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|Jeff Dickson's development of White Apple Village|
(Eleventh in a series)
In early 1940, Jefferson Davis Dickson, Jr. began a whirlwind process of developing "historic" sites as tourist attractions in Natchez. As a native of Natchez with deep family roots in Jackson, he had a personal linkage to Mississippi history.
He had also made a fortune in Europe in promoting everything from sports events to circus acts. A reporter observed that "if Jefferson Davis Dickson were to fence in an abandoned cistern and charge admission, he would have crowds flocking to the place."
He opened his first Natchez attraction on March 25, "The Devil's Punch Bowl," a deep gorge around which he had constructed a log stockade. Upon paying the price of admission a visitor was allowed to pass through the gate to see what lay beyond. However his biggest projects were yet to come: White Apple Village and Fort Rosalie.
From mid-March through mid-April Jeff resided with his beautiful wife Billie in a suite at the Eola Hotel. While there they were "much-feted guests at innumerable parties and were frequent hosts to the many friends made during their visit at a variety of delightful affairs."
There is an undated photograph from one such party of the couple at Connelly's Tavern (now known as Ellicott's Hill): Billie dressed in a hoop skirt, Jeff in a Confederate uniform, Jeff playing a piano with Billie at his side.
On April 4, Jeff spoke at a meeting of the Natchez JayCee's where he predicted a rosy future for Natchez and its pilgrimages. He also provided details of his Fort Rosalie project, which would involve reconstructing the old fort adding that "he had definite assurance that the ambassador from France would dedicate Fort Rosalie when the restoration was complete."
On April 9, he signed a lease agreement with Clara Mazique for the White Apple Village property located about 12 miles south of Natchez on Highway 61. This was to be an interpretation of a Natchez Indian village as described by the French settlers such as Le Page du Pratz. The only problem is that it wasn't the White Apple Village, and it wasn't even a Natchez village or at least not a Natchez village that was inhabited during the years of French settlement in the early 1700s.
It is now known that the real Natchez village known as White Apple was northeast of Natchez in the vicinity of Foster, not south of Natchez on Highway 61. At the site south of Natchez, now known as the Mazique site, Colonel Anthony Hutchins settled in 1772. The Mazique site had several Indian mounds and was misidentified by the Hutchins family as the "White Apple Village, formerly occupied by the Prince White Apple, of the Natchez Tribe." Once made this identification became generally accepted. J.H. Ingraham in his book, The Southwest by a Yankee (1835), described it:
"The site of White Apple village, the capital of the Natchez tribe, and the residence of 'Great Sun,' chief of chiefs of that interesting nation, is pointed out to the traveler, on the river road to Woodville from Natchez. a few mounds, with the usual remains of spear and arrow heads, beads, and broken pottery only exist, to mark the spot." If Jeff mistakenly identified, he was not the first. In fact the misidentification was fairly ensconced in the literature by the 20th century.
The lease agreement with the owner Clara Mazique of Oakland Plantation included about 20 acres to be used for developing "an historical shrine to attract visitors, tourists and the general public." The agreement provided that Dickson pay her 15% of the income of the attraction with a guaranteed minimum annual payment of $200. Dickson would finance the building of the attraction including "fences, stockades, houses, huts, temples, museums, roads walks, paths, gardens, etc, as he may see fit," while Mazique was to furnish all the wood, gravel and sand to be used in the construction. It was further stipulated that "any jewelry, gold or money" that might be discovered in the excavation of the mounds, 75% would go to Mazique and 25% to Dickson. To my knowledge, none was found.
On April 15, after signing the lease, Jeff and Billie Dickson left Natchez for New York City and their suite in the Waldorf Astoria. While there Jeff spent time in the New York Public Library reading French accounts of Natchez. He also traveled to Washington to visit the renowned anthropologist Dr. John Swanton of the Smithsonian Institution. The two had a nice discussion with Swanton giving Dickson some maps and books and suggesting that on his return trip to Natchez that he see Ocmulgee Mounds, Georgia and Moundville, Alabama. Jeff also began corresponding with Dr. W.D. McCain, director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Jeff and Billie arrived back in Natchez on about May 9. This time they wouldn't be staying in the Eola Hotel. They had leased an antebellum home, Rip-Rap located on South Rankin Street. Rankin Street was named after the Congressman from Natchez, Christopher Rankin, after whom Jeff's grandfather, Christopher Rankin Dickson was named.
McCain had placed the staff archaeologist, Moreau B.C. Chambers at Dickson's disposal for excavating and interpreting White Apple Village. Only four years before Chambers had interviewed Jeff's great uncle David W. Haley III in Madison County regarding Haley family history. Chambers would spend time in Natchez in May and then return in late summer.
Emmett Chisum, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, came on board to work with the archaeological project which included excavating a trench through one mound. The trench was enclosed in glass and roofed over so visitors could walk through the mound and view its interior in cross-section.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|