The more one delves into this work, which by any measure must be considered a significant document in the history of Calhoun County, Mississippi, the easier it becomes to understand why V.S. Naipaul, in his A Tour of the South, named his chapter on Mississippi “The Frontier,” and to appreciate more fully the gritty, violent world of Yoknapatawpha.
These writings of Col. Stephens were collected by Leon “Pappy” Burgess, who was born August 28, 1926, in Bruce, Mississippi. He attended the University of Mississippi, but like so many young men enlisted in the United States Army on August 26, 1944. He was honorably discharged from military service in 1947 at the rate of sergeant. He moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he became a home builder and a collector of everything old and wonderful. In his lifetime, he was an avid historian, a genealogist, an author, and “a very wise and gentle man.” He died April 1, 2015, at his residence in Gardendale, Alabama.
Marquis DeLafayette Stephens was born Nov. 9, 1829 in Williamson Co., Tennessee. He came to Mississippi in 1838, and married Mary Jane Duff in Feb. 1856. He was a colonel in the Confederate army, was severely wounded at Franklin and did not recover until the close of the war.
He was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in Nov. 1863, to State Senate in 1865, and to the House again in 1879. In 1892, Stephens was appointed Deputy Clerk for Yalobusha County, and in 1894 was elected Chancery Clerk. Afterwards, he served as Court Recorder for four years, and was appointed (by the Governor, no less) as a notary public.
Stephens died on April 15, 1912.
Dennis Murphree called him a “grand old man of Calhoun and Yalobusha Counties.”
His sympathies were always with those whom Abraham Lincoln called “The Great Common People.” In his palmy days he was an eloquent speaker and in antebellum times practiced the profession of medicine in this country, riding often through the trackless wilds about the headwaters of Scoona River and mingling with the original pioneers and quaint characters of long ago.
Monette and Tom Young named me James Morgan: James, after both my uncles; and Morgan, my Mother’s maiden name. My parents and my two sisters and I grew up in Calhoun county in north central Mississippi where our ancestors have lived for almost 200 years. I went to three different high schools in the county since Mother had to move about to work as a nurse after my father died unexpectedly in 1946. After earning an engineering degree at Mississippi State and a commission through the Air Force ROTC program, I was called to active duty immediately and became a career officer, spending 28 years before retiring as a Lt. Colonel. My last active assignment was in northwest Florida, and I have lived here ever since.
Mother was born in 1915 and was a lonely only child, her little brother having died shortly after he was born. She grew up on her parents’ isolated small farm in the hills on the edge of the Reid Community in northeast Calhoun county. An early settlement in this area had been called Cherry Hill but it had vanished by the time Mother was born. This area included rich farmland in the Skuna River bottom area and smaller farms in the hills south of the river. The white settlers here were primarily of Scots, Irish, Welsh, and English heritage, coming mainly from Virginia and the Carolinas and traveling through Alabama and Tennessee to get here as the Chickasaw Indians were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1830s. Most of these arriving families were large, as were needed to raise the crops and cattle needed for basic living. As the number of settlers increased, churches were organized and the small amount of community social life here revolved around Rocky Mount and Poplar Springs Baptist Churches organized in the mid-1800s. Schools were small, one-roomed, one teacher, even in the early 1900s. Monette’s mother Eula was one such teacher at whatever school in the area needed her. During the school months she and Monette often boarded with a local family and got back to their home only on weekends.
Mother loved to read and to listen to older family and friends tell their stories about their growing up days in the 1800s. High schools were beginning to be established and she attended one year at the county Agricultural High School at Derma and then finished her high school at Vardaman, boarding with a local family there. Vardaman High School is where she met Tom Young and they married while both of them were still teenagers. They began their married life in Vardaman and their three children were born there. Tom died unexpectedly in his sleep in 1946 shortly after returning from WWII service and Monette began working to support her children. She became a Licensed Practical Nurse in a small local clinic and eventually moved to Memphis to get a better position.
Her interest in the community and people of her youth continued and was intensified in her middle years. Some of her older kinfolk were also living in Memphis and she began to work with them to learn and document all that they remembered about Reid and the families there. She used the library facilities in Memphis for her research and corresponded widely by phone and mail with folks who had lived in the Reid area or who had information about that area that they would share. She, her cousin Clarence Morgan, and her grandson Jesse Yancy III walked through many of the graveyards where ancestors, kinfolk, and childhood friends were buried. She taught herself to do genealogical research and was one of the charter members of the national Murphree Genealogical Association, her mother’s family line.
Her handwriting was hard to read (she said it was because her mind was so much faster than her writing), so she bought a typewriter and taught herself to type. However, most of the letters she sent me were handwritten because she knew that I could easily read them. Over the years she had occasionally sent me information about our family history and genealogy, but in the 1980s she began to send much more. She said that I might not be all that interested in the history of our family and the community where she grew up, but that my children or grandchildren might. I was impressed by what she was sending and, as my interest grew, I realized that, with a little editing, this material would make a great book.
I began that task as a surprise for her next birthday. It took a while for me to type all that she had sent. I used an early early form of word processor that was available in my job and worked at this after hours and on weekends. After I got it all typed, I went through and rearranged the material into logical groupings and added a few photos and maps and a comprehensive index. I also included a census of the Poplar Springs Cemetery which had been created by her cousin Clarence and his family. She had added a significant amount of genealogical information to this census and it seemed to fit perfectly as an appendix to the book.
I put the information about the families of the Reid area, the history of the community itself, the importance of the Poplar Springs church, and her memories of the community life in the first part of the book. In the second half, I put her detailed memories of her daily life as she was growing up on the small farm during the time of World War I and shortly afterwards.
She was delighted with the book and said that if she had known what I was going to do she would have added this or that and she would not have said this or that. So I revised the book to make those changes and gave her the original and several copies, keeping a couple for myself. She suggested that it be titled “The Cherry Hill – Poplar Springs – Reid Community in Calhoun County, Mississippi”.
Over the following years as people heard about the book, she made about 100 photocopies of it which were provided, for the cost of copying, to anyone who asked for one.
Mother died in February 2000 in Jackson, MS, where she had moved to be near her daughter Barbara. Her funeral was in Vardaman, and I was surprised at the number of people who attended. Many told me that they had not known her, but loved her book and wanted to pay their respects.
A few months later, I updated the book into a second edition to include a few additional changes and a few corrections that she had mentioned, and had 200 copies professionally printed. Copies were donated to the libraries in Calhoun County and to the Mississippi collections at Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The other copies were sold for the cost of the printing. When those had been sold and I found that people were still asking for copies, I made it available through Amazon.com for the price of printing plus a small royalty fee which is donated to the Calhoun County Historical and Genealogical Society. I also made it available for download at no charge as a PDF from several places on the internet.
From reviews and comments that I’ve received from librarians and readers, this book has become a unique and well-regarded resource for information about the history of this part of north Mississippi, of the Reid and Poplar Springs area, and of the people who settled there. It turned out to unusual in the amount of detail it provided about those times and places. One person who bought the book from Amazon wrote: “If you come from this area, it is a must have. I often use this book for reference. Many references to my ancestors among the area. The writing is very easy to read and enjoyable. It is like sitting listening to my grandmother or mom tell stories of the past.”