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Ask Rufus: Pirates, pigs and 470 years of barbecue


De Soto introduced pork barbecue to our area in 1540. This is a 1545 woodcut of Spanish conquistadors in America.

De Soto introduced pork barbecue to our area in 1540. This is a 1545 woodcut of Spanish conquistadors in America. Photo by: Provided photo


Rufus Ward



People in the Black Prairie have always taken pride in their history and their Barbecue. Very few, though, realize how close history and barbecue are tied. 


Barbecue or Bar B Que is derived from a Spanish term for meat roasted over an open fire. The Spanish term baracoa is said to have originated in the Caribbean and derived from a word for the cooking practices of Indians there. 


The Spanish heritage runs even deeper. In December of 1540 Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto crossed the Tombigbee River in the Columbus area. De Soto had with his expedition over 300 hogs that were used for a supplemental food supply. Their dining on roasted pork near the Tombigbee would have been the first recorded pork barbecue in what is now Mississippi and was probably the first Christmas dinner served here.  


It was in 1697 that we see the first use of barbecue in English. That was by William Dampier, an English buccaneer. The word buccaneer was first used in referring to Europeans who dried and smoked fish in the manner of Indians in the Caribbean. Since many of those were French or English pirates preserving meat for their voyages, buccaneer became another word for pirate. 


The earliest local account usage that I have seen is in an 1825 copy of the Virginia House-Wife that has been passed down in the Billups family in Columbus. It is: 




This is the name given in the southern states to a fat young hog, which, when the head and feet are taken off, and it is cut into four quarters, will weigh six pounds per quarter. Take a fore quarter, make several incisions between the ribs, and stuff it with rich forcemeat; put it in a pan with a pint of water, two cloves of garlic, pepper, salt, two gills of red wine, and two of mushroom catsup. Bake it and thicken the gravy with butter and brown flour; it must be jointed and the ribs cut across before it is cooked, or it can not be carved well, lay it in the dish with the ribs uppermost; if it be not sufficiently brown, add a little burnt sugar to the gravy. 


A more recent recipe for southern barbecue sauce was recorded by Eudora Welty about 1939. She told of Aberdeen''s famous barbecue parties given by James Acker at his home, The Magnolias. His barbecue sauce recipe was: Heat together : 4 ounces vinegar, 14 ounces catsup, 3 ounces Worcestershire sauce, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons salt, red and black pepper to taste and 4 ounces butter. Baste the meat constantly while cooking.  


Many think that the southern barbecue tradition reaches its height at Magowah, a prairie gun club that began in 1906. Their old sauce recipe contained more than 15 ingredients and was prepared in an iron kettle. They still barbecue both pork and lamb. 


Our region has been blessed with a number of unbelievably good barbecue establishments and stands. Three that are no longer with us come to mind; Bob''s and Suggs in Columbus, and Roosvelt''s in West Point.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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