Choctaw artifacts part of lost culture

By KEITH BALL,

The history of the Pine Belt before the arrival of explorers and colonists from Europe is mysterious and largely unknown. 

Most of what we know comes in the form of arrowheads and spearheads, and less commonly, axes and pottery.  

These artifacts offer a small glimpse into a lost culture that existed in south Mississippi for at least centuries before Columbus. 

The Pine Belt has no known village mounds like other parts of Mississippi and the lack of any remaining buildings or written records from this time period makes the pre-Columbus civilizations of Mississippi more mysterious to the modern observer. 

My paternal grandfather found a number of arrowheads and spearheads in his life.  

Some of them were well-preserved while others were broken; some were just fragments. 

He lived on Green’s Creek for decades and gardened a field near the Leaf River; creek and river banks are the most common locations for finding these type of artifacts.  

Interestingly, what the majority of what people commonly call “arrowheads” are actually “spearheads.” 

Spearheads were too heavy to be used at the end of an arrow, so they were attached to the end of a spear. 

This suggests that hunting with spears was actually favored over bow and arrow hunting. Spears were simpler to make.

Only the smallest projectiles were used as arrowheads, sometimes called “bird points.” 

Bow and arrow hunting was more labor intensive because it required creating a wooden bow and then making a bow string from the shredded fibers of animal tendons.  

Arrowheads, spearheads and other artifacts found in the Pine Belt are likely of Choctaw origins. 

When Mississippi became a state on December 10, 1817, the federal government recognized the Choctaw claims to nearly three-quarters of the land in Mississippi – most of central and southern Mississippi.  

The Choctaw legacy in the Pine Belt lives on with the names of several of the Pine Belt creeks: Bogue Homa (meaning red creek), Tallahala (meaning standing rocks), and Okatoma (meaning foggy water).  

The story of the Choctaws is a sad one. Choctaws were pressured by the federal government to enter into a series of treaties gradually relinquishing land claims. 

The last treaty, known as the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, was signed on September 27, 1830, and ceded all Choctaw land in the Mississippi to the federal government. 

According to the terms of the treaty, the federal government would pay for the Choctaws to be moved to modern-day Oklahoma. 

The Choctaws that moved to Oklahoma were promised an annuity from the federalgovernment, but those that wished to stay in Mississippi would receive no annuity.  

As a result, these promises, most Choctaws moved to Oklahoma, taking their unique culture with them. Only a small minority of Choctaws chose to stay in Mississippi. 

It is highly questionable how well the federal government honored its obligations in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit. 

In 1978, a case interpreting parts of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Smith, 437 U.S. 634. 

The Court correctly wrote that: “The obligations of the United States both to those who remained, and to those who removed, is one best left to historians. It is enough to say that the failure of these attempts, characterized by incompetence, if not corruption, proved an intractable problem for the federal government for at least a century.” 

Research on the pre-Columbus Pine Belt area is far from complete. 

Every year more artifacts are found – especially as new land is developed. 

 Hopefully, someday archaeologists will be able to draw better and more complete conclusions, and development a better understanding of the pre-Columbus Pine Belt.  

 

Keith Ball is an attorney and a lifelong resident of Petal.