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Finding Aid for the Beckwith / Yerger Collection (MUM00029)

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The Beckwith / Yerger Collection is open for research.

Finding Aid for the Beckwith / Yerger Collection

Descriptive Summary

Title: Beckwith / Yerger Collection
Dates: 1869-1930
Collector: Beckwith, Byron de la
Physical Extent: 7 boxes (2.919 linear feet)
Repository: University of Mississippi. Department of Archives and Special Collections. University, MS 38677, USA
Identification: MUM00029
Language of Material: English
Abstract: The Beckwith and Yerger families of California and Mississippi were land speculators, entrepreneurs, and planters. Susie Yerger married Byron de la Beckwith, Jr. in California in 1912, and after his death in 1926, she and their young son Byron de la Beckwith III returned to her hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi. The collection contains primarily family and business correspondence between members of the two families. Also included are clippings and miscellaneous items.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information

In 1962, Byron De La Beckwith III offered the University of Mississippi this collection of family papers. Together, the John L. Hebron Fund of the History Department and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity provided the necessary purchase price.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Leigh McWhite, 2001. Finding aid encoded by Jason Kovari, December 2009, and Kathryn Michaelis, September 2011.

This collection contains additional material that is not processed.


No further additions are expected to this collection.

Subject Terms

Beckwith family
Yerger family
Beckwith, Byron de la
Land speculation -- California
Plantations -- Mississippi -- Leflore County
Water resources development -- California


clippings (information artifacts)

Historical Note

The first Byron De La Beckwith was born in Mentor, Ohio in 1839. After completing his education, he went west to California in 1860-1861, where he soon settled in the town of Stockton. Beckwith taught school, clerked in a general store, and invested his savings in land speculation. By 1868, he had moved to Lodi, California and opened a drug store. For a period, he also served as the community’s postmaster and telegraph operator. In 1882, Beckwith married a young widow, Mary Oliver Bray, with three children (Elliot, Bert, and Jennie). Two years later, Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. was born. By 1886, Beckwith had helped to finance and organize the Woodbridge Canal & Irrigation Company, one of the state’s first successful irrigation projects.

After a prolonged illness, Mary Oliver Bray Beckwith died in 1889. In 1897, Beckwith and his son moved to Colusa, California where they lived with close family friends Will and Sally (nee Morgan) Green. Before his death in 1904, Beckwith had become involved in yet another irrigation venture – the Sacramento Canal Company. Taking advantage of his illness and death, the company’s partners refused to make good on Beckwith’s investments. Beckwith, Jr. pursued his father’s case for over twelve years until the state’s Supreme Court decided in his favor. In the meantime, he became the captain of the local National Guard company, served as the town’s postmaster for three years, and started selling insurance.

At some point prior to the summer of 1909, Sally Green invited her niece, Susie Yerger, to visit Colusa, where the young woman from Mississippi met Green’s surrogate son, Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. They corresponded for a number of years and wed in 1912. Eight years later, their only child, Byron De La Beckwith III was born in a Sacramento, California hospital. Beckwith, Jr. died from pneumonia with alcoholic complications in 1926, leaving a bankrupt estate for his widow and son. At that point, Susie Yerger Beckwith returned home to Greenwood, Mississippi.

The Yerger family, and the related Morgan, Kimbrough, and Southworth families, were part of the upper socio-economic class of Mississippi Delta whites who had owned slaves and plantations prior to the Civil War. Susie’s father, Lemuel Pernell Yerger, had joined the Confederate army at the age of sixteen. When he returned home after the war, Yerger took up the practice of law and ultimately married Susan Fisher Southworth.

Byron De La Beckwith III would grow up in Greenwood among his mother’s southern family. In June 12, 1963, a single rifle shot killed Medgar Evers, the state field secretary of the NAACP. Indicted for this murder, Beckwith went to trial twice in 1963, and each time the all-white jury trial ended in a mistrial. A third jury in 1994 would find him guilty.


Reed Massengill, Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed Medgar Evers (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994): 17-38

R.W. Scott, Glory in Conflict: A Saga of Byron De La Beckwith (Camden, AR: Camark Press, 1991)

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains no documents from the hand of Byron De La Beckwith III, but does offer a rich resource in understanding his family background and early childhood. Received in a largely disorganized state, the papers are primarily sorted by surname as either Beckwith or Yerger. The exceptions are a few pieces of correspondence by Sally Morgan Green, which, because of her residence in California and close ties to the Beckwith family, appear in the Yerger correspondence, and the pre-marital correspondence of Susie Yerger with Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. and others.

The preserved Beckwith correspondence, on the whole, occurs among family members: the Ohio branch of Beckwiths to Byron De La Beckwith, Sr.; Mary Oliver Bray Beckwith to her husband during his business trips; letters from Beckwith, Sr. to Beckwith, Jr.; and Susie Yerger’s letters to her fiance and then husband. Business correspondence occasionally appears in this mix as well, although documents and receipts are organized separately unless specifically found with a letter.

The Yerger correspondence is primarily of a business nature, with a smattering of personal letters and correspondence concerning Confederate commemorative efforts such as Confederate Veterans conventions. Separate from this correspondence are records specifically related to three of L.P. Yerger’s clients – George Cary, a resident of New Orleans who apparently speculated in Mississippi Delta land between 1870 and 1893; the estate of P.P. McLemore; and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Company which was essentially a branch line of the Illinois Central Railroad. In addition, Yerger was the executor of the estate of his brother-in-law Judge L.M. Southworth who had served on the bench in the Philippine Islands before succumbing to cancer in Baltimore, Maryland.

The miscellaneous items and clippings found in Box 7 derive from both the Beckwith and Yerger families or are indeterminate in origin.

An item-level inventory of this collection is also available.

User Information

Prefered Citation

Beckwith / Yerger Collection, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi

Access Restrictions

The Beckwith / Yerger Collection is open for research.

Copyright Restrictions

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a photocopy or other reproduction. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be "used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship or research." If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," that user may be liable for copyright infringement.


This collection is arranged in 2 series and chronologically within each series.

Series I. Beckwith Family Correspondence and Documents
Series II. Yerger Family Correspondence and Documents

Container List

An item-level inventory of this collection is also available.

Series I. Beckwith Family Correspondence and Documents
Beckwith Family Correspondence, 1869-1887
Folder 1.1 1869-1879
Folder 1.2 1880-1881
Folder 1.3 1882
Folder 1.4 1883
Folder 1.5 1884
Folder 1.6 1885
Folder 1.7 January-February 1886
Folder 1.8 March 1886
Folder 1.9 April 1886
Folder 1.10 May 1886
Folder 1.11 June 1886
Folder 1.12 July-December 1886
Folder 1.13 January-July 1887
Folder 1.14 August 1887
Folder 1.15 September-December 1887
Beckwith Family Correspondence, 1888-1897
Folder 2.1 January-February 1888
Folder 2.2 March-May 1888
Folder 2.3 June-July 1888
Folder 2.4 August 1888
Folder 2.5 September 1888
Folder 2.6 October-December 1888
Folder 2.7 1890
Folder 2.8 1891
Folder 2.9 1892
Folder 2.10 1893
Folder 2.11 1894
Folder 2.12 1895
Folder 2.13 1896
Folder 2.14 1897
Beckwith Family Correspondence, 1900-1930
Folder 3.1 1900
Folder 3.2 1901
Folder 3.3 1902
Folder 3.4 1907
Folder 3.5 1908
Folder 3.6 1909
Folder 3.7 1910
Folder 3.8 January-July 1911
Folder 3.9 August-December 1911
Folder 3.10 1912
Folder 3.11 January-July 1913
Folder 3.12 November 1913
Folder 3.13 December 1913
Folder 3.14 1914-1919
Folder 3.15 1920-1930
Beckwith Family Correspondence and Business Documents
Folder 4.1 Undated correspondence
Folder 4.2 Petition for irrigation district
Folder 4.3 Beckwith business documents found together in envelope marked "Hedges"
Folder 4.4 Beckwith business documents found together in envelope
Folder 4.5 Miscellaneous business documents
Folder 4.6 Partly-printed receipts and bills
Folder 4.7 Partly-printed receipts for payment of state and county taxes
Folder 4.8 Business documents found in envelope marked "Subdividing Lands Agreement"
Folder 4.9 Receipts found in envelope marked "Beckwith Individual Business Receipts"
Folder 4.10 Items found wrapped in paper marked "Vouchers From Jan 6” to 16” 1886"
Folder 4.11 Empty envelopes
Series II. Yerger Family Correspondence and Documents
Yerger Correspondence, 1873-1926, and George Cary Correspondence and Records
Folder 5.1 1873-1890
Folder 5.2 1891
Folder 5.3 1894
Folder 5.4 1896-1899
Folder 5.5 1901
Folder 5.6 1902-1903
Folder 5.7 1904-1909
Folder 5.8 1910-1912
Folder 5.9 1913
Folder 5.10 1916-1918
Folder 5.11 1919
Folder 5.12 1920-1921
Folder 5.13 1926
Folder 5.14 Undated
Folder 5.15 George Cary correspondence and records, 1870-1873
Folder 5.16 George Cary correspondence and records, 1874
Folder 5.17 George Cary correspondence and records, 1875-1879
Folder 5.18 George Cary correspondence and records, 1880-1893
Folder 5.19 George Cary correspondence and records, undated
Folder 5.20 George Cary checks and receipts
Folder 5.21 Empty envelopes
Yerger Family Documents, Clippings, and Miscellaneous
Folder 6.1 Correspondence and records related to Judge L.M. Southworth Estate, 1917-1919
Folder 6.2 Correspondence and records related to Judge L.M. Southworth Estate, January-February 1920
Folder 6.3 Correspondence and records related to Judge L.M. Southworth Estate, March 1920-1921
Folder 6.4 Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company
Folder 6.5 Delta Bank of Greenwood, MS
Folder 6.6 Estate of P.P. McLemore
Folder 6.7 Miscellaneous documents
Folder 7.1 Deed to John K. Yerger of land in Washington County, MS, 1843
Folder 7.2 Yerger financial records
Folder 7.3 Confederate commemorative ephemera
Folder 7.4 Miscellaneous manuscripts
Folder 7.5 Newspaper clippings
Folder 7.6 Newspaper clippings
Folder 7.7 Ephemera
Folder 7.8 Publications
Folder 7.9 Miscellaneous