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Story Archives: The Dicksons long road from Jackson to Natchez
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|The Dicksons long road from Jackson to Natchez|
(Sixth in a series)
Jeff Dickson's father, Jeff, Sr., had been born into a family prominent in Jackson and in the cause of the Confederacy. As a toddler he had almost certainly met his namesake.
However, the world that Jeff, Sr. had been born into would soon die so that he and Jeff, Jr. would grow up under completely different circumstances
The end of the war and the ensuing domination of the South by the North could have only been detrimental to Christopher Rankin "Rank" Dickson, the father of Jeff, Sr. Before and during the war Rank had served as Jackson postmaster and as city alderman. However, after the war he was out of that job; postmaster appointments were very political, especially in larger towns and cities, so it's not likely that a former Confederate would have received the appointment during Reconstruction times.
He could only rely on the Dickson House, the family-owned hotel and boarding house, as a source of income. It apparently came under his ownership and control after his mother's death in 1864. Days after the war ended the Dickson House was advertised as refurbished and reopening on May 15 under the proprietorship of Freeze and Harrison, who were apparently renting the business. However income to Rank and his family would abruptly end.
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., January 9, 1867, a kitchen fire at the Dickson House swept out of control and soon the whole building was ablaze. The alarm went out; firemen and volunteers rushed to the scene to help. But it was too late. The fire was too advanced to stop. The best that could be done was to salvage some furniture before the hotel crumbled in flames. The newspaper noted that the hotel -- valued at $35,000, a considerable sum in those days -- wasn't insured. The insurance policy had expired a few weeks before and Rank had not renewed it. The failure to renew the insurance policy suggests that he was having financial difficulties and unable to renew it. With such financial problems, the destruction of the Dickson House could have only been a catastrophe for him and his small family.
The Dicksons soon left Jackson, moving out to the Haley family land in eastern Madison county that Olivia had probably inherited. The census taker listed Rank as a farmer, a tough occupation in such bad economic and political times, even for someone who had been born and raised on a farm, and Rank had not been born and raised on a farm. Times were so bad that Olivia's brother Dr. James E. Haley departed for Texas in 1869, never to return.
Then on August 25, 1870 Olivia died at the age of 42 after an illness that lasted for ten weeks. It is not known where she was buried, whether with the Haleys or in Jackson. Regardless, there was apparently no headstone erected for her, a reflection of the difficult times. Olivia's own family had also to struggle during the years of Reconstruction following the War. Her father Major Haley had died shortly before the War in 1857. A brother, John Haley, had died from a wound received at the Battle of Seven Pines in Virginia in 1862. Another brother, Dr. James E. Haley departed for Texas with his family in 1869. Decades later his grandson, J. Evetts Haley, a cattleman and historian of cattle ranching, would publish books on rancher Charlie Goodnight (cofounder of the Goodnight-Loving Trail) and the XIT Ranch. He is best known for his best-selling and controversial book, "A Texan Looks at Lyndon" (1964), an unflattering look at then president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
After Olivia's death Rank struggled on with the children, but he apparently didn't live for much longer, dying some time between 1870 and 1880. As with his wife, there was no headstone to mark his grave. The Dicksons' two older children also vanished from the record, leaving the youngest, Jefferson Davis Dickson, to fend for himself in a rapidly changing world where he had few family connections and fewer financial resources.
The postbellum South was an age of extensive railroad construction, as the few antebellum railroads were supplemented by a rapidly expanding network of new rails. With limited financial resources and few personal connections remaining, he became an engineer for the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad which was rechartered in 1882 as a subsidiary of the Illinois Central in 1882. The Y&MV first constructed a railroad running north from Jackson to Yazoo City in 1882-1885. When the line was extended northward from Yazoo City into the Mississippi Delta to Greenwood and points beyond during the late 1880s, Jeff served as engineer on the work train. He probably resided at Yazoo City at this time.
In about 1889 he met and married the young Alda Floyd (b March 1870 probably in Yalobusha County MS), who was living with her parents at Love Station in Desoto County, Miss., just south of Memphis. One suspects that they met because Jeff was driving a train that stopped in Love Station. Their first child—the first of four—Alba Christopher Rankin Dickson was born in April 1890 in Vicksburg, another railroad center where Jeff was probably based. He would soon be moved to Natchez to serve the "Little J" line that connected the river city with Jackson.
It was while Jeff was stationed in Natchez that Alda gave birth to Jeff, Jr., the subject of this series. Tragedy would soon befall the young family.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|