Brief History of Chickasaw County, Mississippi
(Excerpts from Chickasaw County History, Vol. 1)
Long before Chickasaw County, Mississippi was formed a type of Paleo-Indian people, also known as the Hopewells, inhabited the area. Traces of these people may be found a few miles northeast of Houston on the Natchez Trace at a place known as Bynum Mounds. In time they disappeared from this area and were probably absorbed by later groups who moved into this area.
The Chickasaw people for whom the county is named left marks on this area which endure to the present day. The word “Chickasaw” means “Rebellion” or “He-Who-Walks-Away” and is supposedly a derivative of the name of the Indian leader, Chisca. The Chickasaws practiced a monotheistic religion and worshiped their god, Ababinili, atop ceremonial mounds. The Owl Creek Mounds, north east of Davis Lake, are examples of this type of mound. The Chickasaws became known as one of the Five Civilized Tribes of the southeastern region of the United States.
DeSoto and his men moved into the area near present day Egypt in 1540-1541 and spread north and east, but left in confusion after the Indians refused to abide by his commands. By the latter part of the 17th century, much of what is now Chickasaw county was in French hands. The French viewed the Chickasaws as “troublesome” and determined to wipe them out. Their effort, led by D’Artagnette, failed and resulted in three decisive defeats at the hands of the Indians.
Twenty years later another Frenchman, named Vandruil, attempted to crush the Chickasaw nation. His forces were also defeated.
Following the treaty signed in Paris at the close of the French and Indian War, the land of the Chickasaws passed from the French to the British. The British made two efforts to improve the government of the Chickasaw nation but were resisted by the Chickasaws. The tribe remained friendly with the British throughout the American Revolution. There were two important trails in this area by that time, the Natchez Trace and the Gaines Trace which intersected near Houlka. Today the Natchez Trace is a beautiful scenic drive that runs from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN.
In 1786 the Chickasaws, under Chief Peopenzo, signed the Treaty of Hopewell with the United States government. In this treaty, the Chickasaws declared themselves at peace with the United States and under her protection. The Hopewell Treaty became the first in a series which gradually diminished the rights of the Chickasaw people. The first treaty actually concerned with the ceding of Chickasaw lands to the U.S. was signed July 23, 1805.
As more white people, including trappers and traders who had been traversing the territory for years, came into the Chickasaw territory, the Indians began replacing their primitive farming practices with better methods learned from the newcomers. Eventually some of the Indians came to own large farms and some even became slave holders. As more land hungry white men arrived, the struggle for land intensified.
It was under the presidency of Andrew Jackson that the Indians were finally driven from this area. Jackson had passed through the area on his return from the battle of New Orleans in February 1813. Tradition says that he camped near the present Webster-Chickasaw county line and continued north through present day Chickasaw County on the Natchez Trace. A series of treaties between the Chickasaws and the United States aimed toward moving the Indians out of the area to a new homeland in the west on the Trail of Tears. In 1831, the Treaty of Pontotoc provided that the Chickasaw lands in Mississippi would be surveyed and sold as soon as possible. This treaty opened the door to land companies and individual speculators to set stage for the formation of Chickasaw County.
Land was bought from the Indians at a price no lower than $1.25 per acre to be resold at higher prices. These lands first sold for $1.25 an acre, but decreased until the price reached a low of 12 cents an acre. This price encouraged increased settlement. White men, mostly of Anglo-Saxon stock from Virginia, Carolinas and Georgia or from the “western” states of Kentucky and Tennessee, were coming into this area in groups, most in covered wagons pulled by oxen.
The law creating Chickasaw county was passed by the Mississippi Legislature on February 9, 1836. A second law passed five days later, named John Delashment, Richard Elliot, Thomas Ivy, Thomas Gates and Benjamin Anderson as commissioners for the purpose of organizing the county. These five men met near Old Houlka at the home of Malcolm Magee a half-breed Indian. They ordered an election for the purpose of choosing a Board of Police which would serve in a capacity similar to that of today’s Board of Supervisors. Their immediate duties were to hold an election to select other county officers and to select the site for a county seat.
Thirty-three voters selected a Board of Police made up of Littlebury Gilliam, Thomas Gates, Thomas D. Wooldridge, Benjamin Bugg and Asa H. Braddock, in an election held April 23, 1836. Approximately 70 people voted in the first county wide election on May 6th and 7th 1836. They elected Richard L. Aycock as Sheriff; George Hoyle as Justice of Probate; Charles Graeff, clerk of Probate and Police Court; Hezekiah Goode, clerk of Circuit Court; Gilbert Anderson, tax assessor and collector; Claiborne Williams, Coroner; William Kreider, county treasurer and Thomas Willliams, county surveyor. Goode’s duties were performed by his deputy, Adam Kerr Craig.
July 8, 1836 a private speculator, Joel Pinson, offered land for a county seat, with the town being named “Houston”, in honor of a great Texas hero, Major Gen. Sam Houston, a close friend of Pinson’s. Houston was incorporated May 9, 1837. General stores, which sold hats, boots, hardware, bonnets and an assortment of goods, a hotel, a drug store (which also carried a wide variety of alcoholic beverages), and a post office, were rising fast in the new town and county. Early industry included boot and shoe making, manufacture of buggies and wagons, tin ware, coffins and furniture. By 1860 the new town had thirteen doctors and twenty-three lawyers.
Okolona was established in 1845 in the northeastern section of the county. First named Rose Hill, the town was renamed Okolona when it was discovered that another town in the state had the same name. The name “Okolona” was derived from that of an Indian herdsman, “Okalaua”. Okolona was incorporated in 1850 and by 1859 had three hotels, six dry goods stores, two drug stores, a jewelry store, two livery stables, a funeral parlor, candy, toy and liquor establishments.
Houlka is Chickasaw County’s oldest town. This community, located ten miles north of Houston, dates its modern history from 1836. With the coming of the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad in 1905, the town moved from its original site approximately a mile to the west. Some other early towns in the county were Van Vleet, Buena Vista – originally known as Monterey, Egypt, Trebloc and Palo Alto. Woodland was a new town in the early 1900s.
Between 1840 and 1850 the population of the county grew from 2,148 to 9,887. The number of black slaves, 807 in 1840, grew to 6,480 in 1850 and to 20,000 in 1860, outnumbering the white population. The agricultural economy with cotton as the big money crop was based firmly on the institution of slavery.
During the 1840s the rich prairie lands had been settled and corn, other grain crops and various legumes were grown. Hogs were the primary source of meat. Cattle were used primarily for dairy purposes and sheep were raised for wool. Every farm had chickens, truck patches and orchards for feeding their families and the slave families The county had a number of churches during this time. No provision was made for public school funding until the creation of the common school fund in 1846. Before that time children attended various private schools located in most communities.
During the War Between the States, Chickasaw County furnished fifteen companies of Infantry and Cavalry, for a total of 1,875 men. The county produced one outstanding officer, General William Feimster Tucker. General Tucker was born in Irdell County, North Carolina on May 9, 1827. He died on September 14, 1881, and is buried in Chickasaw County. Since that time, many Chickasaw county men and women have served our country in the military for the protection of freedom.
Chickasaw presently (2012) has four existing towns; Houston, Okolona, Houlka and Woodland, with a population of 19,440, consisting mostly of Whites, Afro-Americans and Hispanics. There are 80,000 acres of farm land in Chickasaw County, growing sweet potatoes, cotton, corn, soybeans, forage crops and truck patches. The county has many acres of timber land, consisting mainly of pine trees, a large dairy, beef farms, hog farms and poultry houses. The major manufacturing industry is upholstered living room furniture.