152 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI supplied nourishment for man and beast alike. Two vegetables, sweet potatoes and cowpeas, grew well in the soil of the region. On his famous trip through the Piney Woods in 1841, John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne noted that “…the main crop is the sweet potato.” Humans consumed the sweet potato in a variety of ways: boiled, baked, and fried. Cowpeas thrived in the sandy soil and provided the added value of enriching the soil with nitrogen. Both the sweet potato and cowpeas also served as forage for livestock. While crop agriculture was essential to survival, raising livestock and poultry offered the opportunity to provide fresh meat and a valuable market commodity. Historians Thomas D. Clark and John D. W. Guice highlighted the importance of livestock to the southern economy in their monograph Frontiers in Conflict: The Old Southwest, 1795–1830, stating that the “…value of Southern livestock in 1860 was twice that of the same year’s cotton crop and roughly equal to the combined value of all Southern crops.” By the early nineteenth century, stock raising was already an important commercial activity in the Piney Woods. The open pinelands abounded with forage for herd animals. Cattle, hogs, and sheep were the primary types of livestock, and many families raised chickens. These animals served as an important source of protein in the diet of the locals but also provided a variety of by- products, including hides and wool. Herd animals were allowed to graze on the open range, an advantage to many Piney Woods residents because the federal government still owned large swaths of unclaimed land in the region. For the Pascagoula watershed, Mobile, Alabama, was the market of choice for livestock, and residents often drove cattle overland to the port city from as far away as Jones County. New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the coast community of Pass Christian offered other outlets to livestock drovers. The forest products industry also served as a source of income for a small number of Piney Woods citizens. In the antebellum period, the vast majority of sawmills utilized either water or steam power and were located along the waterways of the region. With sawmills located along the banks of waterways, timber was easily felled from the adjacent forests and floated to the mill without a grueling overland trek. The sawn lumber traveled along the same waterways by flatboat or ship to either a port on the coast or its final destination. Historian Nollie Hickman, in his seminal work on the Pine Belt, postulates that the demand for forest resources in New Orleans spurred the development of these antebellum mills after the 1830s. These early mills stood along the lower reaches of the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers, and without the cheap form of water transportation, shipping the forest products to market would not have been cost effective. By the 1850s, lumber mills, mostly located in the coastal counties of Hancock, Harrison, and Pearl River, shipped forest products to both regional markets in New Orleans and international markets in Mexico and the West Indies. A lack of transportation, however, limited the growth of lumber mills in the interior of the Piney Woods. Many of the mills on the interior were powered by water and also provided other functions, such as serving as a cotton gin or gristmill. Of the fifteen mills in Pike County in 1860, eleven contained saws. In addition, all of the mills ground corn into meal, and the majority also served to power cotton gins. Jones County contained only six water mills in 1860; Covington County contained eleven. These mills served mostly local markets in the interior Piney Woods. A viable form of transportation was the key to the further development of the timber industry in the heart of the Piney Woods, and the technology to achieve the goal was the railroad. Railroads were a product of antebellum America. Once investors realized their potential to reshape the nation’s transportation network, railroad mileage expanded rapidly. In 1830, the United States had less than thirty miles of railroad track; by 1860 more than 30,000 miles of track connected the nation. The steam-powered railroad quickly became a preferred method of transportation, as it could transport heavy loads across great distances in a cost- efficient manner. Two railroad lines penetrated the Pine Belt during the antebellum era: the Mobile and Ohio and the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern. The Mobile and Ohio was the first to lay tracks through the Pine Belt in 1854, entering extreme northern Greene County and continuing through Wayne County, roughly parallel with the Chickasawhay River. The railroad originally connected Mobile, Alabama, with Meridian, Mississippi, and reached Columbus, Kentucky, by 1861. The New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern began operation between New Orleans and Canton, Mississippi, in 1858. The railroad stretched northward from New Orleans and traveled through Pike County on its way to Jackson. From the Mississippi state capital, the railroad eventually extended to Jackson, Tennessee, by 1860. During much of the antebellum period, however, The Pearl and Pascagoula rivers, and their branches in particular, served as a vehicle for trade development.