October 5, 1939
By Walter Hitesman
Cotton and Influx of Settlers Kept Port One of Busiest Places; Name Originated From Pioneers of Alabama and Georgia
A wizened old man, showing only about 65 of his 85 years, sat on the front porch of his home near Haile a short time ago and searched for memories of the days when Alabama Landing was in full swing–a lusty, braying, lively shipping point for this sector
He was Charlie Lee, one of the “old-timers” in this section who has lived near the Landing all his life.
To get him to take time out to talk about those days wasn’t much of a job. He had been interrupted as he labored in the hot mid-day sun “puttin” up a little hay. He had mopped his brow and led the way back to the cool, shady sanctuary of his front porch, and settled down there.
After every one was comfortable, which was a prime requisite, and had propped their feet on the front porch banister, slid a bit further into their chairs “Uncle Charlie” started. It didn’t take much questioning or probing for him to recall the vivid days when Alabama Landing was a rendezvous for shippers and buyers alike. He recalled readily the mighty era of the steamboat and king cotton.
Reason for Existence
He made it clear at the beginning that the real reason for the heyday of Alabama Landing was the availability of the Ouachita River for transportation and the tremendous amount of cotton grown in this section, and the river being the only means of transporting the crop to the New Orleans market. The river, and naturally the Landing, was the only outlet for the fleecy crop in this territory. There had to be an outlet and, whether the outlet had been the Landing or some other river spot, it was bound to flourish under that continuous influx of commerce through its portals.
Whipping off his dusty hat and laying it on the floor beside his chair, “Uncle Charlie” crossed one leg over the other and, with the preliminary data given, proceeded to give the “inside story” of the why, wherefore and how of old Alabama Landing.
The railroad, the old settler explained, is the reason Alabama Landing today is little more than a “fisherman’s paradise”.
Cotton and Influx of Settlers Kept Port One of Busiest Places; Named Originated From Pioneers of Alabama and Georgia
“With the coming of the railroad in this section and the building of the locks on the river, steamboats just quit coming. The railroads took the cotton. The farmers didn’t have to haul that miles to the Landing then.
When someone starts telling about memories of 40 to 60 years ago it’s expected that there will be a mess of detail that must have sapped from a person’s elusive memory.
Recalls River Boats
But Uncle Charlie did recall quite a lot about the Landing, especially the large river boats that used to ply between Camden and New Orleans.
The boats usually made around trip once a week thus putting four to six boats in the Landing every week. They would load up on cotton from the warehouse and bank and then pull out for New Orleans to be back for another load in about another week. Yes, it was a thriving place in those days.
He recalled very little however about the early settling of the Landing. That the majority of early settlers that entered this section landed there and pushed westward, he knew. He couldn’t recall, however, the exact date when it was founded.
I was born in 1857 and it must have been settled at least 30 years before then. I recall my folks talking about it but they must’ve not mentioned the exact date because I don’t recollect. But some of the early owners of the store that was at the Landing were Dave Braggs, who they said built the Landing, the first house and the first store, Jim Edwards and C. B. Johnson, L. G. Campbell, B. B. Thomas and George Austin.
He recalled that the first settlers, according to tradition came down and settled there at the Landing. Some stayed, others moved over in the vicinity of Marion and others as far as Farmerville. Some even continued to Texas and the far West.
Creeks Named for Settlers
All the bayous and creeks in this section were named for those first settlers,” the old settler recalled. They used to go up the creek and hunt or build a cabin and clear out a space for a crop or two and the creeks naturally took their names. There is the Frank Pier creek, the Harrison branch, the Jim Edwards creek, the Miller creek and many others.
He smoothed his iron gray hair and puckered his forehead as he endeavored to reply to more questions about those first settlers.
I just can’t remember he apologized. Those days have been so long ago and I can’t remember much of what my folks told me. Wish I could. I’d like to help you fellows out.
But about the heyday of the steam boats at Ouachita Landing, he recalled vivid scenes.
What were some of the memories of those early boats Uncle Charlie, he was asked.
There was no hesitating upon the question.
Well there was the Lo?k, and the Lizzie Simmons, the Steihn(?) White and the biggest boat ever on the river the Governor Allen. They were handsome boats too. Most of them stern wheelers with an occasional side wheeler. Most of them were painted white and had a lot of glittering brass over them. Those others worked as much keeping the boats shiny and clean as they did at anything else. They were a sight to see as they came puffing up the river and there was always a bunch of people at the Landing to see them.
He settled back in his chair, mopped at bit with his handkerchief, made himself a bit more comfortable as memories started to flow.
Yes sir, I recollect when the Lizzie Simmons burned. She was a fine boat, if there ever was one. Big, white and handsome. She had tied up and was just got loaded down with cotton when a fire broke out in the rear of the engine room. No one noticed it and before any one realized it the boat was on fire. She was a mass of flames. You see, the fire caught the cotton that was stacked all around the decks clear back to the engine room.
Burned to Water
Well sir, that boat burned clear to the water line. There wasn’t much we could do. All we did was stand on the bank and watch the boat burn. They did try and save some of the things but it wasn’t much.
The boat sank right there and a few weeks later some of the boys tried to recover some of the cotton on halves. What little they did get was badly burned, so they didn’t make much.
They fire caught several buildings in the town but they were put out. There wasn’t much to that.
(This paragraph could not be read)
Large Cotton Shipping Point
Alabama Landing in a way used to be the thing around here. People from all over this section shipped cotton in here from as far as Homer. They used to bring it in on horse and ox driven wagons, some times in a a kind of caravan. They would ship it down to New Orleans where a fellow named W. B. Thompson would by it. They used to have flocks of big buck slaves that loaded the cotton and they used to chant at their work. Some of these fellows could sling a bale of cotton around like a stick of oats.
Here “Uncle Charlie” interrupted his story about the Landing, to give us a bit of his own philosophy.
You know people today don’t like the way things were in those days. When a farmer got sick then the neighbors would all get together and work his crop and when he got well he hadn’t lost a thing. His crop was worked. People were more neighborly and friendly then days as they are today.
He drifted back to the story of the Landing after that bit of homespun philosophy.
Many Boats Landed
The landing used to have three or four large warehouses where some of the cotton was stored. But they weren’t much good because so many boats ran into the place that the cotton didn’t have to be stored but a day or two before one of those steamers would toot up the river, land and in a short time head out stacked to the top with cotton.
With all this activity in the town and being a river town he was asked about some of the trouble, fights, murders or what have you that such places offered in those times.
Fights? You bet we had ’em in those days. Shucks, I remember one in which an Irishman was killed and another negro who got shot ’cause he messed in some one’s business. A negro wasn’t worth much in those days. The stores used to sell whiskey and it flowed pretty free when the boys got paid off. They had three stores there at one time.
Flood of ’74
But one of the worst times at the Landing was in the flood of ’74. The river came up and drove people back. Then, the backwater from the flood had the whole section under water. My place was flooded in that year. People used to gather on little high spots that they called “starvation mounds”. That was a bad time. Cotton was loaded on flats and pulled to the boats which were tied up in the river itself.
The section around the Landing today is a state game preserve with the exception of a few acres owned by K. D. Lankford for the fishermen’s camping ground, but “Uncle Charlie” recalls some of the big hunts of those days.
Heck, I’ve killed deer off my front porch. There used to be all kind of wild life here and the fellows used to go on hunts every year. One hunt, I remember, we killed 39 deer in three days. There were bear, too. In fact, a lot of those early settlers used to be bear hunters. Turkey hunting was a sport in those days and panther and wolve killing. We could get bounties on panthers and wolves, but we never did ’cause Farmerville was too far away and it was too much trouble.
Formerly Thickly Populated
This section used to be more thickly populated than it is today, he continued. Before 1900 there were lots of people. I can count 300 settlers, I’ll bet, who used to live here, some of whom are dead now. They moved to Texas and further west in an effort to secure better land.
He switched back to an earlier question concerning “trouble” in the section.
At 13 Points, a place above the landing, a lot of escaped prisoners hid out. There was one called Crawford who built the old Liberty church. There were lots of others who had come from Georgia and Alabama. Never had any trouble out of them, though.
Next question “What about the Civil War? Did the Yankees ever come through here?”
Recalls Yankee Troops
Yep, they came through here. I can remember hearing the firing of guns over at Vicksburg. Those that came through here didn’t ……
There were a few more paragraphs, not much, that can not be read. I am really disappointed that I can’t finish it.