Rediscovering the Haunts of Newt Knight

The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War

The Leaf River, where Newt Knight and his band of men hid out during the Civil War. (photo by Victoria Bynum)

By Vikki Bynum

I recently received a message from William “Jeff” Knight (a descendant of Newt Knight’s brother Albert) that reminded me of how little I know about the geography of the Jones County area. As most of you know, or have figured out by now, I was not raised in Mississippi, although my Bynum ancestry is deeply rooted in Jones County.

Jeff’s remarks so intrigued me that I decided, with his permission, to post his descriptions and questions about artifacts and locations of Newt Knight’s Civil War world. The following are excerpts from his message to me. I hope readers will respond with their own observations (hand drawn maps are welcome!) about the area that Newt and his men occupied.

I was wondering where Newt’s hide out was. I do know that the picture that you have in your book, The Free State of Jones, of the Leaf River on the Covington Jones county line by Sullivan’s Hollow is about 100 yards or so from the ferry site. Up river from there in the swamp is a petrified log with all the names carved in it of the Knight band. Also there is a creek with a cave. The cave site was known as the Devils Den. I do not know where the cave is but I could find it if I could get a map of the area from that time.

My grandfather would talk to us about his uncle Newt. He as a young man knew him well. My father would tell us about things and places that were important to that time and before. Some of the things he told us about didn’t relate to Newt; like there was an oak tree in south Forrest County with Greek writing on it somewhere around Skull Fork. The tree had a large metal rod that went through the middle of it and it pointed to the ground. He also told us about Buffalo roaming on top of a very large hill just out side of Ellisville before the time Newt was in that area. In Eastabutchie, just south of Moselle, there is a Knight graveyard in the back of a man’s field by Farris Falls. I remember snake hunting with my brothers and walking by the site. There were three old home sites there. Also south of there, there is another graveyard where my brother is buried that has Knights buried in it from the Civil War. To the south of that graveyard is what I believe to be a slave graveyard. To the east of where my brother is buried is a graveyard where a black Confederate solder is buried. In the Eastabutchie swamp there are 5 to 10 union cannons in the water. That is where Confederate solders pushed them after a fight. Eastabutchie I was always told was named that due to it being called East Of The Butchery.

32 replies »

  1. Eastabutchie is part English and part Choctaw. It means “east of the running river.” The town is located east of the Leaf River. It is not east of a butchery. I am proud of Eastabutchie. I am not proud of Newt Knight who turned his back on the South so that he could gain compensation from the federal government. People in Eastabutchie did for each other, both black and white, and we still do.


  2. Hi Katherine; it’s great to hear from an Eastabutchie native. Your explanation of the English and Choctaw origins of the name certainly sound more plausible than the old rumor that it meant “east of a butchery”!

    As for Newt Knight himself, I’m sure there will always be disagreement over his motives for deserting the Confederate Army and leading a band of men who fought against it. My opinion is that he rebelled against the Confederacy because he did not want to die in a war that did not serve his interest as a nonslaveholding farmer.

    He certainly was not alone in his objection to a “rich man’s war and poor man’s fight;” there were many such folks throughout the South. Some were antislavery (Wesleyan Methodist Unionists in the NC Piedmont, for example), but most simply thought seceding from the nation and fighting a civil war was madness. That’s not turning your back on the South; that’s dissent, a fundamental Constitutional right. The problem, as I see it, is that we too often equate the Confederacy with “The South,” and forget that not all Southerners, white or black, thought alike.



  3. Newt Knight was a deserter he shamed Jones County and robbed the poor people of what little they had. He was not fighting for a cause. He was just a crook with a band of men that went into hiding in the swamps around Jones County. He was not a captain he was a DESERTER .


  4. Dear Greg, I am glad you expressed your opinion of Newt Knight. I am sure many people share that opinion. Personally I have no opinion one way or the other but I did enjoy reading about that person, place and time from another perspective. I also gained new knowledge about my family connection to Jones County (up until I read the book I only knew that my Sumrall line came from Jones County “near Laurel” to Texas sometime after the Civil War). I’m sure we can all agree that, regardless of how we personify Newt Knight, he certainly had an impact on Jones County, the state of Mississippi, and 21st century conceptions of his time and place, good or bad, much greater than he probably ever would have thought possible, and has more descendants than he could have imagined. I wonder what he and his fellow Jones Countians of the 19th century would think today.


  5. I am a descendent of American dissenters that go all the way back to the Revolution. My wife and I both have traced our lineages to that era. I am a died in the wool Southerner that fully understands the dessenters of Jones County. Why would anybody anywhere ever choose to support the rich farmers who owned slaves over your own little farm with no slaves. If the South did what has been alledged to the farmer’s families and supplies, I’d have stood along newt’s side and fought with him. In fact, my wife’s ancestors did just that.

    Wow! It still hasn’t changed. There are folks today that actually believe that obama is defending their interests. there again, reactions call for a little logic.

    Ken Hughey,
    Lakeland, Fl.


  6. Thanks for your comments, Tim and Ken. You both reinforce the point that the story of Jones County’s Civil War insurrection is far bigger than Newt Knight, although he played a major role in organizing and leading it. It is deeply embedded in American traditions of dissent against perceived corruptions of power.



  7. Vikki,

    I read you excerpts of Jeff Knight comments about grave yards located south of Moselle, near Estabuchie. Do you have more information on their specific locations? I am orginally from Kelly Settlement, across Leaf river from Estabuchie, and heard stories as a kid from family (Kelly) members about “outlaws” who use to hide out on the old Jenkins place located in Leaf River swamps in that area. Do you know specifically where Newt Knight camp was, or did they move up and down the river between various locations?


    • Sorry, Dennis, but I have no more specific information than is posted here. Perhaps some of our readers can provide more information about exact locations of graves or Newt Knight’s Civil War camp(s).



  8. As an armchair browser of history, I find that Google Earth, Google Maps, MSN Maps Birdseye are great to go snooping around historical sites. You can zoom down to the Leaf River and look for the islands in the bayous where hiding places may have been. Head on down the road, pop into Streetview and look over the places like Soso, and drive by the Deason House which is completely blocked in by the school. Great for battlefields too! Just thought I would throw that in.


  9. dr. bynum, i am a jones countian. i heard you speak in laurel this past week. you kept mentioning that the collins family were unionists. my great grandfather had two brothers killed in the war between the states. they fought for the rebs. they are my great great uncles. one is buried at vicksburg. his brother had to break the news to his daddy that his son was dead. my great great grandfather was in the confederate calvary. by the way my granddaddy married a bynum. my distant relative moss helped secure newts services for the south. i,ve told you before that i felt newt did what he did to survive. he used rachel for various reasons,. he had nowhere to go live but with the blacks. i wanted to correct you that the collin’s weren’t all unionists. i heard a smart professor that wrote a series of books about the civil war give an interview once. at the conclusion the interviewer asked him if he were living during the war between the states which side would he have fought on. his reply was the south of course,i wouldn’t have fought against my people. the exact reason the outstanding lee fought for the south. most wars are rich peoples war except maybe wwII. i served in vietnam and seen how some affluent americans avoid vietnam. however. that didn.t cause me to even think about deserting. newt knight was not a union patriot in my opinion. why was he shunned so much after the war? he treated blacks bad at times. Why did he want to breed the black blood out of rachals children? also was martha newt’s daughter or sister in law? ANYONE TRYING TO FIGURE NEWT KNIGHT OUT WILL GO CRAZY. WHY DIDN’T NEWT FIGHT FOR BLACKS EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS BEFORE SECESSION? THANKS – BY THE WAY, I VISITED WITH ETHEL DURING THE LATE 1980’S. I KNOW YOU WERE APPALLED BY HER LANGUAGE CONCERNING BLACKS BUT REMEMBER THE CULTURE SHE WAS RAISED IN. GIVE HER A LITTLE SLACK. JONES COUNTY HAS A HISTORY OF PATROTISM. LOOK HOW MANY HAVE FOUGHT FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I LIVE IN BIG CREEK AND THE KNIGHTS ARE MIGHTY GOOD PEOPLE. who knows what the future holds. one day there may be another revolution and the south may win. I am not speaking in terms of slavery but states rights. the north really screwed up things. look at the mess we are in.


    • Dr. Moss,

      Thank you for attending my July 15 lecture at the Laurel-Jones County Library. I’ll first address your statement that “anyone trying to figure Newt Knight out will go crazy.” Well, I’ve been studying him for some twenty years now and my mental health is just fine, ha, ha!

      Second, I stand by my statement that the Collinses were overwhelmingly Unionist in their politics. I am talking about the sons of Stacy Collins Sr. Vinson, Simeon, Riley Jasper, Warren, Stacy Jr., and Newton Carroll, all opposed secession and/or fought against the Confederacy, either in the Union Army (Riley) or in a guerrilla band. Only the youngest brother, Edwin, died while serving in a Confederate unit. Jasper and Warren, both of whom lived into the 20th century, were proud to call themselves Unionists and often did so. They did not consider themselves to have fought against their “people” as you put it, but to have fought, as Southern men, for their nation. To be a white southerner is NOT necessarily to have been a Confederate.

      As for Ethel Knight, I DID cut her some slack–it was me who pointed out in my lecture that she must be viewed in the context of her times. But that does not mean that a historian should ignore the meaning of her words, and I make no apology for my critique of her book.

      Finally, our economy is certainly in trouble today, but to say it is worse than a time when our nation held some 4 million people as slaves I find deeply offensive.

      The overarching message of my lecture was that we should seek to understand Newt Knight in order to better understand a bloody, fratricidal war that had devastating costs for Southerners. But make no mistake, that war was caused by slavery (which is NOT to say that most Northerners wanted to end slavery in 1861!). We are fortunate to have rid ourselves of that institution despite many politicians of both the South and North. Our problems today are of our own 20th-21st century making, and going backward in time with some romantic notion of a war about “states rights” will not fix them.

      Vikki Bynum


  10. has anyone came up with the exact where a bouts of the devils den.. I live in the sandhill area was that also used as slave housing or was it a battle ground sometimes late at night some say you can hear the soldiers horses but that is hear say so can anyone tell us where the artifact is that has the soldiers names ingraved I am very interested in visiting this area


  11. My name is Sam Vernon from Jones County Calhoun area currently On the movies set Free State of Jones and it is very cool to be part of it!..I’m ready to go back to Jones County and find Devil’s Den whoever has information about this please contact me at my email


  12. I grew up outside Laurel, Ms in what is known as Landrum community. About 7 miles east of Ellisville, south of Tucker’s crossing on hwy 15. My ancestors would have lived there at that time. Its not suprising to me that no one spoke of this story growing up; based on what details I know. I am completely obsessed.


    • Henry Landrum, age 18, John Landrum, age 19, Thomas Landrum, age 43, and William P. Landrum, age 28 all joined the Union Army in March 1964, at Fort Pike, Louisiana. They were all from Jones County.


      • Frank, do you know of any evidence that the Landrums ever joined forces with the Knight band down in that region before joining the Union Army? Their month of entry into service coincides with the Confederacy sending Col. Henry Maury to Jones County.



  13. Thomas’s brother Linson B Landrum (3rd great grandfather) also joined the Union Army in New Orleans. I have a copy of the oath that he signed on December 24, 1864. He became ill and was admitted to Charity Hospital in April 8, 1865 and died in that hospital on April 19, 1865. The cause of death was remittent fever. I know of no evidence that shows that he joined Newt’s band. Chuck


  14. Hello all. I’m a huge family tree buff and in trying to help a young lady who shares DNA with my husband find her birth parents. Up until about a week ago none of the DNA matches made sense to me at all. The I remembered that my mother in law, Betty, had told me she was adopted. She “grew up” in Laurel, but her adopted family is not from the area. In the last week I have identified both of Betty’s birth parents, that’s a story in itself, and am currently filling in the history. Much of the family is from the area. Example her 2nd GGF was born in Ellisville. Unfortunately I’m not from the area (live in Wisconsin) and I don’t understand the connection.

    I LOVE history, you have to understand it in order to make sense of some aspects of the family tree when researching. I love discovering historically significant people in the tree. When I find someone neat, I research that person and then take the opportunity to teach my children, and now grandchildren a history lesson. Years ago, I discovered that my husband is remotely related to Brett Favre, well at the time he was the QB for the Packers. You can imagine how excited my kids were. Then I gave them a lesson about Simon Favre who is far more significant than Brett Favre will ever be historically speaking. Its an opportunity to educate and maybe ignite a passion for learning history.

    Anyway… on to the purpose of this reply… I see another opportunity to teach a history lesson. Being able to show a personal connection to a historical event makes that event more interesting. I am assuming that anyone from any of these families listed in the area from 1860’s through 1900’s are potentially part of a history lesson. My problem is that I don’t know where Ellisville was compared to Erata, or Ovette. And I don’t know the area these historical events took place as compared to where I know these ancestors were. I would love to be able to tell my grandchildren, this is important for you to understand because your 3rd GGF was living there at the time and this impacted him directly.

    I appreciate any suggestions that anyone would be willing to give. Maps of the area at the time, town meeting documents etc?
    Jerri C Johnston


  15. Hi Ms. Vicki,
    I posted on here back in 2010 or 2011. I just watched the movie again. I grew up in Hebron, MS. I remember my Dad telling stories about his great uncle Newt Knight. His grandmother was Zoraid Knight. Also , when Dad got Alzheimer’s, Mom drove us to Jasper County to visit Newt Knight and Rachel Knight’s graves in the 80’s. My parents told us about his place of birth in Jones county on Old Leaf River Road. We also visited Zoraid Knight’s grave near there. They talked about his hideouts along the river. Daddy’s Grandfather was Montgomery Blackwell.


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