Zula Beatrice Whaley
James Larry Poston, 13, attached his new telescopic sight to a .22-caliber rifle and showed his grandmother, Mrs. Zula B. Farley, how it worked. The gun discharged, killing Mrs. Farley.
On Christmas morning 1959, The Dallas Morning News published this terse account of one family’s tragic exchange of gifts the previous evening in the Cedar Crest area of southern Dallas.
Sad to say, it was not the first time an unexpected death disrupted the family’s celebration of the most festive of Christian holidays.
It wasn’t even the second.
Zula was born in Milam, Texas to Samuel Mercy Whaley, an Arkansas-born farmer and Minnie Jane Rogers, a native Texan with Tennessee roots. The couple had four children, the youngest born five months before his father’s death in 1903, at age 34, from a perforated bowel and typhoid fever.
Minnie remarried in 1906: She and her husband, a farmer with eight children, moved to Oklahoma. The 1910 census shows five of his children and two of hers — including Zula— in the same Tillman County household. Widowed again by 1920, Minnie lived alternately with daughter Mattie’s family in Oklahoma or son Sam’s in Dallas until her death at 92.
Zula was still in Oklahoma at age 21, having married farmer Marvin Morrison in 1917. Like her mother, she produced two sons and two daughters. The Morrisons were back in Texas by 1924; Marvin found work at Tennessee Dairies in Dallas. In 1930, he was driving a company truck.
He was in his own vehicle, however, on Christmas Eve of that year. At 8:30 p.m., he pulled over on the Oak Cliff viaduct to repair a tire, according to an account in the Dallas Morning News, and was struck by another motorist. He died of a skull fracture at St. Paul Hospital. He was 36 years old.
Waiting at home on Nussbaumer Street were Zula and their four children — Donovan, 11; Elinor, 9; Kenneth, 3; and Bobbie, less than a year old. If there were special treats and toys under the tree, the loss of a husband and father surely erased any joy they would have taken in them. Marvin was buried in Dallas’s Oakland Cemetery.
It’s not clear how Zula supported herself and her children without a husband. The Dallas city directory for 1931 lists her as a widow and parenthetically names Morrison Cafe, suggesting a workplace. In the 1933 directory, her occupation is “operator.”
At some point before 1940, Zula met and married John Norman Elkins, the proprietor of a Sanger restaurant. The newlyweds moved into a rented house on South Harwood Street in Dallas with her two youngest children. In the 1940 census, Norman reported working 70 hours a week as a cook, likely at Bill’s Cafe on South Akard, owned and operated by Greek immigrants. Norman was cooking there in April 1942 when he registered for World War II.
On December 23, 1946, Norman went to Parkland Hospital for treatment of an obstruction at the outlet of his stomach (pyloric obstruction). Early on Christmas morning, he died of anaphylactic shock. He was 59 years old. An only child, he was buried near his parents in Sanger Cemetery.
Eight months later, Zula, then 47, married again. Like Zula, Dots Farley, 49, had been married twice before. The son of a Johnson County farmer, Dots was a hard worker: At 18, he registered for World War I, identifying himself as a Mesquite farm laborer, signing the document with an X. In 1930, he took a job in Dallas as a public work laborer; a decade later, he was working in a dairy. Just months before marrying Zula in 1947, he flew to Honolulu on Pan American Airlines; the manifest identifies him as a metal worker. Iron and steel work kept him employed into the 1950’s.
Dots and Zula were living in Ponder in Denton County on the night she died. The family had gathered Christmas Eve to open gifts at the home of her youngest child, Bobbie Nell Poston, on Moffatt Avenue in Dallas. Bobbie’s son had opened his new telescopic sight and “eagerly” attached it to his .22 to show his grandmother, according to the Dallas Morning News. The gun discharged at about 6 p.m.
At 6:30, having been rushed to Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff, Zula was pronounced dead on arrival from a gunshot wound to the head. The judge at the inquest ruled the shooting an accident.
Zula, 59, was buried at Oakland Cemetery, where her older daughter, Elinor, had rested since she suffered a fatal heart attack at age 18. Zula’s survivors included her three remaining children, her mother, sister Mattie and brother Sam, 11 grandchildren…and husband Dots Farley.
The hard-working Dots died in 1970. At 71, he was employed as a wrecking company laborer. As the crew was taking down a brick wall, Dots was hit by falling bricks and suffered cranial fractures. He and Zula lie next to one another at Oakland Cemetery, in graves 1 and 2, section 32.