BRIEF HISTORY OF
Our readers enjoy the history of
Walker county, Alabama and
surrounding areas. Mrs. Mamie
Karrh was noted for many years for
her historical writing. She shared unselfishly of her knowledge
of the region and has been an inspiration to me to do the same.
Today, we will walk back through time with her to the early
“Three powerful Indian tribes once occupied the territory now
Alabama. The Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws ranged in the
area. The Creeks and Choctaws disputed the land between the
River and the Warrior River. The Creeks won this area by force,
and fought the advance of the white man. The Choctaws, on the
other hand, were a friendly tribe.
After the Creeks were driven out of this territory in 1813, a
few emigrants came to occupy the land that had been held by
these Indians. Settlement in the area was slow, because of its
remoteness from navigable waters.
1816, Richard Beckenbridge made a
horseback trip from
Columbus, Mississippi, through this section. His journal states
that he traveled two weeks before meeting a soul or seeing a
house. On August 20, he came upon a few deserted Indian cabins
at the junction of Sipsey and
The amended land-grant law of 1819 (small tracts purchased from
the Government for $1.25 an acre)
brought a host of settlers into this area. The Indian trails
were thronged with people from all classes of the social level
seeking land under this new act.
From wealthy planters with their slaves to the poorest, walking
with their possessions on their backs, they came, each seeking
land in this wilderness territory.
was those of the poorer class, who before 1820,
turned aside into the hill country of
Walker county. These people,
known as squatters, were few and widely separated. Slaveholders
sought the valleys.
Mathias Turner, one of General Jackson’s Tennessee Volunteers,
settled on a creek in the lower part of the county. He became a
famous hunter, and gave the name
Wolf Creek to the stream,
because of the number of wolves found on the banks.
William Guthrie came down from
Tennessee and settled on Lost
Creek near Holly Grove. With him came his three sons, Robert,
John., and Isham.
Henry Sides came with several married sons and settled near
Pleasant Grove. David and William Payne, James Elliot, William
Butt, and David Murphy were among these pioneers.
The first problem of these early settlers was to build homes,
with the few implements they had brought. These first cabins
were of logs, having only one door and window. As glass windows
were unknown, a kind of crude shutter was pegged on over
openings for protection. Later, these simple houses were
replaced by larger ones of hewn logs.
The success of any pioneer settlement depended upon its
transportation. Lack of roads retarded these early settlers.
The white men followed trails that had been used by the
Indians. Alabama was
crisscrossed by these trails that had led from one of the
tribe’s territory to another. These trails became roads for the
settlers, and the development of one of these trails was
important to the development of Walker County, Alabama.
WALKER COUNTY HISTORY
CONTINUES -- Part II
Ruth Teaford Baker
We continue the story of the
earliest of the settlements in
Walker County. As we have
stated, the lack of navigable waters and roads inhibited the
fast movement of people into the area.
December 16, 1819, the
construction of a road from Big Shoals Creek in Lauderdale
County to Tuscaloosa was authorized. John Byler was given
the contract for construction, and by 1822 the road was
completed. This was a toll road. Byler Road entered Walker
County from Fayette, passed through Eldridge, and left the
county at the Winston County line. This road gave the
settlers a way to haul their products to the main trading
center in Tuscaloosa, which served as the chief outlet until
the railroads came years later.
New settlers now began to
flow into Walker
County and among them were many who had trades other than
farming. Dr. Edward G. Musgrove
came in from Blount County before 1822 and settled on the
present site of Jasper. John Key came in with his family in
1822 and settled near the community of
Hillard, and there erected a gristmill. In 1823
James Cain came from South Carolina and settled on a
tributary of Lost Creek, known still as Cain Creek. There
he engaged in farming and raising stock.
Mr. Cain began the operation of a stave
plant, a gin, and a gristmill.
In 1833 Jesse Johnston
Wilmington in Walker County. He married
LeCrone, a native of Holland. He and his son Allen
H., who served in the Confederate Army, were farmers,
although Allen did a little teaching before joining the
army. He was married twice. By his first marriage, he had
four daughters, and by his second, he had seven sons. One
daughter became Mrs. A.P. Waldrop, mother of Amos Waldrop.
Settlers in the hill country
were becoming numerous, and not dependent upon farming.
They felt justified in starting the movement for a separate
county, and when Dr. Musgrove
offered to give the site for a court house, it was accepted
by the legislature. On
December 26, 1823, Walker
County was established from portions of Tuscaloosa and
Marion, and included all of the present county of Winston.
The new county was named in
honor of John W. Walker of
Madison County, one of
Alabama’s first U.S. Senators. The County seat was named
Jasper, in memory of Sergeant William Jasper, a
Revolutionary hero from South Carolina. Dr.
Musgrove was the first judge of
the county court. Two rocks served as a courthouse. The
judge sat on one and the jury on the other. The first
courthouse, built of logs, was built in 1823.
If this early history were
continued, it would next see how coal was
found by accident. The story was
told that two young men were camping on Lost Creek one
night. They picked up black stones out of the creek bed and
arranged in a circle to contain their campfire. They cooked
their evening meal on the fire and made a place to sleep on
the ground. They then stretched out for a night’s sleep.
Imagine their surprise when
they awakened later and found the stones which they had
place around their fire were glowing and burning. No one but
the devil could have caused this to happen, they thought.
Being frightened by this strange sight, they left their
camping site in a hurry. Their weird tale of the burning
stone caused wiser men to seek the cause, and this led
to coal being discovered.
The first load of coal from
the Warrior field to Mobile was shipped in 1827 by Levi Reed
and James Gridle who dug it from
the Locust Fork ( now Little Warrior).
Outcroppings of coal made it
easy to mine, and high prices offered an important
industry. James Cain and Steve Busby became active in
mining handling, and
shipping coal. They were the first coal operators in
Walker County. They sold
their coal in Mobile for $10.00 a ton and their 70 X 25 feet
flatboats for $75.00. “Black Diamonds” and “White Gold”
brought to the hill people of Walker County the flush times
of the 1830’s. And looking forward to the later 1800’s and
the 1900’s, the huge underground mines brought into the area
thousands of workers from many European countries.
These happenings led to the
many cycles of “boom and bust” in the economy of
Walker county. The large
mines closed, and an exodus of workers from the South flowed
North for jobs. Then, as now,
the only hope for stable growth has always been diversified
job opportunities. The next dream is centered on the new
Corridor X interstate bringing those industries in to
replace the lost mining jobs. And history goes on.
on Walker County history and the WPA...