Although limited archaeological evidence exists about the earliest inhabitants of the Lower Mississippi Delta, early Native Americans probably hunted, fished, and even farmed much of the area now included in the boundaries of Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the more nomadic tribes of the northern and western plains, the Yazoo Indians built small villages and retreated into the loessal bluffs along present-day Yazoo City only when forced to by rising flood waters. Many raised “Indian Mounds” can be found still visible throughout the Delta. Learn more about these impressive earthen structures at http://www.cr.nps.gov/seac/deltapro.htm.
By the time the first Europeans settled the area, many of these early residents and their villages had vanished, possibly due to the introduction of disease from Spanish explorers like Hernando Desoto and the livestock they brought with them. Written accounts from the late 18th and early 19th century describe the Delta as an expansive area of forests, streams, sloughs, and impenetrable cane thickets. At that time, the Florida panther and red wolf still roamed in the “wild” lands. The Louisiana Black Bear (today an endangered species) was common. A site near Onward, Mississippi was made famous in 1902 when President Theodore Roosevelt came to Mississippi to hunt black bear with the legendary guide and ex-slave Holt Collier. Their story - The Pair with the Bear - led to the development of a much-loved child’s toy – the “Teddy Bear.”
The rise of cotton as “King” of the South’s economy, and the Civil War figured prominently in the history of the Delta. The siege of nearby Vicksburg, Mississippi, the “Gibraltar of the South”, was one of the most important engagements of the Civil War. For the complete story, visit the Vicksburg National Military Park web site.
During the late 20th century, continued agricultural expansion, flood control projects, and residential development led to drastic declines in bottomland hardwood forests, wetlands, and wildlife habitat in the Delta. To counteract such losses, select lands were acquired by state and Federal agencies for conservation purposes. The refuges of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the Delta National Forest http://gorp.away.com/gorp/resource/us_national_forest/ms_delta.htm and several Wildlife Management Areas managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks http://www.mdwfp.com/ fulfill vital roles in accomplishing this mission.