"Curtains for the Bend"
Memorial to Milliken's Bend
By Frances Alexander – 1941
Notes by Richard P. Sevier – 1999, 2002
MADISON COORDINATOR'S NOTE: Milliken's Bend is one of the most interesting and tragic towns in the south. It was the site where during the Civil War Generals Grant and Sherman staged 30,000 troops in preparation for the battle of Vicksburg. It was also an important steamboat landing on the Mississippi River. Unfortunately, the River, as it eroded its way westward, totally obliterated Milliken's Bend, the current townsite now being well over a mile east of the River, and in the State of Mississippi rather than in Louisiana. What was once a thriving town has not existed for almost one hundred years.
Frances Alexander wrote this history of Milliken's Bend in 1941 as a term paper while she was a student at Louisiana Tech. Although there is much more to be learned about Milliken's Bend, as far as is known, this is the most complete story of the town that can be found. Frances later became Frances Alexander Robinson. She died in 1982 and is buried in Silver Cross Cemetery in Tallulah. "Miss Frances", as we all called her, was my fifth grade teacher at the Tallulah Grammar School and was probably the most popular teacher there.
Many thanks go to Gary and Jan Smith who supplied the artifact photos at the end of this article. These were all found in the Milliken’s Bend area during 2002.
There are numerous histories of Louisiana. Yet in all these there is scant mention made of Milliken's Bend, one of the oldest, and one of the first of the modern river towns to cease to exist because of her inability to compete with modern transportation. Fearful lest this historic spot with its gallant men and its gracious ladies be forgot, I record these facts. I pay tribute to those remaining few, born at Milliken's Bend and residing still in Madison Parish.
Frances Alexander, January 25, 1941.
"Curtains for the Bend"
A Memorial to Milliken's Bend
One may stand on the west bank of the Mississippi River, at the head of Walnut Bayou nine miles northeast of Tallulah, Louisiana, where the deserted but once thriving and bustling little river port of Milliken's Bend made its last, but futile stand against transition from River to Rail transportation; and from there see across the River, across a mile of flowing water to where the little city grew and prospered prior to 1880.
It was in that year ---- when the west bank of the River was where the east bank now is, and when the space, occupied by that mile of water across which we are looking, was filled both up and down the River, by plantation cotton patches, dotted with Negro cabins ---- that the caving banks of the River, at the eastern edge of "town" made necessary a move to a safer distance from those banks.
The place chosen for the future townsite, one mile back and deemed a safe distance, was the place where we are now standing. It was here that Milliken's Bend dwindled and died.
It is in the hope that it may not be forgotten, but that it may live as an enduring memory that this history of that old river town is pieced together from facts, legends, fragments, and threads gathered hither, there and yon. As it has been fitted together there has been constant and conscientious effort to winnow the chaff from the grain, that only the grain would be presented here.
Let us cross now ---- in imagination ---- to the place where Milliken's Bend was founded and grew to its fullest "bloom." As our vehicle is imagination, we will not see the water but will travel the old road between two hedge rows of almost impenetrable Osage Orange trees (known in some sections as Burdock); Morancy Plantation to our left; Jackson Plantation to our right.
Coming to the end of the hedgerows, we arrive at our destination---the site of old Milliken's Bend. Now we will try to peer behind the curtains ---- drawn sixty years ago ---- to see what we may see. 'Tis of greater magnitude and of more importance than we even dared hope it might be. Here, we find, was the throbbing social and commercial heart of a territory that extended fan-wise to the Macon Hills on the west. Early history indicates that it has been an established point since 1682, when LaSalle, the first white man to descend the Mississippi River to its mouth, may have paused briefly here. Before we explore the reaches of that fertile territory, or delve into the history recorded in those many years, we had best view Milliken's Bend itself, for, primarily, it is the history of "The Bend" we could record. Our best view may be had by painting, as best we can, a word picture of the "Little Metropolis."
The town was made up of two business streets. One was atop the levee (the levees, then, were narrow and but a few feet in height) with its buildings all facing the land side, their fronts flush with the top of the levee, their rears toward the River and resting on piling, where the water ---- when the River was out of its banks and against the levee ---- flowed beneath them. On this street there were only four business houses. Beginning at the north end of the street, they were: McClellan and Coltharp's Cash Store; Price's Bar Room; the Feist Grocery; and The Henry Weidaman Grocery.
The other street was at the base of the levee on the land side, and parallel to the other; with its buildings all on one side of the street and facing those on the levee. This street was longer and there was much more activity there. On this there were the D.F. Cresswell Store; the office of Dr. Dancy, in which was kept the nearest approach to an apothecary shop of anything in town; the office of Dr. O'Leary; the office of Dr. Yerger; the Joseph Witherow Store in which the post office was located; The Henry Deis Store; McClelland and Coltharp's Credit Store that did a credit business with surrounding plantations and maintained a wagon service to them; The Hayes House a well known hotel; the Village School at one time taught by Miss Caroline Hawkins; The Tobias Store; The Schregleman Meat Market and Grocery; and beyond was the Nick Kahn Store the last on the street. Back of the latter was the jail. Whether some of these stores were hardware, dry goods, or grocery, is not clear, but it is believed that most of them were General Merchandise stores and competitors of each other.
The residences of the town were scattered, rather promiscuously, and without much regard to streets, in a semi-circle about the business district.
Close to the bank of the River stood the Catholic Church, so close, that to save it from the caving banks, it was necessary to dismantle it and move it a year before the rest of the town was moved. To adequately describe this church, we quote from "Historic Gleanings", by Roger Baudier, as published in Catholic Action, August 17, 1939:
A letter written by C. E. Maher to Bishop Martin on March 7, 1854. has preserved for us the status of conditions among Catholics of that section:
"I beg leave to address you in the name of the congregation of Milliken's Bend and state our situation to you. We have a very neat church of brick, 60 by 30 feet. We have just had a new altar and melodeon, a good choir, etc. The number of Catholics is about 30 permanent residents besides transients. About two years ago the Archbishop sent us a clergyman whose health has been so delicate that he has scarcely been able to officiate even on Sunday and has not been able to preach since the first few weeks of his residence among us. He left for New Orleans on the 10th of January, where he died on the 24th of the same month, and consequently we are without a pastor. We therefore beg to have a visit from you, as early as you can conveniently do so. Several families can accommodate you comfortably and would be happy to have you stop with them; among the number, I include ourselves. Or if you cannot come, we hope you will be able to send us a clergyman at least during the season of Lent. I believe Mr. Kelly (Father Kelly) had a salary of five or six hundred dollars a year."
In a postscript to the letter, Mr. Maher gives the names of some of the congregation:
"H. P. Morancy and family, Dan'l Byrne and family Mrs. Jackson and family, Mrs. Mitchell and family, Mrs. Hawkins, Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Minnis, Miss Anderson, Mr. Matthew Maher, Mr. Keenan and family, besides several others living within ten or twelve miles of the church." Prior to that (January 9, 1854) Daniel Byrne had sent a similar appeal to Bishop Martin and invited him to visit that section where people had never seen a crosier and a miter. The plea of Catholics from Milliken's Bend was answered by the Bishop who sent Father Simon D'Angles. He served the Bend and Lake Providence from 1855 to 1856.
From the size of the church, and from Mr. Maher's letter, written almost eighty-seven years ago, it is readily seen that Milliken's Bend was predominantly Catholic.
MADISON COORDINATOR'S NOTE: "Mr." Maher was actually Mrs. Caroline Ewing (Lowry) Maher, wife of Philip Maher, an Irish immigrant and one of the largest land and slaveowners in the area. There were four Lowrys who seemed to control the land in the Milliken's Bend area. The previously-mentioned Caroline, married to Philip Maher; Eliza Jane, married to Honoré Perigny Morancy, who was responsible for the naming of Carroll Parish while he was a member of the Louisiana legislature; Nancy, married to Catesby B. Minnis and Alfred. These people all played an important role in the history of Milliken's Bend during the period 1830-1870. Incidentally, Caroline Maher was the mother of my great grandmother, Louise Maher Graves.
It would seem as though there would have been a large cotton gin, but owing to the fact that each plantation owned and operated its own gin, there was scant necessity for one; consequently there was but a small one stand, gin.
Thus we have portrayed, to the best of our ability, old Milliken's Bend as it was in 1880, and in the years immediately preceding. Viewing as it was at that time, this question may be asked: Why this Little City, and whence came the trade to support it? The reply to the query, answered briefly, is: Milliken's Bend was the trading center for many fertile acres, and that the trade was brought in by several long roads, and by the Mississippi River. But to fully answer the question it will be necessary to travel near and far, both afield and in the realm of time.
A much-traveled road paralleled the River to the south, through Jackson, Cabin Teele, and Sparta Plantations, to Duckport, and from there to Delta, the Parish Seat from 1868 to 1885. This road was the land highway to Vicksburg, but it was little used for that purpose for the River was the Highway. When any of the populace went to Vicksburg they usually went by boat.
Another road paralleled the River to the north, through Morancy and Rose Hill plantations to Omega and Goodrich, and continued on to Lake Providence.
Two roads, a road on each side, followed Walnut Bayou to Tallulah, thirty miles away as measured by the meanderings of the Bayou, and on to Richmond, the Parish Seat from 1839 to 1868. But Tallulah was not that far away by a shorter route, it was but little more than ten miles by the road that left Walnut Bayou at Oak Grove Plantation and intersected the Bayou two miles east of Tallulah, very much as does the same road that we use today.
Very shortly after the Parish of Madison was created in 1839, and the Parish Seat established at Richmond, the Police Jury passed an ordinance making the road from Richmond to Milliken's Bend a Public Road. That was before the founding of Tallulah, and before there were any railroads serving this territory; therefore, it was imperative that the inland sections have access to the Mississippi River.
Still another road served Milliken's Bend, from the west. This road branched westward from the Lake Providence Road, a mile north of town, between Morancy and Rose Hill plantations, thence through Mansfield (now known as Mansford) and Talla Bena plantations to the junction of Willow Bayou and Little Tensas River; there it forked, one fork continuing along Willow Bayou; the other fork up the Little Tensas River past the northern end of Bear Lake and on to the Macon Hills, giving residents of that section access to the River at "The Bend." Last, but possibly not least, was the ferry, operated by old Ned Thompson, a Negro, that made regular trips across the River to and from Eagles Bend ---- taxed to its utmost on Saturdays ---- carrying passengers to trade in Milliken's Bend.
There were stores along the roads enumerated, but for the most part they were plantation commissaries, and for that reason the residents from many miles away came to "The Bend" to do their shopping.
For many years, almost the only contact the territory tributary to Milliken's Bend had with the outside world was through a line of steamboats on the Mississippi River, plying between Saint Louis and New Orleans, connecting at Saint Louis with boats from the upper Mississippi, Ohio, and Illinois Rivers, and at New Orleans with ocean going vessels. The first time a steamboat descended the Mississippi River to New Orleans was in 1811, and within a year it was plying regularly between New Orleans and Natchez. It was believed that the current above Natchez was so rapid that no steamboat could successfully stem it, but by 1815 one was so designed that could and did ascend the Mississippi River and continued as far up the Ohio River as Louisville.
From that time on traffic on the Mississippi River increased with great rapidity, and by 1880 it had attained such proportions that steamboats were so numerous that several passed Milliken's Bend each day, stopping to discharge passengers or freight, if any were aboard for that landing, or stopping to receive such when flagged by the landing keeper. These boats brought heavy cargoes of merchandise and produce from the Upper Rivers and returned laden with sugar, rice, coffee and other such merchandise as ordinarily moved from the South to the North. Some were through-boats stopping only at such points as Saint Louis, Cairo, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge and New Orleans; while others were local packets with short runs and made "all-the-way-landings" on both sides of the River. Many were of great carrying capacity, such as the Grand Tower, which is reputed to have cleared the landing at "The Bend" carrying a cargo of 11,000 bales of cotton, one of the heaviest cargoes, if not the heaviest, that had ever been moved on the River prior to that time, or for a long time thereafter. New Orleans jobbers did a considerable wholesale business with the river merchants, but the major part of the merchandise entering this territory was brought by the Anchor Line Steamboats from Saint Louis. There were ten Anchor Line boats in operation in 1880. The names of these ten boats were: City of Vicksburg; City of Natchez; Arkansas City; City of Cairo; City of Baton Rouge; City of Memphis; City of Hickman; City of Monroe; City of Providence; and City of New Orleans. Eight of these boats were in service between Saint Louis and Vicksburg, the other two operated as through-boats between Saint Louis and New Orleans.
In addition to the Anchor Line boats there was a line of packets operating northward from New Orleans, some going through to Saint Louis, and some only going as far north as "the bends" ------ a name often applied by steamboat men to the section of the Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Greenville, Miss. Though these boats carried both passengers and freight, they catered especially to passenger service for which they were famous. Their passenger accommodations were so grand that they may be truthfully described as floating palaces, and as having the most sumptuous appointments and cuisine.
A large part of the passenger traffic was made up of passengers from Saint Louis and waypoints going to and from New Orleans. Many made the trip solely for the social life since there were amusements consisting of dancing, gambling, and constant entertainment. The life of a resident near the Mississippi River was not complete without at least one trip on the River to New Orleans. Gambling, sometimes, was for very heavy stakes and apropos to that we relate the following legend of how the well-known plantation, Compromise received its name. It is related that the plantation, then known as the Wall Place together with several other properties, was owned by a Mr. Jones. On a trip to New Orleans Mr. Jones engaged in heavy gambling with a passenger from an up-river town. As the stakes grew heavier, and Mr. Jones lost continuously, he wagered all his properties and lost them. In the settlement of the debt, his friends interfered, and a compromise was effected by which Mr. Jones retained title to the Wall Place. On reaching home he immediately changed the name of the plantation to Compromise.
The boats of Commerce were not the only boats on the River. There were the huge and famous showboats; some of these carrying a full complement of circus entertainment that was quite comparable to shows traveling by rail. There were elephants, menagerie, ring performers, and all that comprises a circus. Often a day or more was required to disembark and set up the show. The coming of the circus was heralded far and wide, weeks in advance, and from the highways and by-ways THEY came to "The Bend." That was a gala day in town, and long may that day be remembered. The circus came each fall, but when a good crop had been gathered and "there was money in the country," the Circus Boat came on a return engagement. Then there were Theatrical Boats, floating theaters, that carried high class and high priced entertainment. These were patronized by cotton planters and merchants along the River. There were not many show boats running after the turn of the Century, though sometimes their calliopes could be heard as late a 1910. Dance boats there were then and dance boats there are today.
The burning of the steamboat Oliver Beirne at the landing on the night of October 29, 1891, is a tragic page in the steamboat history of Milliken's Bend. This large passenger and freight boat was consumed by fire while awaiting daylight. Thirteen people were cremated or drowned at the time and seven more died later from severe burns and pneumonia. Dr. Yerger was called to the scene of the tragedy, and assisted by his daughter, Jessie (Mrs. J. Y. Bonney) cared for the injured. The entire populace of the town was most considerate of the welfare of those who suffered in the catastrophe.
It is ironical, in the annals of history, that past the place on the River bank where Milliken's Bend was born from river traffic and later died from lack of that traffic, that there is moving past that place, today, a stream of barges carrying more freight than was ever moved by steamboats.
Regarding the barges, we quote, in part, from "The Economic Development Of The Tallulah Territory", by R. L. Moncrief, 1937:
"During the World War it was learned that our railway system could not transport all our freight which the expanding needs of the day demanded. It was also learned, excepting for a few insignificant services, the great Mississippi River system had been abandoned. That put the issue squarely before the government. The Federal Barge Line was put into operation on the lower Mississippi River. Huge cargo barges and powerful towboats were used to haul non-perishable freight at low cost."
Even had the barge lines been put in operation at an earlier date, they would have been of little value to Milliken's Bend. Lack of facilities and size of a tow of barges necessitates them making only the ports of the larger cities.
The first record of any white men at or near the site where Milliken's Bend was founded is that of LaSalle and his party. The famed French explorer ---- after exploring the valleys of the Illinois and Ohio Rivers and the region around the Great Lakes ---- is presumed to have paused briefly here, in 1682 as he, the first white man ever to make the journey, descended the Mississippi River to its mouth. LaSalle took possession of the entire Mississippi Valley in the name of France and named it Louisiana in honor of his King, Louis XIV, and the King's Mother, Queen Ann.
History makes no more mention of this section until 1786, when Spanish explorers, coming from the Southwest, to establish Fort Miro, where the City of Monroe now stands, contacted this point, presumably to verify their position.
During that interim of 104 years, much-transpired, both in exploration and colonization, that has great bearing on the region that was destined to become the territory tributary to Milliken's Bend.
The English explored and colonized what is now the Eastern States; the French, the central part, comprising the Mississippi River Valley and its eastern tributaries; the Spanish, the Gulf Coast east of the Mississippi River, and all the Southwest ---- Mexico, Texas, and as far east in Louisiana as the Ouachita River. These boundaries were far from exact and were the cause not only of dispute but of war. Settlers became numerous in the Illinois Country (roughly, the land in the valleys of the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers) and a brisk trade began between that section and New Orleans, using the River as the highway between the two places. The settlers from the Illinois Country brought to New Orleans, by raft, by flat boat, and by any make-shift boat, their furs and any other products they had to sell or exchange for supplies, more often than not, disposing of or abandoning the boat and walking back.
One reason for disposing of the boat and walking back was the difficulty encountered in trying to take a boat up-stream. By walking back they could take short cuts across long bends in the River and save many miles. There was but little need to carry a cargo upstream as they had but few wants that could not be filled in their home region as well as in New Orleans. They depended upon the bounties of Nature for almost their every -need of food and clothing.
As ocean trade developed between New Orleans and European ports and made a greater variety of supplies available in New Orleans the traders began to come in greater numbers and in parties. They came in larger and better equipped boats with keels to give them steerage, so they could take the boat back up-stream laden with supplies. On the return trip, one of the party would sit in the boat and steer, while the others walked on the bank of the River and pulled the boat by a long rope. It is quite conceivable that, as the trips to market, were necessarily made in the summer months when the prevailing winds are from the South, that some may have used sail to some extent on the return trip. Whatever method was used, it was laborious, but trade was being developed that moved past the spot where not many years later, Milliken's Bend would be founded----"The Bend" that was to become a port of entry for that trade.
There were political developments as well as commercial. The French and Indian War ---- engendered by disputes regarding territorial boundaries of the colonies ---- broke out in 1754. War continued for nine years until peace was made in 1763. As part of the peace terms, France ceded to Spain all her territory west of the Mississippi River, and New Orleans.
The Act of Cession was signed at the Court of Versailles November 3, 1762, but as it was intended to be kept secret, it was not known until 1763, and did not become effective until February 4, 1765.
The region, while under Spanish control, was governed by several Governors of the Territory of Louisiana and was under the jurisdiction of Fort Miro. Development under Spanish rule was very slow, for the Spanish considered the low land on the west bank of the Mississippi River unsuitable for colonization, and confined their settlements to higher land along the Ouachita River. They established Fort Miro, in 1786, to be used as a shipping point from where their furs and other products could be sent to New Orleans by way of the Ouachita, Red, and Mississippi Rivers. In 1791, the Spanish built Fort Nogales ---- later known by the English as Walnut Hills, and still later as Vicksburg ---- and in 1795, by treaty ceded the fort to the United States, but did not abide by the treaty until 1797.
By that time settlement was spreading eastward from the Ouachita and spreading westward from English settlements to the southeast. These movements meeting along the Mississippi resulted in settlements being made along the west bank of the River about 1802 or 1803. At the close of the French Revolution, Napoleon was supreme in France, and wanting to regain, for France, the French colonies in America, acquired in 1800 the Louisiana Territory, from Spain, by promising to give Spain part of Italy. Then, in 1803, Napoleon decided the territory was of little value to him and sold all of it to the United States. This was the famous Louisiana Purchase. It consisted of over one million square miles of land, and included all the territory west of the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border and west to the Pacific ocean, except, what are now the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of the states of Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas. The price paid was $15,000,000,00
In 1804 this region was divided into two parts ---- The territory of Orleans, which included the present state of Louisiana; and district of Louisiana, which comprised the remainder. The former was admitted to the Union April 30, 1812, as the State of Louisiana, and the name of the latter changed to the Missouri Territory. The first settlement made in the territory with which we are concerned was at a point in the Great Bend of the Mississippi River above Vicksburg, later to be known as Milliken's Bend. It remained, however, only a trading post for several years. It was impossible to develop in an agricultural or commercial way until better transportation facilities were available.
By 1820 steamboats were operating with some frequency on the River, Negro slaves were brought in from New Orleans by the early settlers, and put to work clearing land to be planted to cotton. It was not until the late 30's and early 40's that the principal immigration set in and continued for many years. The Richmond Compiler, Richmond, Louisiana, March 15, 1844, says:
"Immigration is pouring into our borders from Maine to Mississippi… many of these left their worn out hills and fearful pious homes for Texas. They wended their way on to North Louisiana, to Carroll, Madison, and Concordia, and seeing the rich alluvial lands they stayed."
It was in the period from 1830 to 1840 that R. C. Downes, the Grandfather of the late Mrs. Albert Coltharp, was Parish Judge. With his election to this office he moved from the River to the Parish Seat at Richmond.
Sometime in this era John Milliken, Grandfather of the late John M. Parker, Governor of the State of Louisiana from 1920 to 1924, acquired much of the property in the great bend in the River extending from Morancy Plantation to Cabin Teele. Thus, this entire strip of land became known as Milliken's Bend. At that time it was customary to name each bend in the River for the largest property owner in that bend. So came the name Milliken's Bend. First applying to the bend in the River and the land it encompassed, then to the landing placed at the point where the old hunters met boats upon the River; and, last, on March 21, 1861, by and act of the Legislature, Milliken's Bend was incorporated making that the official name of the village. The white population at this time was two hundred.
By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War a high peak of prosperity had been reached in this section, and in the years immediately preceding the War, Louisiana was conceded to be the richest of the Southern States. Cotton planters were reaping large fortunes from the cotton raised on their plantations, by slave labor. Steamboats were plying the River regularly and afforded an easy route to market. Each plantation was almost a Kingdom to itself, with its own artisans of carpentry, masonry, blacksmithing, weaving, shoemaking, and etc. Some of the more capable slaves were sent away to learn the essential trades necessary to a cotton plantation. Truly, those were prosperous days. And Milliken's Bend drawing trade from many miles away, grew and prospered from the wealth of the plantations.
Then came the War and the bubble burst. It was not long until the exportation of cotton was halted by the northern blockade, and cotton became almost worthless. Slaves ran away, and in 1862 the Emancipation Proclamation freed them all. In 1863 Grant and Sherman landed their armies at Milliken's Bend when they vainly attempted to detour their gunboats around Vicksburg by way of the bayous. Shortly thereafter, both the Federal and Confederate armies were foraging on the country, and as the territory suffered, so did Milliken's Bend. One sharp battle was fought there, a battle fought hand to hand with bayonets. But bad as was the War, the period following was worse. The white men were disfranchised and the country was in the hands of ignorant Negroes and Carpetbaggers. The Carpetbag Rule lasted several years, and can best be described as chaos. But after a time it was overthrown and sanity prevailed once more. It was difficult to find a successful plan to use the former slaves in the cultivation of cotton. The problem was solved by setting up the Tenant Sharecropper system, a system that has been in use ever since. The Tenant Sharecropper System is thought to have been introduced into this section by Major General Francis Preston Blair, an officer in the Federal Army, a former Congressman and Senator from Missouri, and, in 1868, candidate for the vice-presidency on the Democratic ticket, as running mate with Seymour. Blair had come with Grant to Milliken's Bend. He was attracted by the wonderful fertility of the soil, so he returned after the War and leased Cabin Teele plantation, hoping to recoup ---- by raising high priced cotton on cheap land and with cheap labor ---- a fortune he had lost during the War. It is related that, because of his military training, he attempted to raise cotton by military methods; that he lined his Negroes and mules all up at the end of the row, some thirty or forty plow hands, and that at the shouted word of "Forward" they all started down the rows, but by the time the end of the rows were reached "his lines were badly broken." Finding such methods would not work, Blair is credited with having set up the Tenant System, patterned, probably, after the credit system used in the hill sections for many years.
With the labor problem solved, there came a new era, wheels began to turn and "times got better." From 1870, to 1880 the little town grew rapidly and became as prosperous as it was before the War.
This brings us back again to 1880, the date we used from which to start our narrative. We have completed our exploration of Field and Time, and it is our hope that we have fully answered the Query ---- Why the Little City, and whence came the trade to support it ---- There yet remains one brief chapter in the history of Milliken's Bend. The move to the new site, and dissolution there.
Levees had always been a problem to villagers near the Mississippi River. The first ones, built by the planters themselves at great expense, had proved unsatisfactory because of insufficient funds with which to make them high enough and strong, enough to hold the mighty river. So, a Board was created and it had power to levy taxes, to condemn, and take property for the construction of levees, which served for the protection of the entire area. In 1880, because of the caving riverbanks, Milliken's Bend was compelled to move. A new line of levee was being built behind the town, but a temporary gap was left through which, one by one, the stores and homes were moved, some on rollers, some on skids, and some torn down to be rebuilt on the new site. To the Old Residents this was the "New Bend," and the old site ---- dear to many hearts ---- was the "Old Bend."
In the "New Bend," not only were the old buildings restored, but new ones were built ---- An Episcopal church and a Knights of Pythias Hall. The latter was a two-story building, the lower floor was used as a school room, and, for that time, was very modern. The school was taught by Miss Nanie McClellan (Mrs. Chas. Coltharp) a beloved teacher then, even as she is today a beloved citizen, giving of her efforts to the sick, the poor, and the needy ---- May it also be noted that A. J. Sevier, Sr., father of the present Sheriff of Madison Parish, was elected Mayor of the village at about the time it was moved to the new site.
But all was not well with Milliken's Bend in its new location. In 1882 there was very high water in the River, the highest that had ever been known. The levees broke in many places and whole Mississippi Valley from "The Bend" to the Macon Hills was inundated. Even today, it is one of the greatest floods of record.
That was a blow from which Milliken's Bend never entirely recovered. Another blow was the organization of the Ashly Co. by Major Waddill in 1886 that brought many plantations under one management and controlled their trade by "brozine"----a name applied by the darkies to trading checks.
But the greatest blow suffered by Milliken's Bend ---- the inevitable blow, the final one ---- was the growth of Tallulah through the natural change from River to Rail transportation.
Almost to the last, however. "The Bend" continued to be the literary and social center of Madison Parish. Here, in the Knights of Pythias Hall, the good Ladies and Gentlemen gathered in a social way to review literature, present their own plays, and to read and discuss their writings.
The tempo of the world grew faster, and as Rail traffic increased, River traffic decreased. Milliken's Bend was definitely diminishing. One by one the inhabitants were leaving, and one by one the buildings were being demolished. We would that we could name them all, and name them in the order in which they forsook "The Bend," but that record is not available. But we do have the record that Dr. G. W. Gaines practiced medicine there for several years, and that in 1904, he, too, became a "deserter" - ---the same venerated Dr. Gaines so well known today.
The only ones left in 1910 were the Joseph Witherow family and the J.N. Schregelman family. Mr. Witherow was keeping a grocery store and Mr. Schregelman was the landing keeper, each still doing the same thing he had done at the "Old Bend" thirty years earlier. Even that little trade was dwindling, customers at the store were few, and not many plantations received freight at the landing. In 1915 Mr. Witherow moved to Tallulah. Then, in 1916, Mr. Schregelman, born and reared at "The Bend," was the last to abandon this citadel of commerce. With his departure, Milliken's Bend ceased to exist.
You have peeped behind the curtains drawn on Milliken's Bend at the Old Site. You have seen its life ebb away at the New Site. Its history is recorded. There is naught more to be said. We draw the final curtains on Milliken's Bend.
© 2002 Richard P. Sevier (firstname.lastname@example.org)