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Within The Bend, Stories of Wilcox County

By Ouida Starr Woodson

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If you are interested in the six books of old stories, un-indexed marriages and other various records of early Wilcox County, written by Ouida Starr Woodson, e-mail Ms. Woodson for details.
Many of the court houses throughout the South were burned and all records were destroyed, but due to a little ingenuity of a few men in Wilcox County, AL, the Wilcox County records were saved. Ms. Woodson has preserved a lot of these stories and records.

The following is a story from Within The Bend, Stories of Wilcox County, Book Two by Ouida Starr Woodson.


During the April, 1865, visit to Camden by the Yankee troops, the Wilcox County Courthouse was entered and ransacked. All books and papers found in the building were destroyed and scattered throughout the building and the street.

However, the Yankee's efforts to destroy the records were in vain. Unknown by both the enemy and the local citizenry alike, was the fact that all permanent and valuable documents had been safely hidden days earlier.

Weeks before the arrival of the Yankees, the Court of County Commissioners had authorized Probate Judge Zoraster S. Cook to, "take any steps he thought best toward saving the county records."

The aid of Mr. James P. Donnelly, local coffin maker, was enlisted by Judge Cook. Strong wooden boxes were quickly and discreetly constructed by Mr. Dannelly. While this part of the secret mission was underway, Judge Cook searched for a suitable hiding place. "Hilderbrand Field," thick with pine trees, briars, and underbrush, was chosen as the best site to secure the records. The field's location was adjacent to Bridgeport Road, the route which led to Camden's river-port. Several miles separated the hiding place from Camden's main section.

When Mr. Dannelly completed the boxes, they were carried to the Courthouse under cover of night. Bound books of deed, estate, marriage, mortgage, court, and tax records were packed into the boxes. Other boxes held loose papers.

Once the packing complete, Judge Cook sought the aid of other men to transport the boxes to their safe place.

Herod Holt, John Hill, clerk of the county court, Jacob Wilkerson, and Frank Corzelius responded to Judge Cook's request. Holt carried the boxes to Hilderbrand Field in his two horse wagon. Judge Cook, Mr. Dannelly, and the other men walked in pairs to the field. Being careful not to arise any suspicion, they set out as if they were on leisurely late afternoon strolls. when all the men reached Hilderbrand Field, the boxes, each one weighing about 200 pounds, were stacked one on top of the other to a height of about six fee. To add protection from the weather, boards were placed on top of the boxes.

In his 1900 newspaper story about the perilous days of April, 1865, Judge Cook said, "None would have suspected that such a complete hiding could have been accomplished. A person might have walked within a few feet of this pile of boxes and not see them."

Other papers from the Probate Office were packed in a truck by John T. Cook, son of Judge Cook, and safely carried to the Cook Plantation, which was located across the Alabama River near Kimbrough. Cook, hearing the talk of increased Union activity in the western section of the county, moved the records once more. He found a secluded wooded area near Clifton. The trunk holding these records remained secure.

At the end of the hostilities, Judge Cook was appointed by the Federal authorities to continue his duties as Judge. The boxes remained in their hiding place several weeks before they were returned to the courthouse and restored to their respective offices.

Through the ingenuity of this County Judge and his hand-picked accomplices, the records of Wilcox County from 1819 to 1865, remain in tact in the county offices.

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