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1. Overview of the Collection
2. Subjects
3. Biographical/Historical Note
4. Scope and Content Note
5. Arrangement
6. Related Material
7. Administrative Information
8. Container List
9. Item List
10. Publication Information

1. Collection Overview




McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi


Willie Sion Franklin (W. S. F.) Tatum (1858-1949), Frank Murry (F. M.) Tatum (1895-1987), West O’Neal (W. O.) Tatum (1882-1958), Various family members and staff of Tatum Lumber Company, et al.

Collection Number:


Collection Title:

Tatum Family Business Records


approx. 443 cubic feet




1881-1991 and undated

Collection Status:

Fully reviewed


The Tatum family were prominent owners of businesses and land in and around the Hattiesburg, Mississippi area beginning in 1893 with the establishment of their first lumber mill.  The collection contains financial records, personal papers, photographs, blueprints, newspaper articles, maps and artifacts of the Tatum family’s business dealings as well as local Hattiesburg history, including W. S. F. Tatum’s mayoral term from 1922 to 1924 and again from 1928 to 1936.


2. Subjects

W. S. F. Tatum

F. M. Tatum

W. O. Tatum

W. S. Tatum

Tatum Family

Tatum Lumber Company

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

University of Southern Mississippi

Methodist Hospital, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Willmut Gas and Oil Company, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad Company

United States Atomic Energy Commission


3. Biographical/Historical Note

Willie Sion Franklin (W. S. F.) Tatum was born September 17, 1858 to Robert William Tatum and Martha Nancy Green Tatum in McNairy County, Tennessee.  He had one brother, Barca L. Tatum and one sister, Mattie Tatum (Motley).  His early childhood was spent on a farm near Bethel Springs, Tennessee, with his mother passing away when he was 5 and the family moving closer to Bethel Springs when he was 8.  At age 16, he became employed at his father's grocery store in Bethel Springs, where he worked until age 21 without wages.  His education consisted of two five month terms and one three month term in a subscription school.

On June 8, 1881, Tatum married Rebecca Anne O’Neal, also of McNairy County Tenn.  The couple had three sons, West O’Neal (W.O.) Tatum and twins, Will Sion (W.S.) and Frank Murry (F.M.) Tatum. 

In September 1881, Tatum bought his father’s business largely on credit.  After paying off the debt, Tatum formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, F. O’Neal, and began buying and selling lumber.  After a visit in 1892 to lands purchased in Forrest County, Mississippi in 1891 and seeing the richness of the timber there, the two established a sawmill in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1893 named the Tatum Lumber Company.  Mr. O’Neal left the partnership and sold his interest to Tatum after a series of difficulties soon after.  In 1898, the Tatum family moved into their home on Main and McLeod Streets in Hattiesburg.  Tatum closed the mill in 1903, but continued to buy and sell timber and timber land in the area.  During this time in 1904, the family traveled to the Fourth World Sunday School Convention in Palestine for three months.

In 1906, Tatum reopened the mill.  The mill closed again in 1914 after it was found all the timber within reach of oxen that transported the timber had been cleared.  Tatum began construction of a new mill in the Bonhomie area of Forrest County which began operating in 1916 and continued until 1937.  The new sawmill was one mile south of the old site and contained ponds, a large double band sawmill, kilns, yard, and railroad facilities connected to the New Orleans and New England Railroad, Gulf, Mobile, and Northern Railroad, and Gulf and Ship Island Railroad.  Timber from the approx. 50,000 acres of land in Forrest and Lamar Counties and approx. 13,000 acres in Greene County at that time was transported by rail from the land to the mill pond. 

In 1911, Tatum purchased the land where present day William Carey University stands.  Tatum held the land, wishing the site to be the Mississippi Normal College (now University of Southern Mississippi).  When the decision was made to place the Mississippi Normal College at the Hardy Street location, Tatum donated the land to the Mississippi Baptist Convention, who in agreed to maintain a four year college on the premises.

In 1924, the Tatum family purchased 30 miles of railroad from the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad between Hattiesburg and Beaumont to bring timber from Greene County.  This became the Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad.

In 1920, W. S. F. Tatum turned over his business affairs and mill operation to his three sons and became active in local politics.  To fill the unexpired term of T. E. Batson, Tatum was elected mayor of Hattiesburg on August 22, 1922.  In 1924, he lost reelection to B. D. Moore, but won again in 1928.  His first term priority was road paving.  His second term accomplishments included extensive additions to the municipal water and sewer system, creation of a public library, a municipal airport, the Saenger Theater, and creation of the movement to bring natural gas to Hattiesburg. 

The first natural gas company was the Public Service Corporation of Mississippi.  When the company went bankrupt, the Tatum family purchased it and renamed it the “Willmut Gas and Oil Company” in 1933.

W. S. F. Tatum was reelected again in 1932, but lost in 1936 to Travis H. Boykin. 

The Tatum Lumber Company mill was built from money borrowed from Hibernia Bank in New Orleans, Louisiana.  When the bank experienced financial difficulty in 1933, W. S. F. Tatum was appointed to a directorship of the bank by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation on May 24, 1933.  Tatum Lumber Company became one of the principal stockholders of the Hibernia Bank.

After their father’s retirement, the three sons operated the mill until it closed in 1938.  Reportedly, West Tatum handled the office work, Frank the timber docks, and Will the yards and planning mill.

Other projects Tatum and his sons were instrumental in creating for Hattiesburg include the Citizens Bank of Hattiesburg, additions to the Main Street Methodist Church, the Methodist Hospital and the Forrest Hotel in downtown Hattiesburg.   When the United States Post Office in Hattiesburg was dedicated on July 25, 1934, Mayor Tatum delivered a speech.

In the 1940s, Will Tatum began an interest in oil drilling, including a very profitable venture in Centralia, Illinois.

In 1937, W. S. F. Tatum retired from politics at the age of 79.  He died October 7, 1949 at the age of 91 of internal bleeding (hemorrhage).

In 1953, the Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad was sold to Fernwood, Columbia and Gulf Railroad, which was absorbed by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1973.

In 1964, the Tatum family land in Lamar County known as the Tatum Salt Dome was used by the United States Atomic Energy Commission for a series of tests known as “Project Dribble.”  The purpose of the tests was to test the effectiveness of detecting underground nuclear detonations with seismographic evidence.  The first detonation, Project Salmon, would blast a cavity in the natural salt formations deep underground.  The detonation occurred at 10:00am, October 22, 1964 and was reportedly felt for miles.  Two years later on December 3, 1966, the commission detonated a second device, codenamed Project Sterling, in the cavity of the first device with the intention to prove that the effect of an explosion in a cavity would be less than in solid rock, as Project Salmon was.  The effect was proven.

The Tatum family continues to reside in the area of Hattiesburg as active members of the community as of this writing.


4. Scope and Content Note

The collection contains the financial and personal papers of the Tatum family of Hattiesburg, Mississippi and their business holdings, including photographs, newspapers, and artifacts.  The materials date from 1881 to 1991 and document the life and culture of southern Mississippi, primarily the Hattiesburg, Forrest County and surrounding areas.

The Tatum Family Business Records Collection consists mainly of letter and legal sized personal and financial documents.  The documents were organized by company or holding (Tatum Lumber Company, Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad Company, etc.) and grouped in alphanumeric order then date.  Many oversized documents (maps, blueprints, etc.) were left rolled due to space and size issues.

The 184 photographs in the collection are the following sizes: 1.5x2.5, 2x2.5, 2.5x3.5, 2x4, 2.5x4, 2.75x4.5, 3x3, 3x5, 3.5x3.5, 3.5x5, 3.5x5.75, 3.5x6, 4x6, 4.5x3, 8x10, 8x11, 9.5x4, 9x7.25, 9.5x8, and 19.5x14.5.


5. Arrangement

The materials were organized into alphanumeric order, grouping items by company or holding when possible (Bonhomie and Hattiesburg Southern Railroad Company, Tatum Lumber Company, etc.) or by member of the Tatum family (F. M. Tatum, W. S. F. Tatum, etc.).

Financial documents such as bank statements and check stubs were arranged according to type in chronological order.

Photographs were arranged in order of appearance in the collection and by subject where possible.

Oversize materials include blueprints, maps, artifacts and other items found in the collection.  Blueprints and maps were cross-referenced with their original locations when possible and placed into size appropriate boxes and folder or in a map case.  Artifacts were boxed and added to the collection


6. Related Material

Related collections at the University of Southern Mississippi include:

  • Mississippi Oral History Program
  • M208 Hattiesburg Municipal Archives
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Pine Belt Family YMCA
  • Waller Photographs
  • T. P. Scott Papers
  • L. E. Faulkner
  • Railroad Collection

Due to the effect W. S. F. Tatum, the family, and the Tatum Lumber Company had on the history of Hattiesburg and southern Mississippi economy, most if not all historical records of the area from the early to mid 20th century will contain some impression.



7. Administrative Information


Donated by Dr. Claude Fike in 1991.
Donated by Joe F. Tatum in 1996 and 1997
Donated by Dr. Gilbert H. Hoffman in 1998.

Use Restrictions:

This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the
Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
Reproduction of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the
discretion of the curator. Provision of photocopies or digital reproductions
does not constitute permission to publish, distribute, provide internet
access to, or otherwise display images of materials in this collection.
Copyright is retained by the lawful copyright holder, and it is the
responsibility of the permission seeker to contact and secure permission
from the copyright holder. Where copyright permission is not granted,
images are only for use in private study subject to the Fair Use exceptions
made in U.S. Copyright Law.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research use unless otherwise noted.

Preferred Citation Method:

In citing these materials, the following information should be included:
Item, title of collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of
Southern Mississippi.


Processing of this collection was sponsored by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission

Processing Information:

Collection processed and finding aid written by Evan Williamson, September 2013. However, he received invaluable assistance from:

  • Yvonne Arnold
  • Brandon Ball
  • Danielle Bishop
  • Shawna Guidry
  • Byron Johnson
  • Tim Johnson
  • T.J. Landry
  • Cindy Lawler
  • Marla McCardle
  • Angelica McIntire
  • Quanda Moffett
  • Paige Patterson
  • Corey Proctor
  • Diane Ross
  • Lauren Stealey
  • Paul Stoulig


8. Container List:

Container List

9. Item Logs:

Item Log

10. Publication Information


The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries, Special Collections


Physical Address

The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
McCain Library & Archives
118 College Drive #5148
Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5148

Email Contact

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Revision date

Last revised: September 30, 2013


Prepared and maintained by
The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections
118 College Drive #5148   Hattiesburg, MS 39406-5148