Skip to content

An enigma comes to life – A mystery is solved

By City Historian Dr. Walter Howell
Margaret Cabaniss

A photograph of Margaret Cabaniss, formerly Margaret Sorsby, who divorced Will Sorsby after his conviction of murder. The photo shows Margaret in her nurse’s uniform. She had just completed her nursing training at a hospital in Oakland, California.

Craig Travis of San Jose, California, visited Clinton this past December to learn more about his grandmother, a native of Clinton who lived at “Violet Banks” on Jefferson Street. Margaret Morehead died in 1974, and, when Travis and other grandchildren sifted through her papers, they learned that she had been married to a Will Sorsby in Mississippi before marrying their grandfather, James Franklin Morehead.
The grandchildren knew nothing of Margaret Morehead’s earlier marriage. Her papers included a letter from Watkins and Watkins, a Jackson, Mississippi, law firm that handled her divorce and charged her $6 for their services and recommended she take back her maiden name. Hinds County chancery court issued the decree dissolving her marriage in January 1912.
During his visit, Travis talked with Cheryl Reese and Mark Jones at Clinton’s City Hall and learned of Will Sorsby’s “Crime of the Century” and his subsequent trial and conviction for murdering a postal inspector. He read The Clinton Courier account of the reenactment of the trial by the “Voices of Clinton.” Travis returned home and began an int

ensive research on the Sorsby trial through sources on the internet.
Clinton remembers Margaret Cabaniss Sorsby as the wife of Will Sorsby, the Clinton post office worker convicted of murdering a postal inspector in 1907. During her husband’s trial, she was portrayed by the papers as the dutiful wife who sat by the defense’s table, silently supporting her accused husband.
After Sorsby’s conviction, Margaret faded from public view. She was not listed in the 1910 U.S. census, and the assumption was made that she moved from Clinton…but to where? Craig Travis’s research answers that question.
Margaret began the next chapter in her life when she moved to California and trained at the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing in Oakland. Her most famous patient was the author Jack London, who was in and out of the hospital with chronic alcoholism. London loved Margaret’s southern accent and always wanted her as his nurse during his frequent stays.
In later years, Margaret would read from her autographed copy of Call of the Wild to her children and grandchildren. She had other London books in her home, and her grandchildren remember the many stories she told about the famous author.
After completing nursing training in 1915, Margaret married John Morehead, a prominent civic leader in Chico, California, with extensive interests in banking, farming, cattle and business. Margaret and John had four children, two sons and two daughters. They weathered the great depression and had a good life together. John died in 1954 and Margaret in 1974.
Margaret’s father, Judge Edwin Cabaniss, died around the turn of the century; and her mother, Margaret New Cabaniss, died in 1911. Both are buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery in Clinton.
Her grandchildren are still going through her papers to complete their story of Margaret Morehead. There are a number of letters from people in Mississippi. As far as the grandchildren know, Margaret never returned to Mississippi.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a series of three articles by Dr. Howell about the Sorsby and Cabaniss families.  

Leave a Comment