The woman was screaming and sobbing as her father laid bleeding on the ground, but the man coldly lowered his rifle and aimed it directly at her. The gun went off. Our daughter jerked awake —who had been screaming? Was a neighbor in trouble, or had it been a dream? With her heart pounding, our daughter laid there in the pitch dark, and listened intently for any noise or sound that might tell her that it was real, but all was silent. And then she remembered. Hours earlier, she had been helping me transcribe some newly found court documents. Having returned from college for a weekend visit, she had become intrigued when I told her that I had found our ancestors involved in a murder trial and I was anxious to sort it all out. She had then suggested that she help me transcribe the lengthy court minutes, but little did either of us realize how chilling the details of Mary Ellen’s murder were or just how much they would haunt us.
I knew that a Mary Ellen Gurganus had married Thomas Pratt in Bibb County, Georgia on the 28th of October 1838. Dozens of times over the years I had run across the marriage entry when searching Bibb County records , but I didn’t know for sure who she was. I had a pretty good idea that she would prove to be related to David Gurganus, my fourth great grandfather, as that surname was not common in Georgia at that time, but I could not seem to find anything more about her that would help identify just what her relationship was to my Gurganus family. She and her husband had married and then seemingly just disappeared.
One day in total exasperation at the lack of information that I had on my Gurganus family during their time in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, I decided to go through a microfilm of Bibb County Court records, slowly, page by page, looking for something….anything. A mere five hours later something caught my eye. The sheriff had applied for compensation for the injuries that his horse had sustained in the pursuit of Ellen Pratt’s MURDERER!! I wondered- could this be Mary Ellen GURGANUS Pratt? I quickly checked the dates and then turned to Bibb County Superior Court records and there it was. The trial of Elisha Reese for the murder of Mary Ellen Pratt on 16 May 1849. As I quickly scanned the court minutes, the name “Gurganus” popped off the page. The record indicated that Ellen Pratt was a widow and had been living with her aged father, David Gurganus!!! Rebecca Gurganus, her step mother testified. This meant that she was a daughter to my fourth great grandfather David Gurganus and a sister to my third great grandfather, James Gurganus. I could not believe my eyes. As I had tried to imagine why I couldn’t find anything further about Ellen Pratt, the possibility that she had been murdered had never entered my mind. What had happened? Why would someone murder a sixty year old widow woman in her front yard in front of her father and stepmother? It’s a story I’m anxious to share in upcoming posts.
Continue onto Part Two of Murder in Macon
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