Three years ago I wrote a column about a lost Choctaw silver mine in the Columbus or Macon area.
I told the story always assuming if there was any truth at all to the story it would have just been a hidden stash of silver and no way a silver mine anywhere near Columbus. But, of course, we all know what happens when you assume something.
There is an old legend of a lost Choctaw silver mine in the Columbus and Macon area. It is a tale that dates back to as early as 1828.
I first heard the story of the lost silver mine from Dr. W.E. Prout, who in the 1970s taught history at Mississippi University for Women. In researching the history of Plymouth Bluff (Stennis/Columbus Lock and Dam west bank) and the old town of Plymouth that was there, 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 an old family account 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 had always viewed it as a fun tall tale. Three years ago it got a little more interesting. 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 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 Sept. 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.”
Broox Sledge wrote a more recent account of the lost mine in the Feb. 14, 1974, Winston County Journal of Louisville. In telling of the lost mine Sledge wrote, “Oldtimers called it The Legend of the Lost Dogwood Silver Mine, because of the dogwood trees which supposedly were planted at the entrance by the Choctaw Indians to hide it from the eyes of the white man.”
Sledge interviewed Stennart Wallace, “a full-blooded elderly Choctaw living in the Mashulaville community” who had heard tales of the mine but did not know where it was and had never seen any silver from it.
After reading of those accounts and there being no later reference to anything being found, my view was affirmed that there was no silver mine within a week’s round trip journey from Columbus. That is until yesterday, when I stumbled onto two newspaper articles from 1858. They don’t establish any lost Indian silver mine nearby, but they sure put the story in a different light.
The first was an account in the Prairie News of Okolona on March 4, 1858, that “C.A. McFadden of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, has discovered a rich lead and silver mine on his lands.” The second account was in the Newark, New Jersey, Daily Advertiser on April 19,1858, “The Huntsville, Ala. Advocate states that an old silver mine has been discovered in Hancock County. It was walled up with solid masonry which had to be removed by blasting before the mine could be re-opened. Large trees are growing over and around it, showing that it cannot have been opened for centuries. The ore is said to be very rich.”
I guess that’s what makes research fun, you never know what else might turn up. Thanks again to Carolyn Kaye for helping with this.
Rufus Ward is a local historian.