One hundred fifty years ago, Water Valley didn’t look like it does now – or even like the old pictures. “It wasn’t a town back then,” Perry Mae Carr Camp tells me. “People just lived all around.”
But over the years it grew; and so when the settlement became prosperous enough for some formalization in the late 1850s, Benjamin Hawkins Carr (Mrs. Camp’s great-grandfather) deeded the town the land where the courthouse and the cemetery are now.
That makes Benjamin Carr one of Water Valley’s founders. But in the local history of Water Valley, it’s Benjamin’s son – “Turkey Bill” – who has been remembered as one of Water Valley’s earliest – and most memorable – settlers (in fact, Water Valley celebrated “Turkey Bill” Carr Day in 1986.)
Turkey Bill was a mere six months old when his parents parked their covered wagon and settled in Water Valley. Back then, the area was still populated with the local Native Americans. “My great grandfather and the Indian chief were friends,” Mrs. Camp tells me.
So when Benjamin Carr’s two young daughters were taken by Indians, the upset father knew exactly who to go to.
“They didn’t hurt them or anything,” Mrs. Camp says, telling the tale told to her by her aunt. “But they were the kind of people where if you gave something, you got something.”
The chief was willing to give the girls back, but he “didn’t want to lose face.”
And so Turkey Bill – then just called William– was traded to the Indians for his sisters.
“He was twelve years old,” Mrs. Camp says. “The chief took him for two years and taught him like he was a son.”
The Carr boy learned how to hunt and how to survive in the rough Mississippi wilderness.
“He learned what berries to eat,” Mrs. Camp tells me. “He learned what herbs were like medicine. When the snow was on, they would dig the terrapins from the ground, build a fire, and throw them in. When the shells popped, that’s how they knew they were done, and they’d pull them out and eat the legs.”
He also learned how to shoot turkeys, and became so renowned for this skill that he was dubbed “Turkey Bill.”
When the Civil War broke out, Turkey Bill went off to war. “He got wounded real bad at Shiloh,” Mrs. Camp says. “They didn’t think he was going to live but he came back.”
In fact, his wife predicted his return; “a big yellow news bee flew up to her when she was standing in the hall, and she said, ‘Bill’s coming home today.’ That afternoon, she looked up, and he came walking up the path,” Mrs. Camp says.
For the rest of his life, Turkey Bill farmed land out towards Pine Valley, and ran a leather repair shop from his home. In his old age, he took to walking all the way from Pine Valley to Water Valley to do his banking and conduct business; he’d be dressed to the nines and leaning on a gold-headed walking stick.
Water Valley’s youngest settler died in 1924, at the ripe old age of eighty-five. He’d seen Water Valley transform from the rough frontier settlement that was shared with the Native Americans to a prosperous railroad town with hotels and shops. You can see his grave – and those of other founding fathers – at Tabernacle Cemetery in Pine Valley.