The Merricks (Merritts)
Pulaski County, Kentucky
Martin Owens Merrick
Alias: Oran (Orrin) Martin Merritt
29 Nov 1859 - 1 Aug 1944
Martin Owens Merrick circa 1875 KY
orn in Kentucky in the same year oil is discovered in America, Oran was one of 14 children. His birth name was Martin Merrick. He was by all accounts of those who personally knew him one of the kindest, most generous men who ever lived.
According to Paul Merritt III who made notes on the subject while talking to Paul Senior, Oranís son, Oran got taken in by a photography scam when he was a young man.† Apparently he bought on credit some photo enlargement equipment that was quaranteed to make him a forture in the new and upcoming field of picture taking.† Oran, however, could never get the equipment to work right or else the equipment was, itself, defective.† When the scammers began to demand their money Oran was supposed to be making things got out of hand somehow and Oran fled Kentucky and headed south until he hit the Gulf Coast.
He found a job at Southern States Lumber Company and while employed there was sent to Mary Ester, Florida to assess some timber.† By now Oran was going by the name he would use the rest of his life - Oran Martin Merritt.† There in Mary Ester about 1880 Oran met the dark-haired Katie Finney.† He was 19 - she was 16.† They were married in Baldwin County, Alabama at the home of Dennis and Edna Mashburn on 11 May 1881 and settled into the sawmill town of Muscogee, Florida.† By 1885 Oran was working there as a teamster driving a pair of oxen to move logs from the forest to the railheads.
Composite Photo of Oran and Kate circa 1895
Oran suffered from asthma all of his life but was, nevertheless, one of the hardest workers in the county.† It was reported he worked seven days a week in the beginning cutting timber and readying it for transport to the mill.† You could hear him wheezing all over the hillside as he worked.† But the hard work paid off.† He and Kate soon had a nicely furnished company house that sat on a hill just above the Perdido River.
By 1900 they had eight children and everything was going well until the 6th of April that year.† Just as spring was in full bloom the children wandered down to the creek near the house and the second oldest child, Myrtle Katie, fell into the creek and drowned.† She was only 16.† Myrtle was buried on the hill top cemetery across the road from the house and just above the creek that took her life.† I have read several of Myrtís letters and she wrote with perfect spelling, penmanship and diction.† The last letter I read was written only a month before her death and it was to her sister Minnie.† She closes by saying that ďPapa wants to use the pencil.Ē† That puts the circumstances of Muscogee living into perspective.† Myrts death must have been a terrible blow.† She was obviously a highly intelligent girl who died far too soon.
As time passed, Oran and Katie took in others less fortunate than they.† A 9 year old orphan boy, Eddie Petty, lived with them in 1910 as did old Bill Ostman from Sweden.† Oran and Bill Ostman were good friends from past years and when Bill died Oran had a special seamanís tombstone cut for Bill and erected a wrought iron fence around his grave.† A few years after Billís death Oran's mother had moved down from Indiana and was living with them.† Things were good again.
Martha Ann Bishop Merrick
Circa 1920 Muscogee, FL
Then one day at the mill Oran was working under one of the elevated rail tracks as a load of timber rolled to a stop.† The jostling of the cars as they bumped into each other broke the supporting beams that held the stacked lumber in place and the entire load fell on Oran.† It shattered his leg and broke numerous other bones throughout his body.† Katie nursed him back to reasonable health over the next few years but then came down with stomach cancer herself in 1922.† Within three months she was dead.
Oran never did fully recover from the rail accident.† I have spoken to numerous people who knew him and all of them said that he took aspirin by the handful, literally, to kill the pain. He would actually eat twenty aspirins at one time to dull the pain. Unable to work at the mill, Oran joined up with Lemuel Applegate and tried making candy for a living.† They opened a candy business on the top floor of a brick building down on Government Street in Pensacola.† Fuzzy remembers gathering the trimmings of the candy trays and stuffing his pockets.† He had more candy than he could ever eat and was therefore quite popular with the other kids because he was a never-ending source of candy for them as well.
The candy business went on for several years but age crept up on Oran more quickly than on others due to his injuries.† He was living with his son, Paul, out near Pottery Plant Road.† When Paul's wife died and Paul left for South America, Paul's son, Bill, took Oran in because my mother was living with Arthur and Ola and was pregnant with me.† They were afraid I might somehow be harmed since Oran had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Oran lived in a garage fixed up to accommodate him. He smoked his pipe and slowly went blind.† Always ready with nickels or commissary chits when he worked at the mill, he would fumble in his pockets in his latter years and come up with a coin or a button and tell the kids to use it to go buy themselves a soda pop.
As his final year approached, his lungs, always asthmatic, grew more and more unable to supply his body with sufficient oxygen. He spent his last days in a tuberculosis sanitarium because they were the only facility able to deal with his lung condition.† Finally, on 1 August 1944 - on the same day Anne Frank made the final entry in her famous diary - Oran died.† He was buried on the same hilltop cemetery as his wife, his daughter, and his good friend Bill Ostman.† His grave is next to Katie's.