From Madison Journal Centennial Issue August 14, 1975, Section II pp. 1-2

(Slightly modified and reformatted by Richard P. Sevier)


Madison Parish has been the site of archaeological excavation many times in the past. Professor Stephen Williams and a team of students from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University came here in the summers of 1963 and 1964 to research the prehistory of the Upper Tensas River Basin. Their project was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The research team used Tallulah as base of operations from which they surveyed the entire Upper Tensas Basin from the Mississippi to Macon Ridge and from the Louisiana-Arkansas border in the north to Sicily Island in the south. They also ran test excavations at promising sites. The material from these excavations was washed, catalogued and analyzed in the laboratory which was set up on Mulberry St.

The Harvard team succeeded in outlining a rather detailed picture of Indian life in this area during the past 3,000 years. Articles written by members of the team for the Madison Journal provided the factual basis for most of this article and may be found in the files of the Madison Parish Library.

Other mounds in Madison Parish were excavated to make way for the new I-20 highway between Tallulah and Delhi. Special attention was given to a site on the banks of south of Tendal. Here a temple mound which, dated back to 700 AD or earlier was excavated by a LSU team under the direction of Robert W. Neuman, curator of Anthropology at LSU. The Federal Bureau of Public Roads financed the work.

Man has been in the New World for more than 15,000 years, but first evidence of occupation of the Mississippi Valley goes back no further than about 10,000 years. We think that the prehistoric Indians of the Southeast hunted the now-extinct giant elephants and Mastodons from the distinctive Clovis Fluted spear-heads which have been found along the bluffs of the valley.

Hunting peoples continued to occupy the area until about 2000 BC. Most of the land surfaces of the Louisiana Delta are not old enough to offer evidence of very early occupations. For this reason, the Tensas Basin sequence must be started with the ancient people of Poverty point.


Poverty Point, soon to be opened as a State Park, is located on the west bank of Bayou Macon in West Carroll Parish, a few miles from Epps. (It is also located about 7 miles northwest of the northwest corner of Madison Parish.) It has been suggested that this area was the religious center for all Indians on the North American Continent. Its residents built what is acknowledged to be the largest and most complex geometrical earthwork in North America.

The earthwork consists of more than 11 miles of artificial ridges, each originally 150 feet wide and six feet high in six concentric octagons. The ridges were built with 530,000 cubic yards of earth (over 35 times the cubic amount of the Great Pyramid of Cheops) moved in handmade baskets.

The people built their circular, palmetto-covered houses on the ridges, possibly to protect them from over flows. When the Poverty Point Complex was built, the Mississippi River flowed about one mile to the east through the western half of Madison Parish.

Nearby are two large mounds and a smaller, conical mound built with 460 cubic yards of dirt. The largest mound is 70 feet high and 700 to 800 feet long. It Is shaped like a bird with outspread wings and tail, an estimated three million man hours went into its construction. It was not a burial place, but was used for ceremonial purposes.

In the pre-pottery days in which these people lived, cooking was done in pits and skin bags. "Cooking stones" about the size of billiard balls were made from clay and hardened by fire. They were then placed atop the food to be cooked or dropped into skin bags filled with water in which food was boiled. The Poverty Point people made more than 20 million cooking balls; they are the most commonly found artifacts at the site.

The people hunted with spears and darts rather than bows and arrows. They also used bolas for catching large birds and small animals. To make the bolas the Indians fashioned five or six weights, tied each to leather thongs, then tied all of them together at the center. One string was held and the others whirled around over the head, then thrown at the target. The weights wrapped the cords around the animal or bird.

It is estimated that from 5,000 to 6,000 Indians resided in the village. The size of the village indicates both abundant food and a high degree of social organization.

One of the puzzles of Poverty Point is how such a population could sustain itself without agriculture. Perhaps the permanent residents were all of a priestly order and were taken care of by transients and pilgrims. Flint from Ohio and Lake Superior copper have been found among the artifacts, indicating trade routes of thousands of miles.

The Poverty Point culture lasted until about 800 BC. After Poverty Point came the shellfish-eating Tchefuncte people who were the first to use pottery. These people built large mounds on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain from the clams they ate, and on these high places they lived and buried their dead.

For a long time the only Tchefuncte sites were in the Lower Valley around Lake Pontchartrain. Dr. Williams found evidences of the Tchefuncte culture on the eastern banks of Panther Lake in the northern part of Madison Parish. Their excavations then uncovered much of the very distinctive Tchefuncte pottery with quite elaborate incised designs.

The Tchefuncte pottery vessels were of crude, thick manufacture, but were decorated very painstakingly and sometimes were equipped with four "feet."


Around 200 BC a new culture, the Marksville culture, arrived from the north where a closely related culture called Ohio Hopewell has long been known by archaeologists. The Marksville people flourished between 200 BC and 300 AD. They are best known from the area around Sicily Island, but Dr. Williams found a Marksville site in Madison Parish.

Pottery and burial mounds appear fully developed in the Marksville culture. The people may also have been the first corn-raisers in the Mississippi Valley. They possessed a high degree of technical skill as indicated by some of their artifacts - beautifully constructed pipes with platform bases and bowls shaped like animals, and spool-shaped ear ornaments made by riveting together several thin sheets of hammered copper.

Marksville man's burial mounds were constructed along the following lines: first the ground on which the mound was to be built was cleared and the topsoil probably removed. Then a clay platform was built and the bodies placed atop it. Sometimes a house-like structure was built around the edges of the clay platform and the bodies were placed inside. The "house" was then razed by fire before the final mound was built. In some cases these mounds were constructed in layers with the burials placed between them.

The Marksville culture died a sudden death at the hands of rude peoples who descended from the hills of northern Mississippi in 400 AD These invaders are given the name "Deasonville" after a small site in upland Mississippi. Yet in Northeast Louisiana the Marksville culture held out against the invaders for a century or more.

The Marksville people were peaceful folk; they made far fewer spears and arrow points than were made in most areas, and what ones they had were probably used for killing game, not men. But faced with the Deasonville invaders, the Marksville people developed some warlike characteristics, as evidenced by a site near Delhi named Marsden.

The remains of an embankment - almost certainly the foundation of a stockade - surround Marsden. Up to this time the projectile points called arrowheads were large and used on spears. Tiny points appear at Marsden and other sites, signaling the introduction of the bow and arrow to the Lower Mississippi Valley.

These innovations evidently kept the Deasonville invaders from taking over the area, but what happened next is still somewhat of a mystery. Perhaps the two made peace and intermarried, creating a new. culture, for the next people on the scene -the Coles Creek culture-have traits in common with both the late Marksville people of Marsden and the invaders from the east.

But much is also brand new, unrelated to anything previously present in the South. The most startling new trait is the temple mound, a large mound shaped like a pyramid with the top lopped off. On the top stood a simple temple which was nothing other than a thatched hut.


The Coles Creek people occupied the area from about 500 to 1100 AD. They were a local product having their beginnings somewhat to the south of Tallulah in Tensas Parish, and perhaps as far south as Baton Rouge. Later they expanded north to the area around Lake Providence, and as far as Yazoo City, Miss., where they drove the descendants of the hill-folk invaders back into their homeland.

In the previous period, wars and chaos seem to have reduced the population to a few villages, but with the coming of Coles Creek culture there was a new prosperity. Coles Creek farms and hamlets dotted the landscape as thickly as American settlements do today. The people lived almost solely by tilling the soil; their prosperity was probably based on new and improved breeds of corn.

Between 1000-1400 AD the Coles Creek tradition, developed into the Plaquemine Era. Refinements in agriculture and the general adjustment to life in the alluvial valley permitted people to live in larger and denser communities. The resulting increase in readily available manpower facilitated construction of larger and more numerous temple mounds until they became the largest earthworks in Louisiana since Poverty Point times some 3000 years before.

The major incentives for the type of careful organization needed for the planning and construction of the Plaquemine Mound complexes were probably religious, though a temple mound also was a place for public buildings and political ceremonies. Local neighborhoods each built and maintained a small single mound center. About 40 such mound sites have been found.

A group of related neighborhoods then joined together in allegiance to a larger center. Finally the three or four major sites known in the Upper Tensas Basin (one of which is the Fitzhugh site on Walnut Bayou southeast of Tallulah) may have commanded the loyalty of the entire region.

The last prehistoric Indian culture was the Mississippian, which had been evolving in the region around the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi since 900 AD This culture reached the Tensas Basin by 1400 and eventually superseded the Plaquemine culture.

The Mississippian people ground up mussel shells and used them as an additive to the clay from which they made their pots, This pattern of manufacture makes their shell-tempered pottery distinct from any other Pottery made previously by Indians in the Southeast, and it actually produced a stronger vessel.


The white man did not have to come with his guns to desolate the Indian population of the upper Tensas Basin. It was done by various European diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which the Indians had no immunity, and which could carry off nine-tenths of a tribe in a few weeks. These probably spread from the early Spanish settlements in Florida before the Europeans themselves actually so foot in this area.

The Spanish explorer DeSoto may have passed through Northeast Louisiana in 1542, though no one has found evidence that he ever visited the Tensas River. When LaSalle traveled down the Mississippi in 1682 the region was empty except for five to nine hamlets (accounts differ) along the eastern shore of Lake St. Joseph .

These Indians were called "Taensa" and their name persists in a different spelling in Tensas Parish and Tensas River. LaSalle Stopped at a Taensa village where he met with a friendly reception.

The French explorers were impressed by the Taensa and their large, well-made buildings. Their temple was quite elaborate and known for the three-carved birds on the roof. The tribe worshipped the sun and kept an eternal fire in the temple. They practiced retainer sacrifice, killing a number of friends and relations of a dead chief to accompany him Into the afterlife.

After LaSalle, the Taensa were visited sporadically by various French traders and explorers, notably Tonti, who established a trading post at the mouth of the Arkansas in 1686. In 1698 a new kind of Frenchman appeared, De Montigny, a missionary. The next year he returned to found a mission, but he left after a few months - too few Taensa remained to make the effort worthwhile.

The Taensa moved south in 1706, forced out of their old home by pressure from the Yazoo and the English. The forests and swamps of the Tensas Basin were undisturbed until the Americans came in the nineteenth century to clear the land and probably to wonder about the previous inhabitants who had built the great mounds and other earthworks which dotted the landscape.


The first white man to descend the Mississippi River was the famous French explorer, LaSalle. He may have stopped briefly near where Delta was founded, or perhaps he merely let his gaze sweep the wooded western shoreline as he floated down the river.

LaSalle could not have been the first white man to see what is now Madison Parish unless he stopped somewhere and took a hike. The river ran to the east of its present location; its western bank is now Mississippi land. Madison Parish's history really began with the first settlers who followed LaSalle by more than a century.

Spanish explorers from the southwest passed through the area to the river in 1786. They contacted the site of Milliken's Bend to verify their position, then traveled to the site of the present city of Monroe. There they established Fort Miro, named for Don Estevan Miro, at that time governor of the Louisiana territory.

The first commander of the fort, Don Juan Filhiol, brought with him a few families of hunters. Fort Miro became a shipping point from which hunters sent their pelts, bear oil, tallow and even Buffalo meat to the markets at New Orleans.

The Spanish built Fort Nogales (called Walnut Hills by Americans) in 1791, where Vicksburg now stands. They wanted to establish a buffer against Americans who might want to settle in their territory on the western side of the Mississippi River. The Pinckney Treaty of 1795 gave Walnut Hills to the U. S., but the Spanish did not abandon the fort until 1797.

With the Americans in possession of the east bank of the river, the need of placing a population buffer upon the west bank opposite Vicksburg became an obsession with the Spanish authorities. The rapid. settlement of the east bank of the river might mean further encroachments upon the lands beyond by aggressive adventurers, who might in time direct their activities against Spain's rich mines in Mexico.

But the low lands along the west bank of the Mississippi were considered unsuitable for settlement. The buffer line was located farther back on the higher lands bordering the Ouachita. Here Baron De Bastrop brought Irish, German and French families from Point Coupee and other settlements.

Although Spain organized the settlement, only a few Spaniards were among the early settlers of Northeast Louisiana. They did not cultivate the soil with the exception of small fields of Indian corn. Instead, they dispersed in search of the game which abounded in the territory.

These hunters gradually extended hunting expeditions eastward toward the Mississippi. They became familiar with the smaller streams, the Tensas River and Bayou Macon, and the territory drained by them. A few of them established permanent homes on the banks of these streams.

These men were true frontiersmen. Some of them brought their families into the area. The women made clothes out of cotton and wool using the wheel and loom. The men spent most of their time in the woods hunting. They wore typical frontier dress: buckskin shirts, leggings, and moccasins, with a coarse hat made of some animal skin.

Wild game supplied their food throughout the year. They usually ate the meat of bear, deer and turkey. Fish, too, were plentiful and delicious. Bear oil was used as a substitute for oil and butter to lubricate, anoint, and fix up any and everything .

Many of these people branched out into other activities, such as logging. Immense cypress forests existed in the lowlands near the streams. They were cut down and rafted to market in Natchez or New Orleans. Thousands. were wasted because the river did not rise enough to float them out.


At the close of the French Revolution, Napoleon was supreme in France, and began dreaming of new conquests. Wanting to regain the French colonies in America, he acquired the Louisiana Territory from Spain in 1800. Then, in 1803, Napoleon decided the territory was of little value to him, and sold all of it to the United States.

This was the famous Louisiana Purchase. It brought about the rapid westward movement from the Southeastern states into the lands along the Mississippi. As this western movement met the movement eastward from the Ouachita region, permanent settlement of the Madison Parish area began.

The first actual landowners come shortly before this. They were Individuals interested in agriculture who were attracted by favorable locations as they were passing down the river. In 1802, Anthony Crockett, Thomas Patterson, Elijah Clark and James James settled in the southeastern section of what would later become Madison Parish, while Ezekiel Lowe and Alexander McCormick took up lands on the Tensas River.

Other settlers who came in soon after the cession of Louisiana to the U.S. included Ezra and Thomas Marble, John Perkins, David Huffman, Abraham Insco, Robert Coderan, John Barney, Moses and G. W. Graves, Ehileab Smith, Gibson C. Bettis, Sr. and James Douglas. Most of these first settlers located either on the Tensas River or along the banks of the Mississippi, usually opposite Walnut Hills.

Early in 1803, before the U.S had taken possession of this territory, a settlement was made on Bayou Vidal, now the boundary between Madison and Tensas Parishes. This land was obtained from the Civil Commandant Joseph Vidal, for whom the bayou was named. The possession of this territory by the U. S. Government encouraged more Americans to move in.

Some came by land, others by flatboat. Many did not have clear title to the land they claimed. These men weren't rich, at least at first, and they owned few slaves. They had very few domestic animals because the frequent high water would usually destroy them. They raised some corn, sugar cane, and eventually cotton.


Madison Parish was named and bounded only after many legislative acts. Its area was placed within the "County of Ouachita" in 1805 by the Territorial Council of Orleans.

The same legislative body added the southern part of Madison area to Concordia County in 1809. In 1811, the Council created the County of Warren from parts of Ouachita and Concordia Counties; it included most what is now Madison Parish.

However, there had begun in 1809, a series of disasters indicative of a problem which would stifle the area's progress for many generations. Devastating floods struck in 1809, 1811, 1813, and 1815. Most settlers were completely wiped out, and many of them gave up and moved out.

Gov. William C. Claiborne described the problem in a letter to President Madison dated July 9, 1813: "The loss of cattle, hogs etc. have been considerable; crops that would have sold at a half a million dollars have been destroyed; and the injury done to the houses, fences, levees, and lands could not be repaired for that sum. But a still greater misfortune is apprehended, a prevalence of disease (one of the effects of high water) throughout the state, and the death of many valuable citizens."

In the meantime, Louisiana became the 18th state in 1812, and a heavy stream of Americans began pouring into many parts of Louisiana. But many considered the land along the river only as a reservoir necessary to hold the flood waters of the Mississippi and not intended for cultivation.

The low population and lack of growth of the area caused the Louisiana Legislature to abolish Warren County in 1814, giving its southern end to Concordia and its northern end to Ouachita. The lawmaking body at this time abandoned the name "county" and substituted "parish" as the designation of such political subdivisions.

During the next 20 years, there was very little immigration into the delta region. The planters along the river and the, "swampers" of the back country were the bulk of the meager population.

There were only two settlements on the Tensas River along with some ferry operators, and two on Walnut bayou. One of these was Crescent Plantation; the plantation home, built in 1832, is still standing.

Several factors were at work to draw settlers to the area. The Concordia Parish Police Jury devoted much effort to get more and better levees built. The number and efficiency of the river steamboats rapidly increased.

The depression of 1837, probably more than any other factor, brought increasing numbers of people into the parish. Financial failure and unemployment in the older regions of the country drove these people to seek new lands. The decline in cotton prices caused planters on the worn out lands of the southeastern states to look for more fertile soil on which they could grow cotton at a profit. They found it in Madison Parish.

Faced with growing immigration the state Legislature had created Carroll Parish in 1832, including in it practically all of Madison. It carved out another new parish in 1839, the Parish of Madison, named for a former U.S. President. Initially, Madison was rather large, beginning at Shipps Bayou on the Mississippi River and extending north to the Carroll line. It extended west to Big Creek, thus embracing some of the present parishes of Richland and Franklin.

The next year, a slice from its northern end was given to Carroll, and all the land west of Bayou Macon was taken from it. Madison got some more of Carroll Parish in 1846, but had to give part of it up the following year. All the land lying south of Bayou Vidal was taken from Madison and given to Tensas in 1861, ending the State Legislature's surgery on Madison Parish's political boundaries.

Madison Parish was born in a great immigration which took place between 1836 and 1845. James Downes, editor of the Richmond Compiler, remarked in a March 15, 1842 editorial: "Emigration is pouring in our borders from Maine to Mississippi.... Many of these left their worn out hills and peaceful pious homes for Texas…and seeing the rich, alluvial lands (of north Louisiana) they stay. They are irresistibly overcome, they are transfixed to our soil, and Texas and her mighty hero of San Jacinto are banished from their thoughts.

"Yes we feel what we speak. We return thanks to our Maker for having diverted out steps from Texas, for having thrown us in this delightful land. Louisiana is destined to be the richest star in the constellation, and Madison the brightest taper in her cluster..."

Migration to Madison Parish was heaviest from Mississippi. But the greatest population increase after 1840 was not in white planters, but in slaves. The white population was 1,210 in 1840; in 1860 it was 1,293. But the black population rose from 3,923 to 9,863 in that period. In 1860, with the total population standing at 11,156, the black-white ratio was nine to one.


The first parish seat of Madison was established at Richmond on the banks of Roundaway Bayou where it joined Brushy Bayou, two miles south of the present town of Tallulah. This spot had been called McEachern's Point by the State Legislature, which created the parish seat at the time it created the parish. Richmond grew into a flourishing little town and became the most important trade center between Vicksburg and Monroe.

Other important towns at this time were Milliken's Bend in the northern part of Madison Parish and New Carthage in the southern part. Both were thriving towns but they were eventually destroyed by the shifting channel of the Mississippi.

By the Civil War, the settlers of Madison Parish represented all classes of southern society. There were large plantation owners with many slaves, small planters with only a few slaves, yeomen farmers who owned no slaves, squatters on the small islands far back in the swamps (called "swampers") and bear hunters and raftsmen who lived as they did before the coming of the steamboat.

Louisiana was entering into the period of its greatest prosperity. For 20 years before the Civil War, Louisiana was considered the richest of the southern states in per capita wealth. From 1850 to 1860 plantation owners reaped fortunes from the fertile soil of the delta and the current of the Mississippi carried their produce to the levee at New Orleans. Steamboats made their way upstream to Natchez and Vicksburg and villages along the smaller navigable streams.

The full force of the westward movement was sweeping across the country. Men were growing rich through speculation. Merchants and business men were ready and willing to finance the land owners along the river. Beautiful homes were built and great plantations came into existence.

All this was soon to change, violently and drastically.

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© 1999 Richard P. Sevier (dicksevier@gmail.com)