M.D.L. Stephens and Calhoun County History

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.

My Father

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 on Jan. 17, 1926, Yancy moved to Bruce ten years later, where his father, Jesse Lee Yancy, Sr. had 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 1956 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.

An Interview with Elbert Hilliard

Sometime in 2018, I began working on a profile of Charlotte Capers, and in the course of my research was fortunate enough to get an interview with Elbert Hilliard..

The interview was held on March 21, 2019 in a conference room on the second floor of the William F. Winter Building in Jackson, Mississippi. Also present was De’niecechsi Leyton, Head of Reference Services at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Though the purpose of my interview was to gather information about Mr. Hilliard’s brilliant predecessor, Charlotte Capers, Hilliard spoke of many other things, most notably about his outstanding career as a historian and director of MDAH.

* * * * *

I think Miss Capers shares what a lot of people share, is that once you’re gone, then you tend to be forgotten to a degree, plus the fact that, I hate to say it, but probably the vast majority of citizens don’t do a very good job of keeping up with history of studying history of remembering people in the past. Now, of course, when you say, Miss Welty, that’s different. She was a prolific author, yet Miss Capers, had she had the time, probably could have written books that we would still be reading today. As you’ve already stated, she was a very capable talented writer and very capable and talented person.

I did not meet Miss Capers until the spring of 1959, when I was at Mississippi State in graduate school studying history. And truthfully, I had never heard of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History until I was in graduate school. Sadly, though (the Department) has grown, and we have a wonderful publicity department, you con probably walk down the street here outside, go down a few blocks and ask someone how to get to the Department of Archives & History, we may or may not get an accurate answer.

But getting back to Miss Capers, that was when I met her in the spring of 1959. Probably the first time that I heard her name mentioned was in a conversation I had with Dr. John K. Bettersworth. He was head of the Department of History at Mississippi State when I was in graduate school, and I’ll always be indebted to him because he took a chance with me and approved a graduate assistantship for me. Clara and I were married on August 3, 1958, and we went up there the 1st of September, 1958.

After Christmas, when we got to the second semester there, we started thinking about jobs, and apparently Mr. Bettersworth was thinking the same thing. He came by my desk are there in Lee Hall, second floor, and I told him we were going to be contacting the top school districts in Mississippi. He said, “You also ought to contact Charlotte Capers at Archives & History.” By that time, I think I was smart enough, having been told by Dr. Glover Moore about the Department of Archives & History, I put two and two together and concluded that she was the director. Of course, he said “Charlotte Capers”, and here I am, eighty-two years old, and she’ll always be “Miss Capers” to me. I loved Miss Capers.

I did contact her, I can’t remember the specific dates, came down to Jackson and met with her in her office in the War Memorial Building. You went in the front door, you turned left, and then you made the first left, this north wing of the War Memorial Building was the Archives & History Department. They had just initiated or were in the process of initiating the restoration of the Old Capitol. That was a crucial moment in Miss Capers’ life, because here she is, Director of the Department of Archives & History, and as you noted earlier, it was a very small department with a very, very small staff, probably at that time less than 10 people, I can go back and check that, but I think it’s right. Years later, after I came into the department, we became very close and she would tell me stories. One day she told me her telephone rang, and the conversation went something like this:

“Charlotte? This is J.P.” (Gov. Coleman; they had been in school together at Ole Miss.) “Charlotte, the building commission just met.” (Back then, Jesse, the governor was the ex officio chair of the building commission, and when I say “ex officio”, depending on the nature and the personality of the governor, he was the chairman of the building commission. And that was the case with Gov. Coleman, because he was a strong, forceful leader, and fortunately he was very interested in history.) “And we have voted to restore the Old Capitol, to become the state historical museum, and we also voted to have you be responsible for doing it.” This was probably early 1959. (cf.: https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/69000087_text) They started restoration work in 1959.

She said, “Elbert, I almost collapsed of apoplexy there on the spur of the moment.”

Well, you can imagine. Here is a lady who, as I said, in this small department, had nobody to help her on this. They’re not allocating any extra funds for staff people for Archives & History, so she had had no former experience in museum work, and certainly not museum planning or restoration details. She had high blood pressure as well!

So she took than on, and she was smart enough to know she needed to contact the top people, so she contacted the top people, so she contacted the American Association of Museums and the National Park Service and got some experts to give her guidance and advice. Well, as the process went along there, one of the things she recognized was that the museum needed to have written policies outlining the purpose of the museum and the scope of the collections because what had happened was that the museum function of the Department of Archives & History had been started back in the very early days by Dr. Dunbar Rowland, who was the first director.

Dr. Rowland had started the museum over in the first floor over on the first floor of what we call the New Capitol. Archives & History had moved from the Old Capitol to the New Capitol in 1903; Archives & History was founded in 1902, started out in the Old Capitol, and then was moved to the New Capitol in 1903. I’m sure he planned it that way, but he cited the fact that he was the last person—he was very proud of the fact—the last person to leave the Old Capitol. He then began to call for its preservation as a shrine—that was his word for it—to Mississippi history. He sent out that call in 1903, and it took a long time to be answered. That’s the way we do things in Mississippi.

After he (Rowland) became director, he began to assemble a museum collection. The approach that he took was common to most entities back then that were involved in museum work which was that they collected virtually everything that was old and unique and different. There were no written policies. That led to the department acquiring many historical artifacts but it also led to the department acquiring a number of artifacts that had nothing to do with Mississippi whatsoever. For example, there was an artifact associated with Lafayette’s visit to Natchez in 1825, there were all sorts of Civil War swords and pistols and so on, some of them belonged to prominent people. Then you had things with no connection, for example the hair from the mane of Stonewall Jackson, who never set foot in Mississippi. There were bricks from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. There were a pair of size 21 boots worn by a Negro soldier in 1901.

And then perhaps the most acclaimed one was the Egyptian mummy. And that’s a story in itself related to Miss Capers and me as well. As the years went by, if you were to conduct a poll of the museum there in the New Capitol and asked them what was their favorite artifact, they would have chosen the Egyptian mummy. They lined up to see the Egyptian mummy. Miss Capers told me that as a child they would skate through the New Capitol; they lived a few blocks away.

Anyway, this is what she inherited, that and the fact also that there had never been an official curator of the museum. The department was just so small. Dr. McCain succeeded Dr. Rowland, and Dr. McCain went off to war twice, so the museum was just sort of frozen in time then. I forgot to tell you also that Miss Capers had this great sense of humor and—this was after I’d been there and worked with her for a while—she told me some of the things that I’ve told you there about the museum collection. She said that the practice (viz: to collect virtually everything, jly) had been under Dr. Rowland, and it had probably been majorly curtailed under Dr. McCain and her, but Miss Capers said that one day a couple appeared in her office there in the War Memorial when she was director, and they said they had something to donate.

She asked, “What is it?”
And they said, “A stump.”
“A stump?”
“Yes, ma’am, a stump.”
“Well,” Capers asked, “What is the historical significance of the stump?”
She said they looked at her straight in the eye and said, without hesitation, that it was the stump on which Adam and Eve sat in the Garden of Eden.
“Oh,” Capers said. “Well, where did y’all find the stump.”
Again without hesitation, they replied, “Madison County.”
Of course, those of us who live in Madison County have always felt that we live in the Garden of Eden. But I asked, “Miss Capers, what did you do?”
“Well,” Capers said, “Dr. McCain told me never to alienate anyone, so I accepted the stump, and after a proper passage of time, I had it burned.”

So that was the type of thing she had to deal with, and as I said there was no curator, there were no professional museum standards, there was no catalogue system, so when I came with the department in July of 1965—I’ll catch up with that later on—what I found when I got involved with the state historical museum in the Old Capitol that they had instigated a professional cataloguing system. Now, what predated that was simply somebody years ago back in the early 1900s had simply gone to the exhibit cases, looked at the exhibit cases, saw what was in there, probably with a typed or handwritten label, had written that down and produced a page-by-page typescript that listed each artifact.

So here it gets to be 1960 or thereabouts and that’s what Miss Capers was dealing with was to get a professional curator on board who could then train the staff to catalogue the collection, which involved having a bound accession book, a catalogue number for each artifact which was entered and put on each artifact with indelible ink and sealed appropriately. That had to be done and then you had cards, object and donor cards so that you could find things in case someone came in and said, “Years ago, Great-great Grandaddy did this, do you have this?” What problems would develop from time-to-time was that in the early days prior to the restoration of the Old Capitol, there were no contracts of gifts that people signs, so Miss Capers had to start that, composing a contract stating that the donors were giving these items with no limiting restrictions or conditions. They became the property of the Department of Archives & History. Anyhow, she deserves credit for doing the research, recognizing what had to be done to have a professional museum, and getting the staff to implement that.

As I said, the first time I met her was in the spring of 1959, and I came in, of course I was a little nervous, since I’d never met her. That was not the first time I’d come to the Department of Archives & History; the first time would have been in the early fall of 1958 to do research on my thesis, a biography of Fielding Wright. That was my first visit, and of course I was impressed with the department, but the first thing they told me was that Gov. Wright’s papers had burned in his law office in Rolling Fork. That was a disappointment, so I had to find a way to get enough material to put together the thesis. I did not meet her on that occasion. So here I am coming back in the spring of ’59, and told her that Dr. Bettersworth recommended I come and talk with her. Now, it helped that Dr. Bettersworth was on the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives & History. That kind of gave me an entrée. She said that she was interested in talking with me, but that she did not have a position at that particular time.

Back then, the state was on a legislative biennium, meaning that the legislature only met every two years. Of course, they’d have special sessions as needed, but they only dealt with the budget every two years. She said that they had a request before the legislature for a position, but added that they did not know how that was going to turn out, so they’d have to wait and see. Well, here Clare and I are, Clare had taught a year before we married, so she had a little money saved up. I was getting $100 a month teaching two classes at MSU, American Civilization survey courses, and so I knew that we couldn’t take a chance on waiting to see if this position would open.

So I sent letters to the top three (paying) school districts in Mississippi at that time: Jackson, Natchez and Meridian. I heard back from Meridian and Natchez, didn’t hear from Jackson. I never did get my nerve up, years later when I got to know Kirby Walker, kidding him about missing out on such a talented young man. I loved Dr. Walker. He was a delightful gentleman. Anyway, being in Starkville, the first appointment we made was in Meridian, then we’d go on to Natchez. In Meridian, I interviewed with Dr. Ivy. Now, this tells you something else about schools at that time. We’ve named the top three (sadly no longer the top three), but the difference is, who is interviewing us? The superintendent. This tells you that back then superintendents were hands-on managers.

Dr. Ivy was a very learned and erudite gentleman, held in high esteem in education circles in Mississippi, but when you started meeting and talking with him you quickly came to know that he knew that he was erudite and scholarly and held in high esteem. Dr. Ivy said that he would take us under consideration. So we went to Natchez, which I was familiar with because my sisters had worked there. Clare hated the smell of the paper mills. The superintendent was Mr. D.G. McLaurin. He had asked the president of the school board, Mr. Brent Foreman, a prominent attorney, to meet with us. Now, when you met with Mr. McLaurin, as opposed to Mr. Ivy, you realized you were in the presence of a servant/leader and a very special gentleman. I don’t know if you’ve ever been with Gov. Winter, but when you’re with Gov. Winter, you know you’re in the presence of a servant/leader and you feel comfortable. When Mr. McLaurin finished interviewing us, he asked Clare what she thought about Natchez and Clare, being one who always says exactly what she thinks, she didn’t have to work with the legislature, said, “Well, it’s a beautiful city, and the historical architecture is magnificent. But that odor is terrible.” I though to myself, well, we’ve blown it now, but he just smiled and said, “Well, down here we think it smells like money.”

So spontaneously, he offered us contracts for her to teach at the institute school and for me to teach at Washington High School. We were running out of money, so we singed the contracts. We came back to Starkville, and about a month later the telephone rang and who would it be but Miss Capers. She said, “Mr. Hilliard, I’m just checking back with you and wanted you to know that the legislature has approved a budget, we have a new position and I was wondering if you were interested in coming with us. I said, “Miss Capers, I am greatly interested in coming with the Department of Archives & History, particularly in working with you, but we have signed contracts with the Adams County school system.”

Well, this was 1959, back when contracts meant something. It wasn’t long after that when Paul Dietzel, who was at LSU, broke his contract, and that kicked off a great furor, but nowadays things have changed completely, and nowadays contracts don’t mean anything. So I told her I felt obligated to honor that contract, and she responded that she understood, to stay in touch and down the road if I was still interested in coming, to get back in touch with her.

There I am in 1959, and at that point I’m concentrating on finishing my master’s, getting to teach, and then my high school coach and history teacher had come that year from Anguilla to Madison/Ridgeland to be the principal. He was my first hero, and he started working on me to come teach and coach basketball and baseball there for him. I tactfully declined at first, but as time went on—as I said he was a hero of mine and I loved basketball and baseball part—we agreed to do that. I had to tell Mr. McLaurin that spring, and he wanted me to stay and to go into administration. I just wanted to follow this dream I had of teaching and coaching. So we came to Madison/Ridgeland, that would have been around the first of June in 1960. There were about 700 people in Madison, about 1100 people in Ridgeland. And those were five wonderful years. It was a different era altogether.

In the late winter of 1964, I began to wonder what to do with my life and what all was happening with the school system, so I sat down and wrote Miss Capers, “wondering if you might remember me” or words to that effect, and enclosed an updated resume. A few days pass, here comes an envelope with the Department of Archives & History letter head on it, “Dr. Mr. Hilliard, I am in receipt of your letter and am interested in your working with us, however the updated resume you mentioned was not enclosed.” Fortunately, she didn’t hold that against me, and scheduled a meeting. She grilled me thoroughly, and it was just luck that I had written at a time that she had just gotten a new position that she called Curator of History, who would serve not only as the curator of history but also as the administrator of the State Historical (Old Capitol) Museum.

She said that the person she had hired to come onboard to guide the development of the museum, Robert S. Nietzel—I guess the ‘S’ was for Stewart, since people would call him ‘Stew’—was an archaeologist, that he was very talented and that she wouldn’t have been able to get the museum going without his help and leadership. He is an interesting gentleman, she said, but that he’d just “burned out on me”. She said that she wanted me to go over there and motivate him. She said that he had excavated the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians with a National Science Foundation grant, that he’d supposed to have written a report on that which he had not done, and that he had not finished the exhibit on the Natchez that he was supposed to do.

I’m hearing her tell me all this, and then she asked me what my salary was at Madison/Ridgeland. I told her it was $5300. She offered me the job at $5400. Years later, after I’d worked with her for a while, I asked her if she remembered what she’d offered me and told her I’d often thought that I should have looked her straight in the eye and asked her &7800. She said, “That wouldn’t have done you any good, I wasn’t making that much myself.” I’m guessing in all likelihood that as a female agency head, perhaps at that time the only agency head, I’ve not researched that. If she was not the first, she was one of. Miss Cook was there, but anyhow, what with her being a lady her salary might not have been as good if she had been a man. She said, “I am literally exhausted.” The museum opened in June 1961. (She was 52.) She said that the Board had agreed to give her the summer off, that she was taking an Aegean cruise and would be back in September. She said, “You will come in when I’m gone and will start work July 1. I am going to start you here in the Archives and will ask Laura (Drake Siderfield) Harrell to train you.” (Sister of John Siderfield).

Laura was a diminutive, beautiful lady, the research assistant, and she was also what we would call today the managing editor of The Journal of Mississippi History. She started out in the basement of the War Memorial Building in one of those big old double desks that dated back to Dunbar Rowland’s era. It was piled up through the sky; I used to tell her she trained me how to pile up a desk. I was fortunate in having her because she was kind, and helpful. One day, she gave me a letter and said, “Elbert, I just don’t have time to work on this.” It was from a 92-year old lawyer up on Canton named Herman Dean seeking information on the Treaty of Hobukintoopa, which I was unfamiliar with though I knew many others. So she referred me to The American State Papers on Indian Affairs and Clarence Carter’s papers. Back then life moved at a slower pace, so I was able to work my way through that, to pick up clues until finally I could document that Hobukintoopa was the Indian name for Ft. St. Stephens on the lower Tombigbee.

I wrote it all up and showed Miss Harrell, sent that to Mr. Dean. I didn’t hear back. But when Miss Capers came back to the office in September, she called me into the office to talk with her, and she reaches in her desk, pulls out a letter and reads, “Dear Miss Capers, In all my years of legal research, I have never seen anything surpassing that done by your young Mr. Hilliard.” Bless Mr. Dean’s heart, he got me off to a good start, and Miss Capers said, “Elbert, you’re going over to the Old Capitol now, and take over there.”

Fortunately Mr. Nietzel was gracious enough not to be resentful of this young man who knew absolutely nothing coming in. He and I had a good relationship over the years and after he left the department, Dr. McLemore was director, I got him to come in and head up another excavation of the Grand Village when we were developing it as a state historical site.

Elbert Hilliard (seated) with William Winter in the State Archives, Oct. 2003. Photo courtesy of Chris Goodwin

“The Way I Heard It”: An Oral History of Calhoun County, Mississippi

The Introduction to this document contains this recollection from Dewitt Spencer:

The way the idea originated, as I remember it–this was over two years ago-we had, during National Library Week-this was in 1973-I was on the Board for Dixie Regional Library-and Calhoun City Library had open house as part of its activities for the week and had some older people come in and tell about the early days of Calhoun County on tape. All of them were white, of course.

 I thought this was a great idea, but why not tell it for the whole county and for all the people? At that particular time I was writing a project for E.S.A.A., for the schools, and I just included this as one of the activities. It really didn’t fit into the project, in that it wasn’t strictly academic, and they like everything to be instructional, but we put it in, talked to John Burt about it, and he thought it would be a pretty good idea, and we put it in. The committee in Atlanta liked it, and it passed.

 Now after the project was written and approved by Atlanta, I was telling Dr. David Sansing about it, and he invited me up to Ole Miss to a meeting that he was having to tell a little bit about it in the meeting, which I did. Byrle Kynard, Dr. Kynard was in attendance at the meeting, and that’s the way we got up with Ken. He recommended Ken. We interviewed Ken. At first I had thought to emphasize black history, in that I didn’t think that much had been done. Ken didn’t think it should be just black history, but all of it, which I think was a good idea. It turned out well. That’s pretty much the way we got into it.

So very much more needs to be said about The Way I Heard It, including more about the principals involved, Dewitt, Ken Nail, John Burt, David Sansing, and Byrtle Kynard, the ESAA project, not to mention the time and effort it took to create this manuscript, but that will come in the fullness of time.

Louis LeFleur, Frontiersman

Surprisingly little has been written about Louis LeFleur, who gave his name to Jackson’s Pearl River bluff, and became the father of the last chief of the Choctaw Nation (Greenwood LeFlore). Much of that written is inaccurate, the most glaring error being that he was a French-Canadian when in fact he was born in the tiny French colony of “Mobille” surrounding Fort Condé on the Gulf of Mexico.

Louis LeFleur was born Louis LeFlau; since by custom Louis eventually came to be known as LeFleur, we’ll use that name throughout to refer to him as LeFlore will be used in reference to his son Greenwood. Louis’ father, Jean Baptiste LeFlau came from France in the early 18th century as a soldier in the Fort Condé garrison. In 1735, he married Jeanne Boissinot, a native of Mobile, who bore him three children before her death in 1752. Jean Baptiste then married Jeanne Girard in 1753 and Louis, their third child, was born on June 29, 1762. There are no records of Louis LeFlau after his baptismal entry of 1762 until around 1790, but it’s certain that during this time he began trading with Native Americans, primarily the Choctaws, and likely operated flat-boats on the Amite and Pearl Rivers as well as in the Mississippi Sound.

LeFleur epitomizes those men of the American frontier who plied their trade along the navigable rivers in a wilderness before, during, and even after the advent of steamboats and the eventual dominance of rail. In Antebellum Natchez James D. Clayton writes that “L. LeFleur (sic), father of a celebrated Choctaw Chieftain of a later era, operated with handsome profits the main boat shuttle to Pensacola, carrying produce and commodities.” He brought luxury items to the prosperous city of Natchez, including “fine apparel” which “had been ordered from Panton, Leslie, and Company of St. Marks in east Florida.” The boats LeFleur and those like him used were flatboats or keelboats that were manned by a crew of up to twenty-five people. The goods LeFleur routinely carried were much less luxurious, used in his trade with the Choctaw, and the pelts he secured were sold in the trading houses at St. Marks and Pensacola. Corn and other farm products were sold in in Florida and Natchez.

Sometime around 1790, LeFleur cheerfully adopted the Choctaw system of polygamy and married both Nancy and Rebecca Cravat, the half-French nieces of the Choctaw Chief Pushmataha. LeFleur moved his growing family—three children were born by 1798—to Pass Christian, but with the establishment of the Choctaw Agency near present-day Jackson, he chose as a location for the new home a bluff on the west side of the Pearl River, rising some twenty-five feet above the crest of the floods and extending along the river for several hundred feet. With the opening on the Natchez Trace under the treaty of Fort Adams in 1801, LeFleur opened a way station in the same location where traders, travelers and mail carriers could secure fresh horses. This station rapidly became an inn providing bed and board as well as entertainment. The actual site of this trading post is disputed. Greenwood was the first of the “LeFlau” sons to be born at LeFleur’s Bluff on June 2, 1800, named for the Greenwood in the firm of Greenwood and Higginson, the London correspondents of Panton and Leslie.

LeFleur still operated his profitable boating trade, securing commissions from General William C.C. Claiborne, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the newly organized (1798) Mississippi Territory to carry “certain goods sent by the United States as presents to the Choctaw Nation of Indians.” He also carried messages to the Governor of the Province of Louisiana. In addition to being entrusted with the delivery of merchandise making up the government annuity payments to the Choctaw Nation, Louis was asked to be present at the occasions when terms of treaties were negotiated. Louis “Leflow” is listed as one of the witnesses to the Treaty of Mount Dexter on November 16, 1805, which conveyed large amounts of land in what is now southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, including much of the western portion of Clarke County, Alabama, to the United States.

By 1810, operation of the inn and raising cattle had become LeFleur’s main enterprises, and he, along with Louis Durant, was said to have introduced cattle into Mississippi. Travelers from the east and from foreign lands have mentioned the accommodations at the Bluff and at the inn he established in 1812 at the place now known as French Camp. At French Camp, LeFleur had a number of buildings erected and it was here in 1812 that Major John Donly, who held the U.S. Government contract for transporting the mail on the Nashville-Natchez route, suggested to Louis that he be allowed to take young Greenwood home to Nashville with him in order that the boy might receive an “American education”, and LeFleur consented. Louis served with Pushmataha under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and was promoted to the rank of major (brevet). He also served three months in 1814 in command of a company on Russell’s expedition to Alabama. He later served in the campaign to Pensacola in 1814-15.

With the introduction of the steamboat on the Mississippi River—the New Orleans was the first steamboat down the Mississippi in 1811—commerce along the Trace fell, but LeFleur expanded his agricultural interests and in a decade tripled their acreage in cultivation and heads of cattle. Greenwood was elected Chief of the Northwestern Division of the Choctaws, but when Jackson was elected president in 1828 he pursued a policy of negating the treaties between the U.S. and the Choctaws, and with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830) the Choctaws were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. In a survey of freeholds within the Choctaw lands is a record for “Louis LeFlau, 300 acres in cultivation in the Yazoo Valley; five in family with four males over 16”. Major LeFlau was to receive two sections of land according to the Supplement to the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was a coup de grâce for the Choctaws and it caused deep rifts in the LeFlau/LeFleur/LeFlore family. Details are sketchy, but Greenwood is in the fifth and last level of behests in Louis’ will, which was signed April 16, 1833. Louis LeFleur died that same year, and while his gravesite is unknown, family tradition states that he was buried in Hot Springs, Arkansas, not very far from LeFlore County, Oklahoma.

(Note: This article is a brief summation of preliminary research towards a more thorough examination of Louis LeFleur and should not be considered definitive.)

Image by Randy Steele

Mississippi Statehood Timeline

Hernando de Soto and his remaining troops crossed the Tombigbee near present-day Columbus and spent the winter near Tupelo, reaching the Mississippi River on May 8, 1541.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Ohio River Valley and the Mississippi River Valley and claimed the entire territory for France as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. La Nouvelle-Orléans was founded May 7, 1718 by the French Mississippi Company under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.

The first permanent settlement in French Louisiana was founded at Fort Maurepas (now Ocean Springs referred to as Old Biloxi) in 1699 under Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, with Louisiana separated from Spanish Florida at the Perdido River near Pensacola (founded 1559 and again in 1698).

New Biloxi founded across the bay from Fort Maurepas.

Fort Rosalie—the site of modern-day Natchez—was established by the French. Natchez was to become the most important European settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley up until the Civil War.

The Chickasaw Campaign of 1736 consisted of two pitched battles by the French and allies against Chickasaw fortified villages in present-day northeast Mississippi. Under the overall direction of the governor of Louisiana Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville a force from Upper Louisiana attacked Ogoula Tchetoka on March 25, 1736. A second force from Lower Louisiana attacked Ackia on May 26, 1736. Both attacks were bloodily repulsed, and French domination of the Mississippi Valley fell into decline.

The Treaty of Paris, also known as the Treaty of 1763, was signed on 10 February 1763 by the kingdoms of Great Britain, France and Spain, with Portugal in agreement, after Great Britain’s victory over France and Spain during the Seven Years’ War. By the terms of the treaty, Britain wrested the area east of the Mississippi River from the French.

Phineas Lyman led a group of New England veterans of the French and Indian War to settle in the new colony of West Florida (then a territory of Great Britain) near Natchez on the Big Black River where he died shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.

Under the terms of the Peace of Paris (1783), a series of treaties between Great Britain, France and Spain, what is now Mississippi above 31° north latitude parallel passed to the United States of America, but a separate Anglo-Spanish agreement, which ceded both Florida provinces back to Spain, did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. Spain claimed the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States claimed that the boundary was at the 31° parallel. Negotiations in 1785–1786 between John Jay and Don Diego de Gardoqui failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The border was finally resolved in 1795 by the Treaty of San Lorenzo, in which Spain recognized the 31° parallel as the boundary, and British troops were withdrawn in 1798.

April 7, 1798
The Mississippi Territory was organized. The territory’s original boundaries consisted of the region bounded by the Mississippi and Chattahoochee rivers in the west and east, the 31st parallel in the south, and the point where the Yazoo River emptied into the Mississippi River in the north. Government was patterned after the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which established a governor, secretary and three judges to serve as a ruling council. After the territory’s population reached 5,000 free adult males, an assembly could be elected and a delegate sent to Congress. Winthrop Sargent, a New England Federalist, was appointed governor.

Chafing under Sargent’s autocracy his opponents presented their grievances to the federal government, which granted a second stage of territorial status to Mississippi, including the popular election of officials. In 1801 Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson removed Sargent from office. The new administration repealed all of Sargent’s laws and moved the territory’s capital from Federalist-dominated Natchez to nearby Washington.

The northern boundary of the Mississippi Territory was extended to the Tennessee state line.

President James Madison annexed land along the Gulf of Mexico, and by 1813, the Mississippi Territory encompassed the boundaries of present-day Alabama and Mississippi.

March 27, 1814
General Andrew Jackson won the Battle of Horseshoe Bend which destroyed the Red Stick Creeks as a military power. The subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the devastated Creeks to cede over 23 million acres of land to the United States and cleared the way for an influx of immigration into the Mississippi Territory.

October, 1816
Prominent residents from throughout the Territory met at the home of John Ford, south of Columbia, to discuss statehood. In what became known as the “Pearl River Convention,” the attendees—the majority overwhelmingly eastern section residents—decided to send leading territorial official Harry Toulmin to the nation’s capital to request admission of the Mississippi Territory as a single state.

March 1, 1817
President James Madison signed the Enabling Act that granted admission of the western section of the Territory as the state of Mississippi on; the eastern section was organized as the Alabama Territory at the same time. The line of division, which still serves as the boundary between Mississippi and Alabama today, was designed to be a compromise between the wishes of western and eastern residents of the Territory.

July, 1817
Forty-eight delegates from Mississippi’s fourteen counties met at Washington to draft the new state’s constitution. The constitution established Mississippi’s government and recognized Natchez as the state’s capital.

August 15, 1817
The Alabama Territory was carved from the Mississippi Territory.

December 10, 1817
President James Monroe signed the resolution that admitted Mississippi as the nation’s twentieth state. Territorial governor David Holmes won election as the state’s first governor. Electors also chose George Poindexter as its only congressman and Walter Leake and Thomas H. Williams as its first senators. Alabama entered the Union on December 14, 1819.

One Direction Home

“South Jackson as a place begins at 2155 Terry Road, the address of the city’s oldest home. It is the last remaining plantation house in the area. Today, an anomaly, a handsome Greek revival structure with Doric columns standing near Interstate 20’s cloverleaf, commercial enterprises and the decay of the Highway 80 Corridor.”

And so begins One Direction Home: A History of South Jackson, by Dr. Vincent Venturini and former city commissioner Doug Shanks. Shanks recounts that the work began with a question: Were his fond memories of growing up in south Jackson just nostalgia, or was south Jackson truly a special place? The answer is, of course, yes and yes. There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, particularly that of the sort leading to such a wonderful work as this. At once scholarly and informal, poignant and piercing, One Direction Home entertains and informs on many levels.

U.S. Highway 51 splits in Jackson, ending on South State Street to the east, and starting again on Terry Road some two miles to the west. When Terry Road emerges from the cloverleaf south of Highway 81, atop a broad ridge sits the Carmelite monastery housed in the aforementioned Greek revival home formerly owned by the Myrant family. The Myrant/Lester home is a focus for an early history of south Jackson, which is integral to that of the city and of Hinds County. Terry Road (Hwy. 51) provides an axis for the geography of the area, which Venturini describes as, “somewhat porous, but we largely see south Jackson as beginning at Highway 80 and extending south to Lake Catherine and west to Mississippi Highway 18.”

“The eastern boundary is the Pearl River,” he added. We are also including Provine High School from its beginning until 1968. Although Wingfield High School opened in 1966 for students in the city’s southern section, those already enrolled in Provine were allowed to finish there. As pointed out in Doug’s Preface, Shoney’s is included as a south Jackson institution given the role it played in the lives of our contemporaries.”

And the time? While an early history is presented, Shanks claims, “What follows in the coming pages is a largely nostalgic visit to south Jackson as it existed between 1945 and 1975.” All Jacksonians will recall landmarks such as the Alamo Plaza, the “Chuc-Wagun”, the Frost Top, the Green Derby, Leavell Woods Park, Cook Center, Mart 51 and the Zodiac. They will also recall, among the many prominent south Jacksonians mentioned, Farmer Jim Neal of WSLI, Woodie Assaf of WLBT, “Skipper” Dick Miller of WJTV, Andrew Mattiache, and Walter Bivins.”

“The neighborhoods, the churches, the schools, the streets, parks, and other elements that compose a city are part of this wonderful weave,” he adds.

The book has scores of wonderful photographs, and has a reassuringly extensive and detailed bibliography with notes. One thing, though; Shanks and Venturini spend an inordinate time mentioning the proletarian reputation of south Jackson. This apologia is distracting, superfluous, and, most importantly, unnecessary. Let’s bear in mind that this is not Natchez, nor Vicksburg, but Jackson, Mississippi, a city no less a cosmopolitan than Audubon described in 1823 as “a mean place.” Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you one Jackson neighborhood is “better” than another, but many an outsider has found the entire city déclassé if not to say destitute.

While no doubt many former and current south Jacksonians will find flaws and omissions (that assuredly only they could detect) all can celebrate this loving biography of a time, a place, a people, a portal in time to a backyard barbecue, a high school football game, and a corner soda fountain.

The Free State of Calhoun

The following article, written by Col. M.D.L. Stephens, appeared in Calhoun Monitor in 1900, was reprinted June 18, 1931 and on in July 6, 1972 The Monitor-Herald. It later appeared in the newsletter of the Calhoun County Historical Society MS, First Quarter, 2000. This colorful account of a traveling circus touring north central Mississippi at the turn of the last century gives you a stiff dose of Colonel Stevens’  wry humor.

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 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.

To the Ramparts of Infinity: A Review

With “Sartoris” (1929), William Faulkner began “sublimating the actual into apocryphal,” targeting his great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, as inspiration for the Yoknapatawpha cosmos and prototype for Colonel John Sartoris.

While it’s the incandescence of William Faulkner that provides the impetus for critics and historians to piece together the life W.C. Falkner, Colonel Falkner was a prominent, if not towering figure in his own right, certainly in terms of the history of north Mississippi, and an archetype of the men who fashioned a nation out of the Southern frontier.

The Yoknapatawpha stories also led Jack Elliott to W.C. Falkner. Elliott first heard about “Old Colonel” Falkner at the initial Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference at the University of Mississippi in 1974, and a field trip to Ripley brought young Elliott to the foot of the nineteen-foot Falkner monument that dominates the cemetery, the actual counterpart to the “apocryphal” monument in the Jefferson cemetery where the marble statue of John Sartoris [gazes] “to the blue, changeless hills beyond, and beyond that, the ramparts of infinity itself.”

In time, Elliott began formulating a work on the life of W.C. Falkner, and found that not only were the stories that circulated about Falkner during his lifetime “fantastic and exaggerated,” these stories themselves were “perpetuated and augmented by short, poorly researched historical pieces.” Elliott sets out to amend these shortcomings, which indeed he does superbly, with a seasoned scholar’s attention to detail and an ear for the written word.

Elliott’s account of Falkner’s early years and the progress of the Falkners and their Word relatives from the eastern seaboard is supported by comprehensive documentation. When the U.S. Congress declared war against Mexico in May 1846, Falkner was elected first lieutenant, which, Elliott confirms, “was certainly due to his popularity among his peers rather than his ability to command.” Elliott provides a thorough account of Falkner’s actions in Mexico, as well as the succeeding Civil War in which he was an officer (“brigadier general, then captain, then colonel and … captain again”) of the Magnolia Rifles, a company from Ripley.

Elliott doesn’t neglect Falkner’s education, stating that he “read law” under his uncles Thomas Jefferson (“Jeff”) Word and J.W. Thompson, and was admitted to the nascent Mississippi bar in 1850. Little else is known of his formal education, though Elliott says that Falkner himself alludes to studying Cicero and Julius Caesar.

Though Elliott’s biography doesn’t stint on a full account of Falkner’s extensive feuds with the Hindmans or with Thurmond, Elliot is determined to discredit earlier portrayals of W.C. Falkner that paint him as a pathological megalomaniac, stating that “The evidence for such a scenario is weak and the conclusion little more than a strained surmise that was bolstered by repetition.” Elliott points out that Falkner was “well-liked by most and even idolized by many,” and that earlier historians (particularly Duclos) “failed to see the feud [with R.J. Thurmond, his assassin] in terms of a conflict over differing visions for the railroad …”

Throughout the work, Elliot provides supporting evidence of Falkner’s character, including this from Thurmond’s great-nephew: “[Falkner] loved power and the trappings of power; he delighted in playing the Grand Seignor (sic), yet was a public-spirited citizen and at heart a kindly if hot-blooded man.”

Another falsehood Elliott seeks to dispel is that Falkner was not the prime architect of the Ripley Railroad, that Falkner managed to inveigle the public into believing that he was the driving force behind the project when in fact he was only one among many who contributed to the scheme. But, though the original charter for the Ripley Railroad Company was issued to W. C. Falkner, R. J. Thurmond, and thirty-five other incorporators in December 1871, the mountain of evidence Elliott presents is far more than enough to convince even a skeptical reader—who are at this late date likely to be few—that it was indeed Falkner “who brought the social, political, and financial elements together and made it happen.”

Elliott examines Falkner’s life in letters with marvelous detail. He gives, for example, an entertaining synopsis of Falkner’s famous melodrama, “The White Rose of Memphis” (1881), complete with contemporary reviews. Digging deeper, he examines Falkner’s less successful second novel, “The Little Brick Church” (1882), and his play, “The Lost Diamond” (1874). Earlier writings—including a sensationalist pamphlet, a narrative poem, and a short novel—also come under review.

Elliott offers insights into Falkner’s writing habits, and documents his familiarity not only with the Bible, but with Shakespeare, Scott, Byron, Homer, and Cervantes. In May 1883, Falkner toured Europe and published an account of his travels, “Rapid Ramblings in Europe” the following year.

What Elliott sets out to do is to “to inquire into the image of a man long dead, an image partly frozen into that of a marble statue.” Elliott’s biography of “Old Colonel” Falkner embraces far more than that life, that image. “As in much of local history, the memory of a place draws us to delve into the matrix of interconnected symbols, whether stories or documents or associated places.”

To that end, Elliott’s work on Falkner embraces not just the man, but the milieu, the town of Ripley and the society and culture—such as it was—of north Mississippi in his day. He includes a fascinating “Field Guide to Colonel Falkner’s Ripley,” a block-by-block examination of the town using the grid established by the surveyor “who in 1836 laid out the streets, blocks, and lots, and this geometry still frames the lives of residents and visitors today.” Filled with historic photos of homes, businesses, and downtown traffic (i.e., cotton wagons and railroad cars), this section of the book will undoubtedly find the greatest appeal among casual readers.

Elliott’s writing is lucid, orderly, and compelling. Perhaps Elliott didn’t consciously set out to write the “complete, sensitive, and discerning biography” of W.C. Falkner Thomas McHaney expressed a need for almost sixty years ago, but, in the end, he has.

Jackson: The Way We Were . . .

In 1981, Forrest L. Cooper and Donald F. Garrett published a selection of old postcards of Jackson from about 1902 until the mid-1950s, with more than 90% prior to 1920. The text was written by Carl McIntire, a self-professed “reporter, not a historian,” who nonetheless spent an enormous amount of time on the project, doing extensive research and interviewing more than 300 people. McIntire admitted to a margin of error, but states that “for the most part, all the dates and places are correct.” The book had a very limited printing and has hitherto never been republished. The link below will take you to a digital version of this exquisitely nuanced, intricately informative, and infinitely beautiful labor of love.

Jackson: The Way We Were . . .