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Out On The Mudline

Early North Mississippi Mills Powered By Water And Steam

By W. P. Sissell

Water Power

One of the more primitive power generation methods was the use of the weight of water.  On one of the routes to the Ozark Mountains there is a water wheel where a flowing stream of water  has been diverted so that the water goes into buckets on a wheel.  The weight of the water turns the wheel that is attached to a shaft.  That power is transferred through belts to various kinds of machinery.  

Our Country 1840’s

Several weeks ago Lee Rowsey told me about a such a set up on a ditch somewhere near Rowsey Ridge in Panola County.  That set-up powered a grist mill (we’re still looking).  When I asked friend R. F. Rowsey about  that he said he didn’t know anything about that but his dad had a grist mill in a shed attached to the west side of his,  Frankie Rowsey’s Country Store, powered by an F-10-2O Farmall tractor, probably bought from Mr. Bill Trusty.  As I grew up my dad had a groundhog sawmill out behind the barn powered by a first cousin of Mr. Frankie’s F-10-20 (that name means that the tractor will replace 10 mules—the other ten, to get the 20, is taken up by friction –but that’s jumping the “steam age.”

In talking to some of my neighbors I have found, very close to a part of our farm here, that there was at one time, a water powered sawmill and grist mill on Deer Creek across the road from the Beanland Petrea house on 315 (that’s the third building on the west side of  315 south of its intersection with MS 6).  There is a fall in the creek in that area. This was the McMinn sawmill of reference in the History of Mount Olivet Church (lumber for the framing of the church came from logs hauled to the McMinn sawmill northeast of the church on Deer Creek).  

That fall alone would almost verify the existence of some kind of harnessing in the early days of our country.  

More in Hotophia  Creek Watershed

Just a little further to the east, where 315 turns northward thru Blackjack toward Sardis Dam, in the hollow on the west side of the road, the water from springs in that hollow was harnessed to provide steam for a steam engine to run a cotton gin and sawmill.  This one must have been much like the Robinson Mill/Gin located at the juncture of the Mud Line with the Robinson’s Mill Crossing.

Robinson Mill

At Robinson’s Mill  the water source was an artesian well—it’s still flowing as reported in an earlier column.  As a boy I went with my brother to carry corn to that mill to be ground into meal—for corn bread.  The miller, Rice McFarland (I think) showed me many times how he could start the machine going in either direction by starting the enormous (to me as a little boy) flywheel  a certain way.  How many times did Uncle Nace McFarland tell me that he was big enough to carry a “turn of corn” to the mill, on a mule, by himself, when the war broke out? Only a few years later I would say goodbye to Uncle Nace when I left for another war.  I think that this was a cotton gin and mill when it began operation.    

One could see holes high up on the smokestack supposedly put there by bullets from Captain McFarland’s rifle.  

Mobil Power

The tractors mentioned above were the introduction to our people of a new age of power—mobile power.  That first tractor that belonged to us was first bought by my grandfather.  He was a horse lover and detested that noisy tractor so my dad took up the payments and then went back and forth from his farm to granddad’s each year to break land.  The noise  was sounding the end of the age of mule power as well as the end of the home grown fuel, feed for those animals.  All this talk today about ethanol—made from corn—hmmm—might be something to it!

Isn’t the weather beautiful these last few days?   Get out in it. Our horses bask in the sun every day—when we came home from church today the two in the front pasture were sunning in a little depression in the pasture that protected them from the wind. Thank you for your encouragements. Do you realize that there are many people in Panola County who read your paper?  Our wish for you is a great week.  

You can reach me almost anytime at 23541 Hwy. 6, Batesville, MS 38606 or use my email at or call 662-563-9879.

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