The Settlement on Obion Lake

Wednesday, January 8, 2003

This week we will begin to discuss the settlement that occurred on Obion Lake. This settlement was scattered along the banks of the lake in both Dyer and Obion Counties. Though the Lake was actually several miles long, we will concentrate on the settlers that lived on the lower five miles, in what is now Dyer County. Some of the early families consisted of the Dougans, Kimbros, Headdens, Terrells and later the Crocketts. Davy Crockett and his brother Aaron settled a few miles from the Lake, but later several of their children and those of their brother John settled on or near the same body of water. Both the Dougans and the Kimbros seemed to have been connected by marriage before they came to Dyer County and would later marry into the Crockett family. The Headden family was also connected by marriage to the Dougans. However, before we get too deep in genealogy, let's take a closer look at the lake itself, or should I say lakes, since there was actually a smaller lake that joined the west end of the main lake.

The Lake Two large lakes were formed by the Great Quake of 1811 and 1812. The most famous of these, Reelfoot, is still very much with us, but the second lake, known as Obion Lake is now only occasionally resurrected by floods that fill in it's old boundaries. The southwest end of the lake began at Lane's Ferry. It was at that this end of the lake that a fault line, which runs under the old community, shifted during the quake and dammed up the river. From that point the lake ran northeast and followed the meanders of the river to a point known as Crockett Bottoms in Obion County. The most visible part of the old lake is the low-lying area you often see flooded between the towns of Obion and Trimble.

The area around Millsfield was severely affected by the earthquake and a large number of trees were carried down the river, evidently contributing to the dam created at the fault, however there was also another logjam where the Obion empties into the Mississippi. Edouard de Montulé was traveling up the Mississippi in 1816 and noted that the mouth of the Obion or Bayou River was, " clogged with a surprising number of tree trunks, some of them measuring over six feet in diameter." He went on to write that, "this mass of ruins, whose disorder has been further increased by an earthquake, looks everywhere like a battlefield covered with debris." Daniel Berry would later write that, " many square miles of heavily timbered highland sank in western Tennessee where Obion and Reelfoot lakes are now." In 1869 Nathaniel Shaler went on to write that Obion Lake was, "on the same level and seems to have been formed at the same time …as Reelfoot Lake."

Major Dougan's Family The first family that seemed to have arrived on the west end of the lake were the Dougans. Much of their land came from a grant acquired from their father, a Revolutionary War veteran, Major James Dougan, Sr. Major Dougan was of Irish decent, but had been born at Lancaster Pennsylvania in 1754. The Major had served at the battle of Camden like Joseph Scobey, John Gwinn and Capt. Wm. Nash, all of Dyer County. James had originally arrived in Tennessee in the 1790s and would later locate at Franklin County where he died in 1837. Though the Major was listed as being a landowner on Dyer County Tax rolls in 1836 he was not listed as being a voter. It is unclear if the Major ever came to Dyer County, but his sons James Jr., Robert and Thomas all settled around the lake. The boys were raised in Franklin County, where Davy Crockett and his family also lived. James Jr. had lived briefly in Limestone County, Alabama along with his brothers Sharp and Samuel, but later relocated to Dyer County about the time the county was formed. James Jr. would later marry Clorinda Crockett, the widow of Davy's son William. Robert, who served in the War of 1812, married Elizabeth Scoby (Sister of Lt. Joseph Scoby) and, like the rest of the family, owned land south of the Lake. In 1827 Robert was elected 1st Lt. of Dyer County's 85th Militia Regiment, and his junior officer was John Henry Dillard, who would later die with Crockett at the Alamo. Thomas Dougan, who had served as a private in the War of 1812, married Elizabeth Kimbro in Franklin County and became one Dyer County's first magistrates in 1824.

The Headden Family The family of Moses Headden had also arrived from Franklin County. Moses Headden's brother Samuel married Elizabeth Dougan, the daughter of Thomas Dougan. In 1831 Samuel was elected Captain to replace Pleasant Riggs of Dyer County's Regiment. I found no Pleasant Riggs in 1830 so he must have moved or died. Two years later two men, D. Headden and A. Headden, were elected Captains of the same regiment.

John Dougan's Family Also settling in Dyer County was Major Dougan's brother John who had served in the 1st South Carolina Regiment under Col. Charles Pinckney. Pinckney later would become a Major General from South Carolina and Minster to France. While Pinckney was minister he played an important part in the famous X. Y. Z. Affair. Pickney also ran for President in 1804 and 1808. John Dougan owned over 2000 acres of land that bordered on Obion Lake when he died in 1825. At least three of John's sons settled in Dyer County. Edward was elected 1st Lt. of the 85th Militia Regiment in 1831, John owned 450 acres in the 5th District in 1836 and Samuel would marry "Polly" Dickey. The Dickey family was also from Franklin County. Madison Dickey was a constable for the region in 1836 and a Justice of the Peace the next year.

Originally there had been a Dougan's Creek mentioned on the south side of Obion River bordering William Crockett's land. We know his land lay near the south end of Obion Lake, and was on the west boundary of the Dougan's land. The Creek was also mentioned in 1853 and later shown on an 1888 map of Dyer County. Evidently in the intervening years the creek's name has been changed to Biffle.

Next week we will continue the story of the first families to settle around Obion Lake.