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Geographical guides to history

Mississippi, more than any other Southern state, has kept alive in counties, towns and rivers the musical names of its early peoples.

The state's name, Mississippi, was the Indian name for the Father of Waters or Great Waters.

Of the 82 counties in the state, 19 bear Indian names:

Attala was the name of a young woman of the Muscogee tribe whose love affair with the son of the chief of an enemy was an Indian "Romeo and Juliet" legend.

Coahoma means red panther. It survives in the name of Coahoma County.

Copiah meant calling panther.

Itawamba was an Indian nickname for Levi Colbert, the son of an early Scots adventurer who when called before a tribal council sat on a bench instead of on the ground as was customary. For this, he became known as Bench Chief, or Itawamba (bench) Mingo (chief). In his later years, he lived near what is now Tupelo, Mississippi.

The name Neshoba means Gray Wolf.

Oktibbeha, meaning Bloody Water, refers to a bloody battle between the Chickasaws and the Choctaws.

The name Panola means cotton, and that county has long lived up to its name.

Tallahatchie County takes its name from the Tallahatchie River, meaning river of rocks.

Winona, an Indian word for first-born daughter, survives in the name of the town.

The name of the Noxubee River meant stinking water.

Pascagoula, the name of a city and a river, meant bread people.

Tunica County takes its name from the Tunica tribe, which lived along the Yazoo River. Yazoo also was the name of a small Indian tribe and Yazoo River is said to mean river of death.

Yalobusha County gets its name from the Yalobusha River, whose name means place of the tadpoles.

Chickasaw, Choctaw and Yazoo were the names of tribes. The word Choctaw meant separation and referred to the ancient separation of the Choctaw and Chickasaw bands.

Issaquena, now a small Delta community, is a combination of the Choctaw word Issa, meaning deer and okhina, a poetic name for river.

Leflore County, the small Leflore community and the nearby city of Greenwood all take their names from the Choctaw chief Greenwood Leflore, son of the French trader Louis Le Fleur. Greenwood Lefore, one of the signers of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek that cost the Choctaws their homeland. Lefore remained in Mississippi, however, an immensely wealthy man, and built the magnificent home Malmaison near what is now Teoc, Mississippi.

Pontotoc was an Indian word meaning land of hanging grapes.

Tippah is named for the wife of a famous Chickasaw chief named Tishomingo who lived near what is now Pontotoc, Mississippi. One of their daughters is said to have married a man named Tom Bigbee, whose name reportedly meant coffin maker and lives on in the name of the Tombigbee River.

The Natchez Indians are remembered in the name of the city of Natchez and the Natchez Trace, one of the most romantic trails in American history and now a scenic parkway.

The Indian word bogue meant creek, and chitto meant not-so-big and survive in the name of the town Bogue Chitto. Homa meant red and is seen in the name of the Homochitto River and Homochitto National Forest. Hatchie was another name for a river or creek, as in Tallahatchie River.

And there are hundreds more, clues to Mississippi's Indian roots still alive in its modern geography.

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