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Byhalia - Town of "Great Oaks"
The South Reporter
Byhalia, one of Marshall County's three incorporated municipalities, is on Highway 78, not far from the De Soto County line.Byhalia is one of the oldest towns in North Mississippi. Its strategic location at the intersection of well traveled Indian trails made it a common meeting place of warriors, travelers, adventurers and squaw men long before the Indians migrated to the west.
When roads were chopped out by the early settlers, these roads closely followed the route of the old Indian trails. The “Pontotoc Trail,” later to become the approximate route of Highway 78 from Memphis to Tupelo, was traveled in dry weather but avoided during the rainy season because of river crossings and swampy areas.
Route of the famous old “Pidgeon Roost Road” led from Pontotoc via Toccopola and Oxford to Byhalia. Here it intersected the Pontotoc Trail and thence into Memphis. This well traveled road forded, or ferried, the Tallahatchie River below Old Wyatt and ran near to Old Waterford and from there ran northwest to Byhalia, where it intersected the Pontotoc and Memphis Road. Route of the Pidgeon Roost Road was about three miles west of Holly Springs at a parallel point.
Early traders and adventurers camped along the Pidgeon Roost Road in the days of early settlement of North Mississippi. The famous Martin Mission of the Presbyterian Church was established on the road about 1824 or 1825.; The site of the Mission is about six miles northwest of Holly Springs. Even in those early days, travelers sometimes detoured by the holly springs for the fine water and excellent camping site.
There was also a trail from Byhalia to the area of Collierville, Tennessee. There it intersected with the well traveled trail that led from the Chickasaw Bluffs, where Memphis now stands, to the Tennessee River area in the muscle shoals area. This trail is now the general route of Highway 72.
The intersection of these trails made Byhalia a natural location for a settlement and a kind of “inland port town” for the area. During the colonization era, thousands of immigrants came in over these trails to establish homes in the area around Byhalia and southward.
The settlement prospered and, at the outbreak of the War Between the States, Byhalia was a most flourishing town, almost sufficient unto itself because of its strategic location and its almost untouched natural resources.
Byhalia was first called Farmington, taking the name from an early Methodist Church organized in the community. When a postoffice was established, Farmington was rejected as the name of the postoffice because of a duplication in names within the state and “Byhalia” was selected.
Byhalia, translated from the Chickasaw dialect means “great oaks”, which was particularly adaptable to the Byhalia area because of the great oaks of the virgin forest of the area. It is said that in the days of the passenger pigeon, millions of these birds roosted in the creek bottom and hence the name of “Pidgeon Roost Creek”.
Like most sections of the country in the South, Byhalia heartily endorsed the Confederacy. A volunteer company of infantry was organized at Byhalia in May, 1861 and this company rendered heroic service in the military campaigns until it was decimated and its survivors assigned to other companies. A roster of the officers and men of this company was published in The South Reporter, issue of May 6, 1965.
As the tide of war went against the Confederacy, federal troops early occupied Byhalia and the Confederates retired across the Tallahatchie River where they formed a line of defense. Frequent raids against the Confederate positions along the river and many sharp skirmishes were fought in the Byhalia area.
Byhalia suffered greatly from the ravages of the war. All public property, gins, grist mills and homes of known Confederate leaders were destroyed. All business activities of the town were suspended during the war.
As with other sections of the state, Byhalia recovered slowly from the ravages of war. However, the fertile lands of the creek bottoms and the rich lands of the plateaus produced abundant crops of cotton and cotton brought money, an almost unknown article, into the community. The recovery was slow and gradual but, at length, the economy was restored and Byhalia once again became a good business town.
The advent of the Frisco Railroad, constructed from Memphis to Byhalia in 1884, literally “put Byhalia on the map.” The railroad brought many new citizens to Byhalia and new stores and business houses opened up rapidly. A newspaper, the Byhalia Journal, was established in 1882 and continued in publication for several years. M. D. Herring and John Eddins were its best known editors.
Modern Byhalia is an alert, progressive and thriving town. The center of a rich farming area, modern farming methods have made it a veritable oasis.
Dairying and cattle raising is now extensively engaged in. The Moore Angus Farm, producer of pure bred Angus cattle, is known throughout the country and many animals from the herds have won top awards in shows all over the country.
In addition to its retail houses and other business enterprises, Byhalia now has two thriving industries that have been established in recent years. Both plants have made recent expansions and show every promise of additional growth and expansion.
These plants, Gem, Inc. and the Southern Brick and Tile Co., have substantial pay rolls and have removed the economy of Byhalia from a strict dependence upon agricultural production.
Byhalia has three churches, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian; a Masonic lodge, Lions Club, Garden Club and a modern, well staffed and most efficiently conducted public school.
The Byhalia Cemetery on Highway 78 in the north end of town is one of the most beautiful and well cared for to be found anywhere. It is cared for under supervision of the Byhalia Garden Club.
Submitted by Martha Fant
The South Reporter, October 4, 1971
by R.B. Henderson
Byhalia has a background of great historical interest. It was one of the earliest settled places in Marshall County, following the Treaty of Pontotoc in 1832. Under terms of this treaty the Chickasaw Indians, aboriginal inhabitants of North Mississippi, gave up their homelands under pressure of the United States government, in exchange for lands in the Indian Territory. Although the Treaty of Pontotoc was signed in 1832, it was not until 1836 that the Indians began migrating after the sale of lands.
Establishment of the Federal Land Office at Pontotoc, followed later by a branch office in Holly Springs, brought a great tide of settlers into the Chickasaw country and soon the fertile lands in the area of Byhalia were brought up by the land speculators and the land hungry settlers.
Byhalia was a natural location for a town. Its strategic location at the intersection of the Collierville-Chulahoma Road with the Pontotoc-Memphis Road, now the route of the present Highway 78 through this area, induced many of the early settlers to build their homes at the intersection and thus the town had its beginning. It was a natural campsite for travelers over the pioneer roads when only a few miles per day could be made by the horse or oxdrawn vehicles. The famous Old Pidgeon Roost Road, originating at Old Pon te tok, intersected the Memphis and Pontotoc Road at Victoria. Both of these old roads were the routes of Indian travel for centuries before the comings of the white man. However, the Indians did not use wheeled vehicles nor did they build roads or bridges. Their shaggy ponies served all their needs for transportation and they left the roads and bridges for the white man to build.
Both the Memphis-Pontotoc Road and the Pidgeon Roost Road began at Old Pon te tok, five miles south of the present town, during the years of Indian occupancy. The Pontotoc Road ran north to New Albany and thence to Memphis along the present route of the highway. However, this route crossed the Tallahatchie, Hell Creek and Tippah. The swamps and marshes made travel difficult during winter and during wet spells and travel was mainly over the Pidgeon Roost Road in wet weather. This road ran through Toccopola and Oxford and crossed the Tallahatchie below Old Waterford, and thence to the intersection at Victoria.
In 1835, the United States government cut out a wagon road over which to remove the Indians to the west along the route of Pidgeon Roost Trail. It was not until many years, however, until the early settles built a wagon road of sorts along the Memphis-Pontotoc Road to the intersection at Victoria and, soon afterwards, traffic over the Pidgeon Roost Road dwindled away and, in a few years, it was abandoned except for local travel.
Byhalia is translated from an Indian word when means “great oaks” or “great trees”. The settlement at Byhalia was first named “Farmington” the name of an early Methodist mission, later the site of the Farmington Methodist Church. The name “Farmington” was rejected by the Post Office Department as a name for the post because of duplication and Byhalia was selected. Soon the name Farmington disappeared and Byhalia became the name of the town, church and post office.
Byhalia lies in both Sections 35 and 36 of Township 2, Range 5 West. Section 35 was ceded to the United States government by an Indian named “Shimmianah”. On April 15, 1836, the Government sold the section to C.W. Raines and Wash Poe. Poe and Raines bought many sections of land in Northwest Mississippi for speculative purposes. On October 13, 1838, Poe and Raines sold the sections to the Chickasaw Land Company. This company peddled the land to early settlers. The first sale to a settler was to C.D. Shanks on March 31, 1842. The next sale was to James Roberts on the same day. On September 25, 1843, William Teams bought a tract from the Chickasaw Company. On November 1, 1845, Robert S. Greer, acting as trustee for the Chickasaw Land Company, sold “5 acres in the corner of the NE Quarter to the trustees of the Methodist Church” for the purpose of building thereupon a church of this Faith”. J.R. Hall bought land in the section on November 6, 1846; J.E. Horne on December 12, 1847; J.F. Cunningham on March 5, 1848; Elder Clark on September 4, 1848; F.W. Henry on December 25, 1849; John and A.C. Stephens on January 26, 1850; A.R. Chilton on April 13, 1850, described as “100 square feet”, Henry Subdivision, and a lot south. A stage line bought a lot on October 11, 1850. A Meyers bought a lot on November 15, 1850; Isham H. Hayes, bought a lot on January 7, 1851.
Section 36 was sol on January 25, 1836 to land speculators, Otho Bell, Herron Grove and R.L. Boyd. On January 27, 1838, the group sold the NW Quarter to Squire Barnet. Other early settlers were John Reynolds, Rudd Clark, Issac Heffington, H.G. Barlow, William L. Clark, A.H. Chilton, A.A. Smithwick, Patrick Flannagan, W.K. Price and Sam Allen. On January 4, 1854, John H. Eason bought the East one-half of the Northeast one-fourth of the section.
a Little has been preserved of the history of Byhalia from the time of its settlement to the outbreak of the War Between the States, other than that it was a flourishing little town, the trade center of a rich agricultural region.
Many wealthy planters from the older cotton states bought large holdings of land in the community and brought with them their slaves and farming implements and immediately began to clear the virgin forests and place them into cultivation.
Some built their homes on great plantations, while others built homes for their families in Byhalia or Holly Springs, and hired overseers to assist in managing the plantation. Byhalia became a social center of the aristocratic antebellum social life. The town did not grow very fast, perhaps because it was not the county seat and because of its proximity to Memphis. Completely missing from historical files are the names of the early storekeepers and professional men.
The stage line was started in the 1840s and continued until 1856 when the Central Railroad was built from Grand Junction to Oxford. When the railroad came through, the towns of Lamar, Hudsonville and Waterford moved to the railroad, which ran about two miles to the east of them. The railroad killed the stage line and ended freight traffic on the Tallahatchie. Old Wyatt faded into history, and Chulahoma ceased to grow. Byhalia did not suffer much by the advent of the Mississippi Central; its trade had been mostly overland to Memphis and continued so, although doubtless some freight came to Holly Springs as well as passengers traveling southward over the railroad.
Like all other sections of Marshall County, Byhalia heartily endorsed the cause of the Confederacy and its young men rallied early to the call to arms. During the war, more than 250 men and boys from Byhalia and the immediate area served in the Confederate Armies.
A volunteer company known as the “Walker Reserves” was recruited early in 1861 and mustered into service at Byhalia May 7, 1861. An article in the Holly Springs News, paper of the day, described the company as “preserved and mounted, dressed in the best of uniforms”. An account of the “mustering out” of the company is preserved in an old ledger kept by L.C. Walston, secretary and treasurer of the company.
“Byhalia, June 8, 1861, Miss Betty Raiford presented the Walker Reserves with a large and beautiful flag from the ladies of they Byhalia Female Institute in a very neat address. Lieut. Eddins received the flag from the Institute in a very eloquent and appropriate style, the departing of a very excellent repast, we adjourned”. The must roll of the officers and privates of the Walker Reserves was published in The South Reporter in the issue of May 6, 1965.
Byhalia was drastically affected by the war. During the first months of conflict, the town was a recruiting center and drilling ground for the recruits but, after the capture of Memphis and southern Tennessee by Federal troops, the Confederates retreated across the Tallahatchie River where they erected fortifications. There were many skirmishes fought along the Memphis road and raiding soldiers of both armies frequently passed through the town.
Byhalia suffered greatly from the ravages of war. Cotton gins and grist mills, public buildings and often schoolhouses and churches were burned. The county was denuded of livestock and food was scarce. Homes of known Confederate leaders were burned but the town was not completely destroyed, as was Old Wyatte.
As with most sections of the state, Byhalia recovered slowly from the ravages of war. But the fertile lands in the community produced abundant yields of cotton that brought in cash from the North, and cash money was an almost unknown commodity during the early post war years, so the country slowly got back upon its feet in a few years.
The advent of the Frisco Railroad in 1885 was a tremendous boost to the economy of Byhalia, bringing new business houses and many new citizens. As soon as the rails were laid as far as Holly Springs, the Frisco began the operation of an “Accommodation” train from Memphis to Holly Springs. The train carried both passengers and freight, and many citizens rode the train “just for the thrill”. The freight service enabled the merchants to keep their shelves full and eliminated the long overland hauls of cotton and farm products to Memphis.
Last year a copy of the “Byhalia Journal”, published in 1887, was found in New Albany. The issue was numbered “Volume 5, Number 7”, which would indicate that the paper was founded in 1882. M.D. Herring, grandfather of Mrs. Cliff Eason, was the proprietor, and the subscription price was $1.00 per year.
The paper was founded by Dr. E.M. Height, a Byhalia dentist. Soon after its establishment, Height sold the paper to Thomas M. Kemp, a former publisher of the Holly Springs South who, soon afterward, sold it to M.D. Herring. Herring published the paper for four years when he sold it to John Eddins. Eddins published the paper until 1905 when he sold the presses and equipment and discontinued its publication.
Merchants advertising in the paper were B.F. Lannston, Eddins & Howard, W.T. McCormas, W.T. McCrary and W.E. Futrell Stevens, D.C. Flow, Shinault, Nichols & Co. operated drug stores. Burrows were also in operation, but did not have an ad in the paper. There was also the McCreary Livery stable, the McCrary Hotel and Herrington Restaurant.
Physicians having cards in the paper were C.L. Hays, N.J. Wilson, R.J. Lyles and J.S. McCravern.
The directory of the churches read: Baptist Rev E.L. Weson, Pastor; Methodist, Rev. J.T. Moody; Presbyterian, Rev. P.M., Custer, Pastor. Each of these churches have continued in uninterrupted service and are active today.
There were two Masonic lodges: the Byhalia Lodge No. 115, F. and A.M. with Martin Lee, W.M. and P.T. Railford, Secretary. The other lodge was Byhalia Lodge No. 146, the K. of P., with H.A. Duboise and W. H. Nichols, reps.
Town officials were W.H. Nichols, mayor; W.E. Futrell, R.J. Howard, H. Nichols and C.M. Henry, alderman; and J.G. Jackson, marshal.
The Centennial of Marshall County was observed with the publication of history of Marshall County sponsored by the Holly Springs Garden Club. This publication lists some old families of Byhalia as, before the war: Eddins, Owings, Horne, Hicks, Hardy, Nesbitt, Boyce, Howard, Bentons, Patterson, Dean Matthews and others.
“After the war”, McLeary, Burrow, McCrary, Alley, Fitts, Stanback, Chalmers and others.
“Before the war”, doctors: Isom Hays and James Boyce. Continuing the article states:
“The two doctors had sons who followed them, Dr. Isom Hayes, James Boyce. Later physicians were Drs. Senter, McAuley, Jones and Moore.
The publication also contained a story about an early toll road that was constructed four miles west of Byhalia, planks sawed from the native trees. It also related that a “Shun the Pike Road” was unofficially opened to avoid paying the toll over the plank road.
The Centennial publication also listed the following as having served in World War I from Byhalia.
Raymond Hawk, Victor Laughter, Loyd Buckley, Taylor Peterson, Ingram McCrary, Winton Woods, Sims Perry, J. William Burk, Will Stanback, Lee Cooper, Walter Mayers, Arthur Phillips, Orlande Hardy, Albert Jones, John Jobe, Dee Mayers, Gordon Salmon, David McClearly Burrow, Kitt Hansell Browen, Walter Thomas, Leonard Woody, Hughey Jones, Edward Buckley, Briggs Howard Jones, Will P. Stanback Jr., Robert L. Orr, Edd Perry, Tate Graham, Dudley Parker, Sid Parker, Dell Armour, Con McCrary Jr., Tom Fitts, Bob Buford, Ted Buford, Billy Rowe, William Mayers, Claud Brigance, Paul Hudson, Dick Strays, Givan Gooch, Maury Gooch, James Edwards, Victor Jones.
Present day Byhalia remains a typical north Mississippi town, secure in its natural resources, prosperous, its people contented and rich in tradition of the past. There have been no concessions among its people to socialistic doctrines or foreign ideologies, yet they have adjusted themselves to changing conditions and to the new way of life brought about by the economic revolution of recent years. This change, however broad it may have been, has not been made at the sacrifice of traditions of the past or at the expense of the Southern way of life.
The resources of Byhalia are yet basically agricultural; however, industrial growth and development over the past few years has kept pace with the time. Gem, Incorporated and the Southern Brick and Tile Company are its chief industrial plants. There is also a local freight line operated by Mr. St. John.
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