The Cofield Collection
William Clark Falkner
Soldier, statesman, railroad-builder,
and author, Colonel William Falkners importance to northeast
Mississippi and his influence on his great-grandson named after
him, William Faulkner,
The details of William
Clark Falkners life are obscured by legend, beginning with
his date of birth on July 6, 1826 (some scholars say 1825) in Knox
County, Tennessee. Family lore asserts that the name was originally
spelled Faulkner but that the Colonel dropped the “u.”
While still very young, Falkner moved with his family to St. Genevieve,
Missouri; at age seventeen, however, he went to Pontotoc, Mississippi,
to live with his uncle, T. I. Word, but ended up settling in Ripley,
In Ripley, Falkner led an action-packed
life that, though more thoroughly recorded than his childhood, is
equally colored by myth. He first distinguished himself in 1845
when he helped capture an ax murderer and prevented a mob from lynching
him by writing a pamphlet entitled The Life and Confession of
A. J. MacCannon, Murderer of the Adcock Family. After serving
in the Mexican War, Falkner returned to Ripley where he married
Holland Pearce and began a law practice. He lived peacefully until
1849, at which time he became involved in a feud that would leave
two men—Robert Hindman and Erasmus Morris—dead and a
third, Thomas Hindman, spoiling for a duel. Falkners wife
died the same year.
By 1851, things had taken a positive
turn for Falkner: he had managed to disentangle himself from the
Hindman affair, and he met and married Elizabeth Vance, whom legend
asserts he had originally encountered as a child when he first arrived
in Mississippi. When the Civil War began, Falkner helped organize
a company named the “Magnolia Rifles,” which joined
with other companies to form the Second Mississippi Infantry of
which he was elected Colonel. He led this regiment with distinction
most notably at First Manassas before being demoted in a subsequent
election of officers. He struggled to regain some form of military
leadership and did raise a new company named the “Mississippi
Partisan Rangers,” but for various reasons he never attained
a prominent position in the Confederate army.
After the war, he played an active
role in Reconstruction, helping rebuild the northern part of the
state and starting The Ship Island, Ripley, and Kentucky Railroad
Company. On November 5, 1889, having just been assured of his election
to the Mississippi state legislature, Falkner was shot and killed
on the square by former business partner R. J. Thurmond. Although
the shot itself was not fatal, the bullet lodged in Falkners
neck, causing his throat to swell until he choked to death the next
Colonel Falkners literary
output was limited but popularly successful. His first two works
were an epic poem about the Mexican War entitled The Siege of
Monterey and a romantic novel, The Spanish Heroine. He
also wrote a play, The Lost Diamond, no copies of which have
survived. His most important work, however, was The White Rose
of Memphis; serialized in the Ripley Advertiser, this
novel told of the maiden cruise of a steamboat named The White
Rose of Memphis and featured a dual murder-mystery plot so engaging
to nineteenth and early twentieth century readers that it saw multiple
Following this success, Falkner
wrote two more books, Rapid Ramblings in Europe—a travel
book resembling Mark Twains Innocents Abroad—and
another novel, The Little Brick Church, later reprinted in
abridged form as Lady Olivia.
Colonel William Clark Falkners
impact on the literary world through his own writing is minimal,
but the importance of his life and work on his great-grandson, William
Faulkner, is great and has been duly noted by scholars. As a
child, Faulkner reportedly said, “I want to be a writer like
my great-granddaddy.” Not only did Faulkner emulate his colorful
ancestor, the Colonel provided the model for Colonel John Sartoris,
whose ghostly presence haunts Flags in the Dust (originally
published as Sartoris in 1929), which Faulkner identified
as “the germ of my apocrypha.” Not only does Colonel
Falkner form the basis for Colonel Sartoris in Flags in the Dust,
The Unvanquished, and several short stories, elements of
his life also find their way into Colonel Thomas Sutpen and even
Flem Snopes, who arrives from nowhere and rises to a position of
prominence in Yoknapatawpha County.
Of Falkners own works, The
White Rose of Memphis has received the most scholarly attention;
although ponderous, it is a unique and entertaining work of post-Reconstruction
fiction and a landmark in the literary history of the Fa(u)lkner
family and Mississippi.
posted June 2003)
Links & Info
who are also writers include:
- The Life and Confession of A. J. MacCannon, Murderer of the
Adcock Family. [Publication information unknown], 1845.
- The Siege of Monterey. Cincinnati: By the Author, 1851.
- The Spanish Heroine. Cincinnati: I. Hart, 1851.
- The Lost Diamond. [Published in the Ripley Advertiser;
specifics unknown], 1867.
- The White Rose of Memphis. New York: G. W. Dillingham,
- Rapid Ramblings in Europe. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott,
- The Little Brick Church. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott,
- Lady Olivia: A Novel. New York: G. W. Dillingham, 1895.
Books and Articles:
- Allen, Lourie Strickland. Colonel William C. Falkner: Writer of
Romance and Realism. Dissertation. University of Alabama, 1972.
- Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. Vol. 1. New York: Random
- Bondurant, Alexander. “William C. Falkner, Novelist.”
Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society 3 (1900):
- Brown, Andrew. “The First Mississippi Partisan Rangers, C. S.
A.” Civil War History 1 (1955): 371-79.
- Brown, Calvin S. “Colonel Falkner As General Reader: The
White Rose of Memphis.” Mississippi Quarterly 30 (1977):
- Cantwell, Robert. “Introduction.” The White Rose of
Memphis. New York: Coley Taylor, 1953. v-xxvii.
- Duclos, Donald P. “Colonel Falkner: Prototype and Influence.”
The Faulkner Journal 2.2 (1987): 28-34.
- ---. Son of Sorrow: The Life, Works and Influence of Colonel William
C. Falkner, 1825-1889. San Francisco: International Scholars Publications,
- Hagood, Raymond Allen. Ripley Rebel: The Life and Times of Colonel
William Falkner. Hayti, Missouri: Hagood, 1972.
- Kinney, Arthur. ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sartoris
Family. Boston: Hall, 1985.
- Murphy, James B. “Falkner, William Clark: 1826-1889.”
Ed. James B. Lloyd. Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967.
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981. 160-62. (Reprinted http://www.wvu.edu/~lawfac/jelkins/lp-2001/falkner.html
to Us All, by James R. Elkins.)
- Puryear, Joan Copeland. Life and Legend of Colonel W. C. Falkner
as Source for Colonel John Sartoris. M. A. thesis. Florida State
- Volpe, Edmund L. “Response to Colonel Falkner: Prototype
and Influence and An Episode of War in The Unvanquished.”
The Faulkner Journal 2.2 (1987): 45-46.
- Williamson, Joel. William Faulkner and Southern History. Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1993.
- Winston, Edmund T. “Life of Colonel Falkner: A Glorious Word
Picture of the Founder of the G. M. & N. by One Who Has Studied
His Life.” G. M. & N. News (November 27, 1925): 5-9.
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