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Out On The Mudline

Water Important To Native Americans And Early Settlers

By W. P. Sissell

    As I look at the Corps of Engineer map of Enid Lake and locate what we called the McFarland Place I wonder about the geological age of the old Yocona River and especially that of its tributary, O’tuckalofa Creek. Both have the meanders that characterize old age streams. The flood plain and the second bottom of O’tuckalofa extends close to Paris.  Many gallons of water poured down that creek when a general rain covered its total drainage area.  Captain McFarland’s land was in the lower flood plain of O’tuckalofa, mid flood plain of Yocona and a lot of Hobuck’s.

Early Inhabitants

    Our first farm  headquarters was very close to the dredged  canal of O’tuckalofa on the edge of the second bottom.  A meander of the old creek crossed the new dredge ditch almost exactly where the “steel bridge” was located.  Our garden was on the edge of that second bottom—I should say, my mother’s garden for she seldom had time to let any of us help her in that garden.  

    When she worked in the garden she, almost always, came in with an apron pocket full of arrowheads, relics of the former occupants of the area.  Apparently this had been a site where the arrowheads were made for there were many chips to be found.  Nannette and I have cigar box containing many of those arrowheads, along with a “ballant” found on their farm on Taylor Creek, another tributary of Yocona.  That ballant pushes the dating of inhabitants of our lands to a date some fifteen hundred years earlier than the arrowheads.  

Early White Settlers

    Although I (we) never knew the Captain personally we knew his daughters, great people, we/I as a child, knew several people who had known him.  However, there were evidences in the part of his one-time farm that we owned, that spoke of his knowledge of caring for the land. Through the government’s Soil Conservation Service you will find many farm ponds, Sissell’s Pond is one that my dad built (I got home from WW II in time to “snake” the big stumps to a place above the water line—now we know that they should have been left there for fish refuges).  I can take you to many others —there’s one on the Morgan Place and there are six here on our Hotophia place.  Captain McFarland had one, adjacent to his barns, that was large enough  and deep enough for swimming.  He must have taken advantage of a “perch” spring for I do not remember it ever getting low of water.  That was our community “swimming hole” prior to Sissell’s Pond.

    There is one valley that I wonder about.  We called that valley “Spring Hollow.”  Water runs from a spring on the east side of the valley.  When we got the farm a large area of the arable land along the canal bank was kept wet, with the exception of very dry summers, because east of the road there was no appreciable ditch to collect and carry the water to the creek.  My dad solved the problem with the help of our “human backhoe,” A. G. Morgan, one of Ulis Morgan’s sons.  A. G. loved to use a spade.  On one occasion, he was digging the Spring Hollow ditch (five spades deep, in places, and four spades wide) he asked Dad to find something else for a couple of helpers to do because they were getting in his way.  

The Water Source

    Let me go back to the spring.  The spring seemed to flow from beneath a tree at the base of an almost vertical sandstone cliff (I think it was around thirty of so feet high—very straight up and then a steep incline to the crest of the hill).  I did climb it, one time only.  I thought about the rattlesnakes that lived in those hills afterwards—I was probably twelve years old.

    The Captain had placed a large wooden trough about one half in the ground.  An iron pipe led the spring water from beneath a medium sized tree to the trough.   The ditch, once it got to the bottom of the hollow, was shoulder deep on me, so the spring’s water, along with the run-off from the hillside field to the south, had been eroding the waterway for a long time. The ditch bank wall was covered with wild Hydrangeas which bloomed white.  I’ll bet that they are still there.  

Did The Captain Know A Dam Wouldn’t Work?

          My wonder—expressed as I began—comes from the following.  My dad’s first choice place for a pond—this would have made a lake with ample room for a cabin in a five acre hillside field above or it could be placed on the west side, amidst giant sand rocks—was Spring Hollow. When the SCS technicians checked Spring Hollow they found a thick strata of sand that the key of the constructed dam would intersect.  A levee here would not hold water.  Did the Captain (the folks that knew him, distinctly said, “Cap’n”) know about that sand?

His solution for the upper part of the second bottom at the foot of the hills west of Spring Hollow, a large part of which was excellent land, was a diversion ditch cut to grade in an almost straight line. That ditch went westerly to a point where the land below the hills was good only for pasture.  At that point the water was carried back to the old creek run.  Remember that all this was taking place in the 1830’s and 40’s after the Pontotoc land sales.  The Captain’s home, atop McFarland Ridge, was somewhat like several of the antebellum homes of the day.  

Do have a good week. You can reach me at 23541 Highway 6, Batesville, MS,, or 662-563-9879.

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