Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Davis Event Center in Fulton on a Sunny Afternoon

Pictured above is the new Davis Event Center on the Itawamba Community College campus in Fulton. The facility was named in honor of brothers and businessmen Buster and Bud Davis, former coaches at the college and long-time supporters of the institution.

The Davis Event Center serves the college for such activities as men’s and women’s basketball games, graduation ceremonies, and concerts. The Events Center has a fixed seating capacity of 2,800 and can expand that capacity to 3,500 for special events such as concerts by placing additional seating on the court. The adjoining Fitness Center has weight training, aerobics and cardiovascular rooms. In addition, it contains four classrooms for the Health and Physical Education curriculum and an intramural gym that can accommodate basketball, volleyball, and tennis. The Fitness Center opened in mid October of 2006, and the first regular basketball games were played on January 11, 2007, in the Event Center.

The facility is just north of West Main Street in Fulton near the college stadium.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Pecan: A True Southern All-American Delicacy Comes to Life in Itawamba County

Pecan trees are now leafing out and producing their flowers in the hills and valleys of Itawamba County. This tree is one of the late trees to leaf-out during the Spring season and during the olden days, it was said anything is safe to plant while the pecan is leafing-out.

A species of hickory and a native to the south-central United States, pecans first became known to Europeans during the 16th Century when the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca was the first to write about this tree. It was the Spaniards who brought the pecan to Europe.

The nuts of the pecan tree have a rich buttery flavor and are especially suited for desserts. There is no better treat than a warm slice of golden home-baked Mississippi pecan pie with a scoop of ice cold vanilla ice cream. And then down New Orleans way we have the rich and tasty culinary treasure called the praline.

Besides the tasty pecan nut, the wood of the tree is used in making furniture, hardwood flooring and as a flavoring fuel for smoking meats.

April is National Pecan Month. Take time to celebrate this All-American treat by visiting the National Pecan Shellers Association website. They have a wonderful history of the pecan, tasty recipes and so much more – all devoted to the great American pecan.

Photograph: Pecan catkins (male flowers) and foliage during late April in Itawamba County by Bob Franks

Monday, April 28, 2008

Society’s Special May Program Meeting - Pottery: An Itawamba County Blessing

The next Itawamba Historical Society program meeting will be held Tuesday evening May 20 at the George Poteet History Center in Mantachie. The program will be Pottery: An Itawamba County Blessing, presented by Dr. Terry Thornton.

Itawamba County was once the center for numerous pottery operations both large and small. From the clays of the region were made items necessary for pioneer life. Jugs, churns, pots, crocks, and even grave markers were fashioned from the local clays and fired into stoneware. For years, the southeastern portion of the county was known as the “Jug Shop District” because of the numerous pottery operations. At one time there were more than a dozen such operations in the area from the 1800’s well into the Twentieth Century.

The multi-media program presented by Thornton will take a brief look at some of the county potters, their techniques and their finished wares.

Dr. Thornton is a graduate of Hatley High School in Monroe County and attended Itawamba Junior College and is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. His teaching experience ranges from high school and middle school science and administrative work to college and university teaching. Some may remember Dr. Thornton from his days of teaching elementary school science on Channel 9 from Tupelo in the early 1960s. He spent the bulk of his teaching career with Troy State University in Alabama where his experience ranged from biology teaching on the Troy campus to Director of the Fort Rucker Campus and Vice President for Student Affairs at the Dothan Campus.

Dr. Thornton and his wife live in Fulton. He is a columnist for the Monroe County Journal and he publishes four internet sites: Hill Country of Monroe County; Lann Cemetery Blog; New Hope Cemetery; and Inside the Magnolia Curtain. Currently Thornton is transcribing all of the names from the grave markers in one of Monroe County's oldest and largest burial grounds, New Hope Cemetery, a project he hopes to complete this summer.

The program meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the Gordon McFerrin Assembly Hall of the George Poteet History Center – headquarters of the society located at the corner of Church Street and Museum Drive in Mantachie. The evening will begin with a reception and refreshments following by the multi-media program. As always, the public is invited to attend this special program meeting.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Pecan Gap Success Mystery Photograph

The other day I was digging through a collection of old photographs from Itawamba County and came across the above interesting photograph. As the scene looks to be the interior of a printing office, the Pecan Gap Success is probably a newspaper. I started researching the name Pecan Gap and came to the conclusion that the scene was probably photographed in Pecan Gap, Delta County, Texas. It is interesting that I could find no reference to a newspaper named the Pecan Gap Success. I searched the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers for the Pecan Gap Success, finding several newspapers from that area, but none by the name of Success. In surveying the census records it seems there are many citizens in Delta County, Texas who were born in Mississippi from the 1880 through the 1910 census records. I came across at least two Itawamba County families – the Rhyne and Sheffield families during the quick census survey. There are probably several more Itawamba County families there as well. It is my opinion that the photograph, mounted on cardboard stock, was mailed to family in Itawamba County and the subjects in the photograph have Itawamba County connections.

I have shared a digital copy of the photograph with the Delta County TXGenWeb Project with the hopes that more information may be gleaned from the photograph.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Crane Pavilion Detail on the ICC Campus

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day in Itawamba County. Although it was quite hot, the sunny skies were beautiful and the day proved to be an ideal photography day. Pictured above is a detail of the Crane Pavilion on the Itawamba Community College campus in Fulton.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cockrell String Band at a Woodmen of the World Patriotic Celebration during the 1890's

The Cockrell Family String Band of Itawamba County is photographed at a Woodmen of the World patriotic celebration in front of the Lee County Courthouse in nearby Tupelo during the 1890's. Musicians pictured (front row left to right)are William Cockrell, Elijah Cockrell, Jordan Cockrell and __ Cummings (guitarist).

The Cockrell family (Elum and Caroline Devaughn Cockrell extended family) moved to Itawamba County from the Randolph-Coosa counties area of eastern Alabama during 1872 settling first in the New Home Church community and later the Mantachie-Centerville area.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

School Days in Fulton: The 1940's

Miss Hermine Graham's class at Fulton Grammar School is photographed during the mid 1940's. The photograph was taken not long after the new brick building was constructed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The 1922 Itawamba Agricultural High School Aggies Varsity Football Team

Picture above is the 1922 Itawamba Agricultural High School Varsity Football team. The group posing outside the two-story school building included: (front row left to right)Roy Robinson, unidentified, unidentified, Orville "Jack" McFerrin, Frank Welch, Thomas Gurley. (second row left to right)Stanley Sheffield, Jody Sheffield, Cleet Friday, Fred Nabors.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Viburnum plicatum: An Heirloom Garden Shrub

The Japanese Snowball (Viburnum plicatum) is an heirloom garden shrub in Itawamba County. This plant was introduced during the 1840's and was a very popular ornamental shrub during the late Victorian era. All over Itawamba County the showy blooms of this plant mark many old house sites and is found in the gardens of many old homes.

During Autumn the leaves turn a virbrant bronze in the historic garden. This shrub is currently blooming in the gardens of Itawamba County.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Charles Warren: First Sheriff of Itawamba County in 1836

Charles M. Warren was elected the first sheriff of Itawamba County in 1836, a post he held for several years. He was born September 6, 1810 in Wayne County, Kentucky, the son of S. John Warren and Cassandra Gentry and married Narcissa Arminda Reagor on December 20, 1838 in Itawamba County. He was elected sheriff again right after the Civil War and according to local legend, drowned in Mantachie Creek while out collecting county taxes on June 2, 1869. At the time, Henry Jackson Lentz of Itawamba County wrote in his diary: “Old Charley Warren was drowned in creek.” Charles Warren was buried on his farm between Fawn Grove and Dorsey west of Mantachie Creek.

S. John Warren, his father, was born in Virginia in 1776 and moved to Kentucky with his family following the American Revolution. He married Cassandra Gentry, daughter of Richard Gentry on November 1, 1806 in Madison, Kentucky. They were the parents of Willey, Reubin, Charles, Sarah, Cassie, Isom J. and Susanna. After the death of his first wife, S. John Warren married Sarah Robinson in Tennessee and soon thereafter moved his family to Limestone County, Alabama. While in Alabama the following children were born to S. John and Sarah: William D., John F., Sarah, Napoleon Bonaparte, Melinda and George W. Following some of his older sons, S. John moved his family to Itawamba County about 1840 where two more children were born. They were Alex and Manerva. S. John owned a sizeable farm northeast of Fulton on Dulaney Branch. S. John Warren died on September 19, 1863 and was buried in a small family plot on his plantation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Early Twentieth Century Skillet Dessert: Pineapple Upside Down Cake

The Pineapple Upside Down Cake has been a crowd pleaser for generations across America. And in Itawamba County, this dessert has been a staple at many church dinners and Sunday meals. It was always one of my favorite cakes growing up in rural Itawamba County.

I decided to bake my own cake last evening, using the traditional heavy black iron skillet method. I cut no culinary corners, using sweet butter and a batter from scratch consisting of flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs, and milk. The result was the gooey and sweet cake with crispy edges pictured above. I served the dessert with a little whipped cream, making a tasty sweet after-dinner treat.

The history of this cake has been an educated guess for many food historians, but evidence points to the conclusion that the Pineapple Upside Down Cake originated after 1903 when pineapple was readily available in most homes across America by the canning process.

One early Gold Medal Flour advertisement was found in a magazine featuring the Pineapple Upside Down Cake in a November 1925 issue of the publication. It has been suggested that this cake is a newer version of the older late 19th Century Upside Down Fruit cakes made with such fruits as apples and cherries.

During 1925 the Hawaiian Pineapple Company produced an advertisement in magazines across America promoting a contest and asking for recipes using the pineapple. 2,500 recipes for this cake were submitted, so the cake was already quite popular during 1925.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake History References:

The Food Timeline: Cakes Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Photograph by Bob Franks

Friday, April 18, 2008

Moonshine Still Destroyed East of Fulton During the 1950's

The Itawamba County Sheriff and deputies destroy a moonshine still during the 1950's east of Fulton near the Clay Community.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Baptizing at Jones Crossing on Bull Mountain Creek: 1917

Pictured above is a church group at Jones Crossing on Bull Mountain Creek attendeding a baptizing service. Fifty-four people are shown in the photograph. The baptizing took place during 1917. Family surnames represented in the photograph include Raper, Gilmore, Clements, Cole, Thomas, McNeese, Kennedy, Stevens, Phillips,Bennett, Wallace, Cook, Doster, Wiggington, Jetton, among others. Jones Crossing is the site of an early Itawamba County mill. For further information about this historic site, see the Jones Mill article on this blog.

A larger version of this photograph is scheduled to appear in the Summer 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine with identification of 54 people shown in the old photograph.

Photograph Courtesy of Robert Vaughn, Amory, Mississippi

Rosedale Blues & Heritage Festival Scheduled for May 10

Rosedale, Miss. (April 15, 2008) – Come one, come all to hear authentic Mississippi Delta blues music at the Rosedale Blues & Heritage Festival to be held Saturday, May 10, 2008, at The River Resort in Rosedale.

The Rosedale Blues and Heritage Festival is a good-time celebration held annually on the second Saturday of May in the historic riverside city of Rosedale and sponsored by the Crossroads Blues Society of Mississippi.

Numerous performers will take to the stage to provide authentic Mississippi Delta blues entertainment, including: Eden Brent; Lil’ Dave Thompson and the Big Love Band; John Andy Bowen and the Back 40 Band; Mickey Rogers, Barbara Looney and the Soul Master’s Band; and T-Model Ford. There will also be performances by: Marshall Drew; Joe Garcia; Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry; and the Alfonso Sanders Band. “We’ve got some of the best blues band in the local area coming. That’s always been our emphasis - the local blues artists. We are really looking forward to the line-up,” said society member Will Tierce.

Rosedale has long been famous for its intimate association with blues music. In his day, legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sang in and around the riverside city, making it famous on his 1937 recording “Traveling Riverside Blues.”

Early blues pioneer Charley Patton sang about Rosedale in his “High Water Everywhere,” a song about the 1927 flood, and during the early 1940s Honey Boy Edwards lived and played here. Rosedale was a major stop on the juke joint circuit for blues players promoting their soulful songs. In later years, Led Zeppelin created their own version of Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and the band Cream, with member Eric Clapton, immortalized the city in “Crossroads,” leading many to believe the meeting of Mississippi Highways 1 and 8 is where Johnson sold his soul to the Devil according to legend.

In previous years, the festival has taken place in downtown Rosedale, but this year festival organizers decided to change the venue to the River Resort, the former home of the Rosedale Country Club on Mississippi Highway 1 on the south end of the city. Big shady trees and expansive grassy areas make this outdoor location perfect to watch and enjoy the festival. Feel free to bring lawn chairs and blankets. “We’re looking forward to the new location. There will be lots of shade and a nice environment alongside the levee. We want everybody to come out and enjoy the best local blues in the area,” commented Tierce.

Food, drinks and beer will be available for purchase. “There’s lots of classic festival food. Food in the past has included hot tamales, sometimes crawfish, ribs and other sorts of things,” Tierce said.

Festival-goers can also pick up some souvenirs to take home. All of the proceeds from the event benefit the Crossroads Blues Society and will go toward funding future festivals. “We’ll have T-shirts and bumper stickers available featuring Rosedale blues and we’ll have some posters probably for sale,” said Tierce.

Gates open at 12 noon, with music from 1 p.m. till about 10:30 p.m. The event is open to the public; admission is $5 per adult and $1 per child (12 years and under). No ice chests or pets. For more information about the Rosedale Blues & Heritage Festival, visit

The Crossroads Blues Society of Mississippi is based in Rosedale, Mississippi, where it promotes and sponsors the Rosedale Blues and Heritage Festival, held annually on the second Saturday of May. By exposing people to America’s cultural heritage, specifically Mississippi Delta blues, the society also supports and advances local blues artists. A member of the International Blues Foundation, the Crossroads Blues Society of Mississippi is an avid advocate of preserving authentic blues music and its birthplace, the Mississippi Delta. Established in 1999, the society, with its active board, members and numerous volunteers, continues to hold impressive festivals year after year as visitors come experience real Delta blues and the historic riverside city of Rosedale, Miss., located at the crossroads of Mississippi Highways 1 and 8. For more information, visit

Illustrations courtesy of Crossroads Blues Society and the Mississippi Development Authority/Division of Tourism

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gravesite Marked With Engraved Monument After 93 Years in Providence Cemetery

For 93 years the final resting place of Cleopatra Hargett Benson went unmarked with an engraved monument in the beautiful historic Providence Cemetery north of Tremont. Sometime during the 1950's Cleopatra's son, Perry Lee Benson, constructed a handmade cross for the gravesite. Last year society member Kay Henry of Starkville, along with her brothers and sisters, purchased and installed an engraved monument for their grandmother’s final resting place in Providence Cemetery to compliment the handmade cross lovingly made by her son.

Cleopatra Hargett was born during November of 1882, the daughter of John Hargett (born 1853 in Georgia, died 1918 in Itawamba County) and Annie Elvira Davis (born 1860 in Alabama, died 1904 in Itawamba County). She married Lane Milton Benson (1883-1956) who was the son of James Franklin Benson (born 1844 in Franklin County, Alabama, died at Fulton in Itawamba County during 1932). Most all the family members are buried in Providence Cemetery, except Lane Milton Benson, who is buried in Watsonville, California.

The Itawamba Historical Society salutes Kay Henry and her siblings for marking the gravesite of their grandmother with an engraved monument at Providence in the beautiful hills of eastern Itawamba County. In honoring the memory of their grandmother, they also helped preserve a part of Itawamba County’s rich history and heritage by putting a name and dates at the gravesite of one of Itawamba County's pioneer citizens.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Little Library on Gaither Street

On a warm Mississippi Spring day during 1961 the day was like any other for a first-grader at Fulton Grammar School. However, this day proved to be a special day for the students of Miss Carroll’s class. After lunch it was announced we would be taking a field trip to the town square, three blocks north of the school. The class walked in single file on the sidewalk along South Cummings Street then north along Gaither Street to an unassuming store building. However, this building proved to be no ordinary building. Once through the doors the wide-eyed students were greeted by thousands of books on shelves lining the walls of the cramped space. For a youngster in the hills of northeastern Mississippi this was truly a special magical place. It was the place I was introduced to Tom Sawyer on the Mighty Mississippi, the daring pirate Black Beard, rugged cowboys of the old west and a vast collection of adventurers and explorers. On that day of my first library visit, we were each allowed to select one book to take home with us. There were just too many wonderful books, but after much debate I finally selected a book about John Adams, the second president of the United States.

From that warm spring day many years ago the county library has moved and grown. And it has always been a special place for many. The library here in our small town is more than just a collection of books and research materials. It is simply the heart and soul of the community. It is a special place where the dreams and aspirations of many youngsters are fostered and cultivated. It is the place where a world of knowledge is delivered to county citizens young and old alike.

Over the years the county library has been the meeting place for countless civic organizations. From civic clubs and garden clubs to the county arts council, many organizations have called our library their home. As a matter of fact, the beginnings of the Itawamba Historical Society were right there among the book stacks.

It was during the winter of 1982 when three or four researchers were sitting at a table researching their family lines. One of the researchers had recently moved to the county with the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. She commented that the county needed a historical society. With invaluable help from the county librarian, within an hour plans were formalized for the first organizational meeting. For many years the society met each third Tuesday evening in the county library on Cedar Street.

The week of April 13-19 is National Library Week. It is a time to celebrate the contributions of libraries, librarians and library workers in schools, campuses and communities nationwide. Take time to thank those in this noble profession for the important job they do. And above all else, become involved with volunteer efforts for the local library and help insure that this noble institution receives adequate funding so that the dreams and aspirations of future citizens can be realized and communities transformed, enriching the lives of many.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Society’s April Program Meeting: The Civil War Soldier

The April program meeting of the Itawamba Historical Society will be held on Tuesday evening, April 15 in the Gordon McFerrin Assembly Hall of the George Poteet History Center in Mantachie. The program will begin at 6 p.m. with refreshments and fellowship, with the program following.

The program, The Civil War Soldier, will be presented by Bobby Christopher of Saltillo. Christopher, a Civil War reenactor and historian will discuss the fascinating subject of the daily life of a Civil War soldier in northeastern Mississippi.

The public is invited to all program meetings of the society and admission is free of charge. The society’s facilities are located at the corner of Church Street and Museum Drive in Mantachie. For further information, contact the society at 662-282-7664 or by emailing the society at

Friday, April 11, 2008

Mary Brown and James Herrinton McMillen Portrait

Mary Brown was born May 6, 1861 in Clarke County, Alabama. She was the daughter of John L. Brown and Charity Truett. John L. Brown was the son of John Andrew Jackson Brown (1802-1885) and Eula Ann Ansley (1806-1864) of the Henry-Dale counties area of south Alabama. Charity Truett, her mother, was the daughter of Rev. William Hampton Truett and Alcey Wiggins. John L. was killed during Civil War service at Dalton, Georgia on March 28, 1863 and on October 16, 1865 his widow Charity, married William Sheffield, the son of Adam and Elizabeth Hare Sheffield of Clarke County. William adopted the Brown children (William, Melissa, Peter B. and Mary) from his wife’s first marriage and the couple had eight more children over the years (John Henry, Malone, George Daniel, Noah H., Nancy Jane, Sarah Jane, Charlie and Martha Della).

William’s father, Adam, had purchased land in Itawamba County during the early 1840’s near the old Woodlawn Post Office (present-day Greenwood community) and after the war William and Charity Truett Sheffield moved upriver on the Tombigbee from Clarke County, Alabama to Itawamba County first settling on his father’s Mississippi land. Shortly thereafter, the family bought a farm on Mantachie Creek near the Tombigbee River (on present-day Van Buren and Peppertown roads north of Mantachie Creek).

Mary Brown married James Herrinton McMillen on January 3, 1886 in Itawamba County. He was the son of James Richard and Nancy Kingsley McMillen. Mary Brown McMillen died November 3, 1937 and was buried in the Walton Cemetery.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Flowering Quince on the Grounds of Historic Bonds House

Flowering Quince, called Japan Quince and Japonica during the 19th Century was a popular garden shrub during the 1800’s in Itawamba County. During early April, the scarlet blooms of this thorny shrub is the tell-tale sign of an old home place site in the rural areas of the county.

Many 19th Century botanical and gardening books write of this shrub being a popular ornament of antebellum gardens.

An 1855 book entitled The Fruits and Fruit Trees of America by A.J. Downing has the following to say about the shrub:

"The Japan Quince is a low thorny shrub, with small dark green leaves. It is the most brilliant object in the shrubbery during the month of April, the branches being clothed with numerous clusters of blossoms, shaped like those of the quince, but rather larger, and of the brightest scarlet. The fruit which occasionally succeeds these flowers is dark green, very hard, and having a peculiar and not unpleasant smell."

When riding through the hills and valleys of the county during April witnessing the presence of this flowering shrub more than likely marks the spot of an old homestead garden.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Signin’ and Samplin’ with Paul Canonici is April 26 at the Mississippi History Store

On Saturday, April 26, the Mississippi History Store will have a special day with author Paul Canonici.

From 10 a.m. to 12:30 Canonici will sign copies of his newest book, So Italian: Traditional Recipes with My Art and Travel Notes, and dishes made with recipes from the book will be served.

So Italian is filled with sketches and watercolors by the author as well as tales from his time spent in Italy in search of traditional recipes like those brought to America by immigrants a century ago. Canonici will prepare bruschetta and crostini, eggplant slices with tomato and mozzarella, and ricotta tarts for the event.

Canonici grew up in the Delta the son of Italian immigrants. Following a career as priest and educator, he now spends much of his time traveling, writing, painting, and cooking. In 2005 he published The Delta Italians, a history of that group’s struggle for survival on the cotton plantations of Arkansas and Mississippi. The Delta Italians and So Italian are for sale at the Mississippi History Store.

The Mississippi History Store—formerly the Old Capitol Shop—offers one of the state's finest collections of folk art, local crafts, and books by and about Mississippians. The store is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the William F. Winter Archives and History Building, corner of North and Amite streets.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the United States. The department collects, preserves, and provides access to the archival resources of the state, administers various museums and historic sites, and oversees statewide programs for historic preservation, state and local government records management, and publications. The department is headquartered in the state-of-the-art William F. Winter Archives and History Building, located on the corner of North and Amite Streets in downtown Jackson. For more information call 601-576-6850 or see the MDAH Web site,

1865 Political Broadside Mailed to Woodlawn in Itawamba County

In going through some old letters and papers belonging to my great great grandmother Hare’s (Elizabeth Hare Sheffield, wife of Adam Sheffield) family I came across a political broadside (click image for larger view) published in Okolona in nearby Chickasaw County and mailed to their home at Woodlawn in Itawamba County during 1865. W.G. Henderson, a 33 year old lawyer in Okolona was running for the office of District Attorney for the Ninth Judicial District.

Elizabeth Hare was born around 1815 in Moore County, North Carolina, the daughter of John C. Hare. On May 7, 1832 she married Adam Sheffield, the son of Isaac Sheffield and Rebecca Hare, of Wilcox County in south Alabama. The Sheffield and Hare families farmed lands on the Alabama river north of Mobile before moving upriver to Itawamba County.

The political broadside was mailed to Elizabeth Hare Sheffield’s uncle – Andrew Hare at Woodlawn in southwestern Itawamba County. Andrew Hare was born during 1800 in Moore County, North Carolina. On May 28, 1828 he married Dicy Tyler in Wilcox County, Alabama.

The old broadside reads:

"To the Voters of the Ninth Judicial District.
Fellow-Citizens: -
I am a candidate for District Attorney of the Ninth Judicial District of the State of Mississippi, comprising the counties of Monroe, Chickasaw, Pontotoc, Itawamba and Tishomingo.

In coming before you for this responsible office, I promise to bring to the discharge of its duties, all my energies, to enforce and uphold the laws, and I trust with an ability adequate to its demands. A practice of ten or twelve years in the profession of the Law, is a fair guarantee of my qualifications for the position. If any of my competitors have higher claims upon the people, or greater ability to serve them in the position to which I aspire, I shall remain content if they prefer them to me. For whatever support you may give me at the ballot box, in the approaching election, I shall always be profoundly grateful.

Respectfully Yours,
W.G. Henderson
Okolona, Miss., Aug. 20, 1865"

Genealogical Notes:

1860 Federal Census
Chickasaw County, Mississippi
Town of Okolona, Page 48

W.G. Henderson: 28, Lawyer, North Carolina
Dona: 24, Alabama
Laura: 2, Mississippi

1870 Federal Census
Harrison County, Mississippi
Town of Mississippi City, Page 346

William Henderson: 38, Chancery Judge, Alabama
Dona: 30, Mississippi
Laura: 12, Mississippi
Adona: 4, Mississippi
Emma Brown, 30, Servant, Mississippi

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Portrait of Green Zachariah Stephens: ca. 1865

Green Zachariah Stephens was born on the Stephens plantation in Itawamba County during May of 1853, the son of Abel and Annie Lawson Stephens. The family’s farm of several hundred acres was located west of the Tombigbee River along present-day River Road. The Stephens family, including Green Zachariah’s grandparents – Zachariah and Tabitha Powell Stephens, came to Itawamba County up the Tombigbee River from Alabama during 1844.

Abel Stephens was born December 14, 1817 in Alabama. His wife, Annie Lawson, was born during January of 1823 in Tennessee. They married around 1840 in Alabama. Their children included Tabitha S., Samuel M., Manning A., Mary Elizabeth, Milla J., Louisa Genira and Green Zachariah.

Zachariah Stephens (son of John Stephens and Francis Byrd) was born February 28, 1789 in North Carolina. His wife, Tabitha Powell was born February 11, 1799 in South Carolina. Their children included Abel, Green Shelton, James Monroe, John Riley, Redden Byrd, Nathaniel, Elizabeth and Zachariah.

Most members of the Stephens family are buried in historic Stephens Cemetery just off present-day River Road.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Remembering Tomorrow...

Last evening I had a pleasant surprise in finding the Robert Duvall movie, Tomorrow, being shown on the Turner Classic Movies channel. I had not seen the movie in years and it proved yet again, to be a dramatic visual treat.

The movie is special to me as it brings back memories of a year from my youth thirty-six years ago, when the movie industry came to the peaceful beautiful rural hills of Itawamba County, Mississippi. I remember the time as if it were yesterday. Everyday quiet life here was interrupted by the excitement of filming and several county locals being cast as extras for the film. This little cinematic treasure was based upon the short story by Mississippi’s own William Faulkner with the screenplay by the master, Horton Foote. Much of the filming was done in the historic Oakland community, northeast of Fulton.

During the months the movie was being filmed in northeastern Mississippi and Itawamba County, I would clip anything related to the movie from the local newspaper and these clippings would be taped into my scrapbook right along with stories about local football games, news items about family members, school pictures and other such items important to a kid in the Itawamba County hills.

Duvall played the role of Jackson Fentry, a hill country cotton farmer who spends the winter as the caretaker of a rural saw mill. The day before Christmas, he finds Sarah Eubanks, a pregnant woman abandoned by her husband, lying on the grounds of the sawmill. The kind-hearted Fentry, a man of few words, takes her in, taking care of her. Eventually he asks her to marry him but she can’t as she is already married. The intense, moving story takes off from there.

I remember after the filming ended, local folks couldn’t wait for the movie to come out. The Southern premier was held at the old Lyric Theater in downtown Tupelo at 7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, May 31. 1972. The theater was packed and when the film credits started rolling, it has been said you could hear a pin drop.

Many have proclaimed this cinematic masterpiece to be the best adaptation of Faulkner to film and is reported as one of Duvall’s favorite roles. I definitely believe the film is a true-to-life adaptation of Faulkner and the black and white cinematography simply adds to the dramatic atmosphere of the movie. Duvall simply nailed the role as he always does, proving he is a master of his craft.

When watching this movie, I simply feel as if I am being transported back to an earlier simpler time to catch a brief sacred glimpse of how my Itawamba County, Mississippi hill country ancestors lived 100 years ago.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Early Morning Azalea

A pink azalea is showing its colors on a foggy early Sunday morning in Itawamba County. For the next week the azaleas should put on a colorful show throughout northeastern Mississippi.

Photograph by Bob Franks

John Wesley Buse Family Portrait

John Wesley Buse was born February 3, 1858 in Itawamba County. He was the son of William M. and Stacy Harriett Johnson Buse. William M. Buse was the son of Benjamin Buse and Elizabeth Barnett, early settlers of northwestern Itawamba County, coming from Cherokee County, Alabama. The Buse family came to Itawamba County during the 1840’s settling along the old Natchez Trace near Twenty Mile Creek. Stacy Harriett Johnson was the daughter of Arthur Johnson and Nancy Woodward of Johnston County, North Carolina and later Itawamba County.

On January 16, 1879 John Wesley Buse married Julia Meeks and after her death on May 17, 1901, married Clemmie Turner on November 6 of the same year. John Wesley Buse died on December 23, 1928 and was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery north of Mantachie. Pictured with John Wesley and Clemmie Turner Buse are children Willie, Jack, Lela, Bob, Allen and Ben. The portrait was photographed at the Buse homeplace in the Ratliff Community during the Fall of 1908.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pear Blossom Time in Mississippi

Pictured above are pear tree blossoms in an orchard on a high ridge at an old homeplace near the Tombigbee River in Itawamba County. For many years the orchard at the old homeplace was probably the source for preserves, jams, jellies and delectable "half-moon" pies fried in a black iron skillet on a wood stove.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mississippi Hill Country Comfort Food: Potatoes and Cornbread

Potatoes and cornbread have been a staple on many Itawamba County farm tables for generations and the cooking of potatoes has been elevated to a regional culinary art form over the years. Two customary potato dishes popular in the hills for years have been thickened potatoes and country-fried potatoes.

County fried potatoes are simply Irish potatoes irregularly cut up with some diced onion, salt and black pepper added. The concoction is then dusted with corn meal and fried in an iron skillet to a light golden brown. There is nothing better with garden-fresh purple hull peas, okra and a tall glass of sweet iced tea on a hot Mississippi summer day.

Then there are thickened potatoes - another favorite companion for fresh garden peas and corn bread. Thickened potatoes are merely boiled Irish potatoes, diced into generous portions. When the potatoes are fully cooked, flour is added to the hot potatoes and stock to create a rich creamy culinary concoction. Seasoned with a charitable dusting of milled black pepper and salt, there is nothing better with hot skillet cornbread.

Recently on a chilly and rainy spring evening I had a craving for some thickened Irish potatoes and cornbread - but with a twist. I added some diced onion to the pot with the boiling potato pieces, along with some milled black pepper, salt and a little butter. After thickening the potatoes with some flour I added a little parmesan and garlic seasoning along with some grated cheese. This made the most delectable rich and savory potato soup to go with the little pone of fried stove-top southern cornbread. The end result was the above-photographed deliciously perfect twist for an old fashioned Itawamba County, Mississippi hill country comfort food.

The Long Journey to Memphis

The scenic rolling hills and hollows of Itawamba County in the heart of Mississippi’s northeastern hill country have created quite a few sons and daughters who have made their mark in the field of the performing arts. Virginia Wynette Pugh was born in the old Bounds Crossroads community north of Tremont. She later made her mark in the entertainment industry as Tammy Wynette, the first lady of country music. There’s James Melvin Lunceford born northeast of Fulton in the old Palmetto community, the grandson of Daniel Lunceford, a North Carolina slave brought to Itawamba County during the 1850’s. Known professionally as Jimmie Lunceford, he made his mark with his orchestra entertaining millions from America to Europe with his unique big band sound during the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Then there’s Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll. His Presley line hailed from Itawamba County where they had lived since well before the Civil War. Several old Itawamba County family lines tie into the Presley lineage and many residents today are Presley cousins. Lee County historian Julian Riley writes, “…the roots of Elvis' family tree could not be deeper anywhere on earth, other than in the hills of Itawamba County Mississippi.”

Mackey Hargett, an only child, lost his father during World War II and was raised by his mother. For years, he would hear family stories from elders in the family of the Presley line and how he was related to Elvis. He grew up during the 1950’s always wanting to visit Memphis to meet his famous cousin. When he finally became old enough to obtain a driver’s license, he bought a car, and headed from the dusty Mississippi countryside to the big city of Memphis with the object of meeting his famous cousin.

His story is the story of a young man with a dream, and that dream fulfilled. It is also the story of the Presley family at Graceland, and how they took the time to make a young man welcome in their home and making this young man from Mississippi feel a part of their extended family. Below is an abridged section of an article written by Hargett from the feature article Elvis Presley: His Itawamba County Ancestors and Cousins published in the current issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine:

The story all started in the Tilden community of Itawamba County, Mississippi. My great grandfather Wallace and Rosella Presley had a son named Jessie D. Presley. This would start the blood-line which would lead to Vernon Presley and then to Elvis. My grandmother Nora Wallace, the oldest daughter of John Wallace (pictured above left), was a half sister to Jessie D. Presley. This family connection is how I got through the gates of Graceland for almost twenty years to visit with my relatives, whom I loved dearly.

During 1957, Elvis was Elvis! He was famous around the world. Both my grandmother and mother, Lillian Hargett told me that Elvis was my cousin and offered me the history behind the family relationship. My father, Tearsie Hargett, was killed during 1944 while serving his country while fighting with the 3rd Armored Division under General Patton in France. I was not fortunate to know my dad and I did not have any brothers or sisters. The simple fact that I had a close relative who was so famous was very exciting to me.

As a child I always wanted to visit Graceland and visit with Elvis. When I finally got my driver’s license during 1960, my mother and I drove up from the Mississippi countryside to Memphis and through the gates of Graceland. My mother and Vernon Presley (Elvis’ father) were cousins and they knew each other from the days when they lived in Tupelo. My mother and father lived on the same block as the Presley’s during the Great Depression. When we finally got to Graceland my mother talked with Vernon.

Elvis was not at home that day, so Vernon told me to come back another time and I could meet him. He gave us his telephone number so we could call and make arrangements to visit. Later I returned to Graceland and Vernon introduced me to Elvis. Vernon and I were sitting in the kitchen at Graceland chatting and in walked Elvis. Vernon said “Elvis, this is a cousin of yours on the Wallace side of the family.” This was something to hear by a teenager from the hills of Itawamba County, while standing in front of his cousin, Elvis Presley, in the kitchen of Graceland.

From that point on, for the next twenty years I would call Vernon and he would tell me when to visit.

He never once said no to me when I asked, but sometimes the visits would have to be changed to different dates and times. I visited Vernon for the last time during 1978 not long before he died.

Minnie Hood was married to Jessie D. Presley, my grandmother’s half brother. I will always cherish my memories of visiting with Miss Minnie, Vernon, Elvis, Vester, Patsy (Vester’s daughter), Delta and Nash. I will also always be grateful for their kindness in taking the time to visit with me at Graceland. They always treated this young man from the rural hills of Mississippi with kindness and as one of the family. Those warmhearted memories will stay with me forever.

Photographs of John Wallace and Elvis Presley with Mackey Hargett courtesy of Mackey Hargett

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wisteria: Nature's Colorful Show

Wisteria is now blooming in the hills of Itawamba County. The delicate purple flowers hanging in pods like grapes from the towering vines intertwined in ancient trees is definitely one of nature’s spectacular shows. The warm Spring air is permeated with the sweet scent of wisteria.

Wisteria blossoms drooping down
Within the dust-environed town
To March their blooms have given.
What a pure charm their beauty brings,
As though these flowers had taken wings
And flown to earth from heaven!

From Sylvan Lyrics and Other Verses by William Hamilton Hayne, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1893