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|The truth behind Jeff Dickson's White Apple Village|
(Twelfth in a series)
In January 1940, Jefferson Davis Dickson, Jr. returned to the town of his birth, Natchez, and almost immediately began a whirlwind process of developing "historic" sites as tourist attractions in Natchez.
Having quite a bit of personal capital at his disposal, 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, purported to be the Natchez Indian village of that name, would be next.
On April 9 Jeff leased the White Apple Village site located about twelve miles south of Natchez on Highway 61. He must have almost immediately engaged architects and landscape designers to begin designing the project.
On May 20, he noted that construction would begin the following day on the museum which would "be built colonial style, measuring seventy feet on the front and sixty feet in length." Working with archaeologist Moreau Chambers of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jeff noted that Chambers had already discovered a third, and previously unknown mound near the highway and that the museum was "laid out in such a manner that this mound will be inside the museum." This mound they would call the "Burial Mound."
The museum and two smaller side buildings were built on the eastern side of Hwy 61 where they were easily visible and accessible to traffic. These were substantial, attractively-designed buildings: the museum had porches on three sides while the other buildings had them in front; all porches were supported by impressive columns. Jeff invested quite a bit of money in the buildings.
Inside the museum artifacts were on display including ones excavated on site and others on loan from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Some of the latter group had been excavated years before by Chambers at the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. Also displayed was the purported burial of "a Great Natchez Chief." A skeleton was displayed with several surrounding pots. However, the pots weren't excavated there. They had come from Chambers's excavation of the Grand Village and had been placed alongside the burial to give it some atmosphere. The question now is whether the actual burial had been excavated there, or had been constructed using bones borrowed from elsewhere.
The walls of the museum were hung with large specially commissioned paintings depicting life among the Natchez Indians.
The construction and archaeology that began in May must have proceeded rapidly; in September it was announced that the grand opening would be at noon on Saturday, September 28. The opening was timed to coincide with the opening of the Natchez-Vidalia bridge which in itself brought large crowds to town and was attended by "a large number of Natchezians and visitors."
Visitors were greeted by a sign on the highway that read: "Original Natchez Indians White Apple Village 1682." An American flag flew over the sign. Turning in one drove along a short drive to park beside the buildings. Upon payment of 40¢ one was admitted to the museum to see the displays, paintings, artifacts and the burial of the great chief "with all his implements of war lying by his side, his crude jewelry and his pots of corn." All of this was purported to lie on top of the Burial Mound. From the museum one followed a graveled path to the "Temple of the Sun Mound." Brick stair steps led to the top and a replica of a temple with a thatched roof. From there another path led to the "Ceremonial Mound" and the walkway through the center of the mound. A visitor could walk through the mound and see the layers in which it was constructed along with artifacts that had been strategically placed in the section to enhance its interest.
Although this site had been regarded for a century and a half as the White Apple Village, a few years after Dickson's attraction opened, the Journal of Mississippi History published an article by Andrew C. Albrecht entitled "The Location of the Historic Natchez Villages." Albrecht suggested that during the early 1700s White Apple Village was actually northeast of Natchez, not to the south. Dickson's White Apple Village not only wasn't the real White Apple Village, it was actually abandoned by the time the French arrived at Natchez.
However, at the time that Jeff opened the White Apple Village, few if any knew that it wasn't really the site of the Natchez Village. It was at any rate a very interesting Indian site with authentic mounds that was actually much older than the White Apple Village.
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