Last summer, this suburban lady from Ridgeland moved into Etta with her fiancé. Etta is a long shot from the suburban lifestyle I knew, but after nearly a year, the town’s charm worked its magic on me. Etta may be an unincorporated town that warrants only two sentences on Wikipedia, but its history runs deep.
Over a century ago, a Chickasaw named Chah um by owned the land Etta sits on. He sold the land to a Wyatt C. Mitchell for $1,400 in 1836. The Pontotoc County Chancery Clerk’s Office holds the record of the transaction. The first time the land was named was in a deed concerning sale of three acres between a William Henry Pope and a Ann Mason in 1839. The town was titled as Rocky Ford in the deed.
In 1850s Durant Lane and Shadrach S. Tyer, two siblings from a family of twelve children, purchased land on both sides of the Tallahtchie River at the Rocky Ford crossing. Rocky Ford was what Etta was known as then due to the traffic across the river. They were thought to be the first settlers but rather they were the town’s founders as they attracted more settlers to farm in Etta. The river had ships running cotton and farming goods which may have been the allure.
Rocky Ford was incorporated Feb. 11, 1860. It was laid out similar to many other towns in north Mississippi with a court square in the center outlined by lots with streets entering and exiting at the corners. One of the streets ran to a ferry pushed by a long pole that carried people, animal and goods across the Tallahatchie River. The ferry did not run on a schedule so those who had horses and buggies could cross the river depending on the waters’ height.
Rocky Ford became Etta after its own post office closed in 1872 then re-opened in 1887 with the name “Etta” instead of “Rocky Ford.” The exact reason was unknown but some citizens assumed a Yankee had re-named the post office. Another account claimed it was named after an old black woman or the postmaster’s wife. Yet another explanation held that there was another post office with the Rocky Ford name. Regardless the post office began its services that February. That year the town’s first bridge was built across the Tallahatchie River. A dance was held the night the bridge was finished with the citizens dancing on the bridge itself.
The town suffered during the Civil War when the Union Army burned the mill and the town’s Masonic Lodge Building among several stores that lined the town’s square. The citizens who survived the Civil War reported hiding their valuables as soon as they heard the Union Army from across the Tallahatchie River. The records are unclear which Union Army general commanded the burning but a possibility of General A.J. “Whiskey” Smith, the same general who razed Oxford to ground, may have caused Etta’s burning in 1864 after he left Tennessee with 14,000 men.
In the aftermath Durant Lane Tyer rebuilt the Masonic lodge on the same lot. The lodge was important since nearly all of the men in Etta were Freemasons. It still stands to this day, and meetings are held there once a month.
After the war the town recovered by farming and its own tight-knit community. Highway 30 was not yet built so all of the traffic between Oxford and New Albany passed through Etta, but not without making a stop there to shop and socialize. Nowadays the town is mostly quiet but remains close.
An indicator of this is the Coffey’s Fish and Steakhouse open Friday and Saturday only. My fiancé and I went there a couple times and enjoyed the crowded bustle. It was a social scene with authentic finger-lickin’ good Southern cooking.
Our house that we live in was built by my finacé’s great-grandfather. The two-story white house rests on a sizable land plot with the State Road 355 cutting through the front yard. The road isn’t as noisy as one would think – one night I even saw a wild hog enjoying a midnight stroll smack in middle of the road. The wildlife is plentiful out here so it’s common to hear gunshots from our neighbors hunting on their land plots in the surrounding woods. We’re looking forward to spring when we can fish in the pond in the backyard.
This town is one of many small, oft-forgotten towns scattered across north Mississippi but its history is steep. I got all of its historical information from “Crossing the Tallahatchie River at Rocky Ford, Mississippi” by James Major Coffey, a longtime resident whose family was one of the first to settle in Etta.
Callie Daniels is a staff reporter for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.