The village of Tomahawk is an interesting Sampson County place if for no other reason than the mystery of its Indian name. This came from Tomahawk Creek, which heads nearby and flows to South River. The mouth of the creek is near the old site of Murphy’s Bridge over South River.
But for a time during the early days of this country, the Scots who settled there called the place Arran. These included the DeVanes, Browns, Fennells, Herrings and Newkirks, but the Murphys appear to have been the most prominent. They were fond of the “old sod” from whence they came, Arran Island, along the west coast of Scotland at the mouth of the River Clyde, just 20 miles long and 10 miles wide.
Before the settlers arrived, however, legend tells us that Indians once occupied the area. In a burst of reconciliation one day, they decided to dispose of their weapons by throwing them in the creek. Thereafter it was dubbed Tomahawk Creek.
The Murphys named their plantation Arran, but many people simply called it Dr. Murphy’s for the dentist who lived there. That was the case when the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad decided to put a depot there in 1889.
The name of Arran might have stuck except for the involvement of the U.S. Post Office. There was a town in the North Carolina mountains called Ararat, and it was believed postal workers would easily confuse the two.
One of the railway officials talked to Dr. Murphy about other name possibilities and he suggested Tomahawk after the nearby creek, and the postal officials were agreeable. Thus the village reverted to its original name, but the Murphys continued to call their plantation Arran.
The Tomahawk Post Office was established June 25, 1890 with Thomas J. Murphy
as first postmaster. Others were William B. Murphy on June 22, 1893; David P. Ross on August 12, 1907; William B. Murphy on December 20, 1907; Florence M. Simpson (or Simmons) on June 24, 1909; John M. DeVane on August 22, 1912; and Odius W. Cannady on April 30, 1953.
Tomahawk did not really become settled until the railroad came through, as it was the only source of transportation to and from the remote area. The early sawmills must have had gaslights because it is said they operated 24 hours per day. During this time as many as 500 people lived in the Tomahawk community, and there were a great many shanties for the laborers.
Tomahawk at one time was laid off in blocks, and these were 300 to 400 square yards in size. Most of the streets ran parallel with the railroad, with some cross streets at right angles. Main Street was highway NC 41. It is said that Tomahawk was laid off much better than Clinton.
The first Tomahawk post office was in a springhouse where running water kept items such as milk and butter cool during the summer. It stood until a few years ago and was located across from the Murphy house. A later post office was in the John M. DeVane store, which is now behind the DeVane Trading Post.
There were three stores in Tomahawk at its peak of business. One was the Murphy store, run by Robert J. Murphy. Another was the John M. DeVane store, and the third was Tom J. Brown’s store. All carried general merchandise.
One of the schools was located a few hundred yards form the railroad station and was called the Tomahawk School serving grades 1-9. Its term was for four months and Mrs. Eula DeVane was the teacher. There also was a one-room Negro school. Some of the local students went to school at South River and then to Mrs. Wright’s boarding school near Ingold for the higher grades.
In the early days there was no church in Tomahawk, so some of the people went to old Lisbon Baptist Church, others going to Johnson’s Methodist Church near Ingold and others to Harmony Church at Kerr.
One of the important houses was the Murphy house, which stood down in the woods, burned and was rebuilt in Tomahawk. Another was the DeVane house where Walter Herring later lived. Another DeVane house was built along the railroad tracks. The Tom Browns had a nice home, later occupied by the Loftin DeVanes.
When the saw mill moved away, Tomahawk started to decline, and many of the people left. Soon the railway station was closed, then the trains were eliminated, and finally the tracks taken up. Tomahawk in 1983 has almost returned to its original rural condition.
Sources: Story by Vic Johnson and U.S. postal records.