Fort Rosalie reconstruction has bizarre history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 12, 2001

The bizarre story of Jefferson Davis Dixon is on a par with some of the most intriguing historical events at the site of old Fort Rosalie.

In the 1930s, long before the National Park Service cast its eye toward the lofty bluff along present-day Canal Street, Dixon built his own version of Fort Rosalie.

Don Estes, a retired banker and now director of the Natchez City Cemetery, remembers well the fruits of Dixon’s vivid imagination and unbounded entrepreneurial energy.

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&uot;I guess it was in 1947 or ’48 that I first would remember playing there,&uot; said Estes, now a history buff but then a youngster in the neighborhood near the fort. &uot;It was intact. There were cannons and muskets. All the buildings were there.&uot; But by then the fort replica had been abandoned.

Dixon was born in Natchez but ran away to join the Merchant Marines at an early age, Estes said. Then when World War I began, he enlisted and went to Europe.

&uot;After the war, he made lots of money by taking pictures of GI’s with what looked like a dead German soldier,&uot; Estes said. &uot;Every American came home with a picture of himself with that soldier.&uot;

Dixon then built and operated a large arena in Paris, something similar to Madison Square Garden in New York.

In the 1930s, soon after the Natchez Spring Pilgrimage had started in 1932, Dixon came to Natchez for a visit and decided to stay. He saw tourism opportunities.

His projects included a lookout over the Devil’s Punch Bowl, a natural crater in the side of the bluff near the cemetery; the recreation of his idea of Fort Rosalie; and another tourist attraction at White Apple Village, one of the large Indian settlements south of Natchez.

Estes said the White Apple Village site included a tunnel dug through one of the nearby hills. Dixon enclosed the tunnel with glass and placed Indian artifacts behind the glass to give the effect of a walk through an Indian mound.

&uot;He was a real promoter,&uot; Estes said. The fort was his best Natchez effort. Surrounded by a palisade, it included the building that now houses Fat Mama’s Tamales, which was the ticket office and entrance into the fort.

The buildings, built in the same log style of Fat Mama’s, included a barracks, a cafeteria, a tower, stables, a church, a powder house and others.

Dixon offered his services as a photographer when the United States entered World War II. &uot;Many of the documentary films we see now were made by him,&uot; Estes said. He took many of the films made from B-17 airplanes and other planes.

&uot;On his last mission before he was to come home, the plane crashed and he was killed,&uot; Estes said.

No one in the Dixon family was interested in the Natchez property. His projects soon fell into disrepair.