Coming of the Railroad to Tunica

The WPA records about Tunica County contain a great deal of information. One of the stories I found in the three boxes of papers and interviews deals with the coming of the railroad to Tunica County. Here is the story typed word for word:

The first railroad to actually operate in Tunica County was the Louisville, New Orleans and Texas Railroad Company.  The right of way through the county is 30 1/2 miles.  It enters the county at it’s North Boundary a few hundred yards South of the town of Penton in DeSoto County and leaves the county on the South a short distance north of Lula in Coahoma County.

The right of way was, with one or two exceptions, given to the railway company by the planters of the county.  This right of way was given to the Memphis and Vicksburg Railway Company that was in some way merged into the Louisville, New Orleans and Texas Railway Company, the rail road being built under the name and incorporated as such in 1884.

The railway was built in 1884 and finished in the early part of 1885.  This was when every farm was under fence and the open range was of cattle.  The citizens giving land to the railroad stipulated that the company was to put in cattle gaps on the boundary line of each farm.  They also promised that until the gaps were built in, that their construction crew would put up the bars that the farmers had built where the new road had crossed their fences.  This caused one of the funniest situations  that ever developed in the county.  The construction crew could not, or did not, put in the cattle gaps until the road was practically finished and the men on the construction train would take down the bars and not put them back.  One of the farmers at least, met the train one evening at dusk when the construction train came to a halt after running into a very heavy set of bars that had been placed across the track by the farmer, after a herd of cattle had almost ruined a field of promising young corn.  The angry farmer had a shot gun and he made the workmen rebuild the fence and there developed a war of words.

It is still told in the county that when all was mended and the train pulled out there was a hot conversation going on between the construction foreman and the farmer, and just as the train gathered up speed and the gun did not look so dangerous, one of the workmen called out “Give it to him Old Country.”  As a whole the work was done quickly and within a few months the construction train was bringing materials from Memphis and citizens were going in the caboose to Memphis, a distance of thirty nine miles from the present town of Tunica, but an all day’s journey on the old construction train.  There is a story still told of a passenger who when complaining of the poor time made, was told by the conductor “That walking was good.”

The L.N.O. and T. having reached a point east of Austin, and the channel of the river having changed, so that the boats landed two miles from town, the people began to speak of a new town on the railroad to which the county site could be moved. At this time Mr. E.L. Harris, one of the business men of Austin, purchased form the Fowlkes and Fizer estate the east half of section  32, 4, 11, and moving on it laid out the town of Tunica.  The railroad company had not decided on a location for the station, and several points are contending  for the depot.  Mr. Harris agreed  with the company that he would deed to them alternate blocks in town if they would build the depot on the east half of 32.  This he did on October 9th, 1884 and the town of Tunica grew and thrived.  Other little villages sprung up along the railroad tracks, Robinsonville, Hollywood, Evansville and Carnesville, which is now called Dundee.

The Tunica Depot in 1917

Tunica Depot 1917

The road was finished in 1885 and the new town of Tunica celebrated the running of the first passenger train by an all day picnic and a ball that night on the depot platform.  The L.N.O. and T. officials were as proud of the event as the citizens of the County and helped with the plans.  All of the officials came down from Memphis on the train and brought a band with them.  Every one in the county went  and the ladies vied with each other over the contents of the picnic hampers.  Beef, pork and mutton was barbecued and the festivities lasted far into the night.

Mrs. W.H. Houston the daughter of Mr. E.L. Harris has the ball dress she wore that night. It is a tiny French frock of white lace over pink satin, the first party frock of a very small girl who was carried by an adoring father to the big celebration.

The celebration was described to us last summer by Mr. I.G. Owens, who attended the picnic. He also told us that Mr. Shelby McPeak, an old pioneer citizen, Confederate veteran and noted hunt was at the picnic, and after watching the train come in, he announced that the whole country was ruined because the noise did not, it may be said that the railroad did; for it was undoubtedly the cause of the bears leaving the county for new people came in and the land was rapidly cleared.

In 1892 the L.N.O. and T. became a part of the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Company which in its turn became a part of the great Illinois Central System.  There is in addition to the main line o the Y. and M.V. railroad a branch of the system in the east side of Tunica Country.  This branch is the Yazoo Delta Railroad, known throughout the state as “The Yellow Dog.” It is said that the nick-name was given to the railroad by a citizen of. Tunica County who saw the cars marked “Y.D.” and told a friend that it stood for “yellow dog.” This road, the longest branch of the Y. and M.V. Railroad, extends form Lake Cormorant to Yazoo Junction, a distance of nearly one hundred and fifty-five miles.  It was built through our county in 1902-1903 and has the town of Banks and Prichard on it.

There is also a mile and half of the Helena Branch of the Y. and M.V. Railroad in the south end of the county.

The coming of the railroad and its development brought new life to the county.  Little towns were built along its track and today, with the exception of Dubbs and the deserted town of Austin, are the only towns in the county.  In the recent years of the Depression all of these little towns, saving four have been made flag stops, the depots being leased in some cases as hay barns.  the towns of Tunica, Robinsonville, Clayton and Dundee are still regular stations with depot agents.  All trains stop at Tunica whether fast mail or accommodation trains.  This clause being in the agreement when the town lots were deeded to the railroad, and the townspeople have held the company to its bargain, having insisted at several times when the railroad officials planned to route the fast trains past the town.

In addition to bringing the world to Tunica, the citizens feel the railroad has been a friend in many ways.  It is the one public utility that we can depend on in time of stress. This spirit of helpfulness is alway show in high water and Tunica County refugees from Little Texas and other settlements near the Cold Water River are always given box cars to camp in while the water is up.

Characters from the story:

  1. Issac Shelby McPeak was born in 1819 in Carrol county, Tennessee and died in October 1891 at Gillet, Arkansas.
  2. Edwin Lanier Harris was born on November 28, 1854 in Lavaca County, Texas and died on February 25, 1919 in Monroe County, Arkansas.
  3. Alice Julia Harris Houston was born in 1882 in Tunica County, Ms. She was married to William Houston.  Alice died on September 25, 1969 and is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Tunica.
  4. Ivan Glyndwen Owens was born on December 10, 1859 at Hernando, Mississippi and passed away on January 23, 1937 at Tunica.


Works Progress Administration (WPA) Historical Records Survey: Mississippi State Archives. Tunica Box






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