To borrow a phrase from Mississippi's Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, the "past is never dead — it's not even past."
Students from Hernando High School took a trip back in time on Monday to DeSoto County's rich past as they toured the DeSoto County Museum.
The 9-12 grade students are enrolled in instructor Margaret Hicks' Local Culture Class at Hernando High School.
The field trip to the museum took just under 10 minutes but students traveled far back into the county's distant past — some 12,000 years or more.
Students got a lesson in the story of the Chickasaws who lived, hunted and fished in what is now DeSoto County for centuries before being forcibly removed during the "Trail of Tears" to what is now modern-day Oklahoma during the 1830s.
"These native Americans survived and lived off the land long before there was any Walmart," said DeSoto County Museum Executive Director Brian Hicks to the group of students gathered in the Native American exhibit in the museum. Hicks is the husband of Margaret Hicks.
Students learned about the forced migration of the Chickasaw and glimpsed examples of pottery, arrowheads and farming implements used by the native Chickasaw people.
Hicks pointed out the first European that the native Chickasaw encountered was the Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto. His armies not only brought swine and modern military warfare, but diseases like smallpox, which wiped out entire villages in the New World.
"They landed in Tampa Bay, Fla. in 1539 and traveled on foot through the swamps and wooded hills to where we are in North Mississippi," said Hicks, adding that DeSoto's journey ended when he came down with a high fever and died shortly after discovering (as far as Europe was concerned) the mighty Mississippi River in 1541.
"His body was put in a hollow log, tied with rocks and sank to the bottom of the Mississippi River where it probably remains to this day," Hicks said.
Hicks said while no physical evidence of DeSoto's army has been discovered in DeSoto County, there has been evidence discovered just across the river in Arkansas which points to the fact that DeSoto and his armies came through the northwest part of Mississippi.
"They were the only Native American tribe to defeat Hernando DeSoto," Hicks said.
For Alyssia Garcia, 18, learning about Native American history is "right up her alley."
"I like learning about Native Americans because I have Cherokee ancestry," Garcia said. "I also like seeing some of the old portraits of the early settlers of the town. I like seeing the way they lived and seeing the old cabin here on the grounds."
Garcia was referring to the historic Crumpler-Ferguson log cabin, which was painstakingly moved to the museum grounds — log by log — and rebuilt from the ground up.
Brian Hicks explained that the cabin, which dates from the 1840s and 50s, has been moved several times.
"This log cabin stood just beyond the railroad bridge past the Square," Hicks said. "It's been moved a couple of times. It has been used as a hospital during the Civil War, and legend has it that several Confederates hid out in the upstairs part, which had a trap door."
Students peered into the windows of the small mud-chinked log cabin and tried to imagine a large family living inside.
"You would be living in there with your mother and father, probably your grandma and grandpa and maybe all your sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins," Hicks said with a wide grin.
For her part, Margaret Hicks said the living history field trip is an invaluable history lesson on local, state, national and even world history.
"I hope they learn and develop an appreciation as well as a better understanding of the place they call home," Hicks said.
Another one of Hick's students, Lee Pierce, Jr., 16, said he enjoyed the history tour because it involves so much of the history of the personal lives of his fellow classmates.
"Everybody we know in Hernando — their history comes from right here," Pierce said. "I like history. It's cool and interesting to learn where we came from and know how our town and our county started."
Students also received a tour of the old First Presbyterian Church in Hernando, which was built in 1878, the year of the disastrous yellow fever epidemic.
"You are sitting on the original pews from 1878," Hicks said. "The local legend that was going around at the time was that the yellow fever epidemic started with the congregation of First Presbyterian, but that really wasn't the case at all. As we know, yellow fever was caused by mosquitoes and caused by infected blood. There may have been some truth to that because the local Presbyterian circuit riding minister came from Memphis where the epidemic was ongoing and terrible at the time.
"Imagine, if you will, that this man in the pulpit was preaching and the windows may have been open and mosquitoes were maybe biting people of the congregation. Who knows? Half the population of DeSoto County came down with the fever and one-quarter died in one month (Sept.-Oct. of 1878)."
Hicks, who speaks to hundreds of school students each year, said he hopes that students came away with a better appreciation of history.
"What we try to do is make history come alive for them," Hicks said, adding "and relate it to the world they are living in now."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.