On a lonely road out from Lula there is a small gated cemetery in the middle of a cotton field. During summer, grass takes it over so you can barely make it out. About the only time to go visit is during winter after the first few frosts. The cold winds cut you to the bone as you are making your trek out to see what the rusted gates hold. Once there, you notice only one marker. A small, squatty marble marker with the following inscription:
Maggie E. Wife of Thomas Busby and daughter of Jack Miller. Born in Winchester, Tennessee October 28, 1866. Died in Lula, Mississippi September 22, 1905. She died as she lived, Trusting in God.
How had this small cemetery survived all these years? The Mississippi Delta can be an unforgiving place to cemeteries left uncared for. Also, why would Maggie Busby be buried in such an isolated place with nobody else around her? When I asked my father, he said he always heard she had died from the plague and everybody was scared to move her. People were even scared to go visit the grave. How sad. This made me want to find out even more about Maggie and who Thomas Busby was.
Winchester, where Maggie was born, is a small town in Franklin County, Tennessee on the Alabama state line. She was the daughter of Jackson Steel Miller and Priscilla Ann Estill. Maggie was part of a large family with twelve brothers and sisters. Jack Miller made his living as a carpenter, but made sure his children attended school.
Maggie married Thomas Bailey in 1889 and moved to Lula. She is listed on the 1900 U.S. Census living with Thomas and his two sons, Willie and Ferdel. Thomas was identified as a farmer. Willie was a farm laborer and Ferdel said he was a book keeper. Life was hard in the delta during those times. Fevers and diseases spread quickly wiping out entire families. Poor Maggie took ill with typhoid fever and died September 22, 1905 and was buried on the family farm. Her parents had already passed. Priscilla had died in 1900 and Jack had followed in 1901. Maggie left no children and Thomas had to persevere.
Thomas Busby had quite a history himself. He was born in 1854 in Mississippi. He and his brother Joseph were the sons of Levi Busby and Elizabeth Lee. According to family history, Elizabeth was a slave who had been the daughter of Jim Lee. She had been a favorite daughter of her father and lived in his house until she grew into young womanhood. When he died, she was left to Levi Busby who had worked as an overseer for Lee. They had two children. According to family history, Levi was extremely proud of his sons with Elizabeth and they lived with him after her death. Even though he later married, Thomas and Joseph remained in the household as his children. He would have two more sons by his wife who would both serve in the Confederate army. Not much is known about Levi and his family before the Civil War though.
Levi and most of the family migrated to Brazil after the Civil War as hundreds of other Confederates did. Apparently they decided Brazil wasn’t for them because the family returned to the United States on March 19, 1869. Along with Levi were his two sons, Thomas and Joseph. Joseph would soon marry and move to Arkansas. Thomas remained near Levi and owned a large estate outside Lula. Thomas first married Rachel Beasley, who was white, and a daughter of a local farmer. Although unusual at that time, it was not completely illegal. It wasn’t until the 1890 state constitution of Mississippi where strict laws regarding marriage were put into the books. Rachel and Thomas would have two sons, Willie and Ferdel. Rachel passed away and he soon married Maggie. Tragedy would hit sixteen years later with Maggie’s death. Thomas and his two sons kept their farm going and were still living at Lula in 1910. He soon remarried and moved across the river to Helena. Others bought the land and Thomas passed away in 1944. For a number of years after, a Busby or two would come visit friends at Barbee service station in Lula. They would always go by and visit Maggie’s grave. As time went by, those visits came less and less. Soon they stopped altogether and Maggie was forgotten at her lonely grave in the field. My life came along much later, but I noticed that gated cemetery when I went drove by. I never knew Maggie. I’m not related to Maggie. I care about Maggie’s story though and her husband Thomas’s story. Their story is one of courage to tame a hard land; their story is one of hardship caused by this hard land; their story is one of triumph over this hard land. She remains part of the history of this hard land.
Maggie E. Busby, always remembered as part of the Lula history.