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I have several photos of my great-grandmother.


I like this one in front of the tree. I don't know where or when it was taken, although her appearance in this photo is very similar to those taken on the occasion of her 50th wedding anniversary in 1927. It looks like there are chairs on the lawn - perhaps there had been a family gathering.

The expression on her face is kind of sad. Maybe the sun was in her eyes.

Or maybe she was remembering the ones who weren't there.

Mary Mathilda Wharton was the third child of nine I have documented in her family. Her parents were Thomas Jefferson Wharton and Rutha Evaline Coleman. (Rutha's first name gave census enumerators fits for decades if variant spellings are any indication.)

She was born on 5 Oct 1859 in Alabama, probably St Clair County - because that's where the family was in 1860. Mary was nine months old.

For reasons I have yet to figure out, the family was in Chickasaw County, Mississippi in 1870. And not just Thomas and Rutha - there were several Wharton cousins who moved from Alabama to Mississippi about the same time.

Mary's father, Thomas, was a private in the 33 Regiment Miss Infantry, Company I. He enlisted on 7 Mar 1862 in Eureka, Panola County, Mississippi. (Both Panola and Chickasaw counties are in northern Mississippi.) Thomas was paroled at the end of the war, on 1 May 1865, at Greensboro, NC.

Whatever the attraction in Mississippi, Thomas Wharton moved his family to Pope County, Arkansas by 7 Oct 1877.

That's when Mary wed George Washington Burris, Sr.

As far as I know, newlyweds George and Mary lived on the Burris family land and farm not far from the location where some years later, they would help to establish a free will Baptist church.

They celebrated the arrival of their first child, Mary's 19th birthday, and their first wedding anniversary almost simultaneously. Richard Benjamin Burris was born on 3 Oct 1878. He and all 11 of his younger siblings were born, as some of the old handwritten family group sheets say, "on Isbell Creek."

There really is an Isbell Creek, and yeah, before the land was subdivided, George, Mary and their family lived not far from it. So it was the landmark that indicated place of birth.

For the first 23 years of her married life, Mary was pregnant and gave birth at least 12 times.

Her first 5 children were healthy, and lived fairly long lives. So it must have been somewhat of a shock when Mary's sixth child was a stillborn son on 21 Oct 1889. His gravestone says that his grave was the first in St. Joe Cemetery. My grandfather, George W Burris, Jr., was Mary's seventh child, born in 1890.

Mary lost several children very young. James Thomas Burris wasn't quite 5 weeks old when he died in 1895. Ella Rea had just turned 3.

The youngest of the Burris bunch were Arkie and Ocie, the pretty little sisters I always saw photographed together.

Ocie died first - of a fever caused by malaria - on 12 Oct 1910, just days after Mary's 51st birthday.

Arkie died as the result of a fiery accident on 3 Jun 1913 - and lingered overnight and into the early morning hours of the next day, with her parents by her side. She was laid to rest with her brothers and sisters in St. Joe Cemetery on Thursday, 6 Jun 1913.

By the time Mary reached her mid-50s, she was well acquainted with loss. Census records show that her parents, Thomas and Rutha Wharton, lived on the same farm with Mary and her family, as did George's parents, James and Adeline Burris.

Mary's father died first - in 1908, followed by Rutha Wharton in 1911. So Mary did not have the comfort of her own mother when she lost her youngest child.

Makes me just want to give her a hug.


I have no idea how Mary felt about her father-in-law's second family, or her own husband's role in making sure his half-siblings were raised to adulthood.

None of us who are now living know about that, because the secrets started in that generation, and were kept through the next.

But at the time George, Sr. assumed guardianship of Richard and Charley Hill in 1895, Mary and George had just lost a newborn baby, and buried George's father.

So there must have been additional stress there.

George and Mary celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at the house in town. There was a lengthy article in the newspaper about it. (Which one, I do not know, because someone neatly cut it out...)

Mr. and Mrs. George W Burris, of Russellville, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary Friday, October 7, with a dinner serving 50 guests, one for each year of their married life. Their guests included their seven children...The folks are hearty and hale for their age and enjoyed the day with their children and friends. Many valuable gifts were bestowed upon the couple, among them being $50 in gold. Mrs. Burris smilingly admitted that "life is not so bad after all," but that "the happiest part of life was when all the kiddies were at home - that's why I'm so happy today."

By the 1910 census, the family had moved to Russellville, and according to the census form, lived on Brucker Street. (Dad, I don't think the street's there any more - or maybe that's what has been called Glenwood Street.)


In the 1920 census, they were living at the house where the 1927 anniversary celebration was held...602 Long Street.

Two years after that 50th anniversary celebration, Mary's husband died. The nation was on the brink of the Great Depression.

In the 1930 census, "Tilda" was living at 300 West 2nd Street in Russellville, and had two boarders.

Mary Mathilda Wharton died on 26 May 1938, and was buried beside her husband in St. Joe Cemetery.

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I love it when little details come together. They start to knit together that third dimension of my ancestors and other family members.

See, that third dimension is important to me.

Genealogy purists would say that I am not a genealogist. There's much more to my family tree than just who married and begat whom, and what year they did that, in what location, and which piece of paper I have to back that up.


But dead people don't have to be - and were not in life - two dimensional.

Flat, ya know.
A very neat thing happened this morning.

I slept until I woke up (I love those days), and then I got coffee, a cigarette, fed the cats, and fired up the laptop.

I had the coolest email from my cousin. (I know, I am dating myself by saying something was cool, but go with it, okay...)

She scanned a bunch of the things her mother had given her related to our family history, in particular, our grandfather, George W Burris, and sent them to me.

They are *way* cool, and help to flesh out our (respective) third dimension of our grandfather.

Both of us knew Granddaddy when he was still living, and each of us has detailed remembrances of him. And naturally, both of us are pumping our own parents for their remembrances of their father.

And so we are seeing the evidence of the stories that Granddaddy was a licensed school teacher, and a licensed attorney in Pope County.

He was.

He was licensed to teach for 1912-1913.

He got his license to practice law in 1917.

I don't think he ever used either one to make his living.

But still.

I had always heard that, but only that he was licensed to practice law. Not about the teaching.

Our grandfather evidently placed a high degree of emphasis in acquiring knowledge.

Maybe he viewed both of these licenses as opening the door to other possible careers if necessary.

Maybe not. Maybe he just liked learning and wanted to see if he could get the licenses. I know people like that.

Whatever the case, he valued education. According to one of his daughters, the reason he decided to live in Arkadelphia when he returned from Panama was education.

He hoped to marry and raise a family. If they lived in Arkadelphia, his children would have easy access to either of two colleges in the town, Henderson State College, and Ouachita Baptist.

So Granddaddy was also very much a big picture guy...
Part of my delight in receiving the email from my cousin was a two page letter to Granddaddy from Lee, written in 1950, and talking about their time they worked together at the Post Office in Russellville. In 1910.

Lee was writing the letter to help Granddaddy gather information to complete an application for retirement from the United States Postal Service.

Granddaddy was trying to get credit for the time he worked at the Post Office before it became a civil service job. Lee was supplying him with an affidavit, saying he worked with George also in 1910 at the Russellville Post Office.

Page 2 of the letter...

So I am sitting here, at my grandma's table, thoughtfully sipping coffee, and thinking about Lee.

Who has to be Lee Jones.

Who appears in at least two of my family photographs, one at the Russellville Post Office, and one family photo of a bunch of Burris men at the G W Burris, Sr home in Russellville about 1915.

Lee's the guy to the far left, wearing the dark suit.

So Lee must have been important to my family. He had a connection with Granddaddy that lasted at least 40 years.

Kinda like part of the family.

Just like family.

Robert Lee Jones was Granddaddy's first cousin.

Lee's mother was Margaret Jane Burris, sister of George Washington Burris, Sr. Margaret married Cass Jones on 20 Dec 1874 in Pope County. Robert Lee Jones was born 29 Jan 1889 in Appleton, a little community in Pope County. (He must have preferred his middle name - I've never heard him referred to as anything other than Lee.)

Lee died in Sebastian County on 28 Jul 1957, seven years after he wrote his 1950 letter to Granddaddy. He is buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Fort Smith, AR.
Now I have to try and figure out if he married and had kids. If there are descendants, they may want some photos.

And they may have some, too...
The journey is good.
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Oakland Cemetery, Atkins, Pope Co., AR

I wish we knew which Burris, Haralson, Matchett and Strickland they were. We have so many of each in the family tree with unknown burial places...
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It was a really big name for a man of such short stature.

My dad says his father was the "runt" of his family.

There was a reason for that.
Granddaddy Burris was born on 5 Oct 1890 on Isabell Creek in rural Pope County, Arkansas. He was the seventh of twelve children born to George Washington Burris, Sr. and Mary Mathilda Wharton.
The G W Burrises were farmers, like their parents before them. Education was important, but school was held in rural Pope County around planting and harvesting season. Children had to help with the crops.

Church was also important, and was much more than just a place you went to on Sunday. Granddaddy's father, George Sr., organized a Sunday School at what would later be the site of St. Joe Baptist Freewill Baptist Church.

From a newspaper article published on October 4, 2007, noting the 120th anniversary of the St Joe Freewill Baptist Church:
In the year of 1885, George W. Burris organized a Sunday school under a bunchy top Gum Tree at St. Joe on Pea Ridge 10 miles north of Atkins. They had logs for seats and took School Readers to Sunday school. . . The Freewill Baptist Church was organized there in 1886. . . George W. Burris was the principal leader during his entire life.

The stories have varied over the years, but when Granddaddy was still a child, disease swept through the community. Whether it was scarlet or typhoid fever, it was highly contagious, and everyone who had it had to be quarantined from those who did not.

Granddaddy stayed in either the barn or a shed during the time he was ill. Meals were brought as far as the door, and he retrieved them from there. He recovered from the illness, but it left one leg shorter than the other, and I suspect, stunted his growth. He was the shortest man in his family, and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

George W Burris, Jr. about 1910

Family ties have always been important to my Burrises.

I cannot imagine how Granddaddy must have felt to lose his youngest sister, Ocie, in 1910. Then, three years later, he lost another little sister, Arkie, in a horrible accident that also burned his brother, Ernest and his baby niece.

You expect your parents to die before you do - it's the natural order of things.

But not your little sisters.

Around the turn of the century, George Burris, Sr. became the Postmaster in Russellville. Granddaddy joined the Burris crew, and began work at the Russellville Post Office in 1910.

George Burris, Jr., William Homer Burris, Lee Jones, and
George W Burris, Sr., seated

By May 1920, Granddaddy was in Cristobal in the Panama Canal Zone as a postal clerk for services there. For a short time, he worked for an oil company in Columbia.

He re-entered the United States on 26 Mar 1922, docking at the Port of New Orleans. The man from Isabelle Creek was coming home.

Granddaddy continued to work for the Post Office. He transferred to Clark County, where he became the Assistant Postmaster at Arkadelphia in April 1923. His father, George W Burris, Sr., died on 10 Mar 1929. Although he stuck with the Post Office for 34 years until his retirement, he never got the coveted Postmaster appointment, because he would not change his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Some things just couldn't be compromised.

On 18 Nov 1929, Granddaddy married Louise Herrington, and they started their own family in Clark County. His first child was born when he was 40 years old. He lived to see his first great-grandchild.

Sometimes, I am amazed at the changes my grandfather witnessed during his life. He grew up in an era where it took all day to take the crop to market in a wagon. Having a telephone in your home became commonplace during his lifetime. He witnessed the first automobiles, and commercial airplanes.

Maybe that was why he had such a hard time believing we had actually put a man on the moon. Were they really walking on the moon, or was all that television footage just an incredible hoax of underwater shots instead?

Granddaddy always seemed to me to be happy with simple things. He enjoyed puttering around the yard, and going uptown to the pool hall to shoot the breeze with his buddies and catch up on news.

Grandma wasn't happy about the "pool hall" thing, and you could tell by the way she spat the answer to you when you asked, Grandma, where's Granddaddy?

I think simple things had been fine with him all his life, even during the Great Depression, which followed so closely on the heels of his father's death. That's what he told his mother in his New Year's Eve letter to her in 1931, as he tried to assure her that the next year would surely be better than the last.


I never picture Granddaddy without his pipe.


That photo was taken at the celebration of his 80th birthday. We didn't know then that we'd only get three more birthdays with him. He died on 7 May 1974, in Arkadelphia.

And oh, the secrets he could have told us...secrets that I am only discovering now.

See you on the other side, Granddaddy.
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John S Bowden has moved near Mountain View, at which place he will teach the winter term of school.

The Center Valley school opened Monday with Prof W S Grimstead as teacher. This is the Prof's third term there, and a successful term is assured for he always gives satisfaction.

Ashmore & Loyd, our enterprising merchants, have by courteous and honest dealings built up a good trade here.

Card of Thanks
To the undersigned persons and others whose names we have not we extend our thanks for assistance given us after the loss by fire of our home near Caglesville:
Russellville: R L Lawrence, R B Hogins, S A Henry, R B Wilson, D B Richardson, Lawrence Russell, M H Baird, Twiggs Brown, Chas Henry, Tate & Peeler, W M Hillis, John Quinn and Rans Shinn.
Dover: Jas A Webb, Ruff & Truett, W H Poynter, J R Neal, J I Simpson, John Hatley, Chas Talkington and Willis Berry.
Moreland: F M Hudson and Son.
Hector: Jas Baily and Ellis & Simpson.
Appleton: J B Turnbow, J B Cawhorn, J J Richardson, George Rankin and J W Stokes.
Cagelsville: Rufus Yow, W H Hampton, R F Rainey, J B Kyle, G W Garrigus, B F Garrigus, J E Garrigus and J R Pullen.
Atkins: R C Horton, Reynolds & Bro., Will Lemley, H Bledsoe, F P Henry and Wilson & Brooks.
The above please accept our heartfelt thanks.
J K Biffle and Family
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From the Russellville [AR] Courier Democrat, 3 Nov 1898:

Since our last reports, County Clerk Mourning has issed marriage license to the following persons: J M Epps to Miss Lula Epps; W R Freeman to Miss Rena Dunlay; Everett McGorven to Miss Ora Butler.
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Last spring, my dad called me and said there was going to be a tour of the old McCarley family cemetery on Saturday, March 27. The cemetery is abandoned now - I think the last grave dug in there was before 1900. The first one I know of was in 1847, when Moses McCarley's wife, Elizabeth P Griffin, died. As the crow flies, the cemetery is less than 3 miles from Dad's house.

There are at least 50 (mostly unmarked) graves. Some of our ancestors who came to Arkansas from Lawrence County, TN in 1838 are buried there, including my g-g-g-grandfather. I've been bugging Dad for years to tell me how to get down there, but it would have meant getting mixed up in a family feud.

The land where the cemetery is located now belongs to a third cousin-in-law of mine, and he has most of it fenced. We have a healthy respect for the symbolism of fences in the south, and honorable people ask if they can cross to the other side.

In my cousin-in-law's case, that means asking to open (and close behind you) a lot of gates.

And then, there was that matter of the feud...they are serious stuff down here.  )

Because they have stories. And we are the story-tellers.
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I never knew him. I never knew his parents, George Washington and Frances Margaret (Young) Burris.

But in my mind's eye, I can almost picture 17 year old Thurman Burris valiantly trying to save his parents from the flood waters in The Great Flood of 1927, when the mighty Mississippi overran her banks and breached levees in states all long the river.

Newspapers all over the country carried coverage of the flooding, including this bit in the 17 Apr 1927 Aberdeen (SD) American News, which ironically is the only obit I can find for Thurman:

Angry Mississippi Storms at Levees
...Here and there the sweeping waters claimed additional lives and tonight the death toll stood at eleven for the week. Seven deaths were reported today. Thurman Burris 17, was drowned at Atkins, Ark., while trying to rescue his father and mother...

If someone knows if and where he was buried, please let me know.
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The one that gutted the business district of Russellville, Pope Co., AR.

The headline in the January 17, 1906 Russellville Courier Democrat sure got my attention.


Click here for a transcription of the article, which appeared the day following the fire and was written by J B Lemley. )


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Dee Burris Blakley

August 2017

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