The Time Traveler’s time machine kicked up more than just a little dust as it landed in the DeSoto County seat back in the 1880s. It created a stir and an air of excitement.
Bustle-skirted women and barefoot children clamored around to inspect the ’58 DeSoto Explorer which had made the whirlwind trip through the wormhole of time.
The contraption looked to them like a giant green hornet with red eyes. One preacher proclaimed it to be a “beast of the Apocalypse.”
They were assured it just the prototype of a “horseless carriage” which would arrive on the streets of the town in a few years.
The dusty coupe would be stored in a blacksmith’s shed just off courthouse square until its return trip home for its own safety and well-being.
Some 20 years after “brother fought against brother,” DeSoto County’s economy had gained ground. The 1873 Panic on Wall Street would send the cotton market plummeting and then five years later, yellow fever would wipe out entire blocks of homes in Memphis and DeSoto County. Pesky mosquitoes and poor sanitation were to blame.
The postwar years in DeSoto County were ruinous enough for the citizenry who had to rebuild their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of the bloody American Civil War, also known in these parts as the “War Between the States.”
But rebound they did, slowly and gradually, as W.S. Slade, Editor of the Hernando Press and Times recalled on Oct. 8, 1886, a soldier himself, wounded and crippled from his experiences, returned to his role as a journalist, with ink stains on his hands rather than bloodstains.
“Notwithstanding the burning by Yankee soldiers and their stealing combined — notwithstanding the many failures of heretofore rich farmers who have been declared bankrupt — we can boast of more stores and a larger stock of goods than ever. For instance we have seven dry goods stores, hardware and queensware stores, three fully-supplied drugstores, one tinware store, one cabinetmaker, two house and sign painters, one tailor, one boot and saddle maker, three wagon makers, one saddle and harness maker, one undertaker, two blacksmiths and carpenters, along with brickmasons. And within hailing distance of town a fine flour mill is under full headway grinding wheat and corn. The mill is owned by Caffey and Robertson.
“We also have two livery stables, one of which runs a hack regularly to the Railroad Depot to accommodate the many travelers who wish to stop at Fadley House, which will vie with any house in Memphis in style and luxuries. We also have a goodly number of first-class physicians and about twelve first-rate lawyers.”
Slade had returned to his journalistic career after laying his pen down to take up a rifle.
Right after the war, he announced his return: “In reappearing before the public as a journalist after a lapse of four years of blood and carnage, it is with the consciousness of the hard task that we are to perform.”
Slade, who penned those words on Feb. 5, 1866 in his first edition of the “People’s Press” immediately after the war, was following in the footsteps of journalists like Felix LaBauve, the founder of the newspaper. It was LaBauve, a Frenchman, who inspired the construction of the French-style gothic DeSoto Courthouse which stood tall against the Indian summer sky back in 1886.
The month before the time machine landed, the farmers of DeSoto County had formed the DeSoto County Stock Association, in the effort to improve cattle herds in the county.
Members of the Association included R.M. Banks, Sam Powel, C.H. Robertson, Joseph Goodman, John Gale and W.D. Bridgforth.
That November, local school children recording perfect attendance were Emma Frank, Bell and Louis Acree, Annie, Willie and Minnie Bullington, George Banks, Jessie McIngvale and others.
Children would often get out of school to chop and pick cotton — so it’s remarkable these students spent their time in the classroom. The Hernando Grade School had 109 pupils in attendance.
In 1886, the Mississippi and Tennessee train made daily trips both north and south through Hernando. Special excursion fares were available so that a round trip to Memphis cost only $1.10.
The fare for the Time Traveler’s excursions cannot be tabulated in monetary terms. The only thing required to take a trip back in time is a love for history and a great imagination. The experience is priceless.
Robert Lee Long is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum