In a place rich in history, Olive Branch is glad to share their history with their future, something that was again done this week through the fifth annual History Tour for the city’s elementary students.
Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, youngsters were invited to walk through time, beginning at the entrance to the city’s historic Blocker Cemetery, where they were greeted by Milton Blocker, considered the first settler to what would become Olive Branch.
Sam Rikard, the city’s former mayor, welcomed the youngsters to the area, and as Milton Blocker, explained Blocker’s importance to Olive Branch's beginnings.
“Mr. Blocker was the first settler that we know that settled here, along with his brother-in-law Stephen Flinn,” Rikard explained. “They came together and this is where it all began for us.”
Along with Rikard on Tuesday was DeSoto County Museum Curator Robert Lee Long in the role as the Chickasaw Native American Lush-Pun-Tubby, who sold his land to Blocker as Lush-Pun-Tubby was about to leave on the Trail of Tears forced relocation to the Indian Territory that would become Oklahoma.
Long has Native American roots, as Greenwood LeFlore, the last Chief of the Choctaw Nation before Removal, is Long's fourth-great uncle. The city of Greenwood and LeFlore County are named in his honor.
"Today, Olive Branch and DeSoto County are still fast-growing areas of the country,” Long said. “I think it's fascinating and important to share the story of how the Native Americans contributed to the county's early origins. It's also heartbreaking to share the story of the infamous Trail of Tears, which led the native Chickasaw tribe far away from their homelands during the 1830s. We can all learn valuable lessons from history."
The tour from Blocker Cemetery then traveled up Pigeon Roost toward City Hall, where they were greeted by the city’s first mayor, Ben Wesson. Portraying Wesson, Ritchie Hampton explained more of the origins of the city.
Youngsters continued their tour with stops at other locations, such as the Chamber of Commerce office, which originally was a bank with the vault still there, a bakery that was the city’s first pharmacy, and other spots, as well.
“History was always interesting to me and still is,” Rikard said. “I think it is so important for the younger generation to know about the area from which they come from. History is important and if people like me don’t relay it to them, they just miss it, and that would be sad.”
Through the five years since the tour first began, Alderwoman Pat Hamilton and Kim Terrell of DeSoto County Tourism have been active in presenting and refining the yearly walk through time.
Both have said they hope to present the tour to a larger, and older, audience in the future, even as soon as next year.
“Maybe we’ve worked on it for more than five years but we’re actually wanting to move this to an adult level and make it more acting instead of just telling the stories,” said Hamilton. “We want the history to be made into a production. We have a lot of history in Olive Branch to share, so we’ll continue doing it.”
“We’re getting close,” added Terrell. “Last year, we opened it to the public at Christmas and for the Fall Festival, so we know it’s getting more traction. Our reenactors and actors are getting comfortable with their roles and we’re working with Dan Lehman with DeSoto Family Theatre to make this an adult event.”
Hamilton said she is impressed with the genuine interest the children have in Olive Branch history.
“Some of these children just soak it up,” said Hamilton. “They ask questions and it’s really interesting. You’ll hear questions you really have to look and find out the answers to. They have a good time and we do, too.”
“Each year we change it just a little bit,” added Terrell. “We talk about it, we meet about it, find out what works and what we may need to change a bit. We’ve learned to tweak things as we go along. Pat (Hamilton) and I have worked hard on it and it’s been a good thing for the community.”
Terrell hopes it can become a cemetery tour with actors standing at their sites in Blocker Cemetery, telling their specific stories.
“I think by next year we’re going to throw it out there, bounce it off and say, ‘there you go,’” Terrell said.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.