Okay, let’s straighten this out once and for all. Those big orange roots you find in the grocery store are not yams. Got that? As a matter of fact, it’s a good bet that most of the people who just read that have never even seen a yam.
Sweet potatoes came to be called yams because they’re kind of/sort of similar, both starchy/sweet root vegetables, but they’re quite distinct; a sweet potato is far sweeter and much smoother than a yam. The most important distinction is that yams don’t grow in the South, but sweet potatoes do, in glorious profusion. Sweet potatoes have always been a staple of Southern tables as well as a reliable source of income. The sweet potato is the state vegetable of North Carolina, and the Sweet Potato Capitol of the World is Vardaman, Mississippi. (If tells you any different, they’re a double-dog liar who needs a thorough ass-kicking.
Still and all, you’re bound to find cans of yams in many local grocers, but due to USDA requirements, most inevitably you’ll find “sweet potatoes” somewhere on the label.
Dennis Herron Murphree (1886-1949) of Pittsboro, Mississippi has the singular distinction of serving twice as governor of Mississippi without ever being elected to office. He was twice elected to the lieutenant governorship, once in 1923 and again in 1939. In each instance, he succeeded the governor who died in office and completed the term of his predecessor. In March 1927, he became Governor of Mississippi after the death of incumbent Henry L. Whitfield and served for about ten months until Theodore G. Bilbo, who defeated Murphree in the Democratic Party primary by 10,000 votes, was sworn into office in January 1928. With the death of Gov. Paul B. Johnson, Sr. in December 1943, Murphree finished out the three weeks left in Johnson’s term, serving until the swearing in of Thomas L. Bailey in January 1944.
According to historian James M. Young, Murphree wrote/compiled his county history in 1928 but that it wasn’t actually published until sometime later. “Some references I’ve seen show the publication date as ‘unknown’ and some show 1948. I remember that The Monitor-Herald published it (in installments, I think) at least two times, and I suspect that the first time was in 1948 and that copies in the form of a book were also made at that time. The last chapter of Murphree’s history deals with the organization of Bruce and the last paragraph in the history is the one I sent you (the following text; jly) concerning the roads out of the new town of Bruce. Murphree’s version consists of 16 chapters. The first 5 or so (short chapters) were written by him, and then a section covering 1852-1876 which had been written by Judge J.S. Ryan was inserted. This was followed by a section consisting of a long letter covering the legislative creation of the county, written by Judge J.A. Orr (who introduced the bill in the legislature). A section covering the period 1875-1900 was written by Thomas Martin Murphree (Dennis Herron Murphree’s father) followed that, and the final section was written by Dennis Murphree and was titled “History of Calhoun County from 1900 to 1928”. The Orr, Ryan, and T.M, Murphree sections are heavy with who got elected to office. Dennis Murphree’s section has some of that as well but also lots of more interesting stuff; for example, he has a fairly detailed account of the murder of Robert Lee Crawford, Papaw Young’s brother-in-law, in the yard of the T.W. Young house across from the church at Ellzey. The section written by Thomas Martin Murphree was published by The Calhoun Monitor (in Pittsboro) at the end of the summer of 1904. 500 copies of the “booklets” (as Dennis Murphree called them) were printed and sold for 25 cents each.”
In order to tell the story of the “Skuna Valley Railroad” and the new town of Bruce, in Calhoun County, Mississippi, it will be necessary for me to go a long way back as to make the proper beginning.
It was, I think, in the year 1901, that a very smart, shrewd old Michigan lawyer first came into Calhoun County. His name was Roger W. Butterfield. Mr. Butterfield had watched the huge white pine forests of Northern Michigan fall relentlessly under the lumbermen’s saws and axes, and he realized that timber would sometime be a real item of value, and so having some money to invest, he looked about over the country for some places where timber could be bought cheaply and in bountiful supply. Somehow, he chose the South and Calhoun County, Mississippi as the base for his operations and investments. He sent several men of his own force into the county seeking to buy land and timber, employed Attorney J. L. Johnson at Pittsboro as his local attorney and then hired Andy J. Bounds of the Bounds neighborhood and one of the county’s best citizens to represent him as land buyer and local representative.
These people immediately entered on a land and timber buying campaign which lasted several years. They took their time, looked about, located land which was not expensive and which was covered with fine timber and then made the purchase. They did not seek to link up all the tracts, although naturally they preferred to buy in a block as much as possible. In the main, however, they avoided buying any in cultivation. They bought large acreage in the Schoona River Valley, and they bought many tracts in the hills. Most of their purchases, however, were north of a line which might have been drawn east and west through the center of the county. When finished the Butterfields owned some twenty-five thousand acres of timbered lands in Calhoun County and some three thousand in Yalobusha with a small amount in Lafayette and Pontotoc Counties. The average price paid for these lands was approximately $2.50 per acre.
It would be a real treat for members of the younger generation to see today the giant trees which made up a large part of the growth on these Butterfield lands. In the river and creek valleys the huge forked leaf white oak trees grew often fifty feet from the root to where the first limb appeared, and several feet across the base. Other hardwoods grew in like size and great abundance. In the hills, the old “virgin” pines dotted the hillsides and they too were a sight to behold, because they grew so tall, so straight, so uniform and with only a small cluster of limbs in the very top. On the hillsides too as in the valleys, grew every specie of hardwood likewise in great abundance. Until the coming of the Butterfields, these trees were valueless on the market. In fact, the first time in my life I ever knew about timber of any kind being sold was when some stave workers came into Schoona Valley near where we lived at Oldtown and paid $1.00 per tree for huge over cup and white oak trees several feet through, provided these trees would “split” after being cut down, meaning that provided they could easily be split up into staves six feet long. If the tree did not split well, they simply abandoned the log and went away leaving these huge logs, the kind which became almost priceless in later years, to rot where they fell.
I well remember that during the winter of 1902-3, Mr. Butterfield sent a young lawyer and a young lady who was an expert clerk, though not a lawyer, down from Michigan and they spent the winter in the old courthouse making abstracts of the land which Butterfield had up to that time purchased. These two people were a source of much amusement to the young people of that date, with their, to us, Northern accent, quaint expressions, unusual customs, etc. I am sure that on their part, they found us even more amusing. Time passed, and Roger W. Butterfield went the way of all mankind, but his heirs held on to the Calhoun County lands and timber and each year paid their taxes regularly, while from time to time, a few more acres were bought and added to their holdings. Along about 1920, however, these owners began to feel the urge to sell and dispose of their property. This was probably because timber prices had advanced to such an extent that they could secure a huge profit on their original investment; and, second, because with the cutting of canals in the rivers and creeks and the issuance of bonds for roads, schools, etc., their Calhoun county taxes, which in the beginning had been practically nothing, began to be a heavy burden.
I have related how that over all the long years, it had been the dream of the people in Pittsboro and the Northern section of the county that someday they would see the building of a railroad into that section. Along about 1921, it became known that the Butterfield interests would sell their holdings in Calhoun, and hope began to be revived as to the possibilities of a railroad being built out into our section in order to carry the timber. It will be remembered that this was in the days when the huge log trucks powered by gasoline and used over concrete roads were utterly unknown in our section. Much discussion was had between various citizens and firms seeking some plan to accomplish the result desired. Acting on instructions from an organization of Calhoun County business men, a meeting was arranged whereby representatives would go to Chicago and there meet with Mr. Markham, President of the Illinois Central Railroad, and seek to interest him and his railroad in the idea of building a short line of railroad either from Coffeeville or Bryant out to Pittsboro. Mr. H. H. Creekmore of Water Valley, a native Calhoun citizen, Mr. Jim L. Johnson and I were chosen by our people as their representatives on the proposed trip. This I remember it was in 1922.
Agreeable to plan, we three went to Chicago and had a lengthy and friendly session with Mr. Markham. We found him very sympathetic to the proposal. Naturally so, since it would mean an immense amount of tonnage to be hauled by the Illinois Central Railroad after it had been brought out to their main line. However, Mr. Markham would not agree to undertake the building of the short line. He promised that IF we could get some timber manufacturer or sawmill company to buy the Butterfield tract and the railroad right of way and do the grading for the new railway, the Illinois Central would furnish the steel rails for the road and when finished would also furnish the locomotives and box cars to use on the new railway on a very long time sale plan with a low interest rate. Our people were very well pleased with the report of the Committee, and then began an effort to try to interest some timber company or manufacturer in buying the timber and building the railway. This kind of effort went along over a period of two or three years. I remember that on my own personal expense and with the consent of the Butterfield folks, I placed an advertisement costing a neat sum in the Manufacturers Record of Baltimore, briefly outlining this situation. I had a number of replies and furnished each with quite a bit of information. I had nothing to do with the making of the deal between the Bruce Company and the Butterfield heirs when the timber we have been talking about finally passed out of the Butterfield hands. I have always thought, however, that it was easily possible that all the planning, talking, advertising and publicity which I and others in Calhoun County had been doing, had something to do with bringing this matter to the attention of the Bruce Company folks and therefore the ultimate result.
Anyway, about 1924 or early 1925, the Bruce Company of Memphis, Tenn., purchased outright all of the Butterfield holdings in Calhoun and adjoining counties. Soon thereafter it began to noised around that their plans included the building of a standard gauge, common carrier railroad, from Bryant’s Spur, located four miles south of Coffeeville on the Illinois Central Railroad, up the Schoona Valley to the neighborhood of the old town of Pittsboro. In my service as Lieutenant Governor, I was often called on to serve as Acting Governor on those occasions when the Governor left the state. On one of these occasions, for me a very happy coincidence, Attorneys H. H. Creekmore and N. I. Stone, came to the Governor’s office, bringing with them the proposed Charter of Incorporation of the “Schoona Valley Railroad.”
The Attorney General of the state, who was Hon. Rush Knox, himself a native son of Calhoun county, but at that time a citizen of Chickasaw, approved this charter and at ten o’clock A.M. on the 1st day of June 1925, as Acting Governor of Mississippi, it was my sincere pleasure to sign the Charter for this railroad for which along with many other Calhoun folks I had worked for and hoped for so long. I pause long enough to say that later on, by amendment, the name of the railroad was changed from “Schoona Valley” to “Skuna Valley”. This, I think came as a result of effort made by Will C. Bryant, who had always claimed that “Skuna” was the proper way to spell the name of the Valley. Personally, I think “Schoona” is correct, because all of the old records, manuscripts, etc., which I ever saw in Calhoun County spelled it that way. Slowly the new railroad was built, and during the year 1926, progress was made in laying off and planning the new town. The name decided upon for it was “Bruce” because of the fact that the Bruce Lumber Company of Memphis, Tenn., was the force behind the plan.
Governor Whitfield became ill during the summer of 1926 and spent almost all the rest of the year in a hospital in Memphis. So I was very busily engaged during the period acting as Governor during his absence. It is my recollection that in such capacity I also signed the Charter for the new town, but of this I am not positive. Anyway they named one of the streets in the new town for me, for which I have always been grateful. Governor Whitfield returned to Jackson in February, but rapidly grew worse and died on the 18th day of March 1927. After the Constitution, I succeeded him, and on taking the oath of office became the 35th man in our state’s history to be Governor of Mississippi. It has not been my intention at any time to clutter up these pages with stories of my various political campaigns. I will say again, however, that Calhoun County people have never failed me, and I have carried the county by a large majority in each and every race that I made. This has always been a source of much pride and gratitude to me. By force of circumstances, I was “pitchforked” into the race for Governor in 1927. I had not planned to run, and felt always that I would be defeated but after Governor Whitfield’s death, it became necessary that I run or forever be branded as one who was afraid to try. In July 1927 my Calhoun County Campaign Committee planned a huge barbecue and political picnic for me and chose as the spot for this great gathering the location of the brand new town of Bruce. I think that it was on July 4 1927. The location was what is now the public square at Bruce, which at that time was only an old field with only one or two houses. Thousands of people from all over the state attended, and it was truly an enthusiastic and heartwarming affair. This was the very first public gathering ever held in Bruce, Mississippi.
The new town of Bruce grew rapidly. Besides the huge Bruce Company mill, several other timber manufacturing plants were established there. A number of people from over the county moved in and set up various lines of business. Too, there was in influx of immigration from several of the northeastern counties of the state, particularly from Tishomingo and Alcorn counties. These new people settled largely in the Bruce area and many of them still remain in that section. Another thing which contributed to the growth of the new town was the policy adopted by the Bruce Company of selling off its valley lands as soon as they cut the timber. The land bought at a reasonable price was immediately opened up for cultivation so that now, for miles up and down the Schoona Valley, where I had as a boy hunted for squirrels, turkeys, etc., there flourished the finest farms in the country. New roads began to be projected: one going east toward Houlka out of Bruce, another west down the Schoona valley toward Coffeeville; another toward Water Valley. Neither of these roads has been fully improved as deserved, but all hope that they will be in good time. Laying out of these roads had an odd effect on the old time traveler who returned to view the section. Oftentimes he found himself “lost” in a neighborhood or area where in former years he was absolutely familiar.
(Photos courtesy of the Calhoun County Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society, Timber: A Photographic History of Mississippi Forestry, by James E. Fickle, and msrailroads.com)
Mississippi politician Dennis Murphree became governor of Mississippi twice on the death of the state’s chief executive while he held the lieutenant governancy, and was governor during the Great Flood of 1927. Murphree was also a newspaperman, editor of The Monitor-Herald, the weekly in his native county of Calhoun, and took a deep interest in its people and their histories.
I reproduce here Murphree’s account of the story of Dock Bishop, a north Mississippi outlaw whose reputation has passed into the romance of legend. In the summer of 2002, deputy marshals from Fort Worth made a 12-hour journey from Texas and replaced the brick inscribed “WISE” in the Sarepta cemetery with a proper tombstone for their fellow officer. The ceremony was well-attended by the good people of Calhoun County.
The Hanging of Dock Bishop
by Dennis Murphree
The Monitor-Herald, Calhoun City, Calhoun Co., MS, Thursday, April 9, 1942
A few days ago the newspapers of the nation carried the thrilling story of how the FBI or “G” men had surrounded the Number One Bad Man of the United States, Charles Chapman, over in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and called on him to surrender. When he refused the demand and opened fire these representatives of the law promptly sent him to his death with eighteen bullet holes in his body. For years, it is said, Chapman had slipped in and out of this, his home community, being shielded from the law by friends and kinsfolks, while members of the FBI kept relentlessly on his trail until they finally cornered him and sent him to his death.
Pondering this grim story and talking with friends who had first-hand and personal information about its stark details, there came from time to time back to my mind the story of Calhoun County’s All-time Bad Man, and his gruesome end. This is a story which was fresh in the minds of all Calhoun County folks in my earliest boyhood days, and the details were so thoroughly implanted in my fresh young mind in those days that I have never forgotten. One day this week, I was gratified indeed to have a personal visit from my lifetime friend, Uncle Bill Yancy, 87 year old citizen of Sarpeta, and talking over these things with him and having him refresh my mind on various points, I decided I would endeavor to write this story for Calhoun County folks, all of whom have heard of it, and many of whom perhaps will find it of interest.
Nearly sixty years ago, up in the high hills of Northeast Calhoun County and along the line of Lafayette, there lived the characters of this story among a people who were honest, sincere, hardworking, mostly god fearing, and all in all the kind and type of folks who are even yet the very backbone and sinew of good citizenship of our land today. The blight of the four years of Civil War still lay heavy on the land. Times were hard, money was scarce, opportunity was lacking and yet these people made the best of what they had, and enjoyed life as best they might. There was a dance one night in the home of a good citizen who lived Northeast of Sarepta, with a fiddle and a banjo, and a man to “beat the straws,” in a big old log house, with a huge fire place, in which blazed a big fire of hickory logs and fat pine knots. It was the old-fashioned square dance. “All hands up and circle left,” “right hands across and left hands back,” ladies do see and gents you know,” “swing your partner and promenade.”
Ab Kelly was quite a character. Big and strong, a fine fellow when sober, but given to being quarrelsome and overbearing when under the influence of the brand of “wildcat” liquor, which was at that time a rather plentiful product on Cowpen and Potlockany. Ab was at the dance, more or less looking for trouble. Dock Bishop was there too. He was a man of striking appearance. More than six feet tall, coal black hair and eyes, handsome face, fine personality, Dock with his impressive personality, made many friends easily. Always he was a favorite with members of the fair sex.
On this night, Dock was having a fine time, dancing with one of the most beautiful girls present. Round and round he went, keeping perfect time, his polished boots seeming to tap most lightly as he lifted his beautiful partner to the strains of “Soldier’s Joy” and the “Eighth of January.” Somehow the sight of Dock Bishop having such a good time jarred on Ab Kelly’s vision. Somehow, Ab resented it. So, when Dock swung by with his partner on his arm, Kelly deliberately spat a brown stream of tobacco juice on Dock Bishop’s polished boot. Dock looked Kelly in the eye, half stopped, but decided to let the insult pass. Round he came again, and this time Kelly spat a big shot of tobacco juice on Bishop’s new jean trousers.
This was entirely too much. An invitation to go outside, a wild melee in which others joined, and in a few moments, Kelly was flat on the ground with a pistol bullet through his shoulder, and there was the beginning of a feud which smoldered as messages passed back and forth between the principals and with friends on both sides being slowly drawn into the affair. Months passed and finally in the little town of Dallas, two miles north of the Calhoun-Lafayette County line, the long smoldering feud burst into full blaze when principals and friends on both sides met and engaged in a general battle and shooting scrape, in which it is said that Dock Bishop, always a crack shot with a pistol, shot and killed two men whose name was Harmon and shot through the mouth another man who was present. This was too much, and immediately the officers of the law began a manhunt for Dock Bishop, and for two or three other men who were his kinsmen and friends charged as accessories to the crimes.
But Dock Bishop, like Charles Chapman, had many friends, many kinspeople scattered throughout the area from Yoccona to Scoona Rivers. It was not easy to catch him. Over a period of several months, he roamed the territory accompanied by his friends, staying a night with one kinsman, a week with another, moving as the word was brought to him of efforts being made to apprehend him. I do not remember whether or not a reward was offered for their capture. Evidently there must have been.
Anyway, down in the Robbs neighborhood in Pontotoc County and the Paris neighborhood in Calhoun County, each bordering the Calhoun-Pontotoc line, there appeared a man named Wise, from Texas, who claimed to be a cow buyer or cattle man and who made it his business to try to locate Dock Bishop and his associates. In reality, Wise was a famous detective, and he felt that he was outwitting these bad men thoroughly. But he was badly wrong, and he paid for his error with his life. Wise made friends with a member of the Bishop crowd, and agreed to reward this man if the man would direct him to Bishop’s hideout. All plans were made, and it was agreed that on a certain night, the accomplice would go on ahead of Wise and from time to time drop pieces of torn newspaper in the road so that Wise might follow and take the outlaws in their nest.
Jim Bishop was the man who promised to lead Wise to the outlaw den. It was the theory of the state in the prosecution of Dock Bishop that Jim Bishop was a tool and accomplice of Dock Bishop and that instead of leading Wise to the place where he might arrest Dock Bishop and the others, he betrayed Wise and led him to his death. Whatever is the truth about this, there can be no doubt but that Wise on a starlight night followed what he thought was a certain trail to catch the outlaws.
As a boy I saw the place where Wise was murdered. A narrow country road winding along the ridges and slopes of the red hills some five miles southeast of Sarepta in Calhoun county, and only a little way from the Pontotoc County line, came at one point between two huge white oaks trees, neither tree being more than ten feet from the road bed. It was down this road came Detective Wise on that starlight night way back in 1884, looking from time to time for the piece of newspaper scattered along the road. Neighbors who lived in hearing distance swore on the witness stand that suddenly there rang out on the still night air several gunshots and then there was silence again. The story is that when Wise walked down the road and just as he reached the two huge trees a signal was sounded and from shotguns and pistols a stream of bullets and buckshot poured into his body killing him instantly. Wise was missing several days before the countryside was aroused. But aroused it became when the story of the shots and his disappearance became known.
Posses were formed and a widespread search of the countryside was made. Combing the woods and the entire country, one member of this searching party, riding horseback through the woods, noticed as his horse stepped across a fallen log, a piece of bright red clay lying there. A clod of red clay lying by itself there in the deep woods aroused his suspicions. He got down off his horse and tied him to a nearby bush. Then he went and got down on his knees and began to remove the leaves, pine straw and other debris which covered the spot. It was a matter of a moment to determine that the earth had been disturbed there and recently. He notified other members of the posse and soon with shovels they began to remove the earth. Buried almost under the huge fallen log in a shallow grave not more than two feet deep, they found the bullet torn and mangled body of Detective Wise, and as you can very well imagine, excitement flared to a crescendo. Word went by telegraph back to Texas and within a short period there appeared on the scene grim and determined relatives of the dead man bent on seeing to it that the murderers of Detective Wise should be speedily brought to justice.
The shocking crime was too much for even the friends of Bishop and his associates. No more could they find shelter and safety in the home of people in that country. No more could they roam scot free. Public indignation mounted to such extent that realizing they could no longer escape, Bishop and one or two others went to Oxford and surrendered themselves all the while bitterly denying the murder of Wise. Money was not lacking to defend Dock Bishop and so there was employed as his legal counsel, the Hon. Hamp Sullivan of Oxford, one of the greatest criminal lawyers of his day and age.
Representing the State of Mississippi as District Attorney was the Hon. Ira D. Ogglesby, reputedly one of the ugliest men in personal appearance ever known in that country, but at the same time, one of the brightest and shrewdest prosecuting attorneys that section has known. From the very outstart, it was a battle of giants. Sullivan, with all his vast legal knowledge and great ability, took advantage of every legal technicality, every loophole, every possible avenue to save and acquit his clients. Ogglesby on the other hand backed by the majority of the law as well as public opinion, met his adversary on every point and maneuver.
Bishop was tried first. He was the chief object of the state’s attack. He was the acknowledged leader of the gang. Back and forth the battled raged, with each prospective juror being scrutinized and put under the legal microscope. Many were challenged and set aside. Those finally chosen were seated only after a barrage of questions seeking in every way and manner to determine their leanings or opinions. For days on end Ogglesby put on the stand an array of witnesses linking one to the other certain facts which all together would irrevocably damn and convict the accused Dock Bishop. Then for days, Sullivan threw forward an array of men and women whose testimony he hoped would raise a doubt as to Dock Bishop’s guilt. In the end, after many hours of deliberation, the jury filed back into a tense and crowded courtroom with a unanimous verdict of “guilty as charged.”
Standing cool, calm, and unruffled in the court’s presence, Dock Bishop declined to make any statement as to why the sentence should not be pronounced and heard the Judge sentence him to be “hanged by the neck until your are dead, dead, dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.” Then followed many months of waiting while Mr. Sullivan appealed to the Supreme Court and finally that high court said: “The case against Dock Bishop is affirmed,” and set the date on which he should die. Friday, the fourth day of July, 1886, was the awful day on which Dock Bishop was slated to pay with his life for his crime.
Bright, hot sunshine fell upon the untold thousands of men, women, and children, who on horseback, on foot, in mule and ox wagons and all other kinds of transportation then in existence, wended their way toward Pittsboro, the county seat of Calhoun “to see Dock Bishop hung.” The Board of Supervisors had made arrangements to have the hanging in public. They had selected a valley two miles west of Pittsboro on the old Pittsboro and Big Creek road as the site. It was a natural amphitheater, at the head of a little hollow where on three sides the earth sloped down to the little valley and under the fine trees that covered these hillsides, thousands upon thousands of people from all over Calhoun, Pontotoc, Lafayette, and Yalobusha Counties gathered in restrained silence, waiting, watching for the dread event. A gallows of huge square timbers had been built there, and from the cross beam several feet above the hinged trap door there hung a brand new grass rope, already coiled ready for the fatal knot.
As the appointed hour drew nigh, there was a buzz from the crowd, and coming slowly down the winding country road, there was a wagon with spring seats on which sat the sheriff and his deputies, one on each side of the prisoner. In the back of the wagon, partly covered by a quilt, was the black draped coffin inside of which the body of the prisoner was soon to rest. Scott Hardin, a good man and true, was sheriff of Calhoun County. He led the way up the steps of the scaffold and the prisoner followed. Dock Bishop stood on the gallows and looked over the great crowd assembled. There was the stillness of death over all. Pale from his long days in jail, Bishop was yet a fine looking man in the very prime of his life. A minister prayed for the forgiveness of all sins, and especially for the soul of the condemned man. Then Dock Bishop was offered the opportunity to speak for the last time on earth, and stepped forward. There was not a tremor in his voice. There was no hint of a breakdown. Calmly and with deliberation, Dock Bishop expressed his thanks to those who had befriended him; he told of how he held no malice against him nor against those officers of the law at whose hands he must suffer his life. With almost his last breath, he finished his statement by declaring that he was innocent of the death of Wise, at the same time admitting that he had killed a man in Alabama.
Not a muscle in his fine body quivered as Dock Bishop stepped on the fatal trap. The black cap was swiftly slipped over his face, and then the peculiarly tied hangman’s knot was adjusted so that it would break his neck when he fell. There was a long drawn sigh from the assembled thousands, and then Sheriff Hardin swiftly raised his hatchet and struck the rope which was so tightly stretched across the block, but not striking with the full blade, severing all strands in two save one, and the Sheriff found it necessary to make the second stroke. The trap door fell with a bang and Dock Bishop’s body shot through the hole, jerked tight on the end of the rope several feet below. There was the sound of a sharp crack as the bones of neck snapped, and swinging slowly in the ghastly circle, Dock Bishop’s body “hung by the neck until he was dead, dead, DEAD.”
When his body was finally cut down, and placed in the coffin, there stepped up to the sheriff a comely woman, who made request that she be given the rope which had taken Bishop’s life. “I was the wife of Detective W.A. Wise,” she said, and these men are my brothers.” She was given the rope, and took it back to her home in Texas.
I was born on January 6, 1886. Dock Bishop was hung on July 4, of that same year. I was, therefore, only six months old, and the things I tell you are, of course, only those that were told to me when I was a little boy. But I have never forgotten them, and there are many, many people yet living in Calhoun County today who will remember as I have this terrible tragedy and its shocking sequel. Jim Bishop was finally found not guilty. Bob Lamar, another one of those implicated, was kept in jail for months and years and finally the case against him was nolle prossed. W.A. Wise’s body lies today in the old cemetery at Sarepta far from those who loved him, while Bishop was buried I know not were.
And so ends the story of the man who in his day was Calhoun County’s “Charles Chapman” while “time marches on.”
Dock Bishop (b. 27 Oct. 1857, Marion County, Alabama) was buried in the Collums Cemetery, which is some 8 mi. northeast of Bruce, Mississippi.
Tom Freeland, an Oxford attorney and historian, added this postscript to the original post in August, 1914:
The article is correct about outlawry in that area. Not quite 20 years later, two federal marshals went to a house east of Yocona and north of Dallas (but nearby– outskirts of what is now Tula) to arrest a counterfeiter/parole violater. He talked them in to staying for the dinner just put on the table, and the arrestee and another shot the marshals through a window (at the trial, the coroner testified that marshalls had cornbread in their throats at death. In Greek mythology, those who killed dinner guests had gruesome eternities). They were later brought back to town, and James Stone (Phil Stone’s father) and his law partner as special prosecutors held an inquest by torchlight, largely to try to make clear to the crowd justice would be done. Later, both murderers were sentenced to hang, after a trial in which W.V. Sullivan (who had been a senator in the interim, and who was NOT a favorite of the Stones) defended the ringleader. When he was sentenced, he asked to be hung seperately than his cofelon, who was black. The judge pronounced sentence, stating that it “is not a social occasion,” that they were to be hung together. They were.
The ringleader wrote a confession which was published and sold at the hanging (I have a copy), there are pictures of them being taken from the jail in a wagon on the Square. Dept of odd coincidences; There’s an account of the day of the hanging in Blotner’s bio of Faulkner, because that was also the day 6-year old Billy Falkner moved to Oxford with his family. A few years later, James Stone bought Sullivan’s law office, where I am seated at this moment. A few years ago, an elderly client, since deceased (who gave me an original of the confession from which I got my copy) told me that she was related to the murderer, and that a cousin out in the county still has a trunk with mementos of the incident, including the window curtains with bullet holes in them. She would not tell me who it was because the family is still VERY private about this lore.
Further aside: There are not too many instances of double murders of US Marshalls in the history of the marshall service. This one is still remembered in their histories.
This is the entry on Wise from the “Officer Down Memorial Page,” (www.odmp.org) The a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement officers..
Marshal Wise was shot and killed in Oxford, Mississippi, while working undercover in an attempt to apprehend two men who were wanted for murder in Texas. Marshal Wise had first gone to Oxford to return a prisoner to the local sheriff. While in town the Sheriff requested Marshal Wise’s assistance to capture the two men. Marshal Wise returned to Fort Worth where he was given permission by the City Marshal to return to Oxford to help with the investigation.
Upon his return to Mississippi, Marshal Wise disguised himself as a cattle buyer and made contact with a man close to the suspects. The man agreed to help Marshal Wise in exchange for part of the reward money. Marshal Wise devised a plan to drug the suspects with tainted whiskey and then take them into custody. The informant, however, betrayed Marshal Wise and informed the suspects of the plan. As Marshal Wise approached the home the suspects ambushed him on the roadway, shooting him with a shotgun and pistol.
The suspects buried his body on the side of the road where it was located the next day by a search team. Three suspects were eventually apprehended and sentenced to death. Two of the sentences were overturned but the third man was hung in Pittsboro, Mississippi, on July 3, 1886.
Marshal Wise had been with the agency for 18 months and was survived by his wife. He is buried in Sarepta Cemetery in Sarepta, Mississippi.
And, finally, we have “The Ballad of Dock Bishop,” written by Dottie Moore of Pontotoc County, which is justly more about Texas lawman William Wise than Doc Bishop. What a Ft. Worth detective was doing in Calhoun County then is complicated—and ambiguous—even when detailed in Selcer and Foster’s Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, 1861-1909, but his murder initiated a reinstatement of justice in an area scoured by war. Bishop was hanged on July 3, 1886, “the first white man legally hanged in the state of Mississippi since the Civil War”. Selcer says that this ballad is a “variation on the more famous ‘Ballad of Sam Bass’ and ‘Ballad of Jesse James’”. He also notes that the ballad was frequently sung—to an unknown tune—at folk gatherings for over fifty years.
When I lie down at night to rest
And slumber deep steals o’er me,
As I close my heavy eyes in sleep,
Dark visions pass before me.
I see a calm still moonlight night,
No breath of air is stirring;
No sound the silence breaks, except
The wings of insects whirring.
I see a forest deep and dark,
A man walks through it quickly,
Now in the shade, now in the light
Where the dark leaves mingle thickly.
A man with soft, brown, shining eyes,
And gold brown hair o’er lying,
And daring courage on his face,
On his own strength relying.
He treads the darksome forest through,
Where outlaws lie in hiding,
No fearful thought in his strong heart,
The thought of fear, deriding.
He is a bold, true officer
Attending to his duty,
No thought he gives to nature bright,
Nor the night’s calm, holy beauty.
He follows scraps of paper thrown
Into the path before him,
By one in whom his trust he placed
Who threw a glamour o’er him.
He’s walking swiftly to his doom,
But alas! He does not know it;
He sees naught of the danger there,
Oh, God! If thou would show it!
A little distance on ahead
Are two oak trees, o’er bending,
Behind which two cold hearted men
Evil faced are standing.
Crouched, with weapons cocked in hand,
Awaiting for his coming,
They make no sound to warn their prey
Of the awful risk he’s running.
He’s nearer, he’s almost in their hands,
Will nothing now delay him
From those who plotted, worked and planned
To murder and betray him?
Ah! No, for now he steps along
In the path marked out before him;
He sees the fiendish daces not,
No sense of fear steals o’er him.
Another step, Great God! A shot!
Of oaths and groan a medley;
Another shot! And the ground around
With his lifeblood, gleams redly.
“Tis done, a noble soul is sent
to the land of Heavenly Glory;
a brave detective low is laid
by hands all red and gory.
O, Heavenly Father, pity her,
Whose heart will now be broken,
Grant her in mercy, from thy throne,
Some sweet, peace-giving token.
Help her to bear the awful blow,
Her heart with thy grace cover;
She, in the far off “Lone Star” state,
Awaits her husband lover.
Be thou a friend to this fair child,
As much as to the mother,
Oh, Father of the fatherless,
Than Thee, they have no other.
The murderers, here, may still go free,
By lawyers shrewd, defended,
Free in this world, but yet the next,
Shall see their triumph – ended.
Dinners on the grounds were once held on rickety tables between the church and cemetery, when words of loss and remonstrance faded, and food offered redemption and reward.
Though ostensibly polite pastoral get-togethers, dinners on the grounds were more often platforms for social clambering of the pettiest and most vicious sort. Despite the communal reason for the food, there was always an underlying competitive element to the affair. Food Network competitions pale in comparison to those rural stages of venomous culinary put-downs; knocking a recent wok wonder off prime time seems trivial when you’re dealing with decades of spite. Every square foot of splintered table space was contested and every element of a good “spread” subjected to off-stage critique. Transgressors were damned for such cardinal sins as using Jell-O pudding mix instead of homemade custard, and if you brought fried chicken in that red-and-white cardboard bucket, you would not get any sympathy when your high heels got stuck in an ant bed.
The queens of these community catfights took inordinate pride in lording over the lesser. My distant Cousin Dora’s angel food cake was a marvel to see. She displayed it on her grandmother’s cut-glass (not crystal; her crystal did not travel) cake stand beside a bowl of macerated strawberries and sweetened cream that she had her husband Harvey whip on site after he had driven 50 miles wearing a tie the whole way. The cake, flanked by a vase with a fistful of her show-quality roses and fortified by something along the lines of a fudge divinity she just “threw together at the last minute”, was displayed on a creaseless, delicately-patterned white cloth. Dora sliced it with a wooden-handled sponge cake cutter and served it on Classic White Chinet. Everyone hated her airs, but took malicious comfort in knowing that Harvey had been slipping around with the choir director for at least fifteen years. Rumor had it that her sister-in-law, tired of her high-and-mightiness, snuck into her house one day while the cake was in the oven and slammed the door so it would fall. That, they said with a knowing look, was the year Dora broke a toe before the church homecoming.
Adversity is a dynamic portal for new ideas, especially when it comes to recipes, and if it were a big occasion, the range of variations in a single dish was astounding. Staples such as fried chicken, baked beans and potato salad always proliferated, and those cooks who specialized in these dishes had their adherents and detractors, usually in equal numbers. You had those who preferred double-dipped or battered fried chicken and those who liked a much lighter crust. The dividing line with baked beans involved the use of brown sugar or molasses and with potato salad, creamed or chunky.
I attended these gatherings with my grandmother Monette, who was not a cook herself (history and genealogy were her interests: according to her I was related to everyone between New Albany and Grenada). Monette stayed out of the fray, but she was a discriminating eater who from past experience knew the tables well. “Be sure and get one of Alice Edmond’s fried pies,” she’d say, or, “Jane Early has that 8-layer caramel cake recipe from her mother Eugenia, a Hardin, my first cousin Dudley’s second cousin on his mother’s side, before she married Jane’s father, who gambled away the family farm in a lop-sided mule race. He had a glass eye that he used to take out and put in his iced tea when their preacher came over.”
Nowadays, store-bought collapsible tables have replaced the long lines of sagging and splintered pine boards beneath the blackjack oaks and sweet gums, but anyone who brings Stouffer’s to a church social in Mississippi is going to get talked about. And not in a good way.
These place names were collected from the Mississippi Atlas &Gazetteer (DeLorme: 2004), pages 25 and 31; the text is from Keith Baca’s Native American Place Names in Mississippi (University Press of Mississippi: 2007). Note that the gazetteer was my only source for the place names, and that I only referenced those in Calhoun County, Mississippi. If you want to know the interpretations of other Native American place names in other areas of the state, then you can probably find Baca’s book at your local library. The only place name I did not find is Oloucalofa Creek, which is crossed by County Roads 284 and 283 in the northwestern corner of the county. The references in the text refer to works that provided the translations/interpretations for specific words. Some of you might find this tedious in addition to being predictably pretentious, but trust me I do know people who would jump on me like a duck on a June bug if I didn’t mind my pedantic Ps and Qs.
SW Pontotoc/NE Calhoun counties. Crossed by Miss. Hwy 32 nine mi. NE of Bruce. Halbert (1899, p. 73), using Choctaw vocabulary, derives this name from kitti, “mortar” (a bowl-sha0ped container for pounding or grinding corn into meal), and hutta, “white”. Halbert offers no explanation for the adjective, but Seale (1939, pp. 109-10) speculates that it refers to a mortar made of white stone (white or bleached wood, more likely). It should benoted that this creek is located at least partially within historically Chickasaw territory, and while Chickasaw kitti’, “mortar” is very similar to the Choctaw word, the only recorded Chickasaw term for “white” is tobbi’. Also, the first two syllables of the name resemble not lonely kitti/kitti’, but Chickasaw/Choctaw kinta, “beaver” as well.
N Calhoun County. Crossed by Miss. Hwy. 32 five mi. NE of Bruce, and by Miss. Hwy 9 one mi. NE of Sarepta. Perhaps a corruption of Chickasaw/Choctaw lackna, “yellow”.
SE Lafayette/ NE Calhoun counties, local pronunciation unrecorded. Potlockney is a relatively recent corruption; this stream was formerly known as Pollocona, the derivation of which is uncertain. W.A. Read, using Choctaw vocabulary, suggested several possible sources of this name to Seale (1939, p. 153), but all are conjectural: poli, “flying squirrel” and yakni “country”; or poli, “flying squirrel” and okhina, “river; water course; stream”. (It should be noted that this stream is in historically Chickasaw territory; cf. Chickasaw lakna, “yellow”; yaakni, “country”; and pali, “flying squirrel”.
Sabougla Community and Creek
SW Calhoun/NW Webster counties. Crossed by Miss. Hwy. 9 two mi. N of Bellefontaine, and by Miss. Hwy. 8 seven miles E of Gore Springs. Cushman (1999, p. 491) claims that this name is a shortened form of (Chickasaw) “Siboglahatcha… [o]riginal, Is-su-ba-ok-la-hu-cha, Horse River People, i.e. [p]eople living on horse river.” (Cf. Choctaw isuba, “horse”, okla, “people” and hocha, “river”.) However, Halbert (1899, p. 75) states that the name is from shohboli’, “smoke” (cf. Choctaw shoblhi, “smoke;smoky; smoking”.
Shuttispear Creek (SHOOT-uh-speer)
N Webster/S Calhoun Counties. Crossed by Miss Hwy. 9 fie mi. S of Calhoun City, and by Miss. Hwy. 8 seven mi. SW of Calhoun City. From Choctaw shuti, “earthen pot” and probably ista pika, “a scoop” i.e. “pot scoop” or “ladle” (Seale, 1939, p. 167). There is an erroneous local tradition regarding this stream resulting from folk etymology; I have been told that long ago, the creek was the scene of warfare between two tribes. According to this tale, the warriors occupied opposite sides of the stream, “shooting spears across the creek at each other”, hence the name.
Skuna Community and River
S Pontotoc (q.v.)/NW Chickasaw (q.v.)/Calhoun/Yalobusha (q.v.)/Grenada counties. Crossed by Miss. Hwy 9 on s. side of Bruce. Skuna is apparently from Choctaw iskuna, “entrails; guts” (cf. Halbert 1899, pp. 73-74).
Topashaw Creek (TOP-uh-shaw)
NE Webster/SW Chickasaw (q.v.)/S Calhoun counties. Crossed by Miss. Hwy. 8/9 two mi. S of Calhoun City,and by Miss. Hwy. 341 six mi. W of Woodland. Possibly a variant of Topisaw (cf.), although Seale (1939, p. 198) speculates that “it is highly probably that there is a connection between Sopashaw and Taposa, the latter being the name of a tribe which formerly lived on the Yazoo River.” The meaning of the tribal name Taposa is unknown (Swanson 1969, p. 192).
Jesse L. Yancy, Jr. was an attorney, politician, and humanitarian who served the people of Bruce, Calhoun County and Mississippi from 1956 until his death in 1970.
Born in Springville, Mississippi in 1926, Yancy moved to Bruce ten years later, where his father, Jesse L. Yancy, Sr. established a general store. He graduated from Bruce High School in 1944, joined the Army Air Corps in 1945 and served overseas in the Pacific. He attended the University of Mississippi School of Business and School of Law, earning his J.D. in 1951. In 1952 he married Barbara Young. They had three children.
Yancy was first elected to office in 1960 as district attorney for the Third Circuit Court District. During the Meredith Crisis at the University of Mississippi, Yancy entered the national spotlight when a Lafayette County grand jury issued an indictment against Chief United States Marshall James P. McShane, Meredith’s escort to registration at the University, for inciting a riot. While serving as D.A., Yancy became president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association. Elected to the Senate in 1968, during his first term Yancy, as chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, guided the state’s first Open Election Law to passage. A member of the Senate Commission on Appropriations, he wrote and gained approval for the Idle Funds Bill, which authorized the investment of in place funding for the state, a key piece of legislation that has garnered Mississippi millions of much-needed dollars for over four decades.
Yancy served as an attorney for the City of Bruce for 17 years. His most influential act in that capacity came in 1961, when Bruce had outgrown its fledgling infrastructure and the city was badly in need of repairs and updates to its streets, water and sewer systems. Yancy commandeered a grant of $25,000 for the city to hire Cook Coggin, an engineering firm in Tupelo, to conduct a survey of what repairs and improvements were needed. On completion of this study, the city secured a loan of $500,000 to fund the improvements. Yancy helped Bruce to grow into a clean, attractive town, appealing both to current and potential citizens as well as businesses and industry. He was a president of the Bruce Rotary Club, the Bruce Chamber of Commerce, the Calhoun County Bar Association and a founder and commander of VFW Post 5571. He served on the Pushmataha Council of the Boy Scouts of America and taught Sunday school at the Bruce United Methodist Church.
For all his accomplishments, Jesse Yancy, Jr. is most remembered simply as a man, a friend and neighbor willing to help others. His generosity is legendary, encompassing all in his vision of community, unity, and compassion.
Hometown Mississippi is informative and entertaining book compiled by James F. (Jim) Brieger and published privately in 1980. It’s also an important work, since it includes all of Mississippi’s towns and counties of record, with a short write-up providing significant data. These are the entries for Calhoun County; Pittsboro, as county seat, is first listed, then the others alphabetically.
Organized in 1852, Calhoun County is located in the Sand Clay Hills Soil Area of the state. It was the fifty-ninth county to organize and ranks thirtythird in area. The county was named for John C. Calhoun, Vice-President of the United States, and at the time of formation, Henry s. Foote was Governor of Mississippi, and Millard Fillmore was President of the United States. Calhoun was the home county of Dennis Murphree, twice Governor of Mississippi, 1927-28 and 1943-44.
Pittsboro was founded on July 26, 1852 along with Calhoun County. The county seat was temporarily located at Hartfords, four miles east of the present site of Pittsboro, with monthly court being held in a log building which was used as a courthouse, Hartford did not remain for long as the county seat as the geographical center of the county was determined to be within a few hundred yards of Camp Springs,
On July 15, 1852, the Board of Police met at this point to discuss the matter of a permanent county seat, and Ebenezer Gaston, a wealthy local citizen offered 160 acres as a gift to the county for the location of a seat of government. The gift was accepted by the board and the proposed new town was named Orrsville, for J.A. Orr who had been very instrumental in the organization of the county. The name of the town was later changed to Pittsboro, for Pittsboro, North Carolina, which was Mr. Orr’s original home.
The Odom Grocery Store was the first building to be constructed, and in 1853, the Pittsboro Academy was established, being conducted in a two-story log building. In 1886, a frame building was erected to house the Pittsboro Male and Female College, then in 1888, Honorable B.J. Lowery, noted educator and statesman, taught his first school as principal of this college. The red brick courthouse was built the same year as the log jail, in 1856. In this courthouse the Secession Convention was held in 1861, and many other events connected with the war and reconstruction centered around it.
Pittsboro has had its times of prosperity and adversity, but has remained the county seat throughout the years, with many attempts having been made to move it, but all failed. In 1922 the courthouse was destroyed by fire, with the loss of almost all the records.
Located eight miles north of Brice, Banner is one of the oldest existing places in the county, being settled by the Finn family from Ireland in 1840. The story is told, that Uncle Mickey Finn gave his reason for coming to America was the fact that land was so high in his native Ireland that he could not afford to buy a burial plot for his family. When he bought his land here and gave it the name, Banner, he immediately built a house, then he marked off a family burying ground,
Several large planters and slave owners were permanently settled here before the Civil War, and the town was known as a social as well as an educational center. A college was established in 1889 which offered commercial and music courses, but with the establishment of public schools the college became extinct. Since the start of the 1900’s, the place has been on the decline because of its remote location,
The origin of its name is not known, but Benela was established eight miles southeast of Pittsboro in 1840. There were settlers here in the early 1830’s, but Benela was not founded until 1840 when Hugh Gaston came here with several others to establish business enterprises,
In 1853, Dr. S.T. Buchanan, Captain Enoch, Wiley and Austin Woodward settled here and Benela soon became a thriving trade center. In 1865 the town boasted six stores, two saloons, a large water mill and manufacturing plant. Being located on the Yalobusha River, cotton was transported to Greenwood by keel boat, bringing back supplies on their return trip. Lumber was also shipped down the river in rafts until the railroad was built to Calhoun City in 1905.
The growth of Benela was impeded by the fact that the railroad missed the town, and its rivals, Calhoun City and Derma gained the supremacy in leadership growth, and as trading centers, The Church, mill, and school were finally abandoned and the community became a farming area, using other points as trading centers,
Bentley, located ten miles southeast of Calhoun City, was established in 1844 by Jesse H. Bently, the first settler, who erected a water mill on nearby Bear Creek. The town was incorporated in 1911.
Big Creek was founded eight miles west of Calhoun City in the 1840’s, The first settlers were R. Chruthird and Abram Sellers in the early 1840’s, being joined by other pioneers between 1845 and 1855. At this time Big Creek was located two miles north of its present location and was the distributing point for the sale of whiskey, with a wholesale house having been opened here,
Being so far from the railroad, the growth of the town was slow but with the building of the highway, two miles to the south, Big Creek was moved to its present location near the highway in 1920 with more stores being added and a post office being established.
About 1824, J.R, Bounds, a cattleman, settled almost midway between the Skuna and Yalobusha Rivers, about eight miles west of present-day Pittsboro. His brother, Henry Bounds, joined him in 1828 and they found an ideal cattle range between the two streams. The two brothers rented this land from an Indian sub-chief named Bob Cole during their first two years of settlement, but later bought the land.
Bruce was founded in 1927 when the E.L. Bruce Lumber Company purchased a vast acreage in this section, four miles north of Pittsboro and established their large mill three miles north of Pittsboro in the Skuna Valley. The company purchased the Thurman Barton farm which became the home of George Rogers, Superintendent of the Bruce interests.
Johnny Main Mountain, six miles east of Brue, is the highest point in the county, covering several acres. Some remarkable rock formations are found on the mountain, and Skuna River flows around the base on the north side. According to legend, this mountain was the home of a prominent Chickasaw Chief named Piomingo at the time the Indians occupied this section. The mountain received its name from Johnny Main, an old Dutchman who hunted and trapped here during the 1860’s.
Busyton was established about 1865, four miles south of Sarepta, and at one time a post office was located two miles to the southeast, but it was discontinued in 1905. Sometime after 1905, when State Highway 9 was improved, J.T. Ivy built a store on the highway and called it Busyton.
Federal Land Records show that the site on which Calhoun City stands, ten miles south of Bruce, was conveyed to an Indian named Ish tah hath la, T.P. Gore purchased an entire section of 640 acres from this Indian, supposedly for a handful of bright-colored beads, a few furs, and several quarts of whiskey. Being a large slave owner, Gore cleared a plantation and lived an easy life, in which horse racing and cock fighting figured prominently. Before his death he is thought to have buried a great amount of gold on his plantation, but died without revealing its hiding place. He is buried near Calhoun City in a wooded section of his former plantation,
In 1900 the Gore property passed into the hands of T.L. Beadles and Jeff Boland, being purchased from them in 1904 by Frank Burkett and J.S. Rowe. The place was named Burkett for Frank Bukett, but the name was later changed to Calhoun City for John C, Calhoun. These men learned that the Mobile & Ohio Railroad was planning to build a branch line through this section and made plans for the building of a town. One mile east lived two other landowners who were demanding that the terminal be located on their land. A legal battle was fought, and the court decided in favor of both places, so just one mile east of Calhoun City was established the town of Derma, Because of this matter, hard feelings existed between the towns cor several years.
The present town of Calhoun City was surveyed and laid off in lots in 1905. That same year, a hotel was built and a central parkway was laid out, awaiting the time when Pittsboro would relinquish its claim to the county seat and a courthouse could be erected.
The year of 1906 brought the incorporation of Calhoun City as well as many new families. On the first Sunday in January, 1907, the first passenger train ariived in Calhoun City. This was a great event in the history of the town and people, many of whom had never seen a train, came from miles around to witness the arrival.
Located fourteen miles southwest of Pittsboro.
In 1905, upon learning of the railroad to be built from Okalona to Calhoun City, Frank Burkett and J.S. Rowe immediately made plans for the establishment of a town in the vicinity of Calhoun City. Just one mile east lived J.M. Smith and Dr. S.H. Lawrence who also proposed to build a depot and town, Heated controversy resulted in a court decision in favor of both places, and soon there sprang up two rival towns. It is said that in time, Captain Burkett and Dr, Lawrence, both Civil War Veterans, were able to ease the friction between the two towns to a large extent. During the early history of the town, Derma enjoyed gradual growth which continued until the depression of 1929, at which time the town began to decline, The town also suffered several disastrous fires from which it never recovered, but at its peak, Derma boasted two churches, fourteen stores, and an Agricultural High School.
About four miles southeast of Derma is the site of the boyhood home of Fox Conner who was promoted to the rank of Major General by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During World War I, Fox Conner was General Perishing’s fight hand man, and Perishing once stated that Fox Conner did more to help win the war than any one man he knew.
Located six miles northwest of Pittsboro,
Settlers first came to this site, three miles north of Vardaman, in the 1840!s, and called the settlement Cherryhill. The place was later named Elzy, supposedly for B.M. Elzy an early merchant. A post office was established here in the mid 1850’s and was in operation until 1905. The village began its decline when the railroad was built through three miles to the north, and the railroad accommodations attracted most of the residents to Vardaman,
Hardin Town was established and named by Johnnie Hardin who came to this site, four miles east of Calhoun City, in 1845. The place also seems to have been known as Hopewell, since the post office, which was in operation from 1880 until 1903, and the school was known as Hopewell. Hardin Town was never much more than a one store settlement, and that became extinct during the depression of 1929.
The extinct town of Hartford is historic in the fact that it was the first county seat of Calhoun County. Established in 1830, Hartford served as the seat of government from January until July of 1852, at which time Pittsboro, four miles to the southwest, was selected as the permanent county seat. Martin Murphree, Grandfather of Dennis Murphree, was one of the first settlers in this section, coming in 1835. A few years later Hartford had become a thriving trade center, with a furniture and jug factory being operated by 0. K. Bennet in the early 1840’s. Soon after the establishment of the county seat at Pittsboro, the town of Hartford began to decline, and by 1886 was an extinct village.
Prior to 1860, Alexander Hollis and his brother, Marvin V. Hollis settled in this locality, three miles east of Derma and the place was named for these two brothers. Hollis was no more than a rural community until the building of the railroad in 1905, and it became a flag station. At that time a post office was opened and the town became incorporated in 1910. Hollis prospered for a few years but when the post office was discontinued in 1922 it began to decline. The nearby larger towns drew most of the trade and by 1927 the town was almost extinct.
Located eight miles east of Pittsboro, the name origin is uncertain, but it is known that the community was settled before 1860. A post office was established at Loyd following the Civil War and in 1900 there were three stores in operation. The post office was discontinued in 1910 and mail was received from Vardaman.
Mabry was a railroad switch located a short distance west of the depot at Derma. The switch served a large planing mill operated by G.C. and I. Mabry of Derma. Mabry became extinct with the abolishment of the switch in 1939.
Located seven and one-half miles west of Pittsboro,
Pittman was established as a flag station on the Mississippi and Skuna Valley Railroad, twelve miles west of Bruce. The station was named for Sam Pittman who owned the land where the station was located before it was sold to the Bruce Lumber Company.
It is thought that Young Phillips, who arrived here about 1850, was the first settler in this section, nine miles north of Vardaman, Other early settlers included the Hardins, Campbells, Morgans, and the Reid family, for whom the town was named. A post office had been in operation for several years when a store was opened by Tom Phillips in 1880. Three other stores were eventually built, and Reid enjoyed good business activity until the building of a railroad to the south in 1904. At that time the population began to shift to the railroad, business started to decline, and in 1910, the post office was discontinued.
About 1890, Stewart Warner opened a merchantile store near his home, ten miles northwest of Calhoun City, and in time, the settlement gained a post office which was named Retreat. Within a few years the post office was discontinued, and at that time the business of Stewart Warner was closed and Warner moved to Big Creek.
This settlement, located eleven miles southwest of Calhoun City, was first known as Davis Town, for J.W. Davis, who settled near here in the 1830’s. About 1880 when & post office was granted, the community was given the name, Sabougla for the creek on which it is located.
Located eleven miles northeast of Bruce, it is thought that John Hellum was the first settler, coming in 1836 from Tennessee and acquired land a few miles north of the present site of Sarepta. Dr. Andrew Roane, son of Governor Archibald Roane of Tennessee, settled here in 1840 and at that time there was one store which was operated by a man named McLarty.
There is a story told of a happening in Sarepta, when in the 1880’s the backwoodsmen of the area had the habit of coming to town and taking the law in their own hands. It seems that a government man named Wise came to Mississippi in 1884 in search of a criminal. When he reached Oxford, he was reassigned to locate and arrest two brothers named Dock and Jim Bishop. The two brothers were wanted for the killing of two Harmon boys in a drunken brawl near Sarepta. Jim Bishop was finally located by Wise, who made friends with him, thinking that he could be persuaded to betray his brother. He gave Jim Bishop a bottle of drugged whiskey for his brother, setting a time and place for his capture.
Instead of betraying Dock, Jim betrayed Mr. Wise, and hiding behind a tree they ambushed him, filling him full of buckshot. They then buried him in a shallow grave where he was found a few days later. About three years later Dock Bishop was captured, convicted, and hanged for his crimes. A song, “The Ballad of Dock Bishop,” was then composed by one of the local citizens, and is probably still sung occasionally.
Located three and one-half miles northwest of Pittsboro,
SKUNA Located six and one-hal miles west of Pittsboro.
Located nine miles south of Calhoun City, the place took its name from the springs located west of town on the Slate Springs-Grenada Road. The exact settlement date is uncertain, but it is thought by local people to be older than Pittsboro. If this is true, then Slate Springs could possibly be the oldest settlement in the county. Slate Springs appears to have been a trading center in the early 1800’s. At that time, in addition to the saloons, there were two stores, the first one probably being operated by a man named Woodward. Between 1880 and 1890, a post office, flour mill, and two churches were added. Also, at this time the Fox College was opened, with Fuller Fox as the first teacher.
This small community, located twelve miles northwest of Sarepta, falls just within the county line. A store, in which was housed the post office, was given the name Trusty, for a local resident. The store as well as the post office have been discontinued, the Trusty family, along with other residents have moved away, and little now remains to mark the site of the settlement.
Now listed as being extinct, Vance was located about two miles east of Slate Springs, being named for William Vance, who in 1837 was the first settler. After building a log cabin in 1837, Vance established a water mill on Shulispear Creek for the purpose of grinding grain. In 1844, Vance cleared a plot of ground about 300 yards from his mill on which to erect a larger home. He died before the home was built, and on being buried in the clearing, the spot came to be known as the Vance Graveyard, being used by the community which later sprang up.
For many years wheat as well as corn was ground at the mill, and during the Civil War and Reconstruction, this old mill provided bread for many people. Shulispear Creek was an ideal fishing spot, and people bringing their grain from many miles away would take advantage of the opportunity to camp for several days at a time, fishing and hunting while their grain was being ground. After William Vance’s death his son operated the mill for a few years, then it was sold and operated under the new owners until it was discontinued in 1914.
This settlement, four miles east of Derma, was originally known as Ticky Bin, and several stories have been told as to how the name originated. In those days the cattle grazed in the bottom lands where ticks were found, not only on the cattle but on the grass and trees as well. In 1872 a store was opened by Tom Richardson, but the chief industry in this section, especially from 1895 until 1903. was the stave industry. Handhewn staves were made all up and down the Yalobusha and Skuna Rivers, and at the time of the Paris World’s Fair, several staves were sent to the fair and received first prize.
By 1904 the community of Ticky Bin had increased in population and the need of a post office was realized by the citizens. The long hoped for railroad had. been surveyed so a petition was sent to President Theodore Roosevelt for the establishment of a post office to be named Vardaman, in honor of James K. Vardaman. The office was granted but was named Timberville instead of Vardaman as proposed. As the town grew, business firms, schools, and churches were established. The citizens, never satisfied with the name, Timberville, requested and was granted the name change to Vardaman.
The following article, written by Col. M.D.L. Stephens, appeared in Calhoun Monitor in 1900, was reprinted June 18, 1931 in The Monitor-Herald and again in July 6, 1972. It later appeared in the newsletter of the Calhoun County Historical Society MS, First Quarter, 2000.
In 1856, Old Dan Rice, the celebrated clown and circus showman, made a venture through Calhoun County, striking Benela first, next day at Pittsboro and thence over to Coffeeville. Being a man of extraordinary abilities and sagacious comprehension by nature as well as the experience of extensive travel, it took him no time to discover the prominent characteristics of the denizens of that inland county.
Really he did not expect to find so far out in the interior a class of people so intelligent and independent. Calhoun’s citizenship made no pretensions in those days at style rather on the
grotesque order. Such a combination, Old Dan, in all of his travels, had never struck before. Evidently their mark made its impression upon his mind as the independent sovereignty he had ever come across in all of his travels, so much so that at his next performance in Coffeeville the next day, he got off some laughable jokes at their expense, which were heartily enjoyed and applauded by her sister county-men attending the circus that day.
The first one the writer remembers was by Old Dan on his little trick mule in the grand entry, which always captivates the audience into an enchanted trance. I may say as they emerge from the dressing tent, indeed there is a charm about the “Grand Entry” of a circus; irresistible, even with the most stable-minded—the beautiful horses of varied colors, the riders in their dazzling costumes, will surely product the same effect that it did upon St. Peter, when that panorama of four-footed beasts descended to earth from the heavens.
After this parade, leaving the ring-master with his four-in-hand whip in hand, Dan Rice and his mule made possession of the ring to round up this initial act with something ludicrous. He made many circuits around the ring, imitating each round some laughable incident real or imaginary. Finally to close the scene, he humped himself as awkwardly as he could, at the same time remarking, “This is the way the Schoonerites rode into Pittsboro yesterday, coming to see Old Dan.”
Of course this brought forth a yelling applause from the Yalobusians. About the same time, however, the little mule was nearing the exit gap in the ring, apparently tired of the game all at once as if imitating his rider, got a vigorous hump in his own back, and just at the gateway, made a sudden stop, sending the clown forward like a flying squirrel, spreading him out in good shape in the dirt, instantly darting in to the dressing tent.
After a few seconds of suspense, Dan rose, hobbling about as though he was disjointed and a fit subject for the hospital for several weeks at least. At this juncture, the ringmaster in way of reproof said, “Oh, yes, my laddie, see what you get by making invidious comparisons?” To which the clown said pathetically, “Master, do you reckon that dang little mule was taking up for them hossiers in Calhoun County?”
“Why, sir, of course he is; he knew every word you said, besides he has relatives over there,
didn’t you see them?”
“Dad drat it, them was the fellows I saw riding that way?”
“Yes, sir,” said the ringmaster.
Cogitating a moment, Old Dan came back to his master, “Say, Mr. Ringmaster, if you wanted to get out of this world without dying, where would you go to?”
“That, sir, is an impossibility; no man can get out of this world unless he dies.”
“No! I know where to get out of this world without dying,” said Dan.
“And where would you go, sir?”
“Why, just over the Schooner, into the Free State of Calhoun!”
The rebel yell followed this enunciation. Many Schoonerites present and their generous natures added in the eclat of that day. In this tour of Dan Rice of Mississippi, The Memphis Appeal had accompanied the show, and reporter and solicitor, and this joke upon Calhoun County seemed to be enjoyed and relished with such tenacity that this reporter sent it to the office and a few days after I read in the humorous column of that paper a verbatim account of Dan’s act in Coffeeville. Afterwards, I heard Old Dan kept the joke all through North Mississippi, which gave the county that notoriety as “The Free State of Calhoun”, and will no doubt follow her through the decades to come. Thus Calhoun County bears that name and is amply able to take care of herself amid exigencies of any sort.
This is a recording of Raymond Bailey performing “The Last Train through Vardaman” that Barbara Yancy made sometime in 1975-76. I lost the first part of Raymond’s narrative because the tape was so old and broke at both ends during recording, but I did hear it on the first playback. Raymond begins with saying, “This is ‘The Last Train through Vardaman.’ I remember we were loading the train that day, and my brother said, ‘Pile it high, boys, because this is the last train through Vardaman!’ So, we loaded her up (and away she went!)” I have him doing a couple of other songs, including ‘Nellie Gray’ and a version of ‘Casey Jones’ that I’ve never heard. The locomotive is the OH&CC Number 9 at Okolona. Listen to Raymond here.
A poignant tale of love, loss and thralldom, doubtless embellished with the romance of legend as tales of that time often are, this story was published almost a century ago in The Calhoun County Monitor-Herald.
In the cold, dreary winter of 1852, just after the organization of Calhoun County, quite a number of citizens of Spring and Brushy Creeks were sitting in a rude log cabin by the roadside, where John McCord kept a store, lightly stocked with the necessities of life, discussing the new county and squirting tobacco on the old, rickety stove. Bob Brown, the Postmaster, (for there had recently been established at this place a post office called Banner), came around and stood in the door. Snow and sleet were falling thick and fast and the cold north wind howled through the towering pines and drifted snow against the rude fences. All nature seemed at war–and the howling storm quelled the spirit of those pioneers, who were acquainted with trouble and knew danger and privations.
“The coldest day I ever felt,” said Bob. “Everything outside is freezing.”
While the men were buttoning up their coats, preparatory to breasting the storm en route to their homes, Bob looked eastward along the road and saw a lone woman trudging through the snow storm, coming in the direction of the store. She soon appeared at the door and asked permission to warm at the fire. The gentlemen gallantly gave way and tendered her a seat near the stove.
“Bad weather to be out,” remarked McCord, the merchant. “Quite unpleasant,” replied the woman in soft, sweet voice. She was well and comfortably clad, and had in her hand a well filled grip. She was tall and well formed, with a handsome figure and soft, appealing eyes. Her hair was long, dark and wavy, and her skin was a soft yellow–not quite as dark as the Indian. Her features were animated and her countenance sparkled with every change of expression. Her step, quick and elastic; voice, soft and musical; her language, pure and faultless English and her age about 22 years. The men soon started for home through the drifting storm, and left McCord, Brown and Sid Brantley and the woman still clustered about the stove. The able, big-hearted Brantley asked the woman how it happened that she was caught out in the storm, and where she was going in all this bad weather.
After some hesitation, she answered in a low, musical voice, “I am part Indian and I am making my way to the Indian Nation, where my tribe, the Chickasaws, went in 1836. I was then a small girl living with my grandmother. My mother, a Chickasaw died when I was a baby. My father, a white man, went with the tribe. My grandmother, being very old, was left with me. After grandmother died, I was taken by a nice family of whites, who gave me a home, taught me the art of dressmaking and educated me. But I could not forget my brothers and sisters in the Indian Nation and at last resolved at every hazard, to make my way to them. I have no money or friends that I can call upon for assistance, so I am trying to make my way afoot.”
Her simple story touched Mr. Brantley’s heart, and he cordially invited her to his nearby home. She, with some hesitation, accepted his generous invitation and accompanied him home, where she remained until the storm was over. In conversation, on the way home, Brantley asked her name. She modestly answered, “Bombazelle McAllister”. She was introduced to the family and assured that she could make her home with them until the weather settled. She was assigned a room with Brantley’s oldest daughter. The next day was still cold and blustery and the ladies were confined to their rooms. The stranger soon became familiar with the family. Miss Brantley had a nice new dress pattern she was preparing to make up. Bombazelle examined the goods with great care and suggested how it should be designed. Sissy was delighted. Bombazelle took her measure–a thing heretofore unknown in these wild woods–and she assisted in making the dress. The family was delighted with the attractive design and the gracious fit of the dress. Hence the news spread rapidly throughout the neighborhood that a marvelous designer and dressmaker was stopping at Sid Brantley’s–and the blushing lassies in all the region gathered ’round to have Bombazelle cut and fashion their dresses. She moved from home to home as her services were requested, and at night, occupied rooms and beds with the young ladies of the community.
The snow storm had passed, but Bombazelle remained, kept busy cutting out and making dresses. She was well paid and was kindly received by every family. She was ready and willing to give the young ladies instructions in cutting materials and in dressmaking. She was a fine talker and a lovely girl, her color rather dark, but being part Indian, this was understood. She soon became the Belle of Banner, and the boys called her “The Yellow Rose of Schoona”, and she received the attention of all the nice young men in the neighborhood. John McCord fell desperately in love with Bombazelle, and after a spirited contest with the young swains about Banner, won her heart. McCord was, as the term was known in those far-off days, “well-off”. He had a good house, servants and quite a number of Negro slaves. The couple was married at Brantley’s home, Esquire John Hankins making the happy couple man and wife. There was quite a gathering at the wedding, and, as was the custom, all who wished, were privileged to kiss the bride, as did some of the girls and women present.
The springtime in all its beauty was rapidly approaching. The dogwoods were budding, the birds were all a-twitter and the geese were flying north to their faraway homes. Bombazelle was happy in the home of John McCord. She had a husband who was a leader in the young county and was loved and admired by everyone. She also had Old Sylvia, her trusted servant, and her flock of boys and girls, to attend to her every want. She kept a close eye on the servants, and they had to “toe the mark”. She had her rooms well furnished, wore wonderful clothes, and kept everything about the place in “apple pie” order. Every servant jumped when she spoke, for she was a firm mistress, and ran the house with energy and ability. McCord, too, was happy with his beautiful wife and his elegantly arranged home. The “Yellow Rose” was happy and excited because she was the leader in style and fashion in the whole county. She was constantly sought out and consulted about dresses and was a close friend to the young belles for miles around.
Spring opened in all its glory. The whippoorwills sang at evening, the sun smiled all day on the new fields, just wrested from the primeval forests, and the birds and animals made love in the swamps and endless forests. Late one afternoon, a fine looking gentleman was seen riding a splendid blooded horse into Banner. Mrs. McCord (Bombazelle) observed him–and, in consternation, made it convenient to disappear at once. The traveler alighted and entered the saddle shop owned by J. Brown, and after passing the compliments of the season, inquired if there had been seen in that place a woman who had disappeared. He gave an accurate description of Mrs. McCord. Bob hesitated, looked wise and gave an evasive answer. Night was approaching, so the stranger asked if there was a house of entertainment in town. Brown directed him to Mr. Arnold’s home, just west of town. He made his business known to Mr. Arnold, and said he had traced the woman to Banner–and that she was his Negro house servant and seamstress–and that she had run away from the family home at Aberdeen, Mississippi. Arnold repeated to him the story of Bombazelle’s appearance, her captivation of the community and her marriage to John McCord months before.
“That’s my Negro,” said the stranger, “she is almost white in appearance and is very smart.”
It is hardly necessary to add that the people of Banner were stirred up and greatly excited by his revelation. The belles and beaus were crestfallen. The girls who had entertained and associated with Bombazelle were dumbfounded. The idea of having so cordially entertained this servant in their homes was humiliating. And the young men who had called upon Bombazelle and sought her hand were shocked beyond expression while the older men, who had so fondly kissed the yellow blushing bride, were punched in the ribs by their wives for having embraced the woman in their presence. But the “Yellow Rose”! Where was she? McAllister (the stranger) could not find her anywhere. She had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. McCord was wild and miserable. His happiness was swept away in the wrinkling of an eye. Dispirited and troubled, he stood about, wondering what to do! His wife, with his knowledge, had been secreted in a cabin on Schoona, there to await the issue. McCord was a good man, law-abiding and honest, yet he did not know but that McAllister was a fraud.
McAllister posted off to Hartford (the community now known as Oldtown, which was the county seat at that time), here he learned that the marriage certificate had been issued to John McCord and Bombazelle McAllister, and that it had been returned by Esq. Hankins. He at once instituted suit against John McCord and his securities, for marrying a Negro, contrary to the laws of the State of Mississippi. McCord’s friends were in close consultation all day, devising ways and means to extricate McCord from his dilemma. Brantley, with a keen eye to business, also went to Hartford, and there met McAllister. Brantley, being always a friend for anyone in distress, had a long interview with McAllister, and induced him to suspend legal proceedings until he could see McCord, assuring him that it was a fraud practiced on McCord, and McCord truly believed that she was part Indian, but had never dreamed that she was a runaway slave–and that she would be found and returned to McAllister. Old Sylvia was the happiest Negro in the county. She and her children clapped their hands at being relieved of such a hard head mistress.
Brantley returned to McAllister that afternoon, after having a long talk with McCord and Brown, entertained him that night and promised him that Bombazelle would be forthcoming in the morning. So, in the morning, bright and early, “The Yellow Rose of Schoona” fondly embraced Mr. McCord, bid him an affectionate farewell, and promptly reported to her master, and they departed for Aberdeen.
Editor’s Note:  In the 1940’s, Dr. W. A. Evans of Aberdeen researched The Monitor Herald story of Bombazelle McAllister in the county courthouse records at Aberdeen. He found advertisements by the man McAllister, giving notice that his slave Bombazelle had run away. After McAllister took her back to Aberdeen, he sold her at once, as she had given trouble before. The money paid for Bombazelle went into the building of a new McAllister home, located in the city of Aberdeen. Dr. Evans reported that no further evidence of Bombazelle exists after she was sold.