GSA Connects 2023 Meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Paper No. 123-5
Presentation Time: 2:35 PM


CLARY, Renee M., Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University, 101D Hilburn Hall, Mississippi State, MS 39762

Centuries before Mississippi was settled by the Europeans, 21 Indige­nous tribes resided within the modern boundaries of the state. The Choctaw inhabited the greatest area in east-central and southern Mississippi, with other tribes including the northern Chickasaw, west-central Tunica, southwestern Natchez, and coastal Biloxi. In an early encounter with Europeans, the Chickasaw decimated Hernando de Soto’s (c. 1500-1542) Mississippi encampment in 1541 after the Spaniards mistreated the tribe in their relentless search for gold. Almost 3 centuries later, Mississippi’s Indigenous peoples constituted the first relocation under the US Indian Removal Act after the Choctaw ceded territorial land in 1830. By then, enslaved Africans worked plantations, allowed in the area under French laws as early as 1719.

Mississippi was admitted as the 20th US state in 1817. The United States promoted systematic exploration, targeted toward economic resource identification. Elias Cornelius (1794-1832) is credited with the first broad geological survey of Mississippi in 1819, although the Mississippi Geological Survey would not be created until 1850. The Survey’s first geological assistant, Oscar Lieber (1830-1862), investigated northern Mississippi and the flood plain. He left the Survey but published Mississippi’s first geological map in 1854, concluding that only the northeast Paleozoic strata might be of economic significance. Ores did not readily materialize, and Benjamin Wailes (1797-1862) traveled 7000+ miles to investigate geology’s influences on agriculture. Enslaved peoples were depicted in Wailes’ report.

Mississippi’s geoheritage encompasses cultural, historical, and geological relevance of its land, viewed through multiple perspectives: from the Chickasaw defeat of aggressive Europeans and a devastating relocation with forced migration, through enslaved peoples’ exploitation, to economic exploration and development in a state adjacent to a mighty river. Mississippi’s geoheritage is incomplete without all perspectives, and all stories.