Every great hunt has its story. Here is ours.
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the northeastern hill country of Mississippi were the Chickasaw people. They named the region now called Holly Springs “Suavatooky,” or watering place, after the area’s natural groundwater springs.
In 1832, the Chickasaw Nation ceded their land to the U.S. Government, thus opening the territory to settlement. The town of Holly Springs was founded three years later, and the area surrounding the town soon drew the attention of wealthy planters seeking access to Mississippi’s fertile soil and the high-quality cotton crops it produced.
Among those planters were the five sons of Edward Coxe and Charlotte Victoria James of Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The Coxe family boasted aristocratic lineage, with an English Lord and Carolina governor as ancestors. The third son of Edward and Victoria, William Henry Coxe, married Amelia Brailsford in 1842, at the age of 18. William Henry established their plantation that same year, roughly 10 miles southwest of Holly Springs. They named the plantation Galena, after a particular lead ore mineral said to be a Scottish symbol of peace.
Interestingly, William Henry’s brothers remain a subject of local folklore to this day and are remembered more for their daredevil exploits and tragic deaths than their legendary wealth and extravagance. The eldest son, Edward, threw himself from the deck of a Mississippi steamer and drowned, according to some. By other accounts, Edward drove his horse-drawn carriage off a high bluff in Memphis and into the river. Another brother, Bartley, was killed in an apparent hunting accident. His wife was later declared insane. The most notorious death belonged to Toby, the handsome youngest brother, who was said to be as beautiful as any woman. Two-and-a-half months into his marriage to Sally Wilson, Toby killed his wife while in a drunken fit and then killed himself with the same gun.
William Henry, in contrast, appears to have led a more sedate and dignified life, though it was short-lived. William and Amelia built a fine plantation home at Galena and made plans for a town home in Holly Springs, which is now known by the name Arliewood. The two traveled extensively, bringing back exquisite home furnishings from their travels. Though Amelia would die before their town house could be finished, the home was eventually completed and survives to this day as a splendid example of Gothic Revival architecture. Sadly, the original Galena Plantation house is no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1950s.
Civil War & Reconstruction
During General Ulysses S. Grant’s first Vicksburg campaign, the town of Holly Springs was occupied by Union forces and served as a Union supply depot. General Grant claimed William Henry Coxe’s town house as his headquarters. Coxe deeded the property to his daughter, Lida Coxe Brewer, and her family resided at the plantation home during these years.
Union troops frequently passed through Galena, and the plantation’s cotton, mules, farm implements and valuables were often stolen or confiscated despite William Henry’s union sympathies. The plantation’s most valuable items, including a treasured set of antique silverware, were hidden away in an old leather trunk. The trunk’s location was kept secret until the last year of the war when a plantation slave revealed its location to Union soldiers and the contents were never to be seen again.
Unlike Holly Springs, which is said to have changed hands more than 50 times during the Civil War, Galena and surrounding plantations saw little direct fighting. The one notable exception was a skirmish at Coxe’s Crossroads, which took place at the Milan Plantation, which was located on neighboring land.
During the last year of the war, William Henry Coxe grew increasingly despondent. His immense wealth was now gone and his plantation in ruins. Coxe was consumed with grief, and his situation worsened following news of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia. Coxe’s life ended on September 30, 1865. After goading his horse up the steps of his mansion, his horse reared and fell on him and broke his neck. According to differing accounts, Coxe’s actions were either the result of a dare or alcohol-impaired judgment.
His epitaph reads, “Generous and confiding in his disposition; sincere and ardent in his feelings; he was a devoted husband, father, and brother; an unfaltering friend; a kind and indulgent master; loved most by those who knew him best. He lived without an enemy, and his untimely grave was moistened by many a tear.”
During the Reconstruction Period, Lida Coxe Brewer continued to farm at Galena for several years, eventually selling the property to her uncle, Matt Coxe. Following his death, possession returned to Lida who, following her death, passed the property to her granddaughter, Amelia Lacey.
The Modern Era
Galena Plantation was farmed by descendants of Amelia Lacey, Tom Lacey and wife Moultrie, during the 1920s and 1930s. During subsequent years, the plantation home was abandoned, eventually declining in repair until it became unsalvageable. It was demolished in the 1950s.
Holly Springs native, W.O. “Bill” Fitch, inherited a parcel of the plantation’s land in the early 1970s. Fitch had served in the Korean War as a Navy pilot and had been working in New York at a successful Wall Street firm at the time. But he had always wanted to return to the home of his youth to raise his children in a rural environment as he had been raised. So, in 1974, he moved back to Holly Springs and soon established himself as one of the region’s most prominent financiers.
An avid hunter and history lover, Fitch dreamed of building his land into one of the nation’s finest quail reserves. And so, he began gradually acquiring the 8,000 acres currently held, which includes the Milan plantation lands and a portion of Galena. He renovated the former slave quarters of the Milan Plantation and other antebellum cabins. He even purchased the General Nathan Bedford Forrest home, moving it from Hernando and restoring it to its former glory. As a historical note: Forrest purchased the home in 1845 for $300 and lived there for 12 years. The home was the site of his wedding and the birthplace of two of his children.
Today, under Fitch’s ownership, the property is one of the South’s best quail hunting preserves, ranked as one of the top five in America. The preserve maintains the time-honored tradition of quail hunting from horseback and mule-drawn carriage.