Friday, October 21, 2005

Two Young Coosada Braves

In 1819 Wyatt A. Bibb of Coosada, Alabama, was elected the first Governor of the state of Alabama. He had served two years as the first territorial governor. Coosada was an Indian Settlement in Elmore County on the Alabama River and a landing station for the steamboats that plied their trade between Mobile and Wetumpka.

Governor Bibb's home was on a plantation two miles from the river and one mile from the B and N Railroad Station between Montgomery and Birmingham. It was known as "Auburn Hill".
While in office as governor, Governor Bibb was killed by being thrown from a horse. He was buried on his home place in a country cemetery a few hundred yards east of the home. The graves of about one hundred of the early settlers of Elmore County are in this cemetery, including the graves of Governor and Mrs. Bibb. The tombstones among the many shade trees in the cemetery always created a rather ominous impression on my childhood mind. I'll confess a cowardly fear of the dark as a boy which I attribute largely to the weird ghost tales that so many old people hatched up and seemed to enjoy. They frightened old and young alike by supposedly true experiences with ghosts and haunted houses. In those days, for the lack of other forms of amusements, most men folk became practical jokers and resorted to jokes on their friends that sometimes were truly unmerciful and cruel on the victims.

After Governor Bibb's death, my maternal grandfather, Col. Washington Lary, purchased the Bibb estate. A few years after mother and father married, they moved from Montgomery into the old home in Coosada -just twelve miles from Montgomery. We lived there many years until the old home burned to the ground in 1898. Three of their children, Vallie, Ed and Claude Ferrell were born in that house. Emma Mae, the oldest was born in Montgomery before they moved to Coosada. Father had a country store, a sawmill and cotton gin at the L and N Railroad Station and farmed the home place (mostly cotton).

We had many relatives in Montgomery on both father's and mother's side, the boys and girls of the Montgomery families spent lots of time with us every summer. Mamie and Warren Hall spent more time with us than they did at their own home and we considered them brother and sister. Our summer guests were not confined to the children by any means - we had a continuous house party every summer. We spent many happy times with our close relatives. In those days families were closer, they looked forward to their visits with each other as they had no cars to travel as we do today. Horse and buggies and a few trains were our only mode of travel. A trip into Montgomery by train on the L and N was a real adventure to us, we had more fun then.

In 1897 our Uncle Lonnie Ferrell, who had a select boy's school in New Orleans, and our Cousin Willie Tullis and our Uncle Sapp Jackson, a doctor of Union Springs were visiting us at Coosada for a couple of weeks. All three were practical jokers of the breed I mentioned. My first cousin, Mat Pearson, who became General Pearson of World War I and World War II (and was a career Army Officer during his lifetime), lived in Montgomery and spent most of every summer at Coosada with us. At that time in 1897, I was seven years old and Mat was eleven years old. These three men could hardly wait to seize the opportunity of testing the bravery of Mat and me. Mat was the typical leader - into every devilment that could be conceived. He was leader of the Dexter Avenue Gang in Montgomery. They ruled the town and as the old saying goes, Mat wasn't afraid of a circular saw.

So as my story goes, after considerable conniving, these "Three Wise Men with Uncle Lonnie as spokesman came up with a proposition for Mat and me.- a get rich quick scheme. They offered each of us five silver dollars if we would sleep on the edge of the cemetery all night, agreeing that Mother would furnish us two quilts and a pillow to assure us comfort for sleeping. At that time, neither of us had seen five silver dollars, much less own such a fortune. I doubt seriously that the three would have made such an offer had they felt they would have to pay it. Five dollars was a lot of money, needless to say, Mat and I were so excited the thought of the price we were to pay didn't enter our minds. It was agreed we could go to Montgomery and spend all that money just as we desired. The offer was quickly accepted and dreams of the big times ahead overwhelmed us. We lost no time in getting our quilts and pillows from Mother and made our pallets at the cemetery.

No thoughts entered our minds except the acquirement of the five dollars. That noon at the dinner table, the "three wise men" talked among themselves very excitedly about some ghost experiences they had heard over the years and many that had happened in our very cemetery. These remarks were for our ears but not directed to us. Uncle Lonnie told about how Governor Bibb's ghost had come out of his grave a few months before and had gone to the lot where he had been killed - he rode one of the horses all over the fields to get even with the horse for killing him. His ghost was constantly chasing every horse he saw. Uncle Sapp told about his seeing several ghosts in the cotton field near the cemetery playing leap frog. Before dinner was over, my enthusiasm had cooled considerably but I managed to keep quiet.

The three girls, Emma Mae, Mamie and Vallie, were left out of the deal. Vallie couldn't see why we two boys were making that kind of money and asked if they wouldn't let her sleep at the cemetery too. The ghost tales didn't seem to score with her one bit for that kind of money. It was finally agreed that Vallie could sleep between two apple trees in the field halfway from the house and the cemetery. She got her pillow and quilts laid out in that spot.

Every possible moment from dinner on, the three in ear shot of us kept up a continual, well-conducted, scare conversation. Believe me, it sounded mighty real as all three of them were good actors and the way they told things, no one could possibly help but believe them. As each hour passed that afternoon, my spirits sank lower and lower and lower. I was a mental wreck, as the sun went down and night approached, I threw in the sponge and declared that I didn't want to make the money.

These three were brutal and had me crying, accusing me of being a coward (which of course I was) and a disgrace to our entire ancestry. I was the first to ever be proven a coward, inconceivable they said. But the more they talked, the further I was away from the job. Finally they accepted my resignation and said they were glad that Mat and Vallie would make their easy money. Mat had been quiet for sometime, after their reproach to me, he meekly said, "If Ed ain't going, I ain't going either". Evidently his 'bravo' didn't cover the dark or ghosts. They could not shame him into the job as he had me for an excuse. They worked on us unmercifully but finally had to tell us to go bring our quilts in from the cemetery. It was about good dark, we tried to get them to let us get them in the morning but Mother even was embarrassed that we were so cowardly and said we must get the quilts. Mat called me aside and said if I'd go with him, he would go with me. During all the excitement Vallie hadn't wilted in the least and said she was going through with the deal.

Mat and I got over the yard fence and slowly walked across the cotton patch to the cemetery. I was scared to death after hearing all those tales about the ghosts and Governor Bibb and the cemetery. We were twenty feet away from the quilts on the edge of the cemetery, when suddenly - a ghost began to rise from behind one of the head stones and came right towards us. We were petrified, it seemed ages as the ghost got closer and I couldn't move I was so scared. I finally managed to turn my head to see Mat - he was fifty yards away running to the house. With the help of the Lord, I began to run and ran as fast as he was running. I got hung on the wire fence and almost tore my clothes off, Mat ran for a big basket that was kept under the steps and they could not even find him for quite sometime. Of course it turned out that Uncle Lonnie was the ghost, Mother said she would never have allowed things to go that far if she had known what they were going to do.

Believe it or not, after all that terror, Vallie did not budge from the deal. Our Uncles couldn't believe she would try to sleep outside. They insisted Mother let them see if she would really go through with it as they admired her bravery. Mother consented only that she could stay out under the apple trees for an hour to prove she would go through with it. Mother sent Mary Jackson out with a chair to sit in the field about fifty yards away. After an hour they called to Vallie to come in. She called back, "Send me the five silver dollars and I will". They sent the money.


Written April 22, 1970 by Edgar Dawson Ferrell on request of Gloria Dalton Sorenson.

Incidentally, Mat Pearson fought all through World War One and Two in the Infantry. He was decorated for bravery with several medals but on the battlefield of Coosada Cemetery - he was a failure.

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