David wrote this one for the paper. Sharon was busy on the horse.
Wyatt: Crossings, Cavalry, and Cedar
If you travel along Mississippi highway 310 from Como to highway 7, you’ll pass a sign which points to the right (east): “Wyatt’s Crossing”. Many people fish in Sardis Lake or travel there just for its beauty. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has over the past few years done a wonderful job improving this site, including the boat ramp and parking area. This area is well known for its Crappie fishing. But if you are like me, you may not know the rich and colorful history of this place. Sharon and I made a trip there in December to gather driftwood for her next horse which she is creating. After several working titles, I suggested “Wyatt Crossing”, and so it is named. So much of the discovery of place is curiosity. Art, history, art history – they are all intertwined. We wondered where Wyatt’s Crossing got its name, and found out about a man named Wyatt Mitchell, and a town called Wyatt.
I visited with our friend Darrel Brown, who along with his wife Patsy, owns and operates Como Green Grocer. Darrel is another historian. His family grew up in the Harmontown area. His father, Howard Brown was born at Wyatt in 1925, his grandfather, Earl Brown born 1893, farmed a field beside the Old Wyatt Cemetery known as the Town Field. Darrel’s great grandfather, Will Billingsley, born in 1877, owned the land where Wyatt was and on down into the Tallahatchie River bottom before Sardis lake was built. His great great-grandfather, John W. Billingsley, born in 1845, enlisted in Co. C of the 18th Mississippi Confederate Cavalry at Wyatt on June 27, 1863. He was later captured and paroled at Memphis on May 20th, 1865.Darrel began to tell me about that history. He pointed out photos in the grocery of old country stores that once operated there. He also showed me a photo of the Wyatt Ferry, which the Nicholson brothers operated. Darrel has done extensive research. Most of the information below was provided by him, although there are some discoveries of my own. He said he would just keep notes and each time he found something more, he would add to it. This developed into a great and very interesting historical construction.
But, before we get to Wyatt, let’s go back into even earlier history. Thomas Love was born in 1745 in Virginia. He died in 1832 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Thomas was very probably a refugee Loyalist. The Indian nations were often asylums for refugee Loyalists (Tories), in the early days. He was the father of Isaac, Henry, Slone, Ben, Samuel, Bill, Robert, Sally, and Delilie. Thomas’ wife was Sally Colbert, the daughter of James Logan Colbert and a first full blood Chickasaw woman (unnamed). So, Slone Love was one-quarter Chickasaw. One account says that “Slone partook, both in appearance and habits, more of the nature of the Indian. His complexion was redder, and his tendency more wayward—more Indian like.” However, Slone was a farmer and a great and prominent landowner.
Introducing Wyatt Mitchell
Ethan Allen Hitchcock met with Slone Love in the Indian Territory February 21st , 1842 at which time Slone stated Wyatt Mitchell was a clerk engaged in taking the Chickasaw Census at Pontotoc in 1832 which listed about 5440 Chickasaw. Wyatt was the son of land speculator Thomas Mitchell. The first transaction in the area was from Slone Love to Mr. Angus Gillis on April 7, 1836. On May 24, 1837 Slone granted land at the site to Mr. Mitchell, son of land speculator Thomas Mitchell, and Volney Peel, the government surveyor of the area. That the land was transferred to these two promoters as trustees was probably for the benefit of those who had already settled there. The site of Wyatt, Section 24, Township 6 South Range 3 West was purchased from Slone Love. Mitchell purchased 10 sections (6400 acres of land) in 1836-37 at a cost of $17,400.00 dollars. Wyatt was one of the developers, along with Volney, of “Old Wyatt” which was also known as “Mitchell’s Bluff” and incorporated in 1838. The original Government Land Office survey lists the town as Mitchell’s Bluff. It was thought that, located as it was at the head of navigation on the Tallahatchie River, it would be as big as Memphis. This was the northernmost point on the Tallahatchie that would allow navigation. The spot in the river was wide enough for boats to launch and travel down the river toward the delta, and to return and turn around. Mr. Mitchell apparently was a prominent and influential man. W. C. Mitchell and Company was listed in James Holmes Taylor’s cash ledger from his store at Tyro in 1837. Various accounts of his business from the book “Early Settlers of Lafayette Co, Ms” list him, along with E.B. Mitchell and Robert Mitchell among the earliest land purchasers. Wyatt was also one of the four commissioners appointed to organize Lafayette and several other counties in the area. His name continues to come up on several other pages in the book where he is concerned with land transactions. He was also involved in the organization and sale of stock for the Pontotoc, Oxford, and Delta Railroad in May, 1837.
Bustling Town – 1837 and Onward
Businesses located at Wyatt during its heyday include the Mississippi Union Bank established by Angus Gillis and Thomas A. Allen which issued bank notes held in high esteem in Lafayette county. There was a gin maker, Joseph W Brooks, whose Brooks Gin was widely used in North Mississippi. Abraham Kitchell was a blacksmith from New Jersey who owned Kitchell’s Wagon Repair Shop. James and Graham owned a wagon repair business which reopened in Chattanooga after the Civil War. Others include a Surry factory, a plow company, a river ferry (operated by the Nicholson brothers), a furniture plant, a tailor shop, a Masonic lodge, and a church with cemetery. The town’s hotel, the Parker House, was located across the field from the cemetery and was known to have had an iron work gate. Mercantile houses included Estill and Peel, A. Patterson, James Murdock and Co., and Gordon and Grayson. One hundred dollar liquor licenses probably connected with grocery stores or inns were purchased by David C. Powers, Goodwin & McGowan, Gandy Smith, F.D. Brown, John D. Ferguson, William Brister, Martin L. Lawrence, and Wesley Harmon. In 1843 John W. Estill is listed as conducting a general store and being a receiving agent for freight to be transported down the river. Wyatt was the shipping point for cotton factors of both the Holly Springs and Oxford areas. On January 30, 1839 some of the town’s prominent citizens were named as Trustees for the Wyatt Male and Female Academies.
Prominent citizens of the town are listed as Thomas H Allen, later of Memphis and New Orleans; Angus Gillis; his partner in business, Andrew Peterson; James Murdock, and Major Alston. An undated map of Wyatt probably drawn at the incorporation about 1837 was found in the Mississippi room at Ole Miss. It shows a large developed area and lists a few names as owners of lots. These owners included: Andrew L. Martin, J.W. Brooks, J. Alston, A. Gillis, and J.L. Wright.
The town had two doctors, Dr Robert Watt, a Scotch gentleman, who is said to have been educated in the University of Edinburgh and studied under the well celebrated Dr Gregory. He died in 1843 and is shown on the town plat as owning two lots totaling about 15 acres near the NE corner of the section. He is said to have owned a large plantation near Wyatt with his business in town. The other doctor is listed as Dr Robert O. Carter. Another article lists a Dr. Edward McMucken as a prominent citizen.
A post office was established June 28, 1837 with Thomas H. (or W) Allen as postmaster until Dec 23, 1839. Other early postmasters, George A Taylor appointed August 1843, Andrew Peterson appointed July 11, 1846, Robert C Brister appointed June 9, 1857. In Mrs. S.T. Lyles’ article for the Holly Springs South Reporter of January 9, 1836 she states her grandfather, Alexander Hamilton Clark was the last Postmaster in 1862. Another article states he left with the Confederate Army in 1862 and died in Rock Island prison. The post office was discontinued January 30, 1867.
Civil War Involvement
Wyatt was an important place for Confederate maneuvers during the first two years of the Civil War and a guard of the river was maintained until the Federals captured North Mississippi. The College Hill area near Oxford was occupied by Union forces after General Grant crossed the Tallahatchie River near Abbeville, east of Wyatt, and went on to Oxford. Grant’s second in command was General Sherman. He had crossed the Tallahatchie at Wyatt Crossing and had moved his 30,000 troops into the area around College Hill. This was just before Christmas, 1862. Then again on April 18th, 1863, Union General Grierson sent General Hatch with the 2nd Iowa Cavalry against two companies of cavalry under Major A.H. Chalmers, who was guarding the river at Wyatt, and Chalmers retired to Grenada.
Another incident began on October 11th, 1863 when Confederate General James R. Chalmers attacked Collierville, Tennessee after almost capturing it, reinforcements arrived and he was forced to retreat through Byhalia and on to Wyatt to cross the river. There on a drizzly October 13th , 1863 Confederate Units including the 12th Tennessee Cavalry under Colonel R. V. Richardson, and the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers clashed with the 7th Kansas, the 2nd Missouri Cavalry, 9th Illinois, 3rd Michigan and the 2nd Iowa Cavalry. The Confederates dug into a semicircle in the town and at three in the afternoon the fighting began. There was heavy house to house fighting with see sawing back and forth. The Union Artillery was turned on the houses which the Confederates were using as positions and on the bridge over the river. Union forces were repulsed but by nightfall the Rebs were almost out of ammunition and retreated across the river under darkness. The Federals took Wyatt and says Colonel Edward Hatch, 2nd Iowa, “The men burned the town.” Another article reports that Confederate Colonel Inge was commanding the 12th Battalion of Cavalry and Reneau’s Battery and for the Union, Grierson’s Federal Cavalry Brigade. A five hour engagement had been fought at Byhalia with Chalmers with 3000 men checking their pursuit. He then continued his retreat towards Wyatt with Inge covering the rear at Wyatt while the Confederate wagons and cavalry were crossing the river Grierson attacked again. Inge placed Reneau’s battery on one side of the bluffs and succeeded in holding off the Federals until the crossing was made.
This cemetery is now abandoned. It is only accessible by hiking trail from Lafayette County Road 500. One article states that Mrs. Mollie Hartley of Laws Hill said the last burial at the Old Wyatt cemetery was in the unusually cold winter of 1935-36 when Mrs. Newell Williams was buried with much difficulty. Another article lists Sam Redding as the last man buried and his sister as the last person about 1924. Sam’s house was on the edge of town and was not burnt during the war. He returned and lived there as a fisherman-hermit until about the end of the First World War. Ronnie Billingsley reported from his research in 2004 that the cemetery remained a primary cemetery for the area until around 1920. It was maintained until the 1950’s. Erosion on one side has encroached into the cemetery and some graves have been lost. Other markers have been lost due to theft or vandalism. Several markers are still standing and legible. At one time, the cemetery contained several hundred graves. Family names of those interred there were: Austin, Billingsley, Edlin, Estill, Flynt, Leeton, Roy, Talley, and Nicholson, James M. (Corporal, Company E, 1st Mississippi Infantry C.S.A).
A Town Dissolved
The town of Wyatt began to go into decline before it was burned during the war. It was never rebuilt after the war, although, as stated earlier, the post office was open until 1867 and the cemetery remained. The railroads came, making river traffic along the Tallahatchie somewhat obsolete, thereby spelling the end of Wyatt.
Wyatt Crossing – The Sculpture
When we started collecting the driftwood, we had no idea of the history of Wyatt. As was the case with our other ventures, the trip itself sparked interest in the places. So what do Crossings, Cedar, and Cavalry all have in common? We thought we were just gathering (mostly) cedar for a horse sculpture. As it turns out, there is more to a bend in a river than meets the eye. One hundred seventy-five years ago, this crossing became a busy town, with trade and transportation, and people working and living out their daily lives, just as we do. Transportation modes, a changing economy, and the Civil War battle that took place there changed things for them. A coincidental thing is that the battle was fought to a large extent by cavalry. That’s right – Horse Soldiers. Not knowing the background of Wyatt Crossing, I had told Sharon that her horse was so muscular, so strong, and has such a powerful stance that it resembled a war-horse. The wood has seemed to make its own statement. So it all comes together doesn’t it? Whoever purchases this piece will be buying a piece of history as well, and this article provides some provenance.
Como Arts Council Winter Show
The Como Arts Council will be kicking off its Winter Show on Friday night, February 3rd. Local and Regional artists will be showing and selling their works. The Downtown Gallery is located at 215 Main Street, Como, and will be open each Friday and Saturday night until the exhibition ends on March 10th. Please come out and support the gallery and these artists, and have an opportunity to see “Wyatt Crossing” in person.