It was a beautiful late September day last Thursday when friend Cheri Atkins and I drove to Texarkana, Arkansas on a quick road trip to do some research at the Miller County Court House. Her goal was for Dial and Collins documents, and I would be searching for Martins and Hemperleys.
As we drove we talked about late blooming summer flowers and how it was difficult it was to recognize some parts of Highway 71 since I-49 construction had changed the scenery. We passed round bales of hay in fields, a pasture filled with a herd of buffalo, churches and graveyards. There was some construction and we even passed a group of prisoners picking up trash along the roadway. Cheri, who has a vivid imagination, commented on how she thought it would be easy for one of those convicts to escape. A short time later we passed a police vehicle heading South flying down the road with lights flashing soon to be followed by five more patrol cars.
Arriving at our destination of 400 Laurel Street, there it stood…… the Court House. My imagination ran rampant about the discoveries we were about to make. I could already smell the old books filled with Our Families Untold Stories.
The Court House is located in older section of town filled with homes of the same era and nearby beautiful churches. This was not the original Court House which initially served both Texas and Arkansas, but the one finished in the late 1930s to serve only Miller County, Arkansas.
Once inside we must have looked as if we were strangers to its halls as a man I recognized from the Court House’s website as County Judge Larry E. Burgess offered assistance by directing us to the Clerk of Court’s office. I can only sing the praises of those who work there as they were friendly, courteous and only too eager to answer our questions or offer assistance.
The search was on! Cheri and I both were able to obtain documents pertaining to marriage licenses, preacher certificates, deeds and other priceless pieces of our families’ history. Then it dawned on me that I was standing not only among history of Miller County but the history of one Henry Fincher Eason, former Clerk of Court and Tax Collector of Miller County AND his mother was a Hemperley!
(Photo owned by Susie Higginbotham Reynolds)
Fincher Eason (son of Seaborn Sidney) was one of fifteen children born to his father and mother, Luella Hemperley (daughter of Dr. Edward Thomas Hemperley, great grandfather of my husband). His family lived in Sulphur Township on his father’s farm.
He attended college at Louisiana State Normal School and at the age of twenty-two began a career in education. He served as teacher, principal and superintendent. Below is a photo of College Hill Ward School in Texarkana where he was a principal.
On December 23, 1908 he married Miss Ollie Minnie Walton and from this union there were six children born, two of which died in infancy.
In 1916 he became Miller County Clerk of Court and served for two terms before becoming Tax Collector in 1920. The 1920 Census shows him living at 414 Hickory Street with his wife and four children: Fincher, Jr. age 9, Sidney S. age 6, William Boyd, age 5 and Evelyn who is 1 year of age. On November 20, 1923 Fincher and Ollie divorced and he retained sole custody of the children.
During WWI he served as Chairman of the registration board; enlisted as a private and reached the rank of Captain.
Recently while looking over notes I had made while interviewing a Hemperley relative thirty years ago, I had jotted down “committed suicide” by his name. It was time to revisit Fincher and locate any information I could find regarding how he died. Below are a couple of articles I found on www.genealogybank.com relating to his death.
Why, I thought? Why would a man who was a pillar in the community commit suicide? He had to be well thought of as there were 2,000 people that attended his funeral and 4,000-5,000 at the gravesite! This man was a 32nd degree Mason, a member of the Mystic Shrine, served as senior deacon of the lodge, Member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythia, Woodmen of the World and Baptist Church. I had to know more and so I enlisted the help of one of the clerks to locate the probate records from his estate. Surely his will, one of the letters he had written, or the “To The People of Miller County” mentioned in the newspaper article about him being found dead would give me some insight.
His will was not in the Probate Records. None of the letters were. Nor was the “To the People of Miller County”. Nothing to give me a hint or understanding of his taking his life. However, what I did locate was a list of his debts, which amounted to $83,000. In 1923 that had to be comparable to millions today!
As you can see from this document, the administrator of his estate asks the Court to allow 35% payment of his debts or $29,050.
Did he commit suicide because of his divorce; his being the sole parent raising four children; ill health; or the amount of debt he owed? I suppose I will never know!
What I did learn was that the two ounces of poison he took changed the lives of his children forever. Fincher’s sister, Ida Hughes, petitioned the Court for custody of the children as set out by Fincher in his will.
The children’s mother sued for custody of two of the four children and according to the article below, the judge in the case awarded them to Fincher’s sister, Mrs. Ida Hughes of Bright Star, per his handwritten wishes.
One week later Arkansas State Police and other law enforcement officers are still looking for the escapee.
One week later I am still looking for more information on another escaped man, namely Henry Fincher Eason!