History of West Point and other facts

Clay County and its largest community and county seat, West Point, occupy a fertile, productive prairie even richer in the physical and human history of northeast Mississippi.

West Point, a neatly groomed city of 13,500 prospering on commercial and industrial enterprise, shapes the apex of the Golden Triangle, a regional economic identity tying it to Columbus and Starkville and one of the state’s fastest growing areas.

Golden Triangle counties–Clay, Lowndes and Oktibbeha–share one of the state’s busiest airports and a long eye for the future. The Tenn-Tom, a new commercial waterway linking the section with barge traffic traversing the eastern half of the nation, joins major rail lines and national highways in fashioning a promising infrastructure for additional development.

But the real story rests in the people–the more than 25,000 Clay Countians who share 414 alluring square miles, look to a bright future in the New South and take pride in a lifestyle comfortable with today’s society while accommodating echoes of the past.


West Point received a municipal charter in 1858 after the coming of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, but the footsteps of history run much, much deeper.

Flags bearing the Spanish Cross, the French Fleur-de-Lis, the British Union Jack, the Confederate Stars & Bars and America’s Stars & Stripes have been unfurled in the area.

Even now, newspapers and television stations may be reporting developments in an old question:

Did Spain’s Hernando de Soto, who brought Arabian horses and Extremeduran swine to the Black Prairie Belt, sleep within a bowshot or two of West Point in the harsh winter of 1541?

A squad of archaeological foot soldiers and a NASA airplane equipped with computer sensors have been involved in trying to determine the answer.

Diaries and other accounts of the de Soto expedition tell of crossing the Tombigbee River just before Christmas in 1540, when a snowstorm struck the prairie, and of bloody Chickasaw attack on the Spanish camp during the night of March 4, 1541, at a place called Chicasa.

Aided by aerial sensors that can detect phosphate deposits that characterize old inhabited sites, researchers from University of Mississippi want to locate de Soto’s campsite near the extinct Indian village.

Tens of thousands of years before de Soto rode acros the prairie, horses roamed the grasslands, but they mysteriously disappeared from the continent. Fossils found in Clay County tell that story, but in the years that followed de Soto the Chickasaws developed a breed of horses that became highly popular with white settlers in colonial days. When the Chickasaws were removed to Oklahoma in the 1830’s, they took 10,000 horses with them.

French and English traders reached this area in the 1690’s, and could be said with some accuracy that the French and Indian War began shortly thereafter near where the Tibbee Creek enters the Tombigee River and would not end until the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

At stake was British or French control of the vast area between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River stretching from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast. The British won, thanks in large measure to the Chickasaws.

All the rest–Tecumseh’s failed mission in 1811, the Chickasaw removal in the 1830’s, the building of prairie plantations, the Battle of West Point in 1864, the arrival of President William Howard Taft in the early 1900’s, the Depression of the 1930’s–fill the pages of Clay County history. Here and there we see tangible remains of the past, such as Waverley Mansion on the bank of the Tombigee. Other area residences and buildings are listed along with Waverly Mansion in the National Register of Historic Places.

West Point obviously is producing leaders capable of enhancing its legacies. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the chairman of the Sara Lee Corporation, the president of Coca-Cola and the president of Woolco called West Point their hometown. The school system must share a bow with genes and all other factors in such success.