A Likely Story—Truth is Stranger Than Fiction

Part 1: The Story1

By Jewell Ferguson Russell

A way of life several decades ago was quite different to that of the present day.

My paternal grandmother, of her own choice, came to live in our household. My mother, a very wholesome and generous hearted person, welcomed her presence. Our home became her home. We were four children of high school age. I being the oldest of the children and the one around the house most, the others being all boys, remember many things she would relate to us; stories of her past life, mostly anecdotes and just happenings in the growing up days of her children, my father and others. There having been ten (10) children there were many, as she related them to us bit by bit. Looking back to those days in Mississippi she would also talk of her growing up.

One particular statement she made many, many times was, “John Doe killed my brother Berry…”, brother Berry being Berry Everett, my grandmother’s brother.

The boys (then 18 or 19 years old) John Doe and Berry Everett, lived near enough to each other to attend the same country parties. It seemed that these two boys had quite a dislike for each other and made some ugly scenes at every opportunity when in the presence of each other. It seems also that brother Berry was quite a husky fellow, while John Doe was rather tall and lean of stature. Evidently brother Berry really enjoyed bullying John Doe. Many of these details are unknown to me except as they were told to me (not by my grandmother). This happened a long time ago and the exactness of this was pieced together with facts told me by my grandmother and others.

The Everett and John Doe story was that he, John Doe, left Mississippi soon after the killing to parts unknown in Louisiana and had worked for a railroad company.

In 1939, in a village in northeastern Louisiana, I met a man named John Doe. My husband was a minister, and upon an invitation that we visit the church, did so with them having need of a pastor for the local Baptist Church.

After the morning worship service and lunch with friends the John Does invited us to their home. Naturally, the conversation drifted to our families, their beginnings and other related matters, near and far. My husband was born in Mississippi, also my father now living in Louisiana for some time. My husband was also educated in Mississippi. Naturally the conversation led to Mississippi and my beginnings. We learned that Mr. Doe had known my grandfather’s brother who was also a minister—and my grandmother’s family. Who was she? Clemenzie Everett.

At that time the talk of Mississippi came to a definite stop and was never mentioned again as long as we lived in the north Louisiana town, the convening five (5) years being spent as pastor of the church.

Mr. Doe was a senior deacon in the church we served and we were often at his home and in other workings of the church. Mr. Doe was retired from the railroad. He was truly a devout Christian, truly and generous with his services and his monies. Though I did not, at first, given any real meaning to the incident, ensuing years brought these thoughts in mind. I would just put if off as pure coincidence, but it kept coming back. I would not embarrass him by mentioning it. From time to time as occasion provided, I would relate the story to other relatives (my grandmother having passed away in 1934). Some knew very little or nothing, but bit by bit I did add up the experiences with what my grandmother told me.

She (my grandmother) made the statement to me that they, the family, never took any accusations to the law and the family carried little or no hatred. However, upon conversations with other family members, I found some bitterness, though she never showed any as she told me the story.

In this northeast Louisiana town, a young Baptist preacher, pastor of a nearby church, would preach on the street corners. Mr. Doe, being devout and very consecrated to his faith and church, would join the crowds listening.

The minister had noted this man of many years and his interest in the messages. They greeted each other at the close of one session, after most of the others had walked away. They had come from a town in Mississippi and upon a bit more discussion discovered they were distantly related. After much friendly conversation, the young preacher brought up a fact that years before a relative had gotten into come trouble in Mississippi and had come to Louisiana and the last time he had heard of him, he was working for a railroad. He wondered asked him, the older man, if he happened to know anything about him, to which John Doe answered in simple words and to the point, “I am that man”.

My husband had made an acquaintance with the young minister. Some time later in conversation with the preacher, he told the story about the discussion, knowing the relation of my husband to Mr. Doe.

Just the fact that John Doe had made the statement, “I am that man,” of course was duly noted, but the significance of it was not mentioned to the young minister who had told my husband the story.

The first portion of the story we had tucked in our minds so long, never expecting to know the truth, and particularly not really (expecting) our friend, John Doe, to be the John Doe, the same one in my grandmother’s statements.

We never related this story to those of the church family (who knew nothing about it) though we living in the community for years afterward.

John Doe was a godly man and never knew that we knew the story. Neither did the young minister know that the story had a special meaning to us. Few of the family know the story as written here as none of them ever knew John Doe.

Note: may I emphasize that I am only repeating what has been told to me. I somehow do not believe Mrs. Doe knew of Mr. Doe’s past. I believe if she had known it she would have come out with it, knowing her nature.

Mr. Doe was very quiet and reserved and in every way a gentleman. I really believe he spent his life trying to make up for this possible mistake of his young life.

At this writing (1973) Mrs. John Doe lives in a rest home in a north Louisiana city, Mr. Doe having passed away years ago.

I, Jewell Ferguson Russell, granddaughter of Clemenzie (Everett) Ferguson, am the only one of the family to experience the things related here. Without any effort on my part, things fell in place and made the story.

Part II: The Rest of the Story

By Dr. Harold Graham

And now, for the rest of the story, beginning with the main characters.

According to Dr. William Otto Ferguson, author of We Fergusons and Related Families, Jewell Edith Ferguson, his oldest sister, was born on 9 April 1903, Clarks, Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, the oldest child of John Ferguson and Martha King Hurdle who settled in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana in 1902, having migrated there with many other Newton County families. Jewell attended Mansfield Female College and later Northwestern State College in Louisiana. She was teaching school at Kilbourne, Louisiana when she met her future husband, Rev. Arthur Lavelle Russell, a native of Mt. Olive, Mississippi. His ministry would carry them to several north Louisiana communities including Verda, Kelly, Grayson, Epps, Lake Providence, and Jena, Louisiana.

John Ferguson, the father of Jewell Edith Ferguson Russell, was born at Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi, on 15 January 1875 and died 19 September 1944, Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. John Ferguson was the second child of Redden Rasberry Ferguson and Clemenzie Jane (Everett) Ferguson, and was married to Martha King (Mattie) Huddle.

Redden Rasberry (Doc) Ferguson, a son of James L. and Permelia (Haley) Ferguson was born 2 June 1849, Newton County, a few miles southeast of the town that would become Hickory. He died 4 August 1914, Clarks, Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, having moved there to join his son John and other family members. Redden married 1 November 1871 to Clemenzie Jane Everett, a daughter of Samuel E. Everett and Martha Ann Monroe. Clemenzie Jane was born 23 June 1855, near Hickory, Mississippi, and died 25 February 1934, Clarks, Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, and is the primary source for much of the story told by her granddaughter, Jewell Ferguson Russell.

Berry Clark Everett, a son of Samuel E. Everett and Martha Ann Monroe, was born 9 March 1858 near Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi, and died 31 March 1887 in the Bethel community of Newton County. He is buried in Mt. Moriah Presbyterian Church Cemetery. According to family tradition we are told that he was killed by “John Doe” over a dispute involving land and that the killing was likely justified.

Berry Clark Everett married Sarah E. (Babe) Woodham, a daughter of Aris Bryant Woodham and Hester Simmons, on 17 February 1876, and she would precede him to the grave on 8 November 1883. He was survived by two sons, Taylor Green Everett (1876-1959) and Claude Louis Everett, Sr. (1882-1964), both of whom were raised by relatives following the untimely deaths of their parents.

Who was the mysterious John Doe? Family members and WPA2 records both agree that his identity was that of John Wall, a member of a large extended family that lived in the countryside near the Everetts. This provides only part of the answer. The name “John” was common in the Wall family and who is not to say that he changed his name and other details regarding his identity upon arriving in Louisiana? We are still looking. Let me know if you find him, but if we should both fail, may John Wall forever rest in peace!

Reference

  1. This story originally appeared in Dr. William Otto Ferguson, We Fergusons and Related Families,
    Monroe, Louisiana, n/d.
  2. WPA Records, Newton County, Mississippi, ca. 1935.

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