A Short History of Quitman County and Marks, MS
The first known settler to the site of Marks, MS was a woodsman and trapper named Moore who built a small cabin on the banks of the Coldwater River. In 1852, Thomas B. Hill bought a large tract of land from the State including Moore’s site and cleared a large plantation of over 5,000 acres. He built a fine brick home overlooking the Coldwater. At this time steamboats traveled up the Yazoo, the Tallahatchie, the Coldwater and the Moore Bayou. The site became known as “Hill’s Landing.”
In the 1860’s a Jewish immigrant from Germany, Leopold Marks, migrated to Mississippi and sold dry goods as a foot peddler in the thinly settled area between Marks and Friars Point on the Mississippi River. His financial success was remarkable allowing him to purchase the Thomas B. Hill properties.
Leopold Marks was elected as a state legislator from Tunica County. In 1877 he introduced the bill that carved out Quitman County from portions of Tunica, Coahoma, Panola, and Tallahatchie Counties. The name Quitman was given in honor of General John A. Quitman of Mexican War fame. The area of Hill’s Landing was selected to be the county seat and was renamed “Belen” in commemoration of the battle at Belen Gates, Mexico. In that battle General Quitman bravely climbed the fortifications and replaced the United States flag over Belen Gates after it had been shot down by the enemy.
The Belen site was near the geographical center of the county, but in 1880, because of a land dispute, the supervisors moved the county nine miles west to become the present day Belen. The old site was then called “Old Belen.” Leopold Marks established a small mercantile business in “Old Belen,” established a post office, and changed the site’s name to Marks.
The settlement grew with the help of Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad which built a line to connect Lake Cormorant, in Desoto County, with Tutwiler, in Tallahatchie County. The “Yellow Dog,” as it was called, carried slow freights until 1905 when it began operating passenger trains.
In 1906, Leopold Marks laid out a town site and sold lots. The town was incorporated in 1907 with a population of 350. In 1910, an election of the voters of the county caused the county seat to be moved back to Marks from Belen. Fire had destroyed to court house in Belen in 1908. Leopold donated 10 acres for the construction of a new court house in Marks which was completed in 1911.
Other towns grew in the county as lands were cleared and the county became productive. Sledge, Darling, Lambert, Belen and Crowder are among the larger of these inland towns. In 1941, PMB Self founded the Riverside Oil Mill in Marks. In the 1960’s it became one of the first crushers of soybeans in the South. Crushing 60,000 bushels a day made it one of the largest crushers in the world.
In 1968, Marks was the starting point of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Poor People Campaign” which was the second phase of the civil rights movement. One of nine “caravans” traveling to Washington, DC, the Marks caravan was named “The Mule Train.”Roland L. Freeman chronicles this historic event in his The Mule Train: A Journey of Hope Remembered, (Rutledge Hill Press).
Ralph Bledsoe is a souther artist who portrayed the Mule Train in an oil painting.
Marks has been in the middle of great floods – 1927, 1937, 1950, 1973, 1979, 1991 – but has never been completely under them. After 1991 the city, with help from the federal government built a ring levee and pumps to prevent future flood damage.
The city of Marks has always been a city of racial diversity – Jewish Americans, African Americans, Chinese Americans, German Americans, English Americans and Hispanic Americans – all sharing in the rich Delta traditions of the South. Famous citizens include the musician, Charlie Pride, Auburn University president, Clyde Muse, and CEO and organizer of Federal Express, Fred Smith.
(This information is adapted from a paper called “The Early History of Quitman County,” by the late W.A. Cox, the first mayor of Marks, MS., 1907-1909, and an oral history presented in 2007, author unknown.)