Looking back on Native American history in Pearl River County, part 1

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Pearl River County was formed in 1890 when parts of Hancock and Marion counties were combined, but some of the first residents of the Pearl River County area left evidence of their existence that dates back to the earliest recognized archaeological periods.
These early people, the “Paleo-Indians,” left behind a spear point found in the eastern edge of central Pearl River County which was used by humans 12,000 years ago, according to a pamphlet from the Pearl River County Historical Society and the Pearl River Chapter of the Mississippi Archaeological Association titled Recognizing and Rejoicing in our Indian Heritage.
In more recent and well-documented history, a tribe known as the Acolapissa settled along the Pearl River in Pearl River County, said Jerry Stough of PRCHS.
In the PRCHS museum located behind locked doors in City Hall, there is a painting by former PRCHS member Barbara Perez that depicts tribal warriors in training and women working in the field. There are some arrowheads dating back to the Native Americans that were also recovered in Pearl River County.
“Along the Pearl River was the Acolapissa,” Stough said. “They were a small tribe here along the Pearl River, mostly in Pearl River County. They had maybe 1,000 to 1,500 members, and like most tribes, they were devastated by smallpox and other European diseases.”
Stough noted that there was one characteristic of the tribe members that made them very recognizable.
“They were very well-tattooed. Probably one of the distinguishing characteristics,” Stough said.
He said that the tribe members were thought to be hunter-gatherers.
Stough said that the reason the Pearl River has its name is because the native tribes claimed to find freshwater pearls in the Pearl River.
“That’s why the French named it Pearl River,” Stough said. “There’s no record that the French ever actually found any pearls in the river.”
Stough said after European encroachment in the Pearl River County area, the tribe moved to Louisiana and merged with the Houma tribe, which is still in existence today.
“As government agencies and land-hungry whites took away land and made every attempt to remove the natives, the Indian population became weakened and depleted,” the pamphlet states. “Interracial marriage was also a factor in the disappearance of the visible Native American in Pearl River County.”
Though today the Native American population of Pearl River County is less than 1 percent of the total population, many of today’s Pearl River County residents have Native American ancestors.
“Through such efforts we have learned that, indeed, very few natives of [Pearl River County] are without that ‘drop’ of Indian blood,” the pamphlet states.

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