1877 - 1913
THE EARLY YEARS
We have limited knowledge of the early years of Mississippi Alpha - as the Ole Miss yearbooks were not published at The University of Mississippi until the year 1897. The report to the Scroll by Monroe McClurg (Bond #13) on September 14, 1878 reveals an interest and devotion to the fraternity that has maintained itself in Mississippi Alpha to this day. Here is what he wrote:
“I hope every chapter will send a delegate to the next National Convention. Go to Indianapolis in 1880, that you may form a proper conception of the dignity and grandeur of the fraternity to which you have the honor to belong. Go there that you may lay your hand on the golden cord that encircles the Union. Go there to meet brothers from every quarter and section of the country. Yes, you will meet them there from the rocky bound shores of the Atlantic, to the silver crested waves of the Pacific, from the limpid Lakes of the North, to the Gulf that washes our Southern coast, divested of the filth and slime of internal factions and national controversies. My college days have ended. Warm friends and the “little girl” up street are parted with, the last “Good bye” and the last wave of a snow white ‘kerchief has been heard, seen, and almost forgotten, but -
“Still pulse will throb and heart beat light,
As faithful memory back shall go,
To view Phi Delta Theta’s joys,
And those dear scenes of long ago.”
The report written soon after the Civil War, when bitterness was still about, reflects a spirit and an insight worthy of a Brother who was to become the Attorney General of the State of Mississippi, an early president of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and leaves a continuing challenge for all of those who have signed The Bond.
With limited knowledge of Mississippi Alpha before the yearbooks, Orrick Metcalfe provided insight on the first Brothers of Mississippi Alpha. Brother Orrick Metcalfe, ’26 of Natchez, was encouraged to join Phi Delta Theta at Swarthmore by several early members of Mississippi Alpha. He has furnished data on several of them:
Enoch A. Enochs was born in Florence in 1855 and came to the University from Copiah County. After leaving the University, he became a partner in the Enochs Lumber Company in Jackson with several of his brothers. Later he moved to Natchez where he has his own lumber company. He had four children and has grandchildren now residing in Natchez.
Luther Whittington, a member of one of Mississippi’s most distinguished families, gained distinction as a teacher, lawyer, farmer and businessman and served as Mayor of both Meadville and Natchez.
Dr. Richard D. Sessions went to Tulane Medical School, studied in New York City and became a prominent Eye, Ear & Nose specialist in Natchez.
In 1912, Thomas H. Yates, son of Alexander Yates (Bond #50) of Oxford, took charge of the Chapter pictures and artifacts. They were returned to the chapter by Sam P. Gardner, MS Alpha 1948, who had discovered them in the home of his grandfather. Among these pictures are ones believed to be Enoch A. Enochs, the first chapter group and convention pictures in periods before or near 1900s.
A number of the early Phis were living during the 1935-36 years when contact was made with them and many helped to finance and build the first Phi Delt house at Ole Miss. Among them was William M. Peteet (Bond #45) of Greenwood. His daughter gave a memorial to her father in the drive of the early sixties as he had died only shortly before the construction of the last house.
Others include: Lorenzo N. Dantzler, MS Alpha 1885 (Bond #53), founded the L.N. Dantzler Lumber Company – one of the great timber operations of the South; Joseph C. Higdon was a county official of Humphreys County; Frank M. Purnell of Winona, a planter and financier; Cade Lee Armstrong, a physician at Vaiden; Stone Deavours, attorney and Dean of the Ole Miss Law School from Laurel; Samuel D. Neill, attorney and District Attorney of Indianola; Edward P. Peacock of Clarksdale, a banker who rendered great service to the Memphis and Mississippi Delta area during the Great Depression; Percy Ray, planter at Indianola; Charles L. Garnett of Columbus who gave the keynote address at the Birmingham States Rights Convention and many others of prominence and success who unfortunately we have limited or no information concerning.
It was in 1897 that fraternities as a group began to publish “The Ole Miss”, the first yearbook at the University. The information is still somewhat limited but as reflected below, Phi Delts were much a part of the campus life and leadership.
Ed Ball Williams was the Associate Editor of the first “Ole Miss”. Life centered in the various social clubs of the day. One such club, The Loafers Club, indicated the spirit of the times – its habitat “Castle of Indolence” and its yell – “it requires too much effort to yell”. Lamar Hardy, later to gain great prominence as an attorney in New York City was fullback on the varsity football squad and a member of the basketball team and with him at right tackle was James Gordon Smythe of Kosciusko.
William Albert Lucas of French Camp and Latham Ray of Greenwood were active in the Hermaean and Phi Sigma Literacy Societies. Patrick Henry, Jr. was a member of the 1898 football team, William W. Venable served as President of the State Oratorical Association (he later became a U.S. Congressman), Bem Price, Jr. of Greenwood was editor of the Ole Miss and he later gave the plans for the first house of Phi Delta Theta at Ole Miss.
In 1900, Davis L. Fair came up from French Camp and started the Fair Family Tradition in Mississippi Alpha. His interest in football was apparent as he was captain of his class-team and in time would be manager of the varsity football team. William M. Garrard, who was to become one of the leaders of the World Cotton Industry and J. Martin Magruder came into the chapter the same year. Magruder was to be outstanding career in banking and farming and at his death was president of the New Orleans Intermediate Credit Bank.
Robert Lee Jones of Kosciusko came in 1901 and as member of the famous Jones family of Kosciusko was with brothers B.B. and Monfort to become very successful in oil.
1903 – 1909
In the early nineteen hundreds, anti-fraternity sentiment was prevalent in many universities of the nation and particularly in the South. Restrictions were imposed at Alabama, Vanderbilt and at other schools and the University of Mississippi was no exception. The trustees prohibited fraternities from initiating members during 1901-1903. The crisis was short lived, however, and soon Phi Delta Theta and other Greek groups were back in business again. Orman L. Kimbrough came during this period and was a star on the football field and outstanding in track and field events. Frank L. Fair entered in 1903 and was to play in the first football game that he had ever seen – it was against Vanderbilt University. Robert N. Somerville was a member of the football team for three years and editor of the Ole Miss. Joe H. Aldridge and his brother John A. came from Estill to begin another family group and tradition in Phi Delta Theta. Garrard M. Barrett of Greenwood joined in 1901 to be followed by his son Garrard, Jr., MS Alpha 1934, who was to head the House Corporation during the 1960s.
Toney A. Hardy, who is the oldest living member of Mississippi Alpha joined with his brother Lamar. Lucius Polk Jones was captain of varsity baseball. Norfleet R. Sledge, who was to serve with great distinction as a Chancellor, came and joined from Como in 1908.
Ole Miss Phi Delts were busy in 1909 and looking forward to stronger and more prosperous days. Hugh T. Buckley, MS Alpha 1908, wrote on August 1, 1909 to Brother Frank C. Owen, AL 1899, and the letter, reflecting the interest and activity of Phi Delta Theta of that day, is reproduced here through the courtesy of Frank Owen’s son Benjamin L. Owen, MS Alpha 1942.
1910 – 1913
October 1, 1910 was the last initiation date for Phi Delta Theta until fraternities were reestablished at Ole Miss in 1926. The chapter, however, in those years (1910-1913) became one of the closest knit groups in the history of Mississippi Alpha. From the group was to come much of the strength to reorganize the Chapter in 1926. It was this group that would spearhead the consolidation of the 1930s.
R. Kenneth Haxton, was quarterback and captain of the varsity football team and was to become one of the best known and most popular SEC football officials. He was a strong factor in Ole Miss Athletics until his death.
W.T. McKinney, like his friend Kenneth Haxton, had a son follow him into the chapter. He distinguished himself as a planter, civic leader, President of the Delta Council, President of Yazoo-Mississippi Levee Board and was the first president and one of the founders of the House Corporation.
No man ever gave more fully to his fraternity than did R.W. “Bill” Bailey. He was a founder and president of the House Corporation and was always available to encourage and help the chapter. He was the foremost farm real estate agent in the Mid-South Area.
Cornell S. Franklin became the foremost lawyer in Shanghai and was the only American to serve as Mayor of the International Settlement. At the time of the finance drive for the first house in 1935, he surprised and delighted the chapter by a $250 contribution which at that time was substantial and amounted to approximately 10% of the funds raised.
Sam J. Foose and Robert N. Aldridge both gave great support to the chapter and each had two sons to follow into Mississippi Alpha.
Wm. T. Wynn stayed loyal and consistent in his help to the fraternity. He served as president of the House Corporation, was President of the Ole Miss Alumni Association and distinguished himself in law and business serving as both President of the Delta Council and of the National Cotton Council of America.
This recount of the early years of Mississippi Alpha is of necessity brief – many interesting matters have been omitted or overlooked. It is not complete in any sense – rather it attempts to put into perspective the accomplishments and prominence of the brothers of the early years.