William Nazareth Mitchell settled on the Jordan’s Fort Trail in section 4 of Crab Orchard Township, in the spring of 1830. The Marion-Galatia Post Road was built to the north of Mitchel and the Worthen Trail ran to the west along the ridge. Mitchell was a farmer but unl.ke most of the pioneers, he was an educated man, especially in ancient history.
Mitchel opened a post office in his home July 29, 1842 and named it Attila, for the conquering king of the Huns that scourged Rome in 452 A.D. Mitchell was the postmaster. The Jordan’s Fort trail then was only a buffalo path.
Mitchel opened a store in the room of his house with the post office, early in the 1860’s. W.N. Mitchel enlisted in the Union Army soon after opening the store. He enlisted as Captain of Company B, 60th Illinois Infantry. His wife took care of the store and post office while he was gone. In 1865 Captain Mitchel returned home wounded and disabled. He received a small pension. The Captain sold his property in Attila to Enos Phillips. January 24, 1866 and Phillips became postmaster day. Phillips in turn sole to George L. Mitchell, who sold to Sion F. Mitchell. These men were both nephews of W.H. Mitchell.
The little store and post office burst into an important trade center in the 1850s. Tobacco growing was introduced into Williamson County in 1840. Attila became the tobacco buying center of the area. From Attila, long wagon trains carried huge hogsheads of tobacco, weighing 1500 pounds moved to Shawneetown to be shipped by boat to the coast. One hogshead was hauled on one ox wagon. Later the Marion and Eastern Railroad carried the tobacco from Galatia. After the Civil War, Illinois tobacco raising declined because of sharp competition from Kentucky. Attila declined with the tobacco industry.
Richard Dodds opened a store at Attila in 1872. He was newly married and anxious to succeed in business. Mrs. Dodds’ parents, the O’Neils, thought it was a bad investment. Dodd bought prime tobacco and managed the store quite successfully.
Barbra Burr Hubbs states that the O’Neils nicknamed the Dodd Store and Attila “Poor Do.” Mrs. Amma Welborn Erwin tells a different story. She is a native of Attila and knew the people involved. Her story is with considerable authority. It is: Some drovers were driving hogs to the rail point at Galatia. It was summer and the day was hot. The trail boss wanted his men to drive the hogs a mile north of Attila to a pond on the farm of Elijah Turner, so they could wallow and cool off. He stopped at Dodd’s Store to buy something for lunch. When he joined his men at Turners farm he said, “All I could get was cheese and crackers but I guess it will do.”
One of the drovers answered, “It’s a damn poor do.”
Elijah Turner’s two boys heard the remark and were exuberant. From that time on the boys called Dodds’ store and the village of Attila, “Poor Do.” The name has carried down through the years.
The tobacco growing declined and Attila declined with it. Then in 1890, twin brothers, W. R. and E. L. Welborn came to Attila. They bought the Humphrey store. Immediately Attila began to grow. Welborn Brothers bought the store at Dwina. Bud Williams died in the winter of 1899. His widow, Mildred Williams, sold the store to the Welborns and Curtin Welborn became the postmaster at Dwina, January 25, 1900. Welborn Brothers also opened a store at New Dennison. The Welborns also opened a grist mill and blacksmith shop at Attila. Edward L. Welborn became postmaster at Attila February 28, 1894. The mail came on horseback from Marion. The post office was closed April 30, 1902 and mail was ordered sent to Crab Orchard. Today it is R. F. D. Pittsburg.
The Dodd store was closed and a store was opened by George Pritchett. The mill was closed when meal could be bought in the store as cheaply as it could be ground at Attila. The blacksmith shop went with horse drawn farming.
The Welborn Brothers dissolved their partnership in 1909. The store at Dwina was closed. W.R. Welborn took the store at Attila and Edward took the store at New Dennison.
The Welborn Store at Attila is fifty feet wide and seventy feet long. The ceiling is twelve feel high and shelves reach from the floor to the ceiling. A ladder on a track enables a clerk to reach any article on a high shelf.
Sugar, salt, crackers and several other items came in barrels. In winter wild rabbits were brought from hunters, frozen in the back room and shipped in gunny sacks as undressed rabbits, to the St. Louis Markets. W. R Welborn’s daughter, Amma, remembers sacking rabbits in the cold back room in the morning before going to school.
As Mr. Welborn became older and less active he sold the store to Amma, in 1928. Mr. Welborn died in 1932, after her father’s death Amma married Fred Erwin. The Erwins sold the store to Chester Richie but they kept ownership of the building. This transaction was made in 1959 and Richie closed the store in 1969. In November of that year Amma opened the store. Amma is a widow. Her sister, Mrs. Ethel Isaacs, lives with her and helps run the store. Randle Jones, a nephew of Amma’s runs a plumbing shop in Attila. There are twelve houses in the town.
Mount Pleasant Free Will Baptist Church in the village is still active. Amma closed the store in 1974 but she still buys gasoline to sell to neighbors. The pump is at the store and one can get gasoline by arrangement. Attila is a unique community. The families have intermarried until now everyone else in the village. Two little boys were asked. “What kin is Amma to you boys?”
They replied, “She is my grandma’s aunt.” How many of us would know who our grandmother’s aunt was!
(Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois, by Glenn J. Sneed, published 1977)