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Story Archives: Barnett's new book: 'Mississippi's American Indians'
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|Barnett's new book: 'Mississippi's American Indians'|
Today, Mississippi is home to only one American Indian tribal group -- the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Two centuries ago, there were 20 different tribal groups living in the state.
That question is answered in Jim Barnett's new book: "Mississippi's American Indians," (271 pages, 11 maps, University Press of Mississippi).
A resident of Natchez, Barnett is the director of the Division of Historic Properties for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He previously authored, "The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735."
Barnett began working on his new book in 2007 as part of the Mississippi Historical Society's campaign to create a heritage series of books in celebration of Mississippi's bicentennial of statehood in 2017.
The Choctaw tribe, the only Native American group to survive today in Mississippi, did so because of its large population and its ability to fight, Barnett said.
"During warfare with the Chickasaws during the early 1700s, the Choctaw became an effective military power and confederation," Barnett said. "In many ways, the Indian groups recognized today by the federal government have that status because they were the last ones standing at a time when the federal government needed to figure out who was Indian and who was not at the end of the 19th century.
"By that time, many groups, such as the Natchez Indians, had fallen through the cracks," he said.
According to the publisher, the book describes "Mississippi's approximately 12,000-year prehistory, from early hunter-gatherer societies through the powerful mound-building civilizations encountered by the first European expeditions. With the coming of the Spanish, French, and English to the New World, native societies in the Mississippi region connected with the Atlantic market economy, a source for guns, blankets, and many other trade items.
"Europeans offered these trade materials in exchange for Indian slaves and deerskins, currencies that radically altered the relationships between tribal groups. Smallpox and other diseases followed along the trading paths.
"Colonial competition between the French and English helped to spark the Natchez rebellion, the Chickasaw-French wars, the Choctaw civil war, and a half-century" of warfare between the Choctaws and Chickasaws.
Following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, many pro-French tribes, including the Tunicas, Houmas Pascagoulas and Biloxis, were forced to move west across the Mississippi. Years later, during the early 19th century, a series of treaties with the U.S. government with the Choctaws and Chickasaws ended in their removal.
Barnett says that what happened to the Indians in Mississippi is a lesson in world history that began 400 years ago.
"It's the result of world politics today that are driven by the empire building that began during the 16th century," he said.
Money was the driving force of government-sanctioned private enterprises such as the Company of the Indies that came to this region to colonize, farm and make money.
"These type of groups didn't have leaders such as Iberville and Bienville who were sensitive to the ways of the Indians and knew how to approach and interact with them without giving offense," he said. "The populations that swarmed in from Europe in 1718, 1719 and 1720 really had no idea of Indian culture and didn't understand the situation into which they were moving into."
These circumstances often had disastrous results, such as the Natchez massacre of the French in 1729 and the eventual ruin of the Natchez Nation by the French a few years later.
Barnett said the removal of remaining Indian tribes in the 19th century reflected the attitude "that if we don't remove the Indians to lands in Oklahoma, for instance, that their societies would vanish forever. It was in part an effort to make us feel good about ourselves."
At the same time, as the Indians were removed from some of the most fertile ground in North America "we were bringing in an enslaved African-American population that made use of this rich soil to develop one of the best economies in the world."
Barnett's book can be purchased at the Grand Village of the Natchez, at bookstores and Amazon.com.
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