Every once in awhile, I’ll come across the name of a town that is foreign to me while researching Louisiana newspapers.
I read about a terrible accident that happened in Trees, Louisiana, in 1919. I’d never heard of the place.
It turns out that Trees was an oil boom town in north Louisiana. It was in Caddo Parish on Caddo Lake near the Texas line. In fact, it’s still on the map (and there’s a Tree City Road) though there’s not much there nowadays.
Here’s the elementary school in 1937:
From what I can gather, Trees (really Trees City) got its name from the J.C. Trees Oil Company. The company’s headquarters was moved to Oil City in 1983 – and I mean that literally. The building that once housed the company’s headquarters now sits in Oil City.
Trees City burst into existence with the discovery of oil. Soon, tents were set up to house the oil field workers and their families. Buildings came later.
C.C. Talbot, the man whose family died, was an oil well driller. The night of the fire, the gas heater in his home exploded while the family slept. His wife woke up, roused her husband and fainted.
Poor C.C. was able to carry 5-year-old Mary Elizabeth and 6-year-old John Henry outside to safety. He went back for his wife and 8-year-old George but couldn’t get through the flames to them. Little Mary Elizabeth followed her father back into the house and died.
C.C. lived a few days and died himself from his injuries, leaving John Henry as the family’s sole survivor.
According to newspaper accounts, the Talbot family was buried in the Trees City Cemetery. I couldn’t find a listing for it online.
But I did find mentions of Trees City well into the 1970s. And then I found an obit of sorts for the town in 1986. It seems Trees City was one of those boom-and-bust towns that came and went with the oil field production.
Louisiana is a casual state. We’re more blue jeans and shrimp boots than black tie and ballgowns.
One of the sites I follow on Facebook posted this priceless letter to Leonce Poche, who used to own the LP Poche Cash Store in Louisiana. I don’t know if Mr. Poche just dropped off seafood at the Governor’s Mansion or if he had a prearranged appointment. I’m guessing he just dropped it off because you used to be able to walk right up to the front door. Years ago, there used to be a guy who would come by my office with fresh shrimp. He’d appear in the doorway and show me shrimp from his cooler. That’s how we roll in Louisiana.
The governor is Jimmie Davis, who once rode his horse Sunshine into the State Capitol. The horse rode in the elevator to the governor’s office.
First, I’ll warn you that what I’m about to share could result in an addiction.
I regularly fall down a rabbit hole with two Facebook groups. One is the Bayou History Center Inc., which shares photos and stories from south Louisiana, including Lafourche, St. Mary and Terrebonne parishes. The other is a preservation group dedicated to the ghost town of Rodney, Miss.
I can explain my fascination with the Bayou History Center’s content since I was born in Thibodaux. I have no ties to Rodney other than a slight obsession with the place. Rodney almost became the capitol of Mississippi. It lost by a few votes. It also used to have newspapers, an opera house, stores and a thriving population. It’s even said that Zachary Taylor was paying social calls in Rodney when he found out he had been elected president of the United States. After the river shifted course, Rodney dwindled away. All that’s left today are a few churches, a heck of an old country store (no longer open), abandoned homes and deer camps. You should visit if you get a chance though! We visited for my birthday a few years ago.
Both sites can suck me in for hours. What can I say? I love old photos. Rodney’s site is searchable. Bayou History Center’s site isn’t. Hint. Hint.
The great thing about these sites is people will dig up old photos that you didn’t even know existed and post them. They’ll post stories about photos that are shared. It’s oral history without the audio.
I’m sharing some photos (hope the sites don’t mind) and links to the groups. But I warned you! They’re addictive.
A beautiful home is for sale in Alexandria, La., for a bargain basement price. The 1908 house supposedly was built for a riverboat captain. It has five bedrooms, original molding and pocket doors. It’s available for less than $70,000. And it has ties to Mary Miles Minter.
Minter was a famous actress of the silent film age. She was immensely popular until her involvement in a still unsolved murder in 1920s Hollywood.
Born in Shreveport at the turn of the century, Minter was the granddaughter of a Louisiana country doctor. Her aunt and cousins are buried in Mansfield. The cousins include the one whose name she swiped for her film career. Mary’s real name was Juliet Reilly.
I have no idea if Mary ever visited this house in Alexandria. She left Louisiana at a very young age although she was known to come back for visits. Most certainly, her mother and grandmother visited the Garner House.
Sue Garner was Mary’s great aunt. She lived in and built this beautiful home at 103 Bolton Ave. in Alexandria.
In 1921, Garner told “The Town Talk” that she was interested in newspaper and magazine articles that mentioned Mary. Sadly, Garner died in her beautiful home in 1940. Her body wasn’t found until the next day.
This branch of the Garner family left no descendants (Mary and her sister didn’t leave descendants either). Sue Garner was the widow of a ferry boat captain – not quite a riverboat captain – who used to take people between Alexandria and Pineville. His name was James Garner. The couple had two sons. The eldest boy died young. Their second son, Nathaniel Branch “N.B.,” became a dentist and had his practice in the Bolton Avenue home that he shared with his mother at some point during his adult life.
The Garners were a big deal in Alexandria society. The local newspaper devoted tremendous copy to their social visits and deaths. The reading of Mrs. Garner’s will got reams of copy.
N.B. Garner had an apparently ill-advised marriage. He wed a Shreveport widow named Mamie Luke, but they soon divorced. Mamie was ordered to pay the costs associated with their divorce. N.B. died in 1914 after struggling with health problems. He was only 42.
Interestingly, given Mary’s career-ending murder problems, N.B. also was connected to a murder case.
In 1902, a murder happened within sight of the Garner House. Grocer Tony Curero (or Corea) was driving his horse and cart laden with fruits and groceries when someone came up to the wagon and shot him in the face. N.B. heard the shot and ran to the victim only to find him unconscious in the roadway. The man later died.
But back to the Garners. There were tons of mentions in the Alexandria newspapers of yesteryear about the Garners’ connection to Mary Miles Minter. I wondered, though, exactly how they were related.
Sue Garner was born Susie Emilie Ragan on June 14, 1849. Newspapers record her son N.B. as being born on the family plantation in Sabine Parish that belonged to his grandmother Mary L. Branch on April 7, 1872. They moved to Alexandria when N.B. was 7.
There is also much mention of Sue Garner’s connections to the Shelbys of Kentucky. I don’t who the Shelbys were, but they must have been an impressive family. Mary’s mother later renamed herself Charlotte Shelby.
A Julia B. Ragan (Julia Branch, perhaps?) married Elbert Miles on Feb. 27, 1873, in Sabine Parish. Julia was Mary Miles Minter’s grandmother. She moved with her daughter and granddaughters to California for Mary’s movie career.
And there you have it. Julia and Sue were sisters. Mary and N.B. were second cousins.
It appears that Julia and Sue were close. When N.B. Garner got ill for the last time, Julia traveled from New York to Alexandria and stayed until he died. The newspaper dutifully recorded her visit.
Julia also visited in 1896. In fact, she visited twice in 1896, staying with her sister in January and October of that year.
Sue outlived Julia by more than a decade. She died in 1940. A friend became alarmed when Garner didn’t answer the door and called the mayor who advised her to call a police officer. It was the officer who found Garner dead in her bed.
Interestingly, watchmen were assigned to watch the house night and day until relatives could arrive to take possession of valuables in the house. What did she have in there?
The coroner found papers on a bedside table and placed them in a satchel that he delivered to the court. A judge authorized attorney John W. Hawthorn of the law firm of Hawthorn, Stafford and Pitts to open the bag. Inside it was a will. It all sounds very Agatha Christie.
By the time Sue died, her children were both gone, and there were no grandchildren. She left her estate to her niece Hazel Minter Jordan (Mary’s cousin) and Hazel’s children, Joseph Lafayette Jordan and Charlotte Shelby Jordan. Hazel was Julia’s granddaughter by a daughter who married and quickly died after bringing Hazel and the original Mary Miles Minter into the world.
Mary’s mother traveled to Alexandria for the funeral. Mary did not make the trip.
I was wondering the other day if there were any Louisiana connections on the Titanic. I found one but don’t get too excited.
A Miss Alice Compton of Lakewood, N.J., and New Orleans was reported by the Asbury Park Evening Press as rescued along with her mother. Alice’s brother, Alexander, perished.
The only problem is that there wasn’t an Alice Compton on the Titanic. Alice was Sara Rebecca Compton (the newspaper got her name wrong). She died in Miami in 1952. I can find no indication that she ever lived in New Orleans so that probably was just something else that the newspaper got wrong. More likely, the newspaper meant to say New York, where Sara was born.
But don’t take my word for it. The Times-Picayune went out and questioned the Comptons of New Orleans in 1912. According to the paper: “None of the Comptons who live in New Orleans know the family of the same name that was aboard the Titanic and are unable to account for them or to say who they are.”
The search for the Titanic victims’ New Orleans roots didn’t end there. A Sen. C.C. Cordill of Louisiana wondered if they were connected to the Comptons of Tensas Parish. Apparently a daughter of Judge Stacey married a Wilbur Compton of Botnay Bay plantation in Tensas Parish. The marriage produced a number of children, including brothers who became prominent businessmen in Mississippi and had families who were rumored to travel abroad.
Despite the sleuthing and speculating, the Comptons of Titanic were not from New Orleans or Tensas Parish. Sara’s father was born in New Jersey. His mother was born in New York, not Tensas Parish. The Comptons of Titanic were not descended from Thomas Wilbur Compton and Emma Stacy of Tensas Parish.
So it’s doubtful Sara was of New Orleans just as it’s doubtful that a New Orleans shipyard telephone operator named Rosemary Eller ever set foot on the Titanic.
Eller emerged in 1944 claiming to have been born Helena Yates and rescued from the Titanic. Her story was that she was rescued from the ship, taken to the New York Baby hospital and later unofficially adopted by the Starks (or Stark or Starke or Starkes) family of New Orleans.
Here’s the problem: There was never a Helena Yates on the Titanic. The only Yates aboard was a gambler, and he seemed to have been a con artist who lied about being on the Titanic. Regardless, if he was onboard, he probably wasn’t toting a baby.
But back to Rosemary.
From reading the historical records, it appears that Rosemary didn’t know she was adopted until both her parents were gone. What probably happened is that she was orphaned – or abandoned – at a young age. Somehow, she found her way to New Orleans into the arms of a family who had recently lost a child.
Maybe her birth mother dropped her at the foundling hospital with a fantastic story about the Titanic that was written into the hospital records. Who knows.
Here’s the story of Rosemary Eller.
Rosemary was taken to a foundling hospital in New York on April 23, 1912. Supposedly, a nurse brought her in and said she was a survivor of the Titanic. The shipwreck would have been the talk of New York at the time.
Already, though, the story starts running off the tracks. The Titanic, obviously, sank in April 1912. Eller later claimed she was six months old when the Titanic sank. When she died, her birth was recorded as Sept. 27, 1910. So she was actually a toddler when she was taken to the foundling hospital – not six months old.
In 1915 or so Rosemary was baptized as Helena Yates at St. Vincent’s Ferrer Church (this is all according to Rosemary). Interestingly, the foundling home baptized other children at St. Vincent’s before putting them on the Orphan Train. Hmmm … By 1920, Rosemary was living in the household of John and Mary Burke Starks in a rented house at 1110 Felicity St. (it’s now a parking lot) in New Orleans.
Her adoptive father died just before Christmas 1920. He had been a farmer and an ice dealer. He and Mary had many children, including a little girl named Mary Rose who died in 1913. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they adopted a child to fill that terrible void. Mary was past childbearing age by the time Rosemary joined the family.
Interestingly, the 1930 census lists Rosemary’s birthplace as New York. At that point, the Starks, minus John, were living at 2622 Magazine St.
In 1944, Rosemary made the noise about being a Titanic survivor. The story made a small splash and then disappeared without a followup.
Rosemary moved to California and died there, in Oakland, in 1962. She left behind three children and six grandchildren. Her obit listed her as a loving mother and a dear brother. Poor Rosemary.
Hopefully, she was able to discover her real story even if it wasn’t as glamorous as being rescued from the Titanic.
I’ve heard of evacuating to Monroe to escape a hurricane. I’ve never heard of a hurricane making it all the way to Monroe (or of a hurricane hitting in March).
From the March 28, 1882, edition of the Plain Dealer:
Out of curiosity, I went in search of some of these plantations. If you’re picturing Tara when you hear the word “plantation,” you might want to dial back your expectations. My ancestors had plantations. I’m pretty sure they were just farms. No one’s ever made any mention of sweeping staircases, verandas and whiling away afternoons with mint juleps and flirtatious laughter with the Tarleton twins.
But back to the Monroe hurricane.
McGuire place: As it would turn out, West Monroe Mayor Thomas McGuire purchased a plantation in 1879. He renamed it McGuire’s Traveler’s Rest.
Cooper plantation: I’m fairly certain this home burned in the 1960s, and these gateposts are all that remains. Aren’t they rather majestic?
J.W. Scarborough: I’m fairly certain this was a prominent citizen. I know nothing about his house.
Ludeling place: Most likely John Theodore Ludeling, a Louisiana Supreme Court justice. There’s a rather interesting, sad story about the Ludeling place.
Oliver plantation: There is an Oliver farm to this day in Monroe. Whether it’s the same one mentioned in the 1800s newspaper article is anyone’s guess.
Carpenter plantation: I’m pretty sure the land associated with this still exists as the Carpenter Plantation. Whether there’s a historic home still standing, I’m uncertain. The gin house clearly is gone.
My granny had the dubious distinction of being named after a dead child.
Joseph Augustin Giroir and Elizabeth Montet had 15 children, and all but one lived to adulthood. They lost Monique Florence at five months. I have no idea what killed her although it wasn’t uncommon for babies to die in the 1890s.
Last year, we lost a baby in my family. It was horrible and devastating, and I take some comfort in that. Nowadays, it’s uncommon to lose a baby unless it’s in the early stages of pregnancy. No one should have to go the section of the funeral home where they keep the tiny coffins.
But back to my granny. She was one of the first grandchildren so she got saddled with the dead baby’s name: Florence. Her father always thought it was morbid so he insisted on calling her by her middle name: Gertrude. Her mother and her mother’s family supposedly always called her Florence. On the 1930 census, when she was living with her mother’s sister, she was recorded as Gertrude so who knows what the truth was.
I wonder if her father thought it was morbid or just bad luck to be named after a baby who died. I was thinking about that when looking at the descendants of Marie Heleine (or Helena) Babin.
Helena died at age 33 in 1873. She left behind Cordilier, 14 (my ancestor), Aladin, 11, Adea, 8, Olivia, 5, and Adrienne, 2. All were her children with Desire Gautreaux.
Helena had two full brothers: Melite and Anatole. The Gautreaux/Babin families apparently liked unusual names.
Because she died so young, there aren’t any family stories about Helena that I’ve been told. But her relatives attempted to carry on her name.
Her daughter Adea christened her first daughter Marie Helena. The baby died at age 2.
Her brother Anatole also named a baby Helena. That baby grew up only to die as a young woman.