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a publication centered on life in Mississippi.
Today is December 13, 2019

Grin 'n' Bare It

They were pioneers

By Kay Grafe

Kay Grafe
Kay Grafe

In the late 1800s, people moved to south Mississippi to earn money during the timber boom. By the early 1900s, the supply of timber was decreasing but the migration of settlers continued. Americans have always had a restless spirit, whether it was just adventure or searching for something better. Many of the new settlers that came to Mississippi were from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

Some of the new residents, however, came from the Midwest. Mr. Roy’s grandparents came from Indiana and settled in a community between Lucedale and Pascagoula called Big Point. Land investment companies purchased large parcels of cheap land in Jackson County, Mississippi. Then, they placed ads in newspapers throughout the Midwest touting “This Garden of Eden.” They pitched the slogan: “It never gets cold, you can grow oranges by the bushel, and vegetables practically grow wild.” Mr. Roy’s grandfather, John Grafe, being the adventuresome guy he was, decided this sounded pretty good. Not only that, but some of his neighbors and friends were already headed south.

John contacted one of the salesmen in the area and arranged to go to Mississippi and check this out for himself. He traveled to the Big Point area in early October; and sure enough, oranges were hanging on the trees, and it was warm. With a little encouragement from the salesman, John picked out a 120-acre plot of good, level farmland. There was no way for him to contact his wife, Maggie, and ask what she thought, so I guess John assumed, “I’ll convince her later.”

He must have convinced her in some way because within a few months they sold their large, two-story house, furniture and 80 acres of land and boarded a train for Mississippi. The family arrived at Big Point in January 1914, and it was cold. Not only that, the land John thought he bought was not legally what he really purchased. His 120 acres were several miles farther out in the wilderness in an area commonly called the Island. John had no choice but to make the best of the situation.

The Willard J. Ogborn family was friends of the Grafes in Indiana, and they moved to Mississippi two years before the Grafe family arrived. Willard Ogborn, his wife Daisy Ellen and their three children lived in a tent until they could build a house. They offered the use of their tent to the Grafes, and that is where Roy’s grandparents and their four children lived for approximately two years until they could build some kind of house. John had to clear land, build a barn and a house and a multitude of other things. The family had four school-age children who walked almost three miles to school every day. So now Maggie found herself going from living in a nice house with outbuildings, on a road with neighbors nearby, to living in a tent, in practically a wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. Roy said that his Dad told him his mother cried every night. In most cases, it was the wives who suffered the most from the family’s pioneer wandering.

But the Ogborns and Grafes were pioneer people; they survived and made the best of the situation. Both were carpenters, farmers and hard workers. They soon found jobs, built new comfortable homes and raised their families. And this is typical of the thousands of families that moved to Mississippi in the early 1900s. They were hard-working families with strong religious values who wanted a better life for themselves and their children. Mr. Roy said that he asked his grandfather if he ever regretted leaving what he had in Indiana and moving to Mississippi. His grandfather told him that he had no regrets. I also asked Dave Ogborn, grandson of Willard Ogborn, if he ever asked his grandfather if he regretted moving to the South. He said his grandfather told him he had no regrets.   

We should all be thankful for these “pioneers” who risked so much and worked so hard to leave us the legacy we have today.

Contact Kay Grafe at kaygrafe@bellsouth.net.

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