Indian battle at Oldtown

During our recent renovation of The Journal office, my wife Lisa uncovered a very comprehensive economic development plan for all of Calhoun County dated 1962.

The book contained lots of fascinating information, but what most caught my eye was a “history” section that told the story of what was believed to be the first “white man” to ever set foot in modern day Calhoun County.

Joel McNeece

According to this history, Juan de Anasco, a lieutenant for Hernando DeSoto – the explorer credited with discovering the Mississippi River – entered this area in April of 1541 where a significant battle took place between his troops and a local band of Chickasaw Indians in what we know today as Oldtown, just northeast of Pittsboro.

There are several accounts that tell the story of Anasco, who with a foraging party, approached a fortress, “which was garrisoned by a large number of savages, whose bodies were painted in stripes of red, white and black while their faces were frightfully blackened. Red circles surrounded their eyes. These, with headdresses of feathers and horns, gave a fantastic and ferocious appearance.”

The story says loudly beaten drums sounded alarms as the “savages” rushed out of the fort, charging the team of explorers who promptly retreated into the open fields.

Anasco sent troopers off to alert DeSoto who later arrived with a considerable force.
They attacked the fortress as Indians poured over the walls meeting the Spaniards in hand-to-handcombat. The battle was incredibly violent, with one account saying DeSoto “was struck by an arrow with such force that it made his eyes flash blue.”

Ultimately, the Spaniards were victorious and the expedition continued its march West.
In the history, printed by the Calhoun County Rural Area Development Organization in 1962, it states that Dr. John Swanton, of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., is a recognized authority on Southern Indians and the route of DeSoto and his men.

He wrote in an Oct. 28, 1943 letter to Dennis Murphree, a Pittsboro native who served as Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Lt. Governor and Governor, that this fight occurred at a fort “definitely located at Oldtown on the Skuna River, five miles Northeast of Pittsboro.”

There are other accounts that dispute this claim, saying this fort was farther east and some claim it was west of Oldtown closer to the Yazoo River.
More research will be required to find the truth, but that doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story and the possibility of its Calhoun County roots.

Email Joel McNeece at joelmcneece@gmail.com & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece