Before us, the Chickasaw: Their history is often overlooked in the homeland

ABOUT THIS STORY: This article is the third in a series produced under a partnership between the Daily Journal and the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area.

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A Land Like No Place Else On Earth . . . Where Dreamers Became Legends.

The Mississippi Hills: Where the cragged peaks of the Appalachian Mountains collide with the flat, rich expanse of the Mississippi Delta. This is the land of dreamers. This is the place where those dreamers helped change the world and became legends in the process. It’s impossible to imagine America without the Mississippi Hills: rich Native American history that stretches back before recorded history and upward in numerous sacred burial mounds scattered throughout the region; monumental battles during the Civil War and brutal moments during the Civil Rights struggle; powerful southern literature and vibrant music. Your explorations are endless in the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area: Discover the origins of one creative genius in Tupelo at the birthplace of Elvis; another in Columbus at the boyhood home of the Pulitzer-winning playwright Tennessee Williams; and also in Oxford at Rowan Oak, the beloved refuge of Nobel-winning novelist William Faulkner, where the scrawled notes for A Fable still adorn his office wall.

Travel the trail of the blues and some of the world’s greatest blues artists; plunge into Civil War history at carefully preserved battle sites, museums and interpretive centers. Step in the footsteps of Civil Rights giants, and along the paleo-paths of the first hunter-gatherers.

Here in the Hills we preserve what we prize. That means pristine natural landscapes where you can immerse yourself in outdoor wonders, along the 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway which connects the Hills with the Gulf of Mexico or the Tanglefoot Hiking and Biking Trail beginning in New Albany.

That means a lavish stock of magnificent historic homes and architecture, in Columbus, Holly Springs and Aberdeen, all of which are at their finest during pilgrimages in the Spring. You’ll find sensational Southern hospitality everywhere, because if there’s one thing the people of the Mississippi Hills really prize, it’s new friendship with visitors. So come explore our land where dreamers became legends. The Mississippi Hills: A land like no other and a place where you can experience whatever you can imagine.


Mississippi Hills Exhibit Center

The Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area covers a 30-county region affectionately known as “Hill Country.”  The exhibit center, located in the heart of the region in Tupelo, Mississippi, displays little-known facts about Mississippi’s legends and offers an abundance of information and resources for attractions and things to do throughout the region.  It’s your best stop to understand the Hills National Heritage Area.

There is no admission to the exhibit center. It is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. An excellent resource for group tours.

Early Peoples, Early Visitors

The Hills story begins before recorded time, when the first intrepid hunters tracked great beasts, beating a path that would eventually become the Natchez Trace, a prehistoric progression that unfolds into the present day. The rich Trace narrative at the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center just outside Tupelo.

Native American history rises before your eyes at burial mounds in New Albany and Tishomingo County. Visitors can also get a view of their daily life at the Chickasaw Village exhibit located at milepost 260 near Tupelo.

In 1540-41 Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto wintered in the Hills, a rendezvous immortalized in the murals found at both the DeSoto County Courthouse and the Pontotoc Post Office. Another attraction awaits visitors in French Camp, where Europeans first traded with the Choctaws. This interesting village and its history are worth a visit and is located at milepost 180 on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Those Europeans would give way to the King that was Cotton and built palaces that were fit for royalty. Many are open for viewing year-round and a great time to visit is during spring pilgrimages in Columbus, Holly Springs and Aberdeen. All around the Mississippi Hills, doorways are open to a fascinating past.

Civil War History in the Mississippi Hills

As the Great Conflict engulfed the Mississippi Hills and the Vicksburg Campaign played itself out within its borders, battles pivotal to the outcome of the war took place here. Communities such as Baldwyn, Holly Springs and Corinth became fiercely-contested battlegrounds.

Nathan Bedford Forrest won a significant victory at Brice’s Crossroads in Baldwyn, where today a panoramic national battlefield and interpretive center detail the fighting. At Holly Springs, a surprise Confederate raid on a supply depot caused Grant to withdraw his entire army from the state, an event commemorated by a series of interpretive markers.

In Corinth, “the Crossroads of the Confederacy,” opposing forces faced off in the largest-ever siege in the Western Hemisphere. To fully understand the Siege and Battle of Corinth, visitors can explore the world’s largest collection of existing earthworks, the NPS Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, and the Corinth Contraband Camp site, where former slaves created a haven for the newly-free.

Words and Music

In stories that reshaped the landscape of modern fiction, literary icons from the Hills—or this “postage stamp of native soil” as Nobel-laureate William Faulkner referred to it—helped define contemporary writing in America. Faulkner was born in New Albany and spent most of his adult life in Oxford, which today has become a mecca of southern writing. Discover more about Faulkner’s origins at the Union County Heritage Museum and Faulkner Gardens in New Albany.

Oxford has more recently been home to Larry Brown, Barry Hannah, Pulitzer-prize winner Donna Tartt and others, including best-selling author John Grisham. Grisham also spent part of his early career in DeSoto County, Starkville and Oxford. His work is featured in a dedicated area at the Mississippi State University Library. In nearby Columbus, the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center preserves the heritage of one of America’s most-beloved playwrights, who wrote both “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie”.

The stacks of great literature arising from the Mississippi Hills are rivaled only by the volume of great music. Elvis Presley and Tammy Wynette became musical icons as the King of Rock’n’Roll and the First Lady of Country Music. West Point’s Chester A. Burnett became blues legend Howlin’ Wolf, who is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. Holly Springs’ R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough birthed their own musical creation called Hill Country Blues. Visitors can readily learn more about Hills’ music at places like the Elvis Birthplace in Tupelo, the Howlin’ Wolf Museum in West Point and the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss.

Civil Rights

As the war for freedom came to a close, the fight for equality began. Throughout the 20th century, the Hills’ African American community sent leaders and foot soldiers into the ongoing struggle, inspiring the nation with their courage and determination.

The Ida B. Wells Museum in Holly Springs shares the story of an extraordinary woman, the daughter of slaves who bravely battled lynching. Also at Holly Springs, Rust College (originally Shaw College) was founded on a site where slave auctions were once held, and the school continues in existence as one of only five remaining historically-black colleges in the U.S. founded before 1866. Almost a century later in 1962, James Meredith’s historic enrollment as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi opened a closed door and provided a significant benchmark for eliminating segregation in Mississippi.

The Education of a Lifetime

In addition to Rust College, another historic institution of higher learning in the Hills is the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, the first publicly-supported college for women in the United States. The W, as it is affectionately referredto, was attended by author Eudora Welty as well as the mothers of both William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.

From Rust to the W, from Ole Miss in Oxford to Mississippi State in Starkville, the Mississippi Hills have a strong tradition of learning. Connect with this tradition and learn more about our fascinating history—while soaking in picturesque small towns and scenic landscapes—on your visit through the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area.