Manila history characters brought to life

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Iris Poteet portrayed Martha Lawhorn at the Manila Tales from the Cemetery.

The third annual Tales from the Cemetery was held in Manila with fifth and sixth grade students learning about characters who played a role in area history. Local historian Donna Jackson and family members of the early pioneers provided information on Herman Davis, World War I hero; Martha Matthews Lawhorn, editor of the Manila Sentinel newspaper; and R.T. "Kid" Wright, owner of a hunting club at Big lake, town marshal and constable of Big Lake Township.

On Wednesday fifth grade students from Manila Middle School visited the Depot where they were met by Herman Davis' mother (Pam Hester); Martha Matthews Lawhorn (Iris Poteet); and R.T. "Kid" Wright (Wendell Poteet).

Each shared a few facts about the character they portrayed had interesting photographs to share with the students.

Pam Hester as "Granny" Davis talks to the students about her son, Herman Davis, World War I hero.

Students were served cookies by members of the Manila B&PW Club.

The fifth grade students enjoyed a tour of the Depot Museum.

On Thursday the sixth grade students started their live, local history lesson at the Herman Davis Monument where they heard about the World War I hero.

Wendell Poteet as R.T. "Kid" Wright, early settler and town marshal and constable of Big Lake Township.

Hester as "Granny" Mary Ann Nance Davis, Davis' mother, shared facts about her son and how the Herman Davis Monument came about in honor of her son.

Herman Davis was born on Big Lake Island in 1888.

"Times were hard in those days and he had to quit school in the fourth grade to help us make a living," Hester said. "Our family fished and hunted."

Characters welcomed students at the Depot for a live history lesson and a tour of the museum.

When Herman was about 10 or 12 he was a guide to duck hunters at Big Lake. He was a very good shot.

When the U.S. got into World War I, Herman wanted to go and do his part. He joined the Army and sailed for France in June 1918. The war was over on Nov. 11 of that year and Herman came home.

He did not talk about the war. He went back to leading hunting parties. The leader of the American forces in France was General John J. Pershing. He put out a list after the war with names of the most decorated soldiers of what was called the Great War or the War to End All Wars. Herman Davis' name was number four on the list. He had won the Distinguished Service Cross, the French Croix de Guerre with Palm Leave, and the French Medaille Militaire because of his bravery in the battle in the Meuse-Argonne Forrest. He took out a German machine gun nest that had his company pinned down. He sneaked in close and shot four and the others gave up.

While he was in Germany he was exposed to a chemical known as Mustard Gas and by 1922 he was in the Veterans' Hospital. He died in 1923.

Money was raised by veterans to build the Herman Davis Monument. School children had penny drives to help. The park was dedicated in 1925 and the body of Herman Davis was moved from the cemetery to the back of the monument.

Martha Matthews Lawhorn

Iris Poteet did an excellent job of sharing the story of Martha Matthews Lawhorn, editor of the Manila Sentinel newspaper.

Lawhorn was born in Manila in 1900 when the town was called Cindy (spelled Cinda). Her dad was the postmaster. After graduating from high school she went to college at Henderson State to study voice. She had a beautiful voice.

She didn't get to finish college because her mother got sick and returned home to help care for her.

She was a pioneer and even worked for the WPA, an organization set up during the Great Depression to help people find work. Very few women held jobs outside of the home. Men would come to her office looking for work to feed their families. Many times during those days all they had to eat was cold biscuits and molasses. Lawhorn did her best to help. When World War II came along, the WPA was phased out.

Lawhorn became the editor for the Manila Sentinel.

"It was unusual job for a woman in those days," Poteet said. "It was almost unheard of for that time. I was a pioneer. I loved to write and I was interested in what people were doing and saying."

A man moved to Manila to work as an engineer for the Drainage District and they were married. When Mrs. Lawhorn was 41 years old, they had a daughter.

Poteet finished her portrayal of Lawhorn by encouraged the students to be good citizens and do what they can to promote their hometown.

Mrs. Lawhorn is buried in the Manila Cemetery. She died in 1978.

Wendell Poteet portrayed R.T. Kid Wright, early settler of the area. He was known as Kid. Mr. Wright had a daughter-in-law, granddaughter and great-granddaughter present for the presentation.

Poteet shared Kid's story well telling the students about his (Kid Wright) arrival to Big Lake Island after his parents were killed in a tornado in Mississippi in 1890. He was 12 years old at the time and worked seven days a week as a cook's helper around the logging camps. He got his nickname because the loggers were always yelling for him to bring them food or drink and they called him "Kid" and it stuck.

He told of meeting a girl, Clara Belle, daughter of James Crews who built a commercial hunting club near Tim's Point. He said they fell in love and ran off to get married and she was only 13 at the time. He said they were afraid to face her father but they did go back and he finally accepted the fact they would stay together. They bought the hunting club in 1910 and named it Wright's Hunting Club. It had 32 rooms and they rented it out to hunters for $10 a day for room and board.

The "sports" hunters coming in would rent the rooms and hire guides to show them where the ducks were. They paid them $8 a day.

In the 1930s he ran for town marshal and constable of Big Lake Township. His opponent was Will Wright (no kin). Later he became a sheriff at the County Farm Prison.

According to his family, they raised 10 children, eight of their own, and two others.

Poteet called Kid Wright a man with a good reputation and he encouraged the young people to do their best.

Kid Wright was born in 1873 and died in 1938.

The students enjoyed the afternoon of living history. Following the Tales at the Cemetery, students teamed up for a scavenger hunt.

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