A Spiritual Connection At Tishomingo State Park



Connecting With The Past: Tishomingo State Park

Known For Its Natural Beauty As Well As Its History Of Being Home To The Chickasaw Tribe 10,000 Years Ago

Wooded Boat And Statue At Tishomingo State Park [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]

There's a certain aura surrounding Tishomingo State Park…a spiritual feeling. A hand running through Bear Creek, with the cool water flowing and weaving through fingers, stirs up a rich history in the scenic park's past. Nearby the stream are fish wares, approximately 8,000 years old, used by the Chickasaw nation to catch fish. Tishomingo State Park was once their home. Park visitors can feel the spirits all around them and imagine their dwellings scattered throughout the forested woods. Walking in the same natural beauty that enchanted the Native Americans centuries ago, there's no place quite as breathtaking and captivating.

Tishomingo Park Manager Terry Harp describes the area as rocky terrain – boulders, rock outcroppings – that are unique to the state of Mississippi. The massive rock formations and moss-covered boulders throughout the park may have also been a reason the people of the Chickasaw nation decided to migrate to the area 10,000 years ago. 

According to Director of Research and Cultural Interpretation at the Chickasaw Nation LaDonna Brown, there's a mortar stone under a rock overhang dating back to 10,000 years ago along the banks of Bear Creek, which snakes through the park. Visitors can take on the strenuous climb, trekking over the rocks, to see the mortar, which was used by the Chickasaw ancestors to crack nuts or ground up different types of food, like corn.

Life 10,000 years ago in what is now the Tishomingo State Park was vastly different. One of the biggest differences, notes Brown were the mega-fauna as well as mammoths, mastodons, saber tooth cats, giant ground sloths, and giant armadillos. The Chickasaw nation's ancestors would hunt these animals (along with elk, buffalo and deer), migrating to different hunting camps in the area, making the now-park their permanent home.

Picturing living amongst these giant mammals can bring about terrifying images. Vicious battles between man and beast. Hunters being stalked by a saber tooth. People in this day and age must remember, said Brown, that it wasn't a wild frontier.

Rock Formations At Tishomingo Park [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]
Hiking Through Tishomingo State Park [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]
Swinging Bridge Built In 1939 [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]

“It was forest land that they knew very well,” she explained. “The [locals] were able to traverse these forests very well. They knew the landmarks. They knew where the rivers were and the streams. They knew mountains and trees. They were beginning to understand and develop the landscape.”

At 8,000 years ago “we really begin to see the beginning of social organization,” continues Brown. Many of the larger animals had died out. Ancestors were still hunting elk and buffalo, but they didn't have to use the huge spears they once used. With less dangers surrounding them and more focus on socialization, the Chickasaw ancestors entered the Woodland Period from 2,000 BC to 600 AD.

“During this time two main things were being created: baskets and pottery,” explains Brown. “The reasons they are being created is so that people could gather plants that are found in the forests. They're gathering nuts and they begin to store them…acorns, pecans, walnuts and others that we see today. They start creating huge storage pits in the floors of their houses.”

In the Mississippi area, many of the native's cellars were getting too large. The floors would collapse. Always innovative, they created storage houses, built on top of stilts about six feet high. They even built ladders to crawl up into the storage houses. These storage houses could be found along the Mississippi waterways during the Mississippian Cultural Period.

With such a huge amount of history within the forests of the Tishomingo State Park, it's easy to see why the more modern tribes of the Chickasaw nation continued to seek it out. In the late 1780s, one of the tribe medicine leaders who later became a war leader – known as Tishomingo – often sought out the now-park – named after him – as a place to relax. Known for his exploits in war and his meetings with George Washington about the way the Chickasaw people were treated, the park became a place where Tishomingo went to relax, fish and hunt after a long day of negotiating with Americans and other leaders.

Chickasaw Leader, Tishomingo, Statue [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]
Feeling The Rush Of The Waterfall At Tishomingo State Park [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]
Kayaking Through The River At Tishomingo Park [Courtesy/Mississippi State Parks]

“He could have chosen anywhere,” said Brown. “But for some reason, there was a draw for him in that area.”

It's that same draw that the Chickasaw people and all of the park's visitors can feel and experience today. There have been many times where Brown has given a tour of the park to Chickasaw citizens, walking through the forest paths, putting their hands in Bear Creek.

“It immediately takes us back to this early time when our ancestors lived there and fished from the same creek and built their houses in the woods and forests there. They had veggie gardens along the creek's banks,” said Brown. “As beautiful as it is, we just make that spiritual connection to the area by knowing and understanding that that's where they live. It's a beautiful place. I've taken Chickasaw people there to Bear Creek and we've sat there looking into the creek and we never ever want to leave. You look at the fish wares and the mortar in the rock – it really connects us in a very spiritual and physical and emotional way. It's a brand new experience for me every time and I've been out there more than 50 times.”

Brown is confident that the land the park sits on is blessed and that anybody who visits the park will feel similar experiences, no matter where they come from or who they are.

According to Harp, the over 13 miles of hiking trails are the park's biggest draw. The hiking trails are foot traffic only, allowing hikers to enjoy a very peaceful and scenic with family, friends or just themselves and nature. Many people also enjoy fishing and kayaking in Bear Creek.

While it may be the beautiful and unique landscape that draws people in from all over the nation, it's the spirituality and the rich history that create lifelong memories for all that visit Tishomingo State Park.

Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games.

Tishomingo State Park

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Tishomingo State Park, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and  steeped in history and scenic beauty.

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