Cemetery comes to life with early pioneers portrayed
Manila founders and early pioneers came to life Thursday, April 22, as the Manila Depot Museum presented "Tales from the Cemetery" at the Manila Cemetery. Friends of the Manila Depot were dressed in period costumes as they told of the lives of four prominent people who helped shape the city's history, since its early beginning in the 1800s.
Manila Elementary sixth grade students arrived at the cemetery at 2 p.m. and took part in a walking tour as the actors stood at gravesites.
Isaac Daugherty, a steamboat captain and Manila's first mayor, was portrayed by Wendell Poteet.
"People just call me Ike," Poteet said. "I came to this area on a steamboat up the Big Lake. My steamboat carried passengers, mail and wild game to market. There was a lot of hunting going on here in the Manila area, which was known as Cinda back then. It was all wilderness, with cypress trees and water everywhere.
"I came from Virginia in about 1844," Poteet said. "I am a son of the Confederacy. I fought in the War of Northern Aggression, which some people call the Civil War, but there wasn't anything civil about it. I owned a steamboat called the Glenville, and piloted the Modock, the Ike and the Edwin Marshall. I bought a place here (pointing south) and called it Dog Walk. We had real glass windows in the house, and a cotton gin nearby. I became mayor of the settlement in 1892."
Several members of the Isaac Daugherty family traveled to take part in the program. Daugherty ancestors included Kenneth and Jackie Allred of Laurel, Miss., Dema Magers of Ocean Springs, Miss., Don Magers of Fredrickstown, Mo., Bernadine Starnes of Sikeston, Mo., Bobby and Imogene Harris of Jonesboro, and Patsy Bishop Vance of Hornersville, Mo. The family shared photos and memorabilia of Isaac Daugherty with the students, and told of a Daugherty mug that had been handed down through the generations.
Edward Smith, one of the first white settlers to come to Big Lake, was portrayed by Thomas Jaco.
"When I came here this area was known as Big Lake Island," Jaco said. "A friend of mine, Hy Ashabranner, came about the same time. We homesteaded land in these parts in 1852. The government let families work on 40 acres for five years, and then they deeded it to him. What a deal. I just had to clear the trees and drain the swamp, and then it would be mine.
"We raised hay, corn, cotton and ran stock on our land. Me and my wife Annie Bollinger Smith built the first permanent house in this area. This cemetery was about the only place that wasn't under water 10 months out of the year. Most people just lived in tents or lean-tos before that. We were poor and worked hard, and you talk about those skeeters and ticks and gnats--oh my."
Naomi Girdley Baker, a widow dressed in a long black veil, was played by Iris Poteet.
"People around here just call me Omie," Poteet said. "This is my husband Levern Howard Merritt Baker's grave. He was a proud man and a hard worker. We married in 1878 and moved with our four children from Missouri to Manila. Lev went out in a wagon to cut some firewood in March of 1892 and never came back. He was shot in the head by a bushwhacker. This is his hat that I am holding, and I'll keep it till the day I die. My poor darling (she cried)."
"What am I going to do, as I have four little ones to feed? I didn't have the government to help me and I was on my own. I took in boarders, for a $1 a week. I cook and clean and sew. My oldest son Alec had to quit school in the third grade to help me make a living. My daughter Sarah, 12, helps with the boarders. You just get along now (she begins to cry again)."
Jacob Minton "Mint" Milligan's widow Rosetta was dressed as a cowgirl and portrayed by Pam Hester.
"People just call me Zet," Hester said. "This big tombstone is where my dear departed husband is buried. See here where it says beloved wife, well that is me. Mint was killed on main street in a gunfight. Some low-down cur called him out--said he cheated at cards. My stars! My Mint never cheated at cards--leastways he never got caught at it afore. That man gunned down my Mint in broad daylight, and went around bragging about it for months. So what did I do? I got my gun out and shot him at a political rally in front of the whole town. His kinfolk threatened me and my little girl, so we left town and moved to Missouri. One thing I did though--for the rest of my life, was to keep a gun under my pillow, just in case."
Hester showed the students how she used a lasso whip to corral cows.
Manila fifth and sixth grade history teacher Janet Metheny came up with the idea for "Tales from the Cemetery" after a teacher's workshop in Little Rock where they talked about "Tales from the Crypt" tours produced by state historical societies. She applied for an Arts and Humanities grant and secured $3,000 to be used in the classroom for electronic equipment and Civil War educational games.
"I thought my students would really be interested in this," Metheny said. "And they certainly have been. I enlisted the help of a guest lecturer Donna Jackson, with the Manila Depot Museum. She located volunteers for the enactments and provided the historical information. This has turned out to be a great learning experience for the students."
The second phase of the "Tales from the Cemetery" will take place on Thursday, April 28, at the Manila Depot Museum, starting at 1 p.m. Jackson will present a "History of Manila," and the four characters will repeat their cemetery performances. Manila fifth grade students will be in attendance.
Rachel Miller will present the history of Herman Davis, at the Manila memorial erected in his honor, at 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 28.