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Ask Rufus: Spring in the Prairie

 

Clusters of primrose along roads and in fields are a sure sign of the arrival of spring in the prairie.

Clusters of primrose along roads and in fields are a sure sign of the arrival of spring in the prairie. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

Prairies form the heart of the Golden Triangle Region. Three miles across the Tombigbee River from Columbus was Pitchlynn's Prairie, which centered around John Pitchlynn's 1820s residence. Between present day Artesia and the Golden Triangle Regional Airport lay Peter Pitchlynn's Prairie, which was named after John's son, Peter. He lived at its southern end, just southwest of Artesia. Below West Point and south of Tibbee Creek was the Mayhew Prairie, which was named after the Mayhew Mission, which was located on its northern edge. In between these larger (several miles in diameter) prairies were several small ones that were simply referred to as "prairies of lesser note." 

 

Descriptions of the prairie by the early settlers are always interesting. That is especially true when you have descriptions of the same area by different people. A common thread in these early descriptions is the beauty of the prairies covered in spring flowers. 

 

Recently, Jack Elliott sent me a copy of an 1835 Alexandria, Va., newspaper that Chickasaw archaeologist Brad Lieb had come across. The paper contained an unsigned letter dated Tuscaloosa, May 25, 1835. The letter described the countryside between Columbus and the Mayhew Mission, which was located south of Tibbee Creek and west of present day Highway 45 Alternate. 

 

That letter was especially interesting as it described in 1835 the same prairie area as had been described by William Goodall in a letter written 13 years earlier. On April 20,1822, William Goodell described traveling from Columbus to the Choctaw Indian mission at Mayhew. His route followed what is now known as Old West Point Road. Mayhew was at that time on a ridge overlooking Tibbee Creek between present day West Point and Starkville. 

 

Goodall wrote: "The grass, which will soon be eight feet high, is now about eight inches, and has all the freshness of spring ... As you proceed, Mayhew ... rises to view in still greater loveliness, half encircled with oak, which, with the sycamore and mulberry, borders the prairie on all sides. Flowers of red, purple, yellow and indeed of every hue, are scattered, by a bountiful God, in rich profusion, and in all the beauty and innocence of Eden, on each side of the path; and their fragrance is, as if the very incense of heaven were there offered. You can stand in almost any place, and count flowers of ten or twelve different hues."  

 

The 1835 letter from Tuscaloosa recounts: "Leaving Columbus, Mississippi, after breakfast on the 16th of May, we crossed the Tombeckbee, and immediately entered upon the Choctaw Territory ... About three miles after crossing the river, a handsome Prairie of considerable extent, called Pichlyn Prairie, attracts your attention. This Prairie is now in a cultivated state, and presents to the eye luxuriant fields of cotton and corn. The letter later adds that it is thought the prairie would produce "1200 to 1800 lbs. Cotton, or 50 to 60 bushels Corn to the acre." From this we passed several prairies of lesser note, and generally in an uncultivated state, till we came to Mayhew. 

 

"Approaching Mayhew from the East, you all at once emerge from the forest, and a scene of the most splendid beauty presents itself. Before you is a bed of flowers, seeming to grow upon the bosom of a gently undulating sea ... The land being gently rolling, increases its beauty and worth; and it is everywhere spread over with the most luxuriant grass ... with a profusion of flowers interspersed among the grass." 

 

The prairie of the early 1800s was apparently a beautiful place in the spring and made a memorable impression on those who crossed it. Still today though, springtime in the Golden Triangle brings field and forest alive with wildflowers of every hue. recalling the vista presented to travelers almost 200 years ago.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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