The story behind Cornelius HenryBy JAMIE PATTERSON,
Fri, 08/18/2017 - 4:30pm
A Yazoo City native son has a story that many may be unaware of, spanning halfway across the country and leaving a mark inside a historic New Mexico church.
Hiriam Cornelius Henry’s family is a part of Yazoo’s rich history, with members serving as prominent judges and lawyers. But the young man has a story of his own that was recently discovered by New Mexico resident, who would like to find more about this remarkable young man.
Patrick and Margo Lamb, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, were researching the names of several young men who appear on the stained-glass windows in the historic St. James Episcopal Church in their town. The windows were dedicated in 1912, partially in honor of the Vested Choir of the Church.
“These young men all had the common bond of serving in the Vested Choir of the Church, were students of the fledgling New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now New Mexico State University) and having tragically died in the prime of their youth within five years of each other of scarlet fever, typhoid fever or other medical conditions that most likely would have successfully been treated by today’s medicine,” Lamb said.
Henry was one of the names etched in the stained-glass windows. Born in Yazoo City on Oct. 4, 1888, he was the son of William Henry, a prominent state judge.
“Known as the ‘Mississippi Bubble’ to his friends at college, young Henry’s passion appeared to be in music and theater,” Lamb said. “Records show that at one point, he had planned to take voice lessons in Philadelphia, but then decided to take a position as a stenographer in Mexico before falling ill.”
Henry’s arrival in New Mexico must have been “a true culture shock,” Lamb said.
“Stepping off the train at the station in Mesilla Park, he saw not the lush green southern landscape to which he was accustomed, but miles of dry desert landscape with scruffy mesquite and creosote bushes, a few cottonwoods near the Rio Grande, an endless sky toward the West Mesa and a stunning upthrust of granite that formed the Organ Mountains to the east,” Lamb said.
But it was there that Henry would become involved with the St. James’ Choir, claimed by church historians to be the first vested men’s choir in the territory. He would serve from 1906 until 1908.
Henry would return to Yazoo City, but tragically died on June 21, 1911 of complication from gall stone surgery.
“What is most curious about this young man and his brother, Claud, is why they chose to attend college at such a remote location (New Mexico was still a territory at the time) at an institution that counted only about 70 students,” Lamb added. “Most of the other students at the college at that time were from New Mexico or Texas.”
Lamb was then able to contact Craig Wooten, librarian at the Ricks Memorial Library, to uncover some interesting facts.
“Special thanks to Wooten for his help in researching this story,” Lamb noted. “He is a valuable asset to your community.”
Thanks to Wooten, Lamb discovered that Henry’s family law firm remains in practice in Yazoo City. Henry, Barbour, Decell and Bridgforth is said to be one of the oldest firms in the state. Lamb was also able to view Henry’s obituary.
“An obituary that Wooten provided us described Cornelius as ‘a young man full of hope, ambition and promise’ when he died at age 22,” Wooten said.
Lamb urges anyone within the community who has more knowledge of the Henry family history to contact him as he continues his research.
“We are hoping that anyone in the Yazoo City area familiar with the Henry family history might help us in determining why Cornelius and his brother Claud chose to come more than 1,000 miles west to what was then a barren spot in the New Mexico desert to attend a fledgling college,” Lamb said.
Lamb may be contacted via email at email@example.com.