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Bernard Roman's Mississippi Map of 1772

By H. S. Halbert

     The maps made in the eighteenth century of the extensive region now embraced in the present States of Mississippi and Alabama are singularly inaccurate as to the water courses of this region.  In some cases two separate streams are blended into one, and frequently the map-maker has failed to lay down creeks of the largest size. 

     These same defects can likewise be seen in the first maps of the Mississippi Territory, made some years later. These inaccuracies must be ascribed to the imperfect facilities for obtaining accurate information on the part of the early explorers.  It is absolutely necessary then that the student, desirous of succeeding in his investigations, should first reconstruct the water courses on these ancient maps so as to bring them in accord with exact modern geographical knowledge. As a special illustration, let the student notice that Romans’ map is very confused as to Oktibbeha and Buckatunna creeks. Romans has, as it were, pieced on a large part of the upper course of Oktibbeha to the head of Buckatunna, making the latter a very long stream.  On the other hand, he has, as it were, cut off the upper course of Oktibbeha, making it nothing but a creek about twelve miles long. By keeping this particular inaccuracy well in view and mentally rectifying it, the student can better understand the location of some of the Choctaw towns, settlements and creeks recorded on Romans’ map.

     Romans has, recorded on his map, sixty Choctaw towns, or settlements. There are many clerical slips in their names, whether made by Romans himself or by some amanuensis of his or a subsequent copyist, can not be determined.  These slips will be noticed and rectified and the genuine Choctaw spelling will be given.  It may be well here to state that Romans is tolerably accurate in his location of what may be called the Kemper county towns, all or most of which came under his personal observation.  But he is not so accurate as to the location of the Neshoba county towns and settlements, and he is very confused and inaccurate as to those of Newton and Jasper counties.  His. knowledge of the towns and settlements of Neshoba, Newton, and Jasper counties seems to have been based largely on Indian hearsay.

     The writer, in this paper, will confine himself strictly to the Choctaw territory, leaving the Chickasaw towns on Romans’ map to some other investigator. One tract of Choctaw country, however, will not be touched upon—that embraced in Newton county—as it will be treated exhaustively in a paper by Captain A. J. Brown of that county.’ In addition to this, the writer will reserve the Jasper county towns for a subsequent paper. 

     In dismissing Bernard Romans’ map, a few general statements may not be inappropriate. The list of Indian towns or settlements on this map is by no means a complete or perfect list. They are such towns and settlements as Romans traveled through, or about which he gained more or less information. Romans, however, passed through a great portion of the most populous parts of the Choctaw country. In the western parts of their country, the Choctaws lived generally in scattered settlements, thus forming a striking contrast with the people of the eastern parts, who, as has been seen, were massed in numerous towns, and some forts, the latter built as barriers against the ever aggressive and hostile movements of the Creeks.

     The Choctaw towns and settlements were all connected by trails, which trails ran in as straight a course as the physical obstacles of the country would permit.

     The Choctaws, as is well known, were divided into two clans or iksa. In this iksa division, made by Divine authority, children belonged to the iksa of their mother, and marriages were into the opposite iksa. Hence, every one, male or female, knew to which iksa he or she belonged. When a Choctaw or his family traveled to the most remote part of their country, where they were personally unknown, it was customary to ask to which iksa they belonged, and if they were of the same iksa as the inquirer, they were claimed by him as brothers and treated as such.

     The Choctaws were not, by any means, such hunters or nomads, as has been supposed. They were, to a great extent, a sedentary people, having fixed homes, and living largely on the products of agriculture, or more properly speaking, horticulture. It is true their bill of fare was generally supplemented with animal flesh or wild food plants, yet their principal food supply came from their cultivated patches, in which they grew corn, peas, pumpkins, squashes, and sunflowers. In more recent times, the sunflower ceased to be cultivated. “Hashshi” is the native term for sunflower, a word worn down from “hashshiushi,” which means little sun. This fact is given to call attention to the similar working of the mind of the white man and the Choctaw in giving a name to this flower from its supposed resemblance to the sun.

     The seeds of the sunflower were used in making a kind of pudding. They were Iirst hulled and then pounded in a mortar. Parched corn meal was then poured into the mortar, and after the seeds and meal by constant pounding were thoroughly mixed together, the mixture was ready for the cook to convert into pudding.

     Plum and peach orchards were not uncommon among the Choctaws in Romans’ day. He mentioning especially the plums and peaches he saw in Coosha town. The gradual introduction of domestic animals about the close of the American Revolution, incident in a great measure to the influx of Tory refugees, had a tendency to make the Choctaws more rural in their habits, and thus, in a great measure, caused them to abandon their towns.

     These disjointed statements are given merely as a few hints relative to the social condition in 1772 of the aboriginal people of Mississippi, who dwelt in the towns and settlements recorded on Bernard Romans’ map.


Romans’ List of Towns and Settlements.

1. Panthe.—The Indian towns in Lauderdale county on Ponta creek and its tributary, Lost Horse creek, were generally called the “Coosha towns.” Romans has evidently transposed the names in the case of Panthe or Panta and Coosha, or “Coosa,” as he spells it. He has located the last-named town (number 3 on his list) on the head of Ponta creek, or “Coosa creek,” as he calls it. Coosha Town proper, however, was located on Lost Horse creek. It will be fully described in another part of this paper.

2. Sapeesa.—This Kemper county town was located on the north side of Black Water creek, apparently about midway between Shomo Takali and the branch emptying into Black Water, known as Mineral Spring branch. Its exact location has not been identified.

3. Panta or Panthe.—Reference has been made to Romans’ transposition of names. This town (number 1) was the old historic town of Coosha, or according to Choctaw orthography, “Kusha,” n, nasal. On the reduced copy of Romans’ map in Dr. Riley’s School History of Mississippi, Coosa creek has been grievously transformed into “Goose creek.”

     There are two prongs of Lost Horse creek, a tributary of Ponta creek. One of these prongs comes from the west and the other from the south. They unite in the northeast quarter of section 30, township 8, range 16, east. The town was situated on the north side of the prong coming from the west, and was distant about four miles southeast of Old Daleville, now known as Lazelia.  There is a strange error on Romans’ map in having this town located on the south side of the creek.

     Coosha Town had a most delightful situation.  It began near the confluence of the two prongs and extended a mile or more up the prong on which it was situated. About one-fourth of a mile north of the point where these streams unite is a hill with a flat top, upon which stood in the late ‘20’s and the early ‘30’S the dwelling and storehouse of Charles Juzan, son of Pierre Juzan. Traces of these buildings can still be seen. Juzan died about 1840. His wife, Phcebe, was the daughter of Oklahoma, the leading man or chief of the Coosha people. He was a nephew of Pushmataha, whom he succeeded as mingo of the southeastern district, but was soon deposed on account of his dissipated habits, Nitta— kechi being elected mingo in his stead.

     Coosha Town to the red people had many attractive features.  In addition to corn and vegetable patches, it had orchards of peaches and plums. The waters of the two streams abounded in fish.  Bears, deer, turkeys, squirrels, panthers, and wild cats made their homes in the large dense canebrake lying in the fork of the two prongs of the creek.  The high wooded hills and bluffs overlooking this canebrake also added much to the picturesque and romantic appearance of Coosha Town.  No wonder it was a famous town among the Indians.

     Near the eastern border of the town, at the terminus of a knoll extending out from the creek, can be seen the graves of the Coosha people. This cemetery, now in a farm, is the last abiding memorial of Coosha Town. Nahotima, the sister of Pushmataha, and Tapena Homa, here sleep their last sleep.  Tradition says that Oklahoma also lies buried in this cemetery.  But his nephew, Jack Amos, of Newton county, disputes this and says that Oklahoma was buried on his farm on the south side of the creek, about a mile distant from the town. The Coosha cemetery comprises about half an acre and is now covered with a growth of young sweet gum trees. It has always been carefully preserved by the different owners of the farm.

     After the death of Oklahoma in 1846, the people gradually abandoned Coosha Town.  Plum bushes soon overspread the place and these in turn were succeeded by a growth of pines.  Even now but little of the place is in cultivation.

     Coosha derives its name from “Kushak,” or “Kusha’ (u nasal), which means a reed, sometimes a reed-brake, so called, in this case, from some reed brakes in and near the town.  The large dense canebrake that once covered the valley between the two creek prongs was, eighty years ago, a favorite place for hiding horses, stolen by white horse thieves from plantations in Mississippi and Alabama.  Hence the Choctaws gave the creek the name of “Issuba in Kannia bok,” Lost Horse creek.

     The trail that led from Mobile northward, known as the “Big Trading Path,” crossed Lost Horse creek about two hundred yards below the confluence of the two prongs, and entered the town on its east side. The trail divided at Coosha Town, one path leading northeast and crossing Petickfa just below the mouth of Black Water, the other going to “Hankha aiola,” thence through “Yashu Iskitini,” Little Yazoo, and thence to Holihtasha, Fort Town. The latter trail was travelled in 1772 by Captain Bernard Romans and in later times by Colonel George S. Gaines, both of whom in their writings have left notice of Coosha Town.

4. Chon’tontakali.—This word, restored to its correct Choctaw orthography, is “Shomo Takali,” which means Hanging Moss, so named on account of the profusion of Spanish moss hanging on the trees of the surrounding forest.

     Shomo Takali lay between the two head prongs of Black Water creek, in Kemper county.  The town extended east and west about two miles and was about a half mile wide. To describe the location minutely, it was situated in the southern half of section 13 and the southern half of section 14, township 9, range 15, east.  The town really consisted of eight hamlets, with patches of corn and vegetables intervening.  Commencing on the west, the first hamlet was in the center of the southern half of section 14.  The second, third, and fourth were situated equidistant from each other, and extended along and near the southern line of section 14.  The fifth was near the center of the southwest quarter of section 13.  The sixth was on the east side of the southwest quarter of section 13.  The seventh was on the west and south side of the southeast quarter of section 13.  The eighth was near the northeast corner of the southeast quarter of section 13.  The residence of the mingo of 1830, whose name was “Nita Homma,” Red Bear, was in the third hamlet.  About twelve hundred yards south of the site of his house, on the north bank of Black Water, is a prehistoric mound, about twelve feet high.

     There were three cemeteries in Shomo Takali. One was between the third and fourth hamlet in section 14, the second was between the fifth and sixth hamlet in section 13, and the third was between the seventh and eighth hamlet in section 13.

     There was a trail that ran east and west through Shomo Takali, connecting Hankha aiola on the east with Mokalusha Town (in Neshoba county) on the west.

     John Spinks was the first American settler in Shomo Takali, settling there in 1834.  In 1835, Samuel Varner, of Wilcox county, Ala., who was an old friend of Mr. Spinks’, came to Shomo Takali to visit him.  Mr. Varner was then quite an old man.  On one occasion in his boyhood—it is not known whether in Tennessee or Georgia—a marauding band of Creek warriors made an inroad into the neighborhood in which he lived.  They killed the elder Varner in the field, where he was plowing, and took prisoner his son Samuel, who was with him.  The boy remained with the Creeks many years, learning their language, adopting their manners and customs, in short, becoming, in every respect, a genuine savage.  About the time of attaining manhood, in some manner, young Varner was redeemed from captivity. While on this visit to Mr. Spinks, in 1835, Mr. Varner recognized the place, and told Mr. Spinks that when a captive boy he had once visited Shomo Takali with a trading party of Creek Indians and remained there several days.  He pointed out to Mr. Spinks several places on the old town site that he clearly and vividly remembered.  Mr. Varner commented on it as a singular circumstance that he should be permitted in his old age to visit a spot where he had spent several days in his youth, a captive boy among the Creek Indians.


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From Publications The Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VI, 
Edited by Franklin L. Riley, Secretary
Published Oxford, Mississippi 1902

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