The information on this page consists of transcriptions of taped presentations recorded in 1986 on Early Pickens County History, for Randy Hamilton, then a Fourth Grade Student at Pickens Academy, Carrollton, Alabama and 1990 on War Between the States to the Pickens County Historic Society
Transcribed in 2002 by Dr. Scott Owens from copies of the original audio tapes Provided by Mrs. Brenda Bailey, Aliceville, Alabama
Original Tapes remain in possession of Randy Hamilton, Gordo, Alabama and the Pickens County Historic Society Additional information and corrections concerning this page should be directed to your hosts, Betty Miller and Betty Phillips.
Early History of Pickens County
Mrs. Catherine Spell's discussion for Randy Hamilton,
then a 4th grade student at Pickens Academy, Carrollton, recorded in 1986
Transcribed November-December 2002 by Scott W. Owens, DVM, Eight Mile, Alabama,
from copies of the original tapes provided by Mrs. Brenda Bailey, Aliceville, Alabama
Tape 1-2, Early Carrollton, Pickens County Settlements, and Wars.
All right Randy, let's us talk a little bit about the early history of Pickens County. First we'll talk about Carrollton.
The first county seat was in Pickensville, but was moved to Carrollton in eighteen and thirty. At that time the United States government gave Pickens County a land grant, eighty acres, for the purpose of building a courthouse and a jail. People in the county had become very unhappy with the courthouse being placed over on the western edge of the county. Transportation was so poor back in those days that it was almost impossible to go to the courthouse and attend to your business, and get back home before night. At that time, they had to make plans to spend the night in Carrollton (Pickensville?).
Carrollton was named for Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. During the bicentennial an oil portrait of Charles Carroll was placed in the courtroom in Carrollton. He was a unique character in that he was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence that was willing to give his address. He signed his name, ACharles Carroll, of Carrollton, Maryland.@
It is hard to believe that the very site upon which Carrollton was built was once inhabited by Indians. This was the mutual hunting ground of all the tribes. Many of them traveled from the Tombigbee River to Tuscaloosa to engage in sports, including baseball. When the pioneers came here in covered wagons, they found a wilderness, that Indians spoke a different language, and many wild animals. James Nance, an early settler, wrote back to his parents in North Carolina and told them about conditions as he found them here. He described the blackbirds in the forest, and then described another bird that he said the Indians called Aparakeet,@ that were as plentiful as the blackbird. His description of the parakeet was very much like the parakeets we have today. He said that the trees in the forest still bore the scars of Indian arrows.
The Indians also came to Carrollton to drink the minerals from the mineral springs that they thought would cure their illnesses. And for many, many years people still came to Carrollton to drink water from the mineral springs, staying at the Phoenix Hotel or, with, the home of relatives while they were here from, during the summer to drink the water. After the Indians had moved west, and for many years afterwards, these springs were known far and wide, and attracted many people to come here. All of you have probably heard of Johnny Wood Springs. Johnny Wood Springs was located at the end of Spring Street. Anyone will be interested to know that there is an Indian mound located between Spring Street and the old Watermill Road toward Tuscaloosa.
The Phoenix Hotel in Carrollton was built as early as eighteen and thirty-seven by Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Roper. Mr. Roper was the sheriff in Pickens County in eighteen thirty-two, and later operated the hotel. Behind the hotel was a livery stable where you could rent a horse and a buggy, and guests at the hotel boarded their horses there. When the hotel burned while being used by the Whig Party for their meeting, and most of the time behind closed doors, the Whigs helped to rebuild the hotel. It was renamed, named the Phoenix Hotel, for the phoenix bird, bird which rose from the ashes. The hotel was also used as a stage stop for travelers from Columbus, Mobile, and Montgomery. Columbus, Mississippi, and Mobile, and between Columbus and Montgomery. When the original building was destroyed by fire, the Whig Party, which had used the building as headquarters, went to work to rebuild, and it was completed in 1841. The name was changed from the Roper House to the Phoenix Hotel for the phoenix bird, bird which rose from the ashes. Mr. Roper was sheriff in this county in eighteen thirty-two. The family later moved to Mobile and operated the Roper House there. Well, the most unforgettable characters who kept the hotel was J. T. Duncan, who was a checker player, and never let a guest interrupt a game. Usually playing on the wide veranda, he would go inside, and yell, sign your name, take your baggage, pick out a room. There were twenty-seven rooms, and you will find several empty. The old register read like a who's who. The hotel, being situated across from the courthouse, the judges, the attorneys, and the jurors looked forward to court, and the good food served from the large lazy-Suzan type table. At noon the hotel operator would go out on the front porch and ring the dinner bell, that was a signal to adjourn court and come eat. It was a sad day in nineteen sixty-six when the hotel was demolished. Much of Pickens County history was interwoven into the Phoenix Hotel, and old timers still like to talk about the good times they had there. The Bell Tavern was operated here in eighteen forty-two by Peter Donaldson, and later the Carrollton Hotel was in business where the post office building is today.
Can't you just picture that old Phoenix Hotel on the night the mob gathered on the porches to escape the storm that left a picture of Henry Welles on the pane in the garret. Mr. J. T. Gates was sheriff at that time. It was during the night of November the sixteenth, eighteen seventy-six, that the residents of Carrollton were to be awakened by one of the largest fires ever witnessed in this town when the courthouse was consumed by flames. All the books and records were burned except a few in the sheriff's and clerk's office. Bill Burkhalter and Henry Welles were accused of burning the courthouse. In a confession later on after Henry Welles was caught, down across the river, he admitted going into the courthouse to open the safe, but failed, and left a candle lighted near some papers, which caught on fire. He escaped, and was missing for at least two years before it was reported that he was working across the river for a farmer. In the attempt to arrest him he had tried to escape, and was shot in the leg. Brought into Carrollton, he was placed in the garret of the new courthouse, which had been built during that two-year period. People gathered in the street below to lynch the one who was guilty of burning their courthouse, the second time that it had been burned. But a big rainstorm came up, thunder roared, lightening flashed, and most of the mob had to go up on the porch of the Phoenix Hotel. As Henry Welles watched from the garret above, a flash of lightening came, and left a likeness of him on the windowpane. Through the years this has been quite a tourist attraction for the town of Carrollton.
The first election was held in Carrollton in eighteen thirty-one, which the election officials being Norris Herndon, James Stanton, and William Castles. William Castles was the great uncle of Lola Curry, and was the surveyor here who helped lay out the town of Carrollton. The four streets, which led to the courthouse, and were once lined with trees. The people who settled here were people who were interested in building a good community. They wanted schools, churches, and newspapers. The churches date back to eighteen and thirty-four, when the Carrollton Methodist Church was built of logs, and had a slave gallery. The Carrollton Methodist Church was re-organized in eighteen fifty-four, which Rev. Charles McLoyd as presiding elder, and Rev. William Murray as preacher in charge. The name of the first pastor of which a record is found was A. P. Harris, who served the church for the years eighteen thirty-six to eighteen thirty-eight. Records of the Carrollton Baptist Church which was organized May the twenty-fourth, eighteen forty-six, show that the Baptists used the Carrollton Methodist Church for several years before the Baptist church building was completed. Rev. W. R. Stancel was the first pastor, and was followed by Montgomery B. Curry. This church was the offspring of the Big Creek Baptist Church, with the Bosticks playing a big part in organizing the church. Major E. D. Willitt was one of the prominent members of the Methodist church and died as he was praying while attending church one Sunday morning. His last words were, Oh Lord, fill me with thy Spirit. The beautiful brass bell in the Methodist Church was shipped from England to Mobile, and then up the Tombigbee River, and is still in use. It once fell and was cracked, and had to be shipped back to New York to be repaired. Today, that bell rings on Sunday morning at the Methodist Church in Carrollton. The first Presbyterian church in Carrollton was first organized in eighteen and thirty-nine. It was dissolved in eighteen forty-four, and re-organized in eighteen fifty-three, and again in eighteen sixty-eight. The present building was erected in nineteen oh one after the previous building was burned. The members of this church have always been, and are, a dedicated group. Big Creek Baptist Church, which is west of Carrollton, was west of Carrollton, about four miles, was one of the early churches in this county, and most of the people around Carrollton, and Pickensville, attended this church. Cindy Bott, an old slave who once worked in Carrollton, said, all de quality folks in Pickens County b'longs to Big Creek. Today only a marker and a cemetery nearby are left to remind us of this church that played such a prominent part in the spiritual life of Pickens County.
The first newspaper here was The Register, in eighteen forty-four, but lasted only a few months. The Pickens Republican, a Whig paper, was founded in eighteen forty-five. Jeremiah Marston, a lawyer and graduate of Dartmouth College, was the editor. He came here from Tennessee with a recommendation in his pocket from President James K. Polk. He also founded a male academy here. Nelson F. Smith was the next editor of this paper; he wrote the first history of Pickens County in eighteen and fifty-six. And in nineteen and eighty the Pickens County Historical Society had a reprint done on this book. In eighteen forty-nine Robert Eaton came from Tuscaloosa County and began the West Alabamian. Others to be associated with this paper was E. L. Neighbors, A. B. Taliaferro, Croxton, Hill, Andrew Henry, Lewis M. Stone, and Love Gilbert. This paper consolidated in nineteen five with the Pickens County Herald which was only one year old, and known as the Alabamian-Herald. In nineteen eighteen the West Alabamian and Pickens County Herald were consolidated. The Henry family lived in a two-story house where the Carrollton High School now stands. The Neighbors and Gilberts lived where Frank and Mary Daniel now live. This house was built in eighteen fifty-four.
We have many lovely old homes in Carrollton dating back to the early eighteen hundreds. Due to the burning of the records in eighteen seventy-six it impossible to give an accurate or complete history of these places prior to the War Between the States. Our town is rich in history, of the men who wore the gray, and also rich in friendly remembrances and traditions which have survived the years of entreating change. We can almost hear the sounds of the carriages as the dignified occupants winded their way in and out of the once tree-lined streets. Time will not permit us to go into detail about these homes, but we tell you only the present owners in some instances, and some of the former owners. The General Edmund W. Pettus home was formerly owned by the W.P. Nolands, later the Joel Puckett family. Major E.D. Willis, for whom our UDC chapter is named, is the property now of the B. G. Robinson family. The building now occupied by the T. L. Burgess family was occupied for years by Judge L. C. Hudgens, and was erected prior to the War Between the States. Mrs. Pearl Scott says her father rode away from this house to join the army in eighteen sixty-one. Judge Williams owned the home now occupied by Mrs. C. C. Cox, Sr., and is known as the Shepherd house. The Gilkey house is now occupied by Mrs. Burton Lancaster, and is where Mrs. Pinkey Stancel once lived. The home now owned by the Hill family was formerly owned by a Mr. Williams, and after the War passed into the hands of Mrs. Eliza B. Stone, the wife of Col. L.M. Stone, and in front of that house has been placed a marker in memory of the three families that lived there. The house formerly owned by the R.L. Blissetts, between the old Phoenix Hotel and the Stancel home is one of the oldest dwellings in this town. It is now owned by the county. The house across the street from the Presbyterian Church is known as the Alfred M. Prude home. It was once owned by Andrew Henry, editor of the West Alabamian for many years. The house formerly owned by the R., I. R. Hennon family is listed among the homes built prior to the War Between the States. The property on the Webb Ridge Road, and known as the Ware home, is now occupied by Eunice and Luis McGee, descendents of A. Moses McGee. And many of you remember the old Frank Stensen home on the edge of town, once occupied by Capt. J. A. Latham, the brother of Henry Wayne Latham. He was killed in the last battle in the War Between the States, at Bentonville, on March the nineteenth, eighteen and sixty-five. The north room of the law office now occupied by John Curry and Buddy Kirk, or W. O. Kirk, Jr., was built before the War by Judge Stint, and after the War Capt. D.C. Hutto acquired this property and practiced law there until his death, when it became the property of Mr. M. D. Curry, the father of John H. Curry. The south room was erected in nineteen fourteen when Judge B.G. Robinson became his law partner. The M. L. Stancel home was erected in the early years before the War. It was first the Sherrod home. Carl Stancel married two of the Sherrod daughters, bought and enlarged the house. It was once a one-story house; the second story house was added later.
We can also say the same of these old homes and buildings. No years could dim the glory of these homes that stand today to remind us of the past, present, and the expectancy of tomorrow. But times have really changed. The first courthouse was built for only eighteen thousand dollars, had two stories of brick, and a third story of wood. The second courthouse, which was built after the War Between the States, when there was so much poverty in the country, only cost eleven thousand, seven hundred sixty dollars. The first courthouse was burned by Croxton's Raiders as the Yankees came through our county in eighteen sixty-five. I will tell you all later about Croxton's fight in Sipsey Swamp, the burning of Lanier's Mills, spending the night at King's Store, and so forth. Reconstruction during the administration of William Lipsey, sheriff at that time, was a difficult time for Pickens County, and the old newspapers show pages of mortgages, foreclosures; poverty and suffering touched every home. The population dropped from six hundred to two hundred and seventy-eight before nineteen hundred. But it didn't start growing again until the railroads reached here.
Carrollton had nine attorneys here at one time. Judge A. V. Cutherall, Orville Eastland, Lemuel Gilkey, Jeremiah Marston, E. L. Neighbors, Nelson F. Smith, M. L. Stancel, Martin Van Hoose, and John Terry. Other ladies well known to us were: D. C. Hutto, l. M. Stone, E. B. Willitt, Isham Kelley, I. R. Hinton, M. B. Curry, D. D. Patton, Jack Pratt, Graham Hinton, and Mr. Joe Johnson was a very prominent layer here, in years past. Samuel B. Moore, the sixth governor of Alabama, practiced law here. He was a lawyer; he was governor at the time that Tuscaloosa was the capital. He is buried in the Carrollton cemetery. Isham Kelley, and attorney here, was the father of John Herbert Kelley. John Herbert Kelley lacked only six days of being the youngest general to serve during the War Between the States. He lived in Carrollton until he was seven years old in the house now called the Hill house.
Carrollton has had a Dr. Hill since eighteen forty-four when Dr. Samuel F. Hill came here. Hill's Drug Store was built in eighteen forty-eight, remodeled in nineteen thirty-eight, and again years later. His son, Samuel F. Hill, Dr. Hugh W. Hill, and now Dr. William E. Hill, complete over a hundred thirty years of medical service by the Hill family. Dr. Hugh Hill Day was held here in nineteen fifty-four. He was writing his memoirs when he died and he was telling it like it really was. Dr. Hugh was not only a good doctor, he was a good friend. He enjoyed talking about his school days at the Academy in the home of the late Mrs. Alice Jones.
And did you know that there was located here a select school for young ladies, and operated by Mrs. Latham? I've heard Mrs. Mattie Funderburk tell about the girls would go down to the branch of the stream behind the school, and young men would appear, unannounced.
People here have been patriotic since there has been a county, and even before. More than twenty Revolutionary soldiers lived here. Men from Pickens County have served in every war. In nineteen twenty-seven a monument was erected here to honor the men and women of three wars. It was dedicated on July fourth, nineteen twenty-seven, and over four thousand people gathered for the Confederate union in dedication. Mr. Andrew Summerville and Mr. Joe Puckett cooked fifteen hundred pounds of barbecue. Because of poor roads and little money, the people provided homes and community entertainment back in those days. It included box suppers and old fashioned parties in the homes. And Johnny Woods Springs was a popular meeting place for picnics, and for the young people who found this spot an enchanting place as they strolled down Spring Street on a Sunday afternoon. Going to meet the train was another popular pastime. People gathered to see the people get off and on, and to chat through the open windows with those planning to continue on their trip. By the way, the A, T, and N made their last run through Carrollton on June the twenty-ninth, nineteen seventy-six. And wasn't it fun back in those days to go to the open-air theater, next to the bank, and see those continued pictures that drew you back for the next show, with sawdust on the floors and old wooden benches. If a rain came up, you had to get a rain check. In nineteen sixteen, Clemens AutoBus Service ran daily to Reform and back. And that's the year that the speed limit in Carrollton was set at twelve miles an hour. The oldest citizens met with the city council to complain the fast drivers disturbing their sleep. And Carrollton once had an ordinance that a dead carcass could not carried by a female academy. I've heard that the boys in town sometimes made life miserable for Mrs. Henry Latham, proprietor of the academy.
Carrollton had its own light plant, years ago, and some of the owners were George M. Collins, Mr. Willie Kilpatrick, and his son Howard Kilpatrick, and later a Mr. Murray. Remember when the lights would have to go out by ten or eleven o'clock? Hugh Lipsey once told me that the first automobile was owned by the A. H. Dabbs family, and then Dr. Upchurch, W. H. Owen, and W. W. Beasley owned cars. I remember those cars, with running boards and no trunks for luggage, and the rumble seat, it was some fun! I have heard that the first radio was owned by Dr. Ben Rathport, and the Beasleys had the second one. Prude McGee told me Mr. Lloyd Beasley had a radio with earphones, and he would listen to the ball games, and broadcast the World Series to the men who would gather around the store.
The county treasury was robbed on March the twelfth, eighteen eighty-eight, and only seventy-seven dollars was taken. That's easy to understand because the previous year the county had been in the red nine hundred and twenty-three dollars. The first Probate Building stood where the Standard Station is today. It was sold to E. D. Willitt, who built onto it a house, part of Lawyer's Row, the Post Office, and the Cleaning Plant. Almost all the buildings were destroyed by fire in nineteen eighteen, and the Dew Drop Inn was later built on this property.
The first Confederate Reunion, of old soldier's reunion, as it was called, was held here in eighteen eighty-nine, and more that four thousand people came, including five hundred blacks. In eighteen seventy-two the Hayes-Hauley Letters became important. Remember that Hayes was a Radical character from Sumter County who wrote so many letters detrimental to the South to Ha. to Hauley, a publisher and friend in Washington, that they became known as the Hayes-Hauley Letters. He said that Pickens County in west Alabama is where they boast no man has ever voted a Republican ticket and lived through the year. In nineteen four the E.D. Willitt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was organized, with Mrs. E. D. Willitt as the first president. It was re-organized in nineteen twenty-seven, with Mrs. B. G. Robinson, Sr., as the president. In eighteen eighty-two Pickens County went dry for the first time. There was a saloon which stood where the bank today stands. It was operated by Mr. Crowell, and activity there equaled any in Dodge City. Telephone service was established in eighteen ninety-six, with Carrollton, Pickensville, and Reform getting the first phones. How many of you could ever remember the party line? There were no secrets kept back then. When a phone rang, you could hear click, click, click, click, click, as everyone picked up the receiver to hear the news. Yes, there was one phone in each town, placed in a hotel, and later the telephone switchboard was placed in the Phoenix Hotel and service expanded.
Jack Pratt was the first solicitor of this county. He and Mrs. Pratt published the Pickens County Herald and the West Alabamian, and his colyumn, his column, AHere, There, and Everywhere,@ was read far and wide. The Pratt family, including Mrs. Hester Pratt, played a big part in the growth of Carrollton. Mrs. Pratt served as postmistress. Prude McGee and Jewel Haney were in the Post Office after that. And how many can remember when we had Jack Pratt Day, and Governor Wallace came to speak? I know of two who will never forget it: Helen Hill and myself. At one time, Mr. W. B. Curry, AUncle Bill,@ as everyone called him, and the father of Mrs. Annie Collins and Bess McGee, moved his family from Benevola and bought the academy, now the Alice Jones home. They lived upstairs and the school was operated downstairs.
Just south of Carrollton was a thriving little village known as Lois Springs, named for Lois Belle Ross, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Bell. There are many families in Carrollton today that once lived in that little village: the R.M. Alexander family, the Griffiths, Estelle Griffin Fitzpatrick, the Kerneys, Faye Kerney Fitzpatrick, and Lois Bell Ross, herself.
There are thirteen Confederate soldiers buried in the Carrollton cemetery, and each year the UDC chapter places flowers on each grave. There is one Yankee buried there: the monument only says AMr. Dodd, a Yankee soldier.@ There are many old people, or elderly people I might say, living in Carrollton today. Two of the oldest people in the town passed away a few years ago. Mr. E.V. Bridges, living to the age of one hundred and one, and Mrs. Annie Collins, who passed away at the age of ninety-six.
So many interesting people have lived here that one could never begin to mention them all. There was once a judge who liked the bottle so well that it was hard to keep him sober enough to ever hold court. There was a goat that liked to hang around the courthouse and one day when the judge was stoned he sat down by a tree and dropped off to sleep. The goat spotted the old judge, and getting a good start, butted him several feet from the spot. Another time a group of defendants kept giving this judge little nips, hoping he'd not be able to come to court. When he passed out in his room in the hotel, Nelson F. Smith, with the aid of some hot coffee and hot cup of tea, got him back on his feet and back to the courtroom. As the group of defendants sat around a stove in one of the stores laughing, and thinking the judge was incapacitated, the judge ruled against every one of them. There was little for them to laugh about then.
Sammy Spencer's grandfather, Mr. E. L. Shirley, was sheriff of this county at one time. Yes, and Clayton C. Cox, Jr., uh, Bootie's great-grandfather, Mr. John W. Cox, was circuit clerk four different times. Mr. M. B. Cole was in the legislature in eighteen ninety-nine to nineteen three, and was elected county solicitor at the age of seventy-two years. He was the son of John Hardy Curry and Nancy Ferguson Curry.
Many prominent educators were Carrollton residents, some graduates of Yale and Dartmouth. Mr. W. H. Story and Mr. John W. Dowdle were prominent in the educational field during the late eighteen hundreds, and through nineteen and thirty-three, with J. A. Summerville being the first county superintendent of education.
Some of the prominent Negro families in this community were Frank Stinsen, Owen Ferguson Lipsey, Charlie Gregory, Lucy Ware, Hugh McCafferty, and many others. Two outstanding citizens of Carrollton were Mr. and Mrs. Thomas M. Owen, both later being the directors of the Department of Archives and History. They lived in the old home now occupied by John Eubanks and his family. Familiar names in the early days of Carrollton and surrounding community included such names as Wares, Kilpatricks, Furnderburks, Owings, Baxtons, Shephard, Castle, Bridges, Windle, Mullens, Ferguson, Easterling, Gardner, Laumier, Allen, Bishops, Bosticks, McCafferty, Bates, Noland, Pate, McGee, Coleman, Hill, Curry, McKinstry, Stinson, Phillip, Hamilton, Puckett, Laumier, McCafferty, and many others. Mr. J.T. Hamilton was sheriff in 1892, and Mrs. Hester Pratt has told me that many of the articles that she wrote in the old newspaper was from information that she had gotten from Mr. Hamilton.
One thing that I have not touched on which should be of interest to all of you is how the mail was received in the early years of our county and city. Many of the Indian trails were later used for roads and the mail in early times was carried by riders on horseback, some of the routes extending from the ports in Georgia entirely through the state and on into Mississippi. Therefore, there had to be relays of carriers. Some of the routes through Pickens County were from Tuscaloosa to Columbus by the Pickens courthouse as early as eighteen nineteen. From Greensboro, in Greene County, through what is called the Forks of the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers, by the Garden, to the courthouse in Pickens County. From Livingston in Sumter County, by Horner's old store, Mount Sterling, McCardis, and Carrollton, from Washington Courthouse in Washington County, Alabama. Don't you know when the mail did arrive that it was a thrill to all these old settlers?
At this time I would like to tell you that many people have contributed to the information that I have given you today. Much of it has come from Nelson F. Smith's history. Some of it has come from Franklin Clanahan's history, and other sources. I guess I became interested in the history of Pickens County and Carrollton when I found in Nelson F. Smith's history that my ancestors, Jonathan and Louis Ellison, came here in eighteen twenty-four, and helped mark out the roads of the county. They left here and went to Yazoo County where they founded the Ellison Methodist Church, which is still active today. My grandchildren, Tom and Lowell Walker, Buster, Belinda, Marty, and Samuel Sims, are the youngest descendents of the Ellison family left in Alabama.
When we stop to think about our ancestors as they came to this county, from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia, we must realize how much they wanted to establish a home. They had left their homes to come to this new country, not knowing what hardships they might have to endure. The journey was long, and only a few miles could be covered in one day. People were walking, riding horseback, in buggies, carriages, wagons, and many of them pulling their belongings along in hogsheads. Fire making was not a simple task, as matches had not been invented. Fires had to be started by rubbing sticks on each other or by striking flint with iron. Supper was a very simple meal; cornbread made of meal, salt, and water. It was called an ashcake; it was cooked in the ashes, and called a johnnycake if cooked on a hot stone in front of the fire. As these people camped at night they sat around the campfire and sang, played the banjo, and told stories. Those who had covered wagons were well off, but those who did not tried to stop at night where they would be sheltered by an overhanging rock or perhaps a cave. If any members of the party died along the way, they were buried by the side of the road with only a few rocks to mark the grave. Yet, in spite of all the hardships, struggle, danger, our ancestors wanted to come to this new country.
At a time when we are all interested in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, this is a good time to talk about the Tombigbee River and its contribution to the growth of Pickens County. Steeped in history, tradition, and romance, this great waterway extends the length of Alabama and Pickens County, touching parts in Mississippi, is the dominant contributor to the exciting and colorful history of our region. Prior to the formation of the county, the earliest settlers came and settled on the Tombigbee. Early land grants show that these pioneers received grants on springs that emptied into the river, mainly Coalfire and Big Creek. It was to the Tombigbee that Josiah Tilley came in eighteen seventeen and settled at what is now called Tilley's Bluff. This was two years prior to Alabama becoming a state, and three years before the formation of Pickens County. Tilley had a more decided taste for backwoods life than for the refinement of civilization, and soon made friends with the Indians. He was a friend of Chief Mashulatiba, from Mashulaville, just west of Macon, Mississippi, and he made frequent visits to the Indian village. When the Indians moved west, Tilley, having lost his first wife by death, married an Indian squaw, and went west with the tribe. Here he lived until he died. He owned the first boat landing in Pickens County.
These early settlers suffered the usual privations of pioneers. They lived in crude log cabins with dirt floors, cooked on open fires, and had little furniture. Some brought a few treasured pieces from home, that is, from the old colonies, but most of the furniture was made from split saplings. The few pieces they did bring to this country are our most valuable antiques today.
These early settlers were squatters; the lands were not brought into the market until four years after Tilley came here. This was in eighteen twenty-one. In eighteen nineteen Alabama passed laws to protect its people from land frauds, but many land sharks beat many pioneers out of the land they had settled upon and improved.
After growing a crop of corn, they had no way to grind it into meal, so they resorted to the pestle and mortar. Men working in the forest and fields listened for the pounding for it meant that dinner was ready. In eighteen eighteen the settlers on the Tombigbee were so dependent upon corn that it was selling for at least four dollars per bushel. Daniel Chalmers contrived a water-powered pestle which pounded out most of the meal for the settlers around Pickensville. In eighteen nineteen Henry Anderson built a water-powered mill on Big Creek near Pickensville, and in a few years nearly every stream in the county was put to work by man in some laborsaving capacity. These pioneers won the battle against disease, Indian attack, poor communication, and loneliness. They wrote back to their kin in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia, and encouraged them to come to this way. By way of pony express it took days for a letter to reach its destination. The earliest mail was merely addressed to Pickens, Alabama and to no town for an address at all. After the formation of the county, and especially after the Indians moved out, there was an influx of immigrants equal to the gold-rush going to California. Those who came in from the west followed Indian trails or roads that had been cut out by the armies of 1812. The trails were marked by three notches.
The population in eighteen and twenty-two was approximately five thousand people, and in eighteen sixty-nine had reached nineteen thousand, with nine thousand of those being whites and ten thousand being black. The paths that led into this part of the country remained paths until 1812 when they were expanded into wagon roads. It was necessary at that time to get a passport to get through the Creek Nation coming to the Tombigbee River. Others came down the Tennessee River into north Alabama, and then by land into Jefferson County, Blount County, Tuscaloosa, Bibb, and the surrounding counties, where they usually made a crop of corn before coming to the Tombigbee region. Some came down the Natchez Trace in east Mississippi. They left the Trace just west of Aberdeen, at that time called Cotton Gin Port, and made their way to the Tombigbee. From this point they moved their wagons, carts, families, and stock along the winding riverbanks or built rafts and moved down the river, looking for a suitable place to settle.
In some letters James Nance wrote back to his father, which we talked about previously, he told about many other things that he had found here. He said the Presbyterian missionaries had been sent here to preach to the Indians. He told about an Indian asking a missionary, who sent you here, and he replied, the Good Lord. And the Indian replied, let Him take you from our midst. He told of hearing from a Mr. Lee who had settled one hundred and thirty miles south of Pickensville, and that they had had their new baby and had named it Nancy Lee, for Mrs. Lee. He said he wished that his brother Simon could come and get some of the cane that was twenty feet long so that he could make him some fishing poles out of it.
Pickett's History of Alabama tells us that both DeSoto and Bienville came through our county. Bienville, at the head of five hundred soldiers paddled along the winding Tombigbee as he went to battle the Chickasaws above Cotton Gin Port. Traveling in crude boats they made their way as far as that point, and after several fights with this race of Indians, he was defeated, and in disgrace he silently retreated back down the Tombigbee, past what would later be Pickensville, Memphis, Fairfield, and Vienna.
Pickensville is the oldest and most prominent of old towns. First called Boomtown, then Pickens, and incorporated as Pickensville in eighteen and thirty-five, it was the first county seat. It grew into a flourishing village. It was at its heyday during the riverboat days. The first postmaster was Aleck McCarter, appointed postmaster in eighteen and thirty-one. At one time the village had three prominent doctors: Dr. Hill, Dr. McMichael, and Dr. Morehead. Later Dr. Gauss, and Dr. Wilkins ministered to the sick. Five attorneys practiced law there at one time. It boasted of two hotels, the Prude House and the Pickensville Hotel, which advertised the best food this side of Mobile. And an old newspaper tells that one day the Pickensville Hotel had guests registered from Mississippi, Texas, Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, Vienna, and Fairfield. There were two busy saloons in Pickensville, and activity there equaled that in Dodge City. The old newspapers blamed crimes and deaths on whiskey. As one reads of the shootings and fights in Pickensville in those days, they can easily see why there were so many attorneys. The five in Pickensville must have been kept busy.
In eighteen ninety-nine Pickensville went dry because there were so many complaints from the two churches that the saloons were moved one mile north of town, and the boats were required to close their bars if they were in five miles of the city limits. The three drugstores licensed to sell drugs in Pickensville were Wilkins and Long, T. Stringfellow, and Dr. R. E. McMichael. Other businesses were Pulliam's, Peterson's, Spragin's, Nance, Ivey's, Stinson's, Henley and Bush, and Long. The first mayor of Pickensville was Captain Newell, a riverboat captain. When he died in eighteen forty-three the people wore black crepe on their arm for thirty days. Captain Newell also organized a military company in the county, and on October third, eighteen forty, he ordered his chief of staff, J. T. Stinson, to have Beat Company Number Two appear on the parade ground for drill and inspection. They were ordered to come armed with guns suitable for manual exercise.
In eighteen forty-two an ad appeared in the Pickensville Register asking for bids on the Methodist Church. It was to be built thirty-four by forty-six and elevated two feet above ground. The building committee was made up of Darby Henley, James Stinson, A. P. Bush, J. M. Cameron, and B.B. Bell. In eighteen forty-seven the Pickensville Baptist Church was received into the Association. Prior to that time most of the citizens of Pickensville had attended services at Big Creek, which had been established in eighteen twenty-nine. In eighteen, the Pickens, in eighteen and forty the Pickensville Register with Dr. D. W. Lyles as proprietor began publication in Pickensville. It was moved to Carrollton in eighteen forty-five, where competition with the Pickens Republican forces it out of business. The Pickens Republican had as its editor Nelson F. Smith. In eighteen eighty-one, a news not.., another newspaper, the Riverside Press, began publication in Pickensville, but lasted only two years. In all, Pickensville had five newspapers: the Pickensville Register, the Pickensville Journal, the Pickensville Courier, the Riverside Press, and the Pickens County Press.
Pickensville Female Institute was built in eighteen forty-seven; Darby Henley donated a two acre site. Subscribers such as Dr. A. M. Wilkins, A. P. Bush, James Stinson, J. J. Lee, James Chalmers, and William Ferguson financed the building. Tuition at that time ranged from a dollar and fifty cents to three dollars, depending on what class the child was in. Board was ninety dollars for a session, and this included room, fuel, lights, and meals. Prior to this time the Masons had organized in Pickensville, and the cornerstone to the school was placed with Masonic honors. In eighteen fifty-six the enrollment was nearly one hundred young ladies, with fifty-eight boarders. The young ladies were required to wear uniforms: dark green in winter, pink and white in summer. Students came from all parts of west Alabama and east Mississippi.
Many people traveled by boat back then, and when the boats landed, and often there would be three or four a day, a crowd would gather at the landing. People traveled from one village to another to visit friends and relatives or to attend to business. Many traveled to Mobile, to sell their cotton, settle up their bills, and buy supplies for another year. Some went to Mobile and on to New Orleans for a taste of city life. A round trip from Pickensville to Columbus by boat, with your meals furnished only cost one dollar and fifty cents.
Skating rink came to Pickensville. People came from miles around to skate. It caused much excitement. People came from Vienna, Fairfield, and Memphis, and rode the boats to Pickensville just to skate. For two bits one could get a black eye, a cracked rib, a broken hip, and even embarrassment.
Dr. Whitely, a celebrated Mexican tooth-puller, made an annual trip to Pickensville, staying two days each time. He pulled the teeth with his naked fingers, and guaranteed scarcely any pain, but did not guarantee how much blood would be lost.
I want to mention one of the old-timers who made the history of Pickensville interesting: Captain Stephen P. Doss, who came here in eighteen eighteen with his bride. Having married in Tuscaloosa Elizabeth Miles who was a granddaughter of General Edward Lacy, a Revolutionary soldier. They were the parents of Edward, the first male child born in Pickens County. Captain Doss served with General Harrison in eighteen eleven. He fought in the battle of Tippicanoe, and was the last survivor. He drew a pension for his services in the War of 1812, and after the war was in charge of seven keelboats which ran between Nashville and New Orleans. After the battle of New Orleans he took a keelboat from New Orleans to Mobile, the second to ever land there. He later ran keelboats on the Black Warrior River, up as far as Tuscaloosa. The Captain and Mrs. Doss had a large family. They had seven sons in the Confederate army at one time. One son served as the colonel of the Fourteenth Mississippi Regiment. For over half a century he was a member of the Primitive Baptist Church.
Tape 3-4,Old Homes, Early Schools, Mr. Kelley's Home, Reconstruction
In eighteen sixty-two Big Creek held a memorial service for five members at one time. The dead were John E. Gordon, John Thomas Jones, James Israel Seaman, James Harris McGraw, and Hansford Duncan Jones. In July of eighteen sixty-two, the McShan family received a letter from Richmond. This letter told them that their son William had been killed in the battle there. It listed others from Pickens County killed in the same battle: Ashford Morgan, Alonza Going, Thomas Taylor, James Seaman, John Sanders, Thomas Jay, and Josiah Steward. The Stewart family received a letter from a Mrs. F. H. Caine, telling them that their son Josiah Stewart had died after being wounded on June the twenty-seventh. She described his wounded and wanted them to know that he received every attention and kindness that was in her power to bestow upon him. She said she closed her eyes in death. Such messages arrived almost daily, as practically every home lost a loved one. A copy of this letter is in the hands of Mrs. T. E. Stewart, Carrollton, Alabama, at this time.
Wilson's Raid through Alabama
By eighteen sixty-five, Sherman had made his march through Georgia and South Carolina, and now Wilson, a general who had been trained at West Point, and known for his re-organization of the Union cavalry, was given a task of fitting out a cavalry force of at least five thousand men to make a sweep through Alabama and destroy the iron furnaces, and also burn the University of Alabama, which was classified as a military school. The he had orders to go on to Selma and destroy the last arsenal in the Confederacy. Wilson said that he would need at least seventeen thousand men to get the job done properly, and he set out to mount four divisions. He had to use every livery stable horse, streetcar horse, private carriage and riding horses, and even circus horses, but still he was able to mount only three divisions.
Bringing the three divisions out of northeast Mississippi and into north Alabama, they destroyed the furnaces around Elyton; at that time Birmingham was called Elyton. Now Wilson with two divisions moved on toward Montevallo and Selma. Croxton, who was in charge of the First Division, was ordered to go to Tuscaloosa, destroy the university, and join Wilson at Centerville, where the Tuscaloosa-Selma Road crosses the Cahaba River. But these plans did not work out. And Wilson had repulsed an attack by Forrest, and reached Selma, before Croxton had ever got his troops to Tuscaloosa.
Croxton's strategy was to cross the Warrior River north of Tuscaloosa, come down on Northport side under the cover of darkness, and attack the bridge. All went well, until Croxton was setting up camp on Watermelon Road. And then he heard the home guards tearing up the flooring of the bridge. He decided to attack at once. The Cadets and the home guards were forced to retreat, and in the skirmish a fifteen-year old boy, John Carson, was shot, and remained an invalid the rest of his life. The Union troops soon replaced the flooring and crossed over into Tuscaloosa.
Romance never seemed to die when war came. It continued to flower, and even as the Union troops were coming into Tuscaloosa, Emily, the daughter of Dr. Sewell Leach, was being married to Captain James Slaughter, a Confederate officer from Kentucky. Soon after dark, the Leach home on Fourth Street was bustling with activity. The streets were filled with carriages belonging to the assembled guests. After the ceremony an elegant bridal dinner was being served when firing was heard toward the river. The crowd realized that war had finally reached Tuscaloosa. The Union soldiers had been ordered by Wilson not to destroy private property, but they rushed into the Leach home, helped themselves to the food, the ladies' jewelry, and arrested the Confederate officers, including the groom. It was a sad sight on that night as the bride tearfully begged that her husband not be taken away. And when the arrested officers were taken to Croxton's tent, he immediately recognized the groom as an old classmate of his, his, and he promised that he could go back to the house and spend that night with his bride if he would give his word that he would not attempt to escape. That he did, and he returned to the bride.
The two days that Croxton stayed in Tuscaloosa will long be remembered by those who lived there. The university, the cotton mills, the foundries, the tanning yard, cotton warehouses, the hat factory, all were burned. The hat factory made gray felt hats for the Confederate army, and the next morning every Negro in town wore a gray felt hat.
I wish that everyone had the opportunity to read the book, Reconstruction in West Alabama. This book was reviewed at our historical society by Judge Robert Hugh Kirksey, and it's a book that was written by John L. Hunnicutt, a native of Gordo, Alabama. And he told it just as he saw it, because he was a boy in Tuscaloosa on the day that Croxton's Raiders came through, and they took his new boots, and left him over there barefooted to get back to Gordo. It wasn't long before his father was killed in battle, and that gave John L. Hunnicutt a very, very deep sense of loyalty to the South and hatred toward the Yankees.
As Croxton's troops left Tuscaloosa they crossed the river and burned the bridge behind them, and from Northport Croxton and most of his troops moved south into the southern part of Pickens County, where they spent the night at King's Store. Remember that the War really reached Pickens County in eighteen and sixty-five. Croxton had ordered General Sutherland with two officers and seventy-five enlisted men to go toward Columbus, gather any information they could, try to locate Nathan Bedford Forrest, and join him around Epes.
After the night at King's Store Croxton took the road to Pleasant Ridge and Vienna. He came upon Lanier's Mill, which was a three-story mill built down on Sipsey River. It ground corn, wheat, and cured meat for the people in the county. T.C. Lanier who owned the mill was in Virginia for the Yankees. And Croxton's men loaded their wagons with the meal, the flour, and the bacon, and then set the torch to the mill and left it burning as they rode away.
Mr. Lanier had moved from South Carolina to Alabama in 1840, and settled in the southern part of the county on the Sipsey River. He accumulated a small fortune prior to the War. He was a man sparing conviction and possessed the courage to stand or fall in their support. Col. Lanier took part in every fight in which the western army took part. He was in the siege of Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Noonday Creek, Newhope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, and many other places. In the first election held after the War in Pickens County he was elected to represent the county in the House of Representatives. But in 1868 he moved to Florida, and settled down there to grow roots. He returned to visit his friends every summer until his death.
As Croxton's troops rode away from Lanier's Mill they were suddenly surprised by an attack from Confederate General Wirt Adams and his troops. Adams had been sent to Columbus to guard the railroad. Hearing that Croxton was in Pickens County, he crossed his troops at Pickensville, rested them at the Hinton Place south of Pickensville, and moved on through Bridgeville in time to attack the rear guard of Croxton after he had left the mill. Croxton crossed the Sipsey and turned back toward Northport, with Adams continuing to attack all along the way. At Romulus a severe rainstorm came up, and it forced Croxton to stop. Adams forced Croxton's men to seek protection from the bullets by getting behind stacks of bacon on the wagons. Historians disagree as to the outcome of this battle in Sipsey Swamp, but all agree that it was General Adams and his men that had come over from Mississippi that ran General Croxton out of Pickens County.
Military reports show that Croxton lost two officers, thirty-two enlisted men, and had many wounded. Muskets, ammunition, and broken-down ambulances were left in the field. For years people went out there to dig into the dirt to see if they could find a minie ball or any traces of the battlefield, and many people in the county hold little mementos from that battlefield.
A few Union soldiers were lost in the swamps, and Major William Fidler wandered near the home of Mr. John Horton. Mr. Horton's sons were fighting for the South, and he felt no kindness for a Yankee. So with his hound dogs he captured Major Fidler and two enlisted men. He took them down to Eutaw and placed them in the jail there, and there they remained until Union troops took Eutaw.
During this time General Sutherland had followed the orders of General Croxton and moved on toward Gordo. There he met no opposition, but he did get the report that Nathan Bedford Forrest had crossed the river at Pickensville that morning. This was a mistake; it was General Adams that had crossed the river that morning. The, uh, forces with Sutherland moved on toward Carrollton. Remember at that time it was practically a wilderness from here to Gordo, on little narrow roads all along the way. The bridges were hard to cross across Lubbub, and the other little spots in the road. In Gordo, they were able to get very little information, but they thought they would get more when they reached Carrollton. When they got to Carrollton they captured eight scouts that had been sent here by General Forrest. They took all eight of those scouts as prisoners. After burning the courthouse and Confederate Commissary, the Union forces moved toward Bridgeville. The Confederate Commissary stood where Pate's Mill stands today.
He sent scouts ahead as far as Franconia, and they reported back that Croxton and Adams were fighting in Sipsey Swamp. Mr. Harvey Stapp told me that a few became lost between here and Gordo and wandered down into the Kinney Hill section, where his family lived, and they went into the smokehouse, house at his grandmother's home. She made an attack with a broom and got little result. But she had a sister, Mary Strickland, who emptied her muzzle-loader at them, and they ran. She later heard that they had joined the forces at King's Store.
Sutherland now moved his troops out of Carrollton, down toward, uh, out of Union Chapel, and moved them out toward the Unity Road, and camped that night at King's Store, where Croxton had camped the night before. The next morning a group from Carrollton and Bridgeville surprised them, forcing them to free the thirty-seven men they had taken as prisoners. And Sutherland reported he had one enlisted man taken prisoner out at King's Store, and had one mortally wounded in Carrollton. We suppose this to be Dodd, the Yankee soldier buried in the Carrollton Cemetery.
An interesting story in an old newspaper appeared is a letter, written by a man from Corinth, Mississippi, after the War. He told that he was fighting for the Confederacy, and was taken as a prisoner when Croxton came through Tuscaloosa. He was brought on to Carrollton, horseback, on a sorry horse, and as he stood in the streets out there he saw the Yankee soldiers when they burned the courthouse. A doctor rode up on a horse, and he asked the doctor his name, and he said Dr. Hill. About that time one of the Union officers came and took the horse, and left Dr. Hill standing there in the street. This impressed the Confederate soldier that had been taken as a prisoner, and especially when they told him to lead the horse along behind. After they got out of town they allowed him to ride the horse, and lead his old nag. All day long he lead the horse, and that night when they camped at King's Store, the officers gave him instructions to feed the horse well and tie him up, because he was a very valuable horse. But it worried him that Dr. Hill was left in this little town without a horse to see his patients. So he fed the horse well, but then he turned him aloose, gave him a spank, and hoped that he went back to Carrollton.
After the War
To every true Southerner every Confederate soldier was a hero, and until the last man in gray passed away, a Confederate union was held every year in some town in Pickens County. And the old soldiers sat around and re-fought the War, and the people in the neighborhood brought baskets, and a big day was had. In nineteen twenty-seven they were honored when the monument was placed on the courthouse square up here. In nineteen ten, one hundred and seven were present at the reunion, and in nineteen and twenty-nine only fifteen were left. These were: R. M. Beard, J. Dean, L.D. Elrod, W. A. Howard, S.C. Johnson, L.C. Kelley, J.D. Lowe, W. McCrary, H.P. May, T. H. Noland, W. G. Robinson, J.A. Spruill, W.W. Swedenburg, M. Sparks, and R.H. Wilson. And I believe that Col. H. P. May was the last one to die.
After the surrender, many were hundreds of miles away from home. They were barefooted, hungry, penniless, no clothes, and poor health. But with the same kind of courage that had sustained them for four years, those, who were not so weak that they fell by the wayside, walked back to a Pickens County that they hardly recognized. They found their courthouse in ashes, the fields grown up in weeds, the fences down, and families destitute and scattered. Most were heavily in debt, and the land mortgaged. One only has to read the old newspapers up here in the courthouse to see how many foreclosures there were, and how many people lost everything that they had. The letters AG.T.T.@ was written on every other house, almost, meaning, AGone To Texas.@ Many families went west, looking for greener pastures.
But many stayed here, to try to pick up the pieces and live through the dark days of Reconstruction. And Reconstruction was a difficult time for the people in this county. Four times it was under martial law; three times for the duration of an election, and the first time in eighteen sixty-five after the surrender. It was only through the cooperation of responsible black leaders that the Democrats forced the county, freed this county of the Radical control. I read in an old newspaper that when the Union soldiers came to occupy Carrollton after the War, as they rode through Pickensville the old soldiers, many of them without any legs, without any arms, crippled and injured, rushed into the street and gave the Rebel Yell, letting those Union soldiers know how they still felt.
Our ancestors believed they could build another courthouse here, that they could elect honest, dedicated officials, and make Pickens County progressive once more. And now, a hundred and fifteen years later, we see the fruit of their labor. Those brave men left us a rich heritage, a way of life that is the envy of every other region. Many times we feel the South is discriminated against, but we must keep in mind that we are a united nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. We must teach our children and our grandchildren to be loyal Americans.
John L. Hunnicutt and Reconstruction
I cannot go on, Randy, without telling you a little bit more about John L. Hunnicutt. He was the young man that I told you about that lost his boots to the Union soldiers in Tuscaloosa, and lost his father in the War Between the States. So when the War was over he was about eighteen years of age, and he immediately kept organized the Ku Klux Klan in this county. One night as he was sitting in the church out from Gordo, someone tapped him on the shoulder, and said, I want to see you after church. So when church was over, he went out the back and there stood another young man, and he told him, said, on the Tuesday after that there would be a big election over in Mississippi, in the little voting precinct of Trinity, which was across the ferry, at the old Nashville Ferry, just north of Pickensville. That this little village had about twenty-five hundred black voters in it, and if they all cast their vote for the Radical Party that Mississippi, that Loundes County especially, would be lost forever. John L. Hunnicutt told him not to worry, that he would come over there and fix that election. So for all day Monday he rode around the county on his horse getting up fifteen brave young men to go with him.
And on that Tuesday morning they rode down to the Old Nashville Ferry to cross, but the ferry was on the other side. And they screamed across at the ferryman to bring it across, but it was a black, and he refused to bring it across. So John L. Hunnicutt stepped into the Tombigbee, swam to the other side, took the ferry, and brought it across himself. He took his fifteen men and their horses across, and they rode on up to Trinity. They were getting ready to have the election, and the blacks were as thick as blackbirds. They tied their horses and went into the store, and he explained to the storekeeper what they had come from, where they had come from, and what they intended to do. And the storekeeper told him, said, well, the election is going to be held here in my store. And I just don't believe that you can do a thing like that, with this many men around they'll get suspicious. The election was to be run by all black people.
John L. Hunnicutt went out the back and told all of his riders to go on to Columbus, and leave him there alone. So he stayed, and during the day he wandered around in the old store, and in the back storeroom he found an empty barrel under a counter. He went back and talked to the storekeeper and told him, said, when the election is over tonight, suggest that everybody go home and get their supper, and you lock up the store, and give the key to the blacks, so they cannot say that we are cheating. And then go home and get your supper, and come back when you see them come back, and all of you come in and count the ballots.
It was a cold winter day, and they had a big fire in the stove. The Radicals were voting red tickets, and the Democrats were voting white tickets. So John L. Hunnicutt stayed in that barrel until he heard em getting through with the election, and the storekeeper not only told them to go home for supper, but invited them up to his house, something that had never happened before, for a white man to invite the blacks to his house for supper. But he took em up to his house, and when they were through eating they went back down to the store. He let them hold the key. They went back down there and they unlocked the door and they went in.
But while they were gone, John L. Hunnicutt got out of that barrel. He went up in the front of the store and he opened that box, and he burned up every one of those red ballots, and replaced them with white.
When they started to counting the ballots there were nothing but white ballots in there, and the Democrats were carrying the box. While they were counting them John L. slipped out the back door, got on his horse, and rode on into Columbus. The next day, when the report of how the election went and everything, the returning officer for that precinct was called into town, and he was black. And they asked him, how in the world did a precinct, with twenty-five hundred blacks in it, vote for the Democratic Party. And he said, his explanation was simple: a group of white men came out of Pickens County, Alabama, and hoo-dooed his box.
Sidney Bonner's Recollections of Pickens County
Randy, I want to talk to you about Sidney Bonner, who was an ex-slave that lived on the Bonner place, between Pickensville and Carrollton. She was living there during the War Between the States, and after the War came to work at the Phoenix Hotel, and later lived in Birmingham. One day a news reporter saw her walking down by the railroad track, an old woman bent over picking poke salat. So he stopped, thinking that she would, this would make a good story for him to write about. And, this is what she said to him:
ADe whistles on de big jacks what used to pulled dem high-steppin' I.C.'ns, de I.C. trains, sho' do remind me ob dem steamboats what used to pull up at de landin' at ole Pickensville, on dat big Tombigbee River.
Cos, twuou'n't no railroads back den, an' de only way folks could travel wuz on de steamboats, which run up an' down most every week, an' de stagecoach, which passed through Pickensville twice a week. Lawsy, man, dem wuz de days, an' many de time after my daddy, whose name wuz Green Bonner, heared da steamboat blowin' down below Pickensville, he would run an' hitch up de mules to de wagon, an' follow Marse John on horseback down to de landin' to fotch back de supplies, sugar, an' coffee, an' plow tooths needed on de plan'ation..
ADey would take me along, to hol' de mules, and watch de wagon, an' it sho' wuz a reg'lar picnic fo' me to see dat big shiny boat, an' watch de goin's on dat went on down dare. Now Marse John sho' did depend on my daddy. He had paid a thousand greenback dollars fo' him down in Mobile, when he wuz sol' on de auction block. It wuz enough greenbacks to rop him up in, so, Marse Bonner named my daddy Green Bonner.
Yassah, we wuz all Baptists, we wuz de deep-water kind, and every Sunday all of us would pile into a wagon an' pull out bright an' early fo' Big Creek Church, on de Carrollton Road. Everybody fotched a big basket o' grub, and, saints alive, such a dunnah you nevah seen in all yo' life! Spread out on dose tables undah de grassy grove by de ole graveyard. Now, I wonna tell you one thing, all de quality white folks in Pickens County b'longed to Big Creek. An' whenevah a slave got sho' nuff ligun, dey jined Big Creek an' dey wuz baptized in de swimming hole. Now some o' de niggahs decided dey wanted to have deir meetin's, off t' by de selfs, but Lawd, chile, dem niggahs got happy, and dey go t' shoutin' all ovah de meadow, whar dey had dun built dem a brush arbor. So Marse John put a stop to dat quick. He said, F yaw's guine to preach an' sing, you must de washpot up, meanin' no mo' shoutin' out heah in de meadow. Dem Baptists at Big Creek wuz sho' tight wid dey rules, too. Man, dey'd turn you out in a minute if you drinked too much lickah, or danced, or cussed, or ran aroun' wid women.
Marse John had a big, fine bird dog, an' she wuz a mammy dog, an' one day she found six baby puppies out in de harness house. Dey wuz most all girl puppies, so Marse John wuz goin' to drown em. I axed him, give dem to me, and purty soon de Missus sent me to de Post Office in Pickensville, so I put de puppies in a basket, an' tuck em wid me. Now Doctah Lars came walkin' by whar I wuz settin' an' he said, Sidney, you want t' sell dem puppies, an' I said, yassuh. An' he said, well, what denomination is dey. An' I said, now you know dat dese is Meth'dist dawgs. He didn' say no mo', just kep' walkin.' About a week aftah dat Ole Miss sent me back to de Post Office, an' agin I took my basket wid de puppies in it. An,' sho' nuff, who came walkin' by but Doctah Lars, an' he said, Sidney, I see you ain't sol' a puppy yet. An' I said, Nawsuh. Den he said, what denomination you say dey were? I tol' him, dey's Baptist dawgs. He say, how come you tol' me las' week dat dey wuz Meth'dist pups? Bless God, you see doctah, dey got dey eyes open, an' now dey has seen de light. He jes' laughed and went on down to his newspaper office.
How ol' is I? Lawd, chile, I don' know. I wuz fifteen years ol' at de time of surrender, on de day dat Lee gave up at Attomattox Coa't house, I remember mighty well. Ol' Marsah John, he called all de niggahs on de plan'ation round im to come up to de big house, an' he said, now, you all is jes' as free as I am. I ain't yo' marstah no mo.' I've tried to be good to you, I've tried to take good care of you. You's all welcome to stay, an' we'll all work together to try to make a livin' somehow. But, f you don' wonna stay, dem what will, will jes' have to root pig or die, an' get goin.' Some stayed, some leff. But my daddy stayed. He stayed with Marse John til he wuz called to Glory, and now dey all gone but Sidney, an' I'm jus' waitin' heah fo' de call to come.
Yassuh, I lived round Carrollton, an' he, an aftah Marse John an' my daddy both died, I ran up, I lookin' fo' a place to work. An' I went work at de Phoenix Hotel. An' I wuz deah when Gen'r'l Forrest come and danced up to de hotel one day drivin' a spankin' team of black horses. It wuz aftah de War wuz ovah, and de folks said dat de Gen'r'l come to build a railroad through de town. He hitched dem horses to de oak sapplin' what had been planted out dar by Col. Matt Thaxton. Now Matt Thaxton wuz th' maternal, th' paternal, uh, grandfather of de Leach children and de Gordan children. An' he wuz Mistah Robert Thaxton's grandfather. Purdy soon dem hosses got skeerd at somethin' an' busted loose, an' purdy neahly smashed dat sappling, I guess it's still deah, but it wuz called de Forrest Oak.
Den I recollect when dat ol' house wuz burned, and de offisuhs, when de Coa'thouse wuz burned, an' de offisahs catched some niggahs named Bill Burkhalter an' HenryY I can't think of his name no mo.' Henry Wells, dat wuz it!! D' offisahs stahted takin' em to Montgomery, but dey got to Sipsey Rivah, a mob catched up wid em, an' dey had to bring em back up heah. An' dey confessed to it. An' I cane' member mo' bout it cept Henry Welles got killed. An' aftah dat, his picture came in de coa'thouse window. Cause it wuz on a big stormy night, an' dey said de lightening took his picture on de window, an' I dun seed it wid my own eyes. I dun inspected dat picture, an' I know'd it wuz still deah right in front of de Phoenix Hotel where I used to work fo' Mrs. Roper, an' Mistah Thaxton used to run dis hotel, too.
But Lawdy, me, I got to get goin,' I's got to cook dis poke salat what I dun picked down here by de railroad track. Poke salat and young onions gon' t be mighty good today, almost as good dey wuz back in Pickens County.@
Brigadier General John Herbert Kelley
Before we leave the War Between the States, Randy, I want to tell you a little about John Herbert Kelley, who was born in Carrollton on March the thirty-first, eighteen forty. The Kelley family was of Irish extraction, and is descended in this country from Gresham Kelley of South Carolina. Gresham Kelley's son Moses had settled in Jones' Valley near early Birmingham and several children of Moses Kelley became prominent in Alabama. Isham Harrison Kelley prepared for the law at the University of Alabama and practiced in Carrollton. Now Isham Kelley married Elizabeth Herbert, the daughter of Mrs. Harriet Herbert, who had moved from Loundes County to Tuscaloosa and later married Mr. Hawthorne. Carl Eggett, when he wrote Annals of Northwest Alabama, quoted Nelson F. Smith, who wrote, AIsham Kelley was a good lawyer and a respectable man.@ He was considered a rising young lawyer of Carrollton; however, his health declined and he went to Cuba, hoping the climate over there would help him, but he died in Cuba in eighteen and forty-four, leaving a widow and two sons, John Herbert Kelley, about whom we are talking, and Rollin Kelley. Their mother, Elizabeth Herbert Kelley, was the daughter of John and Harriet Waters Herbert, and she lived only three years after the death of her husband, having died in Woodland, Mississippi, and leaving the two orphans with her, uh, their maternal grandmother, Mrs. Harriet Herbert Hawthorne.
Fortunately, John Herbert Kelley, the one who had been born here in Carrollton, had many relatives who had great influences. General Moses Kelley, of Jefferson, was an uncle of this young boy, and he was an early settler and farmer in Jefferson County, and had served the public in many capacities. He had represented Jefferson County in both branches of the General Assembly, and was a brigadier general of the militia, and later became judge of probate for Jefferson County. You can find an account of his life in Reminesceses of Public Men in Alabama. General Moses Kelley's fidelity to the many public trusts committed to him his dedication of his friends. He had a kind disposition and a gentle manner; he was a Jacksonian Democrat, having served under the famous general during the Indian War and was always faithful to his old commander. Moses Kelley died in eighteen sixty-six, having lived to see a short but brilliant career of this nephew, John Herbert Kelley. When John Herbert Kelley was only sixteen or seventeen years of age, his maternal uncle, the Honorable P. T. Herbert, who was a member of Congress succeeded in having John Herbert appointed a cadet to West Point, where he entered in eighteen fifty-seven. Although two years younger, John Herbert Kelley was a classmate and friend of the gallant John Pelham of Alabama, and a significant friendship, since their careers were so distinguished in Alabama military history.
Within a few months of young Kelley's graduation from West Point, the State of Alabama seceded from the Union, and most of the people went to war. We became involved in a terrible and tragic war that tore our country apart for a long, heart-rending four years. But John Herbert Kelley, like other youths in Alabama, youths in Alabama, wanted to fight. John Herbert Kelley left the Academy on December the twenty-ninth, eighteen and sixty, and went to Montgomery to offer his services to his native state. He was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery in the regular army of the Confederate States, and sent to Fort Morgan, and then went as a captain on the staff of General Hardee into Missouri. He early showed his military promise, and September the twenty-third, eighteen sixty-one was commissioned Major of the Fourteenth Arkansas. Kelley fought with great bravery at Shiloh, where he commanded the Ninth Arkansas Battalion, and a month later for his gallantry on the field was promoted Colonel of the Eighth Arkansas. He commanded his regiment at Perryville, and during the battle, according to T. M. Owen, Kelley personally captured Colonel Mitchell Giddy, of the Twenty-second Indiana regiment.
At the battle of Murphreesburo, Kelley was severely wounded, and was furloughed for three weeks. But such was his devotion to duty that he was able to return in two weeks. And at Chickamauga he commanded a brigade of Buckner's Corps, and won high accommodations for his skill in battle. General Cleburne once said, A I know of no better officer of his grade in the army.@ Generals, praise, Craxton and Liddell also praised him very highly. One can only look at the picture of Kelley that is in Edward Warren's book, Generals in Gray, and see the determination, intelligence, and courage mirrored in this young face.
After his successful termination of the Sequatchie Valley Raid in October of eighteen and sixty-three, General Wheeler was authorized to select four officers for promotion to brigadier general, and Wheeler designated John Herbert Kelley was one worthy of this promotion. He was commissioned a brigadier general to rank from, on November sixth, eighteen sixty-three, one of the youngest general officers in the Confederate army at that time. General Kelley was placed in command of a division of cavalry in Wheeler's corps, and as Edward Warren has said, made a handsome reputation during the Atlanta Campaign.
Kelley's career was signaled by, by a series of brilliant achievements. He death occurred while leading a charge at Franklin, Tennessee. Kelley was mortally wounded in this engagement on September the second. Left in the care of the family of William M. Harrison, five miles south of town, he died a few days later, probably on the fourth. He was first buried in the yard of the Harrison home, but later his remains were interred in Mobile in eighteen sixty-six. Among the young, noble heroes who laid down their lives for the cause of the South during this great conflict, there is none whose name shines out with more luster on the roll of fame, with more tender affection by their fellow countrymen, than those of John Pelham and John Herbert Kelley.
Willett Wilbourn's Reminisces
Mr. Willet Wilbourn, one of the oldest residents of Pickensville, who died this past year, consented to have a interview with Leroy Speed and the interview was taped. In this tape Mr. Wilbourn tells us much of the history of Pickensville. He started off by talking about the big boats that used to run on the river.
He said that the boats would blow at Old Memphis, and the people could hear the whistle. Fifteen minutes after the whistle blew, you could hear wagons out all over the hill, even if it was twelve o'clock at night they would begin to roll and come to the boat landing. Every time the boat landed at Pickensville, he said, it was just like the circus. Everybody went, and sometimes two, three, or four a day would land. He was asked if most of this happened in the wintertime or early spring, and Mr. Wilbourn said that the boats traveled about ten months a year. The other two months the big boats could not run, but the small ones could continue to run. This was because the water was too low during these two months of the year. Most of the boats ran from Columbus to Demopolis, with the larger boats going to Mobile. When the water would get too low, many times, he said, the boats would get stuck in the mud. He said he saw a boat turn around and use its paddlewheels to fan back out into the nearest channel and then go right on through. All the old boats used to land here, he said, and oh, there would be a terrible crowd. And they would load and unload, and ring a bell, and everybody at the lower landing would get on the boat, and it was only two hundred yards up to the next landing, which was called Pullup's Landing, but everybody got on there and rode that far. In those days they sold whiskey on the boat, and when the old boat would turn loose and get in the middle of the river, it would just stand there, it wouldn't move. It took an hour to go from one landing to the other, which was just two hundred yards, but during that time they were handing out that whiskey on the outside of the rail, and the inside of the rail, and I am telling you, Leroy, I am telling you the truth. On board the old boats you could really have a good time. There were poker games, crap games, they could dance, they served food, oysters and good things like that, all night long. People had a good time back in those days.
And Leroy asked Mr. Willet, did you ever ride the boat and where did you go?
I'd go all the way all the time, he said. I had a boy friend, old Captain Cochran, had a boy on there named John, and boy we were friends. Every time John landed he would come get me, and we would go to Columbus or Demopolis, places like that, and pretty nearly every trip, he'd make sure I'd go along with him.
Did you ever go to Mobile, Leroy asked.
No, I never went as far as Mobile, Mobile. Most of them used to go, though. During Mardi Gras those old boats would be loaded to the brim. You mean they were going down to Mobile to Mardi Gras? Yeah, they'd go down there and spend a week having a good time, and then come back.
Have you ever heard the story of the Eliza Battle, asked Leroy, did that happen before your time?
Yeah, there's been quite a bit of stuff about that, though. Did you know that there's a fellow that died twelve years ago that set fire to the Eliza Battle, and finally confessed to it on his deathbed in New York City?
Yeah, Leroy said, I think read that.
Well, said Willet, he got mad about something on the boat and set fire to it. One night when the river was out of its banks and the old Hard Cash was going down the river, and it got down to Old Memphis, and they heard somebody screaming, hollering on the bank. The old water was out everywhere, and it was dangerous. But they heard the screaming, and the boat took a chance, and it stopped. They turned around, and went back to see what he wanted, and twas an old man named Rance Boone that lived at Old Memphis, and he wanted to know if anybody on the boat wanted to buy a fat coon.
Well, said Leroy, did you ever go farther north than Columbus?
I didn't, but long bout the time I come along they'd stopped going up there, but I remember a boat going as far as Waverly, and I think they went on to Cotton Gin Port, and that's way on up the river where Aberdeen is now. I can tell you something that you don't know, and very few people in this country know, the big boats that we had here once ran the Noxubee River clear to Macon, Mississippi.
Amazing, said Leroy, I didn't know that.
Well, said Willet, Noxubee River ain't anymore nowadays but a big creek down here, but when the water'd get up the government had a dredge-boat in all the rivers keeping them clean. And the big boats, that come here, went to Macon. Actually they kept dredge-boats here all the time and they kept all the stumps and all that kind of stuff out of the river.
Well, would you be willing to say that the coming of the railroads and the trucks and the automobiles ruined this town?
Well, said Willet, good roads, railroads, trucks, that killed river traffic. Pickensville used to raise more cotton than the whole of Pickens County does now, that's true, too. We had one farmer who used to raise at least fifteen hundred bales of cotton every year, and his name was James Stewart.
Leroy said, are you talking about Mr. J. E. Stewart?
Yeah, said Willet, yes, John D. Long used to raise seven hundred and fifty bales himself, and we had two farmers out two miles from here, it wasn't any trouble for them to raise four hundred bales each. Besides all the other little farmers in this area. Back in those days if a man planted ten acres of cotton, he could tell you within one hundred pounds what he was going to make, and that was fore we had them boll weevils eating it up. I remember far enough back when they didn't have anything but a little bit of boll cotton, and that little boll wasn't a bit bigger than the end of your thumb, and we called it pea cotton, it was a very small boll of cotton, but, boy, it made lots of bolls on a stalk.
Was a long-staple cotton, asked Leroy.
I don't know, said Willet, I remember that. There uz ten thousand bales of seed and cotton, and they packed the seed down every time.
The picture that I saw the other day of the steamboat Vienna, said Leroy, it was loaded with sacks. Now what you s'pose was in those sacks? Were they sacks of grain, sugar, or what?
Swile uz such stuff as rice, coffee, and that sud, that sort of thing. They shipped the corn in sacks, too. And I can remember when flour came in barrels. Why, said Willet, I never saw a sack of flour until the First World War. In fact I saw nothing but barrels. Back in those days flour sold for three dollars and fifty cents a barrel.
Well, said Willet, how did y'all get cheese in that's days? You ought to know about those cheese deals, I used to order very old cheese, at least two year old New York State cheese, to come up from Mobile. I'd get me a twenty-five pound hoop, and cut it in four pieces, and then it was gone. Old Man Jim Gates out at Spring Hill, he'd get one quarter, old man Davis would get another quarter, Jim Cox would get another quarter, and I'd have one quarter left. And when that was gone, we'd send down to Mobile and get us another hoop.
You mentioned Mr. Davis, said Leroy, do you remember his first name?
No, I don't remember his name, just Davis is all. But he came by here last summer, and the first thing we started talking about was the cheese. Back that far, Leroy, when I went into business all we got was whole cheese, but now there ain't no such thing, as being, it's all got cream in it, cream cheese is the thing.
Well, that's what we call processed cheese, said Leroy.
Yes, said Willet, that cheddar cheese. The best cheese you can buy now ain't no good, cause it's made out of cheddar, and that ain't nothing but the clabbor off the milk.
Well, Leroy said, what you're saying is that they aren't putting the whole milk in cheese anymore.
Naw said Willet.
We're talking about Willet Wilbourn, but I want to tell you a little bit more about him.
Leroy asked him about the meat that came up on the boat.
He said, yes, we used to get Meyer's bacon; it was smoked almost black. It would come in a hundred and thirty-five or a hundred fifty pound size, had the ribs and pork chops all in it, they didn't take anything out. And that was the best meat on this earth.
Where do you s'pose it was processed, Leroy asked. Where was it cured?
Oh, it come up from Mobile, but I think it was made in Tennessee somewhere. They always got it from Mobile. They shipped it in fifteen hundred pound boxes. And it wouldn't even be just a few sides in there. Man, they wuz terrible big sides and that box wuz packed full. You can imagine the size it was with all the ribs and all in it. When I was a boy I been down on the place many a night and I'd smell that stuff cooking, and I'd go by some house and there was an old family down there, and she'd know what I wanted, she'd come out with a piece of hot cornbread and a piece of that meat. Man, it would be the best stuff a man ate in his life. They would hang it up in the smokehouse, and put a pot under it and catch the grease. Every merchant had a meat room, and he called it the dark room. No flies or nothing could get in there. He'd buy all the meat he wanted in the spring and store it in that house. I guess that a lot of them round here now that remember the meat rooms. I was talking to an old black woman up here the other day, and she's older than I am, and she wuz talking bout that meat.
Well, said Leroy, did you ever have a stagecoach to stop here in Pickensville?
Yes, said Willet, this my house is an old inn, right here. This was started in eighteen twenty and finished in eighteen twenty-two. So was the Methodist Church over here. This building over here built in eighteen twenty, finished in eighteen twenty-two.
You mean your house was used for a stagecoach, said Willet.
Yes, and it had sixteen rooms to it. It took two years to build each one. All the stuff in this house is hand-built. These things here, and all this lumber, wuz hand worked. William Gass has a great uncle named James Stinson, wasn't it, he married in Mississippi, and him and his wife rode horseback to this stagecoach inn when it first opened, and spent their honeymoon here. Stagecoach operated until eighteen forty. It used to be a stagecoach come from Columbus here, and would stop and spend the night. And then another stagecoach would come from the south, and it would meet here. The one from Columbus would proceed on to Eutaw, and the one from Eutaw would go on to Columbus the next day. I've heard them say that there'd be so many people staying here that they would have to double up, a lot of them would have to sleep on the floor. And doctors, you asked me about them, Leroy, we had five. We had Dr. Moorehead, Dr. Hill, Dr. Long, Dr. Gass, and Dr. Wilkins. And two drugstores. Course, we didn't have no hospitals or clinics, wasn't even any in the country.
Well, what did you do when people died, asked Leroy.
There wasn't any funeral home back then. When a person died, his neighbors come and dressed him, and laid him out at home. Now the boats wuz running every day and it wasn't any trouble to get you casket from Columbus. Then they'd put the body in the casket and carry it to the church on a wagon. They had a big marble table over there, in the Methodist Church, and that table was used to set the casket on. When the funeral was over they'd put the casket on the wagon and carry it back out to the cemetery. They didn't have a hearse in that day. But we had epidemics, about eighteen forty they had a typhoid epidemic. Everybody, that is, a big part of the people moved to Columbus. They thought it was the low ground that was causing it. At that time there was a cotton gin on the river, and people used the cottonseed for planting, but all that was left over they just threw out on the ground. They didn't know that seed would make good fertilizer, feed cows, anything else. And when the cottonseed piled up and rotted, people thought that was creating a typhoid fever epidemic. They found out afterwards what caused it, but they had moved away thinking it was low ground. And people didn't have any screens in that time, so they didn't know that the mosquito was causing the malarial fever. So everybody laid all their illnesses on low ground. Now we had some dug wells, there's a number of drilled wells now, I'm talking about the early days when we had dug wells. Those dug wells had good water, too.
Was Pickensville dry most of the time, you couldn't sell whiskey out here?
Well, it was wet til nineteen and five. Before that time liquor was sold in every grocery store in this town, and finally got down to where we just had two saloons.
You mean to tell me, Willet said, that there was two active saloons here?
Yeah, but about nineteen three they voted them out of town, and they moved down to the end of street, just beyond the city limits. The town was incorporated, you know, and they voted it out of town, and moved about a quarter mile above town.
Did y'all have saloon girls like you see on television, Willet asked.
Naw, there wasn't anything like that. One thing happened in a saloon. Old man Bill Rogers was a big corn-raiser, you know, and he had a terrible big corn crop that year, and it was dry. It hadn't rained, and we needed rain bad. And it came an awful rain and some clouds, and it just poured in Pickensville. You never saw such a heavy rain in your life. Old man Rogers got to walking around, and hollered that this rain just made him five thousand bushels of corn. He hollered, everybody, come on, let's go get a drink, all the drinkin's on me. He got on his horse and started to the swamp, and got down there about a quarter of a mile, down there about St. John's Church, and there it was dusty. Old man Rogers hadn't got a drop. And there he had bought drinks for everybody in Pickensville.
When the railroads, let me tell you about those, said Willet. I rode a flat car to Reform and back, and I rode the first train out of Aliceville. The first one that I rode from Carrollton to Reform was on the flat car, and boy was there a crowd there. They had an old soldiers' reunion there that day, and give em all a ride from Carrollton to Reform and back. And then I remember when they had the first train to run from Aliceville to York; I went down there and got on it, too. Had a big land sale down there at York, and people from Columbus and everywhere went down.
At one time there was fourteen stores in Pickensville, Willet said. Big merchants, some wealthy. A.J. Bush had a business here, and he moved to Mobile and went into the wholesale business and then he could ship his merchandise back up the river to the merchants here. I remember old Dr. Wilkins, J.J. Stinson, A. J. Bush; those were some of the biggest merchants we had here in Pickensville. I remember the names of them, but I can't remember them because that was before my time. Oh, it was back about eighteen forty and eighteen fifty that all this was going on. I got no memory.
Mr. Willet told about the three blacksmith shops that used to be in Pickensville. One was run by a man named Burnell, one by a Robinson, and the other by a Davis. He said back in those days you had to have a blacksmith's shop cause everything had to be fixed. And they had a tanning yard there, where people brought the hides from everywhere and had them tanned, and made them into leather. And Mr. Willet said that it was almost impossible to wear out a pair of shoes that were made from this tanned leather. They made harness, and all, saddles, and said, he said a saddle back in those days, the very best saddle that they made didn't sell for but about thirty-five dollars. And the shoes were from three to three fifty.
He goes on to talk about some of the people that lived in Pickens at that time, and then he got to talking about the Methodist Church. He said the Methodist Church had two hundred and fifty white members and a hundred and fifty black members. On the south side of the church was a pew, and there was a double pew down the middle, and one on the north side. Now the slaves had the south side, and when they took communion, the white people took communion first, and they went up and took their communion, and sat down, and then the slaves went back, up there and took their communion. They had to come to SundY, to church every Sunday, just like the others did. I remember when there wasn't such thing as a man going to church and sitting down by a woman, he said. The women went in and sat on one side of the church, and the men went in and sat on the other side of the church. The double pew, the women would sit on the left, and the men on the right, and that was the custom until nineteen twelve. And back in those days, there on the men's side they have four big wooden spittoons about twelve feet, I mean, a foot square, on each bench, and during preaching, men would sit up and chew tobacco. Man, I remember those spittoons, every one of em, and how they were put to use. And the servants, my goodness, said Willet, they'd last at least an hour and a half and most of em two hours. And singing, there would be plenty of singing. I can remember back when both churches had a full-time pastor.
We'd get on the steamboat here on Friday night and go to Columbus then stay on the boat and eat on the boat and come back Sunday morning, and you know how much it cost us? A dollar and an half. All of that. And they wuz using gold money back in those days, said Willet. There was plenty of money. I remember when they took up money, everybody had gold til they took it up. Now course we ain't never had a bank in Pickensville. We never did have a bank in Pickensville. The merchants acted as our banks; there was no banks in the county at that time. There wasn't a bank in Pickens County since I can remember. Merchants would furnish the farmers all over the county the supplies they needed to make a crop. They didn't take a note, they didn't take a mortgage, they just took your word for it. Nobody tried to beat anybody back then because then he wouldn't get anything else. There wasn't anywhere else to go, only here, so you had to act on your honor, and the merchants acted as the banks. And when a merchant advanced a farmer, what rate of interest do you suppose he had to pay? Very little. The only bank in the country was in Columbus, and nobody borrowed anything from the banks, cept the merchants here, they got all their supplies out of Mobile.
Were the people that afraid of banks back in those days, asked Willet. Well, they didn't have any banks. And you asked me what we'd do, what an individual would do with their money. Why they stuck it in safes and things like that, big iron safes. And they'd ship their cotton to Mobile and the money'd be shipped back up to em in a nail keg if it was that much money. I can't imagine, said Willet, money coming in a nail keg. Well, it did, and the farmer just got it off the boat and took it home.
Well, said Willet, I want to tell you about those Indians that lived in this area, too. They didn't exactly live here but they came here often. We had an old Indian tooth doctor that used to come here and pull tooth, and he'd come every summer and pull everybody's teeth. I f you had the toothache you had to last all the year, til he would come back. And when he got through, he looked like he had butchered hogs. And we had Negro barbers back then. When I was just a small boy that's the only kind of barber I ever heard of. We had a big fat black named Armistead Herndon, and he was one real good barber. He ran the barbershop here in Pickensville, right on that corner, and after Aliceville built up he went down to Aliceville, and he stayed in Aliceville three days a week, and the rest of the time in Pickensville. In Aliceville his barbershop was over Moody's Drugstore. He was the only barber in Aliceville at that time. Well, the blacks did all the barbering, and haircutting, and the shaving, and the shoeshining and all that kind of stuff.
And I want to tell you how the ladies dressed back in that day. There wasn't no such thing as a beauty parlor, that just something that's come in here late in life. Well, ladies used a little makeup; they put some chalk on their face and rubbed their cheeks with some kind of rosy-looking stuff, never heard of lipstick. But they used to wear what they called Arats@ in their hair, they'd take a big wad of hair, and they'd put their hair over it on both sides. The funniest thing I remember about women back in those days was the bustles. I mean, you can see pictures of em in movies now, but they don't compare to how they looked back in those old days when they really wore em. They had a great big pad that they'd put on their seat, and make em stick out behind. And the women wore long dresses in those days, and they'd have to pull em up far enough for their feet to move. You never saw a woman's legs; in fact, you never saw a woman's ankles.
And when people used to come to town here in Pickensville and get drunk, we didn't have any jails to lock em up in. The marshal would get a trace chain; he'd lock it around the neck of the person, and lock it to a tree til he got sober the next day. It was an old Negro here in town named Chill Henders. He was kind of cracked, I think, because most of the time he'd spent in my peach orchard. He would go out there and tear little pieces of his clothes off, and then patch em back on. He spent the day, patching and sewing on his clothes. That's all he ever did. But he'd ever always going to town and getting in some kind of devilment. He got mad at old man Joe Eddins, and one night he went up to Mr. Eddins house, and Mr. Eddins had three fine black wash pots. The old man, uh, Chill, took those wash pots and dropped all three of em down in Mr. Eddins' well.
Early Schools in Pickens County
Randy, someday you might have to write a paper on the early schools in Pickens County, so maybe I better tell you a little about that.
When Alabama was admitted into the Union, it was by an act of Congress on March the second, eighteen and nineteen. At this time what is now Pickens County was a territory, and before the organization of the county it was connected with Tuscaloosa as a civil and political division. The early settlers that came here were mostly from South Carolina. Many of them came down the Tennessee River, into north Alabama, and then traveled by land down the central routes of travel, along the old Indian trails and the military roads that had been cut out by the United States troops in the Indian wars. These trails led through Madison, Limestone, Morgan, Blount, Tuscaloosa, and on into Pickens County. Now it was most convenient for them to follow this course as a channel of travel that had been indicated by the natural conformation of the country, and as early as eighteen five the settlers were permitted a horsepath through the Creek Nation. Many of the early Bigbee settlers came through Tennessee down the river to Colbert's Landing, where the Natchez Trace crossed the Tennessee River. And then they traveled this Trace on down to the Tombigbee, and traveled the Tombigbee on down to what is now Pickens County. From this east central Mississippi settlement came many of the early settlers of Pickens County.
Some of the best blood imported from the mother state flowed through the veins of those children who settled in this county. For tender sympathy, hospitality, Christian women and brave men, these people could not be surpassed. Now many of the men who braved the wrath of the Indians and the hardship of travel were veterans of the Revolutionary War, and I have been able to find where we had between twenty-five and thirty Revolutionary soldiers to come to this county. They had fought England for their independence, and now they were looking for a better place in which to settle down and bring up their children and grandchildren in a peacely, healthy, prosperous atmosphere. There were few men of highly cultivated minds, but most of the leading characters were men of ordinary education, just plain, yet intelligent, people, and people to such characteristics were naturally interested in the education of their children.
Many families taught the kids at home; some communities were blessed with an educated inhabitant who taught the children of the surrounding neighbors. But the more prosperous families sent their children back to Carolina to get an education. As the emigration increased and more settlements were made, there became a greater demand for schools, and in eighteen eighteen by an act of Congress, the lands in the Alabama Territory, to which the acY, the Indian title had been extinguished, were ordered to be surveyed, and it was provided that each sixteenth section was to be set aside for the use of schools. When Alabama was admitted to the Union as a state, and each county was formed, the Enabling Act was passed, for the disposal of this sixteenth sections. This act on the part of the Federal government formed the foundation of the system of public education in our state.
When the delegates to the convention called to formulate a state constitution met in Huntsville, it provided for that fundamental laws to the government of the new state, Athat schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged in the State of Alabama, and the General Assembly shall take measures to preserve from unnecessary waste and damage such lands as are hereafter granted by the United States for the use of schools within each township in this State, and apply these funds which may be raised from these lands, in strict conformity to the object of such grants.@
From eighteen twenty until eighteen fifty-four little can be recorded in any books about the history of education in our county. These were the days of home teaching, tutors, private schools for the wealthy, and, as I have stated before, the aristocrats who sent their children back to Carolina. In eighteen fifty-four, under the New Public School Act, every township except one, twenty-five in all, held an election and organized schools. The teachers were hired, and the one teacher-one room school came into being. The sixteenth section fund in eighteen fifty-five was forty thousand dollars per year. There were eleven private academies and twenty common schools in the county.
Between the ages of eight and sixteen there were two thousand, four hundred and thirty-one children in Pickens County. Now these crude, one-room schools were certainly a step in the right direction. With wood fires, a bucket and a dipper, and outdoor toilets, they served as the center of learning for each community, and no matter how cold or how hot, many children with their books and lunch basket walked miles to sit on hard logs and get what knowledge was available. One teacher often taught all grades and all subjects. The civilization of the county was a civilization of frontier people, and it was not strange that some of the pioneers were restless under discipline. Many are the stories we have heard of occasions when the male students made lift so miserable for the teacher that some of them threw up their hands in despair, and moved on to try their luck with some other occupation.
Carrollton being the county seat, I want to tell you about first public school here. The first of which there is any record was taught in an abandoned saloon next door to the Masonic Lodge building, which stood where the Post Office stands today. After one term here a building costing one thousand, five hundred dollars was erected where the Farm Bureau now has an office. This remained the school site until nineteen thirty.
But in nineteen eight the Sprain Building was declared too small to house the increasing enrollment, and a two story, a two story stone structure was erected there. It housed six classrooms on the lower floor, and two classrooms, an office, and an auditorium on the upper floor. Jack M. Pratt, a resident of Carrollton, taught there from nineteen four until nineteen eight. Not only were writing, arithmetic, and reading required, but Latin, history, economics, English, and government were a part of the courses offered. Music and art were taught at all the early schools in the county, and the students had the advantage of a cultural as well as an academic education.
The academies in Pickens County were most active during the War Between the States; there were three in Carrollton, two in Pickensville, one at Franconia, one at Bridgeville, one at Spring Grove, Grove, one at Spring Hill, one at Liberty, and two at Olney or, what we might say, Benevola. One of the academies out there prepared students for the medical profession. Tuition was awfully cheap back in those years. Grammar school was two dollars and fifty cents a month, junior high was three dollars and fifty cents a month, and high school four fifty. Music was three dollars extra.
Now, the first academy here was taught in the house where Mrs. R. S. Jones once lived. The all-male academy was founded by Jeremiah Marston, a native of New Hampshire and a graduate of Dartmouth College. When he came to Pickens County from Tennessee he brought a recommendation from President James K. Polk in his pocket. He also practiced law while he was teaching here in Carrollton.
Another fashionable school of the nineteenth century was in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Latham. This was a private school, and was taught with Carrollton Select School for Young Ladies. This school with two more teachers, was taught in a two-room cottage next door to the Latham home, and it offered a complete educational course in English, French, German, Latin, music, and art, and the enrollment was usually around a hundred. The Lathams kept at least twenty girls in their home while they attended school, using a part of their house as a dormitory. On Sundays the students marched in formation to the church, where they occupied the amen corner. They were required to wear uniforms and keep them in tiptop order at all times. A study hall was kept open in the Latham home for the students to go at any time and study without disturbance. And here, every Friday night, a social was given, and to this was invited all the young people in town, and out of these socials grew many romances and marriages that later came. The close of the school was marked by a public examination. These were held in the Presbyterian Church, and were conducted by the county superintendent of education.
Another private school was the Pickensville Female Institute erected in eighteen forty-six by stockholders, among those being Darby Henley, W. C. Ferguson, Dr. James Beckett, Dr. Peyton King, James Poindexter, Robert Johnston, A. M. Wilkins, James Stinson, A. P. Bush, A. T. Henley, S. Pulliam, and James Chalmers. Among the eighteen forty-nine graduates from that school we find Miss Martha Wilson who later became Mrs. W. H. Bonner, and Miss Margaret Turnipseed who became, uh, a Mrs. Carrington. The eighteen fifty-four graduates were Mary Benion, who later was Mrs. King, and Miss N. J. Spraiggins, later a Mrs. Townsend, and Miss Sarah B. Clark. At this time Pickensville on the Tombigbee was a thriving little town, and the school attracted ladies from all over, uh, west Alabama and east Mississippi.
There were two schools in Reform before the railroads came through. The first school stood where the present William Lowe residence stands today. There were trees all over the hills beyond the school, and Miss Della Gladney was the teacher. A story is told that the late Joe Huff had a reputation as being a bad boy, and Miss Della would tap the restless children on the head with a pencil. One day when she hit Joe he fell to the floor, blinked his eyes, kicked his heels, and scared Miss Della out of her wits. The other school in Reform was a private school that was sponsored by the late F. A. Howell. This building stood across the street from the concrete block building on Graham Street. At the time Reform was incorporated in eighteen ninety-eight Mr. Cooper from Tuscaloosa was conducting a fine school for the student body of thirty-five scholars.
Before the Mexican War, and the coming of the railroads, Gordo was called The Settlement of the Crossroads. This referred to the Vienna and Fayette Road crossing the Columbus-Tuscaloosa Road just north of where the town of Gordo now stands. In eighteen ninety-eight, Professor William Stilton Bell operated a flourishing school with forty-five students. He later graduated from the medical school in Mobile and practiced medicine in Pickens County in and around Gordo for a number of years. At this time a large schoolhouse was in the planning stage, and when it was completed, it had two stories. The lower floor being an auditorium and used for religious purposes, until churches could be built. Among the early settlers here we find such names as Daniel, Windom, Gilbert, Props, Free, Ezelle, Kirk, Davis, Brown, Glass, Starke, Crawford, Mosley, Stringfellow, Harden, Stapps, Bell, Shirley, Hurlburt, Pearson, Frasier, Crawford, Strickland, and Carver.
Now the first school building in the town of Aliceville was located at what is now known as Second Street Southeast, almost directly across the street from the Dr. Parker residence. The tew, the two huge oak trees standing there today shaded this old building. The lot is now owned by the Summerville estate. This school was erected in nineteen five and was completed in time for the nineteen five-nineteen six secession. It opened its doors on September nineteenth, nineteen five, and bore the name Aliceville Academy. The enrollment grew so large that the school had to move to a larger building, that now is being used as a city library, and partly by the health department, and plans are being made to restore the old building as a historic site. The first principal of the old school was James P. Doston, and the assistant principal was Miss Mary Parker, Miss Hamilton taught music.
The first building consisted of only three rooms and fifty-three students enrolled for that first term. The school trustees were S. F. Crooks, A. S. Murphy, and J. D. Hines. Only the first eight grades were taught, and tuition in the Aliceville school was for the first through second grades a dollar and fifty cents per month, the third through the four, a dollar seventy-five, the fifth through the sixth, two dollars, and the seventh through the eighth, two dollars and twenty-five cents. Now lots of the churc.., children out in the country wanted to stay in town and go to school, and they could get room and board for ten dollars a month, and only seven dollars and fifty cents, if they would go home every weekend. This first school was erected by the Aliceville Improvement and Investment Company, and financed by the citizens of Aliceville.
Eighteen fifty-four found Pickens County with its first superintendent of education. This was the Reverend James Summerville. He was appointed in September eighteen fifty-four, and served until eighteen eighty-four, with exception of the War Between the States years, when we had no schools, and for a short time when Dr. E. F. B-O-U-C-H-E-L-L-E, I guess that's Bouchelle (Bo'shell), a Radical, served. The Reverend Summerville was an ancestor of Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart and Mrs. J. B. Park, Sr. He was born in South Carolina; he was a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and studies theology under the Reverend R. S. Gladney, distinguished minister of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. His first and his last pastorate was at Franconia, at the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church. This old church was founded in eighteen thirty-seven and had a membership of twenty-two, of which two were slaves.
Reverend Summerville served as a chaplain during the War Between the States, and upon his return was elected to serve the Pickens County school system. But the Republican Radical party forced Reverend Summerville to resign in eighteen sixty-eight, and he was replaced by this Dr. Bouchelle. The doctor resided five miles south of Pickensville, and his appointment caused much concern in this county. At first he was thought not to be competent and trustworthy, and this proved to be true, for by the year eighteen seventy he had depleted the office of all its funds. One of his plans for holding and in many cases keeping the teacher's money was to keep the county funds in such large bills that it was almost impossible to get change for the teachers when needed. This was especially with, true, with him living out from town and there being no bank in the county. This practice of being unable to pay the teachers came to a sudden halt in eighteen seventy-one when a group of masked men visited him one dark night, and he was given a short period of time to settle all his debts and resign. And again the Reverend Summerville was appointed and served until he resigned in eighteen eighty-four.
The next superintendent of education in Pickens County was Reverend Praigg, P-R-A-I-G-G. He had served the Carrollton Presbyterian Church and the Carrollton schools for several years. He served until eighteen eighty-six, when he resigned to become pastor of a Presbyterian church in Tuscaloosa.
The next superintendent was a Baptist pastor and at the time of his appointment serving as principal of the Pickensville Female Institute. This was Reverend J. H. Curry, the grandfather of John Curry, our attorney in Carrollton. He served only a few years, and resigned to take a similar position with Tuscaloosa County, and also served as pastor of the Northport Baptist Church while there.
From this period until nineteen four, M. G. Lofton, B.A. Chapwell, and L. V. Rocker filled the office. In nineteen four Mr. W. H. Story became superintendent of education. He was reared here in Pickens County and spent his entire life in the field of education. He occupied this office until nineteen thirteen, and in that year Mr. John W. Dowdle, of Ethelesville, was the choice of the people. He, too, was a dedicated leader in the field of education, and served until nineteen sixteen, when once again Mr. W.H. Story was to head the public school system. He was to have a long career in this position, and for many years the strongest pillar Pickens County had in its school system.
As one looks back at the many hardships our ancestors had to overcome to get an education, we are astonished at the strides they made in the field of education, and are proud to be the descendents of those brave frontiersmen who did so much with so little.
It would be interesting now, Randy, for you to study about the school, public school in Carrollton today, and the Academy, when they were built, who started them, and all about those school, and then you can branch out and learn about other schools in the county.
Since we've talked about so many things in the past, Randy, I want to read you a little poem that I wrote:
Remember the Good Old Days
Sit back and relax, and reminisce,
While you think about life back then,
Do you picture yourself on a wide front porch,
As you rocked in the sun and the wind?
Do you picture a servant, serving the tea,
And the dainty tea cakes on the plate?
Those were the good old days, my friend,
That we still talk about today.
Do other pictures flash into view,
Of dusty country roads,
With families toiling in the fields,
And carrying heavy loads?
Of women rocking babies,
And children busy at play,
Of a dogtrot house, built with a loft,
For the older boys to stay.
Of a smokehouse filled with juicy hams,
Bacon and smoke sausage, too,
And a old wood stove, that cooked the best food,
That ever a country child knew.
Red-eyed gravy with biscuits and syrup,
Eggs brought fresh from the yard,
Potatoes so sweet that the syrup ran out,
Chicken fried in homemade lard.
Those were the days of the one-room school,
When the teacher ruled with a stick.
But the Three R's were taught, and every child,
Could read, write, and do arithmetic.
When lunch was carried in the molasses can,
Boys cut the wood for the term.
Everyone drank from the same gourd dipper,
Never had heard of a germ.
Now, these are some pictures, seen with the mind.
And not through the camera's lens.
As you all reminisce, the memories come back,
And we all remember back when.
When every house had the yard fenced in,
With either pickets or rails.
When our water came from a cold, bubbling spring,
Or a well with a wooden pail.
When out in the back, stood the little shack,
With writing on the wall.
Where we froze in the cold, drowned in the rain,
But we answered when nature called.
There was no Charmin to squeeze back then,
And no one seemed to care,
You could pick yourself a whole wardrobe,
From the Sears-Roebuck catalog there.
The roads were all dirt, and the winter rains,
Made ruts so muddy and deep,
That wagons and buggies bogged in the mire,
If the hill was a little bit steep.
And nothing could beat a night buggy ride,
With old Nellie slowed down to a walk.
While you smooched and spooned, neath the Southern moon,
Knowing that horse couldn't talk.
Would you really trade how we live today,
For those days of long ago?
Have we come to depend on our modern aids,
Have we lost all our get-up and go?
In those good old days there was leisure time,
To visit with neighbors and friends.
To gather the family around the fire,
When the workday came to an end.
To read from the Bible, have family prayer,
And through the cracks count the stars above.
There was a heap of living in a house back then,
And an over-abundance of love.
Interesting Places in Pickens County
Randy, there are many interesting places in Pickens County that everyone should see. Don't forget to go down to Old Bethany Cemetery, and there you'll see the gravesite of James McCrory, George Washington's bodyguard. Up here in our own cemetery is the grave of Samuel B. Moore, the fifth governor of the State of Alabama, who was practicing law here when he died. He was also the governor at the time the University of Alabama was built.
Then do you remember Mrs. Lambert that taught down at the Academy? She lives in an interesting old home that was built in eighteen and twenty-six. It was built by Parks E. Ball, who came here from South Carolina in eighteen and eighteen. His original tract of land was on Blubber Creek, near what is now Aliceville, and here he built him a little log cabin. In eighteen twenty-three he gave the land for the Garden area for a cemetery, where they built Enon Baptist Church. The records over in Tuscaloosa prove that he bought eighty more acres of land for a dollar and twenty-five cents per acre in eighteen and twenty-six, and this is where he built his brick home. Near this house is a bubbling spring, and this was a necessity for all the pioneer families. This spring is still active, and furnishes water for the house, and has through all these many years.
The house is the typical two-story west Alabama type farmhouse, with two rooms and a wide center hall downstairs. The second floor had the two bedrooms and a hall, and the bricks that the house is built from were made by hand, by the slaves that lived on the plantation. A clay pit and the kiln was located on the property. And the mortar with which they put these bricks together was made of sand, lime, and straw. The house is in perfect condition at this time; the brick walls are sixteen inches thick. The wood framework of all the windows and doors was hand-hewn, and pegged with wooden pegs. The original floors are there, they are heart pine, and they are still in excellent condition, and they are nailed down with square nails. The paneling in the downstairs hall is the original paneling, and one can see that it was planed down by hand tools. The living and dining rooms have wainscoting. The interesting fact about this is that each large section is a solid slab of wood and is put together by the tongue and groove method. There's not one nail in it.
There are four fireplaces in the house, three of which have the original mantels. The outside wall of the chimney on the dining room side of the house has been worn down by the sharpening of knives as the servants brought the meals in to be served. The slave kitchen was located a short distance away from the house, on this same side, and the fireplace in the dining room also shows evidence where the bricks were worn down by the striking of flint to light the fire.
Many fascinating stories and myths have been told about this old place, and one in particular. The story goes that since there were no banks in this area at that time that Mr. Ball had some of the bricks made hollow in the house, and in these he kept his gold, and only he knew where those bricks were located. Did someone ever find that gold? That's a question. If so, they have kept it a dark and deep secret.
And then, our courthouse is another beautiful old building. This county has had three courthouses since it was made the county seat. The first courthouse was burned by Croxton's army in eighteen sixty-five, as the soldiers came to Carrollton after they had burned the University of Alabama. The second building was built at the cost of about eighteen thousand dollars, and this was burned by Henry Wells. Then the present building was completed in eighteen seventy-seven at a cost of approximately twelve thousand dollars. And under the eaves on the north side is the famous Face in the Window.
Another house this old and in a beautiful condition is the Neighbors-Daniel home, where Jimmy and Frank Daniel live today. This well-kept one-story frame house is a Greek Revival cottage. It had two matching porticoes; one faces the courthouse and one that faces highway seventeen. Each one has four square columns and double entrance doors, with rectangular transoms and sidelights. It has a hipped roof with protruding gables and interior chimneys. Inside the house has wide-board hand planed floors. The house was built about eighteen fifty-four by Zechariah L. Neighbors, who was editor of the West Alabamian, and was later elected the Probate Judge of Pickens County.
Another pretty old house in this town is that house that is now owned by the B. G. Robinson family, and called the Thomas-Willett-Robinson house. Tristan Shandey Thomas built this center part of the house, probably in the late eighteen forties. This part has a center hall and interior end chimneys. Thomas, Thomas was elected the Probate Judge in Pickens County in eighteen forty-nine, and died in eighteen fifty-four. Then Major E.D. Willett bought the house in eighteen and sixty-nine, and added gable roofed wings extending to the front on each side of the original central part. The structure is tied together with a porch. In nineteen nine Judge B. G. Robinson bought the house, and it is still owned by the Robinson family.
Another pretty house in town and one that is well-kept is Bess McGee's house, where she and Prude live today. This is called the Willett-Elliot-McGee home, because it was built by E. D. Willett, Jr., later owned by the Rufus Elliot family, and now owned by Prude McGee and Bess.
Where my office, the board of registrars is today, and is called the old Jones store, was really the first bank of Carrollton. A. H. Dabbs was the first bank president. It was later sold to Mrs. Idus Jones who ran a mercantile store here, and now it is used for the county office building.
The Lawyer's Row, as it used to be called, is where, uh, attorney B. G. Robinson and Benny Colvin have their law offices. These offices were originally owned by Willett and Terry law firm, some of those buildings have been there since before the War Between the States.
Now the Curry and Kirk Law office: the north room of this law office was built by Judge Smith. Records show that the office was in operation prior to eighteen sixty-six. It was nineteen one that Mr. M. B. Curry purchased the property, from Captain B. C. Hodo when Mr. Curry began his law practice. In nineteen seven the south office was added, and Mr. B. G. Robinson, Sr., became a partner in the law firm. And later, in nineteen twenty-five, Mr. John Curry, who lives in Carrollton today, joined his father in the practice, and is still practicing law there, with Freddie Curry as his partner.
Tape 5-6: Rivertowns and the Eliza Battle disaster. Rivertowns on the Tombigbee River in Pickens County
In seventeen seventy it was recommended that a canal was needed to connect the Tennessee River with Mobile Bay. Most every governor since territorial days has urged Congress to appropriate the money for the project. The Choctaws named this river Itombee Igobee. The white man removed the I's on both words and named it Tombigbee. Because we reflect on the important part the Tombigbee has played in the history and growth of this area, and we think about what it will mean in the future, I have chose as my subject, ARivertowns,@ many which no longer exist. I have no intention of giving the obituary of these rivertowns. I only hope to make you more aware of the activities and influence they had on this area before they began to vanish. These were once thriving centers of population, boat landings, trading posts, ferries, and one, Pickensville, was the county seat of Pickens County.
Prior to the formation of Pickens County and Noxubee County, Mississippi, settlers had begun to push into the Mississippi Territory and build cabins among the Indians. These were squatters, with no legal right to the land. After Mississippi reached statehood in eighteen seventeen, and Alabama in eighteen nineteen, there began a migration from Virginia, Carolinas, Tennessee, and Georgia, that almost equaled the gold rush to California. There were laws made to protect the pioneers from land sharks, but many settlers were beat out of the land they had built upon and improved. The land offices did a thriving business as the pioneers rushed to get grants along the Tombigbee, or the streams that emptied into the river, mainly Big Creek, Coal Fire, Lubbub, and Bogacheeta. It was to the Tombigbee that Josiah Tilley came in eighteen seventeen, and built a cabin on what is still called Tilley's Bluff. He had the first boat landing and ferry in Pickens County, and many of the settlers that moved into Noxubee County and other points west crossed on this ferry. Little did Tilley realize what an important part his ferry would play helping settle the west, from many wagon trains moving west crossed at this point. Tilley had a more decided taste for backwoods life than for the refinement of civilization. He easily made friends with the Indians, and often visited the chief at Mashulaville. Men from their tribe often came over to Pickensville to pick cotton. His wife having died, he married an Indian squaw and moved west with the tribe.
These pioneers traveled long and dangerous journeys to reach the Tombigbee River. Many followed Indian trails which had been widened to the width of a wagon by the armies of eighteen twelve, and over these they moved their families, slaves, cattle, hogs, and even turkeys and chickens. To come from the east one had to get a passport through the Creek Nation, naming their destination and most of these passports just said, ATo the Tombigbee.@ Some came down the Tennessee River to north Alabama, and then by land, stopping along the way to raise a crop of corn. Many came down the Natchez Trace to Cotton Gin Port, and built rafts to move down the Tombigbee, searching for a suitable place to settle. And by eighteen twenty-two the population of Pickens County had reached five thousand.
These early settlers lived in what we might call a backwoods society. They built log cabins, hung their clothes on wooden pegs driven into the wall, cooked on open fires, and had crudely built furniture made from split saplings. Every lady wanted to bring along some treasured piece from the mother country, or the mother state, and these are the antiques that we treasure so much today. These people used corn whiskey for an appetizer, and a meal usually consisted of cornbread, salt pork, wild game, fish, and berries in season. These pioneer families were most dependent on corn, and as early as eighteen eighteen corn was selling for four dollars per bushel on the Tombigbee. With no way to grind the corn the ladies resorted to the mortar and pestle to pound it into meal and grits. But in eighteen nineteen Henry Anderson built a water-powered gristmill on Big Creek near Pickensville. It soon pounded out most of the meal for settlers in this area, and soon every creek in the county was put to use by man in some laborsaving capacity.
The early settlers, without the restraint of law, were a restless mass. They were like sheep without a shepherd, til a shepherd appeared in the form of Lorenzo Dow, a circuit rider who came in eighteen three to preach to the Indians and pioneers. Mail came by pony express, with the home of Jacob Dansford being used as a mail stop, and also as the place to hold the cor.., first court. The first voting precinct was in the home of Robert Cox, just north of Pickensville near Coalfire and the Mississippi state line. In letters which James Nance wrote back to his father in North Carolina in eighteen thirty, he described conditions in this area. He told of Indian customs and their language. He said the trees across the river from Pickensville still bore the scares of Indian arrows, the result of a battle between the Choctaws and Creeks. He described small birds as plentiful as blackbirds, which he said the Indians called parakeets. But most interesting was a trip he told about to the land office in Milledgeville, Georgia, and an exploration he made across the Tombigbee, where he rode for a distance of a hundred and fifty miles, seeing few white men and black, sticky land he thought was good for nothing. He never realized that he was in the Black Belt and was in the richest land in the state.
Two great men visited this area long before the white pioneers: DeSoto and Bienville. DeSoto trod through this area as he crossed the Tombigbee and went on to the Mississippi, the Father of Waters. Bienville, at the head of five hundred soldiers in crude boats, paddled up the Tombigbee as he went to battle the Chickasaw at Cotton Gin Port. After two battles he was defeated, and in disgrace retreated back down the river, past spots that would later be the towns I want to talk about tonight, mainly Pickensville, Memphis, Fairfield, and Vienna.
Pickensville is the oldest and best known of the rivertowns. First called Boomtown it has grown into a flourishing village prior to being incorporated in eighteen and twenty-five as Pickensville. Most of the settlers being in that vicinity it was only nature to be named the county seat when the county was formed in eighteen and twenty. A courthouse and jail was built behind the present city hall. The first postmaster was Alex McCaa, and the first mayor was Captain Newell, a riverboat captain. When he died in eighteen forty-three the people of the town wore black crepe on their arms for thirty days. He also organized a military company in the county, and had them to come into town on Saturdays and appear at the parade ground for drill and inspection.
Pickensville really reached its heyday during the riverboat days, and these same riverboats, in the spring when the water was high could go up the Noxubee River as far as Macon. Pickensville boasted two hotels, the Prude House and the Pickensville Hotel, which advertised the best food, this side of Mobile. In an article from the West Alabamian on February the tenth, eighteen sixty-eight, there was printed a list of the guests registered at the Hotel for the previous day. These guests came from Mississippi, Texas, Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, Vienna and Fairfield in Pickens County, and a Mr. Harden from Brooksville in Noxubee County. The village had five doctors: Dr. Hill, Dr. McMichael, Dr. Morehead, Dr. Pulliam, and Dr. Wilkins. This was Dr. A.M Wilkins, and his old home was only torn down two years ago. Five attorneys practiced there prior to the War Between the States, and ran weekly ads in the newspapers. One of these was Judge A. B. Clitherall, who served as the secretary to Jefferson Davis when the Confederate Government was organized in Montgomery, and helped raise the first Confederate flag that flew over the capital. He escorted Miss Leticia Tyler, the daughter of President Tyler, out to raise this flag. There was five newspapers in Pickensville: The Pickensville Register was established by W., Dr. W. D. Lyles in eighteen forty, and four others came: the Pickensville Courier, the Pickensville Journey, Journal, the Riverside Press, and the Pickens County Press.
In eighteen sixty the citizens of Pickensville were determined to have the county seat moved back to Pickensville, after it had been moved to Carrollton in eighteen and thirty. A group of men offered to give the land and erect a new courthouse if it were decided to make the move. A special election was held in the county, and Carrollton won with one thousand, two hundred eighty-seven votes, and three hundred and fifty-five for Pickensville. Pickensville had a tannery, and Mr. Willet Wilbourn has often told me that it was almost impossible to were out a pair of the shoes that was made there. It had a brick kiln and a livery stable. There were two saloons at ea. where activity equaled Dodge City; several times the town went dry only to get wet again in a few years. Much of the crime was blamed on the free flow of whiskey, as one reads of the shootings, the murders, the fights, and the stabbings, they can readily see how five attorneys were kept busy. Just before the turn of the century there were so many loud complaints made by the temperance society, and the two churches, that the saloons were forced to move one mile outside the city limits, and the bars on the riverboats were notified to close when within five miles of town. Pickensville's slogan was, AHome of pretty women, fast horses, and fine whiskey,@ and it lived up to its reputation.
In eighteen forty-two the Methodist Church was built. The bid called for it to be thirty-six by forty-six feet, and elevated two feet about ground. The building committed was composed of: Darby Henley, James Stinson, A. B. Bush, J. M. Cameron, and D. B. Bell. This building stands in Pickensville today in very much the same condition that it was back then, except for the plastered walls. It had beautiful white plastered walls with verses of Scripture written upon them in gold script. A few years ago the walls began to crumble, and they had to be replaced with some other material. The original Bible is still in the church, and is the size of a checkerboard. There is a table in front of the alter that has been there since the church was first built, a marble-topped table, a strong table that was used to hold caskets when they had funerals in the church, years and years ago. At the present time it is quite a task for the few members that they have to keep the old church going. But with donations, volunteer help, and so forth, they have been able to keep it in pretty good repair.
In eighteen forty-seven the Pickensville Church was received into the association. There was also a Presbyterian church and a Primitive Baptist church at Pickensville at one time. The Presbyterian church disbanded, and the Primitive Baptist church moved to the Sapps community, not too far from Pickensville. Prior to the time of that these churches were built in Pickensville, most of the people attended the Baptist church at Big Creek, west of Carrollton, which had been founded in eighteen nine by Rev. Charles Stewart. Early minutes of the church show that many blacks were members of all of these churches. An old black slave once said, Aall de quality white folks in Pickens County b'longs to Big Creek, an' us quality black folks do, too.@
Meeting day at Big Creek was not only preaching day, but any charges against members were brought before the church. Non-attendance, drinking, gambling, dancing, non-payment of debts, quarrels between neighbors, domestic fights, and even land disputes were settled in the church. Many times the members were excluded, but after a few weeks they came back and asked forgiveness, and were re-instated.
The Methodist Church in Pickensville had pews for both men and women; they were not allowed to sit together. And at the end of the men's pews were pretty brass spittoons, so the men could chew and spit while they listened to the two-hour services. The blacks sat in the back of the church.
In those days there were no banks, and the people kept their money at home. Everybody trusted everybody else.
Just after the War Between the States, square dancing became most popular around Pickensville, and with a strong voice to call Aswing your partner@ and Ado-se-do,@ there was no limits to the endurance of the fiddlers. Because dancing was frowned upon by the churches, and it wasn't easy enough to get enough girls and a house for a dance, but occasionally a great tide of sin would sweep through the county, and women and men of all ages forgot the Golden Rule and started drinking, dancing, gossiping, and some were even guilty of infidelity. Such sinning was usually followed by a summer revival in the church.
Some of the early businesses in Pickensville were run by the Pulliams, Spraiggins, Petersons, Nances, Iveys, Stringfellows, Doss', Stinsons, Henley, Bush, and Long. There were warehouses on both sides of the river, with landings for the riverboats.
In eighteen and forty-two the Pickensville Female Institute was built, a beautiful three-story building. Darby Henley donated a two-acre site for the building, and Dr. A. M. Wilkins, A.P. Bush, James Stinson, J. J. Lee, John Chalmers, William Ferguson, and a few others financed the building. Prior to that year the Masonic Order had organized in Pickensville, and the cornerstone of the school was placed with Masonic honors. In eighteen fifty the Masons built their lodge in Pickensville. In eighteen fifty-six the enrollment in this school had reached one hundred, with fifty-eight of these being boarding students. Cost to board for a session was ninety dollars. This included room, meals, fuel, and lights. Tuition ranged from one fifty to three dollars per month, depending on the classes and the subjects. Young ladies were required to wear uniforms. The advertisements in the papers back then stressed the fact that no student at the Female Institute would be allowed to smoke, drink, chew, or dip snuff. Everywhere that the girls went they were well chaperoned, even to church.
There was a Male Academy in Pickensville at that time, and a male and female institute that taught nothing but literature, music, and voice. Students came from all parts of west Alabama and east Mississippi to this fine school. Some came by stagecoach that ran from Tuscaloosa to Columbus by Carrollton and Pickensville. The Willett home in Pickensville was the stagecoach stop for the Jemison Coach Line. This old home, and the Methodist Church, are the only two left in Pickensville that were built in its earliest days. Many students came by riverboat, and when the boat whistle was heard in the distance a crowd would gather on the landing to greet the arrival. At that time people traveled from one landing to another to visit their relatives and friends, or attend to business. Many rode the riverboats to Mobile to sell their cotton, settle up their accounts, and buy supplies. Some from the county went to Mobile for pleasure. They attended Mardi Gras there, or even went to New Orleans for a taste of real city life. Travel by boat to and from Columbus was common for the people of the county. The round trip for one dollar and fifty cents included passage on the boat, two nights lodging, and meals. Its easy to understand why so many bachelors had business in Columbus, and why so many marriages grew out of riverboat romances.
Pickensville was the point from which most of the Pickens County volunteers left to fight for the Confederacy. The Pickensville Greys, Lane's Guards, Pickensville Blues, and Pickens Planters were among those traveling by boat to Mobile for basic training. It was also to Pickensville that many of the casualties of war were returned for burial in the county. The largest tombstones in this county, especially those at Pickensville and down at Old Bethany were brought in by riverboat. And after the battle of Shiloh the wounded were brought down the river to Columbus to be placed in the Confederate hospitals, and when those hospitals were full, some were brought down to Pickensville, and the little Methodist church served as a hospital for a short time. It was at Ringo0's Bluff, just below Pickensville, that General Adams crossed and brought his Mississippi troops, and attacked General Croxton's raiders. The Yankees had burned the courthouse earlier in the day. After fierce fighting in Sipsey Swamp, at Lanier's Mill, Adams ran Croxton from the county, but not before they had destroyed the mill. General T. C. Lanier was in Virginia fighting at that time, and when he returned he rebuilt the mill, but soon sold it to Mr. Horton, and an old newspaper tells that Mr. Horton went to Mobile to get the money to pay Mr. Lanier, brought it back by riverboat in a nail keg. Since it was dark went he reached the landing at Vienna, he sat on the nail keg all night, and when morning came he delivered the money to Mr. Lanier.
Reconstruction was a most difficult time for Pickens County. Four times it was under martial law, each time troops were sent to oversee an election. And when the United States Seventh Cavalry rode through Pickensville in route to Carrollton to camp for the duration of the election, the old soldiers sitting around in the stores and the saloons would rush into the street and give the Rebel Yell. In eighteen sixty-seven soon after the War there was a shortage of labor. Wideman and Yeagle of Pickensville brought European laborers to Mobile and on up the Tombigbee to Pickensville. Many descendents of these immigrants are our citizens of today. And it was at Nashville, a ferry just north of Pickensville, that John L. Hunnicutt, the author of the book Reconstruction in West Alabama, brought a group of his Ku Klux Klansmen across the river, led on to Trinity, and literally stole the election from the Radicals.
The old newspapers tell the economic conditions in the county. They are filled with mortgage foreclosures and sales of property for cheap prices. The Dunlap house in Pickensville, a two-story eight-room house with nice furniture, feather beds, outhouses, and sixty-eight acres, sold for twelve hundred dollars. In eighteen and seventy-eight a skating rink caused excitement all over the county when it came by boat, and raised its tent in Pickensville. From Bridgeville, Franconia, Yorkville, and Carrollton, people came by horseback or buggy. From Vienna, Fairfield, and Old Memphis they came by boat to skate. For only a quarter a skater might get cracked ribs, broken bones, bruises, and his full value in embarrassment. Dr. Whitely, a noted tooth-puller, visited the rivertowns annually. He pulled teeth with his naked fingers. He guaranteed little pain, but did not guarantee how much blood would be lost. Mr. Willet Wilbourn, one of the oldest natives of Pickensville, told me that a visit to Dr. Whitely was equal to a visit to any slaughter-pen.
There is no way to give credit to all who contributed to the history of Pickensville, but Stephen P. Doss was the character who stood out as one who helped the State of Alabama and the county of Pickens emerge from a wilderness. He moved with his bride to the Tombigbee in eighteen eighteen, having married in Tuscaloosa Elizabeth Miles, a granddaughter of General Edward Lacey, a Revolutionary soldier. They were parents of the first white male child born in this county, and they named him Edward. Captain Doss served with General Harrison, and was the last survivor of the battle of Tippecanoe. He and Mrs. Doss were the parents of a large family, and they had seven sons in the Confederate army at one time. When they died they were buried on their own land in the old Doss cemetery. Although never active in politics except as a voter, his influence was felt in the political decisions of the county officials for many years after his death.
In eighteen and ninety-two, the Tombigbee went on a rampage; warehouses, storebuildings, farm buildings, and some homes were washed away. Cattle, horses, mules, and chickens were drowned. A few lives were lost. Stringfellow, Ivy, and Senan's lost their warehouses at Pickensville. The cattle, mules, and farm houses belonged to J. B. Shaw, A.J. Peterson, Nance, Caraway, Creme were washed away. A. B. Cox lost over a hundred bales of cotton. The topsoil on both sides of the river was swept away by the water and place sand and gravel to a depth of ten to twelve feet covered the land that had been in cultivation. The Secretary of War sent one thousand tents to accommodate the homeless after the flood.
The United States Engineers tried to keep the river dredged, and removed the logs and snags in an attempt to keep the channel clear so the boats could run from Mobile to Aberdeen. Many boats sank in the Tombigbee, the best known being the Eliza Battle, which carried many to their grave. Today the hulks of these boats lie on the river bottom. Other tragedies influenced the rivertowns, such tragedies as the Thompson Murders, over at Old, at Brooksville. Uh, the Thompson Murders left a mother, a sister, and a wife dead, a brother mortally wounded, and a father shot in the hand. The Tombigbee played a major part in this tragedy, for three Brazilian boats were waiting at Pickensville to take the Thompson cotton crop back to Brazil when this murder took place.
It was the Tombigbee that gave birth to Pickensville and nurtured it until the turn of the century. As I have said there are only two buildings left there to remind one of the early years when Pickensville was at its peak. No one can turn back the clock and relive the good old days, but the Tennessee-Tombigbee project has brought activity and excitement into the lives of this place again, and many of the sleeping villages will come back and no longer be ghost towns once this project's completed.
In the late eighteen hundreds Memphis, twelve miles down the river from Pickensville, reached its zenith. There were stores on each side of Cotton Street that extended three blocks up from the landing, and Cotton Street was ninety-nine feet wide. The Gus Coleman store was the largest. He was doing a rip-rearing business at that time. His brother-in-law, Tom Windom, said that Coleman was too stingy to have a fire in the store in the wintertime, and when his sons Jim, Oliver, Pete, Hugh, and Windom complained, he would just show them where the whiskey barrel was. The first postmaster was a Mr. Kidd, who was appointed in eighteen and forty-four. James William Wallace with his parents John M. A. Wallace and Margaret McClanahan Crockett Wallace, founded Memphis in eighteen and forty-one. This was a very prominent family. Mr. Wallace was a planter, a scientist, and an inventor, having invented the oscillating cotton gin. He is buried along with other members of his family in the Memphis Cemetery. These monuments, sculptured from Italian marble, tell the story of the Wallace family. Mr. Wallace even surveyed the town, and ran off thirty blocks, naming the streets, and subdivided it into lots. Mr. J. P. Parker was the Justice of the Peace that tried many of the cases in, uh, around Old Memphis. Byrd Ivey was said to be the richest man in I, uh, Memphis, and instead of speaking of someone as being rich and comparing him to J. Goule or the Rockefellers, they would say that Ahe's almost as rich as Byrd Ivey.@
Now old Memphis was built right in a U-turn in the river, and ideal place for a town and ferry and a landing. The Windom family moved to this area after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit was signed, and, uh, the Indians were no longer a threat. This family, originally from Virginia, moved to South Carolina prior to the move to Alabama in eighteen twelve. Walter D. Windom, the son of Hugh G. and Eliza D. Windom, was born in Pickens County in eighteen fifty-two, grew up during the dark days of Reconstruction, and saw his family lose everything they possessed. This instilled in him a determination to rid the South of Carpetbaggers, and to re-establish a Democratic Party, and no man in south Pickens devoted more time to swaying the elections to the Democratic side. He was elected senator in eighteen ninety-eight. The Windom name is synonymous with the history of Memphis and Fairfield. Old Memphis had warehouses, a hotel, a post office, doctor's offices, and a school, and one of the earliest teachers was the grandmother of Mrs. Ernestine Parker here in Macon. One of the doctors, there was the three best-known doctors were Dr. R. R. Wyatt, Dr. Hopkins, and Dr. Graham. Dr. Wyatt wrote The Autobiography of a Little Man.
Memphis is also not far from the spot where the followers of Napoleon built a fort as they made plans to bring Napoleon to this area. It was occupied by a French family until Napoleon died in eighteen twenty-one, and finally destroyed by an explosion in eighteen thirty. A news item from the West Alabamian, September twentieth, eighteen sixty-seven, tells of eight stores in Memphis that had burned the night before. This followed the War Between the States when the arsonists ran rampant through the South. But another article in eighteen seventy-nine announces the improvements being made in the, uh, Old Memphis, such as the Wade Hopkins' Drug Store, Mr. C. J. Wallace Store and Warehouses, improvements to the Wyatt, Everett, Archer, Cook, and Parker property, uh, properties. At this time there were fifty families living in Old Memphis, but as old settlers moved away and railroads put an end to river traffic Memphis gradually became a ghost town. Mr. Jim Parker was the last white citizen to live there.
Hebron Church, which stands between Memphis and Dancey, was at an early day the center of social, political, and religious activity of that vicinity. A preacher once said that there was more playing than praying in this church. It was the setting for some of the most beautiful weddings in the county.
And down the river from Memphis, and no more that one and one half miles north of Cochran was one of the first settlements on the west side of the river to develop after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit. Fairfield was the name given to this town because it was made up of many settlers who had come from Fairfield District, South Carolina. In eighteen and thirty-two, F. C. Ellis and Major Cook, half-brothers and the sons of Mrs. Elizabeth Ellis, moved to this site, and started the village. Five years later Ellis was elected to the legislature. With a ferry, good landing, warehouses, and progressive citizens the town grew into the largest voting precinct in the county by eighteen eighty. It was the shipping center for many large planters who shipped their cotton to Mobile. The business district included a hotel, a livery stable, blacksmith shop, two saloons, drug stores, seven stores, and three doctors' offices. Acock's store was the largest store there, and it stocked the choicest goods. Here one could buy imported wines, brandy, silk, laces, china, and crystal. Mr. Acock was killed at the polling place in Fairfield when he fought a duel with a Mr. Bethany, following an argument they had had over the election. The village stores were gathering places for men with time on their hands. They spent hours just talking and whittling, using nothing but select cedar that they had sent up by boat from Pleasant Ridge. A newspaper item of eighteen seventy-eight tells of a shipment of wood from Mr. Horton had reached Fairfield that week.
Life at Fairfield was not at relaxed and tranquil as it might sound, for a racetrack was built between Fairfield and Memphis. This attracted racehorse owners from both Alabama and Mississippi. Mr. B. F. Eddins, who owned Race-a-Robin, and Mr. J. P. Massengill, the owner of Grasshopper, were two of the well-known supporters of the track. Betting was heavy and thousands of dollars, as well as property and slaves, exchanged hands after each race. Cockfighting was a great sport, and the editor of the West Alabamian, Andrew Henry, said in eighteen eighty-two, and I quote, AThere are no finer fighting chickens in the nation than those around Memphis and Fairfield,@ endquote.
Poker was a big thing in the rivertowns. On cold nights the click of poker chips drowned out the sound of rain on the roof, as the men gathered around the wood heaters to play cards from closing time until the wee hours of the morning. The ladies organized sewing clubs where they gathered to embroider, knit, and quilt. A social item tells that Mrs. Clark entertained at a jimsonweed tea to raise money for the church.
In eighteen eighty-three a brass band was organized in Fairfield, and Professor Boyle, of Macon, Mississippi, was hired to teach music and direct a band. The members of the band included Thomas Cook, Dr. R. C. Ellis, J. H. Cook, B. T. Jones, Major Jones, T. C. Clark, Jr., Frank Skinner, T. H. Wilbourn, J. B. Summerville, and Eugene Young. They played for all the ball games, political rallies, and social events. Professor Boyle once said if musicians go to heaven, the Fairfield Brass Band would surely be playing when those saints from over the river go marching in.
In eighteen sixty-seven the Robinson Circus came to Fairfield, having shown in Columbus and Pickensville, advanced notices created much excitement. Crowds gathered on the riverbanks to watch it come downstream and unload. Seeing the animals and watching the tent being raised was almost as good as the show itself.
In summer the elite took their families to Sulfur Springs to Winston County, Mississippi, to camp for weeks at a time. The Macon Beacon reported in July of eighteen and sixty-three the Clark and Windom families of Pickens Count with wagons of supplies passed through town today in route to Sulfur Springs. Food, linens, cooking utensils, coops of chickens, and milk cows were carried along for the comfort of the campers. The spring water was beneficial for one's health, and was an excellent way to meet new people. Many romances and marriages grew out of these camps.
Dr. Jones' grove was the setting for the big Fourth of July picnic over the river. There was always plenty of barbecue and lemonade, and gifted orators gave speeches to remind the crowd that ours is the land of the free. The reading of the Declaration of Independence was very much a part of these events, and the Fairfield Brass Band filled the air with patriotic music. There was always a baseball game after dinner, and later one would later find the men slipping off one by one to the pits for a cockfight.
But the railroad proved fatal to Fairfield. River traffic stopped, and the people of Fairfield moved closer to the railroad and began to build up the village of Cochran.
By the eighteen thirties, Vienna had become a prominent trade center. There were seven or eight stores, a tannery, shoe shops, saloons, several warehouses, churches, boarding houses, two doctors, and a post office and school. Doctor Pearson, the best-known doctor, built brick office in the corner of his yard, and had a splendid practice. He had the prettiest flower garden in the county, and owned a tannery and a shoe shop, and farmed also. He became member of the legislature. Another well-known doctor was Dr. Turnipseed. The post office opened in Vienna in eighteen thirty-four with John Jennings as postmaster. He served only a few months when Tristan S. Thomas replaced him. Tristan S. Thomas became the judge of, uh, Probate Judge of Pickens County. The post office at Vienna closed during the War Between the States, and was not opened again until eighteen eighty-one with Rueben Jones as the postmaster. Leading businesses were F. M. Crooks, J. M. Cook, W. B. Peebles, Richardson and Wilder, H. Connally, Crooks and Company, and Robert Bridges. Connally was quite a character. He was once accused of having a special order of nine-gallon kegs made and shipped in. He filled them with molasses and sold them as standard-sized, ten-gallon kegs. There were two churches out from Vienna: a Methodist church, Emory Chapel, and Bethany Baptist Church. Bethany Baptist Church is where the cemetery is that, uh, George Washington's bodyguard, James McCrory, is buried.
Political rallies and baseball games always grew a big crowd to Vienna, and eighteen seventy-eight Major E. D. Willett and Colonel J. J. Lee, candidates for the legislature, spoke to the largest crowd ever to assemble there. Many from Vienna played for the Bridgeville team. It as made of John Horton, J. M. S. Summerville, W. B. Peebles, Dr. McLoyd, Dick Buntin, John Buntin, Vestor Peebles, Walter Mitchell, and Arch Hood, and Mr. Zac Pulliam umpired the games between the teams. In eighteen eighty-seven the Peebles family formed their own syndicate and bought the entire town of Vienna, stores, warehouses, ferries across both Sipsey and Tombigbee, and every residence in the town except Dr. Pearson's. Cholera killed all the hogs that year, and W. B. Peebles sold five hundred pounds of meat in two days. An advertisement he placed in the West Alabamian offered hip boots for a dollar seventy-five, and ladies' eighteen lace shoes for a dollar.
As early as eighteen fifty-seven the county had a fair in Bridgeville, and many entries came from Vienna. H. S. Stevenson won a prize for the best-tanned leather. Mrs. Abram Turnipseed had the best blackberry cordial, and Mrs. Crooks won one dollar for a coop of chickens.
Vienna lacked the services of a Perry Mason or a Dick Tracy, and the mystery of the floating casket was never solved. In eighteen eighty-three a fisherman near Vienna found a casket in the river. Inside was the body of a pretty brunette, well dressed and wearing a string of pearls around her neck. The man rushed into the town for help, but returned to find that the casket had floated with the current downstream, and was never seen again. A telegraph office was placed in Vienna in eighteen and eighty-two. In nineteen oh one Vienna was able to call Columbus by phone. There had been phones a number of years where neighbors called each other, not by numbers but by rings, such as two longs or a long and a short, and so forth. Every phone on the line rang, and one's person's news was everyone's news, as each listened in for any bit of juicy gossip on the line. To call Columbus, the call went through Bridgeville, Franconia, Carrollton, and Pickensville.
It was near Vienna in Old Bethany Cemetery that James McCrory along with some of the early settlers is buried. McCrory, a bodyguard for George Washington, received his land grant in Township twenty-four, Range two W, n September the twenty-sixth, eighteen and twenty-seven. The Peebles monuments in this cemetery are beautifully sculptured from Italian marble, and brought in by boat.
Vienna was a horse-and mule-trading center. Traders from Tennessee would spend the winter, bringing their mules and horses there to sell. Some would find work and stay on, but most returned to Tennessee in the spring.
A few years ago, Mrs. Emm Hildreth, from Eutaw and a descendent of the Peebles family, placed a marker marking the spot where the old school stood. This, and a marker which points the way to the cemetery, and another that says AVienna,@ are the only reminders that this was once a thriving town. But one only needs to read, read the old newspapers to see that in the eighteen hundreds it was quite a place.
Much history has been woven into the Tombigbee; those who lived along its banks contributed much to the growth of the county, and now that the stream will be navigable again, and once more riverboats will be traveling up and down the river, our county may look forward to the future, when some of the old towns, or perhaps new ones, will grow into progressive industrial centers.
Early life on the Tombigbee was certainly exciting, and in the rush and bustle of today it is only natural that some will still yearn for The good old days.
Now we've heard about the pioneers,
And all the things they've done.
Now comes the time to let down our hair,
And have a little fun.
So will all past age fifty,
Will you hold up your hand?
If you wouldn't fall apart,
I'd ask you to stand.
Now you know I'm just kidding,
You can tell for yourself,
I, too, am an antique,
Not quite on the shelf.
Many of us have our store-bought parts,
Dentures, glasses, and pacemaker hearts.
But keeping repaired isn't really a sin,
We're doing pretty well for the shape we're in.
So sit back and relax, and reminisce,
And think about life back when.
There was time to sit on the wide front porch,
And rock in the sun and wind.
There was plenty of time to knit or read,
Or to lose oneself in a book.
Sure, we have big rockers on our porches today,
But aren't they mostly for looks?
Grandma's furniture is now rare antique,
And we value it more every day.
But there was a time when we thought it old style,
And wanted it all stored away.
How many remember the high feather beds,
Where you sank down and eased every pain?
Doctors today say they caused backache,
But did grandma ever complain?
It took quite some talent to make up those beds,
With their sinks, valleys, and lumps.
But grandma had just the right knack,
To smooth out the knots and the bumps.
Did you ever drink any sassafras tea,
To cure most every ill?
Did you ever wear a mustard plaster,
Instead of taking a pill?
Now these were grandma's remedies,
And they usually worked for you.
Cause that tender loving care she gave,
Would always pull you through.
She served you glasses of cold sweet milk,
And teacakes stacked on a tray.
Those were the good old days, my friend,
That we still talk about today.
How many remember the one-room school,
Where the teacher ruled with a stick?
But every child learned how to read and write,
And do their arithmetic.
Lunch was carried in the molasses can,
The boys cut the wood for the term.
Everyone drank from the same gourd dipper,
Never had heard of a germ.
The water came from a cold, bubbling spring,
Or a well with a wooden pail.
And every house had the yard fenced in,
With either pickets or rails.
And out in the back, stood that little old shack,
With the writing on the wall.
Where someone wrote when the old hen would hatch,
Or the calf was due in the fall.
Now grandma had no Charmin to squeeze,
But she never seemed to care.
She would always pick her spring wardrobe,
From the Sears-Roebuck catalog there.
The roads were all dirt, and the winter rains,
Made ruts so muddy and deep.
And wagons and buggies stuck in the mud,
If the hill was a little bit steep.
And nothing could beat a night buggy ride,
With old Nellie slowed down to a walk.
We'd smooch and spoon, neath the southern moon,
Knowing that horse couldn't talk.
But then came the Model T,
And heated up the ride,
Travel became much faster then,
But so did the kids inside.
Without enough hours in the day,
Many have erased the past from their minds,
As they go on their merry way.
But we should never forget those good old days,
When conveniences weren't even heard of.
There was heaps of living in a house back then,
And an overabundance of love.
So all you young ones take warning,
Some day you will look back, too.
And the way you are living these days,
Will be the good old days to you.
(At this point in the tape, the preceding poem is recorded a second time)
Side 6 Old Homes, the Eliza Battle tragedy, and the Thompson Murders Old Homes and Buildings in Pickens County
YR. M. Alexander lives now, right behind the Methodist Church. This house was built in eighteen and seventy-six, to be used as a parsonage for the Methodist Church. It's one of the oldest homes in Carrollton. Now the Carrollton Methodist Church itself was first organized in eighteen thirty-six, and the old building contained a slave gallery, and many of the blacks in this town were members of that church. The back part of the new sanctuary is the original, and the bricks of this section were made by slave labor. The brass bell on the west side of the main building has been in use for years and years. When the first church was built, it was shipped from England to Mobile, and up the Tombigbee River to Pickensville, and then brought by oxen into Carrollton to be placed in the, uh, position where it could be rung every Sunday morning.
The Jones home, of what we call the Old Pickens Academy, dates back to August the ninth, eighteen seventy-six. It dates back earlier than that, but that is the first advertisement that we find in an old newspaper advertising the Carrollton Male and Female Academy. It was in nineteen one that Mr. W. B. Curry purchased this house, and he and his family lived upstairs while the lower floor continued to be the Academy. There's an old carriage house standing next door to the Jones home, and in there is an old hearse, in fact, it's one of the first hearse so come to this county. It was first used to carry the body of Mrs. W. B. Curry to the old Mitchell Cemetery in Benevola in nineteen and fourteen.
Our Presbyterian Church here dates back to eighteen and thirty-nine. The present building was erected in nineteen oh one when the previous building had burned.
The Baptist Church was an outgrowth of the Big Creek, uh, Baptist Church, and was organized mainly by the Bostick family. The old first building has been torn down, and through the years another one was built, and then later another Baptist church was built. It was, the first church was built in the eighteen and fifties.
The Owings house, where Mary Etta Owings lives, dates back to about nineteen hundred, and was built by Mr. W. P. Owings, who was oper.., owner and operator of the old Phoenix Hotel at that time.
The Sherrod-Stancel House is still standing and is being used today as a center for elderly people, and, uh, a youth dayY, youth care center. This home was once one story, but it was later remodeled with the Victorian characteristics. The house was built by the Sherrod family before the War Between the States, and Martin L. Stancel, the Probate Judge here in eighteen fifty, married one of the Sherrod daughters, and after her death, married the other one, and he acquired the house and added the second floor.
There are many other places worth mentioning, but at this time I won't go into more, any more of the old homes. Most of the store buildings have been torn down through the years, and the only old building remaining is the one where the registrar's office, uh, is today. And the Roy Kelley's office, and the Mental Health, and, uh, I guess those are about the oldest store buildings in this town. There was once a probate building that stood over here on the corner where the service station stands today, but it burned, and when the new probate building was built it was built as a one story building, and later the second story was added to it.
Early Alabama History
It might be well to remind you, Randy, that two great men, DeSoto and Bienville, passed through our county.
DeSoto came through the county searching for gold. He made his way through the complete length of the county, all up through Loundes County, on up to the Mississippi River, near Memphis, where he died, and his followers buried him there.
Bienville came up the Tombigbee River, going up to Cotton Gin Port, which is now Aberdeen, to fight the Indians. He was defeated up there, and went back down the river in disgrace.
Alabama was admitted into the Union by an act of Congress on March the second, eighteen and nineteen. Prior to that time, Pickens County had been a part of the Alabama Territory, and then, prior to that, a part of the Mississippi Territory. Before Alabama became a state, uh, this county was under the jurisdiction of the courts of, uh, Tuscaloosa County. The first capital, while it was a territory, was at St. Stephens, down at the southern end of the county. Then, when they go ready to draw up a constitution, they met at Huntsville, and named it the capital. The constitution was drawn up while they were up at Huntsville, and they agreed at that time that the permanent capital would be at Cahaba. But, a flood came, and destroyed everything in Cahaba. So the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa. Then the people in the state were not satisfied with the capital being at Tuscaloosa and wanted it more centrally located. So the capital was moved to Montgomery, and there it stands today. And because Montgomery was the capital, and the first meeting of all the Confederate states, met in Montgomery, it was called the Cradle of the Confederacy. And in Montgomery today stands our state capital, with the star upon the step, and a star where Jefferson Davis stood when he was, uh, taking the oath as the President of the Confederate States of America. Across the street is the little White House, and that is the house in which Jefferson Davis lived. And nearby is the Department of Archives and History. This department was organized by Thomas M. Owen, who once lived in Carrollton, and for many years he was the director of the Department of Archives and History. And after his death, his wife, Marie Bankhead Owen, held that same position. So, we owe so much to these two people who did so much to preserve the history of not only our county but the entire state.
Lesser Villages in Pickens County
Through the years, Randy, you will always be familiar with Carrollton, Gordo, Reform, Aliceville, and Pickensville. But you will often read about things that happened in some of the older villages in this town, in this county. So it is necessary that I tell you that when you read about Yorkville, that is where Ethelsville is today. And Franconia was just north of Aliceville, a little tiny village. South of Aliceville, on Lubbub Creek, there where Grayson's Store is now, was Bridgeville. And down below that was a village called Vienna. And of course I have told you about the rivertowns of Memphis and Fairfield. Gordo was one of the last towns to be organized in the county. It was an early settlement known as AThe Crossroads@ just north of Gordo, but, not until the railroad came through was the little settlement moved down to the railroad track and named Gordo.
River Commerce on the Tombigbee River
Now I want to talk about the river traffic that flourished during the eighteen hundreds on the Tombigbee River. The riverboats traveled from Mobile up as far north as Aberdeen. These boats carried passengers as well as cargo. Cotton was shipped down to Mobile, and supplies of all kinds were shipped back up the river. Salesmen, called drummers back in that day, traveled on the boats from one town to another to take their orders for the merchandise that was needed. And families went by boat to visit relatives and friends, and for the man of the house to attend to his business. The planters and their wives looked forward to the fall when the crop was gathered, and with more leisure time they could book passage on the larger steamers, and travel down to Mobile to sell their cotton, buy their supplies, and have a good time for just a few days.
Now some of the boats that traveled that river during these lush times were the Barry, the Sun, the Southerner, the Eliza Battle, the Florence Monarch, the Ringo, the Warrior, the Pioneer, the Emblem. The Florence Monarch sank at Pickensville, at Pulliam's Landing, in eighteen and fifty-three, with Captain Cook in command. But the greatest tragedy that a riverboat ever had on the Tombigbee River was the sinking of the Eliza Battle.
The Eliza Battle Disaster, May 1, 1858
The Eliza Battle was called the Aworkhorse@ of the river, and the AQueen of the Tombigbee.@ It was the most majestic and palatial boat that ever plied the river. This three hundred and fifteen ton steamer, note for her luxury and entertainment, had the misfortune to catch fire and sink on May the first, eighteen fifty-eight, carrying many from this county to a watery grave. As one walks through the cemeteries in the county, in east Mississippi and west Alabama, crumbling stones stand as a reminder of this tragic event. There were few homes along the river that were not touched by the tragedy.
The story of the Eliza Battle dates back to prior to, prior toYto the War Between the States. Built in eighteen fifty-two, it was ready for the spring run in eighteen fifty-eight. It was only at this stage of the river that such a large boat could travel up and down the river, and could go as far as Cotton Gin Port. The Eliza Battle had only planned to go as far as Vienna, but finding the stream of water so high, it decided it would make the trip on up to Aberdeen. Its trip had been widely publicized, and the boat not only had hired a good string band but had recently installed a calliope, which is more like an electric piano, that we could call today, or an organ, and it could be heard for great distances up and down the river. This calliope had caused quite a stir when it was first introduced on any Alabama river, and some had declared that the loud blasting was vulgar, but this was soon accepted. And when the Eliza Battle advertised that it had a calliope, everyone wanted to go. It was a great attraction.
It was also Mardi Gras season, and many had been making plans to go down to Mobile. And as the majestic Eliza Battle went upstream, all along the river people went down to the riverbank to listen to the calliope, and make arrangements for passage back down the river when it started back to Mobile.
After loading its cargo in Aberdeen, it began to steam southward, taking on passengers and cotton at Columbus, Pickensville, Fairfield, Memphis, Vienna, and many of the plantation landings along the way. The cotton was stacked high on the lower deck. Every room available was being put to use for passengers, and the music played, the bar was busy, the click of the poker chips could be heard out over the voices of the dancers, the loud music and gay laughter filled the air, and echoed into the night. The Eliza Battle carried a cargo of approximately two thousand bales of cotton, and at least two hundred passengers. Among these passengers was a bride and a groom, and a jilted lover, about whom a beautiful
Story had been written.
On adjoining plantations along the river, near Warsaw, lived the Sanders family and the Taylor family. Mary Taylor and Phillip Sanders had been childhood sweethearts. They planned to marry, and Mary had accepted Phillip's ring. But now Fate stepped in, for Mary was sent back to South Carolina to attend college and get better educated. She returned home during the Christmas holidays, and told her family that she had fallen in love with someone in South Carolina, and she planned to marry him in the spring when she came home. She returned Phillip Sanders' ring and began making elaborate plans at the beautiful Taylor mansion was made ready for the wedding to be in April. Seamstresses and milliners were kept busy as they sewed for the pretty trousseau. The wedding gown was sent up by boat from New Orleans.
Then the day of the wedding arrived, and with it came unusually bad weather for early spring. Soon the lawn at the Taylor was filled with buggies and surreys, as friends and relatives from miles around came to witness the ceremony. Among the guests was Phillip Sanders, the jilted lover. With a heavy heart he watched the one he loved become the wife of another. Following the wedding a beautiful reception was given, more like a buffet dinner, with every, duh, delicacy imaginable filling the tables there. The guests wined, dined, and danced until late into the night, when the whistle of the Eliza Battle was heard upstream. Then the bride, the groom, and Phillip Sanders, along with others, prepared to board the boat for a trip to Mardi Gras down in Mobile. The cotton was loaded, the passengers aboard, and young Captain Frank Stone ordered the gangplank raised. Daniel Epes was the pilot on this boat, and he barked out his orders as the great side wheels sloshed backwards into the muddy river. Now the wheels stopped, and they moved forward, and the boat started going downstream. Daniel Epes was a good pilot, but he became worried. He knew the river like the back of his hand, but the rising water had erased many of the landmarks he knew. He thought of the Choctaw name for the river. They called it the Itombe Igobee, a word taken from a creek that flowed into the river, and meant Abox-maker's creek.@ The Indians had named the creek for an old Indian who had lived there and made coffins. From the name the white man named the river Tombigbee, and some called it Tombeckbee. Epes worried that the boat was becoming overloaded, but Captain Stone assured him that the Eliza Battle was stout enough to carry the load, that she weighed three hundred and twenty-five tons. The boat was named for a member of the same family as the Battle House in Mobile was named for. In the darkness of the night, sleet mixed with rain slanted across the deck, and soon the trees, the bushes, and the snags in the swollen stream stood like statues in the night as they became weighted down with a thick coat of ice.
What a strange contrast as Epes looked out on the river, sleet in dangerous black waters; in the ballroom below there was music, laughter, dancing, and not even one hint of worry or apprehension. The passengers kept slipping the Negro musicians a little nip, and they were soon in the groove, or way out, as one might say in this generation. Later someone remembered that they played a new song that night, and the new song was AWay Down Upon the Suwanee River.@ The Eliza Battle met another steamer going upstream, and the passengers crowed the decks and cheered as they passed in the night. Then back to the ballroom the gay crowd went, and John Powell, the bartender, was kept busy. The band began playing such snatchy tunes as AAlabama Girl, Won't You Come Out Tonight, and Dance by the Light of the Moon,@ old tunes that some people like to sing today.
But soon, the cry of Afire!!@ was heard, and Captain Stone rushed to the ballroom and calmly announced that the boat was on fire, but not to panic. He ordered the boat to be driven into the bank, but the tiller rope had burned through, and it was out of control, and spun and turned and drifted as it bumped against the snags. There were no lifeboats made available. Passengers began pushing the bales of cotton into the water, hoping to ride them to shore, but there was no shore because water stretched out hundreds of yards from the channel; it was at a time when the Tombigbee was at its highest. As the fire burned more and more passengers jumped into the freezing waters. Some made it to trees, and climbed into the branches, but they soon became frozen, and dropped one by one back into the water in the dark night. During this panic, Phillip Sanders kept his eye on Mary and her husband. He watched as they held hands and jumped into the icy river. And now Phillip jumped into the swirling water, and in the light of the burning ship he saw Mary Taylor when she came back up. She looked around for her husband and screamed, but he was gone. Phillip swam to Mary and reached out just as she was sinking. He swam to a nearby tree, pulled her to the low-lying branches; she was unconscious. But he held her in his arms and managed to hold on. Seeing that he might become unconscious and fall, he removed his belt and fastened the lifeless Mary to the tree. His screams for help were heard, and someone in a skiff, angled against the current, and reached them. They were carried to safety, and the warm fires that had been built on the riverbank. The glare from the burning ship alarmed people downstream, and planters with their slaves rushed to the scene to help. Survivors were picked from trees and fires were built, and, but the rain and sleet continued to fall. Many survivors were moved to the Rebecca Coleman Pettigrew plantation, where the big house, the barn, and all the other outhouses became emergency hospitals. Huge washpots of hot soup were ladled up to fight the chill, and at least seventy-five survivors were cared for there. For a week Mrs. Pettigrew's family and servants cared for these people. Many families came to comfort the living and bury their dead. Men in rowboats gathered bodies for days afterward, and as they found them, lodged in brushes, on shore when the water receded. Oh, what a terriblest thing this was to happen on such a night as a wedding night. Every boat that went upstream carried either survivors or bodies to be buried, and at the Pettigrew house Phillip Sanders nursed Mary Taylor. Many times she cried out in the night for her lost husband, as she hovered between life and death. But every cry was like a dagger, piercing the heart of Phillip. But he remained at her bedside, giving her nourishment and praying for her life.
Mary lived and went back upriver to her plantation. She soon lost her parents and became mistress of this large plantation. Again Phillip Sanders asked her to marry him, and again she refused. But soon the War Between the States started, and Phillip was among the first to volunteer. He became a colonel in the Confederate army, and was wounded in the battle of Vicksburg. Hoping he could be moved home, his mother with a slave drove a wagon, filled with hay, to Vicksburg. She found Phillip not only wounded but depressed, and having lost the will to live. After a few days, with the Yankee boats shelling the city, and the Confederates still holding on, a carriage drew up before the hospital where Phillip was, and Mary Taylor climbed down. She rushed into the hospital, found Phillip's room and went to his bedside. She still loved him, she said, and wanted to marry him. And now he was ready to be moved home. This time, it was Mary who sat by the bedside, and she nursed him back to health. They were married and lived out their days on the banks of the Tombigbee, not too far from the sunken hulk of the Eliza Battle.
The Thompson Mass Murders
And now, Randy, I want to tell you about another tragedy that occurred on the Tombigbee River. Just down close to Pickensville, in fact it occurred on the Tombigbee at Pickensville, but the people that had a part in it lived at Brooksville, just beyond the Pickensville ferry about twelve miles, over in Mississippi. Richard Thompson was the son of a successful planter, Thornton Thompson, who lived just south of Brooksville. He had been educated at Harvard, studied in Germany, and was among the first to take up arms for the Confederacy when the War began. And with his brother Marshall he went off to war.
Then one day in battle Richard saw his brother Marshall killed, and it seemed to change his life completely. He deserted the Confederate army, and took a boat to Brazil. And there the information becomes sketchy, but as we read between the lines, we find that he became in love with the emperor's daughter. He became a good friend of Emperor Don Pedro, and wanted to marry his daughter. But he was supposed to give the emperor a gift before he asked for her hand in marriage. Knowing that he did not have any money, and knowing that he was married to Sally Monroe, who was at home with his father in Brooksville, Mississippi, he thought up a plan and came home.
The elder Thompson had made a large cotton crop that year. At first everybody scorned him because he had deserted the army, but it wasn't long before he had won back the affection of his wife. And she begged his father to forgive him, and so he did. They did not know at the time that he had brought three boats from Brazil to Mobile, and brought them up the Tombigbee River, and had them anchored just below Pickensville. The father, having made a big cotton crop that year, and the price being low, the son soon talked him into letting him take the cotton back to Brazil, and sell it. They loaded the cotton on the wagons, and was carrying it down to Pickensville to load it on the boats, when Sally, who was at home fixing her husband's clothes so he could make the trip, found a letter, a perfumed letter, with Brazil postmark, in one of his pockets. She read the letter and found out what, uh, his plan was, that he planned to take the cotton to Brazil and sell it, give it as a gift, a dowry we would call it in this country, so that he could marry the emperor's daughter. She immediately sent a slave down to the landing in Pickensville to carry that letter to Richard's father.
When Richard's father read the letter, he became so angry that he said harsh words to his son, and threatened to kill him. Richard knew that he had been caught in his scheme, so he fled by a small boat and made it to one of the ships. And later, under the cover of darkness, sneaked from the vessel, mounted a horse, and rode up to his father's house again.
Arriving early in the morning and the family was just up beginning the day. He went into the living room and saw his wife huddled on the sofa with someone else. He fired and killed them both, and found that the bullet had hit his favorite sister Margaret as well as his wife Sally. In the back of the hall his fourteen-year-old brother Clay was starting down the steps to see what the shooting was all about. So Richard fired at him, and the body collapsed on the landing.
Upstairs Richard saw the other members of the family. He shot his mother-in-law in one bedroom, leaving bloodstains there that remained for years on the walls and floor. And then he spotted his sisters Emily and Jemima in another room. He shot at them, and believing that Emily might not be dead he pushed at her body with his foot and was convinced that she had been killed. Running outside, he mounted his horse and went looking for his father, Thornton Thompson, who was riding in a buggy. He was planning to kill the father, too. But the father was in a buggy in a culvert between the house and the river, and as he passed and Richard fired, and the shot ripped into the arm of his father, who threw up his hand in defense.
Richard took refuge on the boat, but soon was aroused by a posse that was said to have reached at least two thousand men by the time he was captured. Taking him to a pile of crossties near the railroad, the posse poured coal oil all over the wood, and set it afire. And as the flames reached higher and higher, Richard realized what was fixing to happen to him, and he pled for mercy. AFor thition's sake, I didn't torture them. This will be a reproach to Noxubee through the years to come. Out of memory for the years I fought for the Southern cause, please do not burn me, just let me be hanged.@ Some shouted ALet him hang,@ and the father declared, AHe's no son of mine, but he was once the pride of my heart. I can't stand to see my boy burned.@ So someone went for a rope and twas strung around the limb of a huge oak tree, and fastened to Richard's neck. And there he sat on his saddle, astride his horse. When a whip sounded the horse ran, and Richard was pulled from the saddle, saddle and left dangling up in the air. He was buried in a hole underneath the tree, but later his skeleton was removed and given to Dr. Borders of Brooksville, it is said, to use in the doctor's office.
Meanwhile, back at the house, arrangements were made for the care of the wounded father, and of Emily, who had not been killed, who would later lost her mind as a result of this incident. And then they planned for the funeral of the five who had been murdered. In the Old Sharon Cemetery behind the Perton Frerse Baptist Church, near Brooksville, are four graves in a row, said to be the four who were killed. No longer can a person read the markers. Some have been broken and many of the pieces are missing. But from the past residents say all carried the names and same death date, December the fourth, eighteen sixty-five.
Today that house is still standing over near Brooksville. It is being restored, and no longer visible are the stains that had been left on the floors and walls of the three rooms, and of the stairway landing.
Sheriffs of Pickens County
The first sheriff of Pickens County was Mr. Adeno Griffin, who had come to this county from Abbeville District, South Carolina, and was elected to office in eighteen twenty, the year the county was formed. The second sheriff was Mr. David Taggard, and he came from the little town of Yorkville, which is now Ethelsville. The third sheriff was Thomas Davis. He, too, had come from Abbeville District, South Carolina, first to Kentucky, then to Marengo County, and on to Pickens about eighteen nineteen. He was followed in office by Mr. Henry White, the fourth sheriff. He, too, came from Abbeville District, South Carolina, as early as eighteen twenty-three, with his father's family, Robert White. Everyone called him by his first name, Henry, and he was very fond of fishing, and it was said that he was very successful at this hobby. He was a good-hearted man and everyone said he had a heart of gold in his chest, and never had an enemy. The next sheriff after him was Mr. Benjamin F. Roper. Now Mr. Roper left Virginia with his family in eighteen twenty-six for this county, and on the way had the misfortune to lose his first wife. So he came to this county and married Miss Caroline Montgomery. Now we remember Mr. Roper as being the man who ran the Phoenix Hotel, and it was known as the Roper House. He sold the hotel in eighteen fifty-three to Mrs. Candice Bostick, widow of General F. W. Bostick, and it was later sold to more people on down the line. The next sheriff was Mr. George W. Chiles. He had come to Pickens County from one of the New England states about eighteen and twenty-eight, and gone into business at Pickensville before he was elected sheriff. Then, Mr. Roper was elected sheriff, becoming the eighth sheriff of the county, and he served out his second term. Then he was followed by Mr. William H. Davis, who was elected in eighteen forty-four. Mr. Davis had been born in York District, South Carolina, in eighteen fourteen, and came to this county in eighteen and thirty-three. He was engaged in the occupation in which George McGuffy, McGuffy readers were very popular back then, during this period. In fact the first and second readersY
Now Peter McGee, was the great, great, great-grandfather of Mr. Prude McGee here in town, and he came to this county and got a land grant out on the Speed's Mill Road about two and a half miles from town.
After Mr. Duncan went out of office, he died is the reason he went out of office, and then the sheriff was appointed, and they appointed James B. Sherrod to become the sheriff. Then the next sheriff was Benjamin West. The next one after that was W. H. Davis. He had been the sheriff once before and again he was elected. Uh, there were unsuccessful candidates in this election were Thomas L. Bennett, Jason Wilson, William O. Daniel, Mitchell Blackengain, and James W. Dew. In the officers election that year Mr. James P. Gates was the choice of the people for the office of sheriff. We have never been able to find out too much about this family although he has so many descendents in this county. All the Gates around, spread here, Bonnie Windle, Lafayette Gates, all of those descended from this man. We do know that Mr. Gates operated a mill, a corn flour, a mill that ground corn and wheat, and ran a sawmill near Carrollton, prior to his election, and also ran the mill after the War Between the States. Mr. Gates passed away on January the twelfth, eighteen eighty-six, and left many relatives in this county. He is buried in the Old Jackson Cemetery. In eighteen and sixty-five William Lynne Lipsey became the sheriff, and he had the problems of going through Reconstruction in this county. He was born in Pickens County in eighteen thirty-two, with his home located about one and one-half mile south of Carrollton on the old Bridgeville Road. He was married to Sarah Cunningham the daughter of Joseph Cunningham. He was married by Dr. S. F. Hill. In eighteen and sixty-six sheriff Lipsey submitted his resignation to the governor of the state, and there were two major regions, reasons for this action. First, he was having so much trouble with the Radicals, carpetbaggers they were called, scalawags, and the other was that there was so little money to pay the sheriff. The county had given so generously during this War and had no money at all left, and suffering was everywhere. Captain Bella Austin Hudgins filled out the unexpired term of Mr. Lipsey. Sheriff Hudgins was born in Pickens County in eighteen thirty-six, the son of Austin and Nancy Mangum Hudgins, and his father was from South Carolina, coming to Pickens County while a youth, while the county was in its young days. His death occurred just before the War, February the seventeenth, eighteen sixty-one. Sheriff Hudgens answered the call of the, I am talking about the father, now, that died, because Sheriff Hudgens himself was a member of the Forty-first Alabama Regiment, under Colonel M. L. Stancel. He was engaged in the merchantile business in Carrollton when he received his appointment as sheriff. Uh, most of his family moved on to Hale County, Texas, and he still has ancestors, descendents living in that county. In eighteen seventy, Mr. Lipsey was elected to the sheriff's office again, for a four year term, and again he had trying times. In the history of Pickens County everyone should know that this county was under martial law four times, and each case, Sheriff Lipsey was in the office of the sheriff. In eighteen sixty-five martial law came after the surrender at Appomattox. In eighteen sixty-eight, eighteen seventy, eighteen seventy-two, and eighteen seventy-four, Federal troops were sent to the county for the duration of an election. In each case of the troops coming to Carrollton, they usually stayed on the lot where Mrs. Ward's house is now built. Sheriff Lipsey was not a candidate for re-election in eighteen seventy-four, and it is no wonder since he had served four years under constant harassment of the Northern Radicals. It was during all this fury of the election that Pickens chose Mr. J. N. Blanton to succeed Mr. Lipsey. And he was born in the State of Tennessee, had fought as a soldier in the War, from, uh, Tennessee. Uh, he came to this county and lived out where Mrs. Stewart now lives on the Pickensville Road. Colonel Blanton served out his term and did not seek re-election in eighteen seventy-seven. In that year Mr. James P. Gates was again elected to the office of Pickens County. The candidates opposing Mr. Gates were Mr. T. P. Chapman and Thomas S. Jones. It was during this time that Henry Welles burned the courthouse, while Mr. Gates was the sheriff. Uh, Mr. Owings, Mr. William Patiller Owings received the appointment to fill out the unexpired term of Mr. James P. Gates after poor health forced him to retire. Mr. Owings was born in Laurens District, South Carolina, on March the twenty-first, eighteen forty-five. His family first moved to Tennessee, and then down to Lauderdale County, Alabama. He served in the Confederate army, and, uh, in eighteen sixty-five he came to Carrollton, to Pickens, to Carrollton in Pickens County, and served as a clerk in the office of Judge of Probate Z. L. Neighbors, who was his uncle.
After Mr. Owings went out of the sheriff's office, Mr. Tim P. Chapman, uh, was the next sheriff. He had come to this county when he was a young man, and he lived here until a few years prior to his death, and he had accumulated quite a fortune. Uh, he had one of the finest homes in the county, but the home was burned a year or two before his election to the office of sheriff, believed at that time to have been set by arsonists. After Sheriff Chapman took office as sheriff he built another home, this time in Carrollton, but of logs and was located on a hill directly behind the jail. Sheriff Chapman did seek the office of sheriff after this term, so he died in nineteen oh seven, and Mr. L. C. Hudgins became the sheriff, again. His opponent for the office was J.N. Blanton and Mr. W. C. Owings.
On August the sixth the office of sheriff was won by Mr. John Tyler Hamiter, and this Mr. Hamilton is the uh, ancestor of Elizabeth Colvin. Sheriff Hamilton was the son of John William Hamiter, who came to Pickens from Richland District, South Carolina, and he had been born and reared in this county, having been born in eighteen forty-one. Uh, Sheriff Hamiter, uh, came through the War in good health, and he was never convinced that the South lost the struggle. It would make him mad and he would fight with his walking stick if anybody even said so. He made this county a good law officer, and served out his entire term without any serious incidents. R. C. Long was elected next, and when he went out of office, uh, he was followed by Mr. Burle Boykin Salmond. It was during Sheriff Long's term that Pickens County had it first legal hanging, the hanging of a black named Bud Beard. Mr. Salmond had to give up the office because of poor health, and Mr. R. B. Burgin received the appointment on November the fifteenth, nineteen and four.
The next sheriff came from the northern end of the county, Mr. Benjamin W. Gunter, of Palmetto. Sheriff Gunter was born in Bail's Beat, Pickens County. He was the son of M. G. Gunter, and the grandson of Dr. Peter Gunter, one of the early settlers of north Pickens. He as a straightforward man, courteous, and when he left office he accepted a position with the United States government as a United States Deputy Marshall. In nineteen fourteen Mr. A. B. Coleman, better known to the people of Pickens County as AGus,@ was elected to the sheriff of the county, and he had defeated Mr. A. B. Gibson by a majority of eighty-five in the Democratic primary, assuring him the election. Sheriff Coleman held several positions in this county prior to his election. He had operated the Poor House, he was county jailer, and he had served as deputy sheriff. He was well liked, but he could not resist the goods that was doled out by the saloons. When he resigned from office Mr. W. F. Kilpatrick, of Stateline, Alabama, became, was appointed to fill the unexpired term. After his term of office, Mr. Hyde Scott, H. I. Scott, was the next man elected to the office of sheriff. This was in nineteen and eighteen. Mr. Scott was born in Pickens County, and was a descendent of the early settlers of Pickens. The Scott family settled upon Bear Creek between Carrollton and Speed's Mill.
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