The development of Quitman County was slow at first because of lack of good roads. Points within the county and adjoining counties were reached by way of Coldwater and Tallahatchie rivers. Since there were no bridges at that time, the only means of crossing the rivers were on ferries; barges or “flat boats” were used in plying the streams, conveying both passengers and freight to various points. Indian trails or paths beaten by wild animals, leading through the wilderness were not inviting to the traveler, and in this connection the most historic thoroughfare in Quitman County was originally an Indian trail. This road extended almost directly east to west, from Batesville through the present site of Marks, by way of Belen to Friars Point, in Coahoma County. In traveling this road, people crossed the Tallahatchie River about fifteen miles from Marks, at the point which was known as “Porter’s Ferry.” This route, known as the “Choctaw Trail” to the first settlers here, was soon widened into a wagon road, making traveling easier. In 1904, bridges were constructed across the rivers, and the old trail, after much improvement, parts of which are still in use, has proved to be of great benefit to the county.1
Mrs. F. M. Brougher, of New Orleans, widow of Dr. F. M. Brougher, who was the first health officer of the county, recounts the discomforts of travel which her husband endured in the early days here. Riding on horseback over trails through cane-brakes that had been blazed by wild animals of the forest, to Coldwater River or Cassidy Bayou, his horse would be abandoned for the time being, to cross over in a small “dug out,” and then walk; or if there was a great distance to go, to ride a farm mule to the patient’s home–probably a shack.2
In addition to the railroad facilities affording a steel rail and steam train service, which had been definitely established, there came along the truck and automobile carrying both people and freight to various parts of the county; this brought a new era which demanded more and better roads. Good highways mean ready communication between points in the country and with the town; and this means the getting of produce to market with less expense and less consumption of the farmer’s time. With good roads, farmers are able to have the advantage of automobile transportation, and many good things thought before impossible, have become feasible. We are now in a period of road building which is opening parts of the county never before reached.
Old roads are smoother and wider, and new and wider bridges have been built. As the number of cars and trucks in the county increased, (there were 15,074 on January 1, 1937) the roads are used more. From the time of the first County Highway Commissioners, John Richardson, J. C. Brady, John Gleason, W. D. Morgan, and Levi Pickle (colored) in 1877, until the present County Highway Commissioners, J. B. Lollar, Clausen Peden, J. V. Bingham, A. Jamison, and C. G. Rotenberry, county highway improvement has been a major project.3
Quitman County is traversed by two state highways, number three north and south and number six east and west, and several county highways reaching in every direction.
Fifty per cent of the three-cent tax on gasoline, and the profit accruing on the sale of license tags is used for the maintenance of the state highways in the county, as is also an appropriation of $80,500 made by the county.
Highway 3 enters the county two miles north of Sledge, and is routed via Falcon, Darling, Essex, Hinchcliff, (crossing Coldwater River two miles north of Marks,) Marks, Lambert, Oliverfried, Longstreet, and Vance. On the highway, and in the town of Sledge, is a new modern school building, a part of the public school system of the county. The town and school are named for Ruffin Sledge, a wealthy planter and a pioneer citizen.4
Another interesting town along the highway and located in the geographical center of the county, is Marks, the county seat. A few miles south of Marks, and on Highway 3, is the Federal Compress.
Highway 6 enters the county just beyond Bobo Bayou, and is routed via Marks and Belen, and passes out of the county at the Davis Home, on the Quitman and Coahoma County line. Coldwater River is crossed at the town of Marks, and the highway passes the S. S. Cox home, which is built on the site of the historic home of Tom Hill, the first settler in Quitman County. This settlement was known as “Tom Hill Landing.” Passing through the business section of the county capital, it intersects State Highway 3, at Main and Second Streets. On the outskirts of Marks, the hospital, owned by Dr. J. E. Furr, and at the present time (1936) the only one in the county, is located on the highway. And then Belen, ever occupying a conspicuous place in the history of Quitman County, because it was once the county seat, and the home of many of our outstanding citizens is reached. The highway continues to the Davis Home, thence to Clarksdale.
Besides the state highways, Quitman is traversed by several important county highways or secondary roads, which, as well as the state highways, are all graveled and in good condition. This has been done since 1920.
At a meeting of the Highway Commission in Jackson, March 3, 1937, assurance was given that State Highways Number 3 and 6 will be raised above the floodplain of the Coldwater and Tallahatchie rivers before the winter of 1938.
A main county highway begins at Crowder, crosses Tallahatchie River at Campbell White’s place, passes through Lambert, thence west to Sabino and intersects State Highway 6 at the Davis Place.
A secondary road starts east of Darling, running through that town and west to the village of Birdie; the road crosses Coldwater River at Birdie, intersecting one road leading to Jonestown, and one leading to Clarksdale.
Three miles north of Vance, a road runs in a westerly direction by the Walnut High School, and intersects the Clarksdale Road at Buford Lake, and one highway runs south of Lambert by the Swan Lake Branch of the Y. & M. V. Railway, through the State Farm by Chancy, on to Brazil.
At Buford Lake, a secondary road leaves Highway 3, and runs by Belleview and intersects U. S. Highway 49, two miles south of Clarksdale.
Four miles south of Lambert, a road branches from Highway 3, leading through the state farm, crossing the Shine Turner Bridge, thence in an easterly direction to Crowder.
In the spring of 1936, the Dunlap Bus Line was established, making regular trips through the county. The bus leaves Clarksdale on Highway 6, goes by way of Marks, thence changing onto Highway 3 to Sledge, where a local road is taken to Oxford, or vice versa; the passengers complete the journey from there by train, if desired.5
Between 1877 and 1900, little was done in the way of building railroads, but during the latter year, and when the Y. & M. V. was seeking a more direct and shorter route between Chicago and New Orleans, the survey touched Riverside, and L. Marks, gave the railroad right-of-way through all of his property. This line, under construction in 1900, was completed in 1902. The railroad station was called Marks, in honor of L. Marks; the post office remained Riverside until 1910.
The great period of railroad building in Quitman County has closed, but we shall need railroads for many years to come, and probably always. At present we know of nothing that will take their place in transporting large quantities of bulky freight over long distances at the speed which is required. Unless transportation by air develops beyond anything we foresee today, the railroads will always be needed for this purpose.6
There are, approximately, thirty miles of railroad in Quitman County. Other than the branch line controlled by the Illinois Central through the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Company, which extends from north to south in the county, is a railway that runs from Lambert by way of Brazil to Swan Lake; this is called the “mud line” because it runs through a stretch of low gumbo land. Freight trains began to operate in April, 1902; in 1904, passenger trains traveled through the county. At present there are two passengers, two locals, and several freight trains which run daily on regular schedule.
Over this network of routes, our goods are shipped from place to place where they are needed, and our people travel where they want to go. The railway and trucks move coal, lumber, cattle, and cotton to the homes, mills, and gins. Automobiles and buses speed here and there across the county, carrying our people on business and pleasure trips. This is in contrast to the conditions of earlier times, when most of the travel was done by way of Coldwater, Tallahatchie, and on some occasions, the Mississippi River. “Flat boats” plied the river loaded with bales of cotton and lumber to be carried to market, or bringing back the supplies that the early settlers needed. Occasionally, a steamboat would come up Coldwater River to the town of Marks.
The modern system of transportation helps to supply people with food, clothing, houses, automobiles, radios, newspapers–all the things needful for comfort. It has helped raise standards of living to a high level, and has created a dependence one upon another for common welfare.
If this system of transportation were to break down, even for a few days, nearly all the people would suffer great hardships.7
In an interview with Cave Johnson, erstwhile resident of Quitman County, who now (1937) resides in Greenwood, he talked of the early days in the county concerning roads and transportation. “It was very inconvenient to travel in those days,” said Mr. Johnson. “People now-days don’t know how to appreciate good roads and comfortable means of travel. Why, in those days rails had to be cut and laid across the roads in the low places and then covered with dirt. After a rain, the mud would reach the wagon bed and for weeks afterwards the roads would be almost impassable. It took four mules to pull a light wagon with two or three people in it.
“I remember distinctly the first car that was used in the county. I was in my four-horse carriage coming home from Clarksdale when I passed it; it was driven by Henry Davis, who still lives near Clarksdale, and as the car passed, one of the horses became so frightened she jumped the harness and broke the tongue out of the carriage. Oh! This made me furious, to think such a vehicle should be allowed on the road. One of my horses didn’t ever get used to automobiles; whenever one would pass, she would tremble with fear.”8
“DeSoto Memorial Highway Association“
“Marks was well represented at the highway meeting in Oxford last Monday, at which time a permanent organization was formed to work for the betterment of Number 6, which runs through Marks.
“The official name of the new association will be the DeSoto Memorial Highway. It will work for the development of Number 6 from Gattman, Mississippi, on the Alabama line, through Amory, Okolona, Pontotoc, Oxford, Batesville, Marks, and Clarksdale, to Friars Point on the Mississippi River. The Highway Department of Arkansas and Alabama will be asked to name their connecting highways DeSoto Memorial Highway; co-operation of other east and west highway committees will also be asked.
“Permanent officials unanimously elected were: R. X. Williams, Jr. of Oxford, President; Mrs. James C. Hartsfield, Oxford, Secretary-Treasurer; Dr. M. Q. Ewing, Amory, Vice-President; Chauncey Smith, Clarksdale, 2nd Vice President; W. A. Cox, Marks, 3rd Vice President.
“The publicity committee is composed of: Lieutenant Governor J. B. Snider, Clarksdale, Chairman; Dr. J. C. Luper, Okolona; Mrs. J. C. Hartsfield, Oxford.
Some Early Roads and Indian Traces
“It is a far cry through the centuries to 2000 B.C., but we know that highways existed before the dawn of history. The earliest records we have of them were the ‘trade routes’ of Asia Minor, connecting the east and west. Over these roads crops were carried to the market, and on these early trade routes along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers great commercial cities have flourished in different ages. Many of these cities are now but mounds of earth; some are buried beneath the shifting sands; but the overland routes remain, and railways that have been surveyed and built follow the paths once traversed by the caravans of those early times.
“The Romans realized the importance of good roads, and built a system of highways extending the cities to the outer boundaries of the empire. Many are still in existence.
“About A.D. 476, came a period when Western Europe lapsed into barbarism; wants were few and simple, and each district was expected to be self-supporting. Land routes were dangerous on account of brigands, therefore, they fell into disuse. Roads were never required, and for a thousand years were not cared for. As the world progressed, it became important to people of all countries. It was necessary for the traveler to know in advance where the trail leads, and to have a key to understand the markings. Probably the first trails on the North American continent were those laid out by Indians. These were probably based on the runways of the buffalo or other wild animals which commonly formed the first paths through the wilderness. Some were short , and others stretched for miles across plains and hills. Indian tribes used these trails to reach their hunting grounds, to visit points where they traded among themselves, and later, with the white settlers. At times they were used as war trails, though there were certain of these which were known as ‘War Paths,’ and were used almost exclusively for war purposes. The place where two great Indian trails crossed was a historic spot, not to be forgotten by scout, guide, or geographer. A post pillar generally marked the juncture of these roads, and the white man found thee Indian trails of great value in finding the shortest routes. From narrow paths through the forest they became well-defined roads, and some of the best highways of today follow the exact routers which were tread by the moccasined feet of the Indian two centuries ago. Immediately following the adoption of the American Constitution, steps were taken by President George Washington, Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury, and Henry Clay to inaugurate the building of a [road from Cumberland, Maryland on the] Potomac River and extending westward to the Ohio River, at Wheeling, West Virginia. Financing of the road began in 1802, and the bill was passed and signed by Thomas Jefferson in 1806. Through additional activities of Congress, this road was hard-surfaced and remained continuously a national highway for over twenty-five years. It was extended in 1825, and became know as the ‘Santa Fe Trail.’ Daniel Boone and his sons were busy at the same time, 1806, cutting out a road from St. Charles, Missouri, to Boone’s Lick in Howard County, and in 1833, the Missouri Legislature authorized the construction of a macadam road eight miles to connect Boone’s Lick with the Santa Fe Trail.
“When the era of railroad building set in, the National Gov’t. abandoned the upkeep of these roads, and turned them back to the states through which they ran. Later, the Government hard-surfaced the road from Washington to Baltimore and to St. Louis, and then to Los Angeles, California. It has bridged every stream, and has been sign posted and adopted as one of the inter-state roads under the amended Federal Aid Bill in the states through which it passes from the Atlantic to the Pacific. John C. Calhoun, one of the chief advocates of building this road, said that it would tend to cement the states, and preserve the Union. Historians have referred to this act as helping to accomplish the purpose. It is the only road in the United States established by Act of Congress, and therefore, properly named the “National Road.”
“Naturally, the colonists settled around the bays and mouths of navigable rivers along the Atlantic Coast. A century later it was found necessary to overcome the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains. New colonists pushed along the rivers, and struck into the mighty forests. They found Indian trails and they came into general use. Thus ‘Nemacolians Path,’ followed by Washington on his mission to the French in 1754, was the forerunner of Braddock’s Trail in 1755, and the National Road. The Kittanning Path, up the Juanita [River] to the Alleghaney, became the route of Forbes Trail in 1758; the Warrior’s Path from the Shenandoah Valley through Cumberland Gap to the Falls of the Ohio, became ‘Boone’s Wilderness Road’ in 1869, over which Kentucky was settled; the Iroquois Trail from Albany to Lake Erie developed into the Genesse Road.
“Great highways played an important part in the winning of the West. Among the famous trails of that period are the Santa Fe, terminating in Southern California; California Trail, ending at San Francisco; the Oregon Trail and the Lewis and Clark Trail, which led to the Columbia River Valley and the Oregon Coast. Many of the modern automobile roads followed the course of these famous trails, blazed by daring and determined pioneers of the 18th century. The history of our own state is most interesting, and follows:
“During the period of more than a century, covered by the French, British, Spanish, and early American occupancy, of the so-called Natchez District, the ocean, the rivers, and streams afforded the chief, and indeed, almost the only means, of reaching its isolated settlement.
“One of the first concerns of Mississippi territorial authority was to open up overland routes of travel to the older settled regions of the United States. In the east, and to New Orleans on the south, this policy was regarded as an urgent military necessity in those turbulent times, as well as commercial and economic good, and an important means of attracting new settlers.
“The earliest and the most famous of the public highways which traversed the present state of Mississippi was the so-called Natchez Trace. Its origin is interesting: As soon as the Spaniards finally evacuated the Natchez District, and immediately after the organization of the territorial Government of Mississippi, the Federal authorities empowered Governor Wilkinson, then in command of the U. S. Troops at Natchez and Fort Adams, to enter into certain negotiations with the Indian tribes south of Tennessee. One of the principal objects of the negotiations with the Indians was to obtain their consent to the opening of the public roads and mail routes from the settlements of the Natchez district to the frontier settlements of Tennessee and Georgia, thereby facilitating intercourse and trade and promoting emigration to the new Mississippi territory.
“All of the vast region extending east and west of the Natchez District for nearly five hundred miles, to the district white settlements on the Cumberland River, Tennessee, and to those on the Oconee in Georgia, was undisputed Indian territory, with the single exception of the limited area on the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers, to which the title has been extinguished by France and England in former years. The Natchez District was remote and difficult to access. Intercourse with the United States was by the laborious ascent of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the Kentucky and Tennessee settlements, or else over the lonely Indian trace, which led for five hundred miles through the lands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws to the Cumberland River. In pursuance of these plans, the Treaty of Chickasaw Bluffs was concluded, October 24, 1801, whereby the Chickasaw conceded to the U. S. the right to lay out, open, and make a covenant wagon road through their land and those of Natchez in the Mississippi territory, and the same shall be a highway for the citizens of the U. S. and the Chickasaws; also the Treaty of Fort Adams, concluded December 17, 1801, with the Choctaws, whereby that nation consented that a convenient and durable wagon way may be explored, marked, opened, and made their lands; to commence at the extremity of the settlements of the Mississippi territory, and to be extended from thence until it shall strike the lands claimed by the Chickasaw nation; and the same shall be and continue forever a highway for the citizens of the U. S. and Choctaws.
“In November, 1801, Governor Wilkinson asked the assembly, through Governor Claiborne, to immediately appoint commissioners to mark a route for a permanent highway from Grindstone Fork by way of Fort Adams, to the line of demarcation, whereupon he would build the road, as it was needed for free communication to the sea for succor, or retreat, in case of exigency.
“The road from the National boundary to Natchez was laid out in 1802. The governor’s journal shows that Hugh Davis and John Collins were the commissioners, and James Patton a marker. South of Natchez, this road ran close to the river to a station called Tomlinson, sixteen miles distant, thence via Homochitto Ferry, four miles; Buffalo Bridge, ten miles, Fort Adams, fifteen miles, and Pickneyville, eleven miles.
“April 21, 1806, Congress appropriated the sum of $6,000 for the purpose of opening the road through the Indian country in conformity to the above treaties.
“In 1815, a committee of Congress, appointed to inquire into the expediency of repairing and keeping in repair the road from Natchez to Nashville, reported in favor of an appropriation for that purpose, stating that the subject was then unusually interesting from the efforts of the enemy to seize upon the Emporium of an immense country, as well as the other position in the same quarters of less importance to the U. S. So long as the war continued, New Orleans, and other adjacent parts, will be liable for invasion, and will, of course, require no inconsiderable force for their defense. During such a state of things, it is highly desirable, indeed necessary, that good roads should facilitate the transmission of intelligence, as well as the march of troops and transportation of supplies, when a passage by water may be too tardy, or wholly impracticable. An appropriation bill was passed in accordance with the recommendation of the committee.
“The Natchez Trace crossed the Tennessee River a few miles below the Mussel Shoals, at ‘Colbert’s Ferry,’ and thence pursued a southwest course through the country of the Chickasaws and Choctaws to ‘Grindstone Ford,’ on Bayou Pierre, thence ran south and west to Natchez; south of Natchez we already have seen that it followed the general trend of the river to the line of demarcation. It eventually connected with the various roads leading to New Orleans.
“At Nashville, this old road connected with the public highway, which ran east to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, via Lexington, Chillichotche, and Zanesville; under the treaties, the Indians expressly reserved the rights to establish public house of entertainment along the route, as well as the control of the numerous ferries. The stations which sprang up along the road between Natchez and Nashville and the distance (miles) separating each station from the other were as follows:
“Washington 6, Selsertown 5, Uniontown 8, Huntley (later old Greenville) 8, Fort Gibson 25, Grindstone Ford 8, McRaven’s Indian Line 18, Brashears 40, Nortons 12, Choctas 30, Choctaw Line 43, Indian Agents 10, James Colberts 10, Old Factors 26, James Brown’s 17, Bear Creek 33, Levi Colberts 10, Buzzard’s Roost 5, George Colbert 11, Tennessee River 7, Toscombys 16, Factors Sons 16, Indian Line 20, Dobbins 5, Stanfields Key Spring 10, Duck River 8, Smiths 8, Boones 16, Franklins 8, McDonalds 6, Nashville 12. The total distance to Nashville was 501 miles and the distance to Pittsburg was 1,013 miles.
“Undoubtedly the road through the Indian country in Mississippi was once the old Indian trail or ‘Charley’s Trace,’ leading southwest to the Mississippi River; down it passed a steady stream of travelers, often men of wealth journeying to the South in search of lands, and other profitable investments; up it passed traders, super-cargoes, and boatmen from New Orleans, who would make the long return journey overland to their homes 1,000 miles away. They traveled afoot, and on horseback in small companies for mutual protection, and frequently carried them rich treasures of specie, and the proceeds of their cargoes packed on mules and horses; many stories are told of the Mason and Murrell gangs or bandits who infested this lonesome trail for years.
“Natchez to New Orleans“
“Early in the 19th century, two public roads were opened up which ran from Natchez to New Orleans. One ran by Madisonville, Louisiana, to the head of Lake Pontchartrain and thence across the lake by water to New Orleans, a total distance of 156 miles; the other followed the river south by way of Baton Rouge and the levee; Marchalks almanac for 1819 gives the stations on the Madisonville Road, together with the distance of each from Natchez.
“This old road ran from Colbert’s Ferry, a few miles below the Mussel Shoals, on the Tennessee River, to St. Stephens on the lower Tombigbee. Major Gaines in his reminiscences of early times in the Mississippi territory, written for the Mobile Register, says: ‘In October, 1810, I received instructions from the Secretary of War to proceed to the Chickasaw nation and endeavor to obtain permission to open a wagon road from Colbert’s Ferry to Cotton Gin Port, on the Tombigbee River, and make arrangements to transport the goods thence to St. Stephens; I set out immediately in obedience to my instructions, had an interview with the leading chiefs of the Chickasaws, who objected to opening the wagon road, but promised me facilities and safety for the transportation of the goods for the Choctaw trading house on pack horses, at a very moderate expense; Lieutenant Gaines, by order of the War Department, had six or seven years before this time surveyed and marked out the road I was instructed to open.’ This trace is referred to in the Treaty of Chickasaw Council House, September 20, 1816.
“Old Military Road“
“In accordance with an Act of Congress, April 27, 1816, a thoroughfare known as ‘Jackson’s Military Road‘ was built through Mississippi. It extended from Madisonville, Louisiana, to a point twenty-one miles north of Mussel Shoals. The work, which was done under the direction of the War Department, occupied a period of over two years, via: June, 1817, to January, 1820. There is also a road from Natchez to Fort Stoddart.
“By act of the General Assembly December 5, 1809, John Hanes, B. S. Smoot, and James Caller, be, and they are hereby appointed commissioners to employ a fit person to open a road from Pearl River, where the present Choctaw Boundary line across the same, the nearest and best way to the Chicasawhay River, so as to intersect the same at or near the lower end of the Higawana Reserve; and they are hereby empowered to contract with said person for the payment of such a sum as may appear reasonable for the performance of said work, to be paid out of the territorial treasury, after the fulfillment of the said contract; provided, nevertheless, that the sum to be expended for making and opening the road shall not exceed $300.
“By act of December 18, 1811, Sec. 31.
“‘The old road leading by or near St. Albans to the Walnut Hills as laid out by the Spanish Government, be and the same is hereby declared a public road, and shall be used and worked upon accordingly, until altered by order of court or as hereinafter directed.'”
“By Act of December 12, 1812, Sec. 1
“‘The following rates and tolls for ferriages across the River Homochitto where any public road may cross the same were established: For every wheel carriage, 12 ½ cents per wheel; for every foot passenger, 6 ¼ cents; for each and every head of horses or horned cattle, more than, 4 cents; but if only one, 6 ¼ cents; for each and every head of hogs, sheep, etc., the sum of 2 cents.’
“By Act of January 6, 1814.
“‘Harry Toubin, B. Pittman, E. Chastang, James Taylor, Lewis Black, William Patton, George Evans, William Roe, shall be and they are hereby appointed commissioners to lay out a road from the town of Mobile to McCray’s Ferry, on the Buckatanny, November 16th; six commissioners were appointed to lay out, open, and keep in repair a road thirty feet wide from Natchez to the Louisiana line, following the general direction of a line from Natchez to Amite River.’
“‘In 1823, a road was marked from Huntsville, Alabama, by way of Columbus to Doaks Stand, on the Robinson Road, as this terminus of the new road was thirty-five miles from Jackson, and the nearest point on the Robinson Road was the Choctaw Agency House, ten miles north of the capitol, Governor Leake sought to have the Columbus Road changed, but it remained for some years the only line of communication between the capitol and the populous and prosperous Tombigbee, in Northeast Mississippi.
“The old Natchez Trace has been marked with boulders in Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne, Attala, Choctaw, and Chickasaw, and I am not sure about Lee County.”10
1 Mrs. Blanchard Ingram, Lambert, Miss.
2 Mrs. F. M. Brougher, New Orleans, LA
3 Dr. A. Jamison, Marks, Miss.
4 D. L. Calloway, Sledge, Miss.
5 R. C. Ingram, Lambert, Mississippi
6 Margaret Rivers, Marks, Miss.
7 Mrs. Blanche Denton, Jackson, Miss.
8 Cave Johnson, Greenwood, Miss.
9 1937 files of the Quitman County Democrat, published at Marks
10 Some Early Roads and Indian Traces, Rosa Belle Shelby, Quitman County Democrat, 1937
Works Progress Administration for Mississippi, Source Material for Mississippi History, Quitman County, Vol. LX, Compiled by State-Wide Historical Research Project, Susie V. Powell, State Supervisor, Illustrated, 1936-38, pages 195-207.
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