The Indomitable Pat Ogden

Story Shannon Bardwell | Photographs Luisa Porter

Pat Ogden sees things I cannot see.

“Over here,” she says, “would have been the homestead and here the cellar.”

“How do you know?”

Looking into a deep depression Pat says, “What else could it be?”

She continues, “The house would have been here and the porch here.”

Again, I ask, “But how do you know?”

“Because, they came from the East, and it only makes sense that the front door would face east.”

I take her word for it. Pat knows the rolling hills better than I know the back of my hand. For more than 20 years the octogenarian has covered and uncovered every inch of her wooded Sulligent, Alabama, home. She’s studied pioneering and recommends reading Cokie Roberts’ Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. Pat wants me to know what our forebears, especially the women, went through to develop this land.

“The women had a child every year, you know.”

Pat climbs back into the “Beast,” her camo ATV. More than once I grip the handrail as we bounce along.

On the bench seat behind me, Pat Ogden’s “co-grandparent,” Pat Wheeler, is also gripping the handrails. Wheeler says, “Oh, rocks,” pointing to rocks stacked along a ledge. The rocks are covered with a deep green moss.

“Can I have some?” Wheeler asks.

“Hell, no,” says Pat. “The children picked those rocks. In those days children helped clear the fields.”

Wheeler and I exchange glances and a smile.

“I teach Sunday School on Sundays, but I cuss on Wednesdays,” proclaims Pat as she revs up the Beast to take on a hill.

We arrive at “Divorce Bridge,” as she calls it. She laughs, “Billy (Ogden’s husband) built it. Did you ever see the movie ‘Divorce Italian Style’?” Not waiting for an answer, she tells me and the other Pat to get out and meet her on the other side of the bridge. It’s too dangerous for all of us and the Beast.

Our history lesson and nature ride continue. Pat points out Indian Creek; she talks about the importance of water sources to the early homesteaders and, later in the ’50s, ole Loni Marchbanks. “Loni’s chimney is there,” she points.

“At one time there were at least 15 whiskey stills here. Where there’s a spring and a metal ring there’s a still. You’ll also find a road out front and a back road — that’s the escape route.”

We end up at Pat’s shooting house where she spends hours hunting turkeys, more watching than hunting she says. Even so, we’re outfitted for spotting turkeys and carrying shotguns.

“One day I saw six out that window and five out that one,” she points. “All in the same day.”

I follow her up two ladders into the shooting house. There’s a cot and a chair; underneath is a port-a-potty.

The walls are scribbled with visitors’ names. Pat invites me to sign the wall, and I do.

Climbing out of the house I notice the scribbling of a grandchild. It says, “Stay Cool.”

There’s no doubt Pat will stay cool for Pat Ogden’s a woman of strong character and many talents, a lot like her forebears.


“I don’t know who will get the land after me. We don’t own it really, no one does. We’re just stewards of the land.”

“Who were the people who lived here? I call them the man and the old woman; a fallen-down chimney, an old road. Daffodils come in spring.”

“You know, to get a man you’ve got to have good looks, money, or hunting land.”

“Ogdens don’t want to be uncomfortable but, you know, a lot of things we enjoy are uncomfortable … if you know what I mean.”

“When I married Billy, we weren’t going to have kids. Then one came the first year and another the second.”

“Arma-damn-dillo.” (referring to a nuisance animal intent on digging up vegetation.)