Memories of Uncle Harry Waller


Sylvia remembers when one of the small boys of Betty and Harry died. The child lay in his coffin in the ‘formal sitting room’ in grandpa Waller’s house. Aunt Betty came downstairs, saw the coffin, and burst out wailing and lamenting over her dead child. One story is that since Betty and Harry were cousins, and Betty’s mother had married a cousin, and since there had been much intermarriage, that both boys died of bad blood. Another story is that they died of lead poisoning from crib paint. But sister Nancy lives still.


Juanita remembers when Uncle Harry died during Christmas 1947. There were days waiting to find the missing person. Then Uncle Oris came home, lay down on the floor, and cried like she had never seen him do before. It was then that Juanita knew Uncle Harry was dead. I remember standing around the kitchen wood stove in grandfathers home listening to the adults discuss what was going on. We children took it lightly; including daughter Nancy, until we knew the terrible truth and Christmas was spoiled. Dad’s cousin Milton Bailey remembers helping with the search, as did other relatives and neighbors. And Milton remembers that it was dad’s cousin Buddy Steppe who found the body down on the Staunton River.


I have only one clear memory of Uncle Harry. As a child of 3 or 4 years I was in need of a pocketknife, or needed to have mine sharpened. They sent me to where the men were Sunday lounging on tree trunks in the front yard to ask Uncle Harry for his assistance. I do remember visiting the home once or twice, but can’t picture how it was or who was there.


Harry and family lived on what is now Windfall Road, not far from his parents. He would walk over every day, or frequently, to see his mother and father who lived on what is now Red House Road.


A black man, a drinking partner, murdered Uncle Harry. They had gone on a binge, drove away out in the boonies, and began to drink and discuss. The motivation for the murder was given at the trial; uncle had insulted the black man in a way that he should not have done to a black drinking pal. The black man shot him. The black man was caught with personal belongings of Uncle Harry in his possession. He was convicted and sentenced to a few years; which grieved grandpa for the rest of his life.



Some say that Uncle Harry was “rough”. Here is a copy of a letter from the governor’s Secretary concerning a pardon for Uncle Harry. Apparently he was in prison for some crime and a petition for a pardon, which would mean early release, had been sent to Richmond. I have not found out what this is all about. I have heard that my Waller uncles were frequently in trouble and grandpa Waller spent much money helping them out. Maybe this does not apply to Uncle Oris, and maybe none was as bad as it seems. However, trouble runs in the family; my son has officially met sheriff Maxey.


I think I can identify the source of the problem. It is in the genes, or rather the genes inherited from Polly Cooksey who is said to have been part Indian. Her son, Benjamin Franklin Waller, has the look of a rebellious young man; it was part of his Indian heritage. When mother Polly died and father Thomas remarried youngest child Ben went to live with grandparents Cuthbert and Elizabeth Waller. I guess young Ben was too young to accept and get along with his new stepmother. He never went back to his parent’s home and grandfather Cuthbert willed his grandson land. Ben lived on his grandfather’s land the rest of his life, after returning from cavalry service in the Civil War.


Margie Waller Walton                                      Author

Left: Benjamin Franklin Waller as a young man. Right: Lewis Bailey Steppe III at about the same age. I think they have features in common, like the tight lips and long jawbone. There is no proof yet that Ben was part American Indian.