Museum of Native American History in Mississippi

The population of the Mississippian Period surpassed that of other parts of the world, and some towns ranged from modest farmsteads to enormous villages and ceremonial centers. The large-scale cultivation of vegetables like corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers coincided with the apex of agriculture. For defense against raiding groups, village centers had constructed walls, and some even had watch towers, like Cahokia, a city close to St. Louis. Over 20,000 people lived in Cahokia, over 6 square miles in size. The Mississippian people’s diet relied heavily on hunting deer, turkey, squirrels, and raccoons, even though farming made up a substantial amount of the food supplies at the period. The weapon of choice for hunting was the bow and arrow today.

Large-scale pottery production during this period was one of the most intriguing aspects of the Mississippian culture. The Mississippian people mastered the art of creating pots, bottles, plates, and jars from clay by tempering, or strengthening, the clay they used. Nowhere had the skilled craftsmanship and artistic design found by the people who lived in the region now known as modern-day Arkansas surpass the beautiful creation that went into decorating these pottery containers, which differed by location. The Caddo in the southwest, the Quapaw around the lower Arkansas River, and a group known as the Mississippians in the northeast all lived in the Arkansas region at this time. Although the Mississippian Period began as the pinnacle of ancient civilization in the Americas, it ended abruptly when diseases brought by the European invasion nearly wiped out the majority of its inhabitants.


The rarest and most distinctive clay vessels are Mississippian Head Pots, regarded as the height of Mississippian culture. They stand out from other pots because they are shaped like human heads and were created between 1200 and 1500 AD.

Only about 140 of these boats with effigy heads have been found. The idea that head pots represent the deceased or a death mask is common. These pots were frequently depicted with tattoo-inspired painted surfaces and etched lines. There is proof that ear and nostril piercings have been done, and the head pots often show this with perforations. Before being buried as a gift, these jars would have been decorated with feathers or other materials. Southeast Missouri and Northeast Arkansas have yielded the most significant number of these unusual pots.


Typically, the four-corner region of Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma contains Caddo pottery. [Generally speaking, compared to most other Mississippian Era pottery, Caddo pottery displayed higher technical construction.] Generally speaking, Caddo pottery outperforms most other Mississippian Era pottery in terms of technical structure. Typically, it has a smoother finish, is more symmetrical, and is thinner. The bottle forms with elaborate engravings were the most artistic works produced. The artist employed a fine covering called slip, a combination of sifted fine clay and occasionally paint, to make the high black sheen frequently observed in Caddo pottery. The artist would use a stone to rub the piece after applying the slip or paint to give it the appropriate high gloss. Even though effigies in Caddo pottery are uncommon, the museum has numerous scarce examples of these distinctively rare vessels in animal and other effigy forms.


The Quapaw people lived in the Arkansas region for the shortest time of the three ceramic cultures. Around 1500 AD saw, the late appearance of the Quapaw, who remained in the area up to historical times. The Quapaw people are renowned for their exquisitely painted vessels that feature the hues of red, white, and black. Pottery was frequently created in the shape of a puppet, which accurately and vividly represented objects and animals. These bizarre statues occasionally feature images of dogs, deer, otters, frogs, shells, and even people. The pottery made in Quapaw is regarded as some of North America’s most artistic and distinctive pottery.

Mississippian Culture

In central Georgia, a group of newcomers made their way there around 900 CE. They drove out the local Woodland culture and established several settlements. Archaeologists refer to these people as Mississippians since it is believed that the Mississippi River Valley is where their way of life first developed.

On the Macon Plateau, close to the Ocmulgee River, the Mississippians built a major ceremonial complex and settlement in what is now the Georgian city of Macon. Although they left no written records, archaeologists have uncovered many items that shed light on this society’s life and culture. Only a fraction of the “Macon Plateau” civilization, including the ceremonial complex, is still visible today. The Early Mississippians constructed another sizable hamlet six miles away. Several smaller settlements once stood close to the Ocmulgee River’s Fall Line, where the fertile Coastal Plain and mountainous Piedmont met.

The most obvious—and intriguing—evidence of the Mississippian culture is represented by earth mounds. The mounds were used for various things, including as enormous platforms. The platform mounds typically featured flat-topped pyramidal buildings with ramps for more straightforward summit access—the wooden structures on top of the banks used as residences, temples, warehouses, etc. Most of the mounds in the Ocmulgee complex were built gradually, getting more prominent over the years of habitation.

Mounds weren’t always used as platforms. As its name suggests, the Funeral Mound is home to more than 100 graves. Most were plain pits without any accompanying artifacts, while others were elaborate log tombs, and a couple had exquisite copper and shell ornamentation signifying great status. The Mississippians didn’t just construct mounds, though. The most sophisticated earth lodge discovered during excavations has been rebuilt. Essential members of society would have conducted rites or discussed politics in the Earth lodge, or possibly they would have done both.

The widespread mound building indicates a sophisticated social organization among the Mississippians. The planning and carrying out of construction projects would require a strong leader. The presence of the temple mound suggests that religion played a significant role in the community. According to some archaeologists, Mississippian civilization was divided into “chiefdoms,” consisting of numerous towns. Each village had a leader, perhaps under the direction of a Priest-Chief who had more authority.

The sedentary farmers lived in the town on the Macon Plateau. They used tools made of stone, bone, and wood to do extensive farming. In addition to corn and beans, other vital crops included squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, and tobacco. They kept extra food in baskets and pots, and the surplus freed them up to focus on other facets of their lives.

The Mississippians hunted small game like raccoon, turkey, rabbit, beaver, squirrel, turtles, and deer to supplement their diet. Every part of the animal was utilized, including the bone used to produce jewelry, fishhooks, and projectile points, and the tanned skins used to create clothing. Even though hunters used various techniques to track down their prey, a bow and arrow were still vital for a successful hunt.

The products used in daily life showcase Mississippian art. Local clays were coiled and sculpted by women to create pots. Early Mississippian pottery was produced in various sizes and shapes that were suitable for everyday use and ceremonial purposes. Although they favored simple surfaces, the pottery’s graceful and occasionally intricate forms speak to its artistry and beauty. The pots sometimes have puppets on them. Women weaved clothes and baskets, decorating them with different patterns. Mississippians also found the time to create personal adornment items. According to historical reports of the Native Americans and evidence from other archaeological sites, individuals adorned their bodies with shell gorgets, beads, tattoos, paint, ornate hairstyles, feathers, and a variety of ear ornaments.

The game “Chunkey” was one Mississippians enjoyed playing. A participant rolled a disc.

A stone was thrown across the ground when other players threw their spears at it. The winner was determined by which player’s spear got closest to where the disc halted. The Mississippians also engaged in a ball game strikingly similar to lacrosse today. Using wooden racquets and a sizable playing area, two opposing teams attempted to score by launching a small leather ball between two upright posts at either end of the field. Typically played between two opposite villages, the baseball game occasionally served as a means of resolving disputes.

The village on the Macon Plateau had lost its significance as a Mississippian cultural hub by the year 1200. It’s possible that the people moved elsewhere or were assimilated by the local population. Mississippian culture persisted in communities like Etowah in Northern Georgia, Moundville in Alabama, and Spiro, Oklahoma.

Around 2 12 miles down the Ocmulgee River from the Macon Plateau, a late Mississippian settlement called Lamar was founded around 1350. The locals constructed two earthen mounds, one encircled by the only spiral ramp of its kind still known to exist in this nation. The location is protected as a separate section of Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park and gives its name to a widespread late Mississippian southeastern civilization.

Big River Customs: Mississippian Folklife

A sternwheel riverboat gliding down the Mississippi River is among the stereotypes of Louisiana that are most frequently used. Since the 1930s, these ships have not been a practical means of trade and transportation; they now only serve the tourism sector. However, even in those somewhat fictitious circumstances, they maintain a vast body of tradition. Additionally, the river is a source of various folklore, professional jargon, and oral histories in addition to steamboats. Commercial fishing, the barge business, and seasonal activities like levee bonfires are some further examples.

Although each facet of river life has unique traditions, there is a great deal of commonality between them in terms of minute details and general camaraderie. Ted Ewing, a former towboat deck hand and pilot serving as the port captain for American Commercial Barge Line in Harahan, Jefferson Parish, claims that “river people are like a huge family.” Ewing says, “If you mess with one river man, you’ve messed with all of them.”

Since most riverboat crew members are compelled to spend a minimum of thirty days together, loyalty is crucial on the water. Some people might work for ninety days straight or even longer. Additionally, as Captain Ewing describes, the situation may be quite aggravated: “I boarded a yacht in the early 1960s with a seasoned captain named Bill Keith. The elderly man didn’t have much money. A four-person team helped us run. Me, him, an engineer, and the cook—who turned out to be one of Mr. Keith’s girlfriends—were the only crew members. He couldn’t afford lights or radar, so we only ran during the day. We spent the night tied to trees, and the following morning when we left he knew exactly which tree he would tie up to that night. He could pretty much name every limb.”

Ewing says, “Captain Keith bought hardly any groceries. “The locations where we tied up were frequently close to a family’s home with a sizable garden; with their OK, we would take part of their produce. We would go fishing at night. He would send me up the hill in the morning. Even flat land is considered to be “up on the hill” by rivermen. I would go up on the bank with his rifle and shoot squirrels there. While we were traveling up the river, he would also order me to lie down on the head of the boat while holding a shotgun. When the ducks floated downstream after being shot by me, the engineer would be waiting by the stern of the boat with a catch-net. That’s how we made it through; for me, one journey was sufficient.”

In river slang, it is believed that crew members who become agitated under such circumstances “have the red ass.” By conducting “fleet work” on “harbor-,” “shift-,” or “dinner-bucket” boats, where the crew returns home at night, one can avoid this demanding type of schedule. Barges are transported from one local terminal to another or brought out to boats that travel vast distances as part of this task. Tripping is the phrase for this type of long-distance operation between ports. With the rise of the psychedelic drug culture in the late 1960s, “tripping” acquired a different meaning, yet it is still used in its original context on the river.

As opposed to what one might anticipate, the word “fleet” refers to groupings of barges connected by steel cables known as “wires.” The barges are generally referred to as “the tow” when pushed by a boat; hence, “towboat.” This description may be inaccurate because such ships move their cargo rather than tow or draw it from behind. A tugboat may also push tows; however, unlike a towboat, push the boat with a square bow that can face up flush against the tow. A tugboat has a pointed bow.

The St. James Parish’s Christmas Eve levee bonfires have been one of south Louisiana’s most distinctive holiday customs for over a century. The various hypotheses put forth to explain the fires’ cause exhibit the folklore process in action. One school of thinking refers to the amusing goal of illuminating Papa Noel’s path. It is also suggested that marking the way to Christmas Eve mass during a time of year when fog is familiar is more practical. Barry Ancelet, a folklorist from Louisiana, explains why such notions are “fabricated after the fact. The bonfires’ purpose is more likely to be solely joyous. The custom has its roots in pre-Christian Europe when the Celts celebrated the winter solstice by lighting bonfires to wish the sun a long life till spring.”

The campfire custom has been increasingly well-liked in recent years. Thousands of individuals now attend the miles-long Christmas Eve celebrations on the Gramercy levee. Most fires are constructed in tall, conical shapes, while some also feature images of plantation mansions, aircraft, or other contemporary pop culture artifacts. After months of laborious preparation, the fires are lit, illuminating the surroundings and igniting wild festivities. Observing the bonfires from the water is now a popular excursion offered by steamboats located in New Orleans, which is an excellent example of how one folkloric custom can inspire another. Steamboats had probably not made a port call at Gramercy since World War II before this recent change.

The nomadic lifestyle of individuals who live on shanty boats, waterfront work songs, lead-line calling (the source of the term “mark twain”), and other occupations are all included in river lore. Although some of the most idealized aspects of river life in Louisiana have been lost, it is still a rich source of the legend.

Here Are 11 Weird Traditions From Mississippi That You’ll Understand.

Like cornbread and collard greens, the South and tradition go hand in hand. Therefore, it should go without saying that Mississippi is complete with rituals and practices that may be unfamiliar to those from other cultures. Here are 11 excellent illustrations.

1. Ringin’ Cowbells

Mississippi State University has secured a place in the Guinness Book of World Records because of this boisterous sporting custom. Even though the tradition’s precise beginnings are still a mystery, don’t you think it has a great ring?

2. “Hotty Toddy” applause

What the cowbell is to Mississippi State University, “Hotty Toddy,” is to Ole Miss. Another long-standing sporting custom, its origins are a mystery, but it has always been a source of school pride.

3. Commitment to tailgating

Since we’re discussing sporting customs, we should also bring up one of the state’s favorites: tailgating. To give you an idea of how popular tailgating is in Mississippi, consider that Ole Miss’ The Grove, called “the Holy Grail of tailgate spots,” draws more than 20,000 spectators during home games.

4. The Neshoba County Fair

Even though every state holds fairs, no one does it better than Mississippi, particularly when it comes to the Neshoba County Fair. The week-long celebration often referred to as “Mississippi’s Giant House Party,” draws thousands of visitors from all over the nation and has, for many, developed into a family tradition.

5. The Ground Dinner

After the Sunday morning service, there is a potluck supper with delicious southern classics, time for mingling, and camaraderie. What might be superior?

6. Family quilts

Many people in Mississippi have a quilt handed down through the generations, and it is warm, comforting, and emotional.

7. Young people using firearms

In Mississippi, where hunting is such a common sport, many kids learn to shoot a gun before they can drive a car.

8. Giving others food

Mississippians believe that food is the best way to win people over. Hence they frequently give food as gifts. A Mississippian will never arrive empty-handed at a wedding, burial, or social gathering.

9. Tupperware in the South

Additionally, because Mississippians enjoy sharing their meals, they keep the packaging from products like Cool Whip, Country Crock butter, and similar items for convenient transportation and storage.

10. Storm-related events

A hurricane is a perfect occasion for a gathering. It would be best if you were confined inside, after all.

11. Breakfast of Champions

The day’s most important meal is breakfast, and there is no better way to start the day than with some handmade biscuits and gravy. This is undoubtedly one of the state’s most delicious customs, whether you choose tomato or white sauce.

Have you ever participated in any of these customs? What are more businesses unique to Mississippi? Comment below with your answer, and let us know!

Big River Customs: Mississippian Folklife

A sternwheel riverboat gliding down the Mississippi River is among the stereotypes of Louisiana that are most frequently used. Since the 1930s, these ships have not been a practical means of trade and transportation; they now only serve the tourism sector. However, even in those somewhat fictitious circumstances, they maintain a vast body of tradition. Additionally, the river is a source of various folklore, professional jargon, and oral histories in addition to steamboats. Commercial fishing, the barge business, and seasonal activities like levee bonfires are some further examples.

Although each facet of river life has unique traditions, there is a great deal of commonality between them in terms of both minute details and a general sense of camaraderie. Ted Ewing, a former towboat deck hand and pilot serving as the port captain for American Commercial Barge Line in Harahan, Jefferson Parish, claims that “river people are like a huge family.” Ewing says, “If you mess with one river man, you’ve messed with all of them.”

The Mississippian Era

Native Americans in what is now the midwestern and southeastern United States adopted a new way of life during the Mississippian period (AD 1000–1550). Before this, locals in those areas relied on foraging for wild items and tiny garden plots to supplement their diets. The majority of towns were small. This previous way of life altered when societies expanded some 1,000 years ago. Mississippian culture consisted of numerous civilizations that shared a common form of energy or custom, not just one “tribe.” Mississippian peoples maintained trade networks, cultivated maize, constructed sizable earthen mounds, lived in fortified towns or small homesteads, had strong leaders, and utilized matching symbols and rites. The Mississippi River Valley, where the custom originated, is where the term “Mississippian” originates. This new custom spread throughout the Southeast through intellectual appropriation and human migration, first appearing in what is now Alabama around AD 1100. Because the Mississippians left no written records, archaeology has been used to piece together what is known about this period.

After people started investing more time and energy in farming corn, the Mississippian Tradition developed. As a result, an excess of food could be stored, which enabled population growth. Since river valleys provide fertile soil and a plentiful supply of wild foods, settlements tend to cluster there. New types of collaboration and competition emerged in larger communities. Some persons gained power or influence over others due to these changes.

Regular Life

The Mississippians farmed, hunted, and fished. They used shell or stone hoes to cultivate corn, beans, squash, and sunflowers in individual plots. Farmers created new fields after a few growing seasons because they had to since they had to burn off portions of the forest to make way for the areas. Slash-and-burn agriculture, as it is also known, is a method of agriculture still used by some indigenous populations worldwide. The farmed crops were supplemented by nuts, acorns, and wild fruits. The only domesticated animal among the Mississippian people was the dog, and they worked the land themselves and engaged in wild game hunting. Deer, turtles, and fish were significant sources of protein.

The Mississippians used pottery, stone, wood, and shell to make their implements. They fashioned stone into axes known as celts and chiseled bone into awls and fishhooks. They chopped stones into arrow points, knives, and scrapers. They prepared plant meals on grinding stones or pestles in wooden mortars. Food and drink were kept in gourds, baskets, and earthenware ceramic vessels. Meals were prepared by Mississippian peoples in jars resembling kettles and served in bowls, plates, and bottles. Most of the pottery they produced is bare and uninteresting, but archaeologists have found some pieces decorated with carved and stamped patterns, shiny black finishes, and red, white, and black paint. Fine serving utensils have handles with animal-themed heads and tails. Some smoking pipes constructed of clay and stone, as well as some pots, were shaped like effigies of animals or people.
Additionally, several tiny clay discs that were cut and formed from fragments of broken pots have been found by archaeologists. Although their purpose is unknown, they might have served as spindle whorls for yarn spinning or as game pieces. They also engaged in a game called chunkey, which was once performed by Indian people and involved rolling enormous stone discs down the ground.

The walls and other characteristics of Mississippian dwellings have long since rotted away, but archaeologists have discovered soil stains that resemble square, rectangular and circular patterns. Most homes were tiny, one-room structures that could hardly fit two or three individuals to sleep comfortably. Vertical logs were used for the walls, which were then covered in grass thatch, cane wattles, or occasionally a mud-and-straw plaster and frequently erected in foundation pits (daub). Fireplace hearths were either set in clay-lined basins or on the earthen floor.

Studies of Mississippian skeletons found in Alabama reveal a lot about the lives and deaths of the people. Although most people appeared to have had appropriate nutrition and were generally healthy, few survived past 50. Infections spread quickly due to poor sanitation, killing many infants. Some folks suffered from arthritis and tuberculosis. The majority of people experience dental decay as a result of their diets high in corn. Skeletons also exhibit violent characteristics. Numerous adult male frames in small villages, such as the Lubbub Creek site close to Aliceville, show signs of brutal injury that was likely sustained during the war. Male and female skeletons found at the Koger’s Island and Perry sites on the Tennessee River close to Florence were examined, and it was discovered that the victims had either been clubbed to death or shot with arrows and scalped. Others, reportedly the victims of a raid, were interred in a mass grave. Greater security was available to residents of larger settlements. Few of the hundreds of corpses from the massive Moundville site south of Tuscaloosa, on the Black Warrior River, bear any signs of violent deaths.

The History and Culture of Mississippi

Mississippi has a lengthy history, much of it not favorable. The same cotton plantations that helped the state become prosperous in its early years also contributed to its significant reliance on enslaved Black people. Even after losing the Civil War, the white landowners who dominated the region never entirely gave up their sense of dominance. As a result, some areas of the state can be racist to outsiders. Still, it shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying the gorgeous antebellum villages, the rich Delta Blues, or the lovely beaches along the Gulf Coast.


The Mississippi and its verdant river valley have a long history of interaction with Native Americans. The area is one of the first sections of North America to have been settled, and archaeological sites along the picturesque Natchez Trace Parkway have revealed the remains of the early cultures. On their reservations, the remaining Native American tribes, like the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez, run casinos that support the local economy.

The region of Mississippi was first claimed by the French as part of New France. In 1716, they established the town of Natchez, which later developed into the principal commercial hub and most significant settlement in the area. One of the most visited historic sites in the state is still Natchez.

After the Revolutionary War, Mississippi was handed to the United States in 1783. It thrived in the early 1800s thanks to the development of cotton and other profitable crops. But when it came to large plantations and the enslavement necessary to labor the fields, cotton reigned supreme. A privileged class of white enslavers controlled the state at this time.

Mississippi would lose everything if the South lost the Civil War and sent 80,000 soldiers to battle. Significant battles like the Battle of Vicksburg and the Battle of Grand Gulf were the locations of today’s national parks and well-liked tourist destinations. The Confederacy did lose, and the state of Mississippi was altered entirely.

Numerous African Americans moved thousands of miles to the Mississippi Delta in search of property and employment to begin a new life. The Delta Blues and other musical genres are just a few beautiful results of this demographic transition. Mississippi, however, maintained segregation to the end. The first black student attempted to enroll at Oxford University, which led to the Ole Miss Riot in 1962, a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. The racist Ku Klux Klan organization was particularly active in the state, and the capital city of Jackson was a hotbed of violence. Mississippi continues to be one of America’s poorest and least developed states.


Mississippi is indeed a state of contrasts. Despite having a sizable African American population, it is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. King Cotton once called it home in the 1850s, but it is now one of the union’s poorest and least educated states. Some of these social problems will still be beneath the surface when visitors arrive. In this prideful Deep South state, whether you’ll have a good or bad experience is hit or miss.

Mississippi does have many positive aspects, despite its many seeming drawbacks. Black musicians flourished in the Mississippi Delta after being granted emancipation. The Delta Blues and numerous other illustrious jazz, gospel, and rock genres were also developed here. A significant portion of the antebellum opulence from the 19th century has also persisted in places like Natchez, which injects much-needed tourism revenue. The seaside towns along the Gulf Coast are more carefree in their outlook on life.