A CONCISE HISTORY OF EARLY ITAWAMBA COUNTY
A true history of Itawamba County predates the organization of the county by nearly 300 years. Most all of the published histories of Itawamba County claim that settlers first came to Itawamba County during the 1830s. It is true that the 1830s saw the largest influx of settlers to this country, but according to historical research, many settlers were here as early as the 18th century.
According to historical research, the first Europeans to come into present-day northeast Mississippi were the Spanish, when in 1540, Hernando Desoto entered this area near Columbus. He and his men spent the winter of 1541 near present-day Pontotoc.
The next record of Europeans in northeast Mississippi was in 1736 when the French, under the leadership of Bienville, came to this area. He and 600 soldiers passed through Cotton Gin Port, on their way to the Chickasaw town of Ackia, three miles northwest of Tupelo. When the French arrived at Ackia, the British flag was displayed by the Indians. This shows that the British were here as early as the 1730s, most probably British traders who had commerce with the Chickasaws.
In the later 1700s, middle Tennessee and the Natchez area were quite settled. An old Indian trail was used by the settlers as a link between the two areas. This trail was cleared in 1802 by the Federal government and became known as the Natchez Trace. This link between the two settlements cut through much of Itawamba County. The Federal government encouraged stands (inns) to be constructed along the trail in the Chickasaw lands, to make traveling easier.
Prior to the organization of Itawamba County, the Chickasaw Nation was divided into four districts. Present-day Itawamba County was in William McGilvray's district. McGilvray, known as Coahoma, lived six miles southwest of present-day Fulton. In a letter from J.N. Walton to Harry Warren, dated Aberdeen, Mississippi, 5 May 1881, Mr. Walton wrote: "McGilivray was a very old man, had served under Washington, and was commissioned by him as a captain in the United States Army and stationed at Fort Pitt - now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the old war (American Revolution)."
Another prominent English name in the pre-county days was Colbert. James Logan Colbert came into the Chickasaw Nation with British traders around 1736. He married a Chickasaw. One of his sons, Levi, became the acting chief of the Chickasaws sometime after 1750.
When Levi was a young man, some Indians from other tribes (possibly the Choctaw) intended to invade the Chickasaw country. Young Colbert heard about this and banded together some Chickasaw warriors. They surprised the enemy and defeated them. Upon returning, a council of the nation was called and a new name and crown were awarded to Levi. Instead of sitting him flat on the ground (as was the custom), they furnished him with a small bench, and the new name Itte-wamba Mingo, or "Bench Chief" was given to him.
The Colbert family became quite prominent in the Chickasaw Nation. Most of the Colberts moved with other Chickasaws west to the new Chickasaw lands in 1835-36 but some stayed after Itawamba County was organized.
Atop Baptist Church Hill in present-day Mantachie, a gentle breeze blows through the granite monuments in Mantachie Cemetery. These monuments stand watch over the fertile Mantachie Creek bottom lands to the west where the monuments to Itawamba's first people have been located for hundreds of years. The monuments to the mighty Chickasaws are in the form of burial mounds in the rich bottom lands covered in cotton and soybeans.
In these rich bottom lands, one of the largest Chickasaw villages in northeast Mississippi was settled hundreds of years ago. This village was located near a creek, which was named Man-at-chee, in honor of a Chickasaw chieftain. Nearly a mile below the village, a creek ran into Man-at-chee from the hills to the east. This creek was named Ches-ta-na, in honor the the Chickasaw who farmed the land in 1832 when the Federal government surveyed the Chickasaw Nation.
Who were these first inhabitants of Itawamba County? One European observer in the 18th century called the Chickasaws the "Spartans" of the lower Mississippi valley, for "martial virtue, and not riches." Before exposure to European ways, Chickasaw men were fighters and hunters. Only occasionally did they take part in agriculture. Their slaves and the women performed the menial work of clearing the land, caring for crops and gathering firewood. These people were "tall, well-built people with reddish-brown skin, dark black hair and large dark eyes." The older men and women wore their hair long. The warrior shaved the sides of his head, leaving a crest which the wearer soaked in bear grease. Both women and men plucked all hair from their faces and bodies with tweezers made of wire, the color and design indicating their family association. They wore nose and ear ornaments and decorated their heads and shoulders with eagle feathers.
The men in the village wore a breechcloth and in the heat of the summer their only clothing was a shirt made of dressed dear skin. Many of the hunters in the Mantachie Creek bottom lands wore deerskin boots reaching to the thigh to protect against thorny thickets and brambles. The women of the village wore dresses made from skins sewed together with fish bone needles and deer sinews. After cloth was introduced to the Chickasaw Nation, native women made a loose petticoat, fastened with a leather belt and brass buckle.
The Chickasaw Nation population ranged between 3,500 and 4,500, making it a relatively small Indian community when compared to the Choctaws to the south. Most of the Chickasaws lived near the headwaters of the Tombigbee River where their settlement remained until the Federal government removed the tribe to Indian Territory in the 1830s.
As early as the 1700s, white men including traders and missionaries were pushing into the Chickasaw Nation of northeast Mississippi. These white people introduced their culture to the Chickasaws and this changed the lifestyle of the Chickasaw over a period of time. The new Chickasaw society of the late 1700s and early 1800s consisted of Indians, white and Negroes (African slaves were introduced to the Chickasaws during the 1750s by British traders). By 1810, white settlers were entering the Chickasaw Nation in staggering numbers. During the year of 1810, the Chickasaw agent reported four to five thousand white intruders were scattered in settlements on Chickasaw lands. For the next 20 years, the white man became more than a problem to the Indian - he was a threat to actual existence. As late as 1830, agents revealed that for several years intruders had planted corn and cotton on Chickasaw land and that each winter they had pastured herds of cattle in the Indians' territory. Intruders poached prime timber and were accused of stealing Indian cattle, horses, slaves, and other property. They were also accused of carrying on a whiskey trade with the Indians. Only occasionally did the Federal government act to protect the Chickasaws. In 1828 a Chickasaw was tied to a tree by several white settlers who "whipped him most unmercifully" in a dispute over livestock. The situation was so bad that the Chickasaws signed a treaty in 1830, but it was never ratified by the senate. This treaty served as an entering wedge for the white people who began pressing into the Chickasaw country of Mississippi. The government became impatient to meet the wishes of the white man and to convince the Indians that their best interests required immediate removal.
Finally, on 20 October 1832, the Treaty of Pontotoc was signed at the Chickasaw Council House on Pontotoc Creek. The preamble of the treaty showed the sentiments of the Chickasaws: "The Chickasaw Nation find themselves oppressed in their present situation by being made subject to the laws of the sates in which they reside. Being ignorant of the language of the laws of the white man, they cannot understand or obey them. Rather than submit to this great evil, they prefer to seek a home in the west where they may live and be governed by their own laws."
The treaty called for all Chickasaw land to be surveyed. The white people continued to overrun the Chickasaw country and destroy the peace and happiness of the Indians long before the survey was completed, or plans made for their removal. The United States Marshall for Mississippi posted notices warning white squatters to remove from the Chickasaw Nation by 15 November 1833. Not one person obeyed that command as no steps were taken by the government to enforce the order, more settlers began moving to the Chickasaw Nation.
James Colbert, brother of Chief Itawamba, tried to induce the United States Secretary of War to protect the Chickasaws. In his letter to Washington, DC, he wrote: "The fate of the Chickasaw people requires that some person should interpose in their behalf...A host of speculators are going over the country and have fired all the half breeds to interpret for them and give them five or ten dollars for each contract they make; they used every stratagem they can devise and practice every imposition on their ignorance...they have signed deeds, most of them blank ones and receive from five to ten dollars in advance...I beseech you to have care over our red children; the white men are cheating them out of their land."
Before the Indian removal period of the later 1830s, most Chickasaws continued to live on the tribe's drastically reduced territory in northeast Mississippi. They relied upon agriculture for a living. The full bloods seemed content to subsist from the production of beans, corn, squash, pumpkins and melons tended by the women and children. An economic survey of the Chickasaw Nation was taken in 1827. The survey revealed that the typical full blood household contained five members and owned two horses, two cows, five hogs and a small flock of poultry. The Chickasaws lived in frontier log cabins, consisting of walls formed by hewed timbers placed horizontally and sealed against the weather with mud daub, a puncheon floor, and gable roof covered, with split shakes. The fireplace was located against an end wall. The chimney was made of split sticks placed in a square and plastered inside and out with clay found in the area.
The period 1834 to 1837 was a busy time for the Chickasaws. Speculation companies were formed to negotiate for vast blocks of tribal land. These companies bought most of the Chickasaw land, paying anywhere from $1.25 to $1.60 an acre. By early 1837, when the Chickasaw leaders finally made an decision about their people's new western home, much of their lands were already occupied by white settlers, and the year before, the state officials in Mississippi had organized Itawamba County, as well as nine other counties from the Indian lands.
During the summer and autumn of 1837, Federal officials enrolled 4,000 Chickasaws and concentrated them in four emigration camps in northwestern Alabama and northern Mississippi. William McGilvray's district, which included most of Itawamba County, was very much opposed to removal.
Records reveal that the Chickasaw migration to their new Indian Territory west of the Mississippi continued until 1850. As late as April 1841, Federal officials in Mississippi reported that over 500 Chickasaws remained to be relocated in the new Indian Territory. Small parties, sometimes consisting of a single family, continued to move into the new Indian Territory as late as 1850.
The rattling of wagons, and voices of the drivers announced the approaching caravan that was to take these native Itawambians to their new homes in the west. Giving a last look at their humble cabins and the beautiful hills and valleys of Itawamba, they turned towards the caravan and loaded all of their meager belongings into the wagons. The women and children mounted their ponies and with sad hearts the families joined the procession leaving the land of their forefathers headed for a distant and strange land. It was truly a trail of tears.
The land for Itawamba County and nine other counties was secured from the Chickasaws by the Treaty of Pontotoc on 12 October 1832, but the Chickasaws were given time to move and could decide for themselves when they would leave for Indian Territory. Most of them left during the years of 1835 to 1839.
The Organization of Itawamba CountyOn February 9, 1836, the Mississippi Legislature divided the land secured from the Chickasaws into counties. On February 14, 1836, the Legislature appointed commissioners in each of the ten newly created counties to get the counties organized. The commissioners appointed for Itawamba County were James Rowland, William Coats, Lewis Gideon and David Walker. As instructed by the Legislature, these commissioners called for an election and five men were elected: James Spears Bourland, Alfred G. Lane, John Beene, S.S. Spearman and Eliba Allen. These men were known as the Board of Police.
The Board of Police called an election and the following men were elected as officers for the new county of Itawamba: Charles Warren, sheriff; C.H. Ritchie, probate judge; Lewis Gideon, probate clerk and Russell O. Beene, circuit clerk.
With the organization of the county came a large influx of trans-Appalachain settlers. The 1836 tax list of the county shows there were approximately 280 families living in Itawamba County.
The Board of Police were empowered by the Legislature to select the site of county government, which was to be in the center of the county, if a suitable location, and to acquire this location either by purchase or donation.
A deed recorded in Deed Book 1, Page 53, shows that a Chickasaw sold Section 25, Township 9, Range 8 East to Kenneth Clark, John Miller and Robert Miller, land speculators living in adjoining Pontotoc County. They, in turn, donated 50 acres of this land to the Board of Police for the site of county government on July 17, 1837. The new site of county government was named Fulton and by 1838 lots were being sold in this new town. John Thompson was the first postmaster for the site of county government. Some of the first lot buyers in the new village of Fulton were John M. Cox, David Patrick, Wiley W. Gaither, James C. Wright, Edward Moore, John R. Wren, William Peacock, John L. Collins, David Files, William Files, Lemuel Beene, Joseph Calvin Clark, William Eckford, Wiley D. Clifton and John Thompson. Before Fulton was organized, county government affairs were conducted in private homes and stores including the store house of Elisha Thomas at Van Buren on the Tombigbee River and the home of James Spears Bourland in the Cardsville community.. After Fulton was organized county government business was conducted in private stores and residences in Fulton. As late as January of 1838, circuit court was held in the "ward house" of Duncan Clarke, Esq. in the new village of Fulton. It is not known when the first courthouse was built in Fulton, but records show that there was a courthouse in Fulton before 1843. More than likely it was a typical pioneer wooden structure.
Pioneer Days in the New CountyMost of the early settlers in Itawamba County were from the hill regions of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. These people were from places were slavery was practically non-existent. Consequently few slaves were in Itawamba County. Circuit Court records show a man being tried in 1837 for "bringing a Negro woman, Tabby, into the county and selling her. He was not convicted because slavery, even though unpopular with many Itawambians ns, was legal in Mississippi.
Upon entering Itawamba County from long-settled areas, many people had a hard time adjusting to the new territory. In 1839, Josiah Hinds of Itawamba County wrote in his diary: "We are among strangers in a strange land, and in a wilderness, where but a short time since, was heard the yell of the savage, and where the hoot of the owl and prowl of the wolf is still heard. We are almost in the woods - one cabin only to shelter us and our little ones and a rail pen for a smoke house and kitchen...no churches for the worship of God."
Henry Wiygul came to Itawamba in 1832 from Cotton Gin Port in neighboring Monroe County. On 11 November 1925, William Wiygul wrote: "In 1832 Granpa Wiygul decided he would move up into the wild woods where Itawamba County now is. He got him an ox and a sack of something to eat and started on an ox to blaising out his road wright up the ridge. He went back and got his family. He had a yoak of stears and a waggon and put his household stuff on it. He was living in Monroe County then. It was a county. In the early fall of 1832 he started. he soone got out of Monroe County into the wilderness where no one lived but Indians. He got to the end of his road and settled. He lived there in a Indian hut about two yeares. he then built a house out of logs."
In 1841 members of the Tannahill family of Scotland immigrated to the new county of Itawamba. After coming down the Tennessee River they landed at Easport in the new county of Tishomingo. A letter dated January 19, 1842 from Fulton to England recollects the journey to Itawamba County: "...on a Sunday night we landed at the town of Easport (containing four log cabins) and the next day we started through the Forest Track for Fulton, Mary mounted on horseback and Robert and I on foot. I carried my gun, but got no chance to shoot. We saw some deer, but they did not allow us to get near them. It was a most awful night at Easport. By the help of poles to steady us, Mary and I got up the bank and got lodging that night in a cabin. The people said they had never seen such a thunderstorm. We did not sleep much. There was in the same room, three men and two females. This is the universal practice here -- no separate sleeping appartments. We lay and listed to the thunder rolling overhead and the lightning flashing through a hundred chinks in the cabin...When we got to Mr. T's (Joshua Toomer in Fulton), we found all our people well except Mother... There is very little money current here. Mr. T. is glad to have the yearly accounts of the farmers settled by the cotton which can be turned into specie at Mobile...I wrote this in my own log cabin, which barring a few chinks is not a bad one...The country here is but thinly settled as it is only six years since the Indians left it...We live on bread of Indian corn which is the only kind used here. Their hogs are excellent being fed in the woods on nuts and acorns...All men here are not merely nominally but really equal. The other day a man was taken up here for going to shoot a neighbour. The sheriff allowed him to go at large about the town...he rode about the town, whooping, crowing like a cock and dared the officer at the point of a knife to lay a hand on him...Two men have been shot in Mr. Toomer's store.
As illustrated above, life in pioneer Itawamba County was indeed primitive and harsh. On October 21, 1843, Josiah Hinds wrote in his diary: "Two of our candidates for representative took a little too much firewater at court last week and one of them concluded to call of the dogs and quit the drive and has left the field in disgust. One of the drunken candidates took the sand in the courthouse on Monday, and after abusing one of our preachers at a dreadful rate, left the courthouse and made his way to the doggery and got as drunk as Bacchus." Hinds writes in his diary three months later: "Was at Fulton yesterday. Had to wade through Bigby Swamp. Got wet and don't feel well. They were swilling down the devil's firewater; saw one poor drunken fellow with his face very much scratched and bleeding. Had been fighting..."
Houses in pioneer Itawamba County were generally built of logs and hewn with the broad ax after being raised. Sometimes the logs were lined on the ground and hewn, if the builder wished to make an extra nice house. Poplar trees were widely used for pioneer house building in Itawamba County. The floors were made of puncheons, which were logs split the whole width of the tree and then dressed off with the adz. The coverings for the houses were usually four feet boards usually made of cypress or oak.
Lighting in the home during pioneer days was very primitive. Lights for the kitchen and dining table were made by dipping a piece of cloth cut into a string, into an earthen vessel with a small lip, where the end of the wick rested. The vessel was filled with lard and the end of the cloth was set afire. Tallow candles were also used for lighting.
During the 1840s very few pioneer women worked in the fields. They worked in the house spinning thread, weaving cloth and cooking for the usually large families. The women made all clothing for the family. The men in the household worked in the fields, where everything needed for home consumption was raised. Wheat was raised in abundance during the 1840s. Most farms during the early 1840s were subsistence crops and cash crops like cotton were not raised on a wide scale until the later 1840s.
Social functions in pioneer Itawamba County were very limited. Besides church, there were very few social functions. "Corn Shuckings" were customary during the 1840s. It was customary for each neighbor to make a "corn shucking." Neighbors were invited and they would come in crowds, to shuck all the neighbor's corn. The women usually quilted while the children played around the house. These functions usually lasted well into the night.
During the early 1840s as more settlers moved into the county, stores, blacksmith shops, doctor's offices and lawyer's offices opened up, mainly in Fulton and in Van Buren on the Tombigbee River. Also introduced during this time was the liquor traffic. Fulton and other communities in the county had "groceries" as they were then called, where liquor was sold by the drink or could be bought by the gallon. During this era at many crossroads in the county, liquor was the only item sold. During the early 1840s, a gallon on whisky cost forty cents in Itawamba County.
One institution in pioneer Itawamba County was the stage coach. A stage line ran through Itawamba County from Aberdeen through Fulton, continuing north through the present-day Ryan's Well community. When the stage coach arrived in Fulton, it created quite a stir among the people. As the driver neared the Fulton village square, he would sound his bugle, crack the whip and make a fast and grand entrance into the town. The driver would stop the stage at the town inn or tavern where fresh horses would be supplied by the innkeeper as the driver took his drink and meal in the inn.
The County DevelopsBy 1845, Fulton had become the center of commerce in Itawamba County, surpassing the town of Van Buren on the Tombigbee River. The town square in Fulton was used for many public events and celebrations. A description of one such celebration is found in a copy of the 10 July 1845 edition of the Fulton Herald: "The celebration was for the purpose of doing honor to the memory of General Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, who died on June 9, 1845 and also in recognition of the day. It came off in a highly creditable manner. There were about 2,000 persons present, and fully one-third of the number were ladies. All stores were closed until after three o'clock in the afternoon and the doors were hung with mourning. At ten o'clock the procession formed on the public square where there was a stand erected for the speakers. Seats were provided for the ladies and Revolutionary soldiers, also for other soldiers who had served under General Jackson. The order of the day was then read by Mayor Cayce after which the Rev. S. Adair, chaplain of the day, offered the prayer. Russell O. Beene delivered the eulogy on the death of General Jackson. The flag was stripped of its mourning and the celebration in honor of the Fourth, a day of remembrance by all Americans, was opened with appropriate address by Mayor Cayce after which, the Declaration of Independence was read by G.B. Gaither. Thomas E. Wren was then introduced and he delivered the oration of the day. Mr. Wren was a young hand at the blacksmith's bellows, but judging from his speech, one would have taken him to have been an orator of many years' practice. The dinner was then announced and if you had been there and cast your eyes over the tables and had seen the luxuries in the way of pound cakes, pies, tarts, prepared by the ladies of the town and county, and the abundance of everything else that was palatable, you would no longer be heard to cry 'if we do not have rain in a few days we will not have anything to eat.' In fact, after all present had satisfied their appetites plenty was left for many more."
Fulton developed socially during the 1840s. The trappings of harsh pioneer life in the wilderness was slowly replaced by order and organization. As early as 1843 Fulton boasted a Methodist and Baptist Church, more than a dozen businesses and several organizations. One such organization in early Fulton was the Fulton Temperance Society. Its officers during 1844 were: Josiah Hinds, president; Mr. Ellis, first vice-president, E.G. Thomas, second vice-president; Jeptha Robbins, secretary and Will Cage, treasurer.
By the end of the 1840s decade, Itawamba County had begun to lose most of her pioneer characteristics as more settlers came into the county. However, during the 1850s the majority of Itawamba County citizens were small farmers who were proud, upstanding and independent. These hard working Itawambians had immigrated, for the most part, from the southern highlands of Appalachia. Because of the hilly terrain of the county, Itawamba County was not suited for large plantations, therefore there were few large slave owners in Itawamba County. The majority of the larger farms during the 1840s and 1850s were "middle class" plantations, which did not produce enough surplus for the owners to travel or reside elsewhere. These plantations had from 100 to 400 acres under cultivation and from 10 to 40 slaves. Usually, these Itawamba County planters were self-made pioneers, ex-overseers or professional men.
By 1850 Fulton had developed to become the center of commerce in Itawamba County. Fulton boasted several businesses during 1850 including: Francis Jones Carriage Maker, Abel Warren Merchantile, B.J. Morris Saddlemaker, Zachariah Phillips Blacksmith Shop, Tannahill Merchantile, Garrett Christopher Grocery, Joseph & Andrew Brown Grocery, James C. Wright Tailor, John G. Kohlheim Merchantile, Joshua Barnard Brick Mason, James Basham Shoemaker, Mayburn Allen Carpentry, Josiah Harrison Merchantile, Thomas Rhea Merchant and Gaither Merchantile, James Duggar Shoemaker, and The Fulton Hearald Newspaper owned by John Massinger. The bustling village also included five attorneys: Arthur B. Bullard, Jeptha Robins, Robert O. Maupin, John W. Downs, and Benjamin Owen. The village was served by four physicians inlcuding John Fletcher Booth, Samuel Vernon, John Moore, and George W. Booth. Fulton boasted two private schools, the Fulton Female Academy run by Louisa Maupin (located at present-day corner of Beene and North Cummings St.) and the Fulton Male Academy (located on the present-day Fulton Cemetery lot). Fulton was served by two inns run by Reubin Wiygul (present-day corner of Wiygul and Clifton streets) and Albert James. The mayor of Fulton during 1850 was William Beachum who served the village's 200 citizens.
During the early 1850s to 1860, an Itawamba County planter class had developed. During this era, more social functions were held, usually in the town of Fulton. Socials took the form of barbecue picnics. Men in the town would hunt in the Tombigbee bottom lands below the town for squirrel and wild turkey. After a day of hunting they would bring their game back to the town square where slave men and women would prepare the food for the scores of people who attended the social.
The members of Itawamba County's planter class enjoyed much more leisure time than other settlers in the county. Their spare time was devoted to hunting, reading and writing. During the 1850s, fox hunts were popular in Fulton. The head of Itawamba County's planter class was probably Malachai Crawford Cummings. He was a self-made planter who lived about one mile north of the Fulton town square. He had interests in farming, milling, stock raising and trading. Cummings and his wife, Sarah, immigrated to Itawamba County during the 1830s and in 1839 he was elected probate judge. In 1841 he was elected to the State Legislature and was a member of the Secession Convention of 1860. In 1861 he represented his district in the state senate. Cummings' home was a large two-story Greek Revival mansion that featured a large gallery and an open balcony. During Cummings' lifetime in Itawamba County, his estate grew to include more than 10,000 acres.
Other members of Itawamba County's planter class included the Dabbs, Clifton, Owen, Trice, Traylor, and Taylor families, among others.