Only River Town

(Editor’s note: This is a reprint of the column “This and That” written by the late Bee King of Mendenhall which appeared in the Simpson County News on Oct. 26, 1939.)

As heretofore stated, Osceola was the only river town Simpson County ever had. It was built on the bluffs a short distance below the present Rockport bridge on Pearl River. The boat landing was a narrow strip of land under the bluffs and the only building down there was a warehouse belonging to Joe Kirklind. The storehouse and the saloons were on the bluffs.

The first stores were built about 1829 by Joe Kirklind and Jack Briggs, and the first saloons were built about the same time and were operated by Pete Isabel and Jack Moore. Later others built stores as well as saloons. Alex Banks and Turner Wilson had stores on their plantations nearby.

All the buildings were of logs, some hewn and some split and some merely round logs. All the saloons were built of very long logs and had partitions to cut off back rooms that were used as gambling and eating joints.

The first buggy to be brought to the county was bought by Jack Briggs in 1831. He bought the buggy in Natchez , and it attracted much attention when first brought to the county.

The first boat to be operated on the river was owned by Bob Jelks. He made regular trips to new Orleans about once a month during the fall and winter season, but in the spring and summer when the river was low his trips were not so frequent. Jelks was a great poker player and there was always a number of gamblers on the boat. Very often Jelks would spend a week at at Osceola trading and playing poker, for in addition to regular freight he bought, he had goods of his own which he sold to the merchants at the various towns.

Jelks soon found that he could not cope with all the poker players in Osceola and that several of them were more than a match for him. On one occasion he brought a load of salt to Osceola. The boat tied up for the night and he got into a poker game with Pete Isabel, Alex Banks and Turner Wilson. The game lasted all night, with the result that the next morning his boat load of salt was landed and divided between Turner Wilson and Alex Banks.

Isabel sold his saloon to Jelks and went out of business. Jack Moore bought it from Jelks and continued to operate it as well as his other one until he moved west. Jelks gambling habits soon brought him ruin, and he sold his boat to Captain John Poitevent and quit the river.

Among the earliest settlers around Osceola were Robert and Absalom Little. Little was quite a river man himself and built several flat boats on which he could carry cotton to New Orleans. It was too expensive to tow the boats back to Osceola so he had to sell them for whatever he could get. He soon found the business unprofitable and went into the mercantile business.

Osceola being a river town and being in a new county, there were always a number of adventurers coming in on the boats and stopping there. Some stayed and some moved on. Some succeeded and some did not, but among them were many interesting personalities. Osceola was a gay place and everyday brought something new. Gambling, drinking, boxing, wrestling, and horse racing were carried on all the time.

Turner Wilson had a race track on his plantation just north of the town. At the races the betting was high and fun was great. Of course, there were many “fist and skull” fights and an occasional duel, but it was a life that developed many strong characters. We shall not see its like again. A history of Doctor Bottom will be given later.