From EZ Daze RV Park – Southaven, MS
Forecast for today was for the rain that had been falling almost nonstop for the last 2 days dumping 4 plus inches in the Memphis area to turn to clear, partly cloudy with some sunshine by mid-day. With this late start to our day, we elected to visit nearby Hernando the county seat for DeSoto County, MS and discover its association with the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto back in the mid 16th century.
Information we had collected on arrival to this area directed us to the DeSoto County Court House that sits as the anchor of the square in downtown Hernando. The present courthouse was built in 1942 replacing the previous French Castle courthouse that burned in 1940. Contained on the walls of its second floor rotunda are 4 murals depicting Desoto’s discovery of the Mississippi River and what is now DeSoto County in northwest Mississippi.
After locating the murals and viewing them we decided to get some lunch before touring the DeSoto County Museum where the historical information about this county seat and the exploration of the area now known as DeSoto County would be found.
We found a very nostalgic eatery…….Happy Daze Dairy Bar. Menu was that of burgers, sandwiches, a few plate lunches, sodas, milkshakes and of course soft serve ice cream with this dairy bar featuring 24 flavors. The walls were filled with memorabilia from the 50s – 60s eras with locals Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis being center stage…..music from this same era filled the dining room. Just a neat little place we happened across and enjoyed.
This county museum held historical information from the early Chickasaw Indians who owned the land and whose first recorded history came from the records of the Hernando DeSoto expedition. It then had several exhibits on the Civil War history and battles that affected DeSoto County. In addition to this “county” history, information on the larger cities of DeSoto County; which are only 4……..Hernando, Southaven, Olive Branch and Horn Lake had individual exhibits that showed some history and celebrities associated with them.
Before DeSoto reached the soil of Mississippi he and his men had wandered for a year and a half through the wilderness of what is now Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. After a disastrous battle in Alabama DeSoto turned northwest and into present-day Mississippi where the expedition spent the winter.
It was in April of 1541 that DeSoto’s party crossed the deserted and swampy countryside of north Mississippi; known today as DeSoto County, arriving at the village of Quizquiz and captured it without a fight. Having heard of a great river nearby, DeSoto released hostages to the warriors in exchange for a safe passage to this river. It was on June 19, 1541 four rafts crossed the Mississippi River or as DeSoto named it, the River of the Holy Ghost carrying the entire DeSoto expedition without interference from the Natives living on the western side of the river. Finding no gold or wealth west of the Mississippi during the following year, DeSoto and his men turned back to the river. Here DeSoto died and was buried in the Mississippi River on May 21, 1542.
DeSoto County was founded February 9, 1836 and the county seat was built on 40-acres purchased from the Chickasaw Indians and donated by Edward Orne on August 16, 1836. The original plan for the county seat ordered a central 450 foot square surrounded by 10 streets. This original plan still forms the square of Hernando.
The museum had a nice exhibit on Desoto County’s role in the Civil War. It was January 9, 1861 when Mississippi became the second state to adopt the Ordinance of Secession. It was when the news reached DeSoto County regarding the April 12, 1861 shelling of Fort Sumter that the Mississippi 42nd was organized overnight. However, DeSoto County became a defenseless zone, receiving no military protection from either the Union garrison in Memphis to the north or from the Confederate troops to stationed to the south. In fact both sides of the conflict made regular raids on the homes and farms of DeSoto County in order to supply the troops.
Also within these exhibits reflecting the county’s history during the Civil War, the museum visitor learned that the county was home to 3 Generals; General James Patton Anderson, General Nathan B. Forrest; same General that lead the Confederates into Fort Pillow in my last post, and General James R. Chalmers.
One other interesting story during the war I spotted was the Battle of Mussacuna Plantation. This plantation was established on land bought from the children of Chief Mussacuna (pronounced “Mussacunney”) one of the largest landowners of the Chickasaws. The Robertson family built a home on the plantation in 1849 about 3 miles south of Hernando. During the war, Mrs. Robertson hid cotton in every available space, including under beds and also piled up bales of cotton in the front yard. When Union troops reached her home, they burned the bales in the yard thinking this to be the entire crop. But once they moved on, Mrs. Robinson collected all the cotton she had hidden and sold it, making enough money to keep the farm through the war……….Smart Lady!
As we were walking through the museum we saw a large piece of a tree trunk sitting against the wall and this was the story associated with it……Rube Burroughs and his gang were some of the most notorious outlaws of the 1800s making frequent raids in DeSoto County and hiding out in the area. At one point Burroughs told some locals to plant pine trees in their yards to mark their houses as friendly to him and his gang and he would leave them and their families alone. Word spread and even citizens who did not know Burroughs or anyone in his gang would plant pine trees hoping it would protect them also. The piece of the pine tree in the museum came from Mississippi’s tallest pine tree that fell during a storm in July 2003. It had stood in Horn Lake and was estimated to be 150-years old and stood 100 feet high and was over 10 feet in diameter at its thickest point. Was this one of the trees planted according to legend hoping to keep their home safe from the notorious train robber and outlaw Rube Burroughs???
Another legendary story of this county is that it was once known as the “Marriage Capitol of America”. With few requirements and no waiting periods, Mississippi was known as the state for a ‘quickie’ marriage and Hernando gained the reputation as a ‘marriage mill’. With a short drive from neighboring states, couples could avoid blood tests and waiting periods by driving to the courthouse nearest the state line…..Hernando. A marriage chapel was set up across the street from the courthouse in the back room of a local café. The record for the most marriage licenses issued in a single day was 114 on a Saturday in June. This dubious honor of being the “Marriage Capitol of America” ended the last day of June 1958 when the state law changed requiring a waiting period. However these loose marriage law requirements resulted in the town’s noted celebrity Jerry Lee Lewis at the age of 23 marrying his third wife who later was revealed to be his 13 year old first cousin Myra Gale Brown here in the county seat of Hernando.
Never know whose or what information you will find in these small county museums but today DeSoto County’s Museum shared historical, humorous and intriguing stories through its exhibits…….would have to rate this as one of the better small museums we have toured.
God willing and the creek; or in this case the river don’t rise will bring you more history as we explore more of this area along the Great River Road journey.