Lake County

The terrain around Reelfoot Lake is different than in any other place in Tennessee.

Reelfoot Lake


All of the lakes in Tennessee–except one– are man-made lakes that were formed by dams.

ReelfootLake, which borders Lake and Obion counties, was formed by a series of earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and 1812. It must have been an amazing thing to see, because from what we can tell the Mississippi River actually flowed backwards at times, pouring water into an abyss formed by the quake.

Reelfoot Lake was also the setting of an infamous series of terrorist attacks in 1907 and 1908.

Two of the night riders
PHOTO: TN State Library and Archives

Prior to that time, people who lived in this part of the state had fishing rights at Reelfoot Lake, and many people depended on the lake for their livelihood. But in that era a company called the West Tennessee Land Company bought Reelfoot Lake’s shoreline and declared that people couldn’t fish the lake anymore. This infuriated locals so much that hundreds of them put on black sheets and conducted terrorist attacks against the company and people who represented it.

Rankin and Taylor, as shown in newspapers in 1907
IMAGE: TN State Library and Archives

In October 1908 these “night riders,” as they were known, murdered a lawyer named Quenton Rankin and tried to kill a West Tennessee Land Company official named R.G. Taylor.

Taylor managed to escape by wading through swamps and dodging bullets. A posse of law enforcement officials from several states rounded up several suspects, six of which were later found guilty of murder (but none of whom actually went to prison).

A few years later the state of Tennessee passed a law declaring Reelfoot Lake public domain, which means people can fish there, regardless of who owns the shoreline.

Today, most of the people who visit this part of the state do so to hunt and fish (as you can see in this photo).

Even if you don’t hunt or fish, it’s worth coming to Reelfoot Lake to see the swampy areas beside the lake, where cypress trees live and where their roots pop up through the water. Nowhere in Tennessee is there anything else quite like it!