Eight Mile Prairie History

Eight Mile Prairie lies in the northwest part of Carterville Township, extending across the line into Blairsville. Its name was given by the unimaginative Americans from Tennessee and the Carolinas, who counted and recounted the eight miles they journeyed to and from the cross roads store at Bainbridge, their one contact with the world. But the French hunters and traders who saw the prairie first, a shining sea of Spanish needle blossoms in the summer, exclaimed “fredonne!” (it hums) as they heard the swarms of bees hurrying about their honey harvest. The French name came back to the prairie as Fredonia when the post office was opened in 1837.

The French had a trading post on the north side of the prairie, a rough shelter to which men came once or twice a year. But the first men who chose this prairie for a home were Americans, Joshua Tyner, William Lindsey, and Jasper Crain who built their cabins in 1816. Philip Russell and his four sons and his son-in-law, William Campbell the first settler at Blairsville, came that fall and winter. The Russell homes in the center of the prairie became known as Russell Corners when stage roads supplanted the early trails.

Nathan Arnett, a Baptist preacher, settled at the old French trading post. Solomon Snider moved the first horse mill in the county from Phelps prairie to his home shortly after he moved up from Grassy. This first of the generations named Sod Snider left that second home for his son Ephraim when the boy married Elizabeth Herrin, a granddaughter of the old preacher on Herrin’s Prairie. The elder Sniders moved to the west edge of Six Mile prairie. Settlers came so fast that by 1834 the atlas credited Eight Mile with “a dense population.”

Population called for a post office, and William T. Ryburn handled the mail at his store, where Preacher Arnett lived a while. Then it seemed irksome to go as far as Bainbridge to vote, so “William Tippy and one hundred and eleven others petitioned the county commissioners’ court for an election precinct of their own. Their prayer was granted, and the court appointed James Stewart Russell, Abraham North, and William Nolin judges of an election in the Eight Mile prairie precinct, elections to be held at the house of William Ryburn at Fredonia.

The bounds of the precinct were set: “beginning where the Jackson County line crosses Muddy River. Then up said River to Range one East, Thence with said line (south) to the Crab Orchard Creek, Thence down said Creek to Section line dividing 2 and 3, Thence south with said (line) to the Union County line, Thence west to the corner of Franklin County, Thence North to the Beginning.” This new precinct covered the greater part of three congressional townships. But “Hezekiah Arnold and twenty one others” wanted to vote at Fredonia also, so they petitioned successfully for the northwest part of Herrin Township, including the present site of the city, to be included within the Eight Mile precinct.

This action of the Franklin county commissioners’ court was changed in October 1839 when the similar Williamson court met the first time. The northwest part of the county was named Fredonia precinct, the polls still the house of William T. Ryburn. Cyrus Campbell (1791-1845) was an Eight Mile prairie resident, and a member of both courts. The legislation dividing the counties specifically provided that Commissioner Campbell should not lose his office. He was a wagon maker and millwright, and justice of the peace on the prairie for many years, as well as a charter member of Hurricane church.

The judges of Eight Mile prairie precinct at the election in August 1839 to decide the question of county division were William Nolin, James Stewart Russell, and Jasper U. Crain. Their clerks were William T. and Reid Ryburn. Each judge and clerk was paid $1 for his services that day. Abraham North was appointed with the first two when the county court met June 5, but he did not serve. His place was taken by Jasper U. Crain, a nephew and namesake of the 1816 settler on the prairie.

The Franklin county commissioners’ court set up a road district called Eight Mile prairie at their session in June 1839, just before the county division. Nathan Poplin was appointed supervisor to succeed Joseph Kersham. The boundaries were to begin at “Vincent Ennis’ on the county Line between the counties of Franklin and Jackson counties, Running North with said Line to Big Muddy River, thence up said river to the mouth of Hurricane Creek, thence up said creek to Phelps Prairie road district line, thence south to the Crab Orchard to the county line, thence North with said Line to the Beginning.”

Road districts were changed to correspond with congressional townships when the Williamson county commissioners’ court took over. Michael Snider, second son of the first Sod Snider, was named road supervisor in Carterville township; Isham Tyner, in Blairsville township. The latter was also school trustee of his township by appointment of the Franklin County commissioners’ court that spring. With him served William Nolin and James Stewart Russell, the judges of election at Fredonia.

Eight Mile prairie had its first church house in 1836, built on the west side of the prairie war Samuel T. Russell’s place. Later a Christian Church called Oak Grove was built south of Russell corners, and Oliver H. P. Louden preached there. He married a daughter of Jefferson Russell, youngest son of the 1817 settler.

The children of the early day went to school in a log house near Russell corners. Eight Mile Prairie school, district 34, is now west of the corners, in section 5. John Collier, an early resident of the prairie, gave the land for the schoolyard.

John Collier had the last of the race tracks that were popular resorts in the west part of the county. They were usually half mile tracks, and always a straight away stretch. Young John A. Logan often rode his father’s blooded horses on those tracks. The track at Collier’s was closed abruptly in April 1897 when someone shot off his gun in jubilation at the right horse’s winning and the bullet lodged in the wall above the cradle of John Collier’s new grandchild. Next day the track was ploughed as a new corn field.

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(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939, on sale at the Williamson County Museum)