An address by Mrs. Minnie Murphy, of Tallulah, before the Louisiana Federation of Women's Clubs, at Tallulah, Louisiana, May 6, 1926.
Madison Coordinator’s Note: Many thanks are due Janet Byram Newsom, formerly of Tallulah, for providing this story written by Minnie Murphy in 1926. “Miss Minnie”, as she was called by many, wrote several articles about Tallulah and Madison Parish. Some of them are already on this website. She wrote the Morancys of Milliken’s Bend, the Biography of Rena Cox Boney, and in August 1927 the Atlantic Monthly magazine published her story of the 1927 flood. Mrs. Murphy’s husband, William M. Murphy, was the author of Notes from the History of Madison Parish.
As interesting as the story is about how the Murphys say that Tallulah got its name, it probably didn’t happen that way. Pearce Horne of Georgia, the engineer in charge of building the railroad through Madison Parish in 1857, is credited with naming the town after his childhood sweetheart from Georgia whom he later married. According to the Murphys (and many others) Horne was ready to lay out the railroad through the town of Richmond when he became infatuated with a wealthy widow, presumably Mrs. Henrietta Amis, who persuaded him to route the railroad through her property north of Richmond and, after he did so, immediately lost interest in him. Whereupon he named a watering station “Tallulah” in honor of his childhood sweetheart in Georgia. Whether this is true or not is suspect. The facts are that in 1857, when Tallulah Station was named, Henrietta Amis was 36 or 37 years old (from 1860 census) and Horne was only 19 or 20 (from his obituary.) In fact Mrs. Amis’ eldest son was only 2 or 3 years younger than Horne. Though not impossible, it seems improbable that a twenty-year-old male would become “infatuated” enough with a widow sixteen years his senior to move a railroad according to her wishes. Whatever the circumstances, the town clearly was named by Horne for Tallulah Johnson, daughter of a former governor of Georgia. Tallulah Johnson and then Confederate Lieutenant Horne were married in 1862.
It does make a nice story though. RPS December 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org
A rose by any other name might smell as sweet and Tallulah by other name might have lived and grown and prospered, but many of us think not so.
We love the name, its lilt, its association for Tallulah, nestled demurely on the shady banks of the Roundaway, has touched the skirt of romance.
She owes her name, her growth, her very existence to two very great forces which since the beginning of time here swayed the world-- love, war, and greed of gain.
Prior to the year 1857 there was no Tallulah; just a level sweep of fertile acres, dotted with cabins and an occasional plantation house, and but for a juggling of the ''dice of chance" this condition might have remained unchanged.
When the Parish of Madison was created, in the year 1838, Richmond, town of tragic fate, beautifully placed at the junction of three softly creeping bayous, was chosen as the parish site, and with a handsome Court House, jail, school and churches, with fine residences, stores and offices, it grew rapidly.
The people lived and loved, married and died, had their little strifes and dreamed their dreams.
And one of their dearest dreams--the most surely to come true—that the new railroad, starting from a point on the west bank of the Mississippi and forging its way sturdily westward, would run through their town whose good fortune it was to lie directly in line; so it might have been-- well, but for the love of a lady. On so light a thing the fate of nations trembled and the trend of empire turned.
Compass and chain playing their part, the Chief Engineer of the road proceeded according with the location until he met the lady.
He was unfettered, she, a widow, charming and wealthy.
If the railroad ran through Richmond it would miss the wide acres of her plantation, but if it could be located say two miles further north, it would traverse them, adding convenience and value to her property.
Could it be done- -was it too much to ask--too much for a woman ask? Why, no, not too much for her to ask!
And so the change was made; Richmond was left forlorn and a station located two miles further north revised line of survey. Then alas! so the story goes, the handsome lady ceased to be so gracious and as her smiles grew cold, the gallant engineer bethought him of an early love, far away in Alabama; she of lovely face and gentle mien over whose cradle an Indian squaw had stooped to murmur, "Tallulah, Tallulah," which was to say "Beautiful, Beautiful!" So in memory, and possibly in remorse, the new station was called Tallulah, and little more than a station it remained for many years, a sturdy infant yet in its swaddling clothes.
And again poor Richmond was to suffer that her sister town might live. In 1863 the peace of her leafy streets was shattered by the thunder of a hostile and triumphant army, and such is the finality of war, when the last struggler had withdrawn, there was as nothing to mark the spot save smoke and ashes and distracted people, seeking shelter where they might, and many were glad of sanctuary in the newer town. So Tallulah, born of love, nurtured by war, grew lustily.
The rich plantations surrounding her paid tribute from their glorious fields of cotton and corn; people from afar came and drank of the Mississippi’s waters, listened to the trill of the mocking bird, lingered and made their homes. The aspiring railroad which had brought into existence the active little town of Delta at its starting point reached Monroe, then rested thirty years in its westward trek, but it was nevertheless a life giving artery to the country and kept the towns along its line in touch with affairs beyond their borders.
Tallulah became a shipping point of importance and as she prospered, grew ambitious for political honors and sprouted a little seed of jealousy that Delta, upon the destruction of Richmond, should have been given the Parish Site. Delta was at the extreme eastern border of the parish; it was a dying town, created and killed by boomers and politicians, and though the Louisiana Legislature had, by Act No. 69, of the year 1868, put the stamp of approval upon the removal of the capital thereto, Tallulah yet felt that hers was the most logical site. Because of the unrest an election was called to take the sense of the voters.
Delta, however, was not without pride and tenacity and did not give up without a struggle. Many good influential citizens who owned property there objected to the removal and meetings were held, indoors and out; doctors, lawyers, business men and laborers, white and black argued and harangued the question pro and con. Election day came at last, a winter's day, in the year 1883, ever memorable for its piercing sleet and snow, as though the very elements were protesting against the destruction of the hopes of the little town. The result of the election showed a large majority in favor of the move; Delta was beaten at the polls, but she did not intend to stay beaten.
Able lawyers were among her partisans and it was feared they enjoin through the courts, the removal of the public records.
But energetic citizens, on the other side of the question had prepared for just such an action. An empty freight shunted on the railroad siding nearest the Court House that afternoon, and by shaded lanterns, in the middle of that wild night, the public records, books and papers, were hurriedly but quietly loaded into the car, and, when the good citizens of Delta awoke next morning, they found themselves no longer in the Parish Capital.
The paraphernalia of local government was in Tallulah, the new home, and she all unprepared for her suddenly acquired honor, was forced to house the Dignity of the Court rather humbly in empty stores and back bedrooms, until 1887, when the present spacious handsome Court House was erected, and Tallulah became a real Parish Site, in appearance, as well as in name.
In the years that followed, the little town climbed slowly upward, with her fat years and her lean ones, all dependent upon the caprice of King Cotton whose munificence, in turn, was tempered by weevils and weather, worms and Wall Street, and. above all by the behavior of the mighty Father of Waters who all too frequently rose in his wrath, broke down man’s restraining bonds, and poured a yellow flood over the land.
Tallulah is probably one of the few towns having had the unique experience of lying three months under water--a situation more picturesque than uncomfortable as those of us whose memory goes back to the year 1882 can testify.
But man's ingenuity backed by Government Gold, in conquering the flood menace and scientists visiting a dusty death upon weevils and worms. Intensive farming and diversity of crops are meeting weather and labor conditions, while another railroad, running north and south, facilitates the transportation of the wealth of timber in our woods and swamps.
Tallulah, at the time she became the Parish Site had a population of approximately 100 white persons and as many blacks, her residences scarcely more than 15; now in the year 1926 she boasts of 2,500 souls and still growing, and her comfortable homes, even the humblest with its gay little garden, stretch along the bayou and encroach upon the level fields. The little gray church that stood lonesomely in the old days and welcomed the worshippers of all denominations within its portals, has five companions now, and a big brick school house, with an extensive corps of teachers, has supplanted the old lodge room, where one distracted teacher wrestled with children of assorted sizes and with books ranging from Mother Goose to the Blue Back Speller.
Yes, we old settlers have lived many changes in Tallulah; we have advanced from coal oil lamps to Mazda bulbs, from the pump in the yard to the nickel faucet right at hand, from boggy roads to clean, firm gravel, from four mule teams to mammoth trucks and from the family horse to high powered cars, and in all this material progress we rightly rejoice, but we must keep before us that which is greater still--a progress of spirit; and we must strive with one accord to keep Tallulah true in every sense to the significance of its name which means "Beautiful."