History of Newton County, Mississippi, from 1834 to 1894

Chapter 5



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The most important county officer in a new county is expected to be the sheriff. It is said that Myer Bright was the first sheriff elected for Newton county; that he and W. S. Thompson, a citizen for years after the war of the town of Newton, and father of Ben Thompson, of Brandon, ran for the office, and that Bright beat Thompson three votes. It is further stated that Bright would not qualify or give bond, and by that means forfeited his place as sheriff of the county. After that Hullum Redwine was elected sheriff and served two terms. As the records of Newton county are burned for about forty years, and it was impossible to get the State record showing the election of officers in the county, the information here recorded is from old settlers, and in some instances errors may come in as to who among the very first were the men to hold office in the county. The sheriff is very probably correct.

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The probate judges whose names were given as those who early held office are Hudson, Furgerson and Shelton. It is not known with certainty which one held the office first, but probabilities are that it is in the order in which their names appear, with Judge Hudson as the first probate judge.

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George Armstrong, well known in the county for years, was one of the first clerks of the probate court. James Armstrong, not the brother of George Armstrong, but a man who was conspicuous in the Decatur bank, was the first circuit clerk.

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It is not definitely known who was the first assessor. Thames, Graham and Armstrong are mentioned. J. 0. Kelly is mentioned as the first treasurer; Booker as first surveyor.

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The first representative was James Ellis, who was the father of Mrs. Joe and Zach Gibbs, of this county. Ellis was the representative of Neshoba county before the counties were divided; was run in the interest of a division of the county, and continued to represent Newton county until the end of 1841.

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Oliver C. Dease, of Jasper county, was the first Senator, Newton and Jasper being in the same senatorial district.

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The above gives only the names of the first officers elected in the county. In another part of this volume will appear the names of all the officers of the county in the order in which they were elected and the term they served, given as far as can be stated from the information attainable.

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The early settlers of Newton county did not by any means converge all at one point as if for mutual protection. There was no fear of the Indians. They were peaceable and very social and friendly, and very honest in regard to the taking of stock on the range. The early settlers, therefore, selected the portion of the county which they fancied, or that part which they came to first on approaching it.

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Mr. Alexander Graham came to Newton county in 1834. This is the father of Judge Wm. Graham, and quite a number of his descendants are still in the county. His wife is still living, probably the oldest lady in the county. These people live in the northeastern part of the county where the father settled Sixty years ago.

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In that same neighborhood lived the Reynolds, McMullens, Clearman's, Mathesis, Castles, Gilberts, Lairds, Harrises, Jones', Thames', and near Union lived Breland, Hubbard, the Smiths, Boyds, Lewis', Gordons, Isham Daniel, an old North Carolina merchant and postmaster at Union; Claiborne Mann, a large land and slave owner, who married as his second wife the mother of Hon. A. G. Mayers, now judge of this district; and the Hunters.

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Towards the southeast were Jno. Blakely, John, Joshua and Kit Dyess, John and Edward Ward, Joel and James Carstarphen, two brothers who were Methodist preachers; the Sims', Williamsons, Joshua Tatum, Daniel Sandall, York and Edward Bryant, Henry, Fountain, George C. Hamlet, Elisha West, Wade Holland, a famous Baptist preacher, the Biggs', Williams' and Williamsons'.

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In the southern part of the county were Roland Williams, the Walkers, Gibsons, Hamilton Davis, Fatheree, William and Isaac Gary, William and Thomas Mallard, Thos. Caldwell, Thos. Laird, Abel E. and E. E. Chapman, and Henry Evans.

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In the western and southwestern part, Watson Evans, John McRae, Judge Duncan Thompson, the McFarlands, McCraney, Archy Black, John Murry, Bird Saffold, William and Elias Price, J. M. Kelly, Thos. Davis, Elezear Harris, Lewis and Hardy Nicholds and A. B. Woodham, who is the only one of the old settlers now living, also Ralph Simmons, (who had eight sons in the late war), and the McDaniels.

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In the northwestern part were the Ames, Bright Ammonds, (probably the first white settler in that part of the county), the Paces, Ben Bright, Coot and Sid Sellars, Volentines, Wm. Spradley, Absalom Loper, the Wares, Dempsey Smith, Cornelius Boyd and James Anderson.

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Those just west of Decatur, Hamilton Cooper, B. S. and Joel Loper, Hollingsworths.

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Those south of Decatur and centrally in the county: James Dunagin, David Riser, Stephen and John Williams, Samuel Stephens, Mint Blelack, Thos. J. Wash and sons. Mr. Thos. Wash was probably the oldest white man that ever died in the county, except Thos. Caldwell, who lived to be 99 years old. Mr. Wash was a native Georgian, came to this county from near Tuscaloosa, Ala., settled northwest from Newton in 1836, and was one of the wealthy men of the county when the war of 1861 commenced. He lived nearly one hundred years.

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Also, south of Decatur, lived Willis, Jesse and Wm. Norman and the Wells brothers, Archilaus and Charley. The former is referred to in Col. Claiborne's History, as a captain in some of the Indian wars. He had a large family and quite a number of his descendants are in the county now. R. W. Doolittle, who lived on the site where the town of Newton now stands, was a man having a large family, and many of them still survive him and are citizens of the county. Judge Abner Harralson, one of the early probate judges of Newton county, lived south of the town of Newton; also his son-in-law, Lewis Shotts.

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Decatur was early settled, and there were quite a number of citizens making up what was then known as one of the principal towns in east Mississippi. The most prominent men were the McAlpins, Armstrongs, Monroes, Hurd, the Teas brothers, T. S. Swift, Redwines, Dr. Bailey Johnson, R. P. Johnson, Myer Bright, E. E. Scanlan, A. Russell, Rev. N. L. Clarke, W. S. Thompson, Heidleberg, Turner, Lynch, Fred Evans, Russell B. Hide, Elisha Boykin, James Ellis, and Dr. Walker. Those compose most of the early settlers. There may be some inadvertently left out, of whom honorable mention should be made, yet it is impossible to get all from memory.

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Quite a large number of the descendants of these old families are still in the county. The most numerous from the old settlers appear to be from the Hollingsworths, Wauls, Chapmans and Paces. These have probably the largest connection of any families in the county, all coming from some of the very early settlers.

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Whenever there is a court held in the county, or any public business requiring good citizens to attend to it, the names of some, probably all, these prominent names are in it. Whenever there is a neighborhood matter to be settled by arbitration, it is usual to find the names of some of these families to do it. There has not been a great emigration of these families from their native county.

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As a stock raising county there could be none better than Newton. Being well watered with creeks and small streams, abundant grass in the pine woods, and level, open upland, and in the southwestern part of the county, fine prairie.

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This upland grass was good, but nothing like that on the prairies. There was almost the same difference in the strength of the grass for milk and to produce fat on animals, as there was in the strength of the land. These afforded splendid pasturage in the summer, and in the winter the grass on the hills that was not killed entirely by the frost, and the swamps of cane, offered a fine winter retreat and good grazing. Cattle were in excellent order all the winter. Horses as well as cattle did well on the range and could be as easily raised as they are in Texas.

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This was also a very fine range for hogs. The swamps rarely failed to produce a splendid crop of acorns, beech nuts and scaly bark, thin hulled hickory nuts, which were fine for hogs -- also excellent for persons to eat. The flavor of the nut was equal to the English walnut. These nuts were in great abundance and were used by the Indians as food. The nut possesses quite an amount of oil, and by boiling with food requiring a seasoning, it answered a good purpose. In preparing them for cooking the Indians took one at a time and crushed them between two small stones until the hull was broken very fine; they then threw the whole mass -- including the hull with the kernel -- into a pot containing ingredients of peas, corn, dry venison, beans, etc. These nuts furnished the grease, and all combined made what the Indian called sof-ky. Some of the other tribes, by the aid of their white friends, have Anglicized the word and call this mixture of food "Tom-fuller." When done it appears of a consistency something like thick soup and was served from a spoon made of a cow's horn. Four or five Indians would sit down around a pot of sof-ky and use only one spoon. The first would help himself and pass to the next, and so the spoon went round like the pipe which a crowd would smoke from by passing it in the same way. Besides this mast of acorns, nuts, etc., from trees, a fine amount of food for the hog was obtained from the ground, of succulent roots, worms, herbs, etc., which added much to their stock of provisions, and the summer wild fruits of plums, haws, grapes and all kinds of berries which grew in great abundance, caused the hogs to thrive like the cattle at all seasons of the year. The sheep, which are always able to subsist on less than cattle or hogs, had pasture all the year. This grass that grew so luxuriantly in the pine woods, and that gave such pasture for cattle in summer, and also to some extent resisted the winter, when it came up it resembled the common sedge of the old fields, but did not make as much straw in the woods as it did in the open field. Then there was what is called beggar lice, and which in the fall afforded fine feed for cattle; also a vine bearing a wild pea which was good. The fiat woods had also a native grass which served well for cattle and horses. The prairie grass was a mixture of grass and herbs indigenous to the soil, and different from the upland grass, of which cattle were very fond and which was a great milk and fat producer. Most of these grasses have become extinct, or so dwarfed by constant grazing and tramping by stock, as not to be observed as an original grass.

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The wild fruits of the county were very abundant; strawberries early in the spring on prairie soil; also on the same soil the early plum; next came the early swamp huckleberry, the best variety of huckleberry, but is usually killed by the spring frost; then the summer huckleberry, growing in the pine woods, the gooseberry and the fall huckleberry; summer grapes and muscadines were abundant. Black haws, parsley haws and the hog haws were in great abundance, the latter only good for hogs. There was a summer plum something resembling the wildgoose plum of this county at this time, only had better taste and an odor equal to the most fragrant of apples; it was considered the finest wild fruit that grew; it was confined mostly to prairie or lime land. Some of them still remain, but the best production of this kind is stamped out. The winter grapes and persimmons were also among the fruits. The persimmon is now more plentiful, like the second growth short leaf pine, than in the earlier settlement. It appears that these two growths prefer and use older and more worn soil. Most of the earlier fruits still exist in the county, but as a general rule, like grasses, they appear to be stunted by "civilization," and are giving way to cultivated fruits and grasses. When the ground has been cultivated and the original grasses and trees have been exterminated, if this land is left uncultivated a new growth of trees, different from the original, will come up. On most of the oak and hickory lands that were cleared up in the early settlement of the county and that were worn down and turned out as not being worth anything, there has come a growth of short-strawed pine which covers the ground with shade and straw, and to some extent have reclaimed these lands.

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After a long-strawed pine forest is denuded of its large timber for mill purposes, there usually comes up a very different growth, generally oak and hickory on this pine land and at once the soil is improved. This undergrowth gives more shade and the heavy draft to support these pine trees is taken off and the land is relieved of a great burden. A long-leaf pine forest never renews itself on the same land. When once taken off it never returns. This is very much the case with the grasses that originally covered the ground. Their places have been taken by some grasses of different character. In some instances these grasses are an improvement upon the original crop and serve a better purpose than the growth originally found on the ground.