If you get weary traveling up U.S. Highway 49 through the heart of Mississippi, you can visit a rest stop that includes bathrooms, tourist information and two Native American mounds.
Located inside the highway’s median within Hinds County, these mounds — known as Pocahontas A and Pocahontas B — date back between 800 and 1300 A.D. and are registered with the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It is believed that the Coles Creek and Plaquemine Mississippian cultures once occupied the site. Researchers at Mississippi State University suspect the mounds may be older than previously thought, perhaps dating as far back as the Middle to Late Archaic period, from 4000 to 1000 B.C.
Pocahontas Mound A is rectangular, dating between 1000 and 1300 A.D., according to the NRHP web site, and includes the “remains of a mud-plastered log-post building” on top of the mound once used for ceremonies or as the home of a chief. A village once surrounded the mound, according to the NRHP.
The reason for the name has nothing to do with the mound’s Native American origin, however. At least not directly. The park and mounds are located in the town of Pocahontas, which originated when the Illinois Central Railroad came through in 1884. The town was named for the famous Native American princess, who lived on the East Coast and saved pioneer John Smith during America’s colonial days. The mounds inspired the early residents to give the town such a name, but Pocahontas never set foot in Mississippi and those who lived at the mounds never associated with Pocahontas’s tribe.
Before the mounds were preserved, residents would use the tall earthen rises as platforms for speeches, mostly political. When U.S. 49 was being built, one of the mounds was almost destroyed to make way for the highway. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History came to the mounds’ rescue and convinced the powers-that-be to curve the highway away from the ancient rises.
In 1968, the park was constructed.
Visitors can view the mounds from a short distance and learn about the site from information available at the rest stop, which is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. The town of Pocahontas is about nine miles north of Jackson, Miss., at the interchange of U.S. 49 and Interstate 220.