustaining farm of the latter part of the 19th Century. Mrs. Elam was asked where they ginned their cotton. “At Lee Green’s Gin,” she told us. “Sometimes, Pa and Levi Liggin took their cotton through Shiloh to Stein’s Bluff. This was a two-day journey,” she added.

Mrs. Elam has been a member of Fellowship Baptist church for 87 years! Her baptizing took place in the Fellowship pool when she was 13 years of age, with J.R. Edwards performing the rites. “What memories do you have of Shiloh?” she was asked. She related memories of going there to visit her Fuller relatives. Although Middlefork had a bridge, sometimes they crossed on a raft, her father swimming over and fetching the raft from the other side. She remembers Herd’s Store, and once attended a Concord Association meeting at Shiloh Church, probably in 1889, that lasted from Friday to Monday afternoon.

In discussing her duties on the farm, her light clear voice told us she was busy most of the time. She got in stove wood, pine knots, picked ducks and geese for feather beds, and helped her father build rail fences which kept the sheep enclosed, but failed to contain the nimble goats. Goats remained on the farm.

A retired peddler, Otto Stoker, recalls calling on the Fuller farm, occupied by Margaret, a widow, at that time, and her two sisters. He had slaughtered a goat for the sisters, and was in turn given some of the goat meat. “It was quite a task in winter,” Margaret Elam said, “to keep wood for the two fireplaces and the wood stove.” In the summer, she and her sisters, carried plows to the field for “Uncle Alf.”

Against this background of farm work, there was the annual departure of her father for countless Confederate Veteran’s meetings to other states, and once to Washington, D.C. He made many horseback trips to Shiloh. His memory remained keen all the years of his life, and Margaret grew up on tales of the Civil War.

Together, they attended many church affairs, family reunions, and friendly gatherings. “I forgot to tell you about going to foot washing once,” Margaret Elam told us on one of our later visits to the Pinecrest Manor Home at Bernice. “They all washed each other’s feet in the church house.”

In time her father, “Uncle Alf”, became famous as a Civil War veteran, and a well-known figure with his long hair and beard. He became the last surviving Civil War veteran in Lincoln Parish.

As a young girl, Margaret faced with courage the tragic death of her sister, Beulah, who, at the age of 17, caught fire in a burning pasture, and succumbed to her burns. Margaret’s mother died in 1914 of swamp fever, and so did her brother, Tommy.

Margaret married young, to Henry Clem Elam of Missouri, with a Rev. Holmes performing the ceremony in her home. The next few years they lived in many places as Margaret’s husband cut ties and made shingles. Four children were born to them, but two died at early ages. Of the two survivors, Myrtle married Walter Scott, and Adele married Elijah Thomas. The Scotts have three sons, and Mrs. Elam says, “They are scattered all over Texas.”

At our recent visit with Mrs. Elam she told us she looked forward to her grandson bringing his grandson to see her. It is almost beyond comprehension to know that in her mind are memories of her father’s war of over 100 years ago, and at the same time a fifth generation of her own descendants is coming to visit.

The courage that caused her ancestors to pioneer a new land, to fight for that land, that held Margaret Fuller Elam without faltering for 100 years, is a quality beautiful to behold.

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I don’t have a picture of Mrs. Elam, but would love to include one.  If anyone has one and doesn’t mind sharing please send it to me.

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