Part Four by Edna Matthews Liggin
Catherine Cook Mabry was a little woman, scarcely weighing 100 pounds, yet, her fortitude was so great, that faced with the tragedy of the murder of her husband, she kept the farm operating and directed the activities of her twelve children.
In the year 1885 her husband, William Pierce Mabry, stepped outside to investigate a noise. He was killed by bullets from four concealed assassins. This murder, west of Shiloh, and the arrest and trial of the four, attracted parish-wide attention, and was covered in detail by the Farmerville Gazette. The four, who claimed they intended to shoot someone else, were brought to trial in Farmerville before Judge Young with Joseph Mabry giving testimony. No record has been preserved giving the result of whether they were convicted or not.
Regardless of the fate of the four murderers, Catherine Mabry was now a widow. The Mabry farm was a little over a mile northwest of the present town of Bernice, although, at that time, the site was only a “big woods.” The Farmerville-Homer Road came close to the Mabry farm. Later, the Mabry place became the Sallie Andrews place, but the same old well supplied the water that the tiny widow and her twelve children drew from its depth. Near the farm stood Mt. Olive Church, used in earlier years as the school. Nearby was Mt. Olive Cemetery, which is still cared for today. A new fence was recently added by the descendants of the Mabry children.
The William Pierce Mabrys married in Alabama, living at Muscle Shoals across the Dog River (boundary between Mississippi and Alabama). They made the move to Louisiana with two children, Jim, age 4, and Henry, age 2, traveling in a dog cart pulled by oxen. They crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg on a ferry, and continued across North Louisiana to Patton Town. This was a settlement near present-day Lisbon. There was a store operated by Dr. Patton, that accounts for the name. Later they moved to a site, located between land owned by R.T. Moore and John Hammond, where William Mabry was murdered, homesteading the land for twenty-five cents an acre. The first home of the young William Mabrys, with their two small sons, had a separate log kitchen, and probably, out to the side, a shed for William Mabry to work as a blacksmith and a woodworker.
As William and Catherine Mabry began to make their farm productive; to become part of the Mt. Olive settlement; eight more sons and two daughters were born. An old photo made in later years shows them, the sons, strapping and tall, standing behind their tiny mother.
After the murder of her husband, Catherine Mabry continued to operate her farm with the help of these twelve. She kept the farm going, remaining active herself until she was quite old. All except one of her children lived to be over 80 years of age. When old age released her from her responsibility, she sold the place, and lived her remaining years with her children and grandchildren.
We asked her grandson, Brooks Mabry of Shiloh, of his memories of his grandmother. He said she visited in his home many times. He remembers her selling the farm. Brooks’ father, Henry, was the two-year-old who crossed the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Later, as a young man, he crossed the Texas border, married and lived there for the remainder of his life. However, at age of 87, he visited the old Mt. Olive home place.
“Were the Mabrys at Mt. Olive visitors to Shiloh?” we asked Brooks Mabry. He told us that they came to Shiloh to buy goods, and he especially remembers tales heard as a child of their bringing wheat to be ground at the Shiloh mill. He says the mill was located about where the baptizing pool for the Shiloh Church was located. The tales he heard as a boy involved the Mabrys coming the eight or nine miles in a wagon, pulled by oxen. They spent the night, sleeping in the building that was the original church house, using the log benches for beds. They fed the oxen out of a trough built on the end of the wagon. Catherine Cook Mabry’s grandson says he remembers seeing the sills of this old church house, and the remains of the wheat mill, although all traces of them are gone today.
How many loaves of bread did Catherine Mabry bake from wheat ground at the Shiloh mill? How many did it take to feed ten tall sons, and two daughters, as well as herself? Shiloh was at the height of its prosperity when her husband was murdered in 1885, yet only simple crude methods of transportation were available, and a journey to Shiloh behind oxen was a slow and laborious one.
Courage was needed by Catherine in those years as she and her two daughters performed the many household tasks required of them. There were ten sons to feed, clothes were to be washed, sewing to do, as well as many other household tasks. Did she ever go with her men folks to Shiloh? No wonder when she got older, and her responsibilities were finished, she sold the place and spent her remaining years visiting children and grandchildren.
Brooks Mabry told us he got his first “schooling” at Mt. Olive, the church and cemetery land donated by R.T. Moore. He remembers hearing J.W. Melton and a preacher named Waldrop preach there. When Bernice came into existence, Mt. Olive became part of the Bernice church. Today, it is scarcely remembered by anyone.
Who were the kith and kin Catherine Cook Mabry visited? James or Jim, who crossed Dog River as a small boy, to come to Louisiana, married Amanda Shackelford; Henry, the Texan, married Samantha Goss; John married Fannie Byram; Paschal chose Palmyra Lowery for a wife; while brother Frank married Cecily Lowery. Alonzo married Rosa Copeland, and Milton married Minnie Copeland; while Joseph chose Miranda Lowery for his wife. Alfred’s wife was Ella Barrett. The two girls also married… Elizabeth to Jim Russell and Mary to Joe Lewis. The tenth son, Charley, married Bessie Barrett. The three Lowery girls chosen by the Mabry brothers to be their wives were sisters, as were Bessie and Ella Barrett. The Barretts were pioneer settlers in the area north of Mt. Olive.
After visiting for some years in these twelve or more homes, Catherine Cook Mabry died in 1913. She was buried beside her husband, William Pierce Mabry (murdered in 1885) in the Mt. Olive Cemetery. She had been a widow for 28 years, living west of Shiloh. Each year was a testimony of her courage, left behind to witness to a host of descendants who revere her memory.
I would love to have more information on the murder of William Pierce Cook. Please comment or contact us if you can tell us more.
Edna Matthews Liggin will always be remembered as the official historian of Union Parish and the Book Mobile Lady. She began writing the Uncle Lige column in The Gazette in 1939. Over the years she wrote many articles about the Union Parish history, the people there and her bottle collection. In her retired years she enjoyed visiting the older people in the Union Parish community.