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First Inhabitants:
The Indians

While walking across plowed fields or garden plots in Fayette County today one may stumble upon a flint arrowhead. These chipped stone artifacts are the only remaining evidence of primitive people who inhabited this land for thousands of years and whose ancestry spanned hundreds of generations.

The first white settlers in this area found it inhabited by Indians who had a language, a form of government, a religion, and agriculture. These Indians called themselves "Chicawca"; to the settlers they were known as the Chickasaws. The ancestors of the Chickasaw people had migrated into North America many thousands of years earlier. It is fairly certain that Indians had reached the region of Fayette County by 15,000 years ago.

The Paleo-Indians are considered to have been the first Indians. Only a few artifacts of the Paleo culture have been found in the county. These people lived in harsh times, when the Pleistocene glacier covered much of North America.

The Paleo-Indians were succeeded by an Indian culture of long duration known as Archaic. Many artifacts can be found over Fayette County today as evidence of this culture, which lasted from 10,000 years ago to about 3,000 years ago. Things began to change as the Ice Age drew to a close and the climate slowly became warmer and drier. During this transitional period, a culture developed which predated the Archaic. It is referred to as the Dalton period, a name derived from the type of spear tip these people fashioned from flint, which is called the Dalton point. It was during the Dalton period that the Indian population first began to grow. Many sites throughout Fayette County today show evidence of the Dalton people, one of the most productive sites being about a mile east of Moscow in the floodplain of Wolf River, where several complete and broken points have been found.

The early stages of the Archaic culture were similar to the Dalton. The Indians developed many different types of spear tips, examples of which have been found at sites where they camped along the floodplains of the Wolf and Loosahatchie rivers. After some 7,000 years, the archaic culture gave way to another called the Woodland.

In this period, which lasted from about 1000 B.C. to about 500 A.D., pottery was introduced. Experimentation with the growing of selected food plants began to take place, a social order developed, and extravagant burial customs with large dome-shaped earthen burial mounds evolved. A small burial mound is located east of Moscow on the North Fork of Wolf River, and in a field adjacent to it can be found artifacts of the Woodland and earlier Indians. Almost all of Fayette County was inhabited to some extent by the Woodland Indians.

The Mississippian culture followed that of the Woodland Indians, lasting from approximately 500 A.D. to 1800 A.D. The Mississippian Indians developed a sophisticated social order, with chieftains ruling over the people. Large flat-topped earth mounds were constructed, on top of which the chieftain's temple was built. One such temple mound about 20 feet high can be found with two smaller mounds on the Ames Plantation. A few other temple mounds exist today in other parts of the county, but most have been destroyed.

By the mid-1500s, the Chickasaws were organized as a nation. They controlled all of what is now West Tennessee and the northern part of Mississippi. They reserved the area of Fayette County and West Tennessee as a hunting ground, traveling from their larger towns in north Mississippi to search for game.

Eventually the Chickasaws yielded their homeland to the axe and plow of the white settlers. In 1818 all of West Tennessee was purchased from the Chickasaw nation, and the Indians were removed to regions west of the Mississippi River. All that is left to remind us of this proud handsome race of people are the many small arrow points found throughout the county, probably lost on hunting trips during the era preceding the coming of the white man.


The above article is excerpted from "Fayette County: Tennessee County History Series," by Dorothy Rich Morton; Charles W. Crawford, editor; published 1989 by Memphis State University Press; ISBN #087870132X. We are grateful for the author's permission to include this information on our website.


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