Over 40 of our members began 2023 with a wonderful Winter Meeting in February at St. John’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall. The speaker for the evening was Judge John Fogleman, a resident of Marion, Arkansas, who spoke on the history of the tragic event of the explosion of the Sultana in 1865. The Sultana was a Mississippi River steamboat under contract with the Union Army at the close of the Civil War to transport recently released Union prisoners of war North and to home. It was licensed to carry only 376 passengers and crew, but was overloaded with well over 2100 men, women and children. The history of why the boat was so overloaded and why it exploded is a many-faceted crime in itself.

The Sultana’s last stop was in Memphis on April 26, 1865. At about 2 a.m. the following morning, the boilers exploded when the steamboat was about 8 miles north of Memphis. Many of the passengers were killed or badly injured. Those that survived were saved by the doctors and nurses in Memphis who rushed to the riverfront as those who were either picked up by rescuers or floated their way to shore and made it to Memphis. A small museum was established in the city of Marion, Arkansas in 2015 to preserve what historical artifacts there were to help people remember this forgotten tragedy. Many members have been to this museum.

Judge Fogleman is the current president of the Sultana Historical Preservation Society, a non-profit organization, that he started and he is raising money to build and operate a permanent museum in Marion. The goal is $9 Million, which if raised, will be matched with another $1 Million from Federal Express. Judge Fogleman indicated that over $8 Million has been raised or pledged. Some members have donated and the Board of Directors has authorized a donation of $250.00 to aid in the project.

Judge Fogleman became so interested in the Descendants that he asked to become a member. The history of his family ancestors settling in Crittenden County, Arkansas in 1832 easily qualified him as a new member.

William Gotten, May 25, 2023


For our spring meeting, members again gathered at St. John’s Parish Hall for a delicious dinner again catered by John and Marcie More of “More Occasions” and an update by Stuart Harris on plans that he and his company have for the closed Sterick Building recently purchased. Closed since 1986, all Memphians welcome the refurbishing of this Memphis landmark, which has been vacant and unoccupied since that date.

Once called “the Queen of Memphis,” the Sterick Building was designed by Wyatt C. Hedrick & Co. and was named as a combination of R. E. Sterling and Wyatt Hedrick. When it opened in 1929, just when the depression was beginning, with 29 stories, it was the tallest building in the American South and remained so until 1957 with the building of the 100 North Main Building.

Stuart says that the “bones” of the building are strong and it is structurally sound. Almost all of our members are familiar with the building and some of us had offices in it when it was prime office space. The Sterick Building has a very interesting history in that the owners of the land on which it sits never, until just now, agreed to sell the land, and they rented it for payment in gold until a lawsuit resolved and amended that requirement.

Stuart related how his company, Constellation Properties, has bought and refurbished other downtown properties, including the Hickman Building, with great success, and how the negotiations to buy the Sterick Building, and the land, were quite a challenge. We Memphians are certainly glad that this has been worked out for this addition to the growth and redevelopment of downtown Memphis and wish him and his company continued success.

William Gotten, May 25, 2023


The members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties and their guests enjoyed getting together on April 4, 2022, for the annual spring meeting at the Woodlands Clubhouse. Newly elected President, Frank Stewart, Jr., opened the meeting and acknowledged several new members who have recently joined and presented them with copies of Early Families of the Memphis Area, authored by member Paul A. Matthews, and Settlers of Shelby County, Tennessee and Adjoining Counties, published in 1989. He noted that both of these books are available at Novel Bookstore.

Shelandra Y. Ford, the Shelby County Register of Deeds, then gave an interesting and informative presentation on the Property Fraud Alert program instituted by her office to protect property owners from being subjected to fraudulent deeds of transfer that is rampant in the country. Her office will advise those persons by email who register when a deed is filed using the name of the property owner. This will alert those registered to a possible fraudulent transfer so that appropriate action can be taken by the true property owner.

The members then had a general discussion of ideas for the year, including various projects that might be funded by the membership such as oral histories of members and purchase of a historic marker. Members were also encouraged to bring in their children and grandchildren as members as well.

Early Settlers Meet for First Time in Two Years

After a two year hiatus due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties (DES) met on December, 15, 2021, at the Woodlands Club House and had an opportunity to renew acquaintances and enjoy a very enjoyable dinner and presentation by member Becky Muska. Becky spoke and showed slides on the removal of the remains of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park in Memphis, which she and her husband, Ken, observed first hand this past year.

The purpose of the meeting was also to hold elections for new Officers and Directors for the 2022-2024 term. The Chairman of the Nominating Committee announced the slate of nominees who were all elected by acclamation. The new Officers and Directors are:

President – Frank Stewart, Jr. Vice- President – Milton Knowlton

Secretary – Betty Brown Treasurer – Adam Simpson

Historian – Bill Boyd Registrar – William Gotten

Parliamentarian – Paul Matthews Publicity Chair – April Branch

Membership Chair – John Feild Chaplain – Bob Kelsey

Director at Large – Ken Muska Director at Large – Davant Latham

Mr. Stewart as new President thanked immediate Past President, Rita Hall, for her service during a very difficult term due to the absence of meetings on account of the pandemic restrictions and the loss by death of several of our long-time members. He also indicated an energetic program to solicit new members and record oral histories of current members and asked for members to encourage their children and grandchildren to join DES. It is hoped that the year will also bring an opportunity for members and friends to plan field trip visits to several historical sites as in the past. Members have visited the Sultana Museum in West Memphis and the homeplace of Johnny Cash as well as the Third Chickasaw Bluff and Holly Springs.

Application updated 4-30-2019

The members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties (DES) held their Fall Social for 2017 on October 19th at the clubhouse at Woodlands.  Some 42 members were present to enjoy good wine, camaraderie, an excellent meal, and an interesting program on the history of railroads in Memphis and Shelby County by train historian Donald Harrison.  Mr. Harrison provided many slides of early trains and maps of a series of railroads, some of which were financially successful and some of which were not.

The history of these trains and their owners is part and parcel of the history of the growth of Shelby County and its surrounds, especially so with the development of cotton in the Mid-South and its transportation by rail, replacing wagons and steamships. With steady rail transportation, Memphis became the cotton capital and the hardwood capital of the world, as well as fields were cleared in order to raise more cotton. The pioneers in the railroad industry included some of the most prominent names and residents of the area. Mr. Harrison added historical anecdotes about the trains, the bridges they had to cross and the accidents that resulted in tragic fatalities in the industry.

The members also held elections for new officers for the coming term of 2018 – 2020.  Elected as officers were; Dr. Rita Hall, President; Frank Stewart, Jr., Vice-President; Betty Leake Brown, Secretary and Adam Simpson, Treasurer.  Ceylon Blackwell, Jr. and Paul Matthews were also elected as Directors-at-large. Dr. Hall indicated that the appointed positions would be filled by the following: Registrar, Dr. Jane Hooker; Parliamentarian, Milton Knowlton; Membership Chairman, John Feild; Historian, Dr. John Harkins; Chaplain, Dr. Nick Gotten, Jr., and Publicity Chair, Darlene Sawyer.

William Gotten, current President, had previously indicated that he would retire after 4 years of dedicated service to the Society.  Dr. Hall and members thanked Mr. Gotten, who has overseen the growth of the Society by the addition of 16 new members. The members enjoyed several road trips to places such as Shiloh, the Sultana Museum, the Cordova and Morton Museums, and most recently a trip to Wilson and Dyess, AR with a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum. Mr. Gotten indicated that with 63 members and a good cash balance in the bank, the Society was enjoying a vibrant and healthy existence.  He encouraged the members to continue to look for other persons who might qualify as descendants of early settlers who settled in Shelby County and adjoining counties prior to 1870.

At the social functions during the years, members have enjoyed lectures on such diverse subjects as the history of Memphis movie theaters, the cataloging of the papers of author Shelby Foote, the story of Captain Lee of the Lee Steamship Lines, Memphians who served in World War II, the early history of Messick High School, the history and development of the Memphis Zoo and most recently the revitalization of the Victorian Village homes.

The next meeting of the members will be the Mid-Winter Social with the date and venue to be announced.

October 4, 2017, 15 members of the Descendants and friends got the chance to visit Dyess, Arkansas (pronounced “Dice”) and the home of Johnny Cash.  We first visited the museum in Dyess which has much memorabilia about Dyess’ most famous resident, including high school pictures of the students and graduating classes.  It was like seeing the movie “Grease” in real time.  The museum is the project of Arkansas State University and is very well kept.  We were advised of the history of the area by the former mayor of Dyess, Larry Simms, and then he took us to  the Cash family’s house, which has been restored to its 1930-40’s vintage, with many original items in the house. The history of the farming community as a WPA project during the depression years was very interesting.

We then went to Wilson, Arkansas, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in this Tudor style village. The cafe has become a real destination spot for those visiting the area and reservations are a must. After lunch we went to Wildwood Antiques, operated out of the home of Katherine Wilby and her daughter Ann.  They have an incredible collection of antiques of all types and it is really amazing that all of these antiques are in Katherine’s personal residence.

While driving to these destinations, we enjoyed the vast storehouse of knowledge of history of the area as related by Jimmy Ogle, our Shelby County Historian.  It was an interesting and informative trip for our members.



On May 17th, twenty members and friends visited the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, Arkansas (www.sultanadisastermuseum.org) and received a nice welcome from Mike Demster of the Chamber of Commerce as well as a guided tour and brief historical lecture from Roz O’Neal, the museum’s director and coordinator. The tour of the museum was arranged by Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County Historian, who provided our group with a constant flow of history of the area as we drove the Esperanza Historical Trail to Marion.

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana’s boilers exploded carrying 2,300 passengers, most of whom were Union prisoners of war recently released from the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Only licensed to carry 375 passengers and crew, the badly overloaded boat was a disaster waiting to happen…and it did, approximately 4 miles from the Mound City landing just down from Memphis. Though unable to be confirmed, the number of dead is approximated at 1,443 persons and is historically documented to be the greatest peacetime marine disaster of all times. The names of all of the soldiers who were on the boat or might have been on the boat is still not known.

The magnitude of this disaster has been overlooked and the exact location of the remains of the Sultana has still not been determined for certain because of the shifting of the Mississippi River. It is generally considered in a location which is now on farm land, a good distance from the current banks of the river. There are several well-written and documented books on the disaster available at the museum, but surprisingly few artifacts belonging to those who died on the boat have been recovered.

It was, and is, very interesting, and hopefully a new permanent museum will be built to house more information and videos of the Sultana’s history and fate.

Some 40 members attended the Spring Social on April 18th and enjoyed a pictorial walk through Victorian Village at Memphis presented by Randle Witherington, a Memphis native currently with the Mallory-Neely House, where he instructs docents to lead tours to and through the several houses preserved in the area. Randle had the rapt attention of those in attendance as he reviewed the history of those that lived in several of the houses now available to visit, including one with its own ghost!

We also welcomed four new members to our ranks with certificates and pins: Davant Latham, Jim Robinson and his wife, Susan Robinson and Jim Fain, and the new April 2017 edition of the Membership Directory was given out. The usual delicious dinner catered by Brenda and Mike Vernon was enjoyed to the fullest.

President Gotten advised that he has scheduled a visit to the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, Arkansas, for Wednesday May 17th, by motor coach and led by Shelby County Historian Jimmy Ogle. Those members interested in going should contact Mr. Gotten promptly as seating will be limited for more information.

Thirty-two members were treated to an informative and entertaining presentation of historic homes in Memphis by Jimmy Ogle, the Shelby County Historian and Duckmaster of the Peabody ducks at the Mid-Winter Luncheon, February 23, 2017, at the Woodlands Clubhouse.  Always witty and knowledgeable of Memphis and Shelby County history, Jimmy took the descendants via a pictorial slide show to the interesting homes of early Memphians, many of which are preserved and available to visit.  The Mageveney House and the Mallory-Neely House, as well as the homes in Victorian Village, are well worth a visit to see the grandeur of earlier days.

This is “Part One” of Jimmy’s walk through the historic homes and we look forward to seeing Part Two when he has that completed.  Also, we are planning a visit to the Sultana Museum later this Spring and more information will soon be going out about this “road trip.”  Jimmy is also going to lead this tour to Arkansas where the museum and relics of the Sultana are located.  Last year we went to Shiloh with Dr. Doug Cupples and had a wonderful time.

The Descendants will also be having their Spring Social later and we look forward to welcoming new member, John Fain, and perhaps others as well.  If qualified by year of settlement in Shelby County and/or surrounding counties, you may want to send in an application.  See the application form on this website.