Dr. Timothy Hudson
A nineteenth century version of today’s hit reality show, “The Bachelorette,” played out in Farmerville in the 1890’s. The young maiden searching for love was Miss Emma Bradley, a native of Old Fort, North Carolina. Described as a blonde “symmetrical in form and beautiful in feature,” Miss Emma was a young woman of eighteen years, well-educated and for several years had served as belle of her village. Most of the local young bachelors attempted to court her, but she turned a deaf ear to their protestations of love. Very romantically inclined, she refused to be content with an ordinary courtship. Unable to find her heart’s desire locally, she finally decided to advertise in the matrimonial columns of a newspaper for potential suitors, publishing her photograph, biography and stating her desire for a loving husband, and soliciting qualified suitors.
Miss Emma received over one hundred responses to her advertisement, and after pouring over their photographs and letters, she selected only two to receive a rose. To the others, she returned their pictures by mail and communicated with them no further. One of the finalists was Mr. Lewis Magness, of Cleveland County, North Carolina, a young man of twenty-five and described as a “fine looking young man.” The other was William Riley Turnage, of Farmerville, Union Parish, Louisiana, a man of nearly fifty-four, described as “slightly humpbacked, and not by any means a handsome man.” A native of Georgia, Turnage married about 1862 in Arkansas and after the war, his family moved to Farmerville, where he farmed for the next twenty years. After giving Turnage ten children, his first wife died in 1884, and he remarried ten months later. After having one son, Turnage’s second wife died in 1891. So Miss Emma’s choice lay between a handsome bachelor of twenty-five, or a man older than her own father with eleven children, six of whom were older than her.
Miss Emma invited both of her potential suitors to visit her in Old Fort, and so Turnage took the steamboat from Farmerville to Monroe, where he then went by train to Old Fort. By chance, Magness’s route to see his potential bride coincided with the final leg of Turnage’s trip, so on Saturday, 3 December 1892, both men arrived at Old Fort on the same train. They did not become acquainted on their journey, but after arrival, both men called on Miss Emma at her father’s residence. As they gazed upon her for the first time, “both were deeply smitten,” and each man protested his love and desire for her heart with ardent and heartfelt entreaties. Miss Emma found herself quite fond of both men, and her inability to decide between them put her “in much distress of mind.” She retired for the evening to ponder between them, leaving both men in doubt that Saturday night.
Miss Emma deliberated for much of the night between her suitors. Early the next morning, she sent for Mr. Magness. Informing him that after she had “prayerfully considered” his protestations of love and desire, she had decided to marry Mr. Turnage. Her rejection overwhelmed Magness with grief so great that he decided he could not return home, and instead, he went to the train station and purchased a one-way ticket to the far west.
Miss Emma then sent for Mr. Turnage, informing him that she had decided to marry him whenever he desired. Thrilled at the prospect, Turnage chose that very day for their marriage. After lunch, the happy couple took the eastbound train from Old Fort to Marion, North Carolina. Upon their arrival that evening, they alighted and hurried to the Eagle Hotel, where they obtained a marriage license and sent a messenger for the Baptist minister to perform the ceremony. A large crowd assembled on short notice for the wedding that evening, Sunday, December 4th. The next day, the happy couple left for Mrs. Turnage’s new home in Farmerville, Louisiana, “amid the tears of relatives and a shower of rice.” Turner took his bride to New Orleans for a brief honeymoon before continuing to Farmerville. The editor of the Marion “Record” seemed skeptical of their match, remarking that “Cupid is blind…or, at least, he would seem to be careless now and then.” He also wrote, “Why she chose her oldest and homeliest beau is left for conjecture.”
Emma and William Turnage settled in Farmerville, and ten months after their marriage, Emma gave birth to a daughter, Bessie Turnage. Sadly, their unlikely union did not prove long, for after only a year of wedded bliss, William died in an accident: he fell from the third floor of a building under construction. Emma returned to live with her parents briefly, but in 1896 she remarried to Mr. H. C. Voss, a building contractor in Monroe, Louisiana. They had one daughter before Voss’ death in 1902. Heartbroken, Emma again returned to her parents in Old Fort, where she died in 1903, twice-widowed at the tender age of only twenty-nine.
Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.