Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Dulaney Pioneer Home Northeast of Fulton Has Stood for Generations

Pictured is a photograph detail of the old Dulaney pioneer home northeast of Fulton. I photographed this scene during 1986. This old home is typical of pioneer homesteads scattered throughout Itawamba County. This historic structure and others such as the Moman Pate home south of Tremont and the Bounds house in the Banner community have stood as monuments to the early settlers of Itawamba County for generations. The Dulaney settlement northeast of Fulton was at the end of an old wagon road out of Monroe County found by the government surveyors during the early 1830's when the Chickasaw cession was being mapped and surveyed. For more information about the Dulaney settlement, refer to an earlier post about the subject.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Newspapers Can Be a Treasure Trove of Information

Several years ago I was thumbing through a bound volume of newspapers in the county courthouse, and on the front page of the March 20, 1913 edition of the Itawamba County News, the following paragraph in the society section caught my attention:

“Uncle William Sheffield was here this week visiting relatives and told about seeing seven men shot on their coffins for deserting. Also, his knowledge and skill as a blacksmith, enabled him to release 14 soldiers one night who were condemned to die next morning for having deserted the army. This occurred in Atlanta, Georgia."

William Sheffield was my great grandfather. I had known he had training as a blacksmith from looking at early census records. I also knew he had served in the Confederate army during the Civil War with Company B of the 38th Alabama Infantry. Having his service records and pension records I had learned quite a bit about his service in the war, but coming across the information found in the old newspaper was simply something that more than likely would not be found in official records - and it was a piece of information that came straight from the mouth of my great grandfather.

While looking through old newspapers from 1889, the November 7, 1889 edition of the Fulton Reporter here in Mississippi had a notice that read “Mr. E. Cockrell died at his home, a few miles east of Fulton last Monday night. He was one of Itawamba's oldest and best citizens, and his death is quite a shock to his many friends and relatives -- more on account of it being so sudden and unexpected. A good man has gone to rest.” And in the same issue in the Bowen News section, a notice read “We attended the funeral of old Brother Cockrell last Sunday at New Home Church. Rev. McDougal preached.”

These two notices documented the sudden death of my great great grandfather, Elum Cockrell in 1889. I already had his death date from visiting his monument in the old secluded Moore Cemetery east of Fulton, but from these two notices I learned that his memorial services were held at New Home Church and that the Rev. McDougal preached the sermon.

Little tidbits of information such as the ones illustrated above, add so much to the barebones information of dates and names in our family histories. Old newspapers are a valuable resource for family history research. They not only supply a good general history of the area we are researching, but also give us bits of information about our families that normally we would not have. And such information is usually contemporary to the times being researched and usually comes from firsthand knowledge.

It is so important to never forget the importance of newspapers in our family history research. Old newspapers are simply a looking glass into the lives and times of our ancestors, and the places they lived. A newspaper is in essence, a genuine snapshot of any given place at any given time.

The above post was written for the 57th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana)

American Beautyberry is currently producing berries all across the woodlands of Itawamba County. A sure sign of autumn, this plant produces large clusters of purple berries that birds and deer eat during the winter months. It has been said the leaves of this plant repel insects. The native range of this plant is from Maryland to Florida and west to Texas and Arkansas. It is also a native to Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Cuba.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tea Cake Memories

Growing up in the Deep South I have had the chance to try all sorts of southern culinary delicacies but the humble and plain tea cake brings back some of my most cherished childhood memories of the kitchen.

Tea cakes in Mississippi have always been a favorite cookie. Served to eager children and enjoyed by adults alike from all walks of life throughout the South, this simple sugar cookie has simply stood the sustained test of time.

It has been said the southern tea cake evolved from a recipe brought to America from England during the 1700’s. Known as “little cakes” they were first served with afternoon tea. The earliest recipe I found for a traditional tea cake as we know it today, was on page 71 of the 1841 edition of The American Frugal Housewife (originally published in 1830) by Lydia Maria Francis Child at Google Books.

As a young child I remember my mom baking these simple cookies. I could always tell when she was preparing tea cakes, as the faint aroma of vanilla extract would drift through the house like a light fog coming off the river bottom at dawn. The cookie dough, simply consisting of eggs, flour, butter, vanilla extract and milk would be transformed into a delectable baked treat with golden crispy edges and a soft chewy center. Around the holidays at Thanksgiving and Christmas my mom would sometimes add a hint of nutmeg to the cookies giving them a unique holiday taste.

Yesterday I retrieved my mom’s old recipe box from the kitchen pantry, and in thumbing through the hand-written recipe cards, never came across a recipe for tea cakes. I’m really not surprised there was no such recipe in the box because the tea cake is one of those recipes that every southerner should know by heart, and rarely needs writing down. It’s simply one of those culinary traditions orally handed down from one generation to the next.

I found several recipes for southern tea cakes online and finally, after quite a bit of research, found one to my liking. With the recipe in hand, I gathered the ingredients of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, and milk and proceeded to produce my own tea cakes. Rolling out the dough with my grandmother’s big wooden rolling pin, I cut the cookies, placed them on a baking sheet and in the oven they went. As the tea cakes slowly baked in the oven, the subtle scent of vanilla, butter and flour permeated the kitchen bringing back precious tea cake memories from times long gone by.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Old Mt. Moriah Schoolhouse and Church

Several years ago I photographed the old Mt. Moriah school building. This school was established as early as the 1860's (records of the school have been found dating to 1869 when teacher James Harmon gave his annual report to the state) and was located south of Horn's Crossing east of Bull Mountain Creek in the heart of Itawamba's hill country. The land was deeded to Mount Moriah Church in a deed given by Samson McKown on October 8, 1869. In recent years the old building was torn down and the adjoining cemetery enlarged onto the site where the school and church once stood. From the 1869 school report, students who attended the school included George Hampton, Mary Hampton, William Hampton, James Brown, Samuel Brown, Lafayette Brown, Frankling Jones, Virginia Jones, Margaret Perry, John Perry, Martha Perry, Jane Harmon, Mary Harmon, Martha Harmon, Idy Harmon, Louvice Harmon and Elizabeth Boyd.

The adjoining cemetery was established in 1900. The earliest monument in the cemetery is that of M.E. Gentry. She was born in 1838 and died in 1900. According to locals, the family had planned to bury her in the Dyer or Old Bethel Cemetery, a few miles south of Mt. Moriah, but because of high water, they could not get to that cemetery. According to the 1900 Itawamba County Federal Census, she was Mary E. Gentry, born in South Carolina. During 1900 she was living with her son Willie Gentry next to several Horn families.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Free Guide to Help With Researching the U.S. Decennial Census Records

Over the years while researching various family lines, I’ve used census images probably as much as any record group. Census research can be fascinating yet problematic. I’ve come across several instances where the subject I was researching was not included in the census and some cases, where the subject was listed more than once in a particular census, but in a different location. I’ve come across many instances where ages were wrong and names were wrong. It’s always important to note that information gathered in a census was gathered by a human. But humans make mistakes. It is also important to know that in many cases information found in enumerations were not necessarily obtained directly from the family being enumerated.

A few years back, I was researching the Stephen Duncan family of Mississippi and Louisiana for a research paper, when I noticed errors with the 1860 census listing in relation to the John Julius and Maria Linton Duncan Pringle household. Some children were omitted, ages were wrong, the wife’s name was wrong, and some children added to this family in this particular census. This family lived on Torwood Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. However, Maria, the wife, was enumerated on the 1860 census at Auburn, her father’s family estate in Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi (Page 118, 863-863) upriver from Pointe Coupee Parish. This Adams County census was taken 20 July and the census of Torwood Plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana was taken on 18 July. According to the book Mary's World: Love, War and Family Ties in 19th Century Charleston, by Richard N. Côté, Julius and Maria left the states on a trip to France in July of 1860 leaving Torwood under the care of the overseer (page 202). I am wondering if Torwood's overseer or house servants in Pointe Coupee Parish answered the census questions, as the Pringle family members were probably away at the time and possibly those listed are the overseer's family? Or if simply, the overseer or person supplying the information was wrong and simply guessing at the information? This census listing continues to definitely a mystery for me.

The above is but one such example of census research problems. However, there is one avenue of study that can greatly enhance census research – and that is studying the actual census instructions for the various census years. It is always important to view the actual assistant marshals’ instructions for a particular census to fully understand the census process for that particular census year. For instance, during the 1850 census part of the instructions about enumerating household residents reads: “The name of any member of a family who may have died since the 1st day of June is to be enumerated as if living, but the name of any person born since the 1st day of June is to be omitted.” According to these instructions, if the enumerator visited a household on July 20, 1850 and your ancestor had died on May 10, 1850, the deceased ancestor would be enumerated as if still living. If a child had been born in the household on June 10, 1850 and the enumerator visited the household on August 1, 1850 the child would not be enumerated.

An excellent well-illustrated guide to the decennial censuses complete with questionnaires and instructions for each census is the publication, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. This 140-page publication is in PDF format and available from the U.S. Census Bureau. This free publication can be downloaded in segments. The segment containing pages 5 through 96 deals with questionnaires and instructions given the enumerators from the 1790 census through the 1990 census and is a 3.07 megabyte download. This illustrated section is chock-full of detailed information about the 19th Century census taking process and is an important resource for genealogical researchers well worth the download time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Pioneer Log Structure in the Hills of Eastern Itawamba County

Along Highway 23 south of Tremont, an old pioneer log home sits on the hillside. Several years back, this structure was moved from Horn's Crossing to its new location.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ridge Cemetery Marks the Spot of the Old Antebellum Community of Oak Farm

A Patterson family monument in the Ridge Cemetery in extreme northeastern Itawamba County is one of the tallest monuments in this cemetery. Ridge Cemetery is one of the larger cemeteries of the county. Located just west of the town of Red Bay, Alabama, south of and along Ridge Road, and just south of Tishomingo County, this area during antebellum times was known as Oak Farm. The cemetery sits atop the ridge known as the Tennessee Valley Divide. Land north of Ridge Road is in the Tennessee River Valley and land south of the road is in the Tombigbee River Valley. Itawamba County’s highest elevation is along this ridge.

North of the road is a fertile plateau of land, where, during antebellum times, large farming operations developed. The oldest monument in the cemetery I found was that of Elizabeth, wife of Rev. Harden Patterson. She was born during 1811 and died on May 26, 1861.

Elizabeth is listed in the 1860 Itawamba County census with her husband Harden Patterson (age 50, born NC) and children James F. (age 26, merchant), Elizabeth M. (age 19), Margaret A. (age 17) and Robert A. (age 15). Also enumerated in the household is Henry B. Covington (age 27, Methodist Episcopal minister). Immediate neighbors were the Alexander Fancher family, Isham Lesley family and Charlotte Cox family. Other members of the community area were the Bates family (this family also operated a store in Fulton before the Civil War) and Burgesses family. All of these families ran quite large farming operations.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn 2008 is a Special Time at Holley Farm in Itawamba County

Holley Farm in Itawamba County is a beautiful sprawling agricultural oasis among the scenic rolling hills of northeastern Mississippi. A part of the Holley family for generations, this autumn the family farm is open for tours during its Fall Maze Days. I talked with a member of the Fulton Garden Club this morning about that club’s tour of the farm yesterday. It seems every member in the club was simply amazed and captivated at what Holley Farm offers the visitor. Included in the tour is a five-acre corn maze in the shape of a John Deere tractor, a pumpkin patch, a cotton field, farm animals, a large playground area, a barrel train, and a wagon ride through the farm and woodlands showcasing Itawamba County wildflowers, to the beautiful Bull Mountain Creek. There’s a country store offering unique culinary items enjoyed in Itawamba County homes for generations including delicious apples, home canned jellies and jams, squash pickles, corn relish, chow chow and home baked breads.

Holley Farm will be open weekends from September 26 until November 1. General admission is $6 with children under two admitted free. Group packages are available. The farm is open weekdays by appointment only. Give yourself a break in the countryside by taking a nostalgic trip down memory lane at beautiful Holley Farm in the heart of Itawamba County’s scenic hill country. For further information about Holley Farm’s Fall Maze Days, visit the Holley Farm website.

Photographs courtesy of the Holley Farm website

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lion Service Station Advertisement: 1939

The Lion Service Station in Fulton during 1939 was located just off the town square on Main Street. The above advertisement was published during the fall of 1939.

A Monument in Salem Cemetery

Salem Cemetery, in the northeastern part of Itawamba County, is one of the county's historic cemeteries. Pictured above is a moss-covered monument in the old cemetery.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Early Sunday Morning Clouds Over Itawamba County

A hint of vivid blue sky as the cloud cover breaks apart, greeted me as I completed my early morning gardening chores early this morning. Early morning and around sunset seem to be my favorite parts of the day. It is then, the filtered light seems to make the landscape come alive with vivid colors.

Fulton Book Club Yearbooks Donated to Society’s Library Archive

Janie Comer of Fulton recently donated a collection of Fulton Book Club yearbooks to the society’s archives. This collection of books covers the years 1947 through 1958. This collection belonged to Letha Ferguson Comer of Fulton.

Each book contains a list of officers, committees and members of the 25-member women’s organization. In addition, the minutes of each monthly meeting for the preceding year were published. The Fulton Book Club motto was “Only a book, Be it Good or Wrought, Can Never by Tongue or Pen be Taught. It Ran Through the life, Like a Thread of Gold, and Rendered Fruit a Thousand Fold.” The club colors were blue and gold.

This collection will be housed in the Gaither Spradling Library at the George Poteet History Center, headquarters of the Itawamba Historical Society. The society would like to thank Janie Comer for this gift that will enhance the society’s archival collection.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spider Lilies Herald the Coming of Autumn

Spider Lilies (Lycoris radiata) are now coming up and blooming everywhere in Itawamba County. This beautiful and unusual plant is a welcome sign that the hot days of summer are almost over and the cooler temperatures of autumn days are on their way. The lilies pictured above were photographed in my flower garden this afternoon.

A native of China and Japan, this plant is now widely naturalized in the southeastern United States. These showy surprises of late summer and early autumn have also been called Surprise Lily and Hurricane Lily. Whatever they are called, Lycoris radiata is one of the first signs of autumn in Itawamba County.

The Opening of US Highway 78 in 1939

On November 11, 1926 the U.S. numbered highway system was adopted and it was then that the southeastern portion of Bankhead Highway became known as U.S. Highway 78. The new Highway 78 began in downtown Charleston, South Carolina and ended at Second Street in downtown Memphis. It was during the Great Depression, when the U.S. and state governments put men to work that a new Highway 78 was built through Itawamba County. It was not until 1939 that the last section of this road was completed with the last section being in Itawamba County (the section from Fulton, eastward to the Alabama State Line).

On Thursday, September 28, 1939 opening celebrations were held in Fulton in Itawamba County and in Hamilton, Alabama in neighboring Marion County. A front-page article in the September 28, 1939 edition of the Fulton News Beacon reads: “A large crowd came to Fulton this morning for the opening of the highway celebration, including a caravan of 75 cars from Tupelo, headed by mayor J.P. Nanney. The program of the day is crowning of queen and king at 9 a.m. at Fulton; ceremony at Hamilton, Ala., at 10 a.m., ribbon cutting ceremony at the Alabama-Mississippi state line at 12 noon; luncheon at Fulton at 1 p.m. ceremony on court square at 2 p.m., and an old time dance festival and street dance at 8 p.m. Pictured is the printed program for the event (click image for larger view).

An article appearing in the Commercial Appeal in Memphis reads in part: “Tribute to the vision of Senator John Bankhead, Sr., of Alabama, who 33 years ago advocated Federal aid for development of the Nation’s road system, was paid today (Thursday) by distinguished sons of Alabama and Mississippi at the formal opening of the all-paved Bankhead Highway (United States 78). Ceremonies were held at Hamilton, Ala., at the Alabama-Mississippi line and here (Fulton) celebrating completion of the final 15-mile gap in the 3,600-mile system from Washington through the Deep South via Memphis, thence to the Pacific Coast, said to be the longest paved roadway under one name in the world.”

The Commerical Appeal article goes on to tell of the visiting dignitaries to Fulton including Alabama senator, Speaker Will B. Bankhead and Senator John Bankhead, and also Governor White of Mississippi. According to the article, the day-long program opened in Fulton with the crowning by Governor White of the king and queen of “United States Highway 78” – Harold Stubblefield and Ann Kilpatrick, both of Fulton.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Old Scrap Iron Heap

A few years ago I was walking around an old farmstead with the elderly owner. Although the farm had ceased being an active farm more than 50 years earlier, many of the old buildings were still standing. As we walked over the place the elderly lady would point out items from her past that I would normally overlook. And each old building or ruin would be a catalyst for a vivid story from the past, as if it happened only yesterday. At one point we came upon an old pile of rusty scraps of iron next to where the chicken coup once stood – old hoe blades, farm machinery gears and plows were piled high. I asked her about this collection of rusting farm artifacts from days gone by and she replied, “Oh my, that’s PaPa’s scrap iron heap.” As we sifted through the contents of the rusty heap she told me the story of Itawamba County scrap drives during World War II.

Recently I was thumbing through a 1942 volume of newspapers looking for an obituary for a researcher and came across several advertisements for a Scrap Drive. These advertisements brought back memories of that day on the farm. From reading the advertisements, the 1942 Local Salvage Committee for Itawamba County were S.H. Alexander (chairman), A.T. Cleveland, G.C. Pratt, Sam Cooper and A.D. Graham. During August of 1942 a big junk rally was held for Fulton with the theme “Let’s Jolt Them With Junk from Itawamba County.”

Small towns all across America had such scrap drives. From farm families to citizens of towns, these drives generated a strong sense of community and a proud patriotic feel that everyone was doing their share with the war effort. During that August 1942 drive in Fulton, farm families from all over the hills and valleys of Itawamba County brought their scrap iron and steel, old rubber, rags, manila rope, burlap bags and waste cooking fats to the collection point. It was a time when Itawamba County was just coming out from under the Great Depression and most folks didn’t have much at all – yet they were proud, thrifty and determined. That hot August day in 1942 was a special day in Fulton. It was a special day when neighbor visited with neighbor, and all citizens had a strong sense of duty, feeling they were doing their part in serving their country during rough times.

Now when I look at the photograph I took of that little scrap iron heap, there is more meaning to the picture – it’s not merely a pile of refuse, but represents the patriotism shown by the determined citizens of Itawamba County more than 66 years ago.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Rare Scene: Self Portrait of an Early Itawamba County Traveling Photographer

During the late 1890’s and early 1900’s many Itawamba County, Mississippi families were photographed by traveling photographers. The county, like many other rural Mississippi counties, had no photography studio, therefore area studios in towns such as Tupelo traveled throughout the countryside setting up makeshift studios in the various communities. Old county newspapers from the era announced such ventures such as Huffman Photography Studio (James D. and Walter Huffman) in nearby Tupelo making trips to Itawamba County usually setting up shop in the Fulton Hotel. Such studios would publish their schedule with stops throughout the county in various communities such as Tremont, Tilden and Mantachie, usually setting up at or near a country store. Hanging quilts or canvas stretched between trees would usually serve as the backdrop. Many times the photographer’s wagon would stop at houses along the road and photograph portraits on the various farms.

The interesting photograph above, shared by Itawamba County researcher Mona Mills, is a most unusual traveling studio photograph in that the photographer herself is posing in the portrait with the subjects. This portrait was found in an old trunk belonging to Thusie Evans Robinson of the Tremont area. According to Mills, on the back of the photograph is, in what appears to be Lawson Robinson’s (Thusie’s son) strong handwriting, the notation “The Lady who made our pictures.” Pictured with the female photographer are two young girls. The girl on the right may be the daughter of Fletcher Lowrey Evans. Notice in the close-up view, the photographer is holding the rubber shutter bulb of the camera with the tubing to the camera hidden by the potted flower arrangements. This is a most unusual photograph being that the photographer is pictured in the portrait along with her subjects.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Free Ice Water and Two Large Ceiling Fans

A 1931 summer advertisement for the A.J. Mattox store on the town square in Fulton tells of free ice water,two large ceiling fans running all the time and a ladies' rest room. The advertisement was in an issue of the Fulton News Beacon. A.J. Mattox was a general merchandise store selling everything from clothing and shoes to household goods and garden seed. A retail business continues to be located in this historic building today.

Jesse Harris Pottery Works

Itawamba County researcher Mona Mills shared with the society the above photograph copy she received from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History of the Jesse Harris Pottery in Itawamba County. J.J. Harris Pottery was located atop River Hill west of the Tombigbee River. For more information about this pottery operation, see an earlier post about the subject.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Kelso Family: Fulton, Mississippi 1920

Pictured are Walter and Ada Pearl Tucker Kelso with their children (left to right): Melbia, Rebel, Vema, and Vela. Written on the back of the photograph is: 1920 Fulton, Miss. In the 1910 Itawamba County Federal census, Walter Kelso (age 21, born in Mississippi), is listed in the household of Eddie and Anthem McNeece of the New Salem community. Ada Tucker (age 17) is listed as a daughter in the household of Henry and Martha Tucker of the Clay community.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Barnes Portrait

On the back of this photograph is written “James Wilson Barnes and Mealie Alice Thrasher Barnes” with a question mark. James Wilson Barnes was born September 13, 1872 in Alabama, the son of Berry Lee Barnes (born January 16, 1847 in Fayette County, Alabama) and Nancy Ann Hankins. On September 16, 1901 he married Alice Parmelia Thrasher (born January 2, 1877 in Morgan County, Alabama) in Itawamba County. The Barnes family lived in the Tombigbee Community east of Mantachie before moving west to Texas. James Wilson Barnes died in Dallas County, Texas during 1954.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wilson and Wilson Dry Goods and Groceries Business Card

I found the above business card in a stack of old family papers. I searched the 1920 and 1930 census records of Fulton and found no Wilson family in the town of Fulton who were listed as merchants. I did find a listing in a 1958 telephone directory for a W.H. Wilson store. This store must have operated in Fulton after 1930 and before 1958. Any reader who has information about Wilson and Wilson from the above business card, please share the information with the society.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fall Issue of Society Magazine Set to Go to Press

The Volume 28, Number 3 (Fall 2008) of Itawamba Settlers magazine is set to be delivered to the printers on Monday. Itawamba Settlers is the quarterly 56-page membership magazine of the Itawamba Historical Society.

This issue of the quarterly includes abstracts from 1911 issues of the newspaper, The Itawamba County News, 1865 Board of Police minutes and an index of the probate records of Itawamba County from 1836 to 1900. This issue also contains several feature articles including a wonderful profusely illustrated article about the Robinson family of the Tremont area.

Being editor of the magazine, I have thoroughly enjoyed transcribing the old Board of Police minutes. In Mississippi, the Board of Police were the managers of the county and akin to county commissioners in other states and is the predecessor of the county Board of Supervisors in Mississippi today.

1865 were changing times in Itawamba County and those minutes reflect the times. Such items as military relief disbursements, destitute soldiers and widows payments and the like are mentioned throughout the old volume.

Another record group I have enjoyed abstracting are the old newspaper social columns. During 1911 the social columns created a snapshot of daily life in Itawamba County nearly 100 years ago. The chatty columns told of births, deaths, and sickness. They also tell of local citizens visiting others, describing socials and parties and documenting such events as elections, school events, church socials and the like.

The Fall 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers should be mailed to the society’s membership within two weeks.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Itawamba County Courthouse on an Early September Day

Yesterday I had an email request for photographs of the current Itawamba County Courthouse. I photographed several scenes around the courthouse square. One scene I photographed is the east entrance to the building. When the building was renovated during the early 1970's the east side was made into the main entrance to the building. Although this entrance includes nice shade-producing trees and a large covered porch, most folks still consider the north side of the courthouse as the main entrance - as it has been since at least 1852.

In the Field

Society member Mona Robinson Mills of Oxford shared with the society many wonderful family photographs of the Robinson family from Tremont. The photograph above is a detail of a larger photograph that will appear on the front cover of the Fall 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine. Pictured above are (left to right) Gideon Robinson with children, Luke, Louis, Lowrey Marlin (or Buddy as he was called), Jewell (the only girl), and Lawson.
Such photographs as the one above are wonderful snapshots of daily life in Itawamba County from times gone by. So many family photographs are formal portrait photographs and every now and then one surfaces that shows a family in an informal setting. The photograph above is one such example of these wonderful treasures.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Early Morning Altocumulus Clouds Over Itawamba County

Today the early morning sky over Itawamba County was filled with altocumulus clouds. According to Wikipedia, altocumulus clouds signify convection. The clouds are usually white or gray, and often occurs in sheets or patches with wavy, rounded masses or rolls and often are seen preceding a cold front, and their presence on a warm, humid, summer morning frequently signals the development of thundershowers later in the day.

Cotton Picking Time on Shoaf Creek

Samuel Feemster Riley standing in the door of a cotton pen in the field during the early 1960's or late 1950's readying cotton for the trip to the gin on the old Riley farm along Shoaf Creek near the New Chapel Community. This photograph was in a collection of photos of New Chapel Farm given to me by my aunt, Erin Cockrell Riley.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Singing School At or Near Tremont ca. 1902

Mona Robinson Mills of Oxford has shared with the society a collection of wonderful photographs from the Tremont area. Most of the photographs were found in her great-grandmother’s trunk. Her great-grandmother was Arthusa “Thusie” Parneshia Evans who married Gideon Casibay Robinson. Most of the photographs in the collection are of various Robinson families and photographs of Thusie Evans Robinson’s siblings’ families. Thusie was the daughter of John Thomas Evans of Tremont and granddaughter of William M. Evans.

The above photograph had the following written on the back “Lily Evans” and “singing school” in addition to “July 2” which may “be July 02.”

The society would like to thank Mona Robinson Mills for sharing these photographs with the society. A special 4-page feature article about the Robinson family of eastern Itawamba County along with several of the photographs she shared will be published in the Fall 2008 issue of Itawamba Settlers magazine, scheduled to be mailed later this month.

The Old County Jail Was Bult ca. 1852

The first brick county jail was a two-story structure built when the first brick court house was constructed around 1852. The old two story structure was located at the corner of Wiygul and Cummings streets on the town square in Fulton (present-day Fulton city hall).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hauling Cotton From the Fields Along Shoaf Creek

Merle Riley during the early 1960's readying cotton for the trip to the gin on the old Riley farm along Shoaf Creek near the New Chapel Community. This photograph was in a collection of photos of New Chapel Farm given to me by my aunt, Erin Cockrell Riley.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Split-Log Dogtrot House on Cotton Gin Road

A 19th Century split-log dogtrot house is located on Cotton Gin Road north of Tremont. As with many such structures in Itawamba County, the open hallway has been enclosed.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ten Essential Research Books in My Personal Library

Friend and Itawamba Historical Society member Lori Thornton over at Smoky Mountain Family Historian is hosting the 55th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The topic of this edition is "10 essential books in my genealogy library."

Most all of my current research is devoted to Itawamba County, Mississippi, therefore most of my books relate to this specific area. I feel one very important resource for local researchers is historical accounts from sources contemporary to the times. With that in mind, two of my most used books are:
Conwill, David, ed. The Diary of Henry Jackson Lentz (1819-1869) of Limestone County, Alabama & Itawamba County, Mississippi Covering the Years 1847-1869. Tupelo, Mississippi: The Northeast Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society, 1983.

Gwin, Minrose, ed. Olden Times Revisited: W.L. Clayton’s Pen Pictures. Jackson, Mississipi: University Press of Mississippi,1982.
Another good source of information relating to a specific geographic area is compiled local histories and genealogies. I have three such books relating to Itawamba County. They are:
Franks, Bob and Turner, Roy, eds. An Itawamba Sampler: A Researcher's Guide to Itawamba County, Mississippi. Mantachie, Mississippi: Itawamba Historical Society, 1990.

Young, Rubye Del Harden and Miles, William T., eds. Itawamba County, Mississippi Families (1836-1986. Fulton, Mississippi.: Itawamba County Times, 1986.

Reed, Forrest F. Itawamba: A History; Story of a County in Northeast Mississippi. Nashville, Tennessee: Reed and Co., 1966.
Perhaps my most used book is a book of cemetery monument transcriptions. This book has simply been invaluable over the years. The book is:
Burton-Cruber, Betty Ann. Cemetery Markings, Itawamba County, Mississippi. Amory, Mississippi: Amory Advertiser, 1978.
One type of record group that is often overlooked in family research is maps. Detailed maps can provide the researcher with an abundance of information. I have two such books relating to this category:
Mississippi Department of Transportation, ed. Mississippi Road Atlas. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.

Delorme. Mississippi Atlas & Gazetteer: Topo Maps of the Entire State. Marmouth, Maine: DeLorme, 1998
Of course one of the foundations of genealogical research is the decennial census. I have local access to most all the county census records at the county library’s website and also have every available census (including slave schedules and agricultural and manufacturing censuses) for Itawamba County on compact discs in my personal library collection. However, of the three local printed census books in my collection, I probably use the one below more often than any:
Turner, Roy, ed. 1850 Census, Itawamba County, Mississippi. Tupelo, Mississippi: Genealogical Press, 1976.
Being editor of Itawamba Settlers magazine, and one who enjoys writing articles for other publications, one book that is simply indispensable in my library is a style book. If I need to know such items as uses of words, if it's “a historical” or “an historical,” the correct abbreviation of places, and what to capitalize and what not to capitalize, I refer to the spiral-bound:
Grover, Robert O., ed. U.S. News & World Report Stylebook for Writers and Editors. Washington, D.C.: U.S. News & World Report, 1994.
During my research over the past thirty plus years, I have seen a big change in how research data is presented. The study of genealogy and history, like many other avenues of research has grown to include online references. I use such online resources as Google Books, the Bureau of Land Management’s patent database, the Dept. of Interior’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, and many other such sites on a regular basis. But my genealogical and historical book collection in my personal library continues to be one of my prized possessions.

Old Bentonite Clay Pits in the Hills of Eastern Itawamba County

Bentonite clay mining took place in southeastern Itawamba County during the 1950's. Picture above are the remains of one such operation in the hills of the Turon community. Calcium-based bentonite, found chiefly in the southern United States, is especially suited for use in foundry and agricultural applications.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Year Tiger Bill Brought His Wild West Show to the Hills

During the year 1909, Teddy Roosevelt ended his term as president of the United States and William Howard Taft succeeded him. Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and four Eskimo explorers reached the North Pole and the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition opened in far away Seattle, Washington.

It was life as usual in the rural hills of Itawamba County during 1909. In town the merchants sold their wares from their store fronts as they greeted their customers on the town square and farmers planted and gathered their crops. The extent of community social affairs included such events as box suppers, all day singings, church protracted meetings, and apron hemming parties for young girls. But 1909 proved to be a special time in the county. It was the year that Tiger Bill brought his famous Wild West Show to the hills of Itawamba County.

On Saturday, April 8, 1909, Tiger Bill created a great deal of excitement in town and the surrounding countryside. On that warm spring day, a big tent was stretched near the town square and the village was buzzing with excitement as word spread throughout the countryside. As the noon hour struck, a parade of animals and performers walked around the town square advertising the two o’clock afternoon show and the eight o’clock evening show to a large audience of curious onlookers who had gathered along the dusty streets.

The citizens of the town and nearby countryside were thrilled and entertained by the likes of Dave and Jerry, the world-famous comic trick mules, and Professor Snyder and his highly educated dogs and monkeys, There were leapers, tumblers, contortionists, funny clowns and hundreds of other novelties awaiting the populace under the big tent.

After the sold-out Fulton performances the "moral, refined and artistic" show moved on to the Tilden community, then to Tremont and Rara Avis during the following days before heading into neighboring Alabama as daily life and commerce in Itawamba County returned to normal.

1909 was truly a special year in Itawamba County, Mississippi. It was the year Tiger Bill paid the county a visit.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cargo Headed North on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway

Barges loaded with cargo are headed north near Fulton on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on a rainy Thursday.

The Pottery Shop Atop River Hill

Pottery has been a part of Itawamba County’s cultural heritage since the 1800’s. The hills of the eastern part of the county have always been rich with potter’s clay and during the early 1900’s the area boasted of more than a dozen pottery operations with wares such as crocks, churns and jugs being shipped and sold all over the mid-south.

One pottery operation I remember as a child was the Harris pottery works atop River Hill west of the Tombigbee River. The shop was located on the north side of Highway 78 (formerly Bankhead Highway) at the crest of the hill. The business was located in a small wooden structure with an open-air display area enclosed with chicken wire. The potter’s wares would be displayed on wooden platforms elevated by cinder blocks. When I was a child, most of the wares produced here included flower pots, bowls and birdbaths.

It was always a delight traveling with my parents across the Tombigbee River bottom on the concrete highway, then climbing the steep River Hill to visit the pottery works. It was simply amazing to watch the artist working at the potter’s wheel, taking raw Itawamba County clay and shaping beautiful works of art with his hands alone.

The Harris pottery works is long gone, but I’m quite sure its memory lives on in the memories of many Itawambians. Today I have one piece from this operation – a decorative flower pot that was purchased there during the 1950’s. That little flower pot made by hand from the raw clay of Itawamba County reminds me of childhood days, and watching in awe as a county craftsman created his wonderful wares at the potter’s wheel.

Advertisement for the J.J. Harris Pottery from a 1958 Fulton telephone directory.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ida Riley Cayson Portrait

Ida Riley was born during 1854, the daughter of Nathan Riley and Caroline Morse. She married Eldridge Cayson in Itawamba County.

Her father, Nathan Riley was born April 10, 1820, in South Carolina, the son of John Riley and Mary Little. He died on November 8, 1863 during Civil War service when Ida was 9 years old. Of his death, the writer Washington Lafayette Clayton penned, “I remember having been in a fight in Collierville, Tennessee in about August 1863, in which we attacked the fortification; and we were ordered at one stage of the right to lie down, and I was myself lying by the side of Nathan Riley, an Orderly Sergeant, and while we were loading and shooting I heard a whip-crack noise by my side and he said 'I’m shot!' The wound was only a flesh wound in the thigh, though, and it seemed to me, and I always believed, if he had been carried to a good hospital, or to some private house where proper attention could have been given to him, he might have recovered. But he was carried something like 50 miles to his country home, and the neglect of the wound together was too much for him and it proved fatal.”1

Ida’s father, Nathan, was buried in the old Shumpert Cemetery in Itawamba County near the Riley farm.

1Gwin, Minrose, Olden Times Revisited: W.L. Clayton’s Pen Pictures, University Press of Mississipppi, Jackson, 1982, page 108.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Red Sky in Morning...

Early this morning the sky above the eastern hills of Itawamba County was ablaze with color and the air was damp from the remnants of Gustav.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Looking Across Frog Level Swamp

Pictured is part of Frog Level Swamp located west of the Tombigbee River north of the old Bean’s Ferry site. This wetlands area is located at the confluence of Mantachie Creek and the Tombigbee River. Much of the area was patented by James Asbury Blanton during 1838. This marsh area covers nearly four square miles of land and is located just a few miles north of the site of Van Buren, one of the earliest river port towns in Itawamba County.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Country Fried Okra: A Summer Table Staple for Generations

Okra (pronounced Oh-Kree here) has been a summer staple around these parts for generations. Usually folks either hate it or really like it. I’m a fan of okra.

When growing up, okra was used in the kitchen as a fried compliment to purple hull peas and other fresh garden vegetables. It was also used as a thickener for vegetable soups. Fresh vegetable soup is not the same without a generous supply of sliced fresh okra, cabbage and fresh tomatoes. I can also remember my mom placing fresh pods of okra on top of boiling peas or beans and letting the vegetable slow cook in the pot.

A member of the mallow family related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock, okra has a long tradition in the South. It has been said this vegetable was brought to the Caribbean and American colonies from western Africa during the 1700’s, In Louisiana, the Creoles learned from slaves the use of okra (often called gumbo) to thicken soups and it is now an essential ingredient in Creole Gumbo.

Around these parts, most every family garden have a row or two of okra. Such varieties as Cajun Delight, Cajun Jewel, and Clemson Spineless are favorites and okra even comes in varieties that are red and burgundy.

My favorite method of cooking okra is pan frying. To me, the frozen and heavily battered deep-fried okra usually served in restaurants in no way resembles the home fried okra I have always enjoyed. The best way to prepare pan fried okra is to select small tender pods. After slicing the okra into a bowl, a simple generous dusting with corn meal and an ample supply of black pepper is all that is needed. After tossing the mixture, and adding a little salt, the okra is then pan-fried over medium heat until the batter is a golden brown. The result is a tender fried vegetable with a light crispy crunch.

A history of okra from: http://www.foodreference.com/html/artokra.html