One of my wife’s paternal great-great grandmothers was Laura Verona Howell, of West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana. Two years after the Civil War ended, 18-year-old Laura married Littleton Wyatt Peebles, a farmer and 19-year-old veteran of the War. They had nine children, five boys and four girls. Their youngest daughter, Garnett Peebles, was my wife’s great-grandmother.

Laura Howell ObitHere is Laura’s obituary, clipped from the Louisiana State-Times Advocate, dated 3 February 1930. It has an unusually large amount of information about Laura’s life. Genealogy is typically rich in details about men’s lives, but those details are more difficult to find for women, so this obituary is a valued find.

The first paragraph tells us that 80-year-old Laura had been battling illness for several months and that she had, in fact, been in declining health for about two years. The final two paragraphs let us know she was a life-long Episcopal and that she had 21 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren at the time of her death.

The second paragraph says Laura was born into a prominent family and that she grew up on Bayland Plantation near Laurel Hill in West Feliciana Parish, which is on Mississippi’s southern border. She and Littleton raised their nine children on a large plantation near the town of Lindsay. Their principal crop was cotton. This proved to be a liability when farmers found their crops being ravaged by boll weevils, which devoured cotton and swept like a plague out of Mexico and across the southern United States around the turn of the century. I thought this detail about my wife’s family history was especially interesting because my hometown of Enterprise, Alabama, is home to the Boll Weevil Monument, erected in honor of the boll weevil for making local farmers switch their crops from cotton to peanuts, which proved to be more lucrative.

Boll Weevil Monument
The Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama.

The third paragraph of Laura’s obituary tells us that the boll weevil prompted her and Littleton to leave their plantation and start anew in California. Two census records are attached below, one from 1900, in which Laura and Littleton’s family are in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, and the other from 1910, in which they are in Yolo County, California. So, obviously, they moved prior to 1910, which was a little more than two decades before the mass migration of farmers to California as the result of the 1930’s “Dust Bowl”, immortalized by John Steinbeck’s acclaimed novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Littleton died in California in 1914, only about ten years after the move. Laura died in Baton Rouge in 1930, so she must have made her way back to Louisiana in the fifteen years after Littleton’s death. We see in the last paragraph of the obituary, though, that at least two of her daughters, “Mrs. A.J. Hood” and “Mrs. L.W. Perkins”, still lived with their families in California at the time of her death, suggesting that Laura and Littleton’s ancestral legacy had become established on the West Coast — because of the boll weevil.

Laura Howell Tree