By Jessica Gorman
Dr. Samuel J. Harrell, a native of Georgia, came to Webster Parish in 1872 by way of New Orleans. From New Orleans, he traveled up the Red River aboard the John T. Moore. When low water prevented the boat from advancing any farther north, a much smaller vessel was required to complete the last 100 miles of the trip to Minden. His original destination had been Texas, but being surprised by “the extremely cultured people” of Minden, he decided to stay.
He married Emma Carr on 20 January 1875. “Dr. Harrell said she married him because she felt sorry for him.” They made their home on a farm north of Minden. This farm was struck by a tornado in 1883, almost 50 years to the day before the disastrous tornado of 1933.
Despite his unpopular political views, S.J. Harrell soon found himself as sheriff of Webster Parish, filling the unexpired term of Sheriff W.N. Collier. He was serving as sheriff during the controversial election of 1879 when the Gum Springs ballot box went missing.
Even though he once considered himself “a big, over-grown boy too ashamed to go to school” who was “doomed to be uneducated,” on the advice of a local dentist, he decided to attend dental school. Because he did not have the required high school diploma, he wasn’t sure he could pass the entrance exam, but he didn’t let that stop him from enrolling at Vanderbilt University in 1884 and graduating valedictorian of his class. Upon his return to Minden, he set up his dental practice.
In 1900, his wife Emma Carr Harrell passed away. He remarried to Mrs. Willie Sandidge Heard and in 1904, The Webster Signal reports the home of Dr. S.J. Harrell “just south of the college” as among those “soon to be erected”. Upon completion of the home in 1905, and over the course of the next few years, many social gatherings were held at the Harrell residence.
Dr. Harrell made a run for mayor in 1908, but lost to the incumbent, Walter H. Webb. Then, in 1909, Carrie Heard, daughter of Mrs. Willie Harrell fell ill. Mrs. Harrell and her daughter moved to San Angelo, Texas in hopes that the climate would prove beneficial to her health. Dr. Harrell remained in in Minden for a short period of time before retiring and joining them in San Angelo.
Carrie Heard did not recover from her illness. She died in 1913 and the Harrells returned to Louisiana. Their home in Minden was sold to Thomas W. Fuller and they made their new home in Haughton near Mrs. Harrell’s family. Dr. Harrell resumed his dental practice there and continued until his failing eyesight forced his retirement in 1933.
Dr. Harrell passed away in 1951 at the age of 101. He was said to have been the oldest living member of the Knights of Pythias, not only of Post 4 in Minden but the entire organization, the oldest living member of the First United Methodist Church in Minden, and the oldest living alumnus of Vanderbilt University.
(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)