By Anne McKee / Guest Columnist
The Meridian Star
One of my favorite places located in East Central Mississippi is Clarke County.
As I drive Highway 45, south, from Meridian, I sense a place of rich history sustained by the strength of a strong people. History has proven these facts to be true.
The history of Clarke County records the Chickasawhay River as the site of a large part of theChoctaw Nation as well as the establishment of early Christian missions. With the missions, trading posts thrived as well. As early as 1699 a Jesuit Priest was sent by D’Iberville to bolster the beginnings of a mission located on the west side of the river. The place of worship brought many Indians to Christianity.
It was during this time that the Choctaw Nation was established as one of the major groupings of tribes located in the Southeast, with 25,000 plus warriors.
Their mighty chief, Pushmataha, born around 1790, was a valued friend to the white man.
It was the Choctaw Nation who named the Chickasawhay River from the Indian word meaning cloudy water, or sweet water, or smoky water, according to the Choctaw dialects. The Indians lived in cabins located near the river and used the rich bottom soil to grow an abundance of corn, beans and other vegetables.
The early white settlers of the Chickasawhay area arrived primarily from Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia,Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. Clarke County was officially organized in1833 with a recorded population of 4,117.
Agriculture, especially cotton, provided a livelihood for the area, with the Chickasawhay as the main means of transporting crops to the ports located on the Gulf of Mexico. Flatboats were the primary source of river travel until the steamboat came to the river in the1840s. There was brisk river transportation, which encouraged the formation of villages clustered near the river – especially Enterprise, Desoto, Quitman, and Shubuta, plus smaller communities – all benefited by the Chickasawhay.
Oh, dear readers,I know this is just history to some of you, but to many – the memories of those times are sweet and dear. It was a time prior to the interstate, railroads, airports – telephones, the telegraph, and, of course, computers. It is hard in this 21st Century to imagine the tranquility and quietness of the land and the river, when traffic was measured by the dust of the road or the splash of a down river current. Read more Clarke County history at www.visitclarkecounty.com.
Today one may rent a canoe or bring your own and float the beautiful Chickasawhay River. It is fun to put in at Point Bridge on the Chunky River (a tributary of the Chickasawhay) and float south to Shubuta. The view of the river provides steep, muddy banks, green forests, towering cliffs of sandstone and limestone, carved clay banks, and swampy areas as well. Also, glimpsed along the way is evidence of long ago cabins and lovely old homes. I like to think if you listen intently, perhaps a moccasin may be heard treading along the pine straw – maybe. Sigh.
Canoe rentals are available at the Clarke County Chamber of Commerce by calling 601-776-5701.
I encourage you to load up the kids and granny – take a day-trip to Clarke County. Enjoy the beautiful historic homes and churches, visit with the good people, take a meal at Gappy’s Fish Camp, Long’sFish Camp, Christy’s Fine Dining, or Riverside Grill. You will come home with a smile on your face and a renewed appreciation for our great state.
Travel Mississippi this summer!
Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her web site: annemckee.net.