Founded in 1836, Tishomingo County is located in the northeastern corner of Mississippi, sharing borders with Tennessee and Alabama. Tishomingo sits at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and is the site where the Natchez Trace crosses into the state. The highest point in Mississippi, Woodall Mountain, is located in Tishomingo’s county seat, Iuka. Geographically, Tishomingo shares more in common with southern parts of Tennessee than with most of the rest of Mississippi. The county is named for a leader of the Chickasaw, the indigenous population that inhabited the area prior to 1832.
In 1840, when the first census was recorded, 6,681 people lived in Tishomingo County. It had the highest percentage of free people of any county in Mississippi—87 percent. During this period, Tishomingo and Itawamba were the only two counties in which slaves comprised less than 20 percent of the population.
In 1860 Tishomingo trailed only Hinds and Marshall Counties in total population, and slaves comprised just 20.6 percent of residents. With an economy based on smaller farms, Tishomingo County produced far more corn, wheat, and tobacco and grew far more livestock than most counties in Mississippi, but it ranked low in the production of cotton. Perhaps the most striking feature of Tishomingo’s economy lay in its eighty-seven manufacturing establishments, by far the largest number in Mississippi. Tishomingo’s firms employed 477 men and 15 women, also the most in the state. The great majority of those employees worked in the lumber industry. Blacksmithing ranked second, and women found manufacturing employment in the production of cotton cloth. Tishomingo also had a substantial immigrant population of 277, the tenth-highest in Mississippi.
As in much of antebellum Mississippi, Baptists and Methodists dominated the religious landscape of Tishomingo County, which in 1860 was home to fifteen Methodist, eleven Baptist, and three Cumberland Presbyterian churches.
Civil War forces battled twice near Iuka in 1862. Attractive and important to the military because of railroad crossings in Corinth in Alcorn County, Tishomingo witnessed its first combat after the Battle of Shiloh, across the Tennessee border. In the spring of 1862 Federal forces took over the area, though Confederate forces led by Earl Van Dorn experienced some success moving back into the county. Major battles in early October of that year proved disastrous for the Confederacy. Ulysses Grant led more than twenty-three thousand US troops into Tishomingo County and defeated twenty-two thousand Confederate forces, with a total of seven thousand casualties.
Tishomingo County was divided during the Civil War, with both supporters and opponents of the Confederacy. Residents expressed significant Unionist sentiment before the war, and Judge Robert Hill served the county during the Civil War without joining the Confederacy. He called for biracial voting after the war and was appointed a federal judge by Pres. Andrew Johnson. However, Tishomingo also had one of the more active postbellum Ku Klux Klan chapters.
In 1880 Tishomingo’s population of 8,774 was 87 percent white. With the state’s timber industry migrating to southern Mississippi, Tishomingo witnessed a diminishing industrial workforce, though it continued to have large numbers of farm owners. More than three-quarters of Tishomingo’s 1,078 farmers owned their land, and production concentrated mainly on tobacco.
In 1900 Tishomingo County had a population of 10,124 and was 90 percent white. While much of Mississippi shifted to tenancy and sharecropping, about two-thirds of Tishomingo farmers were landowners. As in other areas in which sharecropping and tenancy did not dominate, the average farm size in Tishomingo was far larger than the state average. The area remained largely agricultural, with only 43 industrial workers, all but one of them male. According to the 1916 census of religion, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was the county’s largest church group, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, and—relatively rare for Mississippi—the Churches of Christ.
Tishomingo’s population rose steadily in the early twentieth century, reaching 16,000 by 1930. Whites continued to comprise a large majority of residents, at 94 percent. Shifts in industrial labor paralleled changes in Tishomingo’s agricultural economy. Tishomingo’s industrial force increased rapidly, with fifty-eight establishments, including many small sawmills, employing 457 workers. While industrial employment increased, landownership for farmers declined. In a county that had long been a yeoman area rooted in farm ownership, only 46 percent of farms were run by their owners in 1930. All but 4 percent of the county’s 1,284 tenant farmers were white.
In 1933 the US Congress established the Tennessee Valley Authority to develop low-cost electricity programs. Tishomingo County was one of the first counties in the state to receive power generated by what became the largest public power provider in the United States. It was also the beneficiary of another New Deal initiative, the Civilian Conservation Corps, which built Tishomingo Park in the mid-1930s.
Between 1930 and 1960 Tishomingo’s population declined by about 2,000 to 13,889 people—13,210 whites, 677 African Americans, and 2 Native Americans. About 35 percent of the county’s workers had employment in industry, and about 20 percent worked in agriculture. By 1980 the population had exceeded 18,000.
The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway opened in 1985 after years of political debate and tensions over the environmental consequences of its construction. The new passage between the two major rivers dramatically increased commercial trafficking in the region and provided employment for nearby residents. Other major industrial development plans for Tishomingo proved less successful. Funding for the Yellow Creek Nuclear Power Plant was canceled in the 1980s, and an effort to build rocket motors for NASA failed in the 1990s.
As in most northeastern Mississippi counties, Tishomingo County was predominantly white in 2010 and had shown an overall increase in size since 1960, growing by about 40 percent to 19,593. The population was 94.5 percent white, 2.6 percent African American, and 2.8 percent Hispanic/Latino.
- Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Mississippi Archaeology Trails website, http://trails.mdah.ms.gov
- Mississippi State Planning Commission, Progress Report on State Planning in Mississippi (1938)
- Mississippi Statistical Abstract, Mississippi State University (1952–2010)
- Charles Sydnor and Claude Bennett, Mississippi History (1939)
- Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway website, www.tenntom.org
- Tennessee Valley Authority website, www.tva.com; University of Virginia Library, Historical Census Browser website, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu
- E. Nolan Waller and Dani A. Smith, Growth Profiles of Mississippi’s Counties, 1960–1980 (1985)