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Ellen Pack
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Page 5

Epidemics and Disasters

     In 1853 Yazoo City was terribly afflicted with the scourge of yellow fever. Many sought refuge in the country. Nearly all who remained were stricken down and many died. The sick suffered for attention, as nurses could not be procured and deaths were so frequent and numerous that it was difficult to get the corpses buried. The few who attended to interment of the dead often became so exhausted that coffins lay by the graves at night and often would remain in the houses where deaths occurred for two or three days. 

     Several fires have come very near consuming Yazoo City. One occurred about 1850, in which nearly all the business houses were burned. The Federals in 1863 burned the courthouse and many of the buildings and storehouses on Main street. The greatest conflagration, known perhaps in the State, and for size of the place, one of the greatest in the United States, occurred on the 27th of May, 1904. Each fire seemed to improve the town, however, as finer buildings arose from the ashes each time.

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Hiwaymen and Lawlessness

In the early history of Yazoo county there was, as in other newly settled counties, a good deal of lawlessness, compared with the present time. Early in the history of Yazoo county, the country along the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers was terrorized by a noted robber named Alonzo Phelps, who was thought to be a native of Maine. He was bold, daring and desperate. He had killed, as was known, more than eight men, and had committed many robberies and burglaries, but had managed to escape arrest. He murdered a man near Vicksburg, whom he robbed of a large amount of money. A reward of $3,000.00 was offered for his capture and the country was alive with officers and mounted armed men seeking for him. Phelps sought refuge in the lower part of Yazoo county in which were numerous ravines and long deep hollows, densely covered with cane and forest trees. Becoming very hungry, he went on day to the cabin of an old lady below Satartia and ordered her in a rude and peremptory manner, to get him something to eat, telling her to get it d—d quick, else he would blow her brains out. The old lady quickly baked him a hoecake of meal and got him some milk. Phelps feeling that there was no danger, set his gun in a corner of the cabin and sat down to his frugal meal, which was on a small table. Stovall, a citizen of Yazoo county, a man of small stature and rather advanced in life was among the number who, allured by the large reward and anxious to capture Phelps, had got on his trace. Following him to the old lady’s house he secreted himself outside and waited and watched for a safe opportunity to attack the desperado. He finally rushed in, seized Phelps’ gun and with the but end of it gave him a violent blow on the head which felled him to the floor. Stovall instantly sprang on Phelps and with the aid of a nephew of the old lady bound his arms behind his back with a strong rope, and carried him captive to Vicksburg. Phelps, after being bound, was searched and on his person was found over $3,000.00, a watch and other valuables, which were turned over to the proper officials. Phelps was tried for murder and convicted at Vicksburg, and immediately sentenced to be hanged. As soon as sentence was pronounced the handcuffs were placed on his wrists. He sprang from the sheriff and, beating his way with manacled hands through the crowd of spectators, made his escape from the courthouse, hotly pursued by officers and citizens. Phelps was fleet of foot as well as stalwart of body and when approaching the Mississippi river was fired on by Stephen Howard, a deputy sheriff. The bullet took effect in Phelps’ shoulder, causing death soon afterward. ralling to the ground, helpless, Phelps still defied the officers and crowd, crying, “Now, hang me, d—n you.” 

     Howell who shot Phelps was once a resident of Manchester in Yazoo county. He was connected with the first saw mill in the county, a short distance below Manchester. S. S. Prentiss was one of the attorneys who prosecuted Phelps. It was believed at the time that Phelps was a member of the robber gang of John A. Murrell, who had been previously arrested in Tennessee, convicted and sentenced for life in the penitentiary of that State. It was also thought that Phelps had some other clansmen in Yazoo county. 

     In the period ranging from about 1820 to 1840 a large number of keel and flat boats, laden with flour, apples, meat and other products, were floated from the upper Mississippi and the Yazoo to New Orleans. The owners of these boats would sell their cargoes at New Orleans and return with their money by land to their homes over a well known route called the Natchez Trace. The robbers would lie in wait for the returning boatmen and rob and sometimes kill them as they traveled along the road. The conviction and killing of Phelps put an end to this organization of robbers in that section and contributed much to the establishment of law and order. By reason of the country’s being sparsely populated and covered with canebrakes and dense forests robbers and other criminals at that time found a secure refuge from the officers of the law. The indignation expressed by the mass of the people and the vindication of the law by the conviction and killing of Phelps struck terror in the minds of lawless robbers and in a great measure suppressed that crime in Yazoo and Warren counties and on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers.

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