Current archaeological evidence suggests that man crossed a "land bridge" from Siberia to Alaska and North America long before 15,000 B.C. With the last period of glaciation, around 8000 B.C., the land bridges were closed.
An expert, carefully trained through long years of study, is required to read the story from clues found in the prehistoric remains hidden within Indian Mounds.
The Lower Coastal Region has occupation sites of Middle and Late Archaic Period peoples. The Gulf Coast Region has good occupation sites of Early, Middle, and Late Archaic Period Peoples.
The most populous tribes, the Choctaws with about 20,000 tribesmen, and the Chickasaws and Natchez each numbering about 4,500, had a common language heritage known as Muskhogean. This language was very agreeable to the ears, courteous, gentle and musical . . . . the women in particular were prone to musical sounds representing the singing of birds. There was no written language.
Mississippi Indians had a spiritual belief in one God and ceremonialized the sun in worship. The tribal elders maintained calendars based on collective winters. They maintained a universal calendar consisting of knoted fiber with each knot representing a time period.
The Mississippi tribes were town dwellers following the clan system of social organization with all clans belonging to a national council settleing major problems and the general welfare of the nation.
The basic foods were provided by the deer and the bear. The deer was most esteemed. Its flesh was cooked fresh or dried and smoked for winter's use, and its skin served as the principal material for clothing. Antler tips were used for arrow points, and dried deer sinew and entrails were twisted and used for bow strings and as thread for sewing and for weaving fish nets. The deer brains were used for softening tanned skins.
The bear made heavy winter robes and bed coverings, macassins, and boot leggings. Dried bear gut was used for bow string. Bear claws used for neclaces and ornaments. Slabs of bear fat were stored in clay pots for cooking, hair dressing and body rub.
The economic life of the Indians was enriched by commerce with other tribes. In business transactions they counted quantity by tens, related to the number of theire fingers. They traded deer skins and bear oil with merchants of other tribes trading for war implements, conch shells, and sheet copper for making ornaments. A popular trade item was an Indian slave whose ankle and heal tendons were cut to keep him from fleeing.
Indians who migrated from the South
Many historians report that the Native Indians of the Gulf Coast had originated from the lands across the southern waters. Presumably, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Land of the Mayan Indians.
The ensuing migration accounts concur with Indian legends from the Yucatan Peninsula and from the lower Mississippi valley. A young Mayan Chieftain was told to take a sacred pole and to stand it on its end each day. The direction in which the pole would lean, would be the course of travel for that day. His journey would end when the sacred spear would stand erect without leaning in any direction. Day after day, the spear continued to lead them northerly until they landed on the Gulf Coast. This account also conforms with early history of founding Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Baton Rouge means Red Stick or Istrouma.)
Over hundreds of years, their culture became greatly modified by the new terrain which consisted of marshlands and low rolling hills. The former pyramid builders altered their specifications by erecting raised mounds along the Coastal high-grounds. Even today there are signs of mounds from Indians of old that can be found in certain sections of Bay St Louis, DeLisle, Pearlington, and Pass Christian. Many of these date back to 500 to 100 B.C.
The early Spanish and French explorers encountered various tribes along the Gulf coast such as the Bylocchy, Moctoby, Ouma and the Pascoboula (as listed in Iberville's Journals). Near the mouth of the Mississippi River they encountered the Tangipahoa, Mougoulaschas, and the Bayagoulas; and further upriver they smoked the peace pipe and celebrated the dance of the Calumet with the Nipissas and the Quinipissas. The Indians called the great Mississippi river the Malbanchya. The early Spanish called it the Rio de Palisades or Rio de Espiritu Santo. The early French called it the St. Louis River, or Missicipy or Myssysypy as recorded in Iberville's Journals.
One of Iberville's entourage, Andre Penicaut, reported that "during the spring of 1700, Iberville reported contacts only with small groups [of indians], a male hunting party in one instance; and nuclear or small extended families, one of which was traveling with stored maize and beans." Indian villages lay deep in the interior far above the limits of tidewater. Native villages were located well inland and coastal sites were typically dispersed with small, seasonal encampments.
Choctaws, the descendants of Chief Chakta and his followers, were by far the strongest Indian tribe in Mississippi. They lived in the Central and Southwest regions and covered the Southern half of Mississippi. Because the tribe was too large to be ruled by one man, the Choctaws divided their people into three groups each ruled by a chief known as a Mingo. Chief Tacala Yarbo ruled the Hancock tribal group from the Devil Swamp's lower central part of the county.
"The Choctaw dispersed in small, presumably family-based, groups in the Spring after the crops were planted. They subsisted on fruit and aquatic foods until the early summer when they returned to the home community for the annual Green Corn Ceremony. Following this, they dispersed again until harvest time. After the crops were harvested in the Fall, the men were away on the Fall hunt and the remaining villagers gathered nuts and other resources for Winter and early Spring consumption.", as described by R. Barry Lewis in his Fires on the Bayous.
The Indians remained shy of the white man following their encounter with the Spaniard, DeSoto. During his 1540s trek along the Coast from Florida to the Mississippi River he killed all Indians he came in contact with. However the French finally made friends with the Indians and by 1730, the Choctaws and the French accepted each other as equals. Intermarriages even produced some Choctaw/Creole leadership as characterized by the famous Chief Greenwood LeFlore.
Through the years, Yellow Fever epidemics, warfare and colonial encroachment, greatly affected the Indian population. When the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was enacted, the tribes east of the Mississippi River were forced to exchange their home lands for new lands in the West. The Choctaws and Chickasaws of Mississippi were included, as well as the Creeks from Florida. This enforced migration was later called the Trail of Tears.
Many of the mix blooded Indians dropped their Native names in favor of their European family name and discreetly remained concealed in the wooded areas. Not unusually, these names were Favre, Dedeaux, Cuevas, Ladner, Dubuisson, etc. Farve or Favre is a common name for many of today's Indians who live in Hancock County.
Indians are now, few in number along the Gulf Coast. Much of the Indian heritage has been forgotten. However, we might justly remind ourselves that many of the names of towns, counties, rivers and bayous, and even the State name of Mississippi proclaims the omnificense of their progeny.
For the amateur archaeologist or Indian lore seeker there are still traces of the native Indian habitat along the Coast. Archaeological components in Mississippi are unfortunately based entirely on the results of limited excavations thereby providing limited data. However, some Indian shell piles called middens still have potential historical significance.
Native Indians created mounds long before DeSoto ever made his Pasada or bloody trek from Florida to the Mississippi River in 1541.
Following Columbus in 1492, and Magellan’s trip around the world, and even before Hernando DeSoto trekked across the Southeastern states to the Mississippi River in 1540 — Cabeza de Vaca lived to tell about the journeys by water and land from Cuba to Florida and the Gulf Coast through Texas to Arizona in 1528.
Of their mishaps, one historian wrote that following a November storm that swamped their boats, the survivors lost their clothing and suffered severely. One boat barely survived but continued its way from Mobile Bay as far as Pass Christian, where they landed naked and starving among a people called the Carnones. Later, this story was told to DeVaca by friendly Indians who stated that, “the natives had killed the Spanish who were so feeble that they could not defend themselves.”