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Origins of Mississippi


Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto

Mississippi had a sizable prehistoric population. Many ceremonial mounds still stand throughout the state as reminders of the Hopewell culture (about AD 1-800) and the Mississippian culture (about AD 800-1500), both popularly called Mound Builders, whose people lived in highly organized farming communities.

In historic times, three nations of the large Muskogean linguistic stock were the principal Native American residents of the region. The Choctaw, the largest and most powerful, were dominant in most of central and southern Mississippi. The Chickasaw controlled the northern part of the state. The Natchez were dominant in southwestern Mississippi.

Among these major peoples lived a number of smaller groups. By 1840 the great majority of Mississippi’s Native Americans had suffered fates common to most Native Americans in the eastern United States: extermination, forced relocation to other parts of the country, or assimilation with whites or with other Native American peoples.

There are still a few thousand Choctaw in the east-central part of the state, descendants of 5,000 who elected to stay and claim individual pieces of land when the rest of the nation was moved. Within 20 years they had been dispossessed of their claims, and for more than 100 years lived in poverty as sharecroppers and wage laborers.

Recently they have organized as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw, which runs several business enterprises and holds a prominent yearly regional fair, the Choctaw Indian Fair. They still speak the Choctaw language and play traditional stickball games.

European Discovery and Settlement


The first Europeans who entered the area were from Spain. Among them were the Hernando de Soto expedition (1539-1543) that explored large parts of the southern United States. De Soto is believed to have led his expedition westward across northern Mississippi late in 1540. The diseases brought by de Soto and his troops were devastating to the Native Americans, who lacked immunity to them. Their population dropped disastrously in the years after the Spaniards’ visit.

For about 130 years following de Soto’s expedition, there was no significant exploratory activity in the region. In 1673, the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet traveled down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River. Nine years later another French explorer, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, traveled down the Mississippi to its mouth and claimed for France all of the land drained by the river and its tributaries. La Salle named that vast region Louisiane (in English, Louisiana) in honor of the reigning French king, Louis XIV. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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