History of Duck Hill, Mississippi
Duck Hill is named for a large hill northeast of the town, where “Duck”, a Choctaw Chief, held war councils. Chief Duck was also a medicine man who treated the community. A statue of Chief Duck is located on U.S. Route 51 in Duck Hill, next to an old Illinois Central caboose.
The first white settler to arrive was John A. Binford in 1834. Binford built the first home in the area, and became one of the region’s most successful slaveholding planters. Binford went on to serve in the Mississippi Legislature. During the Civil War, Binford’s sons, James R. and John A. Jr., helped lead the Confederate “Company E” from Duck Hill, known as the “McClung Rifles”. James R. Binford went on to serve in the Mississippi State Senate, where he wrote the Jim Crow laws for Mississippi.
The Illinois Central Railroad completed a line from Chicago to New Orleans in 1856, and a depot was established at Duck Hill. Premier passenger trains such as the City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited once passed. The line is now used for freight operation by the Grenada Railway.
A train wreck occurred at Duck Hill on October 19, 1862, when in the early morning hours two trains collided head-on, killing 34 men. Most of the dead where Confederate soldiers. It was the South’s worse loss of life in a train accident to that time.
In 1887, there was hope that Duck Hill would become a thriving mill town after iron ore was found nearby. Financial speculation followed. The New York Times mockingly wrote at the time in its Tour of our Southern Correspondent:
Duck Hill is the euphonious appellation of a straggling wee bit of a hamlet down in the depths of Mississippi, a dozen miles or so from Grenada, on the Illinois Central Railroad, known to the world and to history in something less than a wholesale way.
Duck Hill was the site of a railroad robbery in 1888. Two armed men, Rube Burrow and Joe Jackson, clung to the outside of a train as it left the station, then climbed to the engine cab where they ordered the engineer to stop the train about a mile north of town. The robbers then plundered the express car’s safe of $3000, killing one man who tried to help.
In 1930, the Lloyd T. Binford High School opened in Duck Hill (Lloyd T. Binford, son of James R. Binford, became a Memphis insurance executive and film censor, and was noted for his views on “Southern womanhood” and white supremacy). An agriculture education building followed, and an elementary school was constructed in 1963. The schools have since closed, and the high school’s gymnasium is used as a community center. In 2012, a committee of volunteers was established to preserve the high school, which has suffered from vandalism. The Congressional Record from 1999 quotes Senator Trent Lott, whose father sharecropped a stretch of cotton field in Duck Hill during the 1940s, stating: “I am a product of public education from the first grade through the second, third, and fourth grades where I went to school at Duck Hill, Mississippi, and I had better teachers in the second, third, and fourth grades in Duck Hill, Mississippi, than I had the rest of my life.”