Legend says Gattman may have been first settlement in Monroe County
Taken from Monroe County Past, Present, and Future, Published 1985.
Legend has it that Gattman was probably the first settlement, and at one time was the largest settlement, in Monroe County. Little is known about Gattman prior to the 1850s other than that it was the site of a trading post for white-men conducting business with the Chickasaw Indians.
Ample evidence still exists that at one time there was a large Indian village on the hilltop just immediately south of the former schoolhouse near the water tower in present-day Gattman. Arrowheads and artifacts there are in perfect form. The hill-top location probably provided security for the Indians as they could see for miles in any direction.
Interestingly enough, it is conceded by all who have any knowledge or recollection of Gattman that it was a thriving area long before the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad was ever conceived, yet no one has been able to give it a name prior to its being incorporated as Gattman in the early 1880s.
The coming of the K C M & B Railroad began a new era in Gattrnan, as it was possible to ship out the fine timber which was growing in that area. Gattman became a boomtown; transients flooded the area; many businessmen made their fortunes there, plundered the area, took their money and moved on to another place of conquest. However a few remained in Gattman and took an interest in the place and built a thriving community. Before the 1880’s, S. B. Reynolds purchased part of Section 5, Township 14 South, Range 16 West for the purpose of laying out a town. In the middle 1880’s Morris and Jacob Gattman purchased half of the above described land and organized the town of Gattman.
The Gattman brothers were in Aberdeen at that time and it is reported that they bought and incorporated Gattman for speculative purposes with the idea that it would become a large city. Jacob Gattman reportedly moved from Aberdeen to Gattman and lived there for a short period of time. One report has it that the house where he lived was located just south of the present Gattman and the remains of the chimney still exist. However, there is evidence of equal credence that Gattman actually never lived there.,
Records further indicate that in about the year 1889 Gattman and Company was in bankruptcy and that an attorney from Aberdeen, Robert Paine, was the receiver. As a result of the bankruptcy the next owner of Gattman was J. S. Riley and it was Riley who proceeded to develop the community.
History indicates that the town of Gattman, prior to and in the years of its infancy, was a wild and dangerous place. It is reported that people shot before they determined whether or not their victim was friend or foe, and on occasion it was their friend rather than their foe.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s Gattman reached an era of stability, the transients began to move on and entrepreneurs from all over the country came to Gattman to make their fortunes in the lumber business. While the transients. had moved on, they had left behind a desirable type of people, mostly business people from various parts of the country and most of whom were literate.
It would be difficult for one driving through Gattman today to realize that in the late 1800s and early 1900s the town had eight stores, a brick kiln, three blacksmith shops, a cotton gin which ran day and night during the cotton season and numerous lumber mills which manufactured lumber to its finished product, including dressing and beveling the limber and manufacturing cypress shingles. There were many gristmills and a drugstore.
From the late 1890s through the early 1920s Gattman had four doctors. Dr. Joe Danner was probably the first doctor to locate at Gattman. He was followed by a Dr. Jackson who was the county health officer of Lamar County, Ala. He was followed by a Dr. Riley who had a son named Gale Riley who was also a doctor. The last doctor to practice medicine in Gattman was Dr. Forney Hollis who died in the middle or late 1920s at a relatively young age and whose home still stands in Gattman due west of the former brick school house.
During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it is estimated that the population of Gattman ranged from 400 to 700 people. There was a large hotel in Gattman which is reported to have been completely occupied most of the time.
The town bears witness that its chief industry was good lumber. One of the lumber companies in Gattman built many houses, all identical, to house its employees and many of those houses are still standing. Gattman received mail long before the railroad existed. The mail was brought to Gattman by horseback, de¬livered by horse and on foot and subsequently by surrey. As surreys became more prominent Gattman had its own surrey and buggy business, owned by R. L. Markham and known as the R. L. Markham Dealership.
The Puckett family was also in the lumber business in Gattman and constructed the first brick store which now houses the Post Office. W. P. Riley owned a large frame general store and the various other stores and businesses were thriving enterprises. The Cooleys also had general merchandise stores and lumber businesses.
The people of Gattman emphasized good schools. Gattman had avvery good school which was known as “The Little Red School House” located immediately behind the present Methodist Church. The land for a school was given to the Town of Gattman by W. T. Riley. The town was also given a lot site for a public library.
The Little Red School was operated until it burned in the 1920s and a new school was built where the former brick school is now located. Soule’s Chapel and Gattman’s schools were consolidated in 1929. This building burned in 1936. A second brick building was constructed at a cost of $10,000. This building is still there but no longer used for a school. The Gattman school was closed in 1957 and the students transferred to Greenwood Springs.
From 1929 on, during the depression, the people of Gattman survived by improvising. There was no demand for lumber to any great extent nor was there any money with which to purchase it. C. R. Hollis and his brother, Woody, purchased a lumber company from Berthold and Jennings Lumber Company of St. Louis, Mo., in 1918 and have continued to operate it to the present.
Since the late 1800’s many have come, made their fortunes, taken their fortunes with them and purchased other business interests. During the depression years, Gattman began to dwindle, people began to seek employment in other places, the people shared the same misery that was common in the entire nation. Most businesses were closed, new ones were opened. However, when World War II began, Gattman boomed again for a few years in the lumber business. The Hollis Lumber Co. shipped from Gattman as much as six million feet of lumber per year.
At the beginning of World War II Gattman sent in excess of 20 percent of its population to the armed forces. After World War II, the economy had completely changed; small farms and small businesses became obsolete.
In the early 1950s the people of Gattman provided enough money to build a plant which manufactured clothing and it is now called the Gattman Manufacturing Co. It employs in excess of 300 people and other than the Hollis Lumber Co. is the only remaining industry in Gattman.
Gattman has always been an autonomous town; it has always provided its own law enforcement agency, if it had one; and there were times during the booming days when it had as many as three police officers. However, the people there has always been willing to do the possible and challenge the impossible. It has produced its share of teachers, professionals and good citizens. The first newspaper circulated in Gattman was the Atlanta Yellow Jacket, now the Altanta Constitution.
Gattman has always had its own Mayor and Board of Alderman but apparently the officials carried the public records with them upon the termination of their administration.
This article was written by Ralph E. Pogue and presented to the Monroe County Historical Society. Pogue grew up in Gattman.