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Lake County, Tennessee

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The county was organized in 1870. The history of Lake County has been largely defined by Reelfoot Lake, a natural lake created by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. It is surrounded by wetlands.

In 1862, during the Civil War, the Battle of Island Number Ten took place in the Mississippi River, just off the shores of Obion County, in territory now part of Lake County.

In 1907 and 1908, a violent conflict took place in Lake and Obion counties, and neighboring Fulton County, Kentucky, which also had frontage on the lake. Private investors bought title to most of the land around the lake, gaining control, and formed the West Tennessee Land Company, to develop the property. In this era, western Tennessee and Kentucky were being developed for cotton culture and the lowlands around the lake were fertile floodplain. They announced plans to drain the lake. A band of local farmers and others who made their living from the lake, organized resistance, becoming known as the "Night Riders of Reelfoot Lake."

Beginning with the burning of John Carlos Burdick's fish docks on April 12, 1908, they committed crimes over a period of months, harassing the land company's employees. In October 1908 they kidnapped two attorneys and lynched one, Quentin Rankin, who was also a shareholder in the land company. The other escaped. Given this attack and murder, Governor Malcolm Patterson personally led the Tennessee National Guard into the area, and arrested hundreds of suspected Night Riders. The Night Riders also rode against African Americans, as they were resisting the increase of blacks in the counties, some of whom had come to work as sharecroppers on newly developed cotton plantations. Since the late 19th century, the white-dominated legislature had passed Jim Crow laws and increasing restrictions on voters.

The state gained title to Reelfoot Lake in 1914 to preserve it for public use, but actions were tied up for some years in court challenges.[6] To prevent private development from restricting its use, in 1925 Governor Austin Peay designated the lake as a hunting and fishing reserve. This was the precedent for the larger area to be preserved as the modern Reelfoot Lake State Park.

From 1877 to 1950, there were 13 lynchings of blacks in Lake County, the third-highest number in the state. Most of these murders were committed in the decades around the turn of the century, during the period of heightened violence related to opposition to corporate control of Reelfoot Lake and the introduction of cotton plantations and black workers to this area.

Adjacent Counties

Towns & Communities

  • Bessie
  • Blue Bank
  • Cates
  • Cottonwood Grove
  • Estes Pond
  • Hathaway
  • Haynes
  • Keefe
  • Lake Drive
  • Owl City
  • Owl Hoot
  • Madie
  • Mooring
  • New Markham
  • Phillippy
  • Proctor City
  • Ridgely
  • Tiptonville (part)
  • Wright
  • Wynnburg



Lake Isom Nat'l Wildlife Refuge

Reelfoot Nat'l Wildlife Refuge (part)

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