Iuka Intrigue



November 2013

Eight hundred, seventy five days before we summited Woodall Mountain in Mississippi, Bob Brown died.  This is significant because when he was living, Mr Brown owned Woodall Mountain.  Kudos go to him for his generosity in many things, including allowing unrestricted access to the summit.

Iuka history records that Mr Brown lived in a house that had served as headquarters for Nathan B Forrest during the Civil War.  I’m thinking, “Shhh…  Keep that quiet.”  Here’s why.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the Civil War’s brilliant cavalry officers.  He is reported to have had 29 horses shot out from under him.  That could mean so many things, but I can’t imagine any of them good, but it was considered a badge of honor.  During the Civil War, Forrest led a savage attack in Tennessee which became known as the Fort Pillow Massacre.  In brief, many Union troops, mostly black men, surrendered, but Forrest slaughtered them anyway.  This battle has been called one of the bleakest atrocities of the Civil War.  After his military career, Forrest became a big shot in the Ku Klux Klan.  If I lived in this guy’s house, I’d sleep with all my eyes open.

And speaking of the American Civil War, there was a particularly nasty fight right here on the summit of Woodall Mountain.  Called the Battle of Iuka, the Union troops, who had perched on top here, just beat the living shit out of the town of Iuka with barrage after barrage of artillery.  Big win for them.  But so brutal was this attack that this place is unofficially named “America’s bloodiest high point.”

Today, it’s just muddy.

Originally this natural elevation was called Yow Hill, after George Yow who possibly fought for the Confederate States of America.  But this name did not hold.  According to Elmo Howell’s 1998 book Mississippi Back Roads:  Notes on Literature and History, Zephaniah Woodall, who was or would become sheriff of Tishomingo County, bought the mountain and surrounding land in 1884.  But all other accounts report that the mountain was named Woodall Mountain six years before this.  Whichever is true, I think they should have named the place with his first name, not his last.  Zephaniah Mountain.  Now that’s a mountain worthy of climbing!

signing the log at the summit of Zephaniah Mountain

During Zephaniah Woodall’s sheriffdom, the first Tishomingo County courthouse at Iuka burned to the ground.  Lost in the fire were all the county records, including evidence in a murder case.

Murder?  At a high point?  And at this time, clearly not related to the Civil War.  Well, don’t you know I just have to call to see what I can find out.

Sue at the Iuka Court House tells me, “Well, the Court House burned some years back but no one knows if it was intentional.  I don’t know but talk to them at the library, they might could tell you.  Do you want the number?”

“They might could tell you.”  This is one way we know we are in the South.

“Sure,” I say.  “What’s the number?”

“It’s…  Well, my mind just left me.  It’s…  N’wait, okay, I got it.  It’s 6-3-0-0.”

Iuka is little.  Most Iukans know that every telephone number in town, when expressed in full, starts with 423, and some of them know that the area code is 662.  But when you live in Iuka, alls you need is to dial 6-3-0-0.

As I am not an Iukan, I dial the full number.  I am able to chat with a few of the folks there at the library, each talking sweetly Southern but not a blessed one knowing anything about the fire or a murder.  I persist but even after numerous calls and many messages, I am unable to find anyone who admits to knowing anything more than that someone died back then, probably in a fire.  I mean, heck, no one knows at the library, no one knows at the historical society?

Hmm…  I just wonder…  Maybe they know more than they are saying.  Murder at the high point…

Had you ever heard of Iuka, Mississippi before I mentioned the name?  Who has?  The population of Iuka is about 3000 and most of these people have never heard of Iuka.  Even with its spitting distance proximity to Woodall Mountain, or Zephaniah Mountain, as I like to think of it, Iuka is still little recognized.  Because of Iuka’s lack of notoriety, regrettably few of us have heard about the prize.

Little Iuka, Mississippi, won a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair for having the “purest and best mineral spring water.”  This was before water was bottled in spiffy, designer plastic bottles.  In those days, they drank from a container made of a substance called “glass.”

Iuka water gained an impressive reputation.  In the early days, Iuka was occupied by the Chickasaw Indians.  This came about because the chief, Ish-ta-ki-yu-ka-tubbe, was ill and none of the tribe’s healers seemed to have anything that helped.  Chief Iuka — they called him “Iuka” because “Ish-ta-ki-yu-ka-tubbe” is a bit unwieldy, not to mention outlandish — had heard tell that the water here had curative properties.  He had his people carry him to the spring.  He drank deeply and was relieved of his suffering.  Rather than go back home, he chose to stay here, making this his tribe’s new stomping grounds.  Hence the name Iuka.  Hey, it could have been Ish-ta-ki-yu-ka-tubbe.  Yeah, if I had my way, it would be Zephaniah Mountain in the Mississippi town of Ish-ta-ki-yu-ka-tubbe.

In the 1870s, word had gotten out and many people came to partake of the curative spring water here, hoping to cure their yellow fever.  Iuka eventually became a health resort and the town of Iuka (Ish-ta-ki-yu-ka-tubbe) thrived.

It is difficult to find anything more healthy to drink than good cold water, such as flows down to us from springs and snows of our mountains.  This is the beverage we should drink.  It should be our drink at all times.

— Brigham Young

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