A second part of the transcribed serial article published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Ala., beginning May 10, 1899.
EARLY HISTORY OF SOUTHEAST ALABAMA
By W. L. Andrewsi
THE SOUTHERN STAR, MAY 17, 1899
To overcome and to conquer the many obstacles in the way of civilization in the settlement of an untamed forest inhabited only by red skins and wild beasts, requires nothing short of a heroism born of fearlessness, and constantly nurtured by the burning fires of a noble manhood, The constant dread of attack at the hands of a wily, treacherous enemy, and the menacing dangers to family and possessions from powerful and vicious wild beasts, called for the display of no ordinary courage, in no ordinary degree while it required wisdom and a steady aim to lay the foundations broad and deep for the civilizations which were to be built upon them by generations yet unborn.
The early settlers of this territory possessed these qualifications in a marked degree and the steady blows unerringly dealt a common foe in an uneven race for the survival of the fittest, but demonstrated the wisdom which characterized their well laid plans.
Wagons to Alabama
On the morning of February the 20th 1828, Reddin Byrd left his comfortable home in the old North State, bringing his family with him. He had eight sons, Isaac, Curtis, William, Edward, Hansel, Benjamin, and Bertis, together with several daughters. They came in wagons and horse carts, and were accompanied by William Martin, who was made leader of the party because it was his second trip and a young man by the name of Allen Ellen.
They arrived at William Andrews, two miles southeast of Ozark, just one month later to a day. They remained there a couple of weeks after which Mr. Boyd moved to what is now known as the Carroll church, one mile east of town, and cleared eight acres north of the house where he made his first crop. Corn was scarce here in early days and Isaac, Curtis and William, the elder sons sought employment in the lower edge of Barbour county with a man by the name of Wilson Collins, who supplied the family with sufficient corn to do them that year.
Byrd and Harper marry
Curtis Byrd was young and handsome and popular with the few young people here, among whom was Miss Elizabeth, the pretty daughter of Judge H. Harper, who resided near the Block House. A mutual friendship sprang up between them which ripened into love and later they were married. In the fall of 1831 Curtis Byrd entered a homestead on the hill beyond big Claybank where he errected a log house which was used for all house keeping purposes.
The young couple went steadily to work to build for themselves a home and a name that should be known and honored by generations yet unborn. As the years went by their borders were enlarged and soon servants were added to the family possession, more houses were built, larger areas were put in cultivation and fortune smiled on the sacred union by giving them in the course of time, fourteen children, equally divided, only eight of whom reached the state of man and womanhood. Mr. Byrd lived at this place for more than half a century when he had the misfortune to lose his honored companion by death, and he went to live with his children who had married and built honorable homes for themselves.
At the present he divides his time between his son-in-law Sam Blackmon, who married Louise, Henry Harris who married Martha, and Birt Byrd his second son. In 1830 there was little preaching through this section. Occasionally a missionary passed this way holding services at the homes of the settlers for the most part. The only place of public worship now called to mind was located at what was known as the Cross Roads, where the Newton Road crosses the old Three Notch road not far from the residence of Rev. Dempsey Dowling.
Mr. Byrd had come from a country church and schools and determined to erect a house dedicated to the services of God and open to any minister who preached His word. He associated with himself his two brothers, Isaac and William. Eli Ruffin, William Andrews, John Merrick, William Martin and others, and in the summer of 1830 erected a round log house at the head of the spring where Claybank Church now stands. It stood east and west some forty yards northwest of the present building, had no chimney and but one door and that on the south side. It stood as a monument to the well meaning enterprise of these early settlers several years before it was occupied, but family preaching there was begun and has continued to this day.
Old Claybank church (Explore Southern History)
The first interment at Claybank was the remains of Jesse Johnson, father of the late Daniel Johnson. The next was the first wife of Anthony Windham and the third was the wife of Arias Mixon. The latter two were sisters and their maiden name was Bizzell.
The bear was on the same side of the fence
In those days bear, panther, catamount, wolves and other ferocious and dangerous animals abounded everywhere and the stock and -families of new settlers were constantly menaced by their depredations. Mr. Byrd like all others was amply supplied with old-fashioned firelocks, relying mostly, however, like Daniel Boone, on a large bore old-fashioned rifle. But he had an old revolutionary musket that did noble service on many occasions also. It was in roasting ear time that bear was most troublesome for being of the hog family they are very fond of that cereal.
In the summer of 1833 a very large one began visiting Mr, Byrd’s field and he decided to tile out the musket for his bearship. He took both faithful pieces along when he went to the field. Walking along down the fence he suddenly saw the old fellow raise his grizzly head up just outside Mr. Byrd stopped. The bear never discovered him and jumped into the field. He mashed down the stalk with his head, broke off the ear and jumped over the fence with it. Mr. Byrd crept along side the fence until he could hear the bear munching away at the ear of corn. He looked through the crack and saw him rear up again and once more he and the bear were on the same side of the fence. Just as the bear jumped over Mr. Byrd shot him through with his rifle.
Now came an exciting time. The bear mistook the direction from whence the shot came and in an instant was within ten feet of Mr. Byrd, when suddenly the bear discovered him and leaped the fence again. Our hero was not frightened but raised his old musket and riddled bruin’s carcass with a charge of buck and ball as he started to run away, and a little further he dropped dead.
How Panther Creek got its name
Panther Creek has been known for two-thirds of a century, It runs a couple of miles east of Ozark and winds it way in a southeasterly direction to Judah River near the place settled by John Wyndham. It derives its name from the following circumstances.
Even in the abundance of wild game and wild beasts, an extraordinary large one attracted extra attention among the early settlers. It became known that down this creek a large panther had his lair and it was decided to hunt him out. On one occasion a large poplar tree was found on its bank which had a big hole up some distance, It was an immense tree, measuring several feet in diameter even as high up as the hollow. It was noticed also that it was scratched constantly by some beast which appeared to make it its home. It was decided to set a day, invite the neighbors and make the capture.
Accordingly one Saturday in the summer of 1830 Curt Byrd, William Andrews, Ben Martin, William Martin and his brother James, met for the drive, They tooted their horns, had a bountiful supply of ammunition and their old firelocks were burnished to a faultless perfection. They started forth for the “big poplar”.
When near it the dogs tore out at break neck speed, with terrible yelling and the hunters joined in the chase with all the zeal of true frontiersmen, mingling their encouraging he-e-e-e s, with the terrible din of the dogs all in hot pursuit. They knew game was up—big game—but they did not know how long the fun would last, nor little did these hardy heroes care. It was fun and they were out for all it was worth. However to their surprise the dogs did not run more than a half mile before they treed whatever they were chasing.
The general impression that it was a bear was now confirmed in their minds, for had it been any other game it would have run further. Then a race was begun between the huntsmen to see who should reach the dogs first It was a close one but Curt Byrd being swift on foot as well as a good shot, outstripped his companions and reached the bey in advance.
The dogs were cheered by his presence and made a terrible noise. Looking up from directly underneath a stooping tree at the root of which the dogs were barking, he discovered a monster panther sitting on a limb, grim and ferocious, ready to snatch the very life out of him who sought to contest his right to supremacy in the forests of the new world.
Mr. Byrd was not long in deciding the issue. Stepping back a little he raised his faithful rifle and fired, the ball piercing the panther just behind the forelegs. The ferocious and wounded beast, brought a wild scream and leaped to the ground from his lofty perch and make a break for liberty. But the deathly work had been done for him and a half mile further he fell dead in his tracks.
The hunters had all gathered and a consultation was held. It was decided to skin the game and return to the tree and cut it down. The skin when measured marked nine feet from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail According to the ethics recognized by all the disciples of Nimrod, the skin went to Curt Byrd which he afterwards delighted to exhibit to his friends as a trophy of that famous hunt.
The party returned to the big tree and cut it down but found nothing in it save the lair of the panther. Near by the base a three snag buck which had been killed several days, and a doe recently killed, were found covered up with sticks, leaves and trash, From that day to this that little stream has been called Panther creek
i Lacking biographical material concerning Mr. W. L. Andrews, author of a series of articles published in the Southern Star, Ozark, Alabama, in May and June, 1899, the Editor of this publication is reproducing a clipping from the Alabama Historical Society Collections, Volume 1. The Collections were edited by the late Thomas M. Owens, to whom Mr. Andrews had written as follows: “In 1885 I set out to write a history of this county (Dale), and since then have gathered complete information of its history from DeSoto’s landing at Tampa Bay, 1539. Of course, nothing much of importance attaches to this section prior to the territorial period of the State, except the settlement between foreign powers of the questions of jurisdiction, and finally the settlement of disputes which placed this section under the jurisdiction of Georgia. Up to this time, however, the facts are all of public record. Since that time none of its history has been published in book form. While my work has been directed more especially towards getting out a history of Dale County, that could not be done without involving the history of Henry, Geneva, Coffee, Pike and Barbour, because the first three, together with Dale, were organized in 1824 as “Henry County.” “Last summer (1899) I traveled all over these counties by private conveyance to gather such authentic information as I might find in the hands of the people. Of this I found much in the form of letters, documents, various records, and statements of persons who either took part in the events, or whose parents had. In this way I secured a complete list of all the county officers from 1824, the organization of the militia and its history, the first settlements, customs of the people, material development, Church and temperance history^ Indian war, Indian Massacres, with names of persons and particulars of their barbarities, capture of Indians, their disposal, Jackson’s march through the county, where he crossed the streams, first settler, and settlers, first house and houses, first mill, who raised first cotton: War period, — Invasion by the enemy, battles with them, people murdered by deserters, killing of Lieut. Spears, and the whole detail — Days of reconstruction and their horrors. Rise of the Populites, especially with reference to the fight of 1892 — subsequent history to date. Burning of court house, fights over county seats, questions affecting the early settlers on the subject. And much more.”
Check out all genealogy and novels by Donna R. Causey
includes the following stories
- The Yazoo land fraud
- Daily life as an Alabama pioneer
- The capture and arrest of Vice-president Aaron Burr
- The early life of William Barrett Travis, hero of the Alamo
- Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh
- Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama