Impressions of Mississippi – Bill Arp, 1/30/1887
I am in Mississippi now-a state whose geography I have never before studied without a book. I have long wished to
visit her or him or it or whatever the sex may be. I know that the other states are feminine but have not forgotten that
Mississippi means the father of waters, but I reckon when the old gentleman quit making rivers and got upon the land
he took the sex of mother earth, and so we must say “her.” Georgians feel very kindly towards this state, for it once
was ours, and we “set her up” like a father gives off a patrimony to her child. I mentioned this with a paternal pride to my
old friend Major Harper. who lives near by, and he said. “Yes. yes; that is so. I am old Georgian. I came from Lincoln
half a century ago, and I frequently mention old Georgia as our mother, even though she did try to play the “Injuns gift”
upon us.” How so?”, said I, “Why, don’t you know?”, said he, “that some of those Georgians got up that infamous Yazoo
fraud and tried to steal a big slice of our state, after they had given it to us. That is what we boys used to call Injun gift
-that is to give a thing away and then steal it or take it back again.” Yes, of course I know about that, but my information
is that that Yazoo fraud was very much exaggerated. The truth is that some of the purest and best men of the state were
engaged in it-men who would have scorned an unholy thing-but politics ran high and it was necessary to cry fraud with
a loud voice, so as to kill off and bury a few men who were in somebody else’s way, and hence the great hue and cry
about the Yazoo fraud. The measure was defeated, of course, and although it was not perse an iniquitous one it became
tainted by a distribution of some of the stock in order to secure votes and influence. I dropped down from Grand Junction
to Holly Springs one morning, and have been dropping down from town to town ever since. The Illinois Central splits
the state in two from north to south, and is a great corporation but somehow I don’t like the name. It used to be the
Central and was built by this people, and when they were compelled to sell out they ought to have kept the name if
nothing else. It smacks too much of foreign dominion and is a perpetual reminder of our misfortunes.
I wonder how those in Illinois would like to have one of their roads named the Mississippi Central. It is contrary to the
fitness of things. Holly Springs is an old fashioned town of about 3,000 inhabitants. Before the war much wealth and
refinement had its abode here, but now the wealth is largely diminished, and without it even refinement has to struggle
to maintain ite prestige. The grand old aristocracy is passing away, and this generation has buckled down to business.
The background and support of this town is cotton, cotton grown chiefly by negroes. The merchants haudle about 15,000
bales in a season, and out of it comes a thriving trade that greases all the wheels and sustains schools and churches.
If there is no money in cotton to the farmers, there is lots of it to the tradesmen. An old gentleman whose name is Tyler
lives here; an octogenarian of splendid memories: an editor of fifty years experience and I felt like I was sitting at the
feet of Gamaliel as he talked to me of the old antebellum days and away back to the times of Judge Sharkey and S.S.
Prentiss and Henry S. Foote. He told of hearing Mr. Davis speak against Prentiss on the hustings when Whigs and
democrats were fighting for power. He said the democrats had tried in vain to get somebody to meet Mr. Prentiss
and utterly failed until they called on Mr. Davis, who was then without any political prestige. His party and his friends
were greatly gratified that he held his own and was not utterly demolished by the gifted orator. This gave Mr. Davis
a send upward and was the beginnig of his political career. Mr. Tyler says he heard that speech. He says that Mrs.
Davis told him afterwards she was greatly concerned and trembled for the consequences. That Mr. Davis was not
gallantly dressed for the great occasion, and she purchased for him a pair of pants, and when he donned them they
were so much too long she took them and cut them off several inches, and they were then too short. But he appeared
in them anyhow, and as he towered up and strained his eloquence with uplifted arms the pants crawled nearly
up to his knees, and she was dreadfully mortified.
I met the venerable Judge Watson, another octogenearian of rare and rich memories. He was confederate senator
from this state and was the intimate friend of our Ben Hill. He domiciled for a time in his family and loves to speak of him.
Holly Springs is a town of abundant leisure for that class who love life more than they love money. They are not rich,
but they are comfortable and the sweet pleasures of social life are prized more than gold. The night I was there the
young people gathered at the hotel for a musical festival, and it was a delightful treat to a wayfaring man who was afar
from home and family. The echoes of those swell songs still follow me and I whisper “Oh, music! what is it, and where
does it dwell?” At Oxford I found the state university an institution well officered and well endowed. I visited the beautiful
grounds and went through the commodious buildings and saw the library and laboratories and other equipments, all of
which are well advanced with the requirements of the advanced age. There is a commanding dignity about the professors
in a college that always commands my reverence, and I found it here. The students seemed to share in that dignity of
department more than is usual. lndeed I have found Mississippi to be a proud old state. She has got no business boom
like Alabama, and she wouldn’t bend her head the smallest fraction of an inch to have one Frect and conscious like her
beloved chieftain, she looks up rather than down. She will sacrifice everything rather than principle. Our Judge Longstreet
was the first president of Oxford college. His kindred are there now. Secretary Lamar has his home there when he is
at home and he is the idol of the community. Jacob Thompson lived there too. His wife was occupying her beautiful home
when General Logan invaded that beautiful town and took a fancy to her residence for his headquarters. He invited
himself and his (editors note: unknown word) to all the rooms but one, and when he chose to leave he too became
careless about fire and left the beautiful home in ashes, and Mrs. Thompson a suitor fer shelter and charity. As Judge
Little said, “Let the Lord’s will be done.” I found a genial friend at Oxford-Dr. Little, who used to be our state geologist.
He is the professor of geology in this college, but cannot find quite as many rocks to crush with his little hammer as he
did in the hills of north Georgia. Oxford has a fine back country to sustain her business, and the little city is growing and
display to the visitor many beautiful homes with modern adornments. Now let me remark that I have long observed that
even one great and good man can give tone and character to a whole community and his influence will mark the town
for a generation. Take such men as Judge Watson and General Featherstone and Mr. Tyler and Major Strickland at
Holly Springs. Take Mr. Lamar and Mr. Skipworth and President Wheat at Oxford. Athens in Georgia, has not yet lost
the power and influence which the presence and example of such men as Judge Lumpkin and the Cobbs and Dougherty
and Dr. Church and Dr. Hoyt exerted there nearly half a century ago. Just so can one great and good man’s influence
permeate a whole state and mould the principles of the people. Jefferson Davis has done that in Mississippi. This people
love him and honor him and look up to him and will be guided by him as long as he lives. Old confederates I meet everywhere
and receive a warm grasp from their hands as they greet me with memories of marching through Georgia and fighting their
retreat from Dalton to Atlanta-fighting and falling back and bleeding at every pore. One of these old confederates swung
his empty sleeve around as he squeezed my hand and said:; “Bill, where is Grady? Why didn’t you bring Grady? We
want to see Grady. God bless him! Didn’t he put a head on old Talmage? Didn’t he everlastingly clean up Talmage?”
Well, it is Grady, Henry Grady, all along the line. I see his speech in almost every paper. I saw it in three papers today,
and one of them was s negro paper published in Grenada, and the colored editor was lavish in his compliments. I
wonder if Grady has captured the nation? He has the whites and the nergroes north and south, east and west, and
I expect has got the Indians and the heathen Chinese. These Mississippians say they want Lamar for the next vice
president, but if they can’t get him they want Grady. But let me tell you, Eugene Field, of the Chicago News, ought
to be sued for libel.
These people here believe every word that he wrote about Grady being an Irishman and foreign born and paled up
by Bennett. Intelligent men told me they supposed it was so. Of course Grady’s beautiful tribute to his soldier father should
have been a sufficient exposure of Field’s “make up,” but somehow the people didn’t note the inconsistency. An editor
told me today that he knew that Grady was an Irishman, and be supposed that Field’s biography was the truth. “But
it don’t matter,” said he, “it will certainly capture the Irish vote.” Water Valley is a town of 400 inhabitants; and considerable pretensions. it has the right name, for a good, bold stream runs all over the town and is bridged in a dozen places.
The company’s shops are here with a payroll of thirty thousand dollars a month. This is enough to keep things lively
and they are lively, and then there are twelve thousand bales of cotton besides and a cotton factory and other small
enterprises. Just let manufactures abound in a town and you will see life and vigor and prosperity. Here is a public
graded school with 500 pupils and here are a full complement of churches.that pay the preacher. Captain Brown lives
here, the genial editor of the Progress, the president of the State Press association-the kind hearted gentleman who
so tenderly nursed poor Walter Jackson, the son of our late chief justice. His lip quivered and his voice trembled as
he recalled to me the meeting of father and son and he closed the sad recital by saying. ”they are together now-yes
they are together in heaven.” Grenada is a brave old town. It has survived fire and pestilence and the sword. There is
not a building on the public square that was there three years ago. The terrible pestilence came here in ’78. and, as they
say. about cleaned up the town. Whole families were swept out of existence. But a remnant was left and now here is a
beautiful town of 3,000 inhabitants, with good schools and churches and abundant energy among her merchants. They
boast of handling 18,000 bales of cotton and have a compress, and on Saturdays the streets are cloudy with negroes.
General Walthall who is United States senator, lives here and his peopte are as proud of him as Oxford is of Lamar.
He is a pure man in all the relations of life, and the first man who stepped from private life to the national senate chamber.
This is his first office, and well does he fill it. His humble residence is in eight of me while I write-a comfortable cottage,
with vines and evergreens abounding, and a long veranda that reminds me of my own, where I love to sit and smoke the
pipe of peace and tranquility. I have still more respect for him because be does not live in a palatial mansion. These are
a good people in Grenada, and they are all the better for having one great and good man to look up to and reverence. Major Harper lives a few miles in the country and came in town to talk about Georgia. He is nearing the nineties and has no idea of
departing these coasts for many year. A large, tall, massive frame, he rises promptly from his chair, when excited, and throws
his big, long arms around as he says: “I tell you my friend Geo. M. Troup was a great hero. He made Wm. Wirt back down
about those Indians, and he moved them in defiance of the iniunction of the supreme court at Washington.” Then he would
pass on rapidly to Crawford and Dooly and Joe Henry Lumpkin and John Forsythe and all the notable men of that historic age.
He seemed to think that I too lived away back there and would say: “Don’t you remember when Toombs was but a boy, how
he led a rebellion in Franklin college, and old Moses Waddell expelled him, etc, etc. But I did not remember. Said he, “I was
then a member of the Georgia educational board, and we voted money enough to educate Alex. H Stephens. Yes,sir. Some
of my own money was invested in the great man, and it was a good investment. Yes, sir, it paid; it paid.” I leave Grenada today
for Jackson, the capital, where I shall make a violent assault upon citadel of their kindness and good willand take it if I can.
Last Updated on March 13, 2021 by Bill Arp
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