Many places have legends of lost gold or silver mines. In the 1950s Josh Meador, the Oscar-winning head of Animation Effects for Disney Studios, enjoyed going out in search of a lost Nevada gold mine.
Phil Meador, Josh’s son, once told me that often Josh would take his wife Elizabeth, Phil and the family dog on weekend trips to Nevada in their station wagon with a teardrop trailer in tow. Elizabeth and Phil would go walking, while Josh, with the dog for company, would go into the rugged country side and paint or draw and look for a lost gold mine. Josh especially loved drawing or painting the rugged beauty of Nevada’s “Valley of Fire,” where there was said to be a storied lost treasure.
Josh, who was born in Greenwood but grew up in Columbus and called Columbus home, should have done some of his prospecting for a lost silver mine here. Though little known, there is an old legend of a lost Choctaw silver mine in the Columbus and Macon area. It is a tale that dates back at least the 1880s and possibly as early as 1828.
I first heard the story of the lost silver mine from Dr. W.E. Prout who taught history at Mississippi University for Women. He had prepared a historical documentation of Plymouth Bluff for the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District and the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors. In his research, he came across two letters at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History written in the 1930s by James Prowell and R.C. Cox of Lowndes County. The letters contained information on the Plymouth community located on the bluff. Both letters told stories of a lost Choctaw Indian silver mine.
Cox, the descendant of an early settler at Plymouth, related that an old family account said that around 1830, Plymouth had nine to 12 houses, one of which was home to a silversmith. According to Cox, the silversmith obtained his silver from Choctaws who would be gone for three days and return with silver, silver ore or lead.
Prowell wrote that his grandfather had moved into the area in 1828 and settled at Plymouth in 1830. He also mentioned a silver mine and said: “At frequent intervals the Indians would leave Plymouth and, after being away about a week, would return with silver. …It was said there was a silver mine near the village, location of which was known only to the Indians.”
I had never seen any other reference to the story of a lost Choctaw silver mine and viewed it as a fun tall tale — and still do — but it has gotten a little more interesting. Recently while doing some research in old newspapers, I was totally surprised by two articles I stumbled on. One was in an 1888 Knoxville, Tennessee, paper and the other was in a 1903 Aberdeen paper. Both articles were about the search for a lost Choctaw silver mine in Mississippi.
The article in the May 19, 1888, Knoxville Daily Journal was titled “Searching for Silver.” It stated:
“Macon, Miss, May 15. – Capt. J W Bridgers, a prominent citizen of this place, together with a party of men equipped with spades, shovels, picks and a complete mining outfit, left here yesterday morning for some point in the western portion of this county, about twenty miles from Macon, to try and discover the traditional silver mine known to be located somewhere on Black Creek, in Noxubee (C)ounty. The existence of this mine is an assured fact, as a number of years ago the Choctaw Indians carried thousands of dollars in silver procured from this mine to Columbus, Mississippi, to exchange or sell. The Indians have always said that each and every one of them would die before they would reveal the location of this rich mine to the hated pale faces and a Choctaw Indian has never yet been found who would brave the tomahawk of his tribe by revealing the location of this mine. It is hoped that Capt. Bridger’s search will prove successful.”
Another reference to the lost silver mine appeared in the September 25, 1903, Aberdeen Weekly. It was copied from an article “Minerals in Mississippi” that had been in the Jackson Clarion Ledger. After a discussion of mineral deposits along the Pearl River the article stated:
“The Choctaw Indians of Central Mississippi in earlier days wore many silver ornaments which indicated not only great skill on the part of artisans in that metal but also silver mines in that part of the State. They also knew the location of lead mines. But the Choctaws were all suspicious and secretive and even among themselves but two or three were entrusted with the knowledge of the hiding places of valuable minerals. An old miner who had for months been quietly looking over certain Mississippi Territory told the writer, not many months ago that … one of the Choctaws had agreed to point out to him the location of one of the silver mines at a stated day in the future. The revelation was never made. Before the appointed day arrived the Choctaw was killed by another member of his own tribe.”
The old miner also said that he believed that drilling in central Mississippi would strike petroleum. People may dream of finding lost silver mines but the oil and gas are for real.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.