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|Major Haley, Choctaw chief's Natchez Trace hom|
(Fourth in a Series)
The focus on Mississippi history — although adulterated with a sizable dollop of showmanship -- was a reflection of Jefferson Davis Dickson Jr.'s heritage; his family had deep roots in Mississippi history.
In 1849 his grandfather Christopher Rankin "Rank" Dickson married the young Olivia Anne Haley of Madison County, Mississippi. Like the Dicksons, the Haleys were strongly rooted in the state's frontier history.
The Haleys lived at "Council Springs," a house that had been built and occupied by the old Choctaw chief Puckshunubbee, perhaps as early as 1807. It was situated on a ridge overlooking the cultivated Pearl River bottom. Running in front of the house was the old frontier road, the Natchez Trace, and only a few hundred feet away was a prehistoric Indian mound, that predated the Choctaws by hundreds of years.
Olivia Haley was the second of eighteen children of Major David W. Haley, Jr. (1793-1859), a native of Tennessee. Her mother was Haley's first wife, Maria Louisa McDaniel Haley (1807-1847), who died, presumably exhausted, after having given birth to 14 children. After her death Major Haley remarried and sired four more children. Although many of the Haley children died young, it would not be stretching the truth to say that Olivia came from a large family.
Her father was a typical frontier figure. Born in rugged eastern Tennessee, he came south into the Mississippi Territory with General Andrew Jackson's Tennessee militia after the massacre of Fort Mims on August 30, 1813 when several hundred farmers, militia, and mixed-blood Creek Indians were slaughtered by a large group of Creeks of the Red Stick faction. Their purpose was to provoke an Indian uprising against the United States. As word spread of the massacre, militia and U.S. regular troops were mustered. General Jackson led a sizable force of the West Tennessee militia southwards which included David Crockett, Sam Houston, and according to the testimony of his son, David W. Haley. Jackson was soon placed in charge of a combined force of regular and irregular troops that included several hundred Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek warriors. After surrounding the Red Sticks in their stronghold at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River, Jackson led an assault on March 27, 1814 that almost annihilated them. The victory thrust Jackson into the limelight as a national hero, a status that was further bolstered by his January 1815 victory at the Battle of New Orleans.
In 1936, Haley's son, David W. Haley III (b 1853), was interviewed by the archaeologist Moreau Chambers. (Four years later Chambers would work with Major Haley's great-grandson, Jeff Dickson, Jr., in the excavation of the "White Apple Village" south of Natchez.) The younger Haley informed Chambers that his father had carried messages for Andrew Jackson through hostile Indian Territory during the Creek War and as a reward was made "Major of the Commissary Department of Jackson's Army," hence his title of "Major." This claim is suspect; considering that the elder Haley was only about 20-21 years old during the Creek War, it seems unlikely that he would have been advanced to the rank of major. I suspect that the title of major, by which he was known, was purely honorary, as was often the custom during the 19th century.
David Haley next appears on the scene in 1821 as a Federal mail contractor, overseeing the transportation of the mail along the Natchez Trace and other roads in the state of Mississippi. He was also involved in U.S.-Choctaw relations — recognized by the Choctaws as someone they could trust -- and on one occasion accompanied a Choctaw party exploring present-day Oklahoma for sites where the tribe could settle after being moved out of Mississippi].
He would soon begin to acquire a growing body of land in Madison County. One of his first purchases was the house and farm of Puckshunnubee, one of the three principal chiefs of the Choctaw nation. In about 1807 Puckshunnubbee and several other Choctaws had left their homes in east central Mississippi to settle on the newly opened Natchez Trace. The purpose of this move was to capitalize off the traffic passing along the Trace through providing accommodations to travelers in the form of shelter, food, liquor, and fodder for horses. The Choctaws also established farms and built homes, probably log structures similar to those Americans were constructing. For almost two decades Puckshunnubbee's house was a center of activity for the Choctaws and for those on the Natchez Trace who needed a place to stay. In late 1824 all three principal chiefs — Puckshunnubbee, Pushmataha, and David Folsom -- along with several minor chiefs, an interpreter, and the sub-agent left for a treaty conference in Washington, D.C. They proceeded north to Maysville, Kentucky, located on the banks of the Ohio River. There Puckshunnubbee died after suffering a fall from a cliff. He was buried there, and the group proceeded to the national capital.
Some time after Puckshunnubbee's death, his home was acquired by Major Haley who would raise his large family there. He called the place Council Springs or Mingo, the latter being from the Choctaw word for chief. It became his home and the headquarters from which he oversaw his growing plantation and growing family. The house also grew, as rooms and porches were added. Jeff Dickson, Jr.'s grandmother, Olivia Haley, was almost certainly born at Council Springs and lived there until she met and married Rank Dickson and then moved to Jackson.
To grow up at Council Springs was to be constantly in touch with reminders of the seemingly remote past of the frontier. There were the stories of Major Haley in the Creek War, on the Natchez Trace, and his work with the Choctaws. Additionally there were material reminders in the form of Puckshunnubee's house and the old bed of the Trace beside the house. Then there was an even deeper horizon of history — prehistory — in the form of a low Indian mound only feet away from the house. On top of this mound the Haleys established their family cemetery.
Major Haley died on October 19, 1859 and was buried in the mound. Within two years war would descend upon the South and with it would descend the fortunes of the Dicksons and Haleys.
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