THE CLAY HILLS 357 EarlyYears—Transforming The Lands of The Choctaws and Chickasaws (1817-1860) These patterns were visible early. In 1817, the year of Mississippi’s statehood, Americans entering the Clay Hills region immediately noticed the region’s natural and human diversity, interpreting it as a measure of the region’s potential to sustain future abundance, growth, and development. The Georgia-born naturalist and pioneer, Gideon Lincecum, was one of these newcomers. Lincecum migrated with his family in 1818 to the east bank of the Tombigbee River in what would become Monroe County and then moved to Possum Town, the town that he would soon help to survey as Columbus in 1821. For Lincecum, the region’s main draw were the Choctaws—the region’s primary human inhabitants. Although Lincecum helped to pioneer Monroe County and the town of Columbus where he built a school, Franklin Academy, and founded a Free Mason’s Lodge, the Choctaws were what held him to the region and defined his experience there. He was awed by them. With the Choctaw interpreter John Pitchlynn as a partner, Lincecum first entered the Native American trade, exchanging various manufactured goods, including liquor, for the valuable deerskins, pelts, and other items the Choctaws had to offer. Over time, he learned their language and culture, socialized with them and later became a doctor schooled in Native American healing techniques. Lincecum lived and worked in various locations in and near the Choctaws of Lowndes and Monroe counties for thirty years. He departed with his family in 1848 after his frustration with the decadence of the area’s cotton boom drove him to seek a new life in Texas. The Clay Hills was legally as well as culturally still Indian country in 1817. Americans had the right to operate trade posts, but there were no extant counties in this region. Formal title to the vast majority of the region’s territory remained firmly in the hands of their native Choctaw and Chickasaw inhabitants rather than the United States or the state of Mississippi. The Choctaws had placed themselves under the protection of the United States in 1786 and had ceded some of their lands near Columbus in the 1816 Treaty of Fort Stephens. The treaty paved the way for the founding of Monroe County in 1821, the first county in the region, and the surveying of the town of Columbus in the same year. Neither the Choctaws nor the Chickasaws were antagonistic towards Americans. Rather, both groups had mostly welcomed European and then American traders and missionaries into their communities for some time. The Choctaws, especially, “were always friends of the white people,” wrote one Noxubee County historian much later. They even fought with Andrew Jackson against the Creeks in 1814. Circumstances changed rapidly, however, as more white settlers moved in. Areas of Native American habitation in the Clay Hills of late 1810s and early 1820s already bore the cultural marks of the various European explorers and traders, of American Protestant missionaries, and of an increasing number of settlers who had been arriving since Mississippi became a U.S. territory in 1798. The native peoples of the Clay Hills had a long history of contact with whites beginning when the Spanish explorer and conqueror Hernando de Soto and his men crossed the Tombigbee near present-day Columbus in 1540 and wintered there among the local native inhabitants. The French had followed in the late 1600s and early 1700s. In the 1730s, during one attempt to control the Chickasaws, French troops under Governor Bienville constructed a small and crudely erected palisade along the east bank of the Tombigbee where an important Chickasaw path crossed the river. Although they did not occupy the structure for long, the “old French fort” evolved into the settlement of Cotton Gin Port, first as a trade post and then as a cotton gin and river port site in Monroe County. English traders and slave raiders also arrived in the late 1600s and early 1700s in search of Native American slaves to serve as laborers for the expanding plantation economies of their colonies along the Atlantic coastal and in the West Indies. They found the Chickasaws to be willing partners and able slave catchers. In fact, the Chickasaws often targeted their Choctaw neighbors for raids. As an English- dominated Atlantic slave trade assumed preeminence after 1700, English interests in the Clay Hills shifted towards a trade in goods rather than Native American slaves. Eighteenth-century English traders sought out the valuable deerskins and other pelts Choctaw hunters and trappers offered in abundance. In exchange, the English traders gave the Choctaws various European manufactured goods, guns, and liquor. More than any other European group, the English slave and fur traders pulled the Choctaws and Chickasaws into a European-based market economy which altered their way of life and cultures. By the 1790s, the effects of such sustained European contact were clear, especially among the Choctaws. Outbreaks of European diseases were greatly reduced. Those who remained lived an increasingly sedentary existence with men working as cattle herders and women doing spinning and weaving. After the Revolution, Americans came in large numbers, but unlike the English, they wanted land as well as trade. New roads, built mostly on native trails, provided the more assertive Americans clear pathways into the Clay Hills