Cooper History as told by Ruth Douglas

A Cooper Family
H I S T O R Y

Dusting off the (Cooper) history books, and briefly delving into who's who, and when, and where, and why...

The following information is from James Thomas Cooper, Alvin Loyd Cooper, Joe Bougeno, and Mary Frances Wallace—all descendants of Newton C. Cooper—and also from Ruth Douglas Thomas, whose husband, Bill Clark Thomas, is a Cooper descendant as well.

[Key information that has been provided, the individual pieces to the puzzle, as it were, are credited to each Cooper descendant, often in brackets such as these.]


Newton C. Cooper, born in 1837, was in Trigg County at the time he married Emerine "Emma" Cunningham. Little is known about Newton's past, except that his father died when he was young, and he was raised by his mother, Frances Cooper. Emerine Cunningham's father, Dabney Carr Cunningham, born in Virginia in 1804, and her mother, Rebecca Wimberly (1809), born in North Carolina, were married in Trigg County on September 3, 1829.

Once Newton and Emerine were married, they had six children: John, called "Jack" (1861), James Edgar "Edd" (1864, pictured at right), Willis (1869), Frances "Fannie" (1872), Mattie Lora (1874), and Thomas C. (1876). Apparently Emerine Cunningham Cooper died sometime between 1881 and 1883. We do not know just when. But this is based on the fact that she was listed with Newton in the 1880 Trigg County Census with the above children.

And we know that Newton C. Cooper married Elbert Emeline Choate on November 29, 1885. At the time of their marriage, Emeline Choate Cooper already had a little boy named Charles (b. 1883), who took the Cooper name as his own [from Joe Bougeno]. Eleven children were born to this union: Arthur (?), Effie Media (1886), Axiom Clay (1889), Bessie Lou (1891), Betty Pearl (1893), Lallie Virginia (1895), Seth (1897), Elbert (?), Luke (?), Ollie (1903) and Joshua (1905).

Brothers Alvin Loyd and James Thomas Cooper, as well as Bill Clark Thomas, are all descendents of James Edgar Cooper, whose mother was Emeline "Emma" Cunningham Cooper, born in 1842.

Mary Frances Wallace and Joe Bougeno are descendants of Bessie Lou Cooper Oliver and Betty Pearl Cooper Oliver, respectively, whose mother was Elbert Emilene Choate Cooper.

Alvin Cooper relates that the Coopers, who originated in Scotland, left their homeland and took refuge in Ireland during political upheavals. Eventually, they came to America, and entered through the seaport of Savannah, Georgia.

While history was being made in the Cooper family, very little of it was written down. The stories were told from one generation to another. And some of the stories are pretty wild.

When Newton Cooper's family came to Kentucky, they settled in Trigg County, in an area near the Cumberland River, named "Trigg Furnace." This is the place where the children were born, and grew up and married, and where many of the older ones died and were buried.

This is also where James Edgar Cooper began his life in 1864. He married Cornelia Florence "Nelia" Morris on October 30, 1884, a year before his father married Elbert Emilene Choate. Consequently, both young James Edgar and his father were becoming fathers to new babies at the same time. James "Edd" Cooper's first child was a son, Carl (date unknown). Then there was a daughter, Williemine, born 1888, and Jessie Jewel (1891), Edd Huelett (1893), Ruby, Erie Dalton Cooper, and Thomas Newton.

At this time, Newton and wife Emilene had Arthur and then Effie Media and Axiom, and others, all of whom were very close to their little neices and nephews who were all the same age. They were so close that confusion arose in later generations as to which children belonged with which parents!

James Edgar Cooper's son, Carl, was reputed [by Alvin L. Cooper] to be a gifted musician. "He could play any instrument." Carl married Amanda E. "Maud" Monroe. They had one son, Carl Otis, born circa 1908. Amanda died 28 days after her 21st birthday. According to the obituary [Mary Frances Wallace] "she professed faith in Christ a few months before her death. She died of consumption at the home of her father-in-law, near Rock Castle." Unfortunately, we do not have any dates for either Carl or Amanda or their son. Carl's parents, James "Edd" and "Nelia" raised the child in their home.

From now on, James Edgar and Cornelia Morris Cooper will be referred to as Edd and Nelia. They left Trigg County early in their marriage and moved to Ballard County, KY. They were living there at the time of Newton C. Cooper's death, according to his obituary of 1915. [Per Mary Frances Wallace]

When their daughter, Williemine, grew into a young lady, she married Alfred Earl Clark on November 3, 1909. They lived in the Canton area, on the Tooke farm, where Earl grew up. Williemine was affectionately called "Willie" by everyone. When "Willie" gave birth to her first child, Dorothy, on August 5, 1910, complications set in, and Willie died ten days later. She was buried the same day she died in the Curling cemetery nearby. Her tiny baby was lovingly embraced by Edd and Nelia Cooper, and along with little Carl Otis, they now had two grandchildren to raise. [From Ruth Thomas]

This Cooper family moved on across the Mississippi River, and down to Arkansas, looking for farm work. They worked hard in the cotton fields, and did other farm work. Their entire family, except for Carl (and maybe Ruby—we don't know) went along. Sons Edd Huelett, Dalton, and Tom worked hard with their father to make a living, and these boys found their wives in Arkansas and began families of their own. Jessie Jewell married a Trigg Countian, Cleveland Cunningham, but they also went to Arkansas with the parents. [James T. Cooper]

Dorothy Clark, daughter of Williemine, remembered happy days in Arkansas. She had to leave the Coopers when she was 10 years old, and return to Kentucky because her precious "Mammie Nelia" died June 20, 1920. She never quite got over being taken away from the Cooper family as a child.

Eventually, she lost touch with most of them, but she treasured the photos she took back to Trigg County, KY, and kept them in a little album which Ruth Thomas (her daughter-in-law) has kept since Dorothy's death in 1989. (You may see other photos of Dorothy, who married Cecil Seldon Thomas in 1926, on the photos page.) She is the reason for the Thomas connection. Her descendents continue on through the families of her sons, Bill Clark and Seldon Earl Thomas. [Per Ruth Thomas]

In James Edgar "Edd" Cooper's family, Carl and Williemine have been introduced. The next child was Edd Heulett Cooper, known by everyone as Edd. This brother served in World War One in Germany.

After his discharge from the Army, he returned to Arkansas and married Ira Fenia Gay, born in 1903, in Floral, AR. Ira Fenia Gay was only 15 years old at the time. They had seven children, including Alvin Loyd (1928) and James Thomas (1933). Five of their six boys served in the U.S. Military during World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. They served in the US Army, the US Navy, and the US Air Force. [James T. Cooper]

Although the Cooper family established roots in Trigg County, KY, they began to scatter in the early part of the 20th Century. The ones who moved away have never returned to Kentucky to live. At the time of this writing [June, 2000], there is only one male Cooper listed in the Cadiz, Trigg County phone book. The main family to stay in Trigg County was the family of John "Jack" Cooper, son of Newton C. Cooper. Jack married Emma Carrie Cunningham—they had eight children, including 5 daughters. Two sons grew to maturity.

There was much marrying of Coopers and Cunninghams. And perhaps even more marrying between the Cooper and Oliver families. If you study the Cooper Family Tree page at this website, you will also find that the Clark family, which was fairly small, also has several marriages with the Cooper family.

Among the Coopers who married Olivers were two sisters, Bessie Lou and Betty Pearl. They married brothers, Robert Warren and Sam Walter Oliver.

Newton C. Cooper fathered many sons! And three of them became "famous" because of their involvement in the Tobacco Wars. They were a part of the "Night Riders" [according to Joe Bougeno]. "I do know that Charles Cooper, Arthur Cooper, and Axiom Cooper were all members of the Night Riders group. You can read about them in a book called On Bended Knees by Bill Cunningham. Arthur Cooper moved to Illinois to get away from the Night Riders."

Newton C. Cooper's youngest son, Thomas C. Cooper, moved to Oklahoma. Joe Bougeno reports, "Thomas Cooper was a politician before he became a millionaire in Oklahoma. He owned oil wells. He lost all of his wealth and died of malnutrition. When he died, he was in the vestibule of one of the skyscrapers he had previously owned."

Text by Ruth Douglas Thomas, June 2000

Courtesy of Ruth Douglas Thomas