Feb. 16--"I needed an extra back," DeSoto Museum director Brian Hicks said as he and his dad/volunteer David Hicks hefted a 50-pound, larger-than-life late Victorian-era plaster bust of Jefferson Davis into a prominent position next to the exhibit on area Civil War veteran, store owner and storyteller, Pvt. Samuel A. Hughey, "Old Hughey."
"We just got him out of the closet," said David Hicks.
This meant that after obtaining the bronze-looking bust of the Confederacy's only president from the Old Capitol Museum last spring, the image of the former U.S. senator from Mississippi, secretary of war and Mexican War hero finally had a new mission.
"Jeff was 'de-accessioned' by the museum in Jackson, making him available, and we let them know we wanted him," said Brian Hicks, chief of the county museum launched in 2003 in Hernando. "He'll fit in here because of his connections with DeSoto County during the Civil War."
Also a good fit is the other side of the antebellum and battle story: slavery in DeSoto County. Inclusivity is very much on exhibit with the museum, which has permanent exhibits on the African-American community and "DeSoto's Blues."
"We try to tell the entire history of the county," Hicks said. "So now in February, Black History Month, we'll be presenting programs on Hughey and slavery."
On Monday, Hicks' new part-time assistant, Pannay Guigley, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native and Penn State graduate who came aboard in January with education-program experience with the Smithsonian in Washington, brings artifacts and "faces" of slavery to second-graders at Hernando Hills Elementary. These include copies of sale deeds, an 1854 DeSoto Probate Court order for the sale of "Ten Likely Negroes," and newspaper ads seeking missing or runaway slaves. One 1860 notice from the Memphis Weekly Appeal, a forerunner of The Commercial Appeal, offers "$100, or $50 each," said Hicks, from the owner of "George and William."
"It's like today if you lost a dog," said Hicks. "Speaking about the history of slavery in our area is a difficult subject, but it's something we need to know and educate our children about." The library holds audio recordings from the 1930s of former slaves, and he notes the recollections of Emma Johnson, a household slave as a youth on the plantation of Joe Howard between Olive Branch and Holly Springs.
"After the Civil War, she farmed land for 22 years and was proud to recall that she was able to purchase the property with her farm earnings and taking in washing and ironing," said Hicks. "She tells her listeners, 'We're living in your day now. We left our day behind.' It's a wonderful story."
Stories were a big part of the life of Hughey (1845-1933), who fought for the Confederacy at the bloody Perryville, Chickamauga and Franklin battles with the 34th Mississippi Infantry. Settling in the Poplar Corner area near Horn Lake after the war, he ran a store where customers summoned him by hitting a swinging, mounted plow, and he regaled readers with his opinions and tales published in a local weekly.
"He was known to put on his old uniform, do the Rebel yell and tell schoolkids what it was like during the war," said Hicks.
At a museum program on Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. at the Horn Lake public library, Hughey's life will be shared by someone who knew him: Annie Ruth Brown, a founder of the DeSoto Museum whose husband was Horn Lake's first mayor.
"It's amazing to be only one generation away from people who fought in the Civil War, Hicks said.
Back to Davis: He lodged in the Nesbit area at the long-gone Four Way inn and restaurant, "called a 'stand' in those days, on the Old Plank Road, when he came to confer with Gens. James Chalmers and Nathan Bedford Forrest on the defense of Mississippi," said Hicks. "Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was based just north in Memphis after Shiloh, and he was looking for a way to get south to take Vicksburg."
Grant ended up opting for a river route.
The bust of Davis headed north, "in the back seat of our car, with the seat belt on," from Jackson, said David Hicks. "He got some looks from other drivers on that trip."
The DeSoto Museum at 111 E. Commerce Street is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It's free but donations are welcome. Memberships run from $5 to $25, said Brian Hicks.
For more information or to volunteer to help "man the museum or assist with programs," call 662-429-8852.
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