A look into the history of Choctaw County

By Daniel Brunty The Choctaw Plaindealer

With another year of progress being made in Choctaw County, the future looks bright as economic and financial developments continue to improve the quality of living for residents there. As the future continues to prosper, we take a look back at the formation of this great county as well as the origins of the county’s three incorporated towns (Ackerman, Weir, and French Camp). Choctaw County Choctaw was made a county by the Act of the Legislature of December 23, 1833. The land of the county had previously been ceded by the Indians in 1830 by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Chief Greenwood Le Flore was the one who signed the treaty for the Choctaws. The name Choctaw was given to the county in recognition of the Choctaw Indians in which the territory was inhabited and out of which the county was formed. An interesting fact regarding the county is the ridge that separates the waters of the Mississippi from those of the Tombigbee rises in the northern part of the state and extends southward toward the gulf. It divides in Choctaw County, near the source of the Big Black, the Pearl, and the Pascagoula rivers. Census reports for the year 1840 for the county were 6,007 residents. Population steady increased in the county until 1870, where it reached its height of 16,988 residents. After the county lines changed in the 1870’s, the population was almost cut in half. Some of the first public officials for Choctaw County in 1834 were John Garrett Neal (Sheriff), Thomas Lindsey (Probate Clerk), and P. J. Campbell (Circuit Clerk). The county was well-organized in 1834 by the election of William Dyse, William Rogers, Mont. Hutchins, John A. Newell, and J.W. Brandon to the board of police (supervisors). They entered the U.S. government at Columbus to decide upon a county site. The place chosen was Greensboro, and it remained the county site until January 1, 1872, at which time the records of Choctaw County were removed to a new site. Greensboro became a village of considerable business. In 1839, the first ever courthouse for Choctaw County was erected in Greensboro at a cost of $1,500. In 1865, the courthouse burned down, the first of three losses of county records. During Reconstruction, on May 13, 1871 an act was passed by the legislature of Mississippi creating a new county called Montgomery. Soon after, the seat of justice of Choctaw was relocated from Greensboro to a place which was only two miles from the center of Choctaw County. G.H. Archer and S.C. Whisenant located a place and called it LaGrange (located on the Columbus and Greensboro road south of the Big Black River). At this location a courthouse was erected which cost the county $6,500. On January 12, 1874 the courthouse burned, destroying the records for the second time in the process. On April 6, 1874 the legislature of Mississippi passed an act which created Sumner County (now known as Webster County), with it taking all the territory north of the Big Black River from Choctaw County. On February 25, 1875 an act was passed which relocated the county seat from LaGrange. Leroy Boyd, John Kennedy, and Herron Fondren were appointed commissioners to find a location not over two miles from the center of the county. William Wood donated 40 acres of land for the site of the new county seat. After being accepted by the commissioners, they named the town Chester. A courthouse was erected during the same year. On February 3, 1881, the courthouse at Chester burned down, making it the third loss of county records. On August 3 of that same year, the county jail in Chester also burned down. In 1896, Choctaw County was divided into two judicial districts by an act of the Legislature of 1896 that was introduced by Dr. R.K. Prewitt. The court house was erected in Ackerman a year later. In August of 1923, the two judicial districts were consolidated and the courthouse at Chester was abolished by an election held for that purpose. The Representative in Legislature for Choctaw at the time, Hon. Homer C. Lee, introduced the bill that consolidated the districts. The Town of Ackerman The town of Ackerman was incorporated in early 1883 with the growth of the railroad. Mr. B. Blanton was the original owner of the town site, while part of the residential section was owned by Mr. Edmond Childress. The original survey of the town was made by Chief Engineer, Col. D. Coursey and Capt. Mann. Mr. Blanton gave the surveyors some land in the business part of the town for the trouble of making the survey. The town in 1897 had telegraph and express offices, a money order post office, a cotton compress, two cotton gins, a steam laundry, and one of the largest saw and planning mills in the state. Five church denominations had church building in Ackerman during this time. It was said at the time that the high school was “second to none in the state.” Transportation in the town included buses that ran from Jackson to Columbus (running east to west), with one traveling each way every day, making a stop in Ackerman. One bus traveled from Ackerman to Pontotoc each way, and another from Louisville to Ripley that stopped in Ackerman. Another form of transportation that was available was railroads. Eight passenger trains ran every day to accommodate the town. The town also had taxies available for patrons to use. For entertainment, the Ackerman Theatre showed two pictures every night except on Sundays. It occasionally featured matinee shows as well. The Town of French Camp Louis Le Fleur, father of Greenwood Le Flore, moved to Choctaw County and settled near old Natchez Trace around the year 1810. At this location, Le Fleur kept a place of entertainment for travelers along the Trace. The place became known to travelers as Frenchman’s Camp, in lieu of Le Fleur being a French-speaking Canadian. The town of French Camp is the oldest community in Choctaw County and one of the oldest in the Choctaw Nation. General Jackson camped at this place for a week in order to recruit men after marching his troops from Nashville to Natchez in 1813. The town was especially known for its education, with schools starting back in the 1830’s. The town is best known for the Academy, originally under the control of the Central Mississippi Presbytery. The Academy was divided into two schools—male and female. The female school was known as the Central Mississippi Institute. It was established in 1886. It offered instructions in the Bible, Latin, Mathematics, Bookkeeping, Science, Literature, Modern Language, English, History, and Music. They also provided a well-equipped Preparatory Department for younger pupils.

The male school, known as French Camp Military Academy, was established in 1887. The head of the academy at that time was Rev. A.H. Mecklin, who was assisted by A.H. Caldwell. At that time, courses that were offered were Latin, Greek, Mathematics, History, Science, and the Bible. The two schools were combined shortly after the girls’ school burned down in the early 1900’s. The school was then known as French Camp Academy. On April 22, 1883 a tornado destroyed the town of French Camp, leaving seven residents dead.

The Town of Weir In the late 1860’s, Col. John Weir, member of the 5th Mississippi Infantry (New Prospect Grays) in the Civil War, owned and operated a watermill for corn, cotton, wheat, and other crops. The mill was located at present-day Weir. It became known as “Weir’s Mill.” Soon, two stores were open, marking the progress of the location. In 1883, a branch of the Illinois Central Highway was built from Aberdeen to Durant and came through Weir’ Mill location. It was soon designated as a railroad town and named Weir in honor of John Weir, who owned the land there. After the land was surveyed, the town was sold to the highest bidder. Even though Col. Weir had many bids for the land, he refused to sell it due to bidders wanting to use the land to set up whiskey saloons. Col. Weir also donated land for the churches and cemetery in Weir. The town saw a rapid growth from 1883 until the start of the Great Depression in 1929. Just after the World War, business began to improve again. At the height of its business, the town of Weir shipped more cross ties than any other town located on the railroad. In the 1940’s the town held Saturday afternoon raffles, which brought out everyone in the town and surrounding areas. The town was so filled with people during those times that it was hard to maneuver through the town. Ackerman continues to be the largest of the three incorporated towns. Information for this article was obtained from the book WPA— Historical Research Choctaw County, MS Vol. 1-4, located at the Choctaw County Library and “Choctaw County Chronicles-A History of Choctaw County, Mississippi 1830-1973 by J.P. Coleman.”