Some of America’s oldest and largest Indian mounds are scattered along the Highway 61 corridor. Just watch for the signs.
This story was republished with permission of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.
WINTERVILLE — It is hard to find a part of Mississippi that doesn’t have an Indian mound. But because many are on private property, people often passed them by without realizing they were there. Until now.
In May, after 10 years of planning, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History celebrated the grand opening of its Mississippi Mound Trail with a ceremony at Winterville Mounds near Greenville. Ken Carleton of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Brady Davis of the Chickasaw Nation were on hand for the ceremony.
The 350-mile driving trail will use signs to steer motorists to 33 mound sites along the U.S. 61 corridor down the Mississippi River from DeSoto County to Wilkinson County. MDAH director Katie Blount said that stretch includes “some of the largest and oldest American Indian mounds and mound groups in the nation.”
Mississippi is home to some of the nation’s highest concentrations of prehistoric archaeological sites and the MDAH website boasts that “none of these sites are more striking than the massive earthen mounds that dot the landscape.”
Erected by hand a few hundred to about 2000 years ago, these burial mounds, platform mounds and others still hold clues to the history of early Native Americans that puzzle archaeologists to this day. Many mounds have been levelled by farmers and development. State officials hope to encourage their preservation by using the trail to call attention to their historic value.
The trail shows off a fraction of the hundreds of these prehistoric monuments sprinkled across Mississippi. For example, it does not include the Choctaw’s huge “Mother Mound” at Nanih Waiya in east central Mississippi. However, it points people to several of the state’s biggest and most prominent mounds.
For example, 4 sites on the trail – the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Pocahontas Rest Area and Welcome Center, Winterville Mounds and Emerald Mound on the Natchez Trace Parkway – are state or federally operated and open to the public. Visitors can stroll among the mounds and learn more through interpretive signs and exhibits. All are free.
Many sites are on private land, visible from a road but not open to the public. Drivers are asked to stay on roadside pull-offs for viewing. The owners of those sites agreed to let the state put up historical markers.
Some are off the beaten path, so GPS coordinates listed in the trail brochure will enable drivers to find the exact locations of the markers. The website will provide a map and additional information about the history of each site.
“These mounds are a fine example of Native American engineering that has endured for thousands of years,” said Andrew Hughes, Mississippi division director of the Federal Highway Administration, which cooperated with the trail project.
The self-guided driving tour was modeled after a similar project in Louisiana, where four driving trails pass dozens of mounds in the northeast and east-central parts of the state.
The Meek School faculty and students published “Unconquered and Unconquerable” online on August 19, 2016, to tell stories of the people and culture of the Chickasaw. The publication is the result of Bill Rose’s depth reporting class taught in the spring. Emily Bowen-Moore, Instructor of Media Design, designed the magazine.
“The reason we did this was because we discovered that many of them had no clue about the rich Indian history of Mississippi,” said Rose. “It was an eye-opening experience for the students. They found out a lot of stuff that Mississippians will be surprised about.”
Print copies are available October 2016.