Mississippi GenWeb Project State Logo
US GenWeb Project National Logo

W. P. A. History of Pontotoc County, Mississippi

Chapter IV:  FLORA

Historic Trees

The COLBERT OAK, a magnificent red oak, stands at the rear of the Pontotoc Cemetery.  Its sturdy trunk and massive branches shade the grave of General William Colbert, the most noted of the distinguished Colbert family of Chickasaw chieftains.  Although the tree has received no special care it is in an excellent state of preservation.  By the side of General Colbert is the first white person buried in the Pontotoc cemetery, Narcissa, a daughter of Judge Joel Pinson, who died on her fifteenth birthday , January 23, 1835, as indicated on her tombstone.  General Colbert's grave is unmarked, save by the proximity of the majestic king of the primeval forest.

When the little Pinson girl died, the place selected for her burial was the "public section", set apart by the United States government for the land offices, and fir concentrating the Chickasaws as they were alienated from their lands.  At this time there was great a multitude of Indians encamped in the vicinity.  Several of them died and were buried there.  Among them was the aged chieftain; and his people, no doubt feeling that he should not be interred with the "common" Indians, made his grave close by that of the little Pinson girl.

Photograph:  Graves of Narcissus Pinson, first white person buried in Pontotoc, and General William Colbert, Chickasaw Chieftain..

The peculiar isolation of these two graves in a "City of the dead", the stricken blossom of a distinguished family and the aged warrior of a valorous race -  lying side by side in their last sleep--with the living sentinel of the forest oak to guard them, lends an unusual tinge to the history of the cemetery.  (1)

A LONE SASSAFRAS TREE marks Judge Daniel W. Wright's grave.  Judge Wright was a citizen of Monroe County when he received his appointment to the office of the judge of the High Court of Errors and Appeals of Mississippi in 1833, an office created by the constitution of 1832.  His associates were William L. Sharkey and Cotesworth P. Smith.

His grave is on Mr. Henry Hardin's Place , about two miles north of town, one hundred yards to the right of the Turnpike Road.  On a knoll stands a lone sassafras tree guarding a lone grave.  Pioneers said the place was once a peach orchard and that the Judge, who was very proud of it, selected the spot for his burial place.

Scattered brick around it include the ruins of a vault, and on the top a handsome slab bears this inscription:


To the memory of

Daniel W. Wright


the seventh day of June

A. D. 1797

In Laurens District

South Carolina


the twenty-second day of


A. D. 1844"  (2)

Although nothing has been done to preserve the tree, it is an unusually large one for a sassafras.  The grave is lonely, and not only neglected, but shows evidence that it has been ravaged.  In 1930 Judge Deavons, of Laurel, who was dean of the law school at the University of Mississippi, made an effort to locate the living relatives of Judge Deavons died and nothing has been done about this isolated grave of a great man in a forgotten peach orchard.

Judge Wright's chief claim to fame rests upon a decision handed down by his court at the January term, 1837, involving the property rights of married women (see chap. 19, The Bar).  It was the first decision of the kind made in English jurisprudence, and the ruling has since been adopted by twenty five or more  of the American courts and also by both the English and Canadian high courts.  (3)

THE SPENCER OAKS on the Spencer place, are a little more than a mile southwest of Pontotoc.  Three generations of the Spencer family have occupied this old home,  and each of them has appreciated the majesty, comfort, and sentiment attached to oak trees.

The Spencer place is near the Old Chickasaw trail that led from the southwest in a northwesterly direction to the Chickasaw bluffs.  The trail followed a ridge route that terminated in the level stretch of flatwoods and was a favorite route of the Indians because of the shady dales it passed through and the close proximity to spring water in the adjoining hollows.

As the region was delectable to the red man, it was also esteemed by the white successors to their beautiful country.  The homes of our first settlers were built along this ridge, but the Spencer home alone shelters the posterity of the original settler.  Storms and fire have wrought less disaster in this section than any part of Pontotoc.  Vandalism and commercialism have also resisted the urge to ravage and destroy in this general neighborhood and, besides the Spencer Oaks, there are some fine specimens of oak, hickory, chestnut, and walnut trees to be seen in the immediate vicinity.  (4)

Probably no section of Mississippi can furnish finer specimens of the BEECH TREE than are to be found on the Tobias Ridge, four miles southeast of Pontotoc.  The sturdy =beech carries more of the romance and intriguing interest than any tree in our southern forests, and these five have more than the usual romantic and historic significance, because they stand on Tobias Ridge, the Natchez Village which Pierre D'Artaguette, the French commander, attacked on the fateful Sunday morning, May 20, 1736.  Here D'Artaguette lost his life along with other officers and men of his expedition.  Those who were not killed in battle were burned at the stake, either on Tobias Ridge or in the immediate neighborhood.

Photograph:  Grave of Judge David W. Wright, Judge of the Court of Appeals.

These beech trees bear marks of peculiar significance; "Indian signs", once common  on trees, particularly on the beech variety, in this section but now rarely seen.  Three of the trees stand in a row about twenty paces apart from east to west; north of them, approximately the same twenty paces,  are two other trees, the five so placed as to form three triangles, centering on the middle tree of the group of three.  The trees may be of natural growth, but they have every appearance of having been so placed for the purpose of indicating buried treasure, to be explained as follows:  On tree number 1 (east in the three groups) there is carved an Indian's head.  Above the head is a snake, going up the tree.  Treasure on opposite side of tree.  Travel on to next sign."

Number 2 is the central of the "three group" and the apex of the three triangles.  The sign on the east side of this tree is a coiled serpent, which "indicates the presence of treasure directly beneath".  On the south side of the same tree there is also a carved turtle, "with head pointing toward treasure".  The turtle also means death, destruction, and the burial of possession somewhere in the vicinity."

On tree number 3 there is an X mark "on line to the treasure," and  beneath the X a bold capital G, meaning "gold short distance away." (5)

That buried treasure of great intrinsic and historic value, with these towering sentinels of the forest to reveal and guard it through the ages, is, by no means, a far fetched conclusion.  The Refugee Natchez Indians, who occupied the place during the French campaigns against the Chickasaws, were of Aztec origin.  In Mexico they wren sun worshippers.  Their temples contained large golden representations of the sun, and the Spanish conquerors under Cortez savagely rifled the temples of their golden treasure and pursued their search for treasure with cruel rapacity.  As a consequence, the Indians never displayed golden personal ornaments, and concealed any golden treasure they possessed from white men.  (6)

One of the finest WHITE OAK TREES in Pontotoc County, standing on Tobias Ridge, has no particular historical significance except that it is a line marking the boundaries of the landed estate of Messrs. R. B. Calloway, Frank Jackson, and James Laugher, who are the present owners of Tobias Ridge.

Mr. Bullen, who spent most of the year 1799 among the Chickasaws, said his "Journal" that Cyrus Oxbury lived on Tobias Ridge at that time.  (7)  After his death, Oxbury's widow married James Gunn.  When she was again widowed, Molly Gunn acquired and sold the land on which Lochinvar was built to the Gordons.  Her grandson, Cyrus Harris, was the first governor of the Indian Territory.

Governor Harris' mother, Elizabeth Oxbury, married a young man named Harris, who came to the Chickasaws with Mr. Bullen on the latter's second visit to the Chickasaws in 1800.

We may invest the venerable white oak with a halo of romance, and not to do great violence to historical accuracy, with the fancy that as a tender fledgling it shaded the budding romance of the Indian maiden and the New England youth.  As an historic fact, however, Pontotoc Creek ripples with the shadow of the tree, and beside the little cove where the cat-tails which gave Pontotoc its name still grow.

Of this immediate locality the Indian historian, Cushman, rhapsodizes as follows:

"Pontotoc Creek continues its gentle meanderings by the habitations of a vanished race, gently murmuring its lovely requiem to its departed shades, while the winged harmonist of the South, the mockingbird, lingers around the scene, caroling, its orchestral hymns of nature that once waked the dark eyed Chickasaw maiden to inhale the morning air, laden with the sweet perfume of a world of flowers and cheered the early hunter as he started on the dubious chase." (8)

On the grounds of the old home of the late Colonel Jeff Wilson, one mile north of the courthouse, at Pontotoc, there are two ancient post oak trees, known as the Wilson Oaks, which have withstood the ravages of time, weather, and fire.  They have a history connected with the War Between the States.

Pontotoc had no pitched battle during that war, but in the movement of troops, particularly those concerned in the great battles of Harrisburg, Brice's Cross-roads, Shiloh, and Corinth, the community was more or less constantly plagued with bands, companies or regiments of the invaders.  It was natural that the enemy was harassed by the valorous, if not effective onslaughts of the local militia, or "home guards".  There was sniping, sharp shooting, and sometimes concerted movements  against the enemy.  The casualties were not numerous, but occasionally three or four men were killed on one side or the other, and the nature of warfare was irritating to the enemy and brought t more or less  retaliatory reprisals in the form of heavy artillery firing.  This had little effect., however, in damaging the community, although many trees long bore the scars of bullets in trunk and branch, and a few showed  the more noticeable marks of cannon shot.

One of these trees in the Wilson lawn plainly bore the scar of a cannon on its trunk until 1923, when the home was burned and the tree in question was seared by the flames, and the resulting decay has almost obliterated the artillery scar.  The tree, however, still lives, surviving both the scourge of war and fire.

Another tree near this one shielded a Confederate soldier while he fired at the enemy from its protecting trunk.  While thus engaged, Colonel Wilson's young sons, Joe and Clark, both now living, carried ammunition to the soldier, enabling the latter to keep a steady fire, while the enemy was exchanging its heavy artillery shots for his musket balls (see chap. 9, Wars). (9)

The TREES OF TOXISH NEIGHBORHOOD in the extreme southern part of Pontotoc County, are, perhaps, as fine specimens as are to be found in the county.  History and tradition of the Indians record that the Chickasaws first located here on their separation from the Choctaws at Nanih Waiya.  Here the Spanish explorer, Hernando Desoto, found them in the late fall of 1540 and spent the winter 1540-1451 among them.

Contemporary history locates the advance guard of our pioneer settlers in the same general neighborhood.  They were usually adventurers and traders from the eastern coastal region who located among the Indians, intermarried with them, and respected the natural tendencies and tribal customs of the tribesmen.  By precept and example they did much towards instructing the aborigines in the useful and beneficial arts and customs and toward paving the way for the white man's  civilization.  Though the Indians have gone from this region for more than a century, their successors were of the highest type of citizens, who have cultivated the Christian virtues of advancement and progress without vandal urge to mar and destroy the natural beauty of their environment.  (10)

On the Seale-Harris place a half mile west of Toxish church, there is a black walnut tree which has a circumference of eight feet and four inches.  This tree stands in the yard of the Harris home.  Close by are seven smaller trees of the same species.  The ancestors of these trees figure in the annals of the DeSoto expedition as follows:  (11)

"The ancient chronicles describe the Chickasaw town near which DeSoto halted  as containing two hundred houses, shaded by oak and walnut and with rivulets on each side.  These requisitions are filled in the locality referred to.  Beautiful groves of oak and hickory, which the Spaniards called walnut, abound, and living streams running west to the Yazoo and east to the Tombigbee."  (12)

Near the spot where DeSoto is believed to have made his camp, ten miles south of Pontotoc, there stands a splendid white oak tree, known as the DESOTO OAK.  From the roots of this tree there flows a bold spring that forms what is locally known as Spanish (of Ishpanola) Creek.  The stream is a tributary of Suquatonchee (Shukatanchi, meaning hog corn) Creek.

It is hardly possible that the tree in question stood in DeSoto's day, but it is reasonable to suppose that a parent tree of the same species stood there when the Spanish adventurers were encamped near the spring during the winter of 1540 - 41.

There are several bold springs in this general vicinity, and there have been fine specimens of forest trees, such as oak, hickory, walnut, etc., but many of them are diseased.

It is generally agreed by historians that the Chickasaw Indians first settled in this neighborhood after their separation from the Choctaws at Nanih Waiya.  Historians and tradition agree that it was in this locality that DeSoto found the Chickasaws and was driven from their4 country after a disastrous battle.

(1) E. T. Winston, Pontotoc, Miss.

(2) Mrs. B. D. Anderson, Pontotoc, Miss.

(3) E. T. Winston, Pontotoc, Miss.

(4) Holly Spencer, Pontotoc, Miss.

(5) H. Frank Doble's Coronado's Children, Chap. 19.

(6) Prescott, Conquest of Mexico

(7) Rev. Joseph Bullen, missionary to the Chickasaw, Journal, 1799.

(8) H. B. Cushman, "History of the Indians", p. 503.

(9) E. T. Winston, Pontotoc, Miss.

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid.

(12) J. F. H. Claiborne, Mississippi as a Province, Territory and State p. 6.

Back   Contents   Next

MSGenWeb   USGenWeb  Pontotoc County Home Page