Early History of Coffeeville

If, in about the year 1829, a wayfarer taking the trail leading south from Lagrange, Tennessee through the Chickasaw nation to the Choctaw villages, and to Clinton, Mississippi, had traveled that trail 76 miles south of the Tennessee line, he would have encountered one of the highest hills in that part of Mississippi.

 

Fording the creek just at the foot of the hill, he would have passed the wigwam of an Indian arrow head maker. On the crest of the hill was an Indian trading store built of logs fresh cut and hewn from the dense forest surrounding it.

The traveler, if a white man, would have received scant greeting from the arrow maker, but a hearty welcome awaited him at the store of the young trader; for in those days, few men of his race passed that way.

 

The arrow maker chose his place of business at the ford of the creek, because of the convenience of water, so necessary to the plying of his trade, and it was on the trail frequented by his fellow tribesman. The white trader chose his place also because it was new water; but chiefly because it was high above the low lands and miasma so dreaded in those days and because the location was just one half mile from the boundary line that divided the hunting grounds of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.

 

The name of the Indian craftsman is long since forgotten, but Davidson M. Rayburn, the youthful pioneer, and trader from near Franklin, Tennessee, is still remembered as the first white settler on the site of what is now the town of Coffeeville.

The trade in hatchets, guns, knives, beads, and calico was brisk and young Rayburn prospered.

And then the "Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek" by which the Choctaws ceded all of their lands to the U.S. government was ratified; the country was surveyed, and the lands were subject to purchase and settlement. D.M. Rayburn, Abram Herron, Sules McCrelas, and Ursery bought the lands in Section 4, Township 24, Range 6 east, on which the Rayburn store was located.

About that time Wm. Buntin with his wife, several stalwart sons and comely daughters, his wagons, household goods, livestock and Negro slaves, passed Rayburn's store, ended their long over-land journey from Virginia on one of the adjacent hills. Pretty soon young Rayburn married one of the comely daughters.

And now the Exodus of the Choctaws began. Their villages were replaced by those of the white men. The Indian trails became highways, over which passed a steady and ever increasing stream of home seekers and land speculators.

The Virginia, Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee store owners made haste to acquire possessions in the Land of Cotton, and the country side was rapidly peopled with planters and their Negro slaves.

Just four miles south of Rayburn's store two rival towns just across the road from each other had sprung up. Hendersonville, with 14 stores and groceries promoted by Thos. McMackin, famous tavern keeper and town site promoter of that day and Plummersville, more than half the size of its rival- named for, and sponsored by Franklin E. Plummer, notorious politician, congressman, and known as the "Stormy Petrel of Mississippi Politics."

The first Board of Police elected in Yalobusha County, met and organized at Hendersonville on February 4, 1834, there being present Thos. McMackin, President, Wm. Metcalf, J.S. Edrington, Wm. Minter, and Dempsy Hicks. At the next meeting of the Board held a month later at the same place, it was moved, seconded and the motion carried, "that the Board retire to a private room for the purpose of considering offers of donations of land for a County Court Town." Quite a number of offers from various sections of the county were considered, but the Board voted to accept the land offered by Davidson M. Rayburn and Surles McCrelas- to wit: 51 acres located in the E 1/2 of NW 1/2 of Section 4, Township 24, Range 6 east.

Thos. McMackin immediately thereafter tendered his resignation as President of the Board. On motion of Wm. Minter, McMackin was re-elected president- which courtesy pleased him to the extent that he appointed a committee to examine the title of the land donated. The Board then ordered the county surveyor Francis Clement to survey and plot the land into town lots; reserving a space in the center 400 feet square for a Court House.

During the same year the lots were sold at auction on the terms prescribed by the Board; via, one-third of purchase price one year after date of sale, and one-third yearly thereafter. Mr. Walker was appointed auctioneer, and received $200.00 in payment of his services. Davidson M. Rayburn, county court clerk, was authorized to receive payments for and execute deeds to the lots. About that time the Board concluded it was high time to name the town. They decided to call it Coffeeville, in honor of the friend and companion in arms of General Andrew Jackson, the gallant General Coffee. As Coffeeville grew and waxed strong, Hendersonville and Plummersville decayed, and villages were only memories. The business and people all moved to the Court Town- Coffeeville.

Among the first merchants to locate in Coffeeville were Wm. Korr, T.J.N. Bridges, Leman Haile, and Brown & Van Zant. Mr. Van Zant was the father of ex governor Van Zant of Texas, who spent his early childhood in Coffeeville. The first lawyers to settle in Coffeeville were J.S. Topp, Abram Herron, Jno. McKenon, and Judge Carberry. The first physicians were Dr. Malone and Dr. S. Bell. The first churches organized were the Presbyterian and Methodist Church. The former a two story brick structure located on Tillatoba Street. The latter a frame structure located on Tennessee Street.

The first white child born in Coffeeville was Andalusia Rayburn, daughter of the young Indian trader. She became the wife of the Reverend Dr. R.S. Thomas, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Coffeeville for 48 consecutive years, 1848 to 1896, the year of his death.

 In the year 1834, the Board of Police granted Surles McCrelas license to conduct the first Tavern in Coffeeville at the following scale of prices: meals 35 cents, board and lodging per day $1.50, man and horse $2.00, spirits 121/2 cents.

The first bank in Coffeeville was organized in 1838. Bayliss, President and W.H. Brown, cashier. It was called "The Joint Stock Bank of Coffeeville."

It lasted only a few years, and there was no other bank in Coffeeville until after the Civil War. The business men did their banking through cotton commission merchants in New York, New Orleans, and Memphis.

 

In the early forties the country had developed to the extent that the county Board felt justified in providing a more commodious and pretentious Court House than the frame house in use, and accepted plans and specifications for a splendid brick building to be erected in the center of the court square on the site once occupied by Rayburns store.

 Although not an architect by profession Judge Carberry drew the plans, and one Mr. Higgins contracted to erect the building. Unfortunately Mr. Higgins died soon after the building was begun, and it was completed by Judge Carberry and Wm. Kerr, his bondsman.

About this time the Simms line of stage coaches was running on regular schedule on the highway through Coffeeville. James Baker had acquired the McCrelas Tavern, enlarged it to double its original size, its upper and lower verandas facing court square. It was now a relay station for the Simms line of stage coaches and famous among the Inns of north Mississippi. Bakers Tavern took great pride in having entertained such distinguished guests as Governor Henry S. Foote, Mr. Jefferson Davis, Mr. Sargent S. Prestess, Mr. and Mrs. James K. Polk. (The latter owned a plantation near Coffeeville) and others of their like. The new Court House and the rapid development of the country attracted to Coffeeville an array of such splendid loyal talent that its bar was rated second to none in the state. Among the most notable were General E.C. Walthall, Colonel Blythe; Judge Fisher of the supreme bench, Colonel David L. Herron, N.C. Snider, Captain Frank Aldrich, Judge Chevis and others.

 

Coffeeville prospered with the year, and private carriages with matched horses on the streets had ceased to be a novelty. In the late forties and during the fifties, a craze for building fine homes appears to have struck Coffeeville and the country surrounding it. The houses were nearly all of the same pattern- two stories, with portico in front, supported by four large columns and an el in the rear. The kitchens were all located in the back yard about 20 steps from the dwelling house.

Along about 1856 there were rumors in Coffeeville that a railroad was being built, that would run north and south through the creek valley, 1/4 mile east of the courthouse. D.L. Herron and James Aston surveyed the land in the valley into town lots. The Mississippi Central Railroad completed tracks into Coffeeville, and the people of Coffeeville saw their first railroad train in the year 1858. The Herron and Aston Survey was incorporated into the town of Coffeeville; the lots were selling rapidly, the town was growing, the railroad was prospering, the people were happy.

       

And then came a season of sorrow, blighted hopes, blighted lives, Civil War chaos.

 

                                                                                           

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A Brief History of the County

Yalobusha is an Indian word meaning "tadpole place," and before the county which bears that name was formed, it was the home of both Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes.

In 1816, General Andrew Jackson ordered the surveying of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Line. The line as surveyed then cut almost a perfect diagonal across the area making up the present day Yalobusha County.

       

The Choctaws ceded their Mississippi lands to the United States in 1830 through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Two years later, the Chickasaws signed the Treaty of Pontotoc ceding their lands to the United States.

In 1833, the Mississippi Legislature authorized the formation of 17 counties, including Yalobusha, on what had been Indian land.

       

Yalobusha County was officially organized and its first officials elected February 21, 1834. The first Board of Police (Supervisors) held its first meeting at Hendersonville, then the largest settlement in the county.

Hendersonville was a settlement established in 1798 by John Henderson, a Presbyterian missionary who was one of the first white men to settle in the county. Other early settlements were Elliot, Chocchuma, Tuscohoma, Pittsburg, Talahoma, Plummerville, Preston, Pharsalia, Sardinia, and Washington.

At its first meeting the Board of Police solicited donations of land for a county seat, and at its second meeting, the Board selected a site and named it Coffeeville. The new town was named in honor of General John Coffee, who represented the United States in the treaties with both the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. The next Board meeting was held in the new town, and in 1837 the first courthouse in Coffeeville was built.

Later that same year, one of the early settlers in the northeastern part of the county, G.B. Ragsdale, established a stagecoach stand near what is now Water Valley. In 1848 the town of Oakland was chartered.

Yalobusha County had a population of 12,248 in its first census, taken in 1840. In 1844, a post office was opened at Ragsdale's Stand. Three years later, the post office and stagecoach stand were moved to land owned by William Carr, and the name of the post office was changed to Water Valley.  

One prominent early Yalobusha County landowner was Representative James K. Polk, later President Polk, who purchased a plantation south of Coffeeville in 1835. After Polk's death, his wife managed the plantation successfully for several years.

In 1850, the county's population was 17,258. In 1852, Calhoun County was formed, and a tier of townships on the eastern border of Yalobusha County were taken to form part of the new county.

 

The Illinois Central Railroad built a branch line from Jackson, Tennessee to Grenada, passing through Water Valley and Coffeeville, in the late 1850's. ICRR officials wanted to set up shops in Coffeeville, but could not obtain the property they wanted. Residents of the fledgling town of Water Valley offered to donate the needed land to the railroad; therefore, the shops were located there, and Water Valley quickly became the largest town in the county. It was officially chartered in 1858, and at that time had a population of 300.

 

In 1860, the county's population was 16,952. Water Valley had become a thriving community with two hotels and several churches. The first church built in Water Valley was the Presbyterian Church built in 1843. Two years later, the First Methodist Church was organized, and in 1860 the First Baptist Church of Water Valley was organized.

With the completion of the railroad from New Orleans to the Ohio River, and because the ICRR's shops were located there, Water Valley was an important railroad community at the outset of the Civil War. In 1862, Union troops captured Water Valley, and it remained in their control until the war ended.

 

After the war, the railroad shops were built at Water Valley, bringing a large influx of new residents to the town. In 1867, Yalobusha County's first manufacturing industry, Yacona Mills was the largest manufacturer of twine anywhere in the world.

The Reconstruction Legislature in Mississippi created a number of new counties. Grenada County was formed in 1870 and included nearly two tiers of townships which had formerly been the southern part of Yalobusha County.

 

In March, 1873, Yalobusha County was divided into two judicial districts, and Water Valley was named the county seat of the second judicial district. Because the town overlapped the Yalobusha-Lafayette County line, the legislature gave Yalobusha a two-mile strip of land from the southern portion of Lafayette County.

 

The town of Tillatoba was chartered in 1873. In 1880, Yalobusha County's population was 15,649.

In 1889, Coffeeville's second courthouse burned. It had been built in 1840 at a cost of $25,000. A new courthouse, also costing $25,000, was built in 1890. That year, the county population was 16,629.

Famed railroad engineer J.L. "Casey" Jones moved from Jackson, Tennessee to Water Valley in 1893. In 1896, four years before his death in a train wreck which brought him fame, Jones moved back to Jackson.

 

A new courthouse was built in Water Valley in 1896, and 16 years later, it burned. The second judicial district offices were moved to the Water Valley City Hall, but within a month, it too burned. The courthouse was restored after the fire, and a third floor was added but never completed.

 

Yalobusha County's population peaked in 1910, with that year's census showing a population of 21,519. By 1920, the population had fallen to 18,738, and it continued to decline steadily for the next 50 years.

Between 1926-1928, Yalobusha County suffered two tremendous economic setbacks. In April, 1926, Yacona Twine Mill, which had employed approximately 450 people, burned. The next year, the ICRR began moving its railroad shops from Water Valley to Paducah, Kentucky. By the end of 1928, these shops, which had at one time employed over 800 people in Water Valley, were gone.

 

In 1931, the first Watermelon Carnival was held in Water Valley. The carnival was a great success, drawing 20,000 visitors to Water Valley. For the next nine years, the Watermelon Carnival was an annual event bringing national recognition to Water Valley, which was proclaimed the "Watermelon Capitol of the World" in 1932. However, the Watermelon Carnival was suspended at the beginning of World War II, and another one was not held until 1980. Since this time it has been an annual event the first Saturday in August.

 

There was little industry in Yalobusha County after the war, and in 1950, the county's population was down to 15,191. In the early 1950's the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on two flood control reservoirs in and around Yalobusha County, much to the distress of county farmers who lost thousands of acres of fertile bottom land. However, Enid Lake and Grenada Lake, both completed in 1955, have become popular recreation spots for local people and for visitors from throughout the nation.

Yalobusha County's population was 12,502 in 1960, and in 1970, it bottomed out at 11,915.The 1980 census shows that the county gained over 1,200 new residents since 1970, giving it a population of 13,183.

 

Since the 1960s, Yalobusha County has been successful in attracting new industries to boost its economic growth. Today, its two largest industrial employers have a combined total of well over 2,000 employees, and several other local industries provide hundreds of additional jobs for county residents.

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A Short History of Coffeeville During The Civil War

 

Read at a meeting of the U.D.C.

by Mrs. W. L. Kennedy in 1928.

 

Soon after Mississippi seceded from the Union, and it was realized that the Civil War was inevitable, there was organized at Coffeeville a company of soldiers composed almost entirely of men in and near the town.

 

Frank L. Aldridge, a leading attorney of the town (killed at the battle of Shiloh), was elected Captain. Edward C. Walthall, afterwards Major General and later U.S. Senator from Mississippi, was elected First Lieutenant of the company. Capt. J. L. Collins is the only member of the company now living in Coffeeville. The names of all of the members of the company can be found in the Historical Archives in Jackson.

 

Perhaps in no period of its history was the old town of Coffeeville stirred to greater depths than in the month that intervened between the time of the organization of the company and the day on which the boys left for the war.  The rattle of sabers -- strutting in brand new uniforms -- daily drill, dress parades, proud fathers, brave mothers with secret foreboding, high period of patriotism and adventure, hero worshippers, whispering lovers, love tokens, plighted troths and a constant round of parties and entertainment crowded into one hectic month that ended in a great ball and banquet in the old courthouse located in the center of the public square where the negro Baptist Church now stands.

 

The battle flag of the company was made by ladies of the town, and presented by Miss Bettie Martin, a very talented and beautiful young lady of Coffeeville.

 

The company immediately mustered into the 15th Mississippi regiment, commanded by Col. Farrell, a native of Ireland, and a man of thorough military training. He was killed at the head of his regiment a short time afterwards at the Battle of Fishing Creek in Kentucky.  The company was engaged in nearly all the important battles fought south of Virginia.

 

The first call to arms took all the young unmarried men, and as the war progressed, all the men able to bear arms went; until there were left only very old men, the women and children and the negro slaves.

 

There were no daily papers to be had in those days. The railroad had just reached the town and was then being operated solely in the interest of the army. The only means of getting news was from some passing regiment, or from some wounded soldier on furlough. The only means of transportation was by horseback or the family carriage. Ladies rode side saddles and wore long riding skirts.

 

The fashion in women’s dress during the war was very tight-laced corsets, tight fitting bodice, wide sleeves, very large hustle (bustle?), padded hips, very wide skirt that reached the floor, long trail and the skirt inflated with the wide hoop skirt. Hair dress in large chignon covered with net and long pendant ear rings. Stern modesty forbade the exhibition of any part of the bodies lower limbs except the end of the toes.

 

The fashion in men’s dress was stove pipe hats, blue or black broadcloth cutaway frock coat with brilliantly flowered vest, trousers to match coat and shop made boots that fitted so tightly a boot jack was necessary to get them off.  Young men wore the military mustache shaped like the handle bars of a bicycle, and carried light walking canes. Older men wore mustache and side burns and full beards. All wore plain gold rings or seal rings on their left little finger.

 

Gentlemen on being introduced to a lady were expected to stiffen the body, bow from the hips down with the body and limbs forming a right angle triangle. The lady acknowledged the introduction by dropping a curtsey -- the depth of the curtsey being commensurate with the importance of the gentleman introduced.

 

The favorite songs during the war were “Lila Dale”, “Lorna”, “Captain Jenks of the Horse Marines”, “The Girl I Left Behind Me’, and “Dixie”. The favorite instrumental music was “Monkey Musk”, “8th of January”, “Haste To The Wedding,” “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, “Leather Britches,” and with “Silver Waves” for a classic.

 

The dance was confined almost to the Square Dance, Quadrilles and Loucers. Occasionally two bodies danced the waltz together, but purely as a matter of exhibition and not enjoyment.

 

No young lady’s literary education was complete unless she was converse with “Jane Eyre”, “Ivanhoe”, Theo Moore’s “La La Rook” “The Scottish Chiefs” and “The Lady of the Lake”.

 

Coffeeville had only two churches at the time of the war, the Presbyterian and Methodist.  The Presbyterian church was a brick structure located on Tillatoba Street on the lot now occupied by the negro Zion Methodist church. The Methodist church was a large frame building located about where the D. E. Kelley (now Wade Johnson) residence now stands and facing west on Tennessee Street. There was one resident pastor -- Rev. R. S. Thomas of the Presbyterian church. The Methodist church was served by a Circuit Rider.

 

There were two doors of entrance to the churches -- ladies entrance and gentlemen’s entrance. Gentlemen escorted their ladies to the left hand door, parted with them, then went in the right hand door and sat on the men’s side of the church. All the churches were supplied with horse blocks and hitching racks. (A horse block was usually several large field rocks or a granite block, or some such platform from which the lady riders could dismount in a graceful manner.)

 

There were only three streets in Coffeeville leading north and south. One running the east side of the square, the north end of which was called Oklahoma Street, the south end called Church Street. One running through the west side of the square, the north end of which was called Tennessee Street and the south end Main Street. The third was a short street leading from the old Presbyterian church to the Ballard home, where the Jim Womacks now live. (The current site of Coffeeville industries.)

 

Coffeeville Academy was a frame house consisting of two large rooms, one for boys and one for girls, and was located on Tillatoba Street, about one hundred yards east of the cemetery.  The school was conducted by Miss Steen, a spinster from Virginia, who laid great stress on deportment.

 

The principal place of gathering and resort of the town for news and entertainment was Baker’s Tavern, a hostelry famous all over North Mississippi. It was a relay station for stage coaches, and in its day housed and entertained some of the most prominent men of the country, notably ex Coy. Henry S. Foote. S.S. Prentiss, Jefferson Davis, L.Q.C. Lamar, President James K. Polk and Mrs. Polk.

 

In the first months of the war Coffeeville suffered from nothing save loneliness and lack of social enjoyment.  And then as time wore on, news began to filter in of the sick, the wounded and the dead.  Soon there was scarcely a household but had its woes.

 

Food began to grow scarce at home as well as in the army. Women accustomed to silks and fine linens thought themselves fortunate in the possession of home spun woolens and cottons.

 

And then came the dreadful report that Grant and his army had reached Holly Springs and Oxford on his invasion of the south, and then for two days the passage through town of Gen. Price’s ragged and hungry army retreating south before him. Every house on Tennessee Street was decked with Confederate flags as the army marched through. Women lined the streets and cheered them as they passed, divided their scanty stores of food with them, and expecting and fearing the invading host at any moment hid the balance and all of their valuables.  Soon after, the 7th Illinois Regiment with one other regiment harassing Price’s rear, fought the Battle of Coffeeville against the rear guard of the retreating Confederates, on the hill just north of town on the old Water Valley road.

 

The next day the Methodist church was filled with the wounded of both armies, the church having been converted into a hospital. The ladies acted as nurses -- but nurses with scarcely medical aid or supplies. About all they could do was shroud the dead and comfort the dying. One of the wounded, a federal soldier, was a boy of sixteen years old who when he knew he was not to get well, asked one of the ladies to write a letter for him to his mother. She wrote the letter as he dictated, held his hand as he signed it, and later gave the letter, his pocket knife and a ring to a Yankee officer passing through who promised to forward them to his mother. She never knew whether the mother got them or not. The young soldier was buried in the cemetery, but the location of his grave and his name are forgotten.

 

During Grant’s stay in Holly Springs and Oxford the town was constantly raided and pilfered by Yankee troops. One party after tearing up beds and ramsacking a certain body’s house, and finding nothing of great value, began carrying off the cooking vessels. They overlooked a small frying pan. While the lady stood in the kitchen congratulating herself that she had at least that much left, a long lank red haired Yankee walked in, snatched the frying pan and made off with it. The lady became desperate, ran after him, caught his coat tail just as he was going over the rail fence enclosing the back yard. Planting her feet against the bottom rail she held him fast, while his comrades cheered her and jeered him. He, in disgust, finally tossed the pan back over the fence and said, “Damn you, take it and go to hell with it.”

 

Being entirely unprotected, the town swarmed with hostile soldiers. The ladies of the town met that afternoon, appointed a committee to wait on the Yankee captain, and demanded his protection. He received them with every courtesy, apologized for the rude conduct of his soldiers and that night stationed guards at every home, and personally inspected the guards that night and the next morning.

 

During Grant’s stay in Holly Springs and Oxford there was a frequent and mysterious visitor at Coffeeville, believed by everyone to be a Confederate spy. It was his custom to stop at the front gate of Dr. Corrogee (who was an invalid) and talk to him. Invariably there came on a band of Yankee troops in pursuit of him. He would sit on his superb black horse until they got just short of range, when he would put spurs to his horse and in a moment was lost to the sight of them. One evening just after he had again outraced his pursuers, gunfire was heard at the outskirts of town on the Grenada road, and the next morning beside the road under a cedar tree on the old Langham place, between Cypress Creek and town, was a newly made grave. The Confederate was never seen or heard of again and it was supposed that he had been ambushed, killed and buried there by Yankee soldiers.

 

During the war Rev. Thomas lived where Capt. Collins now lives; Col. Golliday lived at the Golliday home near the cemetery; Capt. Aldridge where S. D. Boyle now lives; Judge Doctor Thomas lived at the Vick Allen place; L. Newberger lived on the corner of the block just southwest of the public square. The Baker Tavern was on the Northwest corner of the square. The Tulley home was just back of the tavern. Col. D. L. Herron lived in the house on Tenn. St. that burned a short time ago, belonging to Mrs. Durant, John Corrogee lived on the same street in the house now occupied by G. W. Armstrong (now known as the Russel Bailey house). Job Riddick lived on the place now owned by Jim Womack. Col. D. M. Rayburn lived in what is now the poor house. Henry Riddick lived on the lot now owned by R. L. Broadstreet. Tilly Carr lived in a house in the block and adjoining the negro Zion Church. Mr. Miller lived in the Doc. Jones house. Lawyer Thomas lived in the lot now occupied by the A. A. Bryant home. Tom May lived on the W. L. Kennedy lot. Col. G. W. Bellomy lived on the block now occupied by the white school building. The County Jail was located on the Herman Langham lot. Thomas Wars lived on the lot now occupied by D. B. Sayle. Dr. Going lived on the Mrs. Morrison’s lot. John Kelley lived in the brick house south of and near the Bob Pittman home on Oklahoma Street. The Huberts lived on their farm just north of and adjoining town (belonging to the Harris negroes now). Dr. Shade Bell Lived on his farm just west of and adjoining town. Nearly all of the houses mentioned have burned. There are not over three of the names mentioned represented in Coffeeville at the present time.

 

Coffeeville suffered great losses at the Battle of Shiloh. Among the killed was Col. Blythe (of Blythe’s Battalion), a distinguished lawyer of Coffeeville who was Ex. U.S. Consul to Spain.

On the left is the location of the old Baker's Tavern. It was Confederate General Lovell's headquarters before and after the Battle of Coffeeville. This view is from the old courthouse lawn.

Ten dollar bank note from Charleston, South Carolina, dated January 6, 1859,

and stamped within the oval on the upper right by Coffeeville banker and lawyer N. C. Snider.