(This information was copied from the Starkville Chamber
of Commerce website at
Please visit their site to learn more about Starkville and Oktibbeha
The area of Oktibbeha county was originally a part of the lands
belonging to the Choctaw Indians. It takes its name from the creek in
the northern part of the county which formed part of the boundary
between the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Oktibbeha, in the Choctaw
language, means "icy water." It has been estimated that in 1820 there
were between 1,000 and 1,500 Choctaws living within the county's present
day boundaries in some five or six settlements.
The first whites to settle permanently in Oktibbeha County were
Presbyterian missionaries led by Cyrus Kingsbury. They developed Mayhew
Mission in 1820 where Ash Creek flows into the "Tibbee" in the
northeastern corner of the county. It contained a school for the
Indians, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, and several other buildings.
Three years later, Calvin Cushman established a mission at Hebron, about
three miles northwest of present-day Starkville.
The missionaries improved the Indian trails to the east, converting them
into wagon roads which made the area more accessible to traffic along
the Tombigbee River. The first public thoroughfare in the county was the
Robinson Road, built in the early 1820's with both federal and state
funds. It connected Nashville, Tennessee, and Jackson, entering
Oktibbeha county at Artesia and extending southeastward to the Noxubee
The Choctaws surrendered their claims to the area in the Treaty of
Dancing Rabbit Creek, which was signed on September 27, 1830. In
exchange they were given lands in present-day Oklahoma to which most of
them moved. White settlers now began pouring into the region, many
bringing slaves with them.
A number of these newcomers were attracted to the Starkville area by two
large springs and the favorable lay of the land. A mill south-west of
the site provided clapboards which were used for many of the original
buildings. From this, the settlement came to be known as Boardtown.
Oktibbeha County was formally organized on December 23, 1833, with the
first court meeting at Hebron the following year. By 1835, the county
seat had been established at Boardtown, which changed its name to
Starkville in honor of General John Stark, a hero of the Revolutionary
The first courthouse was a one-room log structure with a small rail
nearby. The jail had neither doors nor windows. The prisoners were let
down into the hold by means of a rope. The Presbyterians established the
town's first church in 1835 with the Methodists organizing shortly
thereafter. The Baptists began their work in Starkville in 1839. The
town got its first bank in 1835. It was called the Starkville Real
Estate and Banking Company. A local lawyer, David Ames, began a school
in the log court house which had fifty pupils by 1837.
During the pre-Civil War years Oktibbeha County developed into an area
of small farms with a number of large plantations. The agricultural base
of cotton and livestock was supported by slavery. The 1860 census
revealed a population of 5,171 whites, 7,631 slaves, 18 free blacks, and
157 Indians. Starkville served as the trade center for the county, but
probably had a population of only 150 - most people, even professionals,
preferring to live in the country.
The Civil War was hard on Oktibbeha County as it was on the rest of
Mississippi. Large numbers of its white men volunteered for Confederate
service and the farms suffered. Grierson's raiders came through the
region in the spring of 1863 and looted Starkville. Another Union raid
the following year was turned back just south of West Point by General
Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Oktibbeha County and Starkville recovered slowly from the devastation of
the war years and the abolition of slavery. Whites and blacks worked out
their new relationships, both economic and social, within a segregated
society. Blacks established their own churches and schools.
The 1870's brought the first railroad into Starkville. After several
unsuccessful efforts, a branch line of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio was built
from Artesia in 1874. Ten years later Canton, Aberdeen & Nashville came
through Starkville with a line that linked Aberdeen to Durant on the
Illinois Central. This opened up a new trade territory for Starkville to
On April 25, 1875, fire swept through downtown Starkville destroying 52
buildings. But, a determined people rebuilt downtown, placing the stores
further apart and widening Main Street by twenty feet to its present
Colonel W.B. Montgomery proved to be one of the area's strongest
promoters. During the late 1870's, he imported an exceptional herd of
Jersey cattle and thereafter revolutionized the agricultural base from
cotton to dairy farming. He was also instrumental in 1878 in securing
for Starkville the location of the new state agricultural and mechanical
college. Mississippi A&M would develop into Mississippi State University
and become the backbone of the local economy.
As the university has expanded, so has Starkville. The late 19th century
marked the beginning of an exodus from rural areas. By 1900,
Starkville's population stood at 2,689, and it has expanded steadily to
its present 18,458. Both the university and the community integrated
relatively peacefully in the late 1960's.
Today Oktibbeha County remains primarily agriculturally-based with
emphasis on timber, beef cattle, dairy products, hay, and soybeans.
However, it has built a sound industrial base with some twenty-five
industries employing over 2,300 people. Higher education and the
extensive research programs of Mississippi State University remain its
primary industry. Student enrollment is approximately 13,867 with
grounds, physical plant, and equipment valued at better than
Part of the rapidly developing Golden Triangle Area, Starkville and
Oktibbeha County have enjoyed impressive growth in the past two decades.
While proud of their heritage they seek today to provide a diverse
economic and cultural base upon which to build confidently for the
For further reading:
Betterworth, John K. - People's University: The Centennial
History of Mississippi State. 1981.
Carroll, Thomas Battle. - Historical Sketches of Oktibbeha
County (Mississippi). 1931.