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Where in Mississippi is ... Pocahontas: legends take flight in a tiny Hinds County town.

The little Hinds County community of Pocahontas has roots deep below its red clay soil and wings high above the treetops.

The town, located along the county's northwestern border, was founded in 1884 when landowner J.E. Lane granted the right-of-way through his property to the Illinois Central Railroad. Like so many other small Mississippi towns, once the railroad moved in, so did the people--farmers, merchants, and dozens of others looking for a new place to call home. The settlers decided to call their town Pocahontas because of two tall Indian mounds here--though the famed Native American heroine actually never set foot on Mississippi soil.

The two mounds are believed to have been constructed by the Plaquemine or Mississippian Indians between 1000 and 1300 A.D, according to the National Park Service. The larger mound, which is oblong in shape and about 30 feet high, was probably used as a ceremonial temple or as a chief's residence, and remains of a mud-plastered log building were found atop the plateau. The smaller mound, about 400 yards away, is circular at its base, about 233 feet in circumference, and about 9 feet high; it was likely used as a burial mound.

During the 20th century, the larger mound was occasionally used as a speaker's platform for political gatherings, and visitors often collected shards of pottery from just below the surface of its steep clay sides. Archaeologists searching the smaller mound found artifacts including a human effigy pipe, a copper-covered ear spool, and a 14-inch-long celt, used by the Indians as a sort of axe.

The larger mound was nearly leveled in the 1950s to make way for a new lane of U.S. Highway 49, which ran near the site. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History intervened, however, convincing federal officials to curve the highway, leaving a grass median with the preserved mound.

In 1968, the Mississippi Highway Department marked the site of the larger mound with the state's first modern roadside park. Complete with picnic tables, barbecue grills, running water, restrooms, and wooden steps leading to the top of the mound, the park was viewed as "beginning the new concept of real rest stops for motorists," according to a Jackson Clarion-Ledger article announcing the opening. State officials closed the park and pulled out the picnic tables and amenities in 1997 because of a "history of vandalism," but visitors can still park in a lot off the highway and visit the mound.

As part of a state project aimed at bringing a bigger, better park to this site, Mississippi State University archaeology researchers began an in-depth study of the Pocahontas mounds in 2004. They found that the area may have been occupied even earlier than previously thought, perhaps as far back as the Middle to Late Archaic period, from 4000 to 1000 B.C. The researchers' work, funded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, is being used in the planning of a state-supported park that will feature an educational center explaining the site's historical significance, along with walking trails with interpretive signs and bus and mobile home parking. Officials say the facility may open by 2009.

In addition to the Indians, whose long-ago presence is still felt here, several other Pocahontas residents have left their own marks on history, according to a program from the town's 1970 "Local Heritage Day:" Atkins Baker, for example, piloted a seaplane called "Mars" from Maryland to Brazil, setting a world record. Murray Deevers, who served as local Scoutmaster, "directed the capture of the Remagen Bridge to lead the first American crossing of the Rhine, shortening the duration of World War II by weeks, according to General Eisenhower." And a sailor named Louie Sandidge was the first U.S. Navy man ashore at Guadalcanal in World War II.

Besides the mounds, the most visible modern reminder of Pocahontas' Indian heritage is the large tepee that serves as a circular dining room at Big D's Tepee B.B.Q., just off Highway 49. The restaurant first opened more than 25 years ago in a small building with only outdoor tables, and it quickly became known for its hickory-smoked meats and homemade pies. The tepee, added in recent years to allow for comfortable seating for restaurant patrons, features hand-painted Western themes both inside and out and boasts what owners call the world's largest collection of Indian tribal flags hanging from its cone-shaped ceiling.

The walls of the restaurant's adjacent original building, also remodeled, are covered with Polaroid snapshots of smiling customers. "Let us take your picture to put on the wall along with Senator Trent Lott, Gov. Bill Waller, Rep. Chip Picketing, Gov. Kirk Fordice, Betsy and Geoff Hancock, Gov. and Mrs. Haley Barbour, to name a few," reads the Big D's menu, which features Southern favorites from pork ribs by the pound to brisket with turnip greens and potato salad.

For Big D's visitors who feel the need to walk off their heavy meal, the nearby Springdale Hills Arboretum is just the place. The 104-acre private nature sanctuary is the state's oldest Christmas tree farm, according to Andy Blake, whose family has owned the property for 100 years. "We run a choose-and-cut operation," Blake says. "Families can come out on the weekends during December and pick and cut down their own tree. We don't promote commercialism but rather promote a naturalistic and fun outing for families who want to experience a few hours of what the wonderful world of nature has to offer."

In addition to its five acres of cedar, spruce pine, and sand pine Christmas trees, Springdale Hills contains several nature trails that take visitors past a rustic log cabin, a mountain-style outpost, the remains of an 1830s antebellum estate, and "some of the most picturesque landscape and woods in this state," Blake says.

While the Blake family's business is inspired by the beauty of the land here, another local family and their unique group of neighbors are passionate about the skies above their Pocahontas homes. Just north of town limits, a grass airstrip serves as a driveway of sorts to some 10 pilots and their families who keep small airplanes in their backyard hangars. The private airport, built in 1989, is called "Slobovia Outernational" after a fictitious place from the "Li'l Abner" comic strip, according to Sam Mars, a third-generation pilot who regularly flies from here and even lived in a one-room apartment inside a hangar here for three years.

Mars' father David, who lives at Slobovia, flies a 1929 Curtiss-Wright Travel Air biplane and operates a company called "Vintage Air Tours." "He can be found selling rides on nice days from many small airports around Mississippi," Sam Mars says. But David isn't the only vintage plane aficionado in Pocahontas; there are several vintage aircraft based at the strip. The airport is private, and permission is required before landing here, but the community holds fly-ins once or twice each year, welcoming other aviation enthusiasts from around the country.

Hopefully, at least some of those fly-in visitors save an hour or two to enjoy the unique history and natural beauty Pocahontas quietly offers its residents.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KELLI BOZEMAN
COPYRIGHT 2006 Downhome Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SMALL-TOWN SPOTLIGHT
Author:Bozeman, Kelli
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Nov 1, 2006
Words:1196
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