Tough Times in Lincoln County – Part I

In 1931, it was the heart of the Great Depression in Lincoln County, Mississippi.  Unemployment was at an all-time high of 16% in the USA and Congress had shown no inclination to pass legislation to help the nation recover. This economic downturn had no equal in the history of our nation.  In Lincoln County, Mississippi unemployment was double the national average, there were long soup lines and people were basically starving to death.  Families were leaving in droves looking for a better standard of living.  But, there was nowhere else in the country that could take new families.  Most were encouraged to keep moving on.  Most had given up hope that prosperous times would ever come again as was witnessed during the Roaring 20s when the economy was booming.  What made times even worse, than they already were, was having to deal with a family of thieves, bullies, and psychopaths.  This family was avoided in Lincoln County at all costs.  If you crossed one, you crossed the entire family.  Just threaten one, and soon you would see the entire family, both men and women, coming to pay you a visit.  You either gave something of value to the offended family member or you would find your house on fire, valuables stolen, your ass stomped in the ground…or worse.  There were rumors of people who crossed this family and they then disappeared virtually overnight.  This family was not above murder and mayhem.  This was the McDowell family.  It was a family of 40-45 adults, men and women.  There were numerous children who were well on their way to achieving notoriety.

As an example, Robert Compton was a honest, hard working man who worked at a textile mill in Lincoln County.  He was a shift supervisor for the afternoon crew at the mill. He was also married and had three children who depended on his paycheck each week.  Mr. Compton was an easy going, peaceful man.  But, he wouldn’t back down from anybody at any time.  Eventually though, he would run afoul of someone in the McDowell family of louts.  It just so happened that Robert Compton and Isiah McDowell met up at the general store in Brookhaven, which is the county seat of Lincoln County.  It also just so happened that both men needed a manual tiller for their gardens that particular day in 1931.  Isiah McDowell wanted the tiller to till a garden, true enough.  But, he hoped to then sell the tiller at twice the price he paid.  First, he would have to intimidate Mr. Hopkins, proprietor of the general store, into selling it at half-price.  Like so many, Mr. Hopkins was scared of anyone in the McDowell family.  Robert Compton, on the other hand, needed that tiller so his family could have fresh okra, beans, peas and what have you. There was only one manual tiller left.  Both men grabbed the tiller at basically the same time. 

“That be my damn tiller, Robert Compton.  Let it be and right now!” said Isiah.  “I had it first and I ain’t letting go.  Now, you can get Mr. Hopkins to order you one right quick.  It should be in on the noon train on Friday, just two days from now,” said Robert.  Both men were in no mood to back down.  “Robert Compton, if’n you know what’s good fur ya, you’ll let go of this here tiller.  Now, I don’t want no trouble.  I’m guessing you feel likewise.  Daddy took it easy on you the last time you messed with me.  He won’t be so forgiving this time.  You know what I mean?” asked Isiah as he got right up in Robert’s face.  Robert Compton lashed out at Isiah with a overhand right to his nose.  Blood splattered all over the tiller and other merchandise as Isiah McDowell dropped like a sack of potatoes on the floor.  “You sonofabitch, Robert Compton!  You gonna pay for this, sonny boy.  You gonna pay big time this time!” screamed Isiah.  Robert was not fazed in the least by the threats and wails of pain from Isiah. Robert Compton grabbed the tiller, paid for it at the cash register and walked out of the store.  Robert Compton exited that store about 11 AM that day.  He left for work in his 1930 Buick that day at 2:30 PM.  He never made it to work.  His car was found abandoned about a mile from the mill.  Mr. Robert Compton has never been seen or heard from since that day he punched Isiah McDowell in the nose at the general store. 

After Mrs Compton came back from the sheriff’s office to file a missing person report, she noticed the manual tiller he bought at the general store was missing from the tool shed next to the house. It, also, was never seen again.

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