Tennessee Records Repository

Decatur Co. TN

Description of the County

Chapter I

From Lillye Younger, The History of Decatur County Past and Present (Southhaven, MS: Carter Printing Company, 1978).
Special thanks to Constance Collett for permission to make these web pages.

In Memory of Lillye Washburn Younger 1912-1998.

Thanks to www.tnyesterday.com for contributing this transcription.

Prior to the white man, the first inhabitants in Decatur County were the tall, stalwart red men, who exhibited the aquiline nose. We call them Indians. They were proud and fearless. The men donned Eagle feather head-dresses on formal occasions.

The Cherokee Indians claimed the irregular surface, broken by deep ravines and hollows, without any seeming order or system. They found dense forests, and plenty of game.

These enterprising people developed their interesting and diverse cultures.

Oft times called ‘The Vanishing Americans", these people gave little thought to the here-after and did not mix ethics with religion.

The medicine man had odd experiences. The weird human faces occasionally appeared to them in dreams. These faces were supposedly empowered to cure many diseases. The men, who dreamed of the faces, were instructed to carve a likeness of it in mask form. This made him a healer while wearing it and singing the proper curing song.

If not treated respectfully and given occasional offerings the face would produce disease they could not cure.

The variety of faces were large, in colors of black, red and white. Most were deformed and twisted.

 In the spring and fall, when sickness was common, the society of faces would go in masses, through all homes, shaking their turtle shell rattles, making weird cries and talking with a curious nasal whang, thus frightening away the invading disease spirit.

  It is interesting to learn that the earliest Indians had no equipment such as bow and arrows, etc. until later years. They made their boats in canoe style from hewn Cypress logs, digging out the center of the trees.

 These early inhabitants discovered the streams and rivers here before they had been given a name by the early white settlers. The only stream of any considerable size, flowing through the County was later named "Beech River", from the. tremendous amount of beech mash that fell from the beech trees along its banks. Many branches and streams empty into the Tennessee River, which forms a boundary line for the county. These streams were located every few miles from the Southern part to the extreme limit of the county.

 Amid the dense forests, which were later cleared, and the hill land, valuable farming land was found. Especially along the banks of the Tennessee River and Beech River as well as smaller streams. The frequent inundations of the Tennessee River rendered the land on the banks highly productive, yet in earlier days, the farmers suffered from overflows. Perhaps the largest area of valuable land was on Beech River.

Then, as well as now, timber abounds in great abundance in this county. The most valuable timber is the oak, in its various varieties, and black walnut. Wild Cherry, Cedar, Hickory, Maple, Sycamore, Gum and Willows are also found here.

 According to an account of a diary, written by D. Croft, before Decatur County became a county, he recorded impressions of the Wilderness of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers on his voyage by flat boat from Pittsburg to Florence, Alabama. When he reached what later became the eastern boundary of Decatur County he described the terrain thus, "Cane growing along the river in great abundance from twenty-five (25) to thirty (30) feet high, which looks most beautiful, having a clear stalk or a bunch of green blades or leaves just at the top." His description of the river bank is quite interesting. He writes "Passed more of the high limestone rocks. This ledge of rocks is full of round smooth holes, large enough for a person to enter in at, but are such a distance from the foot of the rocks that it would be impossible to ascend to them except by ladder". "The sea rocks look beautiful," he continued, "being covered on top with scrubby cedars, standing thick and look very green". He also mentioned seeing a few houses of cedar as well as cedar fence posts, as he plyed the waters that touched the unborn county.[1]

The soil on the streams is dark and well suited for the growth of corn and other crops, while the soil on the ridges is much lighter, and known as a sandy land. The Indians grew corn primarily.

Considerable mineral wealth is found in this county. It consists of a fine grained sandstone from which grindstones and whetstones are made. There are deep ledges of limestone, well suited for building materials. Siliceous, cherty, flinty soils are common and numerous beds of fossils remains, crinoidad stems, etc. are found. Phosphate and iron ore are also deposited here, as well as marble.[2]

Decatur County is a paradise for Indian Relics and has been since they made their homes here. Numerous arrow heads have been found along the bank of the Tennessee River. A partial skeleton was found here and identified as that of an Indian man who died at least 1,000 years ago.

Students from Memphis State University have made an extensive study of Indian cultures here. There are many collectors who live in the county and exhibit wide collections in their homes.

In the forests and canebrakes, game live in abundance here as well as when the Red Man inhabited the land, A good description is found in D. Croft's diary. He describes them thus; "The banks of the Tennessee River were filled with hundreds of wild fowls, flocks of beautiful green birds called "Parrakeets", an abundance of wild turkeys, screaming loons (fish eating birds), the Bald Eagle and Whipporwill".

The Cherokee tribe hunted deer, birds, rabbits and all types of smaller game and trapped for beavers, otters, minks, raccoons, panthers and the bobcat.

The Indians traveled by foot since no horses were available until after the white man's entrance into the country.

 Their method of preserving their game was by drying and smoking the meat. Bears were also a delectable dish.

Before the white man settled in Decatur County they slipped in and took advantage of the game, many of which are extinct now. Oft times they became friendly with the Indians, however some didn't, and lost their scalp.

The normadic tribes lost their foothold when a treaty was made with them on October 19, 1818 and West Tennessee was opened for settlement as well as hunting and trading.

Major General Andrew Jackson and Governor Issac Shelby of Kentucky, who represented the United States Government, bought West Tennessee and West Kentucky from the Chickasaw tribe for $300,000.

However West Tennessee was not opened to settlement for nearly two years after the purchase. When the boundaries of the early colonies on the eastern seaboard were established, their north and south boundary lines were projected westward by charters issued by the King of England. Therefore all the state of Tennessee was originally known as the western lands of North Carolina.[4]

At the end of the Revolutionary War North Carolina was almost bankrupt, and the North Carolina soldiers of the Revolution were paid in land grants to be located in what is now West Tennessee. A private received 640 acres of land, a sergeant 2,000 acres, a Captain 3,600 and a Colonel received 4,800 acres.

It was in the early 1819's that surveyors, hired by the United States Government, surveyed the land. Five surveyors were hired in West Tennessee to survey land in the five districts in which it was divided. We in this county were in the Lexington area and the surveyor was Samuel Wilson.[4]

An early land grant, in what was Perry County at the date it was issued, is listed thus; "The State of Tennessee. To All to Whom These Presents Shall come, Greetings". The twentieth day January 1852, pursuant to the provisions of an Act of the General Assembly of said State passed the second day of November 1847 by number 223, granted by the said state of Tennessee, Solomon Wyatt, 150 acres, Range 8 Section 6.

This farm has been in the Wyatt family since that date and presently belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Lealon Wyatt, Route 1, Bath Springs. The Wyatt farm is the first in Decatur County to be honored in the Farm Land Heritage in 1976, by having been owned and continuously operated for 100 years or more by the same family.[5]

 Three other century farms are listed in this first Land Heritage book. They are the Welch farm where Weldon Welch now lives on Highway 69, The Keeton Farm, operated by B.B. Keeton, and the Moore Farm on which Roy Moore and wife live, located near Decaturville.

The oldest deeds recorded in Decatur County is Erwin T. Cole and Jesse Taylor transfer dated April 8,1846.[6]

John G. Houston served as surveyor of the county from 1842 until 1872.[7]

From the 1850 Census of Decatur County the principal occupations listed were saddlers, millers, blacksmiths, merchants, county officials, carpenters, stone masons, school teachers, farm laborers, overseers, tailors, shoe makers, cabinet makers, iron masters, founders, surveyors, log rafters, ore miners, stave mill workers, and farmers.

The manner of living made friendship very strong between pioneers. They worked and played in harmony with each other.

Recreation in the early days included quilting bees for the housewife, square dances for the younger set, corn husking and log rolling for the men and games such as mumble peg, horse shoes, and pitching dollars for the youngsters.

The women of the family would gather at one another's homes and quilt out a quilt for the occupant and vice-versa. This always included a good meal at the noon hour which was called "dinner" in those days. The quiltings usually lasted from one to three days, according to the number of quilters.

At the square dances the dosie do and the promenade and the call were heard from the caller while partners were dancing. The ladies were clad in colorful calico dresses with full skirts in shirt waist style. Partners were dressed in homespun clothing.

Corn huskings were for the men. They gathered at the barn and the contest started. The man who could shuck the most ears of corn in a given time was acclaimed the winner.

Log rolling was more work than play. The logs were stacked high by hand then rolled to the desired location.

Games were amusement for the young as well as older persons. Sometimes instead of pitching dollars it became necessary to pitch washers, due to the economic conditions of the times.

Another game of interest was called "Jack Marbles". One big marble was placed in the center and four smaller ones, making a square. The object was to see who could knock the big center "Jack Marble" out first or all five marbles out. Not only was it of interest to the youth but to men also, when they went to town and were waiting for the livery stable man to hitch up the horse, etc.[8]

Other games for youngsters were "The Farmer in the Dell", "London Bridge is Falling Down", "Red Rover","Go In and Out the Windows" and "Crack the Whip." These games were famous in the schools at recess and lunch hour.[9]

The mode of living in the early days was quite different from those of today. The lady of the house didn't work outside the home and her prime interest was her home and rearing children, plus keeping her husband very happy. In those days a family of eight was considered quite small since many added up to fourteen (14) and sixteen (16). Life wasn't easy but it was peaceful, minus the hustle and bustle of today.

On Monday Mother always did her wash. Not in a washing machine, which was unheard of then, but in a big black pot, filled with water and fire beneath. She used big wash tubs, and rubbed her clothes clean on a brass wash board, then boiled them for a while, rinsed them a number of times, once in blueing water, and on to the clothes line they went. The water was poured on the flower beds in summer.

Naturally Tuesday was filled with ironing, not with an electric iron but with what was called a sad iron, heated in the fireplace, from the roaring fire, which crumpled into live red coals. Two irons were heated at a time in order to have a spare and to keep the work going. A certain type of production was kept but not according to later industry.

Wednesday was filled with mending the clothes, which included the rips and tears from the bob wire fences around the fields. This, plus three hot meals, cooked on a black wood stove, practically filled the day.

Thursday was spent by many for visiting the sick and doing kind deeds, quite unknown today. If a farmer was ill, and missed a crop, his neighbors would put his crop in for no wages and think nothing about it.

Friday was cleaning day and the floors were scoured with hot soapy water and then rinsed until they glistened. Everything was put in order.

Saturday was spent by going into town and seeing the latest styles. The farm housewife purchased only the necessary things to run the home.

Sunday was Church day and if the little church couldn't afford full time preaching they always had Sunday School to attend. Then there was a big dinner for no telling how many that came home with the friendly family.

Dinner on the ground is an American tradition and once a year various churches engage in an all day meeting, with dinner on the ground. It was literally spread on the ground then; however, later it was escalated to wire tables on the church lawn.

The housewife prepared a full meal of her delicacies, and spread it on the ground atop her best white damask tablecloth. Everyone was invited to eat at the table, regardless of station in life.

Here in Decatur County the month of May, which oft times spills over into June, is designated as homecoming month and each Sunday a decoration day and homecoming is scheduled. It is a gala occasion. Relatives who have loved ones buried in the church cemetery come from miles around, which includes many other states, to pay their respects to their loved ones passed on and to rejoin their families back home.

On Saturdays the graves are decorated with plastic flowers, as well as fresh flowers, and some use shells for decorations.

Among Decatur County Churches where the decorations prevail are Cross Roads, Camp Ground, Pleasant Hill, Sardis Ridge, Bible Hill, Judson, Bear Creek, Mt. Tabor, Oak Grove, Old Center, Keeton Springs, Cedar Hill, Jeanette, and cemeteries which include Dukes, Mt. Zion, Lafferty, Bawcum, Nebo, Wylie and Decaturville Cemetery.

Fashion plays an important part in the age old celebration. Each one dons a new outfit and the colors resemble a rainbow in the sky.

The sad part of it is when relatives who travel from afar have to make their adeau. Tear-stained eyes extend their "Goodbyes" as another year fades into memories awaiting the next decoration day.

Within the span of a year, new members are added to the families while some, present for that occasion, are numbered in the cemetery.[10]

  1. D. Croft 1825 AC. No. 1214
  2. Moss Arnold, first Decatur County Historian
  3. Jackson Sun Newspaper 1975
  4. Gibson County History, Past and Present - 1961 edition
  5. Author's knowledge
  6. Decatur records in Registers office, Book: 1, Page No. 1.
  7. Goodspeed's history
  8. Hobard Goff
  9. Author's experience
  10. General Knowledge