It had started out as a typical spring day in Macon, Georgia. The Gurganus family lived about four miles from the court house on the road to Forsyth. At about 11:00 a.m., David, Rebecca and Ellen were all sitting together out on their “piazza,” likely trying to cool off a bit. Ellen, a widow of about 60 years of age, was living with her father and her step mother. It may have begun like a typical day, but soon things would take a horrible turn.
|Bibb county map with the road to from Macon to Forsyth
(From Georgia Galileo)
Elisha Reese, who was called simply “Reese” by the townspeople, had recently proposed marriage to Ellen, but she had rejected his proposal. What else may have transpired between them, we do not know, but what we do know is that her father was concerned and had sworn out a peace warrant against Reese. Newspapers later reported that there had in fact been threats of violence made by Reese towards Ellen. When Reese learned that a peace warrant had been sworn out against him, it did not sit well.
According to court records,on the morning of May 16th, 1849, Reese went to visit with the sheriff about the peace warrant and there was considerable discussion which ended with Reese storming off, declaring “it would only cost him what little he had and his life and he would see her out or die.” The sheriff begged him to leave her alone, but determined, Elisha set out for the Gurganus property.
Rebecca Gurganus, who was Ellen’s step-mother, testified that Reese had come to their property that morning and, while standing at the gate, asked Ellen why she had told the lie. When Ellen insisted that she had not told a lie, Reese opened the gate to enter their yard. Ellen then said, “Reese, don’t come in here,” but he continued anyway and so David got up from the piazza and walked towards the gate saying “Reese, what are you coming here interrupting us for? We interrupt no body.” Newspaper articles referred to David as a “very aged Revolutionary soldier,” and indicated that he was “scarce able to walk” and had begged Reese to go away and to not create any disturbance there.
It was then that Reese gripped the barrel of the gun with both hands, swung it at David and struck him in the head, knocking him to the ground. Ellen, who had been standing in the piazza, immediately ran to her father to help him, at which time, Reese took aim and shot her in the neck at such close range, the wadding set her clothes on fire. Ellen fell dead within a few feet of her father, who was still on the ground and bleeding. Within minutes Ellen was dead and David had received injuries from which he would never fully recover. Reese turned and calmly walked away, leaving Rebecca standing there, no doubt in shock over what had just transpired.
A neighbor testified that he had seen a man pass by his property through the corn field with a rifle resting on his shoulder. Minutes later he heard the gun go off and the man passed back by. The neighbor had been unsure as to what had transpired, but then heard Rebecca calling to him for help. When he approached the Gurganus property, he discovered that Ellen was dead and that ninety year old David, whom he described as an “old and infirm man,” was on his hands and knees, his head was bleeding and he was delirious. The neighbor carried David into the house, put him onto his bed and then set off for the doctor and the sheriff.
What occurs next sounds like a scene from an old movie. The neighbor went into town and found the sheriff and others, who brought dogs and set out, determined to find “Reese.” Starting at the Gurganus house where they surveyed the grim scene, the dogs then picked up Reese’s scent, began to circle and then took off in chase through the woods. In my mind, I can see a frantic Reese, running for his life through the woods with the barking dogs at his heels, and the men on horses in determined pursuit. The chase was intense enough that the sheriff would later need to receive compensation for the injuries his horse sustained during the chase. Within about 30 minutes, the dogs and men were able to overcome Reese. The men then tied Reese up and took him into town.
I have read over the court documents and the numerous corresponding newspaper articles dozens of times, each time feeling a deep sadness. My heart breaks for Ellen, who rejected a suitor without realizing the price that she and her father would ultimately pay, for David, my fourth great grandfather, who witnessed the murder of his daughter, something no parent should ever experience, and for Rebecca, who stood helplessly by as she watched the terrible scene unfold. As with any event buried in the past, there is more to this story than I will ever know. Why did Reese, a 50 year old man pursue with such determination, 60 year old widowed Ellen, and feel so strongly about her rejection that he made threats of violence and eventually murdered her? While I don’t have all of the answers, I still have more to share, including Reese’s trial and what ultimately happened to him, all of which I will include in my next post.
Continue onto Part Three, Final Chapter, The Trail
Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2012