Saturday, May 31, 2008

Children Playing at the old Center Star Steam Mill: 1922

The old Center Star Steam Mill was located about 1/4 mile south of present-day Center Star Cemetery in Mantachie. Owned by the Turner family, the mill operated during the late 1800's. Pictured above are children playing around the remains of the old mill during 1922. The child playing in the boiler (center) is Ruth Boren.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Historic Church Street in Port Gibson

Port Gibson is Mississippi’s third oldest settlement. The town was chartered on March 12, 1803. This historic town was the site of several clashes during the Civil War with the Battle of Port Gibson occurring on May 1, 1863 resulting in the death of more than 200 soldiers.

This beautiful historic town is home to many of Mississippi’s architectural treasures including the famous First Presbyterian church with the golden hand with a finger pointing toward the skies atop the steeple. Port Gibson is special in that many of its beautiful historic buildings survived the Civil War simply because Grant believed the city was too beautiful to be burned.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation has plans to widen Highway 61 (historic Church Street) through the town of Port Gibson. Many of the town’s historic structures are located along this route as well as many ancient oaks. There is an active opposition to this plan. To read all about the controversy visit the Port Gibson Heritage Trust website. Included on the site is detailed information about the highway plans, photos of their recent Memorial Day concert and a link to their online petition that has already been signed by nearly 3,000 concerned people.

Photograph of First Presbyterian Church courtesy of The Library of Congress

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Itawamba County Board of Supervisors: 1956-1960

The county Board of Supervisors is the chief executive board of the county in Mississippi. During the 1800's until shortly after the Civil War, this board was known as the Board of Police. The above photograph was taken of the 1956-70 term of the Board of Supervisors. Pictured are (left to right): Hollis Brown (attorney for the board), Truman Wilburn (Second District), Hadie Walton (Third District), Owen Spearman (Fourth District), Luke Robinson (Fifth District), Ernie Montgomery (First District) and Dorsey Moore (Chancery Court Clerk).

Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway East of Ironwood Bluff

Looking south into Monroe County from the old Ironwood Bluff area of Itawamba County. Ironwood Bluff was one of the first voting precincts in Itawamba County and was abolished by the county Board of Police during 1839. The Burdine and Stegall families were early settlers of this area in Itawamba County.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Upcoming Area Genealogy Conferences During June

Two area genealogical conferences will be held during June. The 5th Annual Northeast Mississippi Heritage Gathering will be held in nearby Aberdeen June 6 through June 7. This conference is an opportunity to work together with others whose roots are in the northeast Mississippi area. Local authorities on the families of Monroe County will have their files and books available and a copy machine will be available. Attendees will be doing research as a vehicle for learning. There will be a computer lab that will enable those attending to directly research their families while learning about various online resources. The Evans Memorial Library and the Monroe County Chancery Archives will be available as well, with guides on hand. For a complete listing of lectures and more information on the conference, visit the Northeast Mississippi Heritage Gathering website.

The Bluewater Family History and Genealogy Conference will be held in nearby Florence, Alabama June 26 through June 28. With subjects ranging from Southern family history to American Indians and African Americans, this will be a wide-ranging event. Hosted in northwest Alabama, this conference is home to a variety of rich and hard-to-research heritages. Thos attending will have access to speakers who are experts in the field of research via archives and the conference will be attended by numerous genealogists from around the country. For more information about this conference, visit the Bluewater Family History and Genealogy Conference website.

Grapes in an Itawamba Vineyard

Grape vines in a vineyard are producing grapes in Itawamba County. The wet spring weather has fostered much plant growth in the county. Pictured above is a vineyard west of the Tombigbee River.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Bureau of Land Management Website: More Than Just Land Patents

A small section of a survey map (above) of northwestern Itawamba County showing the Natchez Trace (labeled as the Old Natchez Road on the map) and Factors Field (note: a factor was an agent employed by merchants, residing in other places to buy and sell on their account. In the Chickasaw Nation of northeastern Mississippi a factor probably ran a trading post.)

Many genealogists and historical researchers use the Bureau of Land Management website to research land patents. However, they now have included images of the original land surveys as part of their offerings.

After a treaty with the Chickasaw Nation of northeast Mississippi in 1832, the United States government began surveying the new cession lands. A contract was awarded on 12 November 1833 to G.W. Higgins to survey this vast area of land, and during 1834 the survey was completed. Higgins and his men not only surveyed the land and plotted the same in sections, townships and ranges, but also made a record of trails, roads, farms and improvements on the land they encountered. The survey field notes along with the actual survey maps yield a wealth of historical information. Below is a list of sites that the surveyors found in what is now Itawamba County, Mississippi and recorded in their field notes.:

Kin-hi-cha's house and field
Indian house
Tap-pah-ka's house
Indian house and field (corn and cotton)
Indian prarie
Indian field
Indian field
Indian burial grounds
Indian house
Chistana's field and house
Indian burial grounds
Tunk-co-tubby's field and house
20-acre Indian field
Kin-hi-cha's field
Tusk-a-tubby's house and field
Indian field
Benjamin Wise's farm
Maxcy's farm
Allen's farm
Greenwood's Indian field

Although the field notes are not online the survey maps are. These survey maps show many old roads, trails, creeks and streams as well as various features including some fields and farms. The Itawamba survey maps show an old wagon road leading up from Cotton Gin Port through eastern Itawamba County ending near the present-day Clay community. Families living along this old road included the Wise, Maxcy, Allen and Dulaney families according to the survey notes. The maps also show various trails and even the Natchez Trace running through northwestern Itawamba County (written as the Old Natchez Road on the survey maps).

The survey maps of pre-county days are very detailed, showing every section, township and range in the present county in minute detail. In researching Itawamba County, don’t forget the Bureau of Land Management’s land survey images. They are an important companion to their patent records.

Inscribed Names in Monument Reflect Stories of Valor

The Itawamba County Veterans’ Monument stands proud at the northwest corner of the Itawamba County Courthouse square in Fulton. The large monument with an eternal flame has four massive granite tablets set in native Mississippi stone. On these tablets are the names of 127 Itawamba County soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice for their country during four wars (World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War).

Each of the names inscribed on the monument represents a hero and a hero’s story. There are 127 heroes’ stories represented on the monument. Following is but one such story this monument represents:

Private Ray Collin Underwood was a native son of Itawamba County. Born on April 31, 1917 on his family’s modest farm east of Fulton, he was the son of Garvin and Mattie Lorene Underwood. They were like most Itawambians – they didn’t have much in material wealth, but were a proud and honest people. Living most of his early life on an Itawamba hill country farm, the family had moved to Fulton by 1930 where Ray’s father was the Itawamba County Circuit Court Clerk.

Ray was inducted into the U. S. Army on December 12, 1940 and did his basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia. He eventually ended up in the Philippine Islands with Company A. of the 192nd Tank Battalion.

On the morning of December 8, 1941, Company A heard the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ray and the other members of the company had been ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field. This was to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers.

Around noon, Japanese planes approached the airfield and began bombing. At first the soldiers thought the planes were American but it was only when the bombs began exploding on the airfield that they knew the planes were Japanese. The bombers were followed by fighters which strafed the area. After the attack, the tanks were ordered to guard a dam against sabotage.

For the next two months, Ray's tank and the other tanks of the 192nd served as the rear guard as the Filipino and American forces fell back into the Bataan Peninsula. The tank company was east of Concepcion, when it came under enemy fire. A shell hit Ray's tank and disabled it. Lt. William Reed having escaped from the tank was working to evacuate the other members of the tank crew when a second shell hit the tank below where he was standing. He was mortally wounded.

In an attempt to get help for Lt. Reed, the soldiers went to find help as Ray Collin Underwood sat with Lt. Reed and cradled him in his arms as he lay dying. As he sat holding and comforting Lt. Reed, the Japanese overran the area. It was on that day that Ray became a Prisoner of War and continued to be such, until his death by pneumonia on February 15, 1945 at the camp hospital at Hanawa Camp #6 in Japan where he endured many hardships being forced to work in a copper mine that had been determined too dangerous to mine.

After his death, a Shinto funeral service for Ray was held. His remains were taken to a crematorium. After the cremation, Ray's ashes were given to the camp commandant who held them to the end of the war. Upon Ray's family's request after the war, his remains were returned to the hills of Itawamba County.

On a hill overlooking the beautiful valley below, in the presence of grieving family, friends and neighbors, Private Ray Collin Underwood’s remains were finally laid to rest in the Mount Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery just east of Tremont in the rural Itawamba countryside. Today his monument marks the final resting place of a young native son of Itawamba who perished on foreign soil while serving his country nobly.

There are an additional 126 such stories represented on the inscribed monument on the courthouse square in Fulton. This Memorial Day weekend, citizens of Itawamba County will gather at that precious monument to honor those 127 soldiers and the heroic stories their inscribed names represent..

Private Ray Colin Underwood’s story is told on the excellent site, The Bataan Commemorative Research Project, produced by the Proviso East High School in Illinois.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Summer 2008 Issue of Itawamba Settlers

The Summer 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers, the quarterly 56-page membership magazine of the Itawamba Historical Society has been typeset. This is an exciting issue that has many interesting feature articles and photographs. Included in this issue is a portrait and biography of early Itawamba County lawman, Stokley Roberts., and a most interesting feature article about the William Hairgrove family. The Hairgrove family lived in the old Richmond area of Itawamba from the 1830’s into the 1850’s and left for Illinois, then for Kansas. Two members of the family were victims of the Marais des Cygnes Massacre, a defining moment in American history. This feature article includes several interesting illustrations including a portrait of William Hairgrove. Also included in this issue is the complete transcription of the Itawamba County Stock Mark Book that was recently located. This book includes a listing of livestock marks from 1852 through 1905. Below is a listing of the contents for the Summer 2008 issue:

Stokley Roberts Portrait
Droppin' Knives, Pullin' Bottles and Other Useful Skills
The Fiddlers Dream
The Stone Family of Fulton
Itawamba County News Abstracts: 1912
A Sister’s Farewell Letter
The Homecoming
Police Court Minutes: 1865
Mystery Photograph: The Pecan Gap Success
Charles Warren: First Sheriff of Itawamba County
Benson Gravesite Marked with Engraved Monument
American Baptist Register Returns for Itawamba: 1851
Colonel William Reagan
Joseph Allen Will: 1853
Itawamba County Stock Mark Book: 1852-1905
The William F. Box Confederate Monument Mystery
William Hairgrove: A Victim of the Marais des Cygnes Massacre
A Special Thanks
In Search of: The Beard Family
In Search of: The Seay Family
Busy Research Season Begins in Itawamba
Thornton Presents Special Program
1865 Political Broadside
Land Range Books
Remembering Doctor Newnan Cayce
Looking Back During 1925
An Early History of Tupelo
Recollections of the Civil War in Itawamba
John Webb Obituary
Interesting Facts about the 1930 Itawamba Census

Friday, May 23, 2008

Itawamba County Veterans' Memorial Readied for Sunday's Service

The Itawamba County Veterans' Memorial located on the northeast corner of the Courthouse Square in Fulton was readied this week for Sunday afternoon's Memorial Service. Fresh flowers have been placed on the monument and the eternal flame torch cleaned.

Sunday Ties and Knee Breeches in Itawamba County

This photograph of two unidentified young boys was taken in the Dorsey community of Itawamba County around 1910 and came from the Sheffield and Martin families. Notice the large shirt collars, ties and knickers worn by the barefoot lads.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea

Last week I came across a blog mentioning the new cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook, by Martha Hall Foose. Since then, I have read a couple of feature articles about the book in area newspapers. The book’s title was most intriguing and I immediately ordered the book. It was delivered yesterday. With not much time to look over the book, being that the historical society’s monthly meeting was just an hour away, I placed the book on my coffee table for me to inspect more closely when I returned from the meeting. Coming home, I opened the book and before I knew it, the midnight hour had already passed.

This superb cookbook is a unique and generous blend of wonderful recipes, colorful stories, and useful cooking tips – definitely not your average cookbook. This attractive book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful full color photographs complimenting the wonderful recipes and stories.

Mississippian Martha Hall Foose is a gifted chef and storyteller. Simply put, she invites you into her kitchen to share recipes that bring alive the landscape, people, and traditions that make Southern cuisine an American favorite.

This 256-page hardcover book has such wonderful recipes as Yazoo Cheese Straws, Sold My Soul to the Devil-ed Eggs, Watermelon Salsa, Three-Day Slaw, Paper Sack Catfish, Field Peas with Snaps, Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Black Bottom Pie. There’s even a Sweet Tea recipe (voted best in the Delta).

On a lazy Mississippi summer day, pour yourself a big glass of iced tea, and head to the porch swing with this book in hand. It will be quality time well spent. This book will be at home not only in the kitchen, but on the living room coffee table as well.

Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook
Martha Hall Foose
Hardcover, 256 pages
Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York
ISBN: 978-0-307-35140-1

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thornton Presents Program at Historical Society May Meeting

Dr. Terry Thornton of Fulton, author of the popular blog, Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, presented an educational and entertaining program about the history of Itawamba County's pottery industry to a capacity crowd at the society's George Poteet History Center in Mantachie on Tuesday evening, May 20.

Members and visitors from all across northeast Mississippi enjoyed Thornton's program including an informative and colorful PowerPoint presentation showing Itawamba County scenes and pottery examples.He traced the history of pottery-making in Itawamba County from pioneer days through the mid-20th Century. He also had examples of pottery types on display in the Gordon McFerrin Assembly Hall.

The Itawamba Historical Society holds regular monthly program meetings each third Tuesday, beginning at 6 p.m. with a light buffet meal, followed by a special program.

Oakleaf Hydrangea on the Fulton Town Square

A huge Oakleaf hydrangea is located on the northwest corner of the town square in Fulton at the corner of Main and Cummings streets.

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea) is a species of hydrangea native to the southeastern United States, from North Carolina west to Tennessee, and south to Florida and Louisiana. The wooded hills of Itawamba County is a natural habitat for this beautiful plant.

The oakleaf hydrangea was first discovered and named by John Bartram in the latter part of the 1700s, while he and his son William were exploring the southern colonies of Georgia and Florida

Daylilies after Sunset

Daylilies are a popular garden flower in Itawamba County. These beautiful plants are beginning to bloom in gardens throughout the county. Today, the daylily is second only to the rose in popularity among American gardeners.The first written record of the plant was in China during 2700 BC and many historian credit Marco Polo with introducing the plant to western civilizations. Most species of the plant had been introduced to American gardens by 1890.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Monday, May 19, 2008

Society May Program Meeting Reminder

The next Itawamba Historical Society program meeting will be held tomorrow 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.

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. Terry 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.

Late Afternoon Thunderstorm

A late afternoon thunderstorm developed before sunset yesterday. Producing thunder and lightening, but just a sprinkle of rain, the storm slowly faded away.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Rhyne Family Monument in Hopewell Baptist Church Cemetery

The Rhyne family came to Monroe County during 1839 and into Itawamba County during the early 1840's settling west of the Tombigbee River near the old river port village of Van Buren. Jacob Rhyne's father, Phillip Rhyne lived on Little Long Creek about 3 miles west of Dallas, North Carolina. His land included the shoal on the creek at which he conducted an iron forge. He died young, and was buried in a private cemetery on a hill overlooking the creek. Jacob Rhyne's grandfather Jacob Rhyne went from Germany to England, and from there to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He settled for a short time in York County, Pennsylvania, and then came south, making his permanent home in what is now Gaston County, North Carolina on Upper Hoyle's Creek.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Itawamba County Stock Mark Book: An Interesting Record Group

A unique county record group in Mississippi is the collection of livestock markings. The Itawamba County Stock Mark book is a small bound book (6 ½ inches by 7 ½ inches) and contains registrations from 1851 through 1904. Most all the entries are ear marks.

During the 19th Century and early 20th Century, many farmers let their stock graze in unfenced areas called the open range. In Itawamba County the creek bottomlands and the Tombigbee River lowlands were popular areas for open ranges. Branding and ear marking were used to identify the owners of the cattle. The State of Mississippi passed livestock laws that included a system of registering such brands and ear markings. By the late 1800’s fencing laws were enacted and the need for a county stock mark book ended during the early 1900’s.

Common ear marks included such marks as crop, swallow-fork, under-bit, over-bit and half-crop. Livestock that was not marked was usually referred to as “slick-ear.”

The Itawamba Historical Society is transcribing the entire Itawamba County stock mark book and the transcription will be published in the Summer 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine. Digital images of the entire book and an index will be placed online at a later date.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Summer 2008 Issue of Itawamba Settlers Magazine Now in Production

The Summer 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers, the 56-page membership magazine of the Itawamba Historical Society is currently being typeset and should be delivered to the printers next week. This is an exciting issue with several archival photographs including a portrait of Stokley Roberts, early Itawamba County lawman and 19th Century U.S. Marshal being featured on the front cover. Also included in this issue are Itawamba County News abstracts from 1912, the Joseph Allen last will and testament from 1853, Board of Police minutes from 1865, Mississippi Baptist Association records from 1851, 19th Century Itawamba County Circuit Court records, and several feature articles.

Itawamba Settlers is mailed four times per year to the society’s membership and is the official membership magazine of the society. For further information about Itawamba Settlers , click the Itawamba Settlers Magazine link in the sidebar.

Fulton Public School Photograph: 1924

Pictured above is a group photograph of the students of the Fulton Public School taken during 1924. This building was located on South Cummings Street at the site of the present brick building. Before, the school was located on South Clifton Street behind the building pictured. It was a two-story wooden structure.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Itawamba County Rose Gardens

Roses are now blooming in gardens all across Itawamba County. Pictured above is a closeup view of an Astor Perry rose blooming in my garden during an early spring morning.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Honeysuckle is Blooming

The hills and valleys of Itawamba County are currently alive with the sweet smell of honeysuckle.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Old Apple Orchard

A closeup view of an apple tree in an old orchard at a homeplace west of the Tombigbee River in Itawamba County on an early spring morning.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Storm Lamp

Last evening was a brutal night for storms in northeastern Mississippi. It was expected, as Saturday proved to be a hot and extremely humid day with intermittent sun with a strong cold front approaching from the west – the perfect ingredients for a stormy night ahead.

As the front approached, the storms began. Winds, torrential rains and the most spectacular lightening I have seen in years - a nearly constant barrage of lightening for nearly an hour. Needless to say, the hills of Itawamba County went dark with the loss of electricity and it was time to bring out the storm lamps – lamps that have been used by my family for many years past.

There’s something about the quietness without electricity and the smell of lamp oil burning that is nostalgic. It seems we are now accustomed to man-made sound, whether it be from the television, radio or computer. Illumination by lamplight for my parents was the only light available during their early years in the hills of northeastern Mississippi. This was before TVA came to the region. Folks read by lamplight, did chores by lamplight and visited by lamplight.

After a little over two hours sitting by lamplight after the storm, the electricity returned and I was a happy person. I had endured all the nostalgic lamplight I wanted for awhile.

A Day Set Aside...

A Mother's Day card sent to Amelia Rankin Riley during 1934 by her son John Henry Riley. Photograph by Bob Franks.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Fiddler’s Dream

Jordan Freeman Cockrell was an Itawamba County, Mississippi hill farmer and a fiddler. He was my great-grandfather’s baby brother and the youngest son of Elum and Caroline Devaughn Cockrell. At ten years of age, he had journeyed to the hills of Itawamba County with his family during 1872 on an ox-pulled wagon from the Clay and Randolph counties area of eastern Alabama.

Like the rest of his family, Uncle Jordan loved music. My grandmother always said the family nearly lost a cotton crop once because of music. Every time a neighbor would pass by the family’s cotton field and say “lets play some music,” the family would drop their hoes without hesitation and head to the big front porch of their old house for a lively music session.

Uncle Jordan and other members of the family made up the Cockrell String Band in Itawamba County. When not farming, they would play at various social functions all over the rural countryside of Itawamba and Lee counties. It was during 1904 when Uncle Jordan read an article in the local newspaper about a World’s Fiddling Championship to be held up near St. Louis while the World’s Fair was being held. He carefully tore the article from the newspaper and saved it. While laboring in the cotton fields his mind would often wander to that neatly torn and folded announcement while dreaming about taking the long journey to win that contest.

Eventually he voiced his personal dream to family members. His brother Elijah said “Jurd, now why would you want to do that? You won’t win a thing.” His modest dream was also met with ridicule and consternation from some others in the family and community, most informing him he would just make a fool of himself. Yet he kept that little dream alive in his heart, quietly saving up the scarce money needed to get to that far-away contest up in Missouri. Jordan had never been far away from home and this journey would take him from the rural hills of Itawamba County to the big city of Memphis, then north up the Mississippi River to Missouri. Jordan felt if he could make a 300-mile overland journey by ox-drawn wagon from eastern Alabama to Itawamba County while a ten year old boy, he certainly could make this journey with no problem.

With his determination to go, the family finally succumbed to his wishes. On an early morning during the hot Mississippi summer of 1904 well after the cotton crop had been laid by, the 42 year old farmer started the first leg of his journey. He left the hills of Itawamba County walking the dusty road to the Guntown Depot where he would catch the afternoon train to Memphis with not much more than the clothes on his back, a few hard-earned dollars in his pocket, his fiddle under his arm, and a dream in his heart.

A week passed and the anxious family had heard absolutely nothing from him. Finally one late afternoon from the homestead porch, they spotted him off in the distance slowly walking toward home down the dusty Guntown Road through the Mantachie Creek bottomlands. It was a long journey home and he was a tired man. But he was a happy man. He had a smile on his face, prize money in his pocket and a first place ribbon in his hand!

I was at Uncle Jordan’s grave this morning at the old family burial grounds on a wooded hill overlooking that same old Guntown Road below, snaking its way through the fertile Mantachie Creek bottomlands like a casually discarded ribbon. It was a splendid dew-covered Itawamba County, Mississippi spring morning. Standing at his grave marked with an old moss-stained marble monument under an ancient water oak was so peaceful and calm – a serene place of special solitude. The early morning silence was interrupted by a lone mockingbird perched on a branch up in the old tree welcoming me with a pleasing song. With a little imagination I could distinctly hear the faint sounds of an old worn fiddle in the distance playing Sally Goodin’ as a tired wandering man with a contented smile on his face made his long journey home.

It has been said that the key to happiness is having dreams and the key to success is making those dreams come true. I think Uncle Jordan was a happy and successful man

Photographs: Jordan Cockrell monument in Itawamba County; Jordan Cockrell at a performance in Tupelo, Lee County, Mississippi.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sunset After a Stormy Day

Yesterday was a stormy day in Itawamba County. The lingering rain clouds broke apart as the sun set in the west.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A View of Itawamba Agricultural High School: 1921

The above view was photographed during 1921 shortly after the Itawamba Agricultural High School was built. The photograph was taken from the old Bankhead Highway (present-day Main Street) looking to the northwest.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Sister's Farewell Letter

After the Civil War, times were hard in Itawamba County. It was a war-ravaged land. Crops were ruined and money was scarce. There were numerous instances of lawlessness. Many of the county’s citizens left their homes and fled west in search of a better life and new hope. Families were split and friends were separated.

During 1872 several families left the county and took a long overland journey to California. The Galloway, Cook, Beachum and Rhyne families settled near Castroville in Monterrey County south of San Francisco.

William Beachum’s sister, Mary Hughes, who lived in Burleson, Alabama across the state line from Itawamba County learned from her brother’s neighbor that her beloved brother was taking his family to California. Below is her farewell letter to him he received shortly before he left Itawamba County:

Burleson, Alabama
May 24th, 1872

Mr. William Beachum

My Dear Brother,

I will not attempt for it is impossible for me to describe my feelings on learning of your intended departure which through the kindness of Mr. Abney (one of your neighbors) I learned of yesterday. He tells me you intend starting the first of June. I heard last spring you talked of going to California but I could not believe you would go. I would like so much to see you, and had I known it sooner I would have come to see you, but it is impossible now.

Dear Brother, I feel this separation to be final. I know by the course of nature we both must soon leave this world but I hope we will meet in a better world.

I wish you would come to see me, if possible. I can hardly bear the idea of a final separation, as I think of it. All the love of early years springs to my heart and confuses my brain. My heart is too full for utterance but if I never see you again on earth may God bless you and bring you to rest in peace. May your last days be your best days. May you be happy in this life wherever you may be, and be crowned in eternal glory in the world to come. Write to me, before you start, and after you get to your destination, please let me hear from you.

Farewell to you all. May God bless is my prayer.

Your sister devotedly

Mary Hughes

Illustration from: Woman’s Work in the Civil War by L.P. Brockett and Mary C. Vaughan, 1867

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Old Clifton Plantation East of Fulton

A detailed view of a long-abandoned home on the old Clifton plantation site east of Fulton in the Clay community.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Magnolia Grandiflora at Historic Bonds House

Massive creamy white and extremely fragrant flowers grace the magnificent magnolia at historic Bonds House during late spring and early summer each year. The magnolia is entwined with the history of the south and especially Mississippi. This majestic tree serves a dual role as the state flower and the state tree. There’s no wonder Mississippi is known as the Magnolia State.

Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the Southern magnolia or bull bay, is a native of the southeastern United States.

It is an ancient genus, having evolved before bees appeared. The flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles and as a result the carpels of the magnolia flowers are tough in order to avoid damage by eating and crawling beetles.

Each year during late spring and early summer many visitors marvel at the giant fragrant and beautiful flowers on the Bonds House Magnolia.

Photograph by Bob Franks

Great Big Yam Potatoes Gathering is May 17 at Historic Jefferson College

On May 17th the beautiful grounds of historic Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi will come alive with the beautiful sounds of the fiddle. The Mississippi Fiddlers Association will host the First Annual Big Yam Potatoes Gathering on the old college grounds east of Natchez on Highway 61.

The event will feature fiddling contests starting at 9 a.m., and a dance called by Rhonda Turner featuring the music of Sound Wagon at 7:30 p.m. There is no admission charge. A five-dollar contestant fee is required to compete in the fiddling contest for each tune category. There will be a small ground stage with old-time groups performing throughout the day.

Talent will include Wild Fiddlin’ Jack Magee and Friends, the Mississippi Old Time Music Society and more. Primitive camping will be available Friday and Saturday nights. Although the only scheduled events are on Saturday, organizers expect fiddling to start on Friday and not end until Sunday.

For further information, visit the Great Big Yam Potatoes Gathering myspace site.

Illustration Sources: Mississippi Fiddlers Association Poster and Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Old Banner Schoolhouse

A detailed view of the south side of the old Banner public school building in northeastern Itawamba County. The old school is located southwest of Red Bay, Alabama on State Highway 23 not far from the Alabama State Line.

Photograph by Bob Franks

An Itawamba County Bottle Tree

Back during the late 1970’s while I was president of the county arts council I was driving around the hill country of northeastern Itawamba County with a representative of the Mississippi Arts Commission looking for old quilts to photograph and document. After driving up a high ridge we came upon an old house place and the huge old bottle tree pictured to the left came into view by the dusty ditch standing as a sentry over the home place.

Bottle trees have a long history in the Deep South. During the olden times, it was said that the colorful bottles on a bottle tree would catch evil spirits before those spirits could enter the home. It has been said the origins of this unique folk art can be traced back to Africa and the practice of constructing bottle trees was brought to the South by slaves..

Bottle trees have a very interesting and long history in Mississippi. During the 1930’s, Eudora Welty photographed some bottle trees by an old home in Simpson County. The photograph can be viewed at the Mississippi Writers Page.

Today bottle trees are wildly gaining popularity simply as colorful lawn and garden ornaments. Many are made of wrought iron and adorned with an eclectic collection of colorful bottles.

Bottle Tree Photograph by Bob Franks

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Homecoming

The Mississippi home of my ancestors is also my home. I cross the same lazy muddy Tombigbee River that my ancestors have crossed for the past 172 years. I plant the same soil my ancestors planted. I fish the same creeks my ancestors fished. At night I hear nature’s symphony consisting of croaking frogs and chirping crickets springing forth from Bigby Swamp – the same symphony that has soothed the ears of my ancestors for generations. I see the same glorious sun rising above the rugged hills of eastern Itawamba County and witness the same majestic colorful sunsets beyond the cotton fields “across the river” as my ancestors saw. I visit the same old family graveyards on memorial days and walk through the doors of the same courthouse as the generations before me have done.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to come home again – yet I have never been away. During 1929 the 55 year old Bryan Yancey Cummings came home to the beautiful hills of Itawamba County after a forty-year absence. During the 1800’s he had spent his childhood in Fulton with his siblings, as an orphan child, living in the old mansion Sunny Dell, home of his great uncle, Malachai Crawford Cummings. Below is a small portion of his feelings he wrote in a letter to a cousin about his long journey from Wichita Falls, Texas to a homecoming in Itawamba County – his beloved childhood home:

On Tuesday night we entered Fulton there to rest for the coming of the morning…John, Paul, J.B. and I went to Eugene Gaither’s house to sleep. You know the sacred spot. A bed as fine as angels ever sought for rest was there. I did not want to rest. I was not tired. I was happy. All went to bed, and when they did I walked out into the night in few garments clad. I saw the moon-beams and the starlight break once more above the hills…

There is no language that I have learned that could describe that Wednesday on the court house lawn…everybody fell into everybody’s arms and felt that they loved everybody. Love was at large…

I promised you to pick out the things that impressed me most at this meeting. That was a foolish promise. You cannot sift where things are overwhelming and you are swept by a tide. But gathering myself together as best I can, I name it thus, ONE-TWO-THREE.

One: Memory of the Sainted Dead Whose Ashes
Rest Beneath the Soil of Mississippi

How fine is life’s great adventure. I stood with you at the grave-site of our beloved dead. We could not speak the things we thought. Hearts are made to feel – not tongues to talk – in such circumstances. But tears relieve. We read the carvings on the stones in Fulton. They’ve gone yonder Paul. Hatch and I went Wednesday night with Earl and Lillian to Columbus, a memory now and forever, and next morning with uncovered head stood at the tomb of cousin Newman and cousin Fannie – sainted now…

Two: Manifestations of Affection
For All We Knew a Long Time Ago

Forty years is a long span of life, of youngsters like you and me. When we found last week, that love’s river was flowing on, in spite of years and distance, I said, “To me, love is eternal.” Young John had not “seen nothin’ but some huggin’ and some kissin’ and some laughin’ and some cryin.’”

Three: How Dear to my Heart
are the Scenes of My Childhood

Early Wednesday morning I saw an Itawamba dawn. I saw a bursting ball of glory rise above the eastern hills. I looked toward the grave of Don, a dog where Dew and I had mourned his death and wrapped him in a shroud of wagon sheets…Don was too good a dog to lie un-clad beneath the sod…I saw the remnant of “Aeolian Grove” and the wreck and ruins of “Sunny Dell.” At evening I saw the sunset’s golden glow across the river, and then I saw each twinkling star, the milky way, and all the firmament, and something said, “Thou art God….”

Photograph of the Eastern Hills of Itawamba by Bob Franks

Cummings letter abstract from Itawamba Settlers, Volume VII, Number 3, Pages 121-122