A Southern City Revival: Breathing New Life Into Wilson, Arkansas

Ashley Haugen,

When Josiah Wilson crossed the Mississippi River into the delta country, way back in 1846, he discovered thousands of acres of timber and swamps. What most would consider unproductive land, Josiah saw as an opportunity: cut the trees, drain the land and plant cotton on the fertile soil that lay underneath.

And that’s just what he did.

Josiah Wilson passed away in 1870, leaving behind his wife and 5-year-old son, Robert E. Lee Wilson, known simply as “Lee.” When Lee’s mother died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, leaving him an orphan, he was forced to relocate to Covington, TN, where he lived with family — unhappily — until he was 15 years old. That’s when he left Covington, crossed the Mississippi River just as his father had done years earlier, and Lee picked up where Josiah had left off, turning what is now known as Wilson, Arkansas into one of the most productive cotton-producing towns in American history.