Mississippi’s American Indians
James F. Barnett, Jr., explores the story of the region’s Native Americans in the sixth volume of the Heritage of Mississippi Series. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, more than twenty American Indian tribal groups inhabited present-day Mississippi. Today the state is home to only one—the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. In Mississippi’s American Indians, Barnett explores the historical forces and processes that led to this sweeping change in the diversity of the state’s native peoples.
The book begins with a chapter on Mississippi’s approximately 12,000-year prehistory, from early hunter-gatherer societies through the powerful mound building civilizations encountered by the first European expeditions. With the arrival of Spanish, French, and English settlers in the New World, native societies in the region connected with the Atlantic market economy, a source for guns, blankets, and many other trade items.
Europeans offered these trade materials in exchange for Indian slaves and deerskins, currencies that radically altered the relationships between tribal groups. Smallpox and other diseases followed along the trading paths. Colonial competition between the French and English helped spark the Natchez rebellion, the Chickasaw–French wars, the Choctaw civil war, and a half-century of client warfare between the Choctaws and Chickasaws. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 forced Mississippi’s pro-French tribes to move west of the Mississippi River.
The Diaspora included the Tunicas, Houmas, Pascagoulas, Biloxis, and a portion of the Choctaw confederacy. In the early nineteenth century, Mississippi’s remaining Choctaws and Chickasaws faced a series of treaties with the United States government that ended in destitution and removal. Despite the intense pressures of European invasion and U.S. duplicity, the Mississippi tribes survived by adapting and contributing to their rapidly evolving world.
Mississippi’s American Indians presents information on each tribe’s language, social organization, appearance, subsistence, belief system, and settlement characteristics. The book also includes an up-to-date summary of Mississippi’s prehistoric archaeology and contains a detailed summary of Chickasaw and Choctaw treaties with the United States.
James Barnett is the former director of the Historic Properties Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He is the author of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735.
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